My brothers and sisters in Christ God,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
HOLY MOTHER MARY, PRAY FOR US!
The Life of Saint Mary of Egypt: From a life of sin to
a life of holiness. From a sinner to a Saint.
Mary herself is the one telling her story to Father Zosimas.
"My native land, holy father, was Egypt. Already during the lifetime of my parents, when I was 12 years old, I renounced their love and went to Alexandria. I am ashamed to recall how there I at first ruined my maidenhood and then unrestrainedly and insatiably gave myself up to sensuality. It is more becoming to speak of this briefly, so that you may just know my passion and my lechery. For about 17 years, forgive me, I lived like that…I lived by begging often by spinning flax, but I had an insatiable desire and so irrepressible passion for lying in filth. This was life to me. Every kind of abuse of nature I regarded as life. That is how I lived. Then one summer I saw a large crowd of Lybians and Egyptians running toward the sea. I asked one of them, ‘where are these men hurrying to?’ He replied, ‘they are all going to Jerusalem for the Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross, which takes place in a few days.’ I said to him, ‘will they take me with them if I wish to go?’ ‘No one will hinder you if you have money to pay for the journey and for food.’ And I said to him, ‘to tell you the truth, I have no money, neither have I for food. But I shall go with them and shall go aboard. And they shall feed me, whether they want to or not. I have a body — they shall take it instead of pay for the journey.’ I was suddenly filled with a desire to go, Abba (Father), to have more lovers who could satisfy my passion. I told you Father Zosimas, not to force me to tell you of my disgrace. God is my witness, I am afraid of defiling you and the very air with my words."
Father Zosimas, weeping, replied to her:
"Speak on for God’s sake, mother, speak and do not break the thread of such an edifying tale."
And, resuming her story, she went on…
"…Shamelessly, as usual, I mixed with the crowd, saying, ‘Take me with you to the place you are going to; you will not find me superfluous.’ I also added a few more words calling forth general laughter. Seeing my readiness to be shameless, they readily took me aboard the boat. Those who were expected came also, and we set sail at once…There is no mentionable or unmentionable depravity of which I was not their teacher. I am amazed, Father, how the sea stood our licentiousness, how the earth did not open its jaws, and how it was that hell did not swallow me alive when I had entangled in my net so many souls. But I THINK GOD WAS SEEKING MY REPENTANCE. FOR HE DOES NOT DESIRE THE DEATH OF A SINNER BUT MAGNANIMOUSLY AWAITS HIS RETURN TO Him. At last, we arrived in Jerusalem. I spent the days before the festival in the town, living the same kind of life, perhaps even worse…
"The holy day of the Exaltation of the Cross dawned while I was still flying about — hunting for youths. At daybreak, I saw that everyone was hurrying to the church (the church of the Holy Sepulchre), so I ran with the rest. When the hour of the Holy Elevation approached, I was trying to make my way in with the crowd which was struggling to get through the church doors. I had at last squeezed through with great difficulty almost to the entrance of the temple, from which the Life-Giving Tree of the Cross was being shown to the people. But when I trod on the doorstep which everyone else passed, I WAS STOPPED BY SOME INVISIBLE FORCE WHICH PREVENTED MY ENTERING. Meanwhile, I was brushed aside by the crowd and found myself standing alone on the porch. Thinking that this had happened because of my woman’s weakness, I again began to work my way into the crowd, trying to elbow myself forward. But in vain I struggled. Again my feet trod on the doorstep over which others were entering the church without encountering any obstacle. I ALONE SEEMED TO REMAIN UNACCEPTED BY THE CHURCH. It was AS IF THERE WAS A DETACHMENT OF SOLDIERS STANDING THERE TO OPPOSE MY ENTRANCE. Once again, I was excluded by the same mighty force and again I stood on the porch.
"Having repeated MY ATTEMPT THREE OR FOUR TIMES, AT LAST, I FELT EXHAUSTED and had no more strength to push and to be pushed, so I went aside and stood in a corner of the porch. And only then with great difficulty, it began to dawn on me, and I BEGAN TO UNDERSTAND THE REASON WHY I WAS PREVENTED FROM BEING ADMITTED TO SEE THE LIFE-GIVING CROSS. THE WORD OF SALVATION GENTLY TOUCHED THE EYES OF MY HEART AND REVEALED TO ME THAT IT WAS MY UNCLEAN LIFE WHICH BARRED THE ENTRANCE TO ME. I BEGAN TO WEEP AND LAMENT AND BEAT MY BREAST, AND TO SIGH FROM THE DEPTHS OF MY HEART. And so I stood weeping when I saw above me the icon of the Most Holy Mother of God. And turning to her MY BODILY AND SPIRITUAL EYES I SAID:
"O Lady, Mother of God, who gave birth in the flesh, to God the Logos/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 LOOK UP TO THY ICON, O EVER-VIRGIN, WHO DID 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 ON 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 AND FOR 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.’
"Thus I spoke and as if acquiring some hope in firm faith, and feeling some confidence in the mercy of the Mother of God, I left the place where I stood PRAYING. And I went again and mingled with the crowd that was pushing its way into the temple. And now NO ONE SEEMED TO THWART ME, NO ONE HINDERED MY ENTERING THE CHURCH. I was possessed with trembling and was almost in delirium. Having got as far as the doors which I could not reach before — as if the same force which hindered me CLEARED THE WAY FOR ME – I NOW ENTERED WITHOUT DIFFICULTY AND FOUND MYSELF WITHIN THE HOLY PLACE. AND SO IT WAS I SAW THE LIFE-GIVING CROSS. I saw the Mysteries of God and how the Lord ACCEPTS REPENTANCE. Throwing myself on the ground. I worshipped that holy earth and kissed it with trembling. Then I came out of the church and went to her who promised to be my security, to the place where I HAD SEALED MY VOW. And bending my knee before the Virgin Mother of God, I addressed to her such words as these:
"O Loving Lady, thou has shown me thy great love for all men. Glory to God Who RECEIVES REPENTANCE OF SINNERS THROUGH THEE. What more can I recollect or say, I who am so sinful? It is time for me, O Lady, to fulfill my vow, according to thy witness. Now LEAD ME BY THE HAND ALONG THE PATH OF REPENTANCE! And at these words, I heard a voice from on high: "IF YOU CROSS THE JORDAN (RIVER) YOU WILL FIND GLORIOUS REST." Hearing this voice and HAVING FAITH that it was for me, I cried to the Mother of God: "O Lady, Lady, do not forsake me!"
With these words I left the porch of the church and SET OFF ON MY JOURNEY, As I was leaving the church a stranger glanced at me and gave me three coins, saying: ‘Sister, take them.’ And taking the money, I bought THREE LOAVES AND TOOK THEM WITH ME ON MY JOURNEY, AS A BLESSED GIFT. I asked the person who sold me the bread: ‘Which is the way to the Jordan?’ I was directed to the city gate which led that way. Running on I passed the gates and still weeping went on my journey. After walking for the rest of that day (I think it was nine o’clock when I saw the cross of the church) I at last reached at sunset the Church of Saint John the Baptist which stood on the banks of the River Jordan. After praying in the temple, I went down to the Jordan and rinsed my face and hands in its holy waters. I partook of the holy water and Life-Giving Mysteries in the Church of the Forerunner and ate HALF OF ONE OF MY LOAVES. Then I found a small boat and crossed to the opposite bank. I again prayed to Our Lady to lead me wherever she wished. Then I FOUND MYSELF IN THIS DESERT AND SINCE THEN UP TO THIS VERY DAY I AM ESTRANGED FROM ALL, KEEPING AWAY FROM PEOPLE AND RUNNING AWAY FROM EVERYONE. AND I LIVE HERE CLINGING TO MY GOD WHO SAVES ALL WHO TURN TO HIM FROM FAINTHEARTEDNESS AND STORMS."
Father Zosimas asked her: ‘How many years have gone by since you began to live in this desert?’
She replied: 47 years have already gone by, I think since I left the holy city.’
Father Zosimas asked:’But what food do you find?’
The woman said: ‘I had TWO AND A HALF LOAVES WHEN I CROSSED THE JORDAN. SOON THEY DRIED UP AND BECAME HARD AS ROCK. EATING A LITTLE I GRADUALLY FINISHED THEM AFTER A FEW YEARS.’
Father Zosimas asked: ‘Can it be that without getting ill you have lived so many years thus, without suffering in any way from such a complete change?’
The woman answered:
‘You remind me, Father Zosimas, of what I dare not speak of. For when I recall all the dangers which I overcame, and all the violent thoughts which confused me, I am again afraid that they will take possession of me.’
(To be continued)