This week of Great Lent, the Church celebrates the memory of St. Mary of Egypt. The story of St. Mary is the story of a repentant harlot. Why does the Church find this story so important? Why does the whole Orthodox world remember this woman?
Her life tells us about how, from her early youth, she carried on an extremely debauched life and then, more like a tourist than a pilgrim, decided to go to Jerusalem for the feast of the Exaltation of the Honorable Cross of the Lord. But a mysterious power would not let her into the church until she became conscious of her sins and called out to the Mother of God and to the Lord for mercy. Then she was able to enter the church, and shaken to the core, resolved to spend the rest of her life in prayer and repentance. Many years later, the saintly monk Zosimas met her in the desert; it is from him that we know her story.
What message—across centuries and countries—does her life give us?
It is the story of finding hope. Mary had a reality, which, for the time being, suited her. As the poet said, “wine and men were her atmosphere.” But she had no future; she only had what one prefers not to think about. Soon her charms would wilt—especially soon due to her unhealthy lifestyle—and men would lose all interest in her, turning their attention to new victims with social temperaments, and she would become lonely, cast off, and lacking means for sustenance. But in turning to God she found hope—hope not only that her earthly life would be filled with dignity and meaning, but most importantly that before her is eternal life.