Sunset - Larnaca

Sunset - Larnaca

Sunday, 29 March 2015

St Mary of Egypt

St Mary of Egypt is commemorated today, the fifth Sunday of Lent. Rather than the Holy Church commemorating a great apostle, evangelist, or martyr on this Sunday leading to Holy Week and Pascha, it remembers someone who began her life as a prostitute. She fell into the passions of the body to a great extent, offering herself to men for seventeen years. Refusing money from the men who she copulated with, Mary made her living from begging and spinning flax.

One day she met a group of young men who were shortly heading towards Jerusalem in order to venerate the Holy Cross of our Lord. Mary decided to join the group in order to seduce them along their way - however as they arrived in Jerusalem and were entering the church, Mary was prohibited from entering by an unseen, divine force. After three attempts she remained outside the church; where her life miraculously changed. This force was essentially a wake up call, a call for repentance, and an invitation to turn her life around and follow Christ, the source of joy and life.

Mary renounced her worldly desires, and accepted this calling from God to live a life of repentance, chastity, and holiness - a life which we are all called to live. Though she realised and accepted that she had to point her life in the direction of Christ, she was still faced with constant desires and passions for seventeen years. However, her humility, patience, ascetic way of life and love for God led to the overcoming of her passions and a truly holy and prayerful life in the desert.

After forty-seven years in solitude, Mary met St Zosima who was searching for holy ascetics in the area. She recounted her wonderful story to him, and asked him to return the following year so that she may receive Holy Communion. The following year, St Zosima yet again returned to visit this holy lady, however she had passed away, with her name written on the sand, as well as a message revealing that she had died immediately after receiving the Holy Mysteries the year before.

Saint Mary was given the opportunity of a new beginning, a relationship and communion with Christ, just as we all are given this opportunity of repentance and confession. The Church reminds us of this great Saint who turned away from all her previous mistakes and passions, rising up from the deep pit of sin and repenting with tears, fervent prayer, and boundless love for our Saviour and Lord. God's mercy truly transcends any sin, and can transform any human being, leading them back onto the path of salvation. St Mary's experience and story is beautiful for many reasons, but perhaps most importantly because it shows that especially during the period of lent, no matter how many times we have 'fallen short of the glory of God' (Rom 3:23) it is our time to accept the Lord's calling for repentance and a renewed life with Him. For this reason the Church tells us to look forward, to how we will act later in the day, how much effort we will put into our lenten fast from now (rather than dwelling on our leniency and lack of effort during previous weeks), who we will forgive, feed and pray for, fighting 'the good fight,' carrying the cross in preparation for the Risen Christ on Holy and Great Pascha. Only through this fight (that was fought by Saint Mary having accepted the road of fasting and repentance) are we able to experience and witness the joy of Christ's glorious resurrection personally.

'The image of God was truly preserved in you, O mother,
for you took up the Cross and followed Christ. 
By so doing, you taught us to disregard the flesh, for it passes away;
But to care instead for the soul, since it is immortal.
Therefore your spirit, O holy Mother Mary, rejoices with the Angels.'

Troparion of St Mary of Egypt

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