Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This joyful season is filled with many unique and important traditions of which people may be unaware or just add to the wonder of these blessed days. Recently I was asked why the icon of St. Mary Magdalen has a prominent place in the Sanctuary and “what’s with the egg and perfume vial?” I’m happy to satisfy the inquirer’s curiosity. Mary Magdalen was as the early Church Fathers testify, the apostle of the apostles. She was sent by our Risen Lord to inform them that He was alive and would soon meet them. Mary took her witness to the Lord’s Resurrection very seriously and it did not cease with those locked-up in the Upper Room. That witness began before Easter. We recall the tenderness she extended to the Lord when washing His feet with her tears and drying with her hair, she then anoints the Savior’s feet with costly perfume and then retains the rest for His burial, hence the reason for the vial in her hand.
This brings us to the story of the red egg. Long before the egg became closely entwined with Easter, it was associated with pagan rites-of-spring. Romans, Gauls, Chinese, Eqyptians, and Persians all cherished the eggs as a symbol of new birth. Because Christianity as a genius for readopting ancient practices the symbolism of the egg changed to represent, not nature’s rebirth, but the rebirth of humankind through Jesus Christ. No less than St. Augustine first described Our Lord’s Resurrection as a chick bursting from an egg. Quickly, it became an honored practice to exchange eggs at Easter that had been dyed red as reminiscent of the Saving Blood of Christ.
According to tradition, however, St. Mary Magdalen finagled an audience with the emperor of Rome after Our Lord’s Passion and Resurrection. She denounced Pilate for his handling of Jesus’ trial and then began to witness to Caesar with the hope of converting him. She picked a hen’s egg from the dinner table to illustrate the truth. Caesar was unmoved and replied that there was as much chance of a human being rising from the grave as there was for an egg to turn red. Immediately, the egg turned red in Mary’s Hand!
Decorating and coloring eggs for Easter was the custom in England during the Middle Ages. But it had long been a practice in the eastern Christian communities which perfected intricate patterns and colors all to express the joyfulness of life overcoming death. In fact, a number of our own parishioners have mastered the tedious art of Pysanky and your priests are recipients of their masterful work – another wonderful way to celebrate: Christ is Risen, Alleluia!