St. Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church
872 N. 29th St. Boise, ID
an American parish of the Russian Orthodox Church
Sermon on the Myrrhbearers

Early in the morning on the 1st day of the week, the women came to the tomb bringing sweet spices with which to anoint the body of our  Lord Jesus Christ.  With this action we can see the depth of their love for Christ.  He was dead, there could be no reward for tending to His body, and yet the women still came.  They came out of their great love for the Master.  What possible gain could there be in caring for a dead body; what could they hope to gain from showing Him this one last kindness.  For all they knew He was dead and would not be able to reward them in any way for their action.  There could be no earthly motive for this action and yet they came - they came to His tomb to anoint His body and to prepare it for burial.  They were drawn to our Lord Jesus Christ by their great love for Him - a love so great that it continued even after His death.

And as they were coming to the tomb, they talked among themselves saying, “who will roll away the stone for us, for it is very heavy.”  By this conversation we are reminded of all the obstacles that stood in the way of these women.  While the disciples were in a room locked against the Jews, the women had faced that fear and gone out to purchase the spices with which to anoint the body.  They then came to the tomb, knowing that there was a great stone over the entrance, which they had not the strength to move.  The stone had been sealed - that is that over the entrance to the tomb, there had been placed a wax seal in which had been stamped the mark of the temple so that in order to open the tomb one would have to break the seal, an act which would be illegal, and there were guards waiting there to prevent the followers of Christ, such as them, from gaining any access to the body by such an action.  All of these things they knew, but this knowledge did not deter them, so great was their love for Christ.  In spite of the many obstacles they came, drawn by their love for Christ which was stronger than any of these fears or weaknesses.

When they arrived at the tomb, they found, much to their amazement that these obstacles had been overcome for them.  Just as Moses led the people of Israel to the shore of the Red Sea trusting God to open the way - so also these women approached this seemingly impossible task trusting in God to provide for them the means to fulfill it.  And just as God performed a miracle for Moses and pulled back the waters of the sea so that there was a path of dry land by which to cross, so also the women, when they approached the tomb found that a miracle had happened.  They found that the stone was already rolled away by unknown hands, the guards who would have driven them off were nowhere to be found and from the tomb itself there emanated a bright light.  And as they looked into the tomb, they saw there a young man whose face was like lightening and whose raiment was white as snow and they fell down with their faces to the ground before him.  This young man was obviously an angel sent by God to tell them the glad news that Christ is Risen!  The women had come to the tomb our of love for Christ, expecting nothing but difficulty and a sorrowful task and they received instead the great news that He was no longer there but that He was risen.  Because of their love they came and they were the first to hear the words of great joy and victory which echo even to us today - Christ is Risen!  Because of their love for Christ, they faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles and found instead a miracle, they brought their sorrow and grief and it was changed to joy and rejoicing.  They expected nothing and gained everything.  They became the bearers of these great tidings, that Christ is Risen from the dead! and this news is spread from them even to this day among the people of God. 

Now let us for a moment return to the women as they approached the tomb.  They set out to accomplish a task which to them seemed impossible, but to which they were driven by their love of Christ.  They too were afraid of the Jews - even as the apostles were.  They realized that there was a great stone covering the entrance of the tomb.  They knew that this stone was sealed so that it might not be moved or the tomb opened without official sanction. They knew that there were soldiers guarding the tomb with the specific intent of preventing the followers of Jesus, those like themselves, from approaching the place.  And yet, their love of Christ was so great that they undertook this impossible task anyway.  Seeing this, we have to ask ourselves, how great is our love for Christ.  Can our love for Him overcome such obstacles?  It is easy to speculate from our comfort and knowledge of the Resurrection that we too would have gone with the women, but is this really what we would have done - is our love for Christ so great that we are willing to do the impossible?  Think of the spiritual task that lies before us - we are called to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and to follow Him - we are called to become like Christ, to be perfect, even as our Father in Heaven is perfect.  Such a great and impossible task for us, who are so weak and sinful, to undertake.  We are beset by our own passions, even as the women were beset by their fears and it is only by an act of will that in faith we can choose to defy our passions, to set them aside and proceed. We are beset on all sides with temptations, with fears, with desires which pull us away from Christ.  All these things we must overcome just to begin the Christian life.  And as we face this life of Christian struggle, we are faced with the fact that it is impossible for us - we are too weak, too much the slaves of sin.  How can we become like Christ, how can we become perfect?  How can we deny ourselves, when our own passions are so strong?  What use is it after all?  Did not the myrrhbearing women ask themselves these same questions?  What about our fear? What about our weakness? Is not this task impossible?  What gain could we possibly receive from caring for a dead body in a sealed tomb?  And the only answer that they had was their love for Christ.  There was no gain, there was no assurance, the task appeared impossible - but they were drawn still by their love of Christ which was stronger than all this.  If we are to set out upon the Christian life, we must have such a love for Christ - a love so great that it cancels out all our questions and fears and doubts.  And having set out upon the task, these women faced the stone blocking the entrance of the tomb.  We also, when we approach Christ find that there is an immovable stone blocking our path.  We see the stone of our own sinfulness, the temptations that for us are so great that we cannot resist them.  For each of us that stone is unique, perhaps it is the sin of gluttony, or the love of pleasure, or the sin of lust, or of pride, or greed, or vanity, or any one of the many sins and passions that seem to hold us captive.  Each of us will face this immovable stone - or perhaps many immovable stones blocking our path.  And in order to prevent us from attempting to move the stone or get around it or in some other way to overcome it - there are soldiers guarding it - the demons who will constantly prick at our fears, our desires, our passions with their spears of temptation, seeking to pull us away from the path to Christ, seeking to prevent us from even coming close to the stone which blocks the path, let alone move it.  And this is where we face the greatest temptation, that of despair.  Sometimes the attacks of the demons are so fierce and the stone seems so great that it is hopeless to even continue in the Christian life and so we are tempted to give it up - after all what use is there, what gain is there really.  What if we move the stone only to find a dead body after all.  What if behind the stone there is nothing, not even a tomb, only a blank wall.  Why should I deny myself in this world, why should I struggle with these passions, why should I even lead a Christian life?  These are the doubts and questions that assail us constantly as we struggle towards Christ.  It is only our love for Him that can overcome this.  We must nurture within our hearts this love for Christ so that like the myrrhbearers, even without the assurance of victory, we continue with our task drawn by love of Jesus Christ alone. 

The Holy Prophet and King Solomon the Wise, wrote in the Song of Songs the cry of one to her beloved - “draw me and I will run after thee”.  This is the pull of love and the first love of ours should be for Christ.  “Draw me” we say to Him.  Fill my heart with love for You, make it so strong that there is nothing that can stand in its way.  Let this love grow in my heart - “and I will run after thee”.  Based on this love alone, I will come to You, despite all obstacles, despite all that stands between us, this love will suffice to overcome those things.  Such is the love of Christ for us. 

Once in confession, as I related to my spiritual father the depth of a particular sin, I lamented to him that I felt powerless to resist this temptation.  That when this temptation came upon me, I felt weak and unable to resist it and so almost automatically fell into sin.  His reply to me was that this was because my love for Christ was weak and therefore I loved this sin more than I loved Christ.  In order to resist the temptation, he said to me, I would have to strengthen my love for our Lord Jesus Christ.  How is this done?  It is done by prayer, which fans the flame of love in the heart.  It is done by ascetic labor and effort which by self denial removes the elements in the heart that act to dampen the flame of love and keep it small and which also removes the competing flames of other loves in the heart.  And it is done, not only by myself, but by in prayer asking Christ to place His love in my heart.  If I wish to resist this temptation and overcome this sin, I must focus on nurturing the love of Christ in my heart so that it becomes a strong flame to overcome even the most daunting attack of the demons and consumes even the greatest of the stones in my path.

Do you love Christ?  Is your love like that of the myrrh bearing women?  Or are you stopped by the obstacles in your path from coming to Christ?  If you love Him, and if you follow your love as it draws you to Him, then like the myrrh bearers you too will find a miracle - that Christ is no longer in the tomb, but that He is Risen!  And these joyful words will resound in your heart and fill your soul transforming all that was once sorrow into joy, eliminating all that stands between you and God and bringing you into his presence.  Then the cry that “Christ is Risen!” will fill you with sweet joy and love as you enter into the presence of Christ along with they holy myrrhbearers and all the lovers of God.