SAINT MARY OF EGYPT (c.344-c.421), holy woman and hermitess
Today, the Church honors Saint Mary of Egypt, a little-known saint whose story demonstrates the power of the Church as the home of forgiveness, redemption and mercy.
The story of Saint Mary of Egypt first circulated among the monastic communities of the Eastern Church in the late fifth or early sixth century. Her story spread very quickly to the West, and, by the end of the sixth century, she was well known throughout all Christendom.
Mary was born about the year 344. Moving to the city of Alexandria when she was twelve years old, she worked the streets as a prostitute for several years. With the intention of continuing her trade, she joined a large group of people that were making a religious pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
On the Feastday itself, she joined the crowd of pilgrims who were heading into the church to venerate the relic of the True Cross, again with the intention of luring others into sin and to support her way of life. Her biography tells us that when she got to the door of the church, she was unable to enter, for some unseen force propelled her away from the door each time she approached. After trying to get in three or four times, Mary moved to a corner of the churchyard and began to cry tears of remorse.
Then she saw a statue of the Blessed Virgin near where she was sitting. She prayed to the Holy Mother for permission to enter the church for the purposes of venerating the Sacred Wood on which Jesus had suffered, promising that if her request was granted, she would then renounce forever the world and her way of life.
Mary then entered the church without any difficulty, venerated the relic and returned to the statue outside to pray for guidance. She then heard a voice telling her to cross the Jordan River and she would find rest.
That same evening, she arrived at the Jordan and, after confessing her sins, she received Holy Communion in a church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. The next day, she crossed the river and wandered eastward into the desert that stretched toward Arabia, where she lived alone for 47 years, subsisting apparently on herbs and whatever God provided for her nourishment.
As was his custom each year, a priest named Zosimus would leave his monastery and spend Lent in the desert. He had come upon the hermitess, who was now well advanced in years, and she related the marvelous story of her conversion. She asked him to return to the banks of the Jordan on Holy Thursday of the following year and bring her Holy Communion.
The priest was true to his word and returned the following Lent bearing the Eucharist. Mary told him to come back again the next year, but to the place where he had originally met her, adding that he would find her at that time in whatever condition God might ordain.
When Zosimus returned to bring her the Eucharist once again the following year, he found Mary’s corpse. On the ground beside her body was a written request that he should bury her, accompanied by a statement that she had died one year ago, what is believed by many to be the year 421, on the very night she had received the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ.
The biography regarding the life of Saint Mary of Egypt was written shortly after her death by a person who states that he learned the details from the monks of the monastery to which Zosimus had belonged.
We commemorate her feastday on April 1.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, copticchurch.net, lib.uky.edu, and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Commons for Holy Women)
“Lord, pour upon us the Spirit of Wisdom and Love with which you filled Your servant, Saint Mary. By serving You as she did, may we please You with our faith and our actions.
“Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”