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