Saint Mary of Egypt 

This week’s Saints of the Week is Saint Mary of Egypt. Born in Egypt in the year 344 AD, she ran away from home at the age of 12 to the bustling city of Alexandria, supporting herself by way of the world’s oldest profession. Saint Mary was drawn to this line of work not for the money, but out of disordered desire for physical pleasure, and often took no money for her services. She lived this way for more than 17 years. 

One day she heard a group of men from Egypt and Libya talking about setting sail on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and Saint Mary was inspired to go along. She paid for her passage through prostitution. Once in the Holy Land, Saint Mary attempted to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, but was physically unable to do so. Three times she tried, and three times she failed. Understanding her sinful lifestyle was the barrier preventing her from being able to enter the Church, Saint Mary prayed to a statue of Our Blessed Mother, pleading for her intercession so she might enter and seek forgiveness for her sins at the foot of the cross. Immediately after, she entered the church and did exactly that. While in prayer at the foot of the cross, Saint Mary heard a voice say to her,  ‘If you cross the Jordan, you will find glorious rest.” She did so with only three loaves of bread and lived alone in the desert for 47 years, growing in purity and holiness.  

Saint Mary might have been lost to history if it were not for Saint Zozimas of Palestine, a monk living in a monastery on the banks of the Jordan River. In the year 419 AD, Saint Zozimas was on a Lenten retreat, walking in the desert, when he encountered a strange figure with long gray hair that he initially mistook to be a spirit. Realizing the figure was actually a naked woman, he gave her his cloak and she told him her life story and asked him to come back the following year to bring her Holy Communion. The following year he found Saint Mary standing on the other side of the Jordan River. While trying to figure how he was to reach her, Saint Mary made the sign of the cross and walked over to him, on top of the water! The following year, Saint Zozimas returned again and found Saint Mary in the spot he initially encountered her, lying on the ground peacefully as though asleep. Inscribed in the sand beside her was the message, “Abba Zosimas, bury on this spot the body of humble Mary. Return to dust what is dust. Pray to the Lord for me. I reposed on the first day of April, on the very night of the saving Passion of Christ, after partaking of the Mystical Supper.”  Saint Zozimas wanted to bury Saint Mary, but had no shovel to dig a grave. He looked up and saw a lion sitting by the corpse of Saint Mary, licking her feet.  Realizing the lion was not a threat, he commended it do dig a gave for her, which the lion did, then headed back into the desert, leaving Saint Zozimas to put Saint Mary’s body to rest. Saint Zozimas told the story of Saint Mary of Egypt’s life to his fellow monks and it was ultimately recorded in the Vita of St. Mary of Egypt, by Saint Sophronius of Jeruselam, who was Patriarch of Jerusalem from 634 to 638. 

Patron Saint of: Converts and chastity.

Feast Day:  April 1st

“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 honour 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.”

Saint St. Mary of Egypt, who followed Christ's call into the desert—pray for us!

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