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April 19, 2021

First Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent (St. Luke of Simferopol)

On the Fear of God
By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and Crimea

On the fifth Sunday of Great Lent, our Holy Church honors the memory of Saint Mary of Egypt. Her truly wonderful life is known to you because every year on this day it is narrated in the churches. But I will describe her again in a few words to remember the unusual and unique life of this Saint.

She was a very beautiful woman, living in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, and she spent her life in prodigality. One day while walking on the beach she saw a boat with many Christians that was ready to sail to Jerusalem for the feast of the Exaltation of the Honorable Cross. The thought came to her to go for a trip to Jerusalem as well.

The journey ended and Mary and the pilgrims approached the gates of the church. Since then, a series of miraculous events began with which the Lord, who knew the depths of her heart, interrupted her prodigal life and turned her to the path of repentance. Her repentance was so deep and so unusual that we do not find another such example in the lives of the saints.

Let us stand with Saint Mary at the gate of the church. We now see her heart overwhelmed by the fear of God, when she realizes that she cannot, in God's judgment, enter the church with the others. She alone is unworthy to enter, while everyone else enters freely. Her entrance is prevented by an invisible force. When she realizes her tragic situation, a strong flame of the fear of God lights up in her soul. She is shaken by the fear she feels in front of All-Holy, All-Wise, Almighty and Just God.

It was not a fear of punishment, it was a shame that burned like fire, a shame for the impurity of her soul and body. It was a shame and pain for her that God, because of her impurity, did not allow her to enter the church and appear before Him. Then she prayed fervently. She fell before the icon of the Panagia which was placed above the entrance of the church and with tears begged the Mother of God to pray for her to her Son.

With this deep and fiery repentance the force that prevented her from entering the church receded and she finally entered. There she fell before the life-giving Cross of the Lord and did not get up until the end of the service. Tears flowed from her eyes, from the eyes that once seduced men and are now cleansed with wholehearted and fervent repentance.

Before continuing the story of Saint Mary, I want to say a few words about the life of the blessed Taisia, who also came from Egypt and lived at about the same time as Saint Mary. In the beginning this blessed Taisia lived a virtuous life, devoting her whole life to the care of the sick and the suffering people. The monks of a monastery near the city also respected her very much. But the wicked devil, who hates people who live a virtuous life, managed to throw her into prodigality. The monks were very upset when they found out and sent Saint John Kolovos to save her.

Saint John went to Taisia's house, sat down next to her and began to cry. Taisia asked him curiously why he was shedding so many tears. Then Saint John with strong words described all the tragedy of her condition. The flame of divine fear lit up inside her, her eyes filled with tears and a terrible cry of repentance came from her heart. She could no longer stay in her unclean house, she fell at the feet of Saint John and begged him to pick her up immediately and take her somewhere where she could be saved.

They both got up and left the city immediately. When night fell they stopped for the night. Saint John let Taisia sleep. He moved away from her for a while and fell asleep himself. In the middle of the night he woke up suddenly and saw that in the place where Taisia slept a pillar of light rose from the earth to the sky and in this pillar the angels ascended to heaven with the soul of blessed Taisia. Thus the Lord took pity on Taisia even for her very brief repentance.

Let us now return, my brothers and sisters, to Saint Mary whom we have left in the church lying on the floor wet with her warm tears before the awesome Cross of the Lord. Let us behold her repentance and be ashamed of our own unrepentance. Let us now consider why the Lord took the blessed Taisia immediately after her repentance from life to eternal blessedness, while he left Saint Mary to live for forty-seven years in the desert of Arabia in very difficult conditions.

Because the Omniscient God, who knows the depth of every human heart, wanted through this great Saint to show the whole world what power the fear of God has and how it (the fear) can change people. The fear of God really shook her whole being. It was a fear before the greatness of God, His goodness and justice. Such fear is the privilege of a few people, those who have a very deep heart. This divine fear that Saint Mary felt works miracles and completely changes the human heart.

You know what happened next to Saint Mary. Immediately after the end of the service, the Saint left the church and, guided by the divine fear, went to the Jordan River, to the Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner. There she confessed and, spiritually equipped, left the monastery, taking with her three loaves of bread, and went down to the Jordan. She crossed to the other side of the river and disappeared into the desert. There she lived in the desert for forty-seven years without seeing not only a human face but also any other living creature.

Her shoes and clothes quickly fell into disuse, she had nothing to protect her body during the day from the heat and during the night from the cold. Surely for a common man it is impossible to live such a life that Saint Mary lived. Her life was truly a miracle. What did the Saint eat during these forty-seven years? She told the Hieromonk Zosimas, who had met her a year before her death, that her three loaves of bread had sustained her for seventeen years. This is undoubtedly a miracle. The fact that her three loaves lasted seventeen years can only be explained if we assume that in her hands these loaves were multiplied as in the hands of our Lord Jesus Christ, when He fed five thousand people with five loaves.

The fear of God, which did not leave her throughout her whole life, warmed her in winter because it burned like a strong flame inside her. Her prayer was not at all like our prayer. The depth of her prayer is incomprehensible to us. Her own prayer was an uninterrupted communion with the Holy Spirit. From the Holy Spirit Mary was taught all of Holy Scripture. The Saint did not pray in the same way as the many other saints, that is, kneeling or lying on the ground. The fear of God even changed her physical qualities so that she prayed standing in the air and she crossed the Jordan as on land.

But with what power did the Saint perform all these miracles? Certainly by the power of God. And not only with this but also with the power of the fear of God with which Saint Mary was imbued. And this is because in all the miracles that God does with man, the spirit of man, always devoted to God and occupied by His fear, always participates.

In the soul of Saint Taisia the strong flame of fear before the greatness and holiness of God lit for only a few hours. But that was enough to forgive her many sins. In Saint Mary, however, this flame burned for forty-seven whole years. For seventeen years the devil tried through physical and mental pain to distract her from her repentance and turn her to the wide path, but to no avail. With unceasing repentance, with the rivers of tears shed by the Saint, she entered more and more into the closest communion with the Holy Spirit until she became an instrument with which God performed His miracles.

The flame of the fear of God not only did not go out during these years but on the contrary it became bigger, so big that with its power Saint Mary was transformed into an angel with a body. All the saints of God have a close communion with the angels and archangels in the heavens and become like them. But only the greatest saints like Saint Mary of Egypt while they are still alive become like the angels and acquire the same power of the fear of God, the same infinite love for our Almighty, All-Wise, All-Good and Just God, the Sun of Righteousness and of infinite Love.

Let us always have before us as an example of repentance and the fiery fear of God Saint Mary of Egypt. And having this shining example let us not be fruitless. But may Saint Mary help us to acquire the fear of God, to stop the course of our sinful life, to kneel like her before the awesome Cross of Christ and to begin unceasing repentance before our Just, Good and Gracious God. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.