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Friday, April 1, 2011

Saint Mary of Egypt (Life - Reflection - Hymn of Praise)

St. Mary of Egypt (Feast Day - April 1 and the Fifth Sunday of Great Lent)

By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

The biography of this wonderful saint was written by St. Sophronios, the Patriarch of Jerusalem.

Once, during the Honorable Fast [Great Lent], a certain hieromonk, the Elder Zosimas, withdrew into the wilderness beyond the Jordan, a twenty-day trek. Suddenly, he caught sight of a human being with a withered and naked body whose hair was as white as snow and who began to flee from the sight of Zosimas. The elder ran for a long while until this person crouched down in a brook and cried out: "Abba Zosimas forgive me for the sake of the Lord. I cannot face you for I am a naked woman." Zosimas then tossed his outer garment to her which she wrapped around herself and then showed herself to him. The elder was frightened upon hearing his name spoken from the mouth of this woman he did not know.

Following his prolonged insistence, the woman related her life story. She was born in Egypt and at the age of twelve began to live a life of debauchery in Alexandria where she spent seventeen years in this perverted way of life. Driven by the adulterous flame of the flesh, one day she boarded a boat which was sailing for Jerusalem. Arriving at the Holy City, she wanted to enter the church in order to venerate the Honorable Cross, but some invisible force restrained her and prevented her from entering the church. In great fear, she gazed upon the icon of the All-Holy Mother of God in the vestibule and prayed that she be allowed to enter the church to venerate the Honorable Cross, all the while confessing her sinfulness and uncleanness and promising that she would go wherever the All-Pure One would direct her. She was then permitted to enter the church.

Having venerated the Cross she again entered the vestibule and, before the icon, gave thanks to the Mother of God. At that very moment she heard a voice saying: "If you cross over Jordan you will find real peace!" Immediately she purchased three loaves of bread and started out for the Jordan where she arrived that same evening. The next day she received Holy Communion in the Monastery of St. John and crossed over the Jordan river.

She remained in the wilderness for forty-eight years in great torment, fear and struggle with passionate thoughts as though with wild beasts. She fed on vegetation. Afterward, when she stood for prayer, Zosimas saw her levitate in the air. She begged him to bring her Holy Communion the following year on the shore of the Jordan where she would then come to receive it.

The following year, Zosimas arrived on the shore of the Jordan in the evening with Holy Communion. He wondered how this saint would cross the Jordan. At that moment, in the light of the moon, he saw her as she approached the river, made the sign of the cross over it and walked upon the water as though upon dry land.

After Zosimas administered Holy Communion to her, she begged him to come the following year to the same brook where they had first met. Zosimas came and discovered her lifeless body on that spot. Above her head in the sand was written: "Abba Zosimas, bury the body of the humble Mary on this site; render dust to dust. I died on April 1, the same night of the saving-suffering of Christ, after having received Communion of the Divine Mysteries." From this inscription Zosimas first learned her name and the other and awesome miracle was that, she, on that same night the previous year, when she received Holy Communion, arrived at this brook which took him twenty days to travel. Thus, Zosimas buried the body of this wonderful saint, Mary the Egyptian.

When he returned to the monastery Zosimas related the entire history of her life and the miracles which he had personally witnessed. Thus, the Lord knows how to glorify penitent sinners. St. Mary is also commemorated on the Fifth Sunday of the Honorable Fast (Fifth Sunday in Lent). The Church holds her up as an example to the faithful during these fast days as an incentive for repentance. She died about the year 530 A.D.


A Reflection From the Life of St. Mary the Egyptian

Why is it that much is said and written about the sufferings of holy men and holy women? Because the saints, alone, are considered victors. Can anyone be a victor without conflict, pain and suffering?

In ordinary earthly combat, no one can be considered victorious nor heroic who has not been in combat, tortured much or suffered greatly. The more so in spiritual combat where the truth is known and where self-boasting not only does not help at all but, indeed, hinders it. He who does not engage in combat for the sake of Christ, either with the world, with the devil or with one's self, how can he be counted among the soldiers of Christ? How, then, can it be with Christ's co-victors?

St. Mary of Egypt spoke about her savage spiritual combat to the Elder Zosimas: "For the first seventeen years in this wilderness I struggled with my deranged sexual desires as though with fierce beasts. I desired to eat meat and fish which I had in abundance in Egypt. I also desired to drink wine and here, I did not have even water to drink. I desired to hear lustful songs. I cried and beat my breasts. I prayed to the All-Pure Mother of God to banish such thoughts from me. When I had sufficiently cried and beat my breasts, it was then that I saw a light encompassing me on all sides and a certain miraculous peace filled me."


HYMN OF PRAISE: SAINT MARY THE EGYPTIAN

Penitent wonderful, self-tormentor,
Mary hid herself from the face of men.
Oh yes, sinful me,
By passion, darkened.
Passions are beasts which eat at our heart,
In us as serpents, secretly they weave a nest.
Oh yes, sinful me,
By passion consumed!
In order to save sinners, You suffered O Christ,
Now, do not loathe impure me!
Hearken to the cry of Mary,
Of all, the most-sinful!
The Lord showed compassion, Mary He healed,
Her darkened soul, He whitened as snow.
Thanks be to You, O All-Good One,
Oh Lord, most dear!
An impure vessel You cleansed and,
With gold you gilded it,
Filled it to overflowing with Your grace -
That is true mercy,
To you O God, be glory!
And Mary became radiant with the Spirit
As an angel of God, by strength girded,
By Your power, O Christ
Mercy, Most pure!
What smells so in the awesome wilderness,
As beautiful incense in a chest of the temple?
That, Mary breathes -
With holiness, she exudes!


Apolytikion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
In thee the image was preserved with exactness, O Mother; for taking up thy cross, thou didst follow Christ, and by thy deeds thou didst teach us to overlook the flesh, for it passeth away, but to attend to the soul since it is immortal. Wherefore, O righteous Mary, thy spirit rejoiceth with the Angels.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
By the toils of thy struggles, O God-inspired one, thou didst hallow the harshness of the desert. Wherefore, we glorify thy memory, as we honour thee with hymns, O Mary, glory of the righteous.

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