The social status of Women in the Bible has been limited for a long time but now contemporary discussion, new perspectives and spiritual debate are frequent and lively. The factual life stores of the many women named Mary will always contain lots of mystery for there has been so little known about them. Their voices have been lost in the shadows of a faith dominated by men but today, feminine energy is hard to ignore.
The icon here is a classic version of Mary of Egypt standing still, looking straight out at the viewer, arms crossed over her heart dressed in orange the color of discipleship. She represents persistent listening to fathomless silence, waiting to speak. This gesture is common among women; we cover our hearts when we are afraid, astonished, sad, surprised and more. Women often strike this pose covering the heart for strength, for patience, for protection and for comfort in difficult times.
Who is this woman?
After His resurrection, could Mary Magdalene have wandered into the Egyptian desert and there left behind The Gospel of Mary as her testament undiscovered till 1896? Are there unread copies of the Mary Gospel in the Vatican library? Could she have become known as a lunatic desert mystic/harlot?
Few of us know if this Gospel of Mary was considered for canonical inclusion or not. The Mary Gospel was found in 1896, perhaps there was another text rejected more than 1,500 years ago. In my mind, we might gain a good deal of spiritual depth if we consider Mary Magdalene as the undiscovered mystic she might have been.
Mary Magdalene is most often thought of as the symbol of redemption.
Redemption is defined by the Encarta Dictionary as the improved state of somebody or something saved from apparently irreversible decline. She was influenced by a divine power and flourished in spite of the social norm which rejected female wisdom. She must have seen the hypocrisy around her in those who held strong conservative beliefs and perhaps condemned her words and her lack of conformity. Meeting Christ, transformed the apostles, disciples and followers of Christ, why is it not taught that ‘knowing’ Christ transformed female apostles, disciples and followers as well? Mary tenaciously held onto Christ through a difficult calling and returns as a guide through icons to inspire and expand feminine visions of the divine.
There is ample evidence that Mary of Egypt and Mary Magdalene are different women, but I would propose for an instant they could have overlapped somewhat, reflecting on the significance of their “desert” experience. It is powerfully significant that both Mary’s knew Christ, one in the flesh and the other mystically. They both attest to the solitude one finds in a “desert” experience. Whether this is Mary of Egypt or Mary Magdalene, both are memorable female contemplatives, they are loyal to Christ and open to His grace.
It is correct to forgive the past hierarchy which prevented the voice of women to flourish, and still encourage iconographers seek out new images for women through icon paining.
Did the early scholars who collectively formed the doctrines of the christian church dismiss prematurely what was historically unknown or even unknowable. The Gnostic texts uncovered in 1945 and the Gospel of Mary are examples of writings until recently have been unavailable, they are no less important in forming a portrait of who Jesus Christ might have been, especially with respect for his teachings about the place of women. We live in a miraculous world of information where there is still plenty of room to expand the church’s teachings concerning the divinity of women.
It may be prudent to revisit the papal decree for God’s only truth concerning gender and step away from areas which preventing full participation. How are we to be alive in God if the voice we use for God never changes and our discussions are filled with rhetoric rather than love?
The death of Mary, Mystic of the Desert
St. Mary sent word to a priest named Zosimas to come to the desert and offer her Holy Communion. The following year, Fr. Zosimas found her dead. Next to her lay a note, written by St. Mary’s own hand, which read: “Father Zosima, in this region bury the body of this lowly Mary. I surrendered my spirit the same day that I took communion. Please pray for me”. Church historians place the date of her ‘falling asleep’ as April 1, 378 or 437 A.D. Remember the four Gospels were written by those who did not know Christ personally but they wrote as if they did.
I am suggesting the legend of Mary of Egypt recorded above could be the life of Mary Magdalene, since it is not clear where she was born. We hear nothing about her life after she was sent to the apostles by Jesus. Scholars have suggested the authenticity places the Mary Magdalene writings from around 300 to 500 AD. It is curious the writings are were found near Akhmim in Upper Egypt, close enough to where the legend of Mary of Egypt seems to have its origin. There is no biblical reference to Mary Magdalene being a prostitute. Clearly, Mary of Egypt was promiscuous at the very least and probably a prostitute. I suggest the dates, location and discrepancies within the historical evidence are all enough to open a discussion.
Mary Jane Miller’s Book, The Mary Collection is Available through Amazon and Lulu.com. The infinite range of imagination and potential found in Classic iconography has influenced this comprehensive collection of 18 images of the Mother of God. I have merged my fascination between tradition and interpretations for contemporary spirituality.