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April 16, 2022

The Life of Saint Mary of Egypt and Its Theological Messages (4 of 4)

...continued from part three.

Sixth. The Energy of Holy Communion.

Saint Mary of Egypt, as can be seen from the biography compiled by Saint Sophronios of Jerusalem, communed with the Body and Blood of Christ at the beginning of her repentance and immediately after Holy Communion she devoted her entire life to repentance in the desert, and after forty-seven years of repentance she was found worthy to partake again of the Body and Body of Christ and on the same day to depart to God. This shows us that asceticism cannot be separated from Holy Communion, the eating and drinking of the Body and Blood of Christ.

The important thing is that Saint Mary of Egypt arrived at the place where Abbot Zosimas was waiting for her, walking on the waters of the Jordan River, and left after Holy Communion in the same way, though of course after Holy Communion she traveled the distance of twenty days within one day and there she reposed, where she experienced her resurrection and ascension.

This shows the great energy of Divine Communion in a person, who was observed to be in the appropriate spiritual state to commune.

The Eucharist is the center of ecclesiastical life, and the Holy Communion is also a necessary element in the life of a Christian. Here in the case of Saint Mary of Egypt we can identify some realities.

The ascetics attach great importance to Divine Communion, because according to the word of Christ one cannot live if one does not eat His Body and drink His Blood.

However, the energies of Divine Communion are not given to people unconditionally. Prerequisites are required for the reception of the Body and Body of Christ to be purifying, illuminating and deifying, and not damning. In other words, Christ distributes His energies according to the situation in which a person is, that is, sometimes He purifies, sometimes He illuminates, and sometimes He deifies. There are cases where it burns people.

Saint Mary of Egypt does not seem to have communed often, and this was due to her way of life, to her complete isolation from people, to her life in the desert to which she went with the revelation and exhortation of the Panagia. She communed at the beginning of her repentance and at the end of her life, shortly before her soul left the body. However, her entire life was a life of sanctification and theosis.

Seventh. The Grace of a Blessed End.

The whole way of life of Saint Mary of Egypt was observed to be in communion with Christ, where there is true life, and therefore in the transcendence of death. But also her departure from this world was considered worthy of her life. Completely away from the eyes of the people, alone with her bridegroom Christ, she surrendered her soul to the One she loved, following such a hard path. As much as one loves, one endures and submits to sacrifices and efforts. These are all the characteristics of love and divine eros.

Abba Zosimas obeyed the request of the Saint and visited her the next year at the place they met the previous year for the first time, at the dried up stream. When he arrived the Elder "saw the saint lying dead. Her hands were crossed according to custom and her face was turned to the East." As the abba pondered whether or not the Saint wanted her body to be buried, he saw next to her head writing on the ground asking Abba Zosimas to bury her body, and informed him that her life came to an end on the night of the salvific Passion of Christafter she partook of the divine and secret supper. Then the abba "shed tears over the saint's feet and kissed them, not daring to touch anything else."

All these things are features of a venerable end. The Saint reposed after communing the immaculate mysteries in a state of deification, foretold her repose, gave oral and written instructions, determined the posture of her body so that it was facing east, crossed her arms, and remained in this state for an entire year, in a form of incorruptibility, because Abba Zosimas was able to recognize her and to weep over her feet with tears.

At her burial, besides Abba Zosimos, a lion also stood, standing near her relic and licking her feet. Saint Sophronios writes that Abba Zosimas "saw a big lion standing close to the saint's body and licking her feet." At the command of Abba Zosimas the lion dug a spot for the burial of the body of Saint Mary. Abba Zosimas then covered her body with the soil, weeping and praying "in the presence of the lion".

It was a burial full of solemnity and silence. The Grace of God was in the relics of Saint Mary, the consecrated Monk Zosimas was in deep devotion, the lion watched in silence and helped significantly in the burial and the whole of creation revered the event. The Grace of God through the nous of the Saint was transferred over to her body and from there spread towards irrational creation.

Eighth. The Participation of Abba Zosimas and Saint Sophronios in the Life of Saint Mary of Egypt.

The life of Saint Mary of Egypt was written by Saint Sophronios of Jerusalem, and in this life an important place is also occupied by Abba Zosimas, who is called by the sacred hymnographer "the great father."

The central person, of course, is Saint Mary, who with her great love for God healed all her previous life and transformed her existence, but also worthy is the one who discovered her and found her in her life, and he communed her and buried her, but also Saint Sophronios wrote her wonderful biography.

This means that the saints recognize the saints, just as a good scientist recognizes other scientists if they know their science well.

Reading this life, one is also moved by the personality of Abba Zosimas, in whom are distinguished many qualities and many spiritual gifts, such as his zeal and desire, his humility, his sensitivity, his tenderness. Only a saint can recognize a saint, and only to the saint does the saint reveal herself and her life.

God revealed to him Saint Mary Egypt, because in himself he was troubled by proud thoughts. Thus, God at first urged him to go to the Monastery near the Jordan, where he found monks who lived in peace all the time, "he saw elders shining in praxis and theoria", especially during Great Lent. Then God revealed to him Saint Mary, when he was humbled to see the height of her spiritual condition.

But when one reads the life, at the same time one is deeply impressed by the way in which Saint Sophronios, Patriarch of Jerusalem, composes this life, who writes with sensitivity, tenderness, devotion and an ecclesiastical heart. This can be seen throughout his life, but even in his prologue and epilogue.

In the prologue he begins with the thought that it is good to hide the secrets of a king, but it is glorious to proclaim the works of God. He feels that it is dangerous "to be silent about the works of God", it is bad not to use the charisma he received, to silence the "sacred explanations" that reached him. This story, as he says, was narrated by a "holy man in life and speech, who from childhood had been brought up in monastic ways and customs," and it happened in his own generation. And he gives us the assurance that he will not lie or exaggerate things related to God, and that those who believe what is revealed will receive mercy from God.  

And in his epilogue he writes that he revealed in writing those things he heard orally and wrote according to his powers "putting truth above all else". And at the end of the recording of the life of Saint Mary of Egypt, he writes: "And let us also give glory to God, the eternal King, that He may grant us too His mercy in the day of judgment for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord."

Saint Sophronios is a Bishop with Orthodox experiences, with an Orthodox mind, who lives by the example of holy ascetics, and teaches the people with Orthodox teachings. And this life shows together with everything else who should be the true bishop. After all, this shows that the Body of the Church recognized the great value of this book and kept it for so many years, but also included it in its worship.

Reading the life of Saint Mary of Egypt, one sees the spiritual relationship and communication between three blessed people, namely Saint Mary who was a formerly prodigal woman and arrived at deification, Abba Zosimas who was a sanctified hieromonk, and Patriarch Sophronios of Jerusalem who wrote the life of Saint Mary with such love.

Ninth. Transcending the Division of Sexes.

During the spiritual meeting between Abba Zosimas and Saint Mary, we also see the theology of the transcendence of the sexes, through deification.

Specifically, Saint Mary of Egypt showed in her ascetic life an astonishing masculinity. She lived in asceticism over the measures not only of female nature, but generally the measures of human nature and became an angel in the body. The carnal desires were transformed by divine eros and were given completely to God, so that, because she lived her deification, that is why when she was naked in the body, she herself was not ashamed. She reached the pre-fallen state of Eve in Paradise.

Despite this she did not have boldness before Abba Zosimas. Because the abba wanted to see her face, she begged him to throw a rag from his clothes to cover the physical nakedness, so that she could receive his blessing.

By the power of Christ these two people transcended the "division" of the sexes. They experienced some flashes of the life of Adam and Eve in Paradise, but because they had not yet been freed from perishability and mortality, they behaved with seriousness, modesty, and without boldness.

Saint Maximus the Confessor speaks in his works about the five "divisions", that is, the "divisions" between uncreated and created nature, the invisible and the sensible, heaven and earth, paradise and the universe, male and female. The transcendence of their "divisions" was considered possible by the nature of man, because it was connected with the basic elements of divisions, which were connected with the earth, through the body, with the sensible beings through the sensory world, of the spiritual world, through the soul, with the uncreated nature of God, through the nous.

Gradually, man would ascend from the transcendence of the "division" between male and female. This would be done with the dispassionate relationship between the two sexes. Then with the holy and virtuous life he would transcend the "division" between paradise and the universe, with the life equal to the angels he would transcend the "division" between heaven and earth, with the angelic knowledge he would transcend the "division" between the invisible and the sensible, and with love he would unite with God and he would transcend the "division" between created and uncreated nature.

However, with his fall, man failed to overcome the "division" between male and female and then, of course, he failed to overcome the other "divisions". Thus now the Word of God, with His incarnation, becomes man and with His seedless conception by the All-Holy Virgin transcends this "division", and of course in Christ all "divisions" transcend the "division" with the two natures of His person.

Now man with the power of Christ and his struggle to be united with God in the person of Jesus Christ can transcend these "divisions". We see this in the relationship between Saint Mary of Egypt and Abba Zosimas. Both of them had communion with Christ, to varying degrees, when they were deified and for this reason they transcended the "division" between male and female, and behaved like brothers in Christ. But because they had not yet removed the leather tunic of decay and mortality, they dismissed the boldness, and there was a respect between them.

Tenth. The Coexistence Between the Sacramental and Spiritual Priesthood.

Saint Sophronios of Jerusalem, as a Holy Bishop, as well as Abba Zosimas, a consecrated Hieromonk, greatly respected Saint Mary, who had arrived at deification by Grace and became "a true priest of divine Grace". The blessed sacramental priesthood respected the spiritual priesthood, but also the spiritual priesthood of Saint Mary respected the sacramental priesthood of Abba Zosimas.

The sacramental Priesthood is a ministry and serves the faithful, so that they may be united with Christ and enter one day the uncreated Divine Liturgy. The spiritual priesthood is that which liturgizes in the uncreated Temple, and prays with noetic and uncreated worship.

Saint Gregory of Sinai writes that noetic prayer is "the secret priestly work of the nous." He also writes that the heart that prays with the energy of the Holy Spirit is "a true sanctuary even before the future life." Elsewhere he "true sanctuary" he calls "spiritual sanctuary" which does priestly work and sacrifices the "lamb of God in the noetic sanctuary of the soul."

Such priests of divine Grace were observed in Abba Zosimas, as well as Saint Mary of Egypt and, of course, Saint Sophronios of Jerusalem, who wrote her life in a spiritual manner. Saint Mary fully respected the priesthood of Abba Zosimas and asked for his blessing, and Abba Zosimas humbly knelt before the Saint, embracing the place where she had stepped before and asking her prayers.

Therefore, the sacramental priesthood must be very closely connected with the spiritual priesthood.

Finally, the life of Saint Mary of Egypt is amazing, full of paradoxical works, spiritual surprises, which are created by the Grace of God. What appears in this life is the double eros of Saint Mary, the blessed woman, that is, the former impure eros for people and the sanctified and spiritual and divine eros for God.

Mainly the second eros, that is, the spiritual eros is of great importance. Saint Mary of Egypt from her childhood had given herself over to fleshly eros, and acquired divine eros and gave herself completely to Him. She lived a quiet and secret life, because great loves are secret and confidential, since there are no words to express them.

Whoever loves God and possesses from Him "the fierce and unbearable desire" for God is given completely to Him, because they do not want to divide their heart among many loves.

The Church set Saint Mary in Egypt as a model of a life inspired by repentance, spiritual asceticism, and the path to deification. In her we see how a sinful person becomes a saint by participating in the purifying, illuminating and deifying energy of God. For this reason, the Great Canon also includes troparia for Saint Mary, as her entire life is also read in the Monasteries.

The remembrance of Saint Mary is celebrated on April 1 every year, the day of her glorious repose, but the Church, because of the importance of the life she lived, decided to celebrate it on the Fifth Sunday of Great Lent, the last Sunday before Holy Week. She wants in this way to show the measure and degree of our love for God and the way of repentance.

Whoever reads this life feels what happened at the end, after the burial of the blessed body of Saint Mary of Egypt. Saint Sophronios writes: "Then both departed. The lion went off into the depth of the desert like a lamb, while Zosimas returned to the monastery glorifying and blessing Christ our Lord."

We also, having followed these words let us depart as lambs into the desert of silence and dispassion, dispelling the fierceness of the passions, like Zosimas into communion with the brethren, blessing and praising God.

Here we can chant her apolytikion:

"The image of God, was faithfully preserved in you, O Mother. For you took up the Cross and followed Christ. By Your actions you taught us to look beyond the flesh for it passes, rather to be concerned about the soul which is immortal. Wherefore, O Holy Mary, your soul rejoices with the angels."

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.