Most of us know the story of St. Mary of Egypt but perhaps we can dig a little deeper into the Church’s true purpose for remembering her now at the end of the great fast.
We are told that Mary left home at a young age, about 12 years old. She was wild and undisciplined and she was a sex addict. She had little control over her desires or impulses. She allowed these feelings and urges to drag her from place to place. In many ways she embodies the definition of womanhood that is offered to us in the Western world. Her life was like something out of “Sex and the City.” She would be celebrated by many for her unrestrained lifestyle. Today many women celebrate this so-called freedom. They think that being sexually chaste or modest is some sort of weakness or even slavery. They fight for the freedom of the body and they can’t conceive of the ways in which the body and soul are connected. They fight for sexual liberation and can’t conceive of the ways in which they are hurrying towards their own slavery.
Mary was like many people today. She was governed and ruled by her sexual desires. These desires led her further and further into darkness. It is possible that for most of her life she had never heard the word “NO”. She made herself available to many of the young men she met. She gave her love to one man after another. And this is where she falls right into the biblical story of salvation. Mary of Egypt is a great symbol of God’s people, when they are unfaithful. She is a woman with many lovers.
If you spend some time in the Old Testament, especially in the prophetic books, you will find a recurring theme. This theme is the marriage of God to His bride Israel. This Israel is not the nation state that we see on the news, it is understood by the Fathers of the Church as the people of God. The problem with the people of biblical Israel is that they are always giving their love to other gods. God wants them to be faithful, but they continue to seek out false gods, day after day and year after year. Israel is the unfaithful wife. According to the Scriptures, she is worse than a harlot.
Are we faithful to God or do we behave like Mary of Egypt. Do we live to serve the true and living God or are we living for other gods such as wealth, beauty, power, security and luxury? When these strange gods come to seduce us, how do we respond? Do we push them away or do we quickly accept them?
Mary had gone her whole life and never been denied because men were looking at her strictly on her visible beauty. But what would happen when she approached the One who could see the inner state of her soul? As she sought to enter the church in Jerusalem she felt a force push against her. The woman who had never been rejected was now being rejected by God Himself. It was a turning point in her life.
It turns out that Mary was not happy in the state she was in, she was miserable. She had been chasing these sins because she was hungry for something deeper. She wanted love. We all want love. The problem is that usually the things we love don’t return love to us. They use us and throw us away once we are no longer useful. They leave us feeling lonely, abandoned and empty.
Mary found the love of Jesus Christ. She was baptized and received communion and for the next 47 years she lived in the wilderness in complete solitude. She repented and prayed and thanked God that He had not rejected her, but had shown her true love and mercy in ways she could never expect. Her transformation began with her heartfelt repentance, but it continued long afterwards. She did not merely accept Christ into her heart and go about living any way she liked. That is not Christianity, that is fantasy land. Mary of Egypt gained amazing spiritual gifts and insights, the likes of which are rarely attained even by those living in the monasteries under spiritual guidance for many years. God was faithful and true in His promises. As Mary continued her struggle, Christ continued to pour out His abundant grace. Once Mary knew who loved her, she gave Him everything she had and everything she was. She poured out her body, her heart, her mind and her strength. She completely embodied the first and greatest commandment to give God everything of ourselves.
Mary becomes a sign of what can happen to the people of God when they turn from their wickedness and actually let God affect them. It’s not a matter of “if” God can change you, It’s a matter of “how”. St. Mary of Egypt shows us that it is God’s good pleasure to transform each of us into His image and likeness. He makes warriors to become peacemakers. He makes brutes to become physicians. He makes the foolish to become wise. He makes harlots to become virgins. He makes strangers to become His sons and daughters.
As we near the finish line of the fast, Mary of Egypt gives us courage to complete our journey. Not one of our sacrifices or our prayers will be ignored. Not one of our struggles will be forgotten by God. Perhaps it is time that we turn to Him and trust Him completely as did this wonderful saint. God loves you just as He loved St. Mary. He doesn’t desire your death but your purification, sanctification and illumination. He desires to have communion with you, to know you intimately. No matter how far you’ve fallen, no matter what sins are in your past, God is ready to redeem you. Even now, at the last hour of Great and Holy Lent, God can transform each of us and bring us true healing. It is not yet too late. What is impossible with men, is still possible with Christ our God!
Glory be to the God Forever. AMEN.