My beloved brothers and sister in Christ God,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
HOLY MOTHER MARY, PRAY FOR US
(SUNDAY OF SAINT MARY OF EGYPT)
"It is good to hide the secret of a king, but it is glorious to
reveal and preach the works of God" (Tobit 12:7).
The Archangel Raphael said this to Tobit when he performed the divine healing of his blindness. Not to keep the secret of the king is dangerous and can result in one’s demise. But it is a greater loss for the soul of one who keeps silent about the works of the Almighty God. The author of the life of Saint Mary was Saint Sophronios.
Saint Sophronios begins by first narrating the story of the elder Zosimas from one of the monasteries of Palestine. Father Zosimas, a priest who lead a holy life and who from very young was brought up in the monastic tradition and lifestyle. He lived a life of true obedience and adhered to all the spiritual labors. He was renowned for his spiritual life and he was sought after for his piety and holy life. However, at one stage in his life, he began to question whether he had reached perfection and if there was "a monk on earth who could be of use of him and show him a kind of asceticism that he had not accomplished?" "Is there a man to be found in the desert who has surpassed me?"
Thus thought the elder (Geronda), when suddenly an Angel of God appeared to him and said:
"Zosimas, valiantly have you struggled, as far as this is within the power of man, valiantly have you gone through the ascetic course, but there is no man who has attained perfection. Before you, lie unknown struggles greater than those you have accomplished. That you may know how many other ways lead to salvation, leave your native land and, like the renowned Patriarch Abraham, go to the monastery by the River Jordan."
Father Zosimas did as he was told by the Archangel. He went to the monastery located near the River Jordan. He knocked at the door of the Monastery, told the monk who he was, and was lead to the Egoumenos (Abbot). The Egoumenos asked, "where do you come from, brother, and why have you come to us poor old men?" Father Zosimas replied:
"There is no need to speak about where I have come from, but I have come, father, seeking SPIRITUAL PROFIT, for I have heard great things about your skill in leading souls to God!"
Father Zosimas bowed to the Egoumenos, asked for his prayers and blessing and stayed in the monastery. There he observed the fathers proficient both in action and the contemplation of God, aflame in spirit, laboring in the Lord. Seeing this, Father Zosimas was edified and prepared for the struggle that lay before him.
There was a rule in that monastery which was the reason why God brought Father Zosimas there. At the beginning of the Great Fast, the priest celebrated the Divine Liturgy and all partook of the Precious Body and Sacred Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Following the Divine Liturgy, they went to the refectory and would eat a little Lenten food.
After this, the gates of the monastery were thrown open, and chanting, "The Lord is my Light and my Savior; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defender of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 26:1) and the rest of the psalm, all went out into the desert and crossed the River Jordan. Only one or two fathers were left in the monastery. Each of the monks took with him as much as he could, or wanted to, the way of food and some took nothing.
Crossing the River Jordan, they all scattered far and wide in different directions in the desert. In this way, they spent the whole of the fast and used to return to the monastery a week before the Resurrection of Christ on Palm Sunday. Father Zosimas did the same as all. He went far into the desert with a secret hope for finding some ascetic who might be living there and who might be able to quench his thirst and longing. He wandered on tirelessly for 20 days.
While praying, he suddenly saw to the right of the hillside, a semblance of a human form. At first, he thought he beheld a vision of the devil and made the sign of the Cross out of fear. What he saw was naked, with dark skin and hair white as a fleece, and not long, falling just below its neck. Father Zosimas ran in pursuit beholding a human being, but the form fled from him. He followed. When he was near enough to be heard, he shouted:
"Why do you run away from an old man and a sinner? Save of the True God, wait for me, whoever you are, in God’s name I tell you, for the love of God for Whose sake you are living in the desert."
"Forgiven me for God’s sake, but I cannot turn towards you and show you my face, Abba (Father) Zosimas. For I am a woman and naked as you see with the uncovered shame of my body. But if you would like to fulfill one wish of A SINFUL WOMAN, throw me your cloak so that I can cover my body and can turn to you and ask for your blessing."
Father Zosimas was filled with fear, for he heard that she called him by name. He realized that she could not have done so without knowing anything of him if she had not had THE POWER OF SPIRITUAL INSIGHT.
He threw her his cloak while turning away as he did so. She picked it up and was able to cover at least a part of her body. Then she turned to Father Zosimas and said:
"Why did you wish, Father Zosimas, to see a sinful woman?" What do you wish to hear or learn from me, you who have not shrunk from such great struggles?" After a long while the woman said to Father:
"Father Zosimas, It is you who must give blessings and pray. You are dignified by the order of Priesthood and for many years have you been standing before the Holy Altar and offering the Sacrifice of the Divine Mysteries."
"O mother, filled with the Spirit, by your mode of life, it is evident that you live with God and have died to the world. The Grace granted to you is apparent — for you have CALLED ME BY NAME AND RECOGNIZE THAT I AM A PRIEST, THOUGH YOU HAVE NEVER SEEN ME BEFORE. Grace is recognized not by one’s orders, but BY GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT, SO GIVE ME YOUR BLESSING FOR GOD’S SAKE, FOR I NEED YOUR PRAYERS."
Then the woman asked the elder "Why do you wish to see a woman naked and devoid of every virtue? Though I know one thing — the Grace of the Holy Spirit has brought you to render me a service in time. Tell me, father, how are the Christian people living? And the kings? How is the Church guided?"
Father Zosimas replied, "By your holy prayers, mother, Christ has granted lasting peace to all. But fulfill the unworthy petition of an old man and pray for the whole world and for me, who am a sinner, so that my wanderings in the desert may not be fruitless."
"I beg you, by the Name of Jesus Christ our God, Who was born of a Virgin, for Whose sake you have stripped yourself, for Whose sake you have exhausted your flesh, do not hide from your servant, who you are and whence and how you came to this desert. Tell me everything so that the marvelous works of God may become known…tell me all, I implore you.
"I am ashamed, Father, to speak to you of my disgraceful life, forgive me for God’s sake! But as you have already seen my naked body I shall likewise lay bare before you my work, so that you may know with what shame and obscenity my soul is filled. I was not running away out of vanity, as you thought, for what have I to be proud of — I who as the chosen VESSEL OF THE DEVIL? But when I start my story you will run from me, as from a snake, for your ears will not be able to hear the vileness of my actions. But I shall tell you all without hiding anything (her confession to a priest) only imploring you first of all to pray incessantly for me, so that I may find mercy on the Day of Judgment."
The elder wept and the woman began her story.
(To be continued)
"Glory Be To GOD
– Saint John Chrysostomos
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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God
+ Father George