Learning Repentance from Saint Mary of Egypt (Part II)


My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


by Father John Konkle


Extreme Measures

We often think that Christ came into the world to prevent us from going to a place of torment after we die. The emphasis, however, in the Gospels and the Epistles, is that Christ came to save us not simply from the penalty for our sins, but from the sins themselves (see, e.g., Matthew 1:21; John 1:29; Romans 6:10-14). He came to change our lives here and now, that we would live holy lives, that we would be cleansed in this world; that we would be healed in this world; that we would be transformed in this world; that our lives would be enlightened and the darkness would be cast out; that we would be freed from our bondage to envy, lust, anger, impatience, consumption and greed in this earthly life.

Christ comes to change us in these dramatic ways, but not by magic; not against our will; not without our voluntary cooperation. We cannot change ourselves without Him, and neither can He change us without our working together with him. Saint Mary of Egypt beautifully exemplifies this willingness to cooperate with God's work in changing her life, and in this way, she reveals to us the third characteristic of repentance: returning to God involves extreme measures. In the case of Saint Mary, she followed God's leading in the desert and lived a life of extreme asceticism for forty years, far removed from the sources of temptation that had so controlled her.

There is a temptation to dismiss Saint Mary's actions simply because they are so extreme. Maybe they were fine for her, but they are not for all Christians, and certainly not for me. But her behavior reminds us of our Lord's words that are directed to all of us: "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you, for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish than for your whole body to be cast into hell" (St. Matthew 5:29-30). The Church is very clear that we are not supposed to harm our body; Jesus is not speaking literally. But it does mean that God wants us to take extreme measures against those things in our lives that cause us to stumble. We may not literally follow Saint Mary into the desert for forty years of repentance any more than we literally sever limbs from our body, but we will fail to cooperate with God in our salvation if we refuse to take extreme measures appropriate to the sins that entangle us. Continuing to live a normal worldly life has no place in the school of repentance.

How might this look in practice? Consider our TVs, computers, cell phones, and whatever possessions or activities that we cannot live without. We have to ask the simple question: "Would we rather go into heaven without it or into hell with it?" It's serious, and difficult, question. For if we are honest, it will require extreme measures on our part to cooperate with Christ's work to remove these passionate addictions from our life. We like to fool ourselves into thinking we can have it both ways, our seductive possessions and a Christian life. Christ doesn't offer us that option. Extreme measures may take many different forms in our lives: choosing to give sacrificially and anonymously to help us overcome our lust for things; participating in a twelve-step program to help prevail against our uncontrolled desires for food, alcohol, or sexual relations. The measures we take are best worked out with our Priest in the context of confession for we are tempted to be too hard or too soft on ourselves, and thus the measures fail to have their medicinal effects. Whatever form they take, we must keep in mind that they themselves do not change us. They are our way of cooperating with God's work in our life. They are a prayer, saying to God, "Lord, I love You more than I love these things" (St. John 21:15). (Source: The Burning Bush. A Monastic Journal published by the Dormition of the Mother of God Orthodox Monastery at Rives Junction, MI.)



'Blessed is He that comes...': this is the feast of Christ the King--welcomed by the children at His entry into Jerusalem, and to be welcomed likewise by each one of us into our own heart. 'Blessed is He that comes...' that comes not so much out of the past as our of the future: for one Palm Sunday we welcome not only the Lord Who entered Jerusalem long ago, riding on a donkey but the Lord Who comes again in power and great glory, as King of the Future Age.



HOLY MONDAY, TUESDAY AND WEDNESDAY. On Great and Holy Monday we commemorate the Patriarch Joseph, whose innocent sufferings (Genesis, chapters 17 and 39-40) prefigures the Passion of Christ. Also we commemorate the barren fig tree cursed by our Lord (St. Matthew 21:18-20) - symbol of the judgment that will befall those who show no fruits or repentance; a symbol, more specifically, of the unbelieving Jewish synagogue.


On Great and Holy Tuesday the liturgical texts refer chiefly to the Parable of the Ten Virgins, which forms the general theme of these three days. They refer also to the Parable of the Talents that comes immediately after it (St. Matthew25:14-30). Both these are interpreted as Parables of Judgment.


On Great and Holy Wednesday we commemorate the woman that was a sinner, who anointed Christ's feet as He sat in the house of Simon. In the hymnography of the day, the account in Saint Matthew 26:6-13 is combined with that in Saint Luke 7:36-50 (cf. also St. John 12:1-8). A second theme is the agreement made by Judas with the Jewish authorities: the repentance of the sinful harlot is contrasted with the tragic fall of the chosen disciple.

On Great and Holy Wednesday evening the Mystery (Sacrament) of the Anointing of the Sick is usually celebrated in church and all are anointed whether physically ill or not; for there is no sharp line of demarcation between bodily and spiritually sicknesses, and this sacrament confers not only bodily healing but forgiveness of sins, thus serving as a preparation for the reception of Holy Communion on the next day, Great and Holy Thursday. (Source: The Lenten Triodion)


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom



With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George