My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF HOLY AND GREAT LENT: THE SUNDAY OF SAINT MARY OF EGYPT
On the Fifth Sunday of Holy and Great Lent the Holy Orthodox Church commemorates our Righteous Mother Mary of Egypt. The feast day of Saint Mary of Egypt is April 1st, however, she is also commemorated on this Sunday due to her recognition by the Church as a model of repentance.
Life of Saint Mary of Egypt
Our holy Mother Mary was born in Egypt. She had left her parents as the age of twelve to go to Alexandria, where she spent the next seventeen years in debauchery and the greatest profligacy. Living on charity and linen-weaving, she nevertheless offered her body to any man, not being forced to it by dire necessity as were so many poor women, but as though she were consumed by the fire of a desire that nothing was able to appease.
One day, seeing a crowd of Lybians and Egyptians moving towards the port, she followed them and set sail with them to Jerusalem, offering her body to pay her fare. When they arrived in the Holy City, she followed the crowd that was thronging towards the Church of the Resurrection, it being the day of the Exaltation of the Cross. But, when she reached the threshold of the church, an invisible force prevented her entering in spite of repeated efforts on her part, although the other pilgrims were able to go in without hindrance. Left alone in a corner of the Narthex, she began to realize that it was the impurity of her life that was preventing her approaching the holy Wood. She burst into tears and smote her breast and, seeing an icon of the Mother of God, made this prayer to her: "O Sovereign Lady, who didst bear God in the flesh, I know that I should not dare to look upon thine icon, thou who are pure in soul and body, because, debauched as I am, I must fill thee with disgust. But, as the God born of thee became man in order to call sinners to repentance, come to my aid! Allow me to go into the church and prostrate before His Cross. And, as soon as I have seen the Cross, I promise that I will renounce the world and all pleasures, and follow the path of salvation that thou willest to show me."
She felt herself suddenly freed from the power that had held her and was able to enter the church. There she fervently venerated the Holy Cross and then, returning to the icon of the Mother of God, declared herself ready to follow the path that the Virgin would show her. A voice replied to her from on high: "If you cross the Jordan, you will find rest."
Leaving the church, she bought three loaves with the alms a pilgrim had given her, discovered which road led to the Jordan and arrived one evening at the Church of Saint John the Baptist. After having washed in the river, she received Holy Communion in the Holy Mysteries, ate half of one of the loaves and went to sleep on the riverbank. The next morning, she crossed the river and lived from that time on in the desert, remaining there for forty-seven (47) years without ever encountering either another human being or any animal.
During the first seventeen years, her clothes soon having fallen into rags, burning with heat by day and shivering with cold by night, she fed on herbs and wild roots. But more than the physical trials, she had to face violent assaults from the passions and the memory of her sins and, throwing herself on the ground, she implored the Mother of God to come to her aid. Protected by God, who desires nothing but that the sinner should turn to Him and live, she uprooted all the passions from her heart by means of this extraordinary ascesis, and was able to turn the fire of carnal desire into a flame of divine love that made it possible for her to endure the implacable desert with joy, as though she were not in the flesh.
After all these years, a holy elder called Zosimas (April 4th), who, following the tradition instituted by Saint Efthymios, had gone into the desert across the Jordan for the period of the Great Fast, saw one day a human form with a body blackened by the sun and with hair white as bleached linen to its shoulders. He ran after this apparition that fled before him, begging it to give him its blessing and some saving words. When he came within ear-shot, Mary, calling by name him whom she had never seen, revealed to him that she was a woman and asked him to throw her his cloak that she might cover her nakedness.
At the urging of the monk, who was transported at having at last met a God-bearing being who has attained the perfection of monastic life, the Saint recounted to him with tears the story of her life and conversion. Then, having finished her account, she begged him to come the following year to the bank of the Jordan with Holy Communion.
When the day arrived, Zosimas saw Mary appearing on the further bank of the river. She made the sign of the Cross and crossed the Jordan, walking on the water. Having received Holy Communion weeping, she said: "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word: for mine yes have seen Thy salvation" (St. Luke 2:29). She then took leave of Zosimas, asking him to meet her the following year in the place where they had first met.
When the year was past, Zosimas, going to the agreed spot, found the Saint's body stretched on the ground, her arms crossed and her face turned towards the East. His tearful emotion prevented him from noticing at once an inscription traced on the ground by the Saint, which read; give what is of dust to dust, after having prayed for me. I died on the first day of April, the very night of the Passion of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, after having partaken in the Holy Eucharist." Consoled in his grief by having learned the Saint's name, Zosimas was amazed to discover that she had, in several hours, covered a distance of more than twenty days' march.
After having vainly tried to break up the earth with a stick, he suddenly saw a lion approaching Mary's body and licking her feet. On the orders of the Elder, the beast dug a hole with its claws, in which Zosimas devoutly placed the Saint's holy body.
On his return to the monastery, he recounted the marvels that God had wrought for those who turn away from sin and move towards Him with all their hearts. From the hardened sinner that she had been, Mary has, for a great many souls crushed under the burden of sin, become a source of hope and a model of metanoia (conversion). This is why the Holy Fathers have placed the celebration of her memory at the end of the Great Fast as an encouragement for all who have neglected their salvation, proclaiming that repentance can bring them back to God even at the eleventh hour. (Source: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America)
Hymns of the Feast
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn: Plagal of the Fourth Tone
In you the image was preserved with exactness, O Mother; for taking up your cross, you did follow Christ, and by your deeds you did teach us to overlook the flesh, for it passes away, but to attend to the soul since it is immortal. Wherefore, O righteous Mary, your spirit rejoices with the
Kontakion Hymn: Fourth Tone
Having escaped the gloom of sin, O blest Mary, and shining brightly with the light of repentance, thou didst present they heart to Christ, O glorious one, bringing Him His Holy and all-immaculate Mother as a greatly merciful and most bold intercessor. Hence, thou the pardon of thy sins and with the Angels rejoices for evermore.
We sometimes forget that it takes a particular kind of courage to accept the truth about ourselves, especially when that truth is painful or requires something of us that we do not want to give. No one can force us to make true spiritual changes in our lives, so all the more do we need the clarity and fortitude to recognize and respond to the truth.
On this day we remember Saint Mary of Egypt for having the courage to acknowledge the obscene mess she had become and then to do what it took to set things right. When an invisible force prevented her from entering the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, she asked for the help of the Theotokos, entered the church to venerate the Holy Cross, and obeyed a divine command to spend the rest of her life in repentance.
A Church that makes great Saints out of former prostitutes, murderers, and adulterers is both realistic about the corruption of our lives and optimistic that there is hope for every one of us to set things right and live faithfully because of the mercy of Jesus Christ. But we must have the courage to recognize honestly our brokenness, sickness, and imperfection, and then have the fortitude to take the often painful steps that are necessary to reorient our lives toward the Kingdom.
Before we begin the journey to the Cross on Palm Sunday, there is still time to examine our souls with brutal honesty, confess and repent, and take the steps we can to follow in the way of Jesus Christ. He made holy people out of prostitutes, thieves, murderers, and sinners of all kinds.
The Life of Saint Mary of Egypt teaches us that the values of the Holy Church are quite different from those of the world. She went out into the desert and had nothing, no friends, no home, no possessions, no clothes and hardly any food and drink. The world looked for pleasure, the satisfaction of the senses, money and power, but Saint Mary was moneyless and powerless in the world.
"If you cross the Jordan, you will find true peace." These mysterious words are today also addressed to each of us; the interpretation of their mystery is open to the souls of each of us, but only if we ask the Theotokos and St. Mary to guide us. And then we shall find out own "entry to Jerusalem".
"Our Church teaches that our personal salvation is neither a gift, nor a simple work, but rather a process and an undertaking that matures or develops gradually and is realized in the cooperation of two persons: God and man. On the part of God, Divine Grace (His uncreated Divine Energy) is offered to us, while for man's part, faith and righteous deeds are necessary. Consequently, the prerequisites for our personal salvation are the following: the Divine Grace or uncreated Divine Energy of God and the faith and virtuous deeds of man.
Our objective salvation is realized only in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, whereas our personal or subjective salvation, which in the language of the New Testament is called righteousness, holiness, or salvation (in the narrow sense), is realized as a continuance of this objective salvation, with our personal energy or activity acting in co-operation with Divine Energy or Grace.
On the part of God, Divine Grace is absolutely necessary, for we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and we are justified by His grace, redeemed in Christ Jesus (Roman 3:23-24). For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philip. 2:13). For by grace are ye saved through faith, and not that of yourselves: it is the gift of God--not by works, lest any man should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath beforehand ordained, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10)." (Saint Cleopas of Romania)
"Christianity, translated into life, is necessarily ascetic; it demands struggle, ascetic labor, and practice in realizing that ideal which is given by Christianity, as the norm of man's perfection. Christianity is unthinkable without the Church, or rather, it is the Church, as the living incarnation and realization both of those new beginnings of life which Christ brought to earth, and also of those conditions necessary for the incarnation of this ideal--for which reason without the Church there is not and cannot be any Christianity in the true meaning of the word; there is only the Christianization of a certain realm of thought of some other realm in man's life." (New Martyr Archbishop Feodor Pozdeyev)
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Glory Be To GOD For All Things!
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God