St Mary had never read any books; she was illiterate.
She evidently never went to church after her baptism, until the day of her
“I never learned from books. I have never even heard anyone who sang and read from them. But the word of God which is alive and active, by itself teaches a man knowledge.”
St Mary walked across the Jordan one time (each way);
during the second meeting with Abba Zosimas when he brought her the Holy
“And as he was pondering thus he saw the holy woman appear and stand on the other side of the river. Zosimas got up rejoicing and glorifying and thanking God. And again the thought came to him that she could not cross the Jordan. Then he saw that she made the sign of the Cross over the waters of the Jordan (and the night was a moonlight one, as he related afterwards) and then she at once stepped on to the waters and began walking across the surface towards him.”
Abba Zosimas was the only human being she saw after
she went into the desert.
"Believe me, I have not seen a human face ever since I crossed the Jordan, except yours today. I have not seen a beast or a living being ever since I came into the desert.”
St Mary’s life is the only one that is appointed to
be read in a service in church.
Abba Zosimas saw St Mary alive 2 times, and traveled
into the desert 2 times in the story. He met her the first year after a twenty
days journey into the desert, and the second year he was ill and unable to
travel, and met her near the monastery, and the third year he traveled to the
same place he had met her on his first journey, and found her dead with
instructions to bury her.
St Mary received the holy mysteries after her repentance just two times; on the day of her repentance, and during the second meeting with Abba Zosimas.
“Running on I passed the gates and still weeping went on my journey. Those I met I asked the way, and after walking for the rest of that day (I think it was nine o'clock when I saw the Cross) I at length reached at sunset the Church of St. John the Baptist which stood on the banks of the Jordan. After praying in the temple, I went down to the Jordan and rinsed my face and hands in its holy waters. I partook of the holy and life-giving Mysteries in the Church of the Forerunner and ate half of one of my loaves.”
· The Life of St Mary is read in two parts during matins for the 5th Thursday of Great Lent, when the Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete is also sung in its entirety.
The third time Abba Zosimas saw St Mary, she was
dead, and had written him a message to bury her.
St Mary most likely was in an Orthodox Church only three times in her life
– at her baptism, when she venerated the Holy Cross, and when she
received Holy Communion at the Monastery on the Jordan.
When St Mary left the church of the resurrection, she was given three coins,
with which she bought loaves; this would be the only cooked food she would eat
until she met Abba Zosimas for the last time.
“With these words I left the porch of the church and set off on my journey. As I was leaving the church a stranger glanced at me and gave me three coins, saying: `Sister, take these.' And, taking the money, I bought three loaves and took them with me on my journey, as a blessed gift.”
· There are three Saints involved in the life of St Mary: St Sophronius, who wrote it down, and of course, Abba Zosimas and St Mary.
St Mary attempted to enter the church of the
resurrection unsuccessfully 3 or 4 times.
The holy day of the Exaltation of the Cross dawned while I was still flying about -- hunting for youths. At daybreak I saw that everyone was hurrying to the church, so I ran with the rest. When the hour for the holy elevation approached, I was trying to make my way in with the crowd which was struggling to get through the church doors. I ad at last squeezed through with great difficulty almost to the entrance of the temple, from which the life-giving Tree of the Cross was being shown to the people. But when I trod on the doorstep which everyone passed, I was stopped by some force which prevented by entering. Meanwhile I was brushed aside by the crowd and found myself standing alone in the porch. Thinking that this had happened because of my woman's weakness, I again began to work my way into the crowd, trying to elbow myself forward. But in vain I struggled. Again my feet trod on the doorstep over which others were entering the church without encountering any obstacle. I alone seemed to remain unaccepted by the church. It was as if there was a detachment of soldiers standing there to oppose my entrance. Once again I was excluded by the same mighty force and again I stood in the porch. Having repeated my attempt three or four times, at last I felt exhausted and had no more strength to push and to be pushed, so I went aside and stood in a corner of the porch.
· The Life of St Mary is read in two parts during matins for the 5th Thursday of Great Lent.
The fifth time St Mary attempted to enter the church,
she was able to, because of the intercession of the Mother of God.
“And only then with great difficulty it began to dawn on me, and I began to understand the reason why I was prevented from being admitted to see the life-giving Cross. The word of salvation gently touched the eyes of my heart and revealed to me that it was my unclean life which barred the entrance to me. I began to weep and lament and beat my breast, and to sigh from the depths of my heart. And so I stood weeping when I saw above me the icon of the most holy Mother of God. And turning to her my bodily and spiritual eyes I 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 an 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.' Thus I spoke and as if acquiring some hope in firm faith and feeling some confidence in the mercy of the Mother of God, I left the place where I stood praying. And I went again and mingled with the crowd that was pushing its way into the temple. And no one seemed to thwart me, no one hindered my entering the church.”
A “few years”
St Mary ate the bread she brought into the desert
"I had two and a half loaves when I crossed the Jordan. Soon they dried up and became hard as rock. Eating a little I gradually finished them after a few years."
Saint Zosimas met St Mary as he was singing the Sixth
“He had already walked for 20 days and when the 6th hour came he stopped and, turning to the East, he began to sing the sixth Hour and recite the customary prayers. He used to break his journey thus at fixed hours of the day to rest a little, to chant psalms standing and to pray on bent knees.“
“And as he sang thus without turning his eyes from the heavens, he suddenly saw to the right of the hillock on which he stood the semblance of a human body”
St Mary saw the cross at nine in the morning.
probably at matins.
“(I think it was nine o'clock when I saw the Cross)”
St Mary lost her virginity and began her life of
debauchery at 12 years old.
“My native land, holy father, was Egypt. Already during the lifetime of my parents, when I was twelve years old, I renounced their love and went to Alexandria. I am ashamed to recall how there I at first ruined my maidenhood and then unrestrainedly and insatiably gave myself up to sensuality It is more becoming to speak of this briefly, so that you may just know my passion and my lechery.”
St Mary lived profligate life in Alexandria for 17
“For about seventeen years, forgive me, I lived like that. I was like a fire of public debauch.”
St Mary struggled in the desert against her
profligate passions for seventeen years before she felt great relief. We should
remember this regarding our struggles. Relief will happen if we endure and are
"Believe me, Abba, seventeen years I passed in this desert fighting wild beasts -- mad desires and passions. When I was about to partake of food, I used to begin to regret the meat and fish which of which I had so much in Egypt. I regretted also not having wine which I loved so much. for I drank a lot of wine when I lived in the world, while here I had not even water. I used to burn and succumb with thirst. The mad desire for profligate songs also entered me and confused me greatly, edging me on to sing satanic songs which I had learned once. But when such desires entered me I struck myself on the breast and reminded myself of the vow which I had made, when going into the desert. In my thoughts I returned to the icon of the Mother of God which had received me and to her I cried in prayer. I implored her to chase away the thoughts to which my miserable soul was succumbing. And after weeping for long and beating my breast I used to see light at last which seemed to shine on me from everywhere. And after the violent storm, lasting calm descended.
And how can I tell you about the thoughts which urged me on to fornication, how can I express them to you, Abba? A fire was kindled in my miserable heart which seemed to burn me up completely and to awake in me a thirst for embraces. As soon as this craving came to me, I flung myself on the earth and watered it with my tears, as if I saw before me my witness, who had appeared to me in my disobedience, and who seemed to threaten punishment for the crime. And I did not rise from the ground (sometimes I lay thus prostrate for a day and a night) until a calm and sweet light descended and enlightened me and chased away the thoughts that possessed me. But always I turned to the eyes of my mind to my Protectress, asking her to extend help to one who was sinking fast in the waves of the desert. And I always had her as my Helper and the Accepter of my repentance. And thus I lived for seventeen years amid constant dangers. And since then even till now the Mother of God helps me in everything and leads me as it were by the hand."
· Abba Zosimas met Mary for the first time on his 20th day of travel in the wilderness (see entry for 79)
The brothers of the Monastery by the Jordan would
spend the whole of the fast, 42 full days, when the would go into the
desert in the evening of Forgiveness Sunday and arrive back to the Monastery on
Palm Sunday (Lent is 6 full weeks of seven days)
“There was a rule in that monastery which was the reason why God brought Zosimas there. At the beginning of the Great Fast [on Forgiveness Sunday] the priest celebrated the holy Liturgy and all partook of the holy body and blood of Christ. After the Liturgy they went to the refectory and would eat a little Lenten food.
Then all gathered in church, and after praying earnestly with prostrations, the elders kissed one another and asked forgiveness. And each made a prostration to the abbot and asked his blessing and prayers for the struggle that lay before them. After this, the gates of the monastery were thrown open, and singing, "The Lord is my light and my Savior; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defender of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 26:1) and the rest of that psalm, all went out into the desert and crossed the River Jordan. Only one or two brothers were left in the monastery, not to guard the property (for there was nothing to rob), but so as not to leave the church without Divine Service. Each took with him as much as he could or wanted in the way of food, according to the needs of his body: one would take a little bread, another some figs, another dates or wheat soaked in water. And some took nothing but their own body covered with rags and fed when nature forced them to it on the plants that grew in the desert.
After crossing the Jordan, they all scattered far and wide in different directions. And this was the rule of life they had, and which they all observed -- neither to talk to one another, nor to know how each one lived and fasted. If they did happen to catch sight of one another, they went to another part of the country, living alone and always singing to God, and at a definite time eating a very small quantity of food. In this way they spent the whole of the fast and used to return to the monastery a week before the Resurrection of Christ, on Palm Sunday. Each one returned having his own conscience as the witness of his labor, and no one asked another how he had spent his time in the desert. Such were rules of the monastery. Everyone of them whilst in the desert struggled with himself before the Judge of the struggle -- God -- not seeking to please men and fast before the eyes of all. For what is done for the sake of men, to win praise and honor, is not only useless to the one who does it but sometimes the cause of great punishment. “
St Mary spent 47 years in the desert after her repentance.
“Zosimas asked her: "How many years have gone by since you began to live in this desert?" She replied: "Forty-seven years have already gone by, I think, since I left the holy city."”
At the age of 53, Abba Zosimas left the Monastery of his repentance, and
traveled to Palestine, to a monastery by the river Jordan.
“Zosimas used to relate how, as soon as he was taken from his mother's breast, he was handed over to the monastery where he went through his training as an ascetic till he reached the age of 53. After that, he began to be tormented with the thought that he was perfect in everything and needed no instruction from anyone, saying to himself mentally, "Is there a monk on earth who can be of use to me and show me a kind of asceticism that I have not accomplished? Is there a man to be found in the desert who has surpassed me?"
Thus thought the elder, when suddenly an angel appeared to him and said:
"Zosimas, valiantly have you struggled, as far as this is within the power of man, valiantly have you gone through the ascetic course. But there is no man who has attained perfection. Before you lay unknown struggles greater than those you have already accomplished. That you may know how many other ways lead to salvation, leave your native land like the renowned patriarch Abraham and go to the monastery by the River Jordan."
· St Mary was 76 years old when she met Zosimas (She began her life of debauchery at 12 years, lived in Alexandria for 17 years from that time, and then in the desert for 47 years until she met Abba Zosimas).
St Mary died the day of the second meeting with Abba Zosimas, in her
77th year. On Abba Zosimas second trip into the desert, when he
thought he would see the saint alive for the 3rd time, he
found her dead, and the words in the sand showed him that she had died on the
day she saw him the previous year.
“Then on the opposite bank of the river, her face turned towards the rising sun, he saw the saint lying dead. Her hands were crossed according to custom and her face was turned to the East. Running up he shed tears over the saint's feet and kissed them, not daring to touch anything else.
For a long time he wept. Then reciting the appointed psalms, he said the burial prayers and thought to himself: "Must I bury the body of a saint? Or will this be contrary to her wishes?" And then he saw words traced on the ground by her head:
"Abba Zosimas, bury
on this spot the body of humble Mary. Return to dust that which is dust and
pray to the Lord for me, who departed in the month of Fermoutin of Egypt,
called April by the Romans, on the first day, on the very night of our Lord's
Passion, after having partaken of the Divine Mysteries."
Reading this the elder was glad to know the saint's name. He understood too that as soon as she had partaken of the Divine Mysteries on the shore of the Jordan she was at once transported to the place where she died. The distance which Zosimas had taken twenty days to cover, Mary had evidently traversed in an hour and had at once surrendered her soul to God. ”
Abba Zosimas lived to be almost one hundred years old.
“Zosimas returned to the monastery glorifying and blessing Christ our Lord. And on reaching the monastery he told all the brothers about everything, and all marveled on hearing of God's miracles. And with fear and love they kept the memory of the saint. Abbot John, as St. Mary had previously told Abba Zosimas, found a number of things wrong in the monastery and got rid of them with God's help. And Saint Zosimas died in the same monastery, almost attaining the age of a hundred, and passed to eternal life. The monks kept this story without writing it down and passed it on by word of mouth to one another.”
"Abba Zosimas, bury on this spot the body of humble Mary. Return to dust that which is dust and pray to the Lord for me, who departed in the month of Fermoutin of Egypt, called April by the Romans, on the first day, on the very night of our Lord's Passion, after having partaken of the Divine Mysteries." [St. Mary died in 522 A. D.]
Priest Seraphim Holland 2011. St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas
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