Friday, June 4, 2010

Commemoration of Sts. Martha and Mary, sisters of the Righteous Lazarus

Today (new calendar), June 4, the Holy Orthodox Church commemorates Sts. Martha and Mary, sisters to St. Lazarus, whom Christ had raised from the dead after he was four days dead. Following Christ's crucifixion, Martha and Mary joined the other myrrh-bearing women (who are commemorated on the second Sunday following Pascha) to anoint Christ's body with oil and spices. They were the first witnesses to Christ's Resurrection and Triumph over death. Following His Ascension, the sisters with their brother departed from Galilee and preached the Gospel together in Cyprus, where Lazarus was also later made bishop. All three reposed there, according to local Cyprus tradition.

One may also remember the story of Martha and Mary from the Gospel according to St. Luke. Jesus visits the home of the sisters and as Martha is going about the house to fulfill her duties to their guest, Jesus, Mary is sitting at Jesus' feet, hanging on to His every word. When Martha complains to Jesus saying that Mary should be helping her in the kitchen and in the house. Jesus responds that "Mary has chosen the better part for herself." Together, the sisters represent the two necessary bedrocks of Christian spirituality, contemplation (Mary) and action (Martha).

On another note, the day before Palm Sunday is Lazarus Saturday which replays the drama of Christ resurrecting Lazarus shortly before His own crucifixion and resurrection from the dead. In the Arab Orthodox churches there is a hymn, often used as a koinonikon (i.e. communion hymn) and also used on Palm Sunday during the Procession called, "Rejoice, O Bethany." It is a dialogue between the sisters of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, and the Lord and one of the hymns that I, as a chanter, look forward to chanting every year as we approach Holy Week and Pascha. Below you can hear an English version of this hymn based on the Hijaz-Kar scale of Byzantine modal system as chanted by the Boston Byzantine Choir.

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