A Brief Life of St Mary of Egypt
Mary began her life as a young woman who followed the passions of the body, running away from her parents at age twelve for Alexandria. There she lived as a harlot for seventeen years, refusing money from the men that she copulated with, instead living by begging and spinning flax.
One day, however, she met a group of young men heading toward the sea to sail to Jerusalem for the veneration of the Holy Cross. Mary went along for the ride, seducing the men as they traveled for the fun of it. But when the group reached Jerusalem and actually went towards the church, Mary was prohibited from entering by an unseen force. After three such attempts, she remained outside on the church patio, where she looked up and saw an icon of the Theotokos. She began to weep and prayed with all her might that the Theotokos might allow her to see the True Cross; afterwards, she promised, she would renounce her worldly desires and go wherever the Theotokos may lead her.
After this heart-felt conversion at the doors of the church, she fled into the desert to live as an ascetic. She survived for years on only three loaves of bread and thereafter on scarce herbs of the land. For another seventeen years, Mary was tormented by "wild beasts—mad desires and passions." After these years of temptation, however, she overcame the passions and was led by the Theotokos in all things.
Following 47 years in solitude, she met the priest St. Zosima in the desert, who pleaded with her to tell him of her life. She recounted her story with great humility while also demonstrating her gift of clairvoyance; she knew who Zosima was and his life story despite never having met him before. Finally, she asked Zosima to meet her again the following year at sunset on Holy Thursday by the banks of the Jordan.
Zosima did exactly this, though he began to doubt his experience as the sun began to go that night. Then Mary appeared on the opposite side of the Jordan; crossing herself, she miraculously walked across the water and met Zosima. When he attempted to bow, she rebuked him, saying that as a priest he was far superior, and furthermore, he was holding the Holy Mysteries. Mary then received communion and walked back across the Jordan after giving Zosima instructions about his monastery and that he should return to where they first met exactly a year later. When he did so, he found Mary's body with a message written on the sand asking him for burial and revealing that she had died immediately after receiving the Holy Mysteries the year before (and thus had been miraculously transported to the spot where she now lay). So Zosima, amazed, began to dig, but soon tired; then a lion approached and began to help him, that is, after Zosima had recovered from his fear of the creature. Thus St. Mary of Egypt was buried. Zosima returned to the monastery, told all he had seen, and improved the faults of the monks and abbot there. He died at almost a hundred years old in the same monastery.
Later, the story of Mary's life was written down by St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem.
The Life of St. Mary of Egypt is read during Great Lent along with the Great Canon of St. Andrew.
Saint Mary of Egypt: A Living Example of the Power of Repentance
By Elder Epiphanios Theodoropoulos
Translated by John Sanidopoulos
Saint Mary the Egyptian - along with Saint Pelagia, Saint Moses the Ethiopian, Blessed Augustine and others - is a living example of the power of repentance. People who have sunk into the muck of sin to the top of their heads, afterwards reach the cleanliness of the Angels! How powerful is the Grace of God! Let us not lose hope, no matter how much we have sunk into sin. We are able again to become pure white, as we were after Baptism. All we need to do is repent!
The Pentitential Prayer of St. Mary of Egypt to the Theotokos:
My Panagia, Mother of God, who gave birth in the flesh to God the Word. I know, O how well I know, that it is no honor or praise to thee when one so impure and depraved as I looks up to thy icon, O Ever-Virgin, who didst keep thy body and soul in purity. Rightly do I inspire hatred and disgust before thy virginal purity. But I have heard that God Who was born of thee became man for the purpose to call sinners to repentance. Then help me, for I have no other help. Order the entrance of the church to be opened to me. Allow me to see the venerable Tree on which He Who was born of thee suffered in the flesh and on which He shed His holy Blood for the redemption of sinners like me, unworthy as I am. Be my faithful witness before thy Son that I will never again defile my body by the impurity of fornication, but as soon as I have seen the Tree of the Cross I will renounce the world and its temptations and will go wherever thou wilt lead me.My loving Panagia, thou hast shown me thy great love for all men. Glory to God Who receives the repentance of sinners through thee. What more can I recollect or say, I who am so sinful? It is time for me, my Panagia, to fulfil my vow, according to thy witness. Now lead me by the hand along the path of repentance!Source: MYSTAGOGY Blog
A Reflection from the Life of St Mary the Egyptian
by St Nikolai VelimirovichWhy is it that much is said and written about the sufferings of holy men and holy women? Because the saints, alone, are considered victors. Can anyone be a victor without conflict, pain and suffering?
In ordinary earthly combat, no one can be considered victorious nor heroic who has not been in combat, tortured much or suffered greatly. The more so in spiritual combat where the truth is known and where self-boasting not only does not help at all but, indeed, hinders it. He who does not engage in combat for the sake of Christ, either with the world, with the devil or with one's self, how can he be counted among the soldiers of Christ? How, then, can it be with Christ's co-victors?
St. Mary of Egypt spoke about her savage spiritual combat to the Elder Zosimas: "For the first seventeen years in this wilderness I struggled with my deranged sexual desires as though with fierce beasts. I desired to eat meat and fish which I had in abundance in Egypt. I also desired to drink wine and here, I did not have even water to drink. I desired to hear lustful songs. I cried and beat my breasts. I prayed to the All-Pure Mother of God to banish such thoughts from me. When I had sufficiently cried and beat my breasts, it was then that I saw a light encompassing me on all sides and a certain miraculous peace filled me."
Read the Life of St Mary of Egypt, by St Sophronius, Patriarch of JerusalemRead the full Prologue Entry for St Mary by St Nikolai VelimirovichRead the Synaxarion entry for the Fifth Sunday of Great LentAn Article on the Fifth Sunday by Serge Bulgakov
Apolytikion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
In thee the image was preserved with exactness, O Mother; for taking up thy cross, thou didst follow Christ, and by thy deeds thou didst teach us to overlook the flesh, for it passeth away, but to attend to the soul since it is immortal. Wherefore, O righteous Mary, thy spirit rejoiceth with the Angels.
Kontakion in the Second Tone
By the toils of thy struggles, O God-inspired one,
thou didst hallow the harshness of the desert.
Wherefore, we glorify thy memory, as we honour thee with hymns,
O Mary, glory of the righteous.
New for 2013
St Mary of Egypt
by Nektarios Thanos
“… her many sins have been remitted, because she loved greatly” (Luke 7:47).
On the Fifth Sunday of Lent, the Church honours the memory of a “street-walker”, a woman who led such a dissolute life that the word “prostitute” is more of a euphemism rather than an exact description of the depth of her sinfulness. The figure of Blessed Mary is highlighted on the last Sunday of Great Lent: on the one hand, to strike at our Churchy prissiness, since a common harlot is presented as a model of life; and, on the other, to provide an example and a ray of hope for repentance for all those who are slaves to their passions and continue to struggle to find ways to free themselves of them.
It would be possible to claim that the turbulent life of Blessed Mary was heavily involved with love. Both the sinful side of her life and the years of her repentance have love as their common axis. Love of the flesh and her legion of lovers at the beginning; complete love for Christ the Bridegroom thereafter. It’s easy to blame people for sinful love, for giving themselves up entirely to a prodigal life-style. And, obviously, love for the Lord of Glory is laudable. Yet the Blessed Maria was one person and her love was one. What does this mean?
This means, in practical terms, that people who don’t pursue their choices, won’t obtain any joy from ephemeral things nor from those which are eternal. An outspoken spiritual guide used to say to those who confessed to him: “enjoy even your fall”. A really dangerous sentiment and one which is apparently frivolous, if not downright sinful in itself. Nevertheless, apart from settling spiritual responsibility on the person concerned, this saying of the spiritual father clarifies something very important for the course of our lives: obviously, we can’t afford to be lukewarm. As the Lord says to the angel, that is the Bishop of Laodicea: “I know your works and you are neither cold nor hot” Would that you were either cold or hot. So because you are neither cold nor hot, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Rev. 3, 15-16)
If people are inhibited far from God, they’ll be just as inhibited close to Him. Let’s be bold enough to say that people who find no joy in their sinful lives, won’t find any in their life in Christ either. People who don’t pursue their choices enthusiastically will be bland towards the so-called spiritual life, too.
St Mary and St Zosimas
St Mary and St Zosimas
Blessed Mary lived her life to the full, in love. In the beginning she was mortally sinful. Later, however, she bowed down to Christ her Creator, Who, in mystical fashion revealed to her the superiority of the life which is communion with Him. The decision to walk with Him is a conscious one; it doesn’t change our passion for and disposition towards life; it doesn’t change our character. It does change our impetus and criteria, but not the character of the person within the Church. All it does is change our course from sinfulness to sanctity.
It goes without saying that Christians love life. It’s obvious that they live their everyday routine to the full. They rejoice even in their stumbling. They learn to love. Love is the only way, and the only language that God can understand us in. Love- the greater, the better- is our only hope of remission for our sins, as was the case with the Harlot in the Gospel, and also the Fifth Sunday in Lent, dedicated to Blessed Mary- women who “loved greatly”.
St Maria Skobtsova
St Maria Skobtsova
[Another age, another Mary, who led a very active life, full of love: Saint Mary Skobtsova († 1945). In her youth, she was a firebrand radical and married a Bolshevik. Divorcing him, she then married a former teacher (but not before plotting to assassinate Trotsky!). This marriage also collapsed and she became a nun in Paris- on condition that she did not have to live in a monastery. Instead, she turned her rented accommodation into a shelter for the weak and needy, including many Jews. This was too much for the German occupying forces and the Gestapo arrested her. She was sent the gas chamber on Great Saturday, 1945, in Ravensbrück, apparently choosing to take the place of a Jewish woman who had been sentenced to this death. Metropolitan Anthony Bloom said of her that “it offended me then that she liked to sit in Paris bistros in her nun’s habit, smoking cigarettes, drinking beer and talking with simple workers”. But he came to realize that she “is a saint of our day and for our day; a woman of flesh and blood possessed by the love of God…”].