The Myrrh-Bearing Women

Hand painted icon of The Myrrh-Bearing Women - egg tempera on wood, oil gilded

This is the Easter icon. It shows the women who went to the tomb of Christ to anoint his body and found the tomb empty. An angel sat on the stone that rolled away from the entrance to the tomb and told them that Christ was raised from the dead and commanded them to go and tell the Apostles.

Different Gospel accounts differ as to the number and identity of the Myrrh-Bearing women, as they have become known. And so there are different variants of the icon, some with more or fewer women, some with two angels and some with sleeping soldiers who were guarding the tomb.

There are eight women that are named as the myrrh-bearers, four of them called Mary, one of them being Jesus Christ’s Mother. In this icon the women are not identified by name. They are carrying flasks of oil for anointing and seem startled and afraid but accepting the news from the angel. The angel is pointing to the empty tomb and the burial shroud in it.

The depictions of Christ coming (or even flying) out of the tomb are not canonical in the Orthodox Church. There is another icon known as The Resurrection, or more specifically The Descent into Hell. It illustrates the significance of Christ’s death. Christ, God, the author of life descends into the realm of death and destroys death, shown personified under His feet. He is bringing the whole of humanity, represented by the figures of Adam and Eve, out of the grave.