Greek Orthodox Christians have been saying and singing Χριστος Ανεστη! (Christos Anesti, Christ is risen!) for more generations than we can easily count. Familiar from our earliest childhood, these two words fall so naturally from our lips that we fail to appreciate their significance. In fact, this ancient paschal greeting proclaims Christianity's basic Kerygma and Orthodoxy's faith in the victory of life over death, in the triumph of love over evil.
From the very beginning these same two words have proclaimed the Resurrection of God who became human. Χριστος Ανεστη was first spoken neither by pious priests and learned lawyers, nor by generals and rich merchants. Nor indeed did these words first fall from the lips of Jesus' male disciples. For, at the time of Jesus' arrest they had "left Him and fled away, all of them" (Mark 14:50). One of the twelve, Judas, had betrayed Jesus for a few silver coins; and another, Peter, would deny Him three times.
Scriptures record that women were the first to pronounce the words Χριστος Ανεστη. Who were those women who came with myrrh to the Tomb of Jesus? All four Gospels tell an amazing story about the love and loyalty of Jesus' female disciples, and mathetriai. The names of several survive: Mary of Magdala, Salome, Mary and Martha of Bethany, Joanna, and Mary, the mother of Joset. Along with others, they formed a group of extraordinary women. By "following" Christ through town and countryside and sharing His ministry of teaching and healing, they had defied and broken religious laws and social customs which confined women to the home. Nevertheless, the women disciples never deserted. When the crunch came, unlike the male disciples, "weak" women proved to be Jesus' only true followers.
Standing and watching their friend's death on the Cross, the women shared His pain. They watched again and followed when the body was laid in the tomb. According to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the disciples of the Easter story are Christ's female disciples.
They were the first to experience the Anastasis and its joy. When on the third day after the Crucifixion the women carried spices to the tomb, they found it empty and learned that Christ had risen from the dead. In the words of a paschal hymn, "The Women were first (πρωται) to see the Anastasis. They were also the first to proclaim it, running to tell the hidden male disciples the good news (Ευαγγελιον).The men, however, did not believe them, thinking that the women were talking nonsense (Luke 24:12).
Likewise, the Gospels relate that the Risen Lord first appeared and talked with the faithful women disciples. As Mary Magdalene and the "other Mary" walked away from the empty tomb that first Easter morning, Jesus appeared and entrusted them to carry the message of his Resurrection to the male disciples in hiding (Matthew 28:1-10). For this reason Orthodox tradition celebrates the Myrophoroi as the "first Evangelists."
Both Mark and John tell further the beautiful story of Mary Magdalene's encounter with the Risen Lord. Mary of Magdala's tears and grief turned to joy when she heard her beloved Teacher call her by name (John 20:1-18). Commissioning Mary Magdalene to go and tell the frightened disciples about His return to heaven, Jesus made a woman the true "first apostle" and the "apostle to the apostles" as recognized by the Church. The male disciples, however, did not believe her (Mark 16:11), since traditionally women's witness was considered worthless.
And yet, two-thousand years later, Christian faith and belief in the Resurrection depends solely on the testimony of women, from whose lips fell the first ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ