Saint Mary of Egypt

It is the tradition at this time in Holy Orthodoxy to consider the life of Saint Mary of Egypt. Her story, very briefly, is that, in her younger years, she lived an extremely sinful life. She not only sinned greatly herself but sought to draw as many others into sin as she could. Having come to her senses, she confessed her misdeeds. Then, having received absolution, she went deep into the desert, where she lived the remainder of her life in repentance as a hermit.

Her life is familiar to most Orthodox Christians. It is appointed to be read during the reading of the Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete. This occurs on the Thursday before the fifth Sunday of Great Lent each year. This is done because Lent, of course, is a penitential time. Saint Mary of Egypt is not only a model of heroic penitence, but her life serves to remind us that no one, no matter that they may have been extraordinarily sinful for an incredibly long time, is incapable of turning back to God and discovering the infinite depths of His forgiveness.

Saint Mary of Egypt lived in the fifth century, and her name refers to something that might be almost too obvious to mention. At that time, Egypt was a Christian land. Indeed, so were many other places in the Middle East that we now think of as Muslim countries. Christianity is not an interloper in those places, the result of some relatively recent missionary work. The roots of the Church are long and deep there, more ancient than many places in the West.

Alas, long and deep as they are, these roots are also now very slender. These once-thriving communities have grown smaller and smaller over the centuries, particularly in recent decades. They lead a difficult life. It is never easy to be something of an outsider in the land of your birth. Yet, they carry on, providing a faithful witness to Christ that we in the West should find inspiring.

On the Sunday after the reading of the life of Saint Mary of Egypt, the fifth Sunday of Lent, the Holy Orthodox Church, in her wisdom, has a Gospel reading that includes a commandment from Christ that His followers are to be the servants of all. I would suggest that this should serve as a reminder to us to pray and consider how it is that we might be servants to our brothers and sisters in places where their faith is great but their numbers are few. They have refused to abandon the Church, no matter what the cost. Their brothers and sisters in the West, in return, must never abandon them.

Fr. Jeremiah
20 April 2024

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