Thursday, March 18, 2010

Mary of Egypt

The Eastern Orthodox church commemorates Mary of Egypt on the Fifth Sunday of Lent.

Mary's story has always fascinated me.  She was a teen-aged runaway.  She ran away from her home in Alexandria at the age of 12 in the 7th century.   Now the story is that she simply ran away because she was wanton and wanted to live a life of promiscuous sex.  Yea right.  That's what every happy and loved 12 year old girl wants.  Her words are that she was driven "by an insatiable desire and an irrepressible passionI just don't believe it.  A runaway little girl who turns to promiscuous sex to survive and find love sounds to me like she was abused at home.  I think she should be the patron saint of runaway teens. 

So she meets up with a group of pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem and joins them with the goal of seeing how many pilgrims she can seduce.   Yea I'll show God.   Then she tries to enter the church of the Holy Sepulchre and is mysteriously blocked from entering.   She believes this is due to her impurity (does this story not SCREAM sexually abused child to you?) and seeks forgiveness from an Icon of the Theotokos outside the church.  After this she is allowed to enter the church.  She receives absolution and Holy Communion and retreats into the desert where supposedly she lived the rest of her life on three loaves of bread.  But the story gets even more interesting.

There's this monk Zosimas who entered the monastery as a young man.  He's led a very religious life but still feels like he is missing something so he goes into the desert and encounters Mary.  She recognizes him to be a holy man and calls him by name, begging his forgiveness.  She asks him to bring her communion and tells him her life story.   While she feels unworthy to be in the presence of one whom she perceives to be a holy man, he is overwhelmed by how she has turned her life around and perceives her to be the holy woman because of how her life testifies to the grace of God.  There's a scene I find almost comedic where she begs him to bless her but he says "No you should bless me!"  They are arguing over who is holier.  

I believe there is another story in Mary, not the wanton sinner but  the broken child who finally found wholeness and healing in the desert with her God and the holy man who recognized what she could not - that her life testified to an amazing love and grace of God that he in his more sheltered existence had missed until he encountered her.

In thee, O Mother, was exactly preserved what was according to the divine image. for thou didst take the cross and follow Christ, and by thy life, didst teach us to ignore the flesh, since it is transitory, but to care for the soul as an immortal thing. Therefore, thy spirit, St. Mary, rejoices with the Angels.

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