Sunday, April 13, 2003

St Mary of Egypt
Today, Eastern Orthodox (and old-country/'old-school' Byzantine Catholics) celebrate the fifth Sunday of Great Lent by remembering this saint. What a story. Apparently, Catholic/Orthodox societies always had this mix of extreme evil and extreme holiness. St Mary sure went from one extreme to the other - no 'plaster saint' she. An uncensored version of her life would make pre-conversion St Augustine look virtuous by comparison - gee, the secular world today would see unregenerate, reprobate Augustine as downright hip, nightclubbing, dabbling in esoteric 'spiritualities' and philosophies and having a live-in girlfriend.

In a sermon I heard today, the priest made the startling point that if pre-conversion Mary of Egypt were living in an American big city today, she'd probably be a 'crack ho', doing anything you want for twenty bucks. That's how the real Mary paid her boat fare to Jerusalem as a curiosity-seeking tourist - another thrill to tickle jaded tastes. But then something like a force field kept her from entering the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (the Tomb of Christ, shared by most of the 'Catholic' or 'apostolic' churches today - Catholic, Orthodox, Oriental) and the shock of that rebuff led to her complete conversion. The priest also made the point that 'she loved much', even though it was debased 'free love' - even that has some imperfect analogy to the love of God - and so she found forgiveness. The icons of her show a wizened, shrivelled woman living in the desert, which is how she spent the last decades of her life, as a kind of hermit doing penance for her many sins. Once when St Zosima, a hieromonk (priest who is also a monk), visited St Mary to give her Communion for the only time while she lived in the desert, she walked on water to receive It.

Grace and truth transform people and anyone can ask forgiveness and get it.

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