My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF THE GREAT FAST: THE LIFE OF OUR
HOLY MOTHER MARY OF EGYPT. (Part II)
"Know, O my good man", says St. Mary to Father Zosimas, "that I am only a sinful woman, though I am guarded by Holy Baptism. And I am no spirit, but earth and ashes, and flesh alone." And with these words, she guarded herself with the sign of the Cross on her forehead, eyes, mouth, and breast, saying, "Let God lead us away from the Evil One and his designs, O Abba (Father) Zosimas, for the Adversary wars against us mightily."
Hearing and seeing this, the elder fell to the ground and, embracing her feet, he said with tears: "I adjure thee, by the name of Christ our God Who was born of a Virgin–for Whose sake thou hast stripped thyself, for Whose sake thou hast exhausted thy flesh–do not hide from thy slave who thou art and whence and how thou camest into this desert. Tell me everything, so that the marvelous works of God may become known." This, and much more to the same effect, was uttered by Father Zosimas. But the woman raise him up and said: "I am ashamed, father, to speak to thee of my disgraceful life-forgive me for God’s sake! But as thou hast already seen my naked body, I shall likewise lay bare before thee my work, so that thou mayest know with what shame and obscenity my soul is filled. I was not running away out of modesty, as thou has thought. For about what have I to be modest? Was I not the chosen vessel of the devil? But I confess all to thy holiness, without hiding anything. I only implore thee, first of all, to pray unceasingly for me, so that I may find mercy on the Day of Judgement."
The elder already began weeping as the woman began her story. "My native land, honorable father, was Egypt. Already during the lifetime of my parents, when I was twelve 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 thou mayest know to what degree was my passion and my lewdness. For about seventeen years–forgive me–I lived in that vile condition. I was like a fire of public debauchery. And it was not for the sake of gain–here I speak the pure truth. Often when they wished to pay me, I refused the money. I acted in this way so as to make as many men as possible try to obtain me, doing free of charge what gave me pleasure. Do not think that I was rich and that was the reason why I did not take money. I lived by begging, often by spinning flax. At the same time, I had an insatiable desire and an irrepressible passion for wallowing in filth. This was life to me. To execute kind of insult to nature on account of my lust: this I regarded as life.
"That is how I lived. But then, one summer, I saw a large crowd of Libyans and Egyptians running toward the sea. I learned that they were all going to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross, which would take place in a few days. I asked to go along with them. One fellow remarked, ‘No one will hinder thee if thou hast money to pay for the journey and for food.’ I answered, ‘To tell thee the truth, I have neither money nor food. But I shall go with them and shall go aboard. And they will feed me, whether they want to or not. I have a body–they will take it instead of pay for the journey.’ Zosimas, weeping, urged her to continue her account. "Shamelessly, as usual, I mixed with the crowd, saying in a bawdy manner, ‘Take me with you to the place in which you are going. You will not find me superfluous. ‘I also added a few more obscene words, calling forth general laughter. Seeing my readiness to be promiscuous, they readily took me aboard the boat. Mary then described briefly the depravity that took place a sea. She also said that she had corrupted many men in Jerusalem as well.
"The holy day of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross dawned," she continued, "while I was still flying about and hunting for youths. At daybreak, I observed that everyone was hurrying to the church, so I hastened along with the rest." She told Abba (Father) Zosimas that at the hour of the Elevation of the Cross, how she was struggling to mingle with the pilgrims. "I had at last squeezed through, but with great difficulty, almost to the entrance of the temple, from which the Life-Giving Tree of the Cross was being shown to the faithful. But when I trod on the doorstep, which everyone else passed over with ease, I was stopped by some force which prevented my entering." She added that trying, again and again, she found herself standing alone in the courtyard. "Thinking that this had happened because of my womanly weakness, I again began to work my way into the crowd, trying to elbow myself forward." She disclosed that all her attempts to step over the threshold were fruitless. "I alone seemed to remain unacceptable by the church. It was as if a detachment of soldiers stood there to oppose my entrance.
"Having repeated my attempt three or four times, at last, I felt exhausted and had no more strength either to push or to be pushed; so I went aside and stood in a corner of the porch. Only then, with great difficulty, did I begin to understand the reason why I was barred from being admitted to see the Life-Giving Cross. The word of salvation gently touched the eyes of my heart. And I stood weeping, when I saw above me the icon of the Most Holy Lady, Mother of God, who gavest 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 should gaze upon thine image, O Ever-virgin, who didst keep thy body and soul with purity. Rightly do I inspire repulsion and disgust before thy virginal purity. But I have heard that God, Who was born of thee, became man for the very purpose of calling sinners to repentance. Then help me, for I am a lone woman and have no other help. Order the entrance of the church to be opened to me. Permit me to see the Venerable Tree upon which He, Who was born of thee and suffered–even for me, unworthy though I am. Be my faithful guarantor before Thy Son, that I will never again insult and defile my body by the impurity of fornication. Moreover, as soon as I have seen the Tree of the Cross, I will renounce the world and its temptations and will go wheresoever thou shouldest lead me."
"Thus I spoke. And it was as if I acquired the fire of faith as a kind of hope and confidence in the mercy of the Mother of God. I, thereupon, left the place where I had been standing and praying. And I went again and merged with the crowd that was pushing its way into the temple." Mary then said that she was filled with astonishment and fear, seeing the way before her cleared. She made a prostration on the floor and worshipped God.
Upon emerging from the church, she went before the Theotokos icon again, saying, "O Loving Lady, thou has 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, O Lady, to fulfill my vow, according to thy witness. Now lead me by the hand along the path of repentance!" Mary then heard a voice from on high, "If thou will cross the Jordan, thou shall find a great rest." Mary then cried out to the Theotokos, "O Lady, Lady, do not forsake me!" With these words on her lips, she left the courtyard of the church and set off on her journey toward the Jordan.
"As I was leaving the church," Mary remembered, ‘a Christian stranger glanced at me and gave me three copper coins, saying: "Sister, take these in the name of the Christ." And, taking the money, I bought three loaves of bread and took them with me on my journey, s a blessed gift." Mary then described how she asked for directions to the path leading to the Jordan. She ran through the city gates, going along for some thirty kilometers until sunset he reached the Church of Saint John the Baptist which stood on the banks of the river Jordan and north of the Dead Sea. After praying therein, she partook of the Mysteries (Sacraments) and partook of a portion of her loaves. Taking some water from the river Jordan, she lay down and passed the night on the ground. In the morning she found a small boat and crossed to the opposite bank. (Source: The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church)
[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