By Ian Wilson (Rated PG)
The exact details of the life of Mary of Egypt are scarce; her story is told to us third hand by an order of monks living in the Palestinian desert. They tell us that she was a devout holy woman who had once lived a life of sin.
Her story begins about the middle of the fourth century, where at the age of twelve, Mary went to the city of Alexandria to begin a life of prostitution. For the next seventeen years, Mary applied herself to the world’s oldest profession, when one day she decided to board a ship departing for Jerusalem, in hopes of new opportunities to gratify her (and others’) lust.
In Jerusalem, she joined a group of Christians going to a church to venerate a sacred relic of the True Cross, hoping to lead others into sin. She could not, however, enter the church. An invisible wall kept her outside its doors. After attempting to enter the church three times, she was suddenly overcome with remorse for her life of sin. She pleaded with the Virgin Mary to allow her to enter the church and venerate the cross, promising to leave behind her former life. Her request was granted, and Mary of Egypt was able to enter the church.
After venerating the cross, Mary returned to the church yard to pray for guidance. There, she heard a voice telling her to cross over the Jordan to find rest. She obeyed the voice, and after receiving Holy Communion, crossed over the Jordan to wander in the desert.
Decades later, the monk Zosimus set out to the desert for his Lenten fast, where he found Mary. She told him her extraordinary story, and after praying together, Mary begged him to return the following year on Holy Thursday with Holy Communion. Zosimus kept this promise, returning a year later to the Western bank of the Jordan where they had agreed to meet. After some time, Mary came to the Eastern bank, and making the sign of the cross, she walked across the Jordan on the surface of the water.
After receiving the sacrament, she praised God in the words of Simeon and asked Zosimus to return to the spot where they had met in one year’s time. Zosimus came through once again, only to find that Mary had died a year prior. Once he had buried her body, Zosimus returned to the monastery to tell the awesome story of her life.
May we, like Mary, leave behind our lives of sin and the things of this world to cling only to Jesus.