By Christos Tsouvalis
Archon Ostiarios of the Ecumenical Throne
"We have you as an example of repentance most-venerable Mary,
therefore beseech Christ, that in the time of fasting,
He may grant the same to those, who with faith and longing, sing your praises."
This is the exaposteilarion we heard chanted in our church on the Fifth Sunday of the Fast, where we set forth Venerable Mary of Egypt as an example of repentance in order to sharpen our spiritual struggle with repentance and proper preparation, now as we are entering the last stage before the Immaculate Passion and Life-bearing Resurrection of our Lord.
Reverend Father, my beloved brethren, Saint Mary was a woman absolutely enslaved to her egocentric passions of vanity and physical pleasures. When at one point she went from Egypt to Jerusalem and tried, many times, to venerate the Honorable Cross and was unable, because her passions were preventing her, she sensed her sinfulness and invoked the help of the Most Holy Theotokos, promising to abstain from her previous sins. Immediately she was then able to venerate the Honorable Cross and departed for the desert, beyond the Jordan, where, after a shocking repentance and contrition, she crucified her passions and met with the Resurrected Christ.
The case of Saint Mary of Egypt leads us to the conclusion that no one should be discouraged of their spiritual condition, no matter how bad it is. For all of us who are weak and sinful, there is hope and the love of God. Countless are the paths manufactured by God, in the daily routine of our life, that lead us on the path towards repentance. Because "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). Jesus spilled His honorable blood on the Cross to cleanse us, and to always cleanse us from the mud of sin, and the unbearable weight of our transgressions. "This is My blood of the new covenant shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matt. 26:28). All is eliminated by the blood of the crucifixion sacrifice of Christ, with the Mystery of the Divine Eucharist.
My brethren, the Divine Eucharist is that divinely instituted Mystery, that continues the crucifixion sacrifice of the Lord and gives to the faithful the goods of salvation that came from it. "The blood of Christ cleanses our consciences from dead works" (Heb. 9:14). No other sacrifice, no matter how big it is, can compare with the sacrifice of the Crucified Christ, because, according to Saint John Chrysostom, "He by this sacrifice delivered us from corruption and absolved us from death, to which we were condemned for our sins. Though we were far from God, He by His sacrifice brought us near Him. And though we had lost all hope for salvation, He made us His brethren and co-heirs." If we want these great gifts of our Savior's sacrifice to become the property of us all, we must have clean and worthy heavenly dinner garments. But how can we acquire clean garments? It is acquired only if we cleanse our consciences from the dead works of sin. "Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup" (1 Cor. 11:28).
My brethren, hell is not for sinners, but for the unrepentant. For those who do not feel their unworthiness, who do not know the greatness of forgiveness, who ignore the paradise of God's love, who do not live the hope of faith. "Grievous was his indolence. Great was her repentance." Without repentance, Divine Communion becomes fire and burns those who come unprepared before the Sanctuary and unworthily receive the Honorable Gifts. "For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves" (1 Cor. 11:29). This is why the Church invites us to approach "with the fear of God, faith and love" to commune of the Body and Blood of the Lord, having previously confessed.
For this to take place, we must first examine our spiritual life in detail, namely our actions, our words and our desires. Second, we must repent of whatever we find that goes against God's will. Lastly, we must approach with devotion and contrition, before our spiritual father, to sincerely confess or aberrations and transgressions. We must say with the strength of our entire soul: "Take pity on me the sinner" (Lk. 16:13), that we may hear: "Child, your sins are forgiven" (Mk. 2:5). Only then will we return to our original position voluntarily, having voluntarily distanced ourselves. Only then will we become worthy of a second baptism, which will completely wash us of our sins with the power of the Body and Blood of Christ. According to the divine Chrysostom: "There is great might in confession, and much power." Great also is the power of the crucifixion energy of the Immaculate Mysteries, when after repentance, confession and soul-profiting fasting we commune. Only then will we wear a clean and altogether worthy heavenly dinner garment.
Through Divine Communion there will be a complete cleansing of our sins and the eternal salvation of our souls. "Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded" (Jam. 4:8), writes the Holy Apostle James. Let us then approach the Source of truth and blessedness with faith and reverence. "Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame" (Ps. 33(34):5). Let us approach this Bread of Life worthily, the Body and Blood of our Lord. "Taste and see that the Lord is good" (Ps. 33(34):9).
Saint Mary of Egypt lived in the chaos of sin and revealed the meaning of true repentance and forgiveness, having lived forty-seven entire years in the desert beyond the Jordan. She revealed how truly vast is the love of God for us weak and sinful people. This is why with the help of repentance, and her much love for God, and philotimo, even until a true martyric struggle, she became richly gifted, and to her was applied the saying: "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound" (Rom. 5:20). Because we are all sinners, and "we all stumble in many ways" (Jam. 3:2), in word, deed and thought daily, sometimes willingly and sometimes unwillingly, it would be good for us to imitate Saint Mary of Egypt.
Let us ask our Lord Jesus Christ, to make us worthy, through the prayers and supplications of the all-revered Egyptian, to be purified through the Mysteries of Repentance and Divine Communion, so that we may truly celebrate the radiant Resurrection of the Lord, according to the poetic exhortation of the hymnographer of Pascha: "Let us purify our senses and we shall behold Christ, radiant with the inaccessible light of the Resurrection." Amen.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.