Mother’s Day: Is It an Orthodox Feast?

The icon of Panagia Hodegetria from the Church of St. George in the village of Dromesioi, first half of the 17th century, now in the Byzantine Museum of Ioannina. Photo by Konstantinos Plakidas, via Wikimedia Commons

Christ is Risen!

May 12 was Mother’s Day. It is probably the most busiest day of the year for card stores, flower shops, and for the U.S. Post Office. It is a secular holiday dedicated to all mothers, celebrated in America on the second Sunday of May. It is also celebrated in other countries but on different days of the year. Mother’s Day is a day to honor all mothers, living and departed, for their sacrifice and dedication to their families. It is also a day to give thanks for all they do and have done. Although it is a secular holiday, the Orthodox Church does remember this day. 

The greatest of all mothers is none other than the Theotokos. She is an example for all mothers to follow. It is tradition in many parishes to give flowers to the oldest living mother of the parish and to the most recent mother. Other traditions include a memorial service for all mothers who have departed and perhaps either an artoclasia or doxology for the health and well-being of living mothers. 

Mother’s Day always falls during the 40 days of Pascha and this year by coincidence it falls on the 3rd Sunday of Pascha which commemorates the Myrrh-Bearers, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Based on the Gospel accounts, the known Myrrh-Bearers were: the Virgin Mary who was also the step-mother of James and Joses, the sons of Joseph the Betrothed. There was also: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, wife of Chouza who was a steward of Herod Antipas, Salome, mother of the Apostles James and John, Mary and Martha who were the sisters of Lazarus and Susanna. Of the list just mentioned, both the Theotokos and Salome were mothers. Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy and noble man who asked for the Body of Jesus from Pontius Pilate. He bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud, and laid him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb (Mk 15: 43-46). This tomb belonged to Joseph but out of his love for Jesus, bequeathed it to Him. Nicodemus, was a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews. In the Gospel of John, Jesus has a dialogue with him: Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit,” (Jn 3: 4-8). 

Jesus was speaking of Baptism and Chrismation. This is the Rite of Initiation, when we all experience our “first death” and begin our “new life” in Christ. Nicodemus was kind of a secret apostle of Jesus who brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes and helped Joseph bury Jesus. There was also another account in the Gospel of John where Nicodemus had interaction with Jesus. The Pharisees and chief priests were questioning Jesus and Nicodemus defended Jesus: Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?” (Jn 7:51). Unfortunately, however, both Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were not the first witnesses to the Resurrection; rather the Myrrh-bearers were. Christ chose women, the Myrrh-Bearers to be the first to behold the Resurrection. What a paradox! It was the woman who was first to sin (Eve) in the Garden of Eden. Yet, it was the woman (or women) who were first to receive the Good News. Christ restored humanity in His Resurrection. As we see in the Resurrection Icon, Adam and Eve were the first to be redeemed from Hades. The gift of life may had first been given to man but the Good News, the “new life” Christ ushers with His Resurrection was proclaimed to woman (or women). Nicodemus and Joseph were the last two people to see the Crucified Christ and the Myrrh-Bearers were the first to see the Risen Christ. 

Every 3rd Sunday of Pascha we commemorate the Myrrh-Bearers along with Joseph and Nicodemus, but it is even more special this year that we also commemorate the Myrrh-Bearers who were also mothers. This indeed is a double celebration with the greatest honor and veneration of course given to the Theotokos who is the Mother to us all. 

Most Holy Theotokos, save us!

Indeed, the Orthodox Church honors with great esteem women in the Church, starting with the Theotokos. Women in the Church for centuries have lived in piety, living the Faith and confessing it, sometimes with their own blood. Mother’s Day may be a secular holiday but in the Orthodox Church it is very much a day of tribute and gratitude for all mothers of the Faith, living and departed. 

A Blessed and Joyous Mother’s Day to all mothers.