This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Friday, April 1, 2011

April 2 -- Feast of St. Mary of Egypt

The painting at right is called "St. Mary among the Sinners" by Emil Nolde, a twentieth century German Expressionist painter. There are other, more pious depictions of St. Mary of Egypt available if you drop her name into Google Images, but I think this one best captures the grotesque nature of her early life.

Mary was a fifth century penitent, and by all accounts she had much to repent. Of course we may well agree that faulting prostitutes is blaming the victim; poverty, discrimination, and coercion are more likely to induce one to prostitution than greed or pleasure. But I'm speculating. The account of her life says that she ran away from home to the teeming metropolis of Alexandria at age twelve and launched her career. Driven "by an insatiable and an irrepressible passion," she often declined payment and supported herself by begging and spinning flax.

Seventeen years later and still as popular as ever, Mary joined a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, more for the curiosity and diversion than for any overt religious motive. She worked off the cost of the passage among the ship's crew and "Even in the Holy City she gave herself over to every kind of licentiousness and drew many into the depth of perdition." (Greek Orthodox Online Chapel)

At the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, she found herself barred from entering the church. There were no guards nor visible barriers, but some sort of spiritual force field held her outside. She prayed for understanding and Mary Theotokos told her to repent her sins, to cross the Jordan River, and to live a life of virtue. Mary went immediately to the Monastery of St. John the Baptist on the Jordan River, where she confessed and received absolution and Communion. Then taking only three loaves of bread, she crossed into the desert where she lived for almost fifty years as a hermit.

They don't get any more hermity than Mary. She never returned to any city or town, nor had any regular with other people. Her hair grew long enough to cover her, which was fortunate because her clothes eventually wore out and fell away.

By chance, Zosimus of Palestine, himself destined for sainthood, happened upon her. He gave her his cloak and she told him about herself. He promised to bring her Communion on the next Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter), a promise he kept. They agreed to meet the following year, but instead he found her dead in the desert.

A couple of miraculous events occasion her death. An inscription in the sand by her head told that she had died the year prior, on the very night that Zosimus had given her Communion. Her body had been supernaturally transported to the place in the desert where they had first met, and had been held incorrupt for a year. A passing lion then helped Zosimus dig a hole in which to bury her.

The Eastern Church celebrates Mary of Egypt on April 1, but the West is a little less clear. Several sources say that the Roman Catholic feast is on April 3, but David Hugh Farmer says that April 2 is traditional in England, though sometimes it is April 9 or 10. So basically she can be celebrated in early April, whenever you feel like it, and I feel like celebrating her today.

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