August 3, 2014

Saint Salome the Myrrhbearer as a Model for our Lives

St. Salome the Myrrhbearer (Feast Day - August 3 and Sunday of the Myrrhbearers)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Salome was the wife of Zebedee and mother of the Apostles James and John, as well as a first cousin of the Panagia. Together with other women she followed Christ and was present at His martyrdom by crucifixion at Golgotha. Also, together with other Myrrhbearing women she went to the tomb of Christ to anoint His Body with spices and myrrh, and she was made worthy to hear from the Angel the joyful news of the Resurrection of the Lord.

Saint Salome, as Matthew the Evangelist says, at one point was motivated by motherly love, so she went to Christ with her sons and pleaded with Him to honor them with positions. "Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of Him. 'What is it you want?' He asked. She said, 'Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at Your right and the other at Your left in Your kingdom'" (Matt. 20:20-21). And then Christ, having told them that they did not understand what they were asking for, spoke about His "cup". That is, while they asked Him for positions Christ spoke to them about His martyric death. "'You don't know what you are asking,' Jesus said to them. 'Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?' 'We can,' they answered" (Matt. 20:22).

Later, Saint Salome, like her two sons, drank the cup of Christ, because at Golgotha they became partakers of His death by crucifixion, but also because she experienced the deep pain of a mother who saw the lifeless body of her child and accompanied it to the grave, when the "frivolous" Herod beheaded her firstborn son, the Apostle James. However, her hope in Christ, and her expectation of the good things to come, strengthened her and instilled in her heart heavenly sweetness and consolation and thus she was prevented from being led into despair. And the end of her life was peaceful.

Her life and disposition gives us the opportunity to highlight the following:

All God's creations have a beginning and end, including the life of man on earth. Human life, however, has no end, because this is how God wanted it. This means that at some point the human body is dissolved into the elements, while the soul is immortal by Grace and will once again unite with the body, when it will rise again at the Second Coming of Christ.

Of course, it is desirable for the parents to first depart from this present life, when they have advanced in age, and then the children. But when the opposite takes place according to the delegation of God, then the pain of the parents is very great and without the strength of God it is truly unbearable. It is like a two-edged sword piercing the heart of a man, as Saint Symeon the God-Receiver said to the Panagia, when he foresaw the death by crucifixion of her Son: "And a sword will pierce through your own soul also." It is essentially a martyrdom, which is impossible for a person to endure without the Grace of God.

Folk wisdom stresses that "for the wounds of death, the earth has no herbs". And this is absolutely true, because human words, as merciful and compassionate as they are, fail to provide essential consolation, and more so it doesn't have the power to heal wounds and ease pain, which is caused by the loss of a loved one. Rather, the herbs of heaven - the uncreated Grace of the Triune God and the words of Christ and the saints - transfuse strength and hope and have the ability to sweeten the pain, to heal wounds, and to truly console a person.

This truth is stressed by Basil the Great in a letter he sent to the wife of Nektarios, together with a letter he sent to him, in order to console her for the loss of her son. Nektarios is probably the person who was to later become Archbishop of Constantinople, who succeeded Saint Gregory the Theologian. He writes, therefore, among other things, the following:

"You have lost a son whom, while he was alive, all mothers called blessed, with prayers that their own might be like him... But our lives are not without Providence. So we have learned in the Gospel, for not a sparrow falls to the ground without the will of our Father. Whatever has come to pass has come to pass by the will of our Creator. And who can resist God's will? Let us accept what has befallen us; for if we take it ill we do not mend the past and we work our own ruin. Do not let us arraign the just judgment of God. We are all too untaught to assail His ineffable sentences. The Lord is now making trial of your love for Him. Now there is an opportunity for you, through your patience, to take the martyr's lot... When first you were made a mother, and saw your boy, and thanked God, you knew all the while that, a mortal yourself, you had given birth to a mortal. What is there astonishing in the death of a mortal?... Above all, one thing I would strongly urge; spare your husband. Be a comfort to others. Do not make his trouble harder to bear by wearing yourself away with sorrow. Mere words I know cannot give comfort. Just now what is wanted is prayer; and I do pray the Lord Himself to touch your heart by His unspeakable power, and through good thoughts to cause light to shine upon your soul, that you may have a source of consolation in yourself" (Letter 6).

Let us struggle to live in accordance with the will of God, so that uncreated divine Grace will touch our hearts and then, during the sorrowful events that will take place in our lives, we will not need external consolation, because genuine and true consolation will flow from within us.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Αγία Σαλώμη η Μυροφόρος", August 2010. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.