Freedom That Cannot Be Taken
Mary of Egypt is known as the patron saint of penitents. Today on The Feed, Craig Katzenmiller (Social Media Editor for Tokens) describes Saint Mary's spiritual journey that started in seemingly insurmountable bondage.
By: Craig Katzenmiller
The call of the spiritual life is always a call to turn toward God, to repent. One of the quintessential examples of repentance is St. Mary of Egypt, a saint, alas, who is far-too-little known here in the Christian West. Mary was born in Egypt and became a happy harlot, living in slavery, as she would later acknowledge, to Lust. One day she sold her body to cover boat fare to Jerusalem where she hoped to keep looking for lovers. There she had an experience at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher; she beheld an icon of the Virgin Mary and was converted to a life of chastity. After entering the church to venerate the cross of Christ, she was led into the desert where she lived for nearly five decades, seeking to live only for Mary’s Son and for his love.
The call of the spiritual life is always a call to turn toward God, to repent.
We know her story because of a chance meeting she had with another monk, Zossima. Zossima came to understand her sanctity at their first meeting, and at each of their subsequent yearly meetings, he became more and more humble and he desired to live the life of mercy that Mary was living.
Along with repentance, mercy is important for finding freedom of our various enslavements. Benedicta Ward tells the story of a monk who was “good” but who tried to seduce a woman wandering through the desert. Despairing his mistake, the monk left his cell and went back into the world. Ward notes that according to the desert tradition, “it is not this [i.e., attempting to seduce the woman] which condemns him. Rather, it is the pride which cannot bear to have fallen and therefore cannot ask for forgiveness and mercy, that is the failure.”
Along with repentance, mercy is important for finding freedom of our various enslavements.
Whether we find ourselves enslaved to gluttony, greed, sloth, sorrow, lust, anger, vainglory, and pride—the eight thoughts described by one desert father—or whether we find ourselves enslaved in physical prisons, we must acknowledge our need for repentance and mercy. As we turn our attention toward God and as we cry out for mercy, we find freedom that cannot be taken away. The resulting life of virtue—the life lived in faith, hope, and love—brings the “peace that passes understanding,” and that peace is freedom.