What would Jesus think of this image of his friend being portrayed as a church theologian and bishop? She was a Disciple and Apostle of Christ. I represented her in priestly robes, with crosses on her omophorion. But Who defines Mary Magdalene as a mystic, apostle, and disciple saying we cannot give her this identity and mission. Nineteen hundred years ago, those in authority did not give Mary Magdalene any priestly rank because she was a woman in a Jewish society.
WHO DEFINES AND PROTECTS WHAT HISTORY SAYS CAN NEVER CHANGE?
Spiritual women need to have space to rediscover and honor Mary Magdalene and others like her. The story of Jesus and the Samaritan at the well is the longest discussion Jesus had with anyone in the bible. Why is that story not used to show his mercy and love for women, His time and attention in teaching them, and His desire to seek their company? Instead, this encounter is often more about how many wives she had and what a sinner she was. It is time to admit there is and has been a gender bias throughout the bible and the institutional church. Women and iconographers have to go further and risk the condemnation we will get from trying to change perspectives.
I posted this icon image on several Orthodox Facebook sites and received a storm of criticism. What follows are some chief concerns from their conservative attitudes concerning who defines Mary Magdalene as the mystic, apostle and disciple? Their valid comments want to preserve and protect her but at what expense to women?
The icon in question has a quote written on a scroll from the Gospel of Mary Magdalene Gospel discovered in Jordon 1957. It says, “All things born, and all things created are of one nature interwoven, and united in one another.”
UNTIL YOUR “PAINTING”, I NEVER SAW MAGDALENE REPRESENTED AS A BISHOP OF THE CHURCH
The COMMENT: St Mary Magdalene was indeed “sent” by the Lord to proclaim His resurrection. The word “apostle” means “one who is sent”. Our Lord sent the 12 Apostles, so too St Mary is sent to proclaim the resurrection to the Apostles. The Church called her: “apostle to the Apostles” and styled her without authority. Because of her “apostolic” zeal,, the Church has given her the title of “EQUAL to the Apostles,” but not “Apostle.”
Mary Jane response: The Church stylized her as the apostle Equal to the Apostles. Her zeal is obvious from the biblical text, she shows no fear of Death. She is a dedicated disciple when she goes to the tomb to look for her beloved teacher. She needs to be recognized as an authority, a mystic, healer, and teacher (despite her being a woman).
The COMMENT: The omophorion you have here is the Bishop’s vestment that symbolizes the male pastoral duties as their chief shepherd. The 12 Apostles became bishops of the Church. St. Mary Magdalene was not a bishop, nor, as far as we know, did she have any pastoral oversight of any Christian community of her time?
Mary Jane, Where is the evidence women had no pastoral oversight of the Christian community? The organized church authorities took away women’s roles and voices and left us undocumented. In the 2nd century the Christian church established the lineage of bishops, priests, and deacons. Jesus gave no detailed biblical instruction on how bishops would be named. Later the tradition, doctrines and canons were defined. Did all apostles become bishops? read more .
I want Orthodox believers to explain who has power to define Mary Magdalene as the mystic, apostle and disciple. Canon law states a lay person can baptize, any Christian who leads another person to faith in Christ is to honor God. Denying women’s authority is an entrenched bias that they teach us to believe and cannot change. What is the fear of women having the chance to share the table? Will women forever be unmentioned, unnamed servants without influence.
The COMMENT: Her hand position in this icon suggests priestly blessing. This isn’t under the tradition and teachings of the Church.
Mary Jane response Lots of saints depicted in male icons use this hand position and sometimes with inaccuracy. However, it brings to light the teaching that we are followers of Jesus Christ and have the right and privilege to perform a priestly blessing upon anyone. I think the discussion over the icon triggered an important discussion. Women still do not have a place in the church. We must, as followers, calibrate the teachings of Christ and recognize the gender bias is no longer appropriate for the era we live in, for either gender. Biblical history is a manual for formatting our society. It may be God’s word but it humanities interpretation of the word that is inflexible. Without analysis and change, we cease to grow in the message of love, tolerance, and forgiveness.
ATTRIBUTES FOR MYSTIC, APOSTLE, AND DISCIPLE
The COMMENT: Canons are rather specific about how Mary Magdalene is to be portrayed; your portrayal of Mary Magdalene has nothing canonical for iconography. It is a fantasy. Mary Jane Miller must have followed the advice of theologian and cleric who blessed her imagination. The canons do not need to be reopened. We do not need to retrofit our images to fit our own imagination, vanity, and choices. Mary Jane, you suggest we open our minds? Please open the Scriptures on Holy Tradition.
Mary Jane response: I welcome in the comment section for someone to tell us the written canon about Mary Magdalene iconography? Can you open yourselves to the idea we know very little about Mary Magdalene? I refer to her as the apostle to the Apostles. How many icons of Mary are not canonical? Would you prefer these images? Does the cannon include a red egg, pearls, a pentagon, long hair, finger position, a flower, and /or scull. These attributes are being used, but only in the past sixty years. According to the icon police, these attributes have absolutely nothing to do with canonical iconography. Their addition is contemporary interpretation and not canonical. The spice jar is the only attribute consistent with scripture.
ORTHODOX ICONOGRAPHY TRADITIONS
Iconographers around the world base their work on non-canonical legend. Look at all the icons of saints from Russia and Greece whose names we cannot pronounce and whose identity is unclear. The worldwide web has corrupted iconography styles and influenced interpretations of church art and its message. This is not a tragedy, it is growth.
The Original Orthodox tradition is not art, they based images on prayer and spirit and inspired mind. Look at the canonical icon of St Luke the Evangelist painting Mary. We have no evidence for the event or its depiction. The image fits with being inspirational and correct theology.
Women have taken up the art form, discipline, and practice as individuals and teachers. They are keeping the tradition alive, but it is indeed changing. New contemporary iconic expression is changing the tradition. This is a good thing. We need an open mind, a loving heart, and less judgment to preserve the beauty of Jesus’ teaching through imagery.
For more information about Mary Jane Miller’s meditations in Mexico and Mary Jane Miller iconography and her wonderful ministry, visit San Miguel icons. You may find out about her books at and you can follow Mary Jane and on Facebook. Mary Jane’s wonderful workshops have been suspended due to Corona stay tuned at Sacred Icon Retreats.