10 July 2009

'Of Note Among the Apostles'—St Joanna the Myrrh-bearer


Today, 27 June on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of St Joanna the Myrrh-bearer. In today’s entry in The Prologue from Ochrid, Vol. 2: April, May, June, trans. Mother Maria (Birmingham: Lazarica, 1986), St Nicholas (Velimirović) summarises the tradition concerning St Joanna as follows:

She was the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward (Lk. 8:3). When Herod had John the Baptist beheaded, he cast the head out into an unclean place. Joanna took the head and buried it with honour on the Mount of Olives, on Herod’s land. Later, in the reign of Constantine the Great, the head was found. St Joanna is also remembered because she was present at both the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. She died peacefully. (p. 366)

Looking at the passage St Nicholas cites in context, that is Luke 8:1-3, we get some interesting additional information:

1 And it came to pass afterward, that He went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with Him.

2 And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils,

3 And Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto Him of their substance.

Thus the passage seems to suggest that St Joanna was among those who ‘had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities’, and also apparently includes her among those women who ‘ministered unto him of their substance’. Commenting on this, Bl Theophylact writes (The Explanation by Bl Theophylact of the Holy Gospel According to St Luke, trans. Fr Christopher Stade [House Springs, MO: 1997], p. 82-3):

There were also women who followed Jesus; this teaches us that the female sex is not hindered by weakness from following Christ. See how these women, despite their great wealth, gave up everything and instead chose poverty with Christ and for Christ. To understand that they indeed were wealthy, listend to the words of the Gospel: they ministered unto Him from their own substance, not with the money of others, or with money gained by wrongdoing, as is often the case.

But there is also an additional passage (Lk. 24:8-11), not cited but alluded to in the Prologue, where we learn further:

8. And they remembered His words,

9 And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest.

10 It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.

11 And their words seemed to them as idle tales [λῆρος], and they believed them not.

Thus, as Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky) of blessed memory once noted in a wonderful homily, the Myrrh-bearing women became ‘Apostles to the Apostles’, demonstrating even more faith than the men to whom they witnessed. This fact is highlighted by the sticheron in Tone 4 at Lauds for the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearers: ‘Convinced by this they proclaimed what they had seen. But the good tidings seemed an idle tale, so dull were the disciples still’ (from Fr Ephrem’s translation). Interestingly, this article, the religion of the author of which I unfortunately cannot commend, identifies in the passage grouping St Joanna with the Myrrh-bearers a chiasm, printed as follows:

a) They told all these things to the eleven [‘the apostles’],
b) and to all he rest [‘others’].
c) Now they were Mary Magdalene,
d) and Joanna,
c1) and Mary the mother of James:
b1) and the other women with them
a1) told these things unto the apostles.

I don’t know if there’s anything in it, but the author of the article argues that St Joanna’s presence at the centre of the chiasm suggests a certain ‘prominence’ among the other Myrrh-bearers—which observation, in turn, leads to another passage believed by some to refer to St Joanna: Romans 16:7. There, we read, ‘Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note [ἐπίσημοι] among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me’ (‘Junia’ being considered by some a Latinisation of ‘Joanna’). And on this passage, we have St John Chrysostom’s wonderful comment (The Orthodox New Testament, Vol. 2: Acts, Epistles, and Revelation, trans. and ed. Holy Apostles Convent [Buena Vista, CO: Holy Apostles Convent, 1999], p. 146, n. 207):

Think what an encomium it was to be considered notable among the apostles. They were distinguished by their works and achievements. Bless me, how great the philosophy of this woman to be counted worthy to be addressed also as one of the apostles! But the praise did not stand still here, but again he praises them, saying, ‘They have been in Christ before me’ [Hom. 31, PG 60.747 (669-670)].

In conclusion, my wife's sister-in-law—a wonderful wife to my brother-in-law!—is named Joanna. She probably doesn't know that today would be her nameday on our calendar, but I wish her many years anyway.

5 comments:

Esteban Vázquez said...

A marvellous post, as usual. You have inspired me to get my review of E. J. Epp's Junia: The First Woman Apostle done soon.

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Very nice!

I don't know whose bubble I'll burst, but Junia is not a Latinisation of Joanna, though. Junia is a perfectly proper Latin name of a woman from of gens Junii. A male would be Junius. (This was the gens of Marcus Junius Brutus, Caesar's quondam adopted son and one of his killers, of the "Et tu, Brute?" fame).

Joanna (Ιωαννα) instead comes directly from the same Hebrew name that becomes John (Ιωαννης), which is Yochanan (יוחון), "God has been merciful" (presumably in granting the child).

Instead of one eminent lady to learn from, we have two!

aaronandbrighid said...

But couldn't it be a 'Latinisation' in the same way that Greek people treat 'Stanley' as an Anglicisation of 'Stylianos'? I mean the Wikipedia article said 'Junia' was 'Joanna', so where's your precious philology now? ;-)

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

You mean the same way that Wikipedia can be ουχι παιδειας?

I suppose. Sophist!

John Bunyan said...

One could have both a Jewish and a Roman name, witness Saul and Paul,
John and Mark (my old church was one of perhaps only two consecrated at St John Mark's - in Chester Hill in the Diocese of Sydney). So too, it is possible but not proven that S.Joanna was S.Junia the Apostle.
There was not necessarily any linguistic link though a Roman name might be chosen that sounded similar, as in the case of Paul and Junia.