Reflections on the Life of St Mary of Egypt.

Saint Mary of Egypt

It is always personal.

Things are never as they seem.



St Mary of Egypt and St Zosimas. 
             Orginally from On this Wednesday, we read the life of St Mary of Egypt, along with the entire Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete. We always do this service (matins with the Great Canon) the Fifth Wednesday of Great Lent ( puff, rtf) the week preceding the Sunday of St Mary of Egypt.


The reading of the life of St Mary of Egypt has always been intensely personal for me. I have actually been the one reading it for fifteen years now, but it was personal when I heard it read. It is the story of OUR redemption – what is wrong with us, what we must do, and especially how the grace of God will help us.


This story MUST be personal for every Christian. Different parts of it will touch us in different ways, but the key to understanding this story and getting any benefit with it is to make it personal.


This is the way it must be with all our prayers and the reading of Scripture. Certain things of course, lend themselves more readily to an intensely personal interpretation. Every one of the Psalms (even the historical ones) must be a personal reflection, and not just a recitation. All of the services and the scriptures must be felt deeply in the soul if they are to have any benefit to us. There were many who saw, touches and heard Christ and were not saved. Merely hearing or seeing something does not save – we must actualize its truth in our lives.


What follows is a non-comprehensive look at what the story of St Mary means to me. You may have a different view – but you MUST have a view! You cannot form such a view from your couch!


This brings me to something that always makes me sad. As a pastor, I strive to teach my flock, and inspire them. It does not always work. The Great Canon service is never full. I grieve terribly because those that I love are not benefiting in their souls from this great outpouring of grace that is present when this service is prayed. They have darkness in them, just as I do, and as the Lord said in another context, “how great is that darkness!” [1]  I identify with the words of our Lord, who of course is my model for how a pastor should be, when He, speaking of his beloved people, laminated that:


How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathered her chickens under her wings, and ye would not?” (Matthew 23:37)


I have made it my mission to attempt to get my flock to read the scriptures personally, and to deeply feel (all the things I share with them) their weakness, inadequacy and sin, and to gain the zeal to fight for holiness. A huge part of this battle is fasting, personal prayer, prayer in the temple, and almsgiving. I worry about any in my flock who is deficient in any of these categories.


St Mary was an intensely profligate person. She was part of the “hatch me, match me and dispatch me crowd” [2]. From her own story, we learn that she never went to church, and probably did not “darken the door” of any temple from the time of her baptism until that day when her redemption drew near:


“Know, holy father that I am only a sinful woman, though I am guarded by Holy baptism…”


“I have not seen a beast or a living being ever since I came into the desert. I never learned from books. I have never even heard anyone who sang and read from them.”


Since I have become a pastor, and really, for years before, I have always been struck by this truth – we cannot know how a person’s life will turn out. We do not know what is inside. We only see the outside, and our judgments may be wrong.

St Mary of Egypt and Saint Zosimas. Coptic icon. 
                 Originally from 
        This truth is a “double edged sword” for me. On the one hand, it is a stinging rebuke – Who am I to judge another man’s servant? How much time do I waste by judging, negativity, depression! All I should do is pray, and act when it is proper to act, and hope in God. On the other hand, I am filled with encouragement. I am in the seed planting business, and am happy to see some of these seed grow, but I am sure that some will grow that I never see. This is a very comforting thought.


This thought applies every day to my personal life. A constant theme of my pastoral life has been to convince others, with myself being the first that we can obtain what we were called to do – perfection. Our life has so much “cognitive dissonance” that makes this goal seems so far away, and even impossible, but truly, we are “not far from the Kingdom of God”. God knows all things. All I need do is “bear all things, believe all things, hope (in) all things and endure all things.”[3]


When I hear this life, I find the confidence to believe that I can really do this – the great sinner Mary did it, so it is possible! God will help me; He will help you; He will help all those I love. There will continue to me moments of doubt, and even despair, but the life of St Mary is never far from me, and reminds me of this comforting truth.


Priest Seraphim Holland 2010.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


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[1] Mat 6:23 but if Thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!



[2] A bit of “gallows humor”. Sometimes a person needs to “laugh to keep from crying”. Some people are baptized, married and buried in the church, and little else.


[3] 1 Corinthians 13:7

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