St. Mary of Egypt, Featured Saint

St. Mary of Egypt by George Kordis

Today we celebrate St. Mary of Egypt, our companion in following passionately after Christ regardless of societal convention. It is fitting that this week her feast day falls after Western Easter and in the midst of Eastern Lent, as she embodies both the deep-rooted fruit of repentance and the joyful fruit of union with Christ. 

After a young life of wild living not unlike the Prodigal Son, one day Mary of Egypt “came to herself” and encountered the Theotokos in an earth-shattering way. From then on, she committed her life to repentance and prayer, withdrawing into the desert and unknown by all until she told her miraculous story to the Elder Zosima in the last year of her life. The grace of her life and witness, like the spring, flowers for us each Lent and Easter season. 

As we celebrate her life today, we wanted to share these words again from Judith Scott, on Mary of Egypt as a Young Girl:

“In this post, I want to remember her and honor her in a way that puts a new light on her life and experience... one that respects her difficulties and phenomenal spiritual gifts. 

What if I met Mary then? She is sitting in front of me: young, 29 years old.  My heart goes out to her. I’ve learned from workshops on trauma training not to ask or put the focus on “what did you do?” and not to ask, “Why did you do those things?” But rather ask: “What happened to you?” 

Yes, she is a mess. She’s living a life of extreme deprivation and compulsion and self-destruction. But where is everyone else? What happened to her?  

I am struck, then as now, by how blame falls on the individual sinner without regard to societal patterns and structures that allow this situation to fester--then and now. A fire of public debauchery means people saw her and knew what was happening to her and to other young people--then and now.  They were living in filth, vulnerable to drugs, violence, self-harm--then and now. And she talks about all the men ... she was a child, a very young woman.  Then and now. Vulnerable to predators--then and now.

Mary did what she did to survive.  She begged, she worked spinning linen, she slept around. She developed a bravado, a shell of invincibility.  She saw the perverse use of her body as a sign of success, It showed she was desired. She could control that. Until she tried to enter that church. And all that fell away.

It fell away at the church doors with her encounter with the Theotokos.  

As Pia Chaudhari writes, Mary of Egypt’s story is not just as an icon of repentance in the way we often hear that word, but of “love breaking through deeply patterned behavior and holding open the door to a different way, one she would have to fight body and soul, tooth and nail, to hold on to. Her experiences of God must have been very, very strong to effect such a radical metanoia and then sustain her for the ensuing battle with all the demons and complexes which would still be there in her psyche. The fight was on.”

Mary was baptized and crossed the River Jordan. She put on the armor of Christ, the clothes of Christ.  

We wouldn’t encourage the anorexia and self-harm today she inflicted on herself then. But the role of the Theotokos as her sponsor is familiar and powerful now. She endured arduous discipleship, the endurance it takes to successfully climb the ladder of divine ascent to theosis, finding the light of God.

But there is more.  I see the story of a child in trouble.  I feel the need to respond as Jesus did with compassion and protection. We are the ones to attend to the runaways, the cast-outs, the lost people in society.  We see Mary’s miraculous story but we must look beyond her and include other people in our duty of care, our duty to help facilitate the daily needs of food, shelter and safety, acceptance and community, that can make people whole.  We do this not alone, but inspired and strengthened by Jesus Christ, His Father, and the Holy Spirit.”

Holy Mother Mary of Egypt, pray to God for us! 


This quote comes from one of our favorite sermons ever, by Nadieszda Kizenko as part of Fordham University's Orthodox Scholars Preach series, which also happens to be on St. Mary’s life: You won't be disappointed!