The image of God was faithfully preserved in you, O Mother. For you took up the Cross and followed Christ.By Your actions you taught us to look beyond the flesh for it passes, rather to be concerned about the soul which is immortal.Hymn of St. Mary of Egypt
Wherefore, O Holy Mary, your soul rejoices with the angels.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Tomorrow, we come to the fifth and final Sunday of Great Lent. The next time we gather for Sunday worship, we will usher Christ triumphantly into Jerusalem with the commemoration of Palm Sunday (see attached flyer). But tomorrow, we have presented to us, the unique life, trials and glory of St. Mary of Egypt.
St. Mary of Egypt left nothing but an oral account of her life when she met St. Zossimas of Palestine. After she slept in the Lord, her life story was passed down orally by the fathers at his monastery, until St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, recorded it around the end of 7th century AD.
According to this account, St. Mary lived during the reign of the Emperor Justinian, in mid-6th century AD. She was born in Egypt in a small town outside Alexandria. In her early teen years she fled her home and went to Alexandria where she lived for about seventeen years in poverty but also in promiscuity, giving herself freely to any man who would spend a few hours with her.
St. Mary was about thirty years old when she heard of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. She decided to join the group but did not have enough money to pay for the trip, so she arranged to offer her body in exchange for the fare. When the pilgrim group arrived in Jerusalem, they went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to venerate the Precious Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. St. Mary found that it was impossible for her to enter; she was held back by a mysterious force like an invisible wall standing in front of her. She then realized that her careless and sinful life prevented her from venerating the Holy Cross.
She broke into tears of repentance, praying to the Theotokos to help her. Immediately, the invisible wall disappeared and Mary entered the church, kneeled in front of the icon of the Theotokos, and then venerated the Holy Cross. At that moment, she heard a voice telling her to go to the desert of the River Jordan where she would have the help, guidance, and protection of the Theotokos.
Mary did as she was told, and traveled to the desert on foot. She lived there in total solitude, battling her passions, crying, praying, and eating and sleeping as little as possible. In her darkest hours, she had the help of the Theotokos who never abandoned her. After years of toiling in solitude,
St. Mary reached the highest level of perfection: her body was not in need of clothes or nutrition, and by God’s Grace she was granted the gift of foreseeing.
Forty-seven years after St. Mary retreated in the desert, another monastic, St. Zossimas, who, as was the tradition at his monastery, had gone to dwell in the desert during Great Lent, reached the place of her seclusion. St. Mary approached him in a miraculous way, told him her life story, and asked him to come again the following year to offer her Holy Communion. St. Zossimas was amazed to have discovered this hidden ascetic, more so a woman, who had reached spiritual perfection.
St. Zossimas visited St. Mary again the next year on Holy Thursday. To reach him, St. Mary crossed the Jordan River without touching the water. She received Holy Communion, and returned to the desert. The following year, St. Zossimas went out again to meet the Saint, and found her dead body peacefully lying on the ground. An inscription nearby informed him that she had slept in the Lord right after receiving Holy Communion, and instructed him to do her funeral service and bury her body. St. Zossimas did as instructed. It is said that a lion came to help him dig St. Mary’s grave. Upon return to his monastery, he shared the precious secret with the brotherhood, and St. Mary’s story was passed on orally until written down about a century later. (Account from Orthodox Pebbles)
Much Love in XC,
Fr. Anthony Savas
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
How much it must grieve a father or a mother to see his or her child suffering without reason. To undergo pain and confusion — for what? Where is God in our plight — we may often ask ourselves. Where is God in all this pain and confusion?
Today we arrive at the fourth week of Lent. In today’s Gospel reading we heard of a father who was on his last hope. His son was possessed by a certain spirit from childhood, which was causing his son pain and confusion. Not even Jesus’ disciples could cure the boy. He brought his son to Jesus, who upon hearing of the father’s plight became exceedingly upset at the whole crowd and expressed these strong and direct words “Oh you faithless generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you.” The Child was immediately brought close to Jesus and the spirit convulsed him instantly. As we know the child was eventually healed. But at what price one may ask? The father accepted and confessed his unbelief and beseeched God with tears to make his faith complete? This is the price, the fulfillment of our faith — payed by Christ himself yet we must pray and beseech Him as well.
It is perhaps important to stress here that this miracle account nowhere refers to the spirit by any title such as demon, or devil. It is perhaps because this spirit is in reference to the spirit of this world, the enemy of Christ. It is the spirit of this generation well rooted in society, it is passed on to our children like a virus. Brethren remember these words well — it is the spirit of this generation which throws our youth about like the child with the spirit we heard earlier today. It smashes them to the ground, it throws them into the fire to be burnt, it throws them into the water to be drowned — today its drugs, alcohol, gambling, anything to distort the image and likeness of God, within them.
This spirit has a very old history going way back to primordial Man, Adam and Eve. It is firmly established and can not come out by anything — except, as our Lord instructed Moses, as our Lord instructed his disciples, as our Lord instructs us today, by beseeching God through prayer and fasting.
“Why could we not cast it out”, his disciples asked their master in shame. We also must ask why can’t we cast this spirit out from our lives and our children’s lives?
Brethren, because as our Lord tells us “This kind can come out by nothing except prayer and fasting”. This is the key to contrite repentance. this twofold formula which treads on the head of this serpent of old and yields our first step towards heaven — contrite repentance.
It is no coincidence then that the first and second steps of Saint John’s 30 chapter book The Ladder (of Divine Ascent) are concerned with the renunciation of this life, this world we live in and detachment from all it’s pleasures. We honor Saint John of the Ladder today as a great Saint of our church who reminds us that going to heaven is not as easy as getting into an elevator and pressing a button. On the contrary, it is a long and hazardous climb which is impossible to scale fully unless we beseech God for assistance. May God grant us all fullness of faith, peace and joy on our climb to heaven — Amen. (From the Orthodox Research Institute)
With Love in Christ,
Fr. Anthony Savas