Thursday, April 18, 2013

Fr Georges Massouh on St Mary of Egypt

Remarkably, this article was posted to the website of Ayatollah Hussein Ismael al-Sadr, here.

 Mary of Egypt and Divine Longing

The Orthodox Church chose to place the feast of Saint Mary of Egypt (from Alexandria) on the fifth Sunday of Lent, this coming Sunday, in order to present her as a living model of repentance that makes a complete break with sin. Mary, a seller of passion, reached the apex of sin and was immersed in the deepest depths of transgression, but when she returned to her senses she pursued repentance as the path of rejecting sin. She practiced repentance to an even greater degree than she had practiced sin and with a burning desire even greater than the desire that drew her to sin, she longed for God and God alone.

The life of Mary of Egypt says that after she had lived seventeen years in vice and debauchery, she went to Jerusalem to attend the blessed feast of the Elevation of the Cross. There she "engaged in shameful deeds and drew many into the pit of perdition." When she tried to enter the church, she repeatedly felt an unseen power preventing her from entering and "her heart was wounded by this and she resolved to change her life and to entreat God in repentance." Immediately, she withdrew to the furthest desert and lived there for forty-seven years "a very hard life that no human could bear."

The Church raises all saints to the rank of a good example  and a living model, she sings  on Mary's feast day: " O Mary of Egypt, inasmuch as we have taken you as a model for repentance, intercede with Christ, that He may grant it to us during the time of the fast." Mary is the living example of the sinner who does not despair of the possibility of repentance, but who, having reached the enormity of sin, must completely realize that God is waiting for her return, to number her among the chosen. The great sin is despairing of God's mercy and of His answering the prayer of one who repents.

Mary's life story is filled with lessons. One cannot treat God with an unbearable levity. She wanted to enter the church, the house consecrated to God, not for prayer and worship and hearing the word, but in order to seduce many away from themselves. She was prevented from entering the church in order remind her that appearing in God's presence requires a great change in her behavior, her mentality, and the way she treats herself. She realized this, grasped the divine sign and acted according to it, becoming great among women.

However, the human person is holier than places of worship. The human person is the temple of God, which God made in His image and likeness and into which He breathed His Holy Spirit. Every sin that a person commits, especially sins of the body, is an insult to God's temple, which is his body. Here lies Mary's sin when she committed transgressions. In this context, the church sings this hymn to Mary: "O righteous and chaste one, when you did not know things divine, you profaned the image of God. But by divine care you purified it, and were divinized through divine deeds." Mary returned splendor to her body and it returned to being a holy temple and a dwelling-place for God.

When God prevented Mary from entering the church, He opened for her the doors of repentance and invited her to His banquet. She accepted His invitation and went out to the desert to practice asceticism, cutting off every thought that would incite her to return to sin. Mary went to the desert in order to live with God alone. She realized how much she had hurt herself with sin and she strugged for the rest of her life to repair herself. Holiness is nothing other than the realization that we are sinners and that our healing is found in the struggle to repent through prayer and fasting. Lent is our desert through which we must cross in order for God's image to return to us.

No comments: