The gateway to repentance.

Homily 355 – Fifth Sunday of Great Lent
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
April 14, 2019
Epistle: (321-ctr) – Hebrews 9:11-14 and (208b) – Galatians 3:23-29 (St Mary of Egypt)
Gospel: (47) – Mark 10:32-45 and (33) – Luke 7:36-50 (St Mary of Egypt)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

Hopefully we are all familiar with St. Mary of Egypt’s story. If you aren’t, I strongly urge you to go to stmaryofegypt.org and read her life.

When we do this, we can then read the gospel passages appointed for today, and understand something significant.

In the first reading, we hear from our Lord the anticipation of the death, and resurrection. A powerful and great moment, indeed!

And yet, Our Lord takes the same opportunity to remind the apostles, his closest followers, that power and authority is not something we are to seek. Even if we endure the same as Christ.

Power and authority are not the result of our endurance of this life, or anything related to the life we live here on earth. It isn’t the goal – it isn’t a side effect, or a by-product, or anything else.

In the world, the pursuit is all about power and authority. But in the Kingdom of God, the only Kingdom that matters, authority and power mean absolutely nothing.

Because we see the one who does have power, does have authority, by His very existence, and that person becomes what? A servant.

One dedicated to the well-being of everyone else. The pursuit of power, within the Church in particular, is a complete nonsensical statement.

Some people pursue the priesthood, or positions of leadership, within the Church as a position of power and authority. But the only – only – position they will find is service.

If they find something other than service, they are deceived.

In the second Gospel reading, for St. Mary of Egypt, we hear the parable Christ told about the one forgiven of a great debt, and the one forgiven of a small debt. And we hear that fateful statement:

Her sins, which are many, are forgiven because she has loved much. But the one to whom little is forgiven loves little.

St. Mary of Egypt was a great sinner. We think of our world as being perhaps full of great sinners, and of course we are. But in the ways of the world – the pursuit of self-gratification, none – not one – was on the level of St. Mary of Egypt.

Her debauchery knew no bounds. By her own admission no less.

But when she finally was allowed to enter the Church in Jerusalem, at last allowed to see, and venerate, the cross on which our Lord was crucified – her response was gratitude. Deep, abiding gratitude.

Her sins, which are many, are forgiven.

In her own words:

And so it was I saw the lifegiving Cross. I saw too the Mysteries of God and how the Lord accepts repentance. Throwing myself on the ground, I worshipped that holy earth and kissed it with trembling. Then I came out of the church and went to her who had promised to be my security, to the place where I had sealed my vow. And bending my knees before the Virgin Mother of God, I addressed her with these words: `O loving Lady, you have shown me your great love for all men. Glory to God Who receives the repentance of sinners through you. What more can I recollect or say, I who am so sinful? It is time for me, O Lady to fulfil my vow, according to your witness. Now lead me by the hand along the path of repentance!’ And at these words I heard a voice from on high: `If you cross the Jordan you will find glorious rest.’ Hearing this voice and having faith that it was for me, I cried to the Mother of God: `O Lady, Lady, do not forsake me!’ With these words I left the porch of the church and set off on my journey.

And St. Mary took that gratitude, left Jerusalem, and spent the rest of her life, forty-seven years, in the desert, begging God for his forgiveness. And, by the way, the temptations never left her.

She remembered the meat and fish she had in abundance in Egypt, the wine she had, and interesting to me, she remembered the bawdy songs of that place and time.

What drove her repentance, in the face of continuing temptation and continuing recollection of the past, was gratitude.

That is what Great Lent is for. That is what fasting, and almsgiving, and prayer is for – so that we can remember, and be grateful, that in the face of our failures, we are forgiven.

Great Lent reminds us that we fail constantly to live as Christ lived. We recognize it – because we hold ourselves to a more conscious standard during Lent than at other times.

We live the same way, however, at all times and in every place. Lent places stress on us, so that we may see how we truly are: self-absorbed, ego centric, seeking power and authority.

In that mirror of self-reflection, what we see is ourselves as we truly are, and how greatly we are forgiven by the Lord our God who loves us more than we know how to love.

As we complete the fast this week, and head to Jerusalem with our Lord, be mindful of what this Lent has revealed. And be grateful – grateful even unto extreme repentance.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

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