A Sermon on the Sunday of Saint Mary of Egypt
By Metropolitan Moses
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today, for the Fifth Sunday of Great Lent, we celebrate the memory of Saint Mary of Egypt. Saint Mary lived during a time when Christianity dominated the Mediterranean world. Yet, somehow, despite the fact that she lived in the midst of a Christian culture, she was somehow lead astray and departed from her parent’s home as a twelve year old runaway and was immersed in a life of total and complete subjection to the irrational passions for seventeen years. One can only speculate, who led her astray? Was it a peer or a slightly older child or some evil adult who convinced her to “form a strategy” for a life of reckless self-destructive promiscuity?
As disturbing the early part of her life was, the second part of her life was nothing short of a miracle for the ages.
We know from the account that she related to Saint Zosimas that after living a life of spiritual darkness for seventeen years God then found an opportunity and used her curiosity regarding the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross to separate her from her former environment in Egypt to draw her away from her life of sin.
After she arrived in Jerusalem, she desired to enter the Church of the Resurrection see the Cross and could not. After three or four failed attempts, she went out to a porch and she began to realize why she could not enter in the church. She then began to feel the full burden of her sin and separation from God, but she did not despair and she turned her gaze to an icon of the Most Holy Theotokos and said:
O Lady, Mother of God, who gave birth in the flesh to God the Word, I know, O how well I know, that it is no honor or praise to thee when one so impure and depraved as I look up to thy icon, O ever-virgin, who didst keep thy body and soul in purity. Rightly do I inspire hatred and disgust before thy virginal purity, but I have heard that God Who was born of thee became man on purpose to call sinners to repentance. Then help me, for I have no other help. Order the entrance of the church to be opened to me. Allow me to see the venerable Tree on which He Who was born of thee suffered in the flesh and on which He shed His holy Blood for the redemption of sinners and for me, unworthy as I am. Be my faithful witness before thy son that I will never again defile my body by the impurity of fornication, but as soon as I have seen the Tree of the Cross I will renounce the world and its temptations and will go wherever thou wilt lead me.
After worshipping the Cross she again returned to the icon and prayed, seeking guidance where to go and she heard a voice say unto her from on high, “If you cross the Jordan you will find glorious rest.”
Saint Mary was called not by men, but was called, protected and guided by the Most Holy Theotokos. After she changed her life she had to struggle in spiritual warfare for seventeen years, that is, the same amount of years she had formerly lived in sin. It was only after those many years of purification that the warfare subsided and she experienced peace, illumination and deification.
In the midst of all things ever written concerning the human person, the life of Saint Mary of Egypt stands out as a monument to the depths of a contra-natural life of enslavement to the passions, the love of God for sinners and an ascent to the heights of spiritual progress that only the holiest of the saints achieved in this life. She achieved the ultimate purpose for which man was created, that is, theosis, deification and divine participation. Words fail to describe what she became, but she reached the height of human personhood, that is, by grace she realized the full potential of what it means to be “made in the image and likeness of God.” We are all made in the image of God because we have reason and free will, but she attained the likeness through purification and participation in God’s grace.
During our modern era there are many opinions expressed concerning the human person.
The Darwinist-materialists claim that we are merely accidents of nature that exist in the biosphere of earth, which is only a rock that is hurtling through the cold darkness of space. This world-view has given birth to another philosophical view, that is, of nihilism, that asserts that man has no real purpose or place of importance in the universe.
This world-view reduces life to the principle of the survival of the fittest and is governed for the most part by experiences of pleasure and pain. As the old saying goes, “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”
Pagan-Darwinism was one of the philosophical underpinnings for the Nazi regime. For the Nazis, the destruction of a competing culture was simply nature’s elegant way of making way for “the fittest.”
For those of the Darwinist-materialists who do not embrace the “survival of the fittest” principle for cultures, the highest and most noble purpose they can reach is to achieve random acts of kindness or to have meaning through temporary human relationships or human achievement that ultimately ends in annihilation through death. This world-view dominates the government schooling is very influential in our society. In fact, it is this world-view that is the underlying source of the curriculum changes in Ontario.
There are many so-called progressives in society today who claim that they embrace a multiculturalism that tolerates competing world-views, but in many cases these are the same people who ridicule Christians for their desire to raise their children according their world-view and beliefs.
We as Orthodox Christians believe that, although we are made from the dust of the earth our ultimate purpose is to be united to the Creator of the universe. Saint Mary was temporarily cast into the depths, but through the mercy of God she rose up to freedom in Christ and the heights of divine participation.
I entreat you all to converse with your children every day and tell them what their purpose is, that they are the children of God and they are meant to be free in Christ our Savior. Our Savior instructed the Jews of His day with the words, “Amen, amen, I say unto you, Whosoever commits sin is the slave of sin. And the slave abides not in the house forever: but the Son abides forever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36)
We must write these words on our hearts. We must imprint them on the hearts of our children.
The world around us lies in sin and in our struggle against sin it is useful for us to review the admonishments spoken by the men of God regarding our struggle against sinful habits. Abba Dorotheos of Gaza once described the importance of cutting off the passions before we become accustom to them in the following words:
There was once a great Abba with his disciples in a place where there were lots of cypress trees, large and small. The Abba said to one of his disciples, ‘Pull up that young cypress.’ It was very little and the man was able to lift it out with one hand. The Abba then pointed to a bigger one and said, ‘Pull that up, as well’. He shook it back and forth with both hands and managed to uproot it. Then the Abba showed him another one, bigger again, but when he’d tried his best and had sweated over the job, he was still unable to move it. When the Abba saw that the disciple wasn’t up to the task, he told another brother to get up and help him. Both together they were able to pull it up. Then the Abba said to the brothers: ‘That’s what the passions are like, brethren. When they’re new, if we want we can easily pull them out. But if we ignore them when they’re new, they take root, and the deeper they go the more effort it takes to get rid of them. And if they really penetrate deeply within us, then we can’t remove them by ourselves unless we have the aid of saintly people who, by God’s grace, support us’.
Let us cut off the beginnings of sin, lest sin take root in us.
I ask you all to ponder the great miracle of the life of Saint Mary of Egypt and the special protection and guidance that she received from the Most Holy Theotokos. We live in a culture that is changing for the worse and we are all in need of protection and guidance from the Most Holy Mother of our God. I humbly entreat you to dedicate your children to her protection. Put an icon of the Theotokos in a prominent place in your home and lead your child there to pray before the icon and train them to ask her for help.
May God guide you all and give you wisdom in your personal choices regarding how you arrange your life so that you may find freedom in Christ and participation in His Grace, through the prayers of Saint Mary of Egypt and of all the saints who triumphed over sin in times past. Amen.