Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt


On the Fifth Sunday of Lent the Orthodox Church commemorates our Righteous Mother Mary of
Egypt. The feast day of Saint Mary of Egypt is April 1, however, she is also commemorated on this
Sunday due to her recognition by the Church as a model of repentance.
Life of the Saint
Our holy mother Mary was born in Egypt. She had left her parents at the age of twelve to go to
Alexandria, where she spent the next seventeen years in debauchery and the greatest profligacy.
Living on charity and linen-weaving, she nevertheless offered her body to any man, not being forced
to it by dire necessity as were so many poor women, but as though she were consumed by the fire of
a desire that nothing was able to appease.
One day, seeing a crowd of Lybians and Egyptians moving towards the port, she followed them and
set sail with them for Jerusalem, offering her body to pay her fare. When they arrived in the Holy
City, she followed the crowd that was thronging towards the Church of the Resurrection, it being the
day of the Exaltation of the Cross. But, when she reached the threshold of the church, an invisible
force prevented her entering in spite of repeated efforts on her part, although the other pilgrims
were able to go in without hindrance. Left alone in a corner of the narthex, she began to realize that
it was the impurity of her life that was preventing her approaching the holy Wood. She burst into
tears and smote her breast and, seeing an icon of the Mother of God, made this prayer to her: "O
Sovereign Lady, who didst bear God in the flesh, I know that I should not dare to look upon thine
icon, thou who are pure in soul and body, because, debauched as I am, I must fill thee with disgust.
But, as the God born of thee became man in order to call sinners to repentance, come to my aid!
Allow me to go into the church and prostrate before His Cross. And, as soon as I have seen the Cross,
I promise that I will renounce the world and all pleasures, and follow the path of salvation that thou
willest to show me."
She felt herself suddenly freed from the power that had held her and was able to enter the church.
There she fervently venerated the Holy Cross and then, returning to the icon of the Mother of God,
declared herself ready to follow the path that the Virgin would show her. A voice replied to her from
on high: "If you cross the Jordan, you will find rest."
Leaving the church, she bought three loaves with the alms a pilgrim had given her, discovered which
road led to the Jordan and arrived one evening at the Church of Saint John the Baptist. After having
washed in the river, she received Communion in the Holy Mysteries, ate half of one of the loaves
and went to sleep on the riverbank. The next morning, she crossed the river and lived from that time
on in the desert, remaining there for forty-seven years without ever encountering either another
human being or any animal.
During the first seventeen years, her clothes soon having fallen into rags, burning with heat by day
and shivering with cold by night, she fed on herbs and wild roots. But more than the physical trials,
she had to face violent assaults from the passions and the memory of her sins and, throwing herself
on the ground, she implored the Mother of God to come to her aid. Protected by God, who desires
nothing but that the sinner should turn to Him and live, she uprooted all the passions from her heart
by means of this extraordinary ascesis, and was able to turn the fire of carnal desire into a flame of

divine love that made it possible for her to endure the implacable desert with joy, as though she
were not in the flesh.
After all these years, a holy elder called Zosimas (April 4), who, following the tradition instituted by
Saint Euthymios, had gone into the desert across the Jordan for the period of the Great Fast, saw
one day a human form with a body blackened by the sun and with hair white as bleached linen to its
shoulders. He ran after this apparition that fled before him, begging it to give him its blessing and
some saving words. When he came within ear-shot, Mary, calling by name him whom she had never
seen, revealed to him that she was a woman and asked him to throw her his cloak that she might
cover her nakedness.
At the urging of the monk, who was transported at having at last met a God-bearing being who had
attained the perfection of monastic life, the Saint recounted to him with tears the story of her life
and conversion. Then, having finished her account, she begged him to come the following year to
the bank of the Jordan with Holy Communion.
When the day arrived, Zosimas saw Mary appearing on the further bank of the river. She made the
sign of the Cross and crossed the Jordan, walking on the water. Having received Holy Communion
weeping, she said: "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word; for
mine eyes have seen Thy salvation" (Luke 2:29). She then took leave of Zosimas, asking him to meet
her the following year in the place where they had first met.
When the year was past, Zosimas, going to the agreed spot, found the Saint's body stretched on the
ground, her arms crossed and her face turned towards the East. His tearful emotion prevented him
from noticing at once an inscription traced on the ground by the Saint, which read: "Abba Zosimas,
bury here the body of the humble Mary; give what is of dust to dust, after having prayed for me. I
died on the first day of April, the very night of the Passion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, after
having partaken in the Holy Eucharist." Consoled in his grief by having learned the Saint's name,
Zosimas was amazed to discover that she had, in several hours, covered a distance of more than
twenty days' march.
After having vainly tried to break up the earth with a stick, he suddenly saw a lion approaching
Mary's body and licking her feet. On the orders of the Elder, the beast dug a hole with its claws, in
which Zosimas devoutly placed the Saint's body.
On his return to the monastery, he recounted the marvels that God had wrought for those who turn
away from sin and move towards Him with all their hearts. From the hardened sinner that she had
been, Mary has, for a great many souls crushed under the burden of sin, become a source of hope
and a model of conversion. This is why the Holy Fathers have placed the celebration of her memory
at the end of the Great Fast as an encouragement for all who have neglected their salvation,
proclaiming that repentance can bring them back to God even at the eleventh hour.
Orthodox Commemoration of the Feast of Saint Mary of Egypt
The feast day of Saint Mary of Egypt is April 1, the day of her repose, however the Orthodox Church
also commemorates the Saint on the Fifth Sunday of Lent. As a Sunday of Great Lent, the
commemoration is celebrated with the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great, which is preceded by a
Matins (Orthros) service. A Great Vespers is conducted on Saturday evening.
Scripture readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent are the following: At the Orthros (Matins): The
prescribed weekly Gospel reading. At the Divine Liturgy: Hebrews 9:11-14; Mark 10:32-45.

Saint Mary of Egypt is also commemorated on the Thursday before the Fifth Sunday of Lent, when
her life is read during the Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete. A canon in her honor is read at the
end of each Ode. In parish churches the service and the canon is most often conducted on
Wednesday evening.
Hymns of the Feast
Apolytikion: Plagal of the Fourth Tone
In you the image was preserved with exactness, O Mother; for taking up your cross, you did follow
Christ, and by your deeds you did teach us to overlook the flesh, for it passes away, but to attend to
the soul since it is immortal. Wherefore, O righteous Mary, your spirit rejoices with the Angels.
Kontakion: Fourth Tone
Having escaped the gloom of sin, O blest Mary, and shining brightly with the light of repentance,
thou didst present thy heart to Christ, O glorious one, bringing HimHis Holy and all-immaculate
Mother as a greatly merciful and most bold intercessor. Hence, thou hast found the pardon of thy
sins and with the Angels rejoicest for evermore.


Source: Greek Orthodox Church of America









Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt