Fifth Sunday of Holy and Great Lent: Our Holy Mother Mary of Egypt


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




From Vespers on Saturday Evening

"The pollution of past sins prevented you from entering the church to see the elevation of the Holy Cross, but then your conscience and the awareness of your actions turned you, O wise in God, to a better way of life. And, having looked upon the icon of the blessed Maid of God, you have condemned all you previous transgressions, O Mother worthy of all praise, and so have gone with boldness to venerate the precious Cross."


"Having worshipped at the holy place with great joy, you have received saving grace for the journey of virtue, and with all haste, you have set out upon the good path you have chosen. Crossing the stream of Jordan, with eagerness, you have gone to live in the dwelling-place of the Baptist. You have tamed the savagery of the passions through you ascetic way of life, and boldly you have broken the rebelliousness of the flesh, O Mother ever-glorious."


"Having gone to dwell in the wilderness, you have blotted out from your soul the images of your sensual passions, and have marked upon it the God-given imprint of holiness. You have attained such glory, blessed Mother, as to walk upon the surface of the waters, and in your prayers to God, you were raised up from the earth. And now, all-glorious Mary, standing before Christ with boldness, entreat Him for our souls."


The Fifth Sunday. This corresponds closely to the preceding Sunday: just as the Fourth Sunday is dedicated to Saint John Climacus (author of the Ladder of Divine Ascent), the Model of Ascetics, so the Fifth Sunday celebrates Saint Mary of Egypt, the Model of penitents. Like that of Saint John Climacus, her feast has been transferred from the fixed calendar, where she is commemorated on 1 April. Her life, recounted by Saint Sophronios, Patriarch of Jerusalem -- it is read, as we have mentioned, on Thursday in the Fifth Week - sets before us a true verbal icon of the essence of repentance  In her youth, Saint Mary lived in a dissolute and sinful way at Alexandria. Drawn by curiosity, she journeyed with some pilgrims to Jerusalem, arriving in time for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. But when she tried to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with the others, an invisible force thrust her back at the threshold. This happened three or four times. In great fear, she turned to an icon of the Mother of God that was in the entrance and begged her to let her go in and venerate the Cross, confessing her sin and impurity and promising that she would then go wherever the Most pure led her. Brought to sudden contrition by this strange experience, she prayed all night with tears to the Mother of God, and the next morning she found to her joy that she could enter the church without difficulty. After venerating the Cross, she went out again to the entrance and, standing in front of the holy icon, thanked the Theotokos. Then she heard a voice: 'If you cross the Jordan, you will find true peace.' She immediately bought three loaves of bread and left Jerusalem on that same day, made her way over the river Jordan, and settled as a solitary in a remote region of the desert. Here for forty-seven years, she remained, hidden from the world, until she was eventually found by the ascetic Saint Zosimas, who was able to give her Holy Communion shortly before her death. In the year 1890 the Greek priest, Joachim Spetsieris found a woman hermit in the desert beyond the river Jordan, living almost exactly as Saint Mary must have done.


Why is so much said and written about the suffering of holy men and women? Because these Saints are counted as victors--and how can there be victory without a struggle, pain, and suffering? In ordinary, earthly warfare no man is reckoned as victorious and heroic who has never been in battle, who has not endured and suffered to a very considerable extent. All the more is this so in spiritual warfare, where the Truth is clear and where self-assertion is not only of no use but is a real hindrance. He who knows no struggle for the sake of Christ, either with the world or with the devil or with his own self -- how can he be counted among Christ's soldiers? How, indeed, among Christ's fellow-victors? Saint Mary of Egypt spoke of this gigantic struggle to the elder (geronda) Zosima: 'For the first seventeen years in this wilderness, I struggled with my mindless passions as with fierce beasts. I wanted to eat meat and fish, which I had eaten abundantly in Egypt. I wanted to drink wine and did not even have water here. I wanted to hear the lustful songs. And I wept and smote my breast. I prayed to the most pure Mother of God to remove these thoughts from me. When I had wept enough and done enough smiting of my breast, I then saw a light that flooded over me from all sides, and was filled with a wonderful peace." (Reference: The Prologue from Ochrid)


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


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

+Father George