Many parishes have begun to incorporate myrrhophoroi (myrrh-bearers) into their Great Friday or Resurrection services. While the inclusion of myrrh-bearers is laudable, it is unfortunate that most parishes have chosen to use very young girls, usually dressed in a manner similar to flower girls at weddings. This has led many to believe, erroneously, that myrrhophoroi means "virgins". By contrast, the gospel narratives explicitly identify the original myrrh-bearers as grown and, in most cases, married, women.

The liturgical use of women representing the myrrh-bearers is not new, however. The Church of Jerusalem had an ancient tradition of including myrrhophoroi in the Holy Saturday and Resurrection services. These adult women accompanied the patriarch and clergy to the Holy Sepulchre on Holy Saturday to clean and prepare the lamps. After the Liturgy of the Vigil they incensed and anointed the tomb.

During the Easter matins, when the patriarch emerged from the Holy Sepulchre proclaiming "Christ is risen," the myrrhophoroi would fall down before him, then rise and cense him. Finally, they would sing his praise (polychronizousin) and return to their accustomed place (it is unclear where this was, but it implies that they had a permanent office).

At the end of the Easter matins, there was a procession to the bema (a kind of pulpit in the center of the solea) with two of each clerical order. The myrrhophoroi processed with the triskellia (three-legged lecterns) between the deacons and deaconesses, and took up positions on each side of the Holy Sepulchre. During the gospel reading that followed, they censed constantly. At the end of the reading, the myrrhophoroi entered the sepulchre and censed and anointed it.


The source for this information is A. Papadopoulos-Kerameus, Typikon tes en Hierosolymois ekklesias, "Analecta Hierosolymetikes Stachylogias," vol. II (St. Petersburg, 1894), pp. 179, 189, 191, 199. This is a publication of a manuscript dating to 1122, but which is believed to be a copy of an earlier work from the late ninth or early tenth century. The manuscript provides the texts and rubrics (descriptions of clerical actions) for the liturgical services of the Church of Jerusalem.

A summary of the information on the myrrhophoroi can be found in Gabriel Bertonière, The Historical Development of the Easter Vigil and Related Services in the Greek Church, "Orientalia Christiana Analecta," no. 193 (Rome: Pont. Institutum Studiorum Orientalium, 1972), p. 50, n. 108.