“I have not seen a beast or a living being ever since I came into the desert. I never learned from books. I have never even heard anyone who sang and read from them. But the word of God which is alive and active, by itself teaches a man knowledge.” – St. Mary of Egypt
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Please pay special attention to the above quote from St. Mary of Egypt. I believe that we know her story well, for the fifth and final Sunday of Lent is dedicated to her unique and glorious story. But in case anyone has not had the opportunity to learn from her life, I offer this admittedly-brief synopsis of her story.
St. Mary was a woman of surpassing beauty and charm. Rather than glorifying for her renowned physical gifts, she turned her back on her Creator by living a life of excessive vulgarity and debauchery. She fell into every carnal sin imaginable in her “professional life” as a prostitute and in her personal time as someone who lived only to please herself.
One evening, a festal procession was entering a church, and as she attempted to follow the crowd, she found herself physically barred from passing through the door. The Mother of God was prohibiting her from defiling this holy place with her mere presence. Recognizing this mystical scorn, St. Mary repented and immediately thrust herself into the desert where she remained for over 40 years, living in complete isolation while constantly begging God for forgiveness of her countless sins.
The only way we even know she existed is because a sojourning priest by the name of Fr. Zosimos fell upon her in the wilderness, quite by accident. He gave her the holy Eucharist (the one and only time she ever received in her life), recorded her story, learned from her experiences and returned to visit her the following year, only to have found her lifeless remains where he had last seen her alive. She demonstrates one of the most dynamic and transformative conversions of the known Christian world. We give thanks to God for the lessons learned from St. Mary of Egypt’s life of excesses turned to virtues and perversion turned to absolute holiness.
So, why the Lenten lesson in September? As I stated previously, pay special attention to St. Mary’s words. She lived an entire, young life without ever knowing God, or even attempting to draw near to him. She matured into an adult, a fully-rational being, living as far from God as possible. But through her own efforts, and the Lord’s long-suffering patience, and her personal encounters, she drew more closely to His feet than few ever have.
During the month of September, most of our St. Anna Youth Ministry activities begin in earnest. Last Sunday, we blessed the beginning of our Sunday School year with over 75 students registered (not bad for our “little” parish). This Saturday, our Fall Altar Boy Retreat will take place, engaging our 18 boys and young men in team-building exercises, fellowship and processional rehearsals. You might not think it takes practice to serve in the Altar, but it does if we are to serve with dignity and grace.
And to inaugurate our JOY and GOYA ministries, we will have our Kick-Off BBQ next Sunday. If your kids are planning on participating, please be forewarned that they are coming home very, very, very messy.
I mention these things because unlike St. Mary of Egypt, our children have every opportunity to know God. As a youth, she had no relationship with Him, and that manifested in a life full of departures, declines and decay.
As the adults in our households, if we can prayerfully commit to engaging our children in matters of faith, we will give them a fighting chance to emerge victoriously over a world that will continually strive to break them down. If there is a service, bring your kids whenever possible. If there is an activity, allow them to participate. Their lives are filled with distractions and other responsibilities, but by making their spiritual lives a priority, they will have advantages that no other entity can offer.
They will be strong and vibrant Christians. They will have access to the Kingdom. They will be disciples and apostles. They will be inspired leaders. They will be the Body of Christ.
St. Mary of Egypt did not have GOYA or Sunday School. She did not have the Divine Liturgy or Lenten Retreats. She had to figure it out on her own after the Theotokos literally and physically kicked her out of the church. I am grateful that our children have a church that was literally created, by God’s grace, through the efforts, sacrifice and faith of their parents.
St. Mary had no companions, no books, no hymns, no teachers, no programs.
She is a most-revered saint and an example of complete transformation.
Imagine what our young people can and will accomplish!
With Love in Christ,