Saint Mary of Egypt

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Every Saint manifests Christ’s Love
(Memory of Saint Mary of Egypt)
5th Sunday in Great Lent
21 March, 2010
Hebrews 9:11-14 ; Mark 10:32-45


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

When we hear readings from the Epistle to the Hebrews, we tend not to understand very well what is being written there. One of the reasons for this is that, in general, we do not pay very much attention to the Old Testament. The Epistle to the Hebrews is written to people who understood the Old Testament very well. They knew what the Apostle was talking about when he was describing how Christ is fulfilling the promises.

From the time of the Fall, the Lord promised redemption to us. He promised us a way out of our estrangement from God. We are the ones who broke communion with God. God did not break communion with us. We are the ones who chose to listen to the Tempter. I would go so far as to say that we are the ones who took ourselves out of the Garden of Eden because (as you may perhaps recall) from the very beginning, we did not bother to say : “I’m sorry”. To this day, we human beings have great difficulty saying : “I’m sorry”. (Even if Canadians say it by habit, we often do not really mean it.)

Saying that we are sorry, apologising, asking forgiveness, is not easy for us. That is how we are. Yet, how has the Lord manifested Himself to us all through the course of our history ? He has manifested Himself to us as patient, loving, kind, ready to forgive and ready to accept our repentance. Thus, when we remember Saint Mary of Egypt today, we remember a woman who had fallen into the darkest sorts of slavery to sin. She was absolutely driven by sin and she could not help herself. Nevertheless, the Lord saw her heart. The Lord woke her up, and she repented. She turned about, and she allowed the Lord to take her on the path of life. For the rest of her life she walked on this path of life.

It is not for nothing that every year, Mary of Egypt comes to us two times during Lent. She comes to us first on the feast-day of her departure into the Kingdom of Heaven on the first of April (that is a day which is always in Lent as far as I understand), and she comes to us on this, the last Sunday of Great Lent. She comes to us, by the mercy of God, to remind us (as He reminds her) of His love for us, and the openness of His arms towards us. When our Saviour is being explained to us by the Apostle in the Epistle to the Hebrews, it is in this context of a loving God who is fulfilling His Promise : His Only-begotten Son empties Himself because of love, and becomes a human being. The Symbol of Faith uses “Man”, but this refers to the Greek word anthropos, whose meaning includes human beings of both genders. At the same time as He is a human being, He is the great and final High Priest. In the Epistle today, we notice what the Apostle says about the blood and ashes of animals. Here, he reminds us that, by anticipation, the blood and ashes of animals were for purification of the flesh. The annual repetition of prescribed sacrifices demonstrates the very limited effectiveness of the animal sacrifices. In the following chapter (see 10:1), he shows us that these sacrifices could only be effective in bringing remission of sins insofar as they were participating in advance in the great sacrifice of Christ, the High Priest. This High Priest offered Himself – not anyone or anything else or any other substitute. He, Himself, offered Himself for us.

As our Saviour says : “‘Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’” (John 15:13). In Christ’s love, a person can potentially give up his life for his friend, his brother or sister, his loved one, and sometimes a stranger. Saint Maria of Paris, the New-Martyr, is but one example of this in the last century. This is the love that our Saviour has for us. For love of Saint Mary of Egypt, He gives up His life. For love of you and me, in all our weaknesses, darknesses, failures, falls, betrayals, He gives up His life. He gives Himself up. He gives Himself up for you and for me. He loves us far beyond our ability to express it. Very soon in this Divine Liturgy, we will be describing Him as “the One who offers, and the One who is offered”. This is a mystery that cannot really be explained. People try to explain it, and they get somewhere towards it, but there is only so much explaining we can do about these things. We can only properly comprehend most of these mysteries in the depths of the heart which is in communion with the Lord.

As we are now remembering Saint Mary of Egypt on this last Sunday of Great Lent, and as we have confidence in the Lord’s love for us, let us ask Him to refresh in our hearts this confidence in His love. By the Grace of the Holy Spirit may we be enabled to persevere in this love, to grow in this love, to grow nearer to Him in this love, to grow more like Him in this love, so that our lives may be transformed and transfigured, as was the life of Saint Mary of Egypt. May we be enabled to shine with the radiance of His love, and to pour out His peace and His joy so that people around us will understand His love and come to be with us, rejoicing in His love here in His Temple, in His presence, where He says to you and to me : “‘Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’” (Matthew 11:28). All together may we glorify our deeply-loving Saviour, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.