I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true
This occasional series is an introduction to brothers & sisters
who have gone on before us.
Who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew
A few will be familiar. Many more will be strangers.
Each has unique graces & perspectives.
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
& one was a shepherdess on the green
They cheer us on as we run the Great Race.
I hope you come to love them.
They were all of them saints of God and I mean, God helping, to be one too.
Mary of Egypt was a fifth-century desert ascetic. She was a harlot beginning from age twelve, leaving her parents and journeying to Alexandria, where she lived completely in accordance with her passions for 17 years. She sought out sexual relations with any and all available men—even those unwilling–refusing money and making her living by begging and spinning flax. She joined a group of pilgrims bound for Jerusalem, intentionally seducing the men as they traveled. Once there everyone entered the sanctuary to celebrate the Exaltation of the Cross, except for Mary, who was barred by an unseen force. Shaken, she came to repentance and after finally entering the church, fled into the desert.
She lived alone, eating what she could find and enduring the open elements, for 17 years fighting her desires and passions before finally breaking through into the peace of God. Thirty years later the priest Zosima came across her by accident while praying in the desert, seeing a naked thing but not knowing whether she was human or animal or demonic apparition. With much reluctance and fear she recounted her life story, while manifesting graces such as words of knowledge about him and his life, walking across the Jordan river, and levitating in his presence during prayer. God alone had known that within this drunken harlot had been hidden the greatest of desert Mothers.
What can we take away from all this? First of all, Mary fought her flesh with savage fervor, undergoing an incredible purging as she battled her desires for food and wine and lewdness, going from darkness through darkness and misery through more misery until finally breaking forth into the peace of God, constantly praying to the Blessed Virgin for help. While there was certainly demonic attack, she recognized that her battle was first and foremost against her passions.
A second lesson for us was her strong reluctance to speak of her past sinfulness. This was not an aversion to testifying to the mercy of God. She recognized her passions as restrained but not removed, and was terrified lest even speaking of them would bring them to life again. We sometimes strive for years against besetting sins before one day finding God’s victory. Yet while those old holds are broken, wisdom demands that we always tread those areas with care. They are knives waiting in darkness, sharp and glistening, and we must always walk circumspectly lest we fall again. An alcoholic is always in recovery. To forget that invites death.
Finally, note her extreme humility. She manifested such extraordinary graces as words of knowledge and prophecy, translocation, levitation during prayer, walking across the Jordan river, and surviving for many years with virtually no food or water in the most inhospitable conditions, yet all the while knowing her absolute dependence on the grace of God and relying on Him in a way that few of us will experience.
Information has been gratefully taken from the following websites: Orthodox Church of America; St. Mary of Egypt Orthodox Church (there is a wonderful narrative here); CopticChurchNet; Mystogogy Resource Center; Glory to God for All Things; Orthowiki.