Orthodox Commentary on Theology, Ethics, and Culture
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
St. Mary of Egypt
"Where shall I begin to weep for the actions of my
wretched life? What first-fruit shall I offer, O Christ, in this my
lamentation? But in thy compassion grant me forgiveness of
sins." (The Canon of St. Andrew, Canticle 1, vs. 2.)
Great Lent we remember and venerate Saint Mary of Egypt both on April 1 and
the Fifth Sunday of Lent. With the Canon of St. Andrew, read in many
churches during the first and fifth weeks of Lent, we uphold her as an icon
of repentance, an example for every Orthodox Christian to emulate. Yet for
many years, she lived a life of bondage to sexual passions. If St.
Mary of Egypt were alive today, would we welcome her into our assembly?
"I confess to
Thee, O Savior, the sins I have committed, the wounds of my soul and body,
which murderous thoughts, like thieves, have inflicted inwardly upon
me." (The Canon of St. Andrew, Canticle 1, vs. 12.)
While we don't know about
the very early years of her life, we do know that she lost her virginity at
age twelve and ran away from home. For the next seventeen years she was a
slave to her insatiable appetite for sexual perversions, including sexual
encounters with "young men," even against their will. This sounds
very much like a victim of pedophilia who recoils and continues in her
victimization by taking on the role of a predator herself, victimizing
others in the process. Many adults who fall into the bondage of pedophilia
are victims of sexual abuse as children. In a futile attempt to reconcile
the horror of their own victimization, they try to regain control of their
lives through exploitation, continuing to inflict wounds on their own souls
"Like David, I
have fallen into lust and I am covered in filth; but wash me clean, O
Savior, by my tears." (The Canon of St. Andrew, Canticle 2, vs.
54.) "O Lady, thou hast brought forth our Joy: Grant me the
spirit of mourning that in the coming Day of Judgment I may be comforted by
God." (The Canon of St. Andrew, Canticle 9, vs. 327.) "For
all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God." (Romans
For seventeen years St.
Mary of Egypt lived a lifestyle that isolated her from the community and
God. Covered with filth amassed over the years, her heart yet longed for
union with God. People in prison feel ostracized too, isolated from
God and society, as they sit in shame in prison cells longing for the same
tears of repentance that lead to joy and reconciliation.
man, calling to repentance thieves and harlots. Repent, my soul: the
door of the kingdom is already open, and Pharisees and publicans and
adulterers pass through it before thee, changing their lives."
(The Canon of St. Andrew, Canticle 9, Vs. 342)
The healing of the
venerable Saint Mary of Egypt was not instantaneous but required a rigorous
and lengthy spiritual journey. Being led by the Holy Spirit, she retreated
to the wilderness where she lived the life of a hermit for seventeen years,
seeking freedom from bondage of the passions. She spent a further thirty
years in the wilderness having obtained the true gifts of repentance,
healing and freedom from the enslavement of sin.
During Great Lent, each of
us seeks repentance, turning from our own vices and passions and setting
our minds and hearts on God. Through the intercessions of the most Holy
Theotokos, God grants us the gift of compunction to turn from our wounds
and sins to find healing and comfort in Him.
Let us remember St Mary of
Egypt and her wonderful redemption. During the remainder of this Lenten
journey, may we pray to be freed from our imprisonment to the passions that
enslave us. Let us also pray for strength for all of our brothers and
sisters who are imprisoned in penitentiaries, for their struggles and their
journeys to repentance.
been a sinful woman,
became through repentance a Bride of Christ.
attained angelic life,
defeated demons with the weapon of the Cross;
O most glorious Mary you are a Bride of the Kingdom! (Kontakion: Tone