In the Spirit of St. Mary of Egypt

Today in the current Orthodox practice of Great Lent we commemorate St. Mary of Egypt (d. 522AD).   Through the centuries of Orthodox history, Great Lent changed from being a time of preparing catechumens for baptism and became under monastic influence more a season of repentance and ascetical fasting.  This no doubt reflected the changing reality of the Church in the Byzantine Empire where Christianity had become the state religion and there were fewer adult catechumens to edify, and more cultural and nominal Christians which the Church wanted to inspire.  St. Mary fits very well into this monastic scheme of Great Lent.

Athanasius (d. 373) archbishop of Alexandria of holy memory, begged Abba Pambo to come down from the desert to Alexandria. He went down, and seeing an actress began to weep. Those who present asked him the reason for his tears, and he said, ‘Two things make me weep: one, the loss of this woman; and the other, that I am not so concerned to please God as she is to please wicked men.’ ” (Irenee Hausher, Penthos: The Doctrine of Compunction in the Christian East, p 59)

So we too can weep when we are more eager to participate in worldly or sinful entertainment than to please God.  We often are not seduced by the world or by sin, because we run to see and participate in all manners of pleasure.  St. Mary of Egypt lamented that in her sinful days she didn’t even always engage in sex for money but sometimes just for the pleasure of seducing men and causing them to fall.  So too we eagerly and willfully engage in the sinful pleasure and over indulge, not because it benefits us but because we can.  Sometimes we rejoice in the fact that so many others are falling with us.   Such are the depths of moral depravity in the world.

We are given Lent as a gift – a time to say no to the self so that we can truly follow Christ.