Archive for the ‘St. Mary of Egypt’ Tag

Feast of St. Mary of Egypt (April 3)   Leave a comment

Above:  Saint Mary of Egypt, by José de Ribero

Image in the Public Domain

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SAINT MARY OF EGYPT (CIRCA 344-CIRCA 421)

Hermit and Penitent

Alternative feast days = January 25, April 1, April 2, April 9, and November 5

St. Mary of Egypt comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018, of The Episcopal Church.  She is also a saint in the Roman Catholic Church and in Eastern Orthodox churches.  In Eastern Orthodoxy another day to celebrate the life of St. Mary of Egypt, a paragon of penitence, is the fifth Sunday in Great Lent.

Before I write about the life of St. Mary of Egypt, I choose to address a proverbial elephant in the room:  chronology.  Nearly all accounts (including the one in Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018) of her life mention that, in the last two or so years of her life, she knew a priest-monk, St. Zosimus of Palestine, who allegedly buried her and wrote her biography.  However, the frequently listed lifespans for both saints do not support the possibility of this.  If one accepts that St. Mary of Egypt died circa 421, one must reject that she could have known St. Zosimus of Palestine (circa 460-circa 560).  Some sources ignore this chronological conundrum.  Others push St. Mary’s lifetime into the fifth and sixth centuries, the timeframe for St. Zosimus.  Some sources adjust the dates for St. Zosimus down a century, into the timeframe of St. Mary.  I remain suspicious of the two saints having met.

I have years of experience writing hagiographies.  I also know that people knew how to keep track of what year it was in antiquity.  Nevertheless, I recall more than one occasion when I was taking notes about saints who allegedly knew each other and I realized that they could not have known each other because of chronology.  Hagiographers should keep their chronologies in order.

St. Mary of Egypt, born in Alexandria, Egypt, in 344, spent most of her life as a penitent and a hermit.  She left home at age twelve and became a prostitute.  Seventeen years later, she accompanied a group of pilgrims to Jerusalem.  They were going to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14).  She was seeking to fulfill her lust and find customers.  The pilgrims entered the church, but an invisible barrier prevented the prostitute from crossing the threshold.  St. Mary of Egypt confessed her sins, repented of them, and called upon the Mother of God.  Our saint, across the threshold, advanced toward the alleged True Cross of Christ.  She dedicated her life to God.  St. Mary spent the next forty-seven or so years as a hermit in the desert beyond the Jordan River.

Many Low Church Protestants, regardless of where they fall on the liberal-conservative spectrum, underestimate the spiritual value of holy hermits.  Holy hermits are useless, many Low Church Protestants claim.  Yet, if one affirms the efficacy of prayer, as I assume most Low Church Protestants do, one should recognize the inestimable value of holy hermits, who spend so much time in prayer.  If one accepts the efficacy of prayer, one should give thanks for holy hermits.  Historical accounts of many Desert Fathers and Mothers also indicate that many people went out to consult them for spiritual counsel.

Whatever St. Mary of Egypt did day in and day out for forty-seven years, it was of great spiritual value.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 1, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT HENRY MORSE, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1645

THE FEAST OF SAINT BENEDICT DASWA, SOUTH AFRICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC CATECHIST AND MARTYR, 1990

THE FEAST OF CHARLES SEYMOUR ROBINSON, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMNOLOGIST

THE FEAST OF GIOVANNI PIERLUIGI DE PALESTRINA, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC COMPOSER AND MUSICIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIGEBERT III, KING OF AUSTRASIA

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Merciful Lord, who raises up sinners by your boundless compassion and mercy:

Cause the desert sun to burn away our coarseness and to melt our hardness of heart,

that, like your servant Mary of Egypt,

we may not depart from this life until we understand

the ways of repentance and the benefits of prayer;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you

and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hebrews 11:32-40

Psalm 91:9-16

John 20:11-18

Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018, 213

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