There is no other sacred hymn which compares with this monumental work, which St Andrew wrote for his personal meditations. Nothing else has its extensive typology and mystical explanations of the scripture, from both the Old and New Testaments. One can almost consider this hymn to be a “survey of the Old and New Testament”. Its other distinguishing features are a spirit of mournful humility, hope in God, and complex and beautiful Trinitarian Doxologies and hymns to the Theotokos in each Ode.
We need pictures to help us think, to help us digest and understand the truths given to us. What St. Andrew of Crete does in the Great Canon written by him, is to being to remembrance many characters of the Old Testament and a few from the New Testament.
The elder Zosimas was distressed and saddened to hear the plain tale of the desert dweller. How early, it turns out, can sin enslave a person and so entangle him with its tentacles of evil habits that he truly lives in its captivity.
The Lord gave St. Mary of Egypt to know what grace is when she lived in terrible sins, and granted her to see what an obstacle sin is for communion with God. Her answer to this gift from God should ever be before our eyes and should be our constant contemplation.
There is something unique, something astonishing about this text. However many times we have heard it or read it before, each time it is encountered, each time its words, together with the special melodies that we sing, with the bows, the demeanor with which we experience them—each time, they effect us in a remarkable way.
What the Lord will say to each of us—that’s His holy will. But, while we yet live, while we yet walk this earth, while we yet have these great and saving days of repentance given us by the Lord, let us bring our repentance to the Lord, with tears! Do not be ashamed of these tears, for our guardian angel collects these tears unseen.
I am sincerely convinced that at the remarkable service of the Great Canon and “Standing of St. Mary” we can feel, comprehend, and understand the essence of Christian ascetic labor, co-standing with St. Mary in her fiery, bold striving toward the Savior, Who seeks out the soul of a sinner.
On Wednesday evening a very special service is celebrated in Orthodox churches—the Great Canon with the Life of St. Mary of Egypt. This is the only time in the year when the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, which was read in four parts during the first week of Great Lent, is read in its entirety, along with the canon to St. Mary of Egypt. This canon contains every motivation toward fasting and repentance, and the Church repeats it in the fifth week in its entirety in order to inspire us with renewed strength to finish the course of the fast. The Life of St. Mary of Egypt is also read to that end—to motivate us to be attentive and repent.