Homily 258 – Fifth Sunday of Great Lent – St. Mary of Egypt
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
April 2, 2017
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
On this Sunday we remember St. Mary of Egypt.
The tradition of the Church is that the Life of St. Mary of Egypt is read on Thursday of the Fifth Week of Great Lent, as part of the singing of the full Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete.
St. Mary is often described as the absolute model of repentance for us. And while that is indeed the case, perhaps it is more important to consider her as an example of the power of God manifested in all of us.
St. Mary was a harlot – a prostitute. She ran away from home at the age of 12. And calling her a prostitute or harlot is actually generous, because as she confesses to Fr. Zosimas, the monk who encountered her, she did not accept money for her pursuit of sensuality and indulgence in the lusts of the flesh.
By her admission she lived in poverty – both spiritually and also physically. She made a very small living making thread out of flax.
She followed a crowd aboard a ship bound from Alexandria where she lived to Jerusalem. The pilgrims aboard the ship were going for the feast of the Cross. This was in the Fifth Century, probably around 475 AD.
Even on this ship, and later in Jerusalem, she continued to indulge her sensuous thoughts and desires of the flesh.
When it came time to go to the Church, she found that she could not enter. After several attempts, she saw an Icon of the Theotokos and cried out for help, understanding that it was her sin that kept her from entering the Church, and the presence of the wood of the true cross.
Her pursuit of her own desire, following her dream, her “heart” as it were, led her to –
Oblivion. Nowhere. Nothing could satisfy her flesh. In the account of her life, she is pretty explicit about her life. Pleasure was her goal. The sole focus of her life.
Sounds like us today. We speak only of our want – our desire. We indulge our every whim, and use the excuse that “God made us this way, so we behave this way.”
God made us this way, therefore you must accept us this way.
But that’s not the truth. St. Mary, a self-absorbed narcissist, proves it to be so.
God didn’t make us this way. He made us perfect. And we’re not perfect now.
We are fallen. Imperfect, not as God made us. The whole of this life is the journey back – to take our will, our desire, everything we are and want to be, and –
Offer it to our Creator. Voluntarily. And allow His will, His desire to exist and flourish. Not ours. His.
That voluntary bit is not optional. It is required. God will not force us. God will not compel us. Because that isn’t love. Love is never compulsory.
Someone might compel the presence of someone against their will. But that is not love. In fact, in most places, we call it criminal kidnapping.
St. Mary’s vow was freely offered. Freely accepted.
And she lived the rest of her life in the desert. But she was not alone.
The Mother of God was with her. Christ was with her. In her life, we hear her speak of the uncreated light that surrounded her.
But only after 17 years of struggle. 17 years of hunger and thirst. 17 years of suffering.
The same amount of time she spent pursuing her own desires, her own pleasures.
She had to undo everything – she had to re-learn how to be human.
That’s what Great Lent gives us. The opportunity to be human again. The opportunity to know peace again.
That is repentance. It is retraining ourselves to be human again. What God really made us to be – not what we decide we are.
We take that most basic instinct and desire – the desire for food. And we deny it. We deny it, that we might train ourselves to deny ourselves everything –
That we might obtain God.
For if we want true peace. True joy. We must obtain God. And we have no room for anything else.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!