St Mary of the Desert
For all the Saints: Mary of Egypt
About 456 A.D., a twelve-year old Egyptian girl ran away to the city of Alexandria, where she became a prostitute. She lived that life for seventeen years. She lacked a solid center, had no bearings, no faith, no hope. Without genuine love she had neither dignity nor self-respect.
When she was twenty-nine, she was in Jerusalem during the festival of the Exaltation of the Cross. Seeing many pilgrims entering church, she thought she would go in to solicit customers! When she tried to go in, however, she felt a power bar the doors to her entry, and she knew that she had to turn her life around. She asked Mary the Mother of the Lord for help and heard the message to cross the Jordan into the desert, where she would find rest. She went into the desert with two loaves of bread and lived on berries, nuts, dates, and figs. She was received into the Christian faith at the Monastery of St John, but she preferred to live as a hermit in the desert.
Forty-seven years later a monk, Zosimus, found her and thought she was an angel. He later brought her the sacraments on Holy Thursday. She died one year later in 522 (the date is uncertain). Father Zosimus buried her, assisted by a lion that dug the earth for him, according to the tradition.
St Sophronius begins his history of St Mary with the words “’It is good to hide the secret of a king, but it is glorious to reveal and preach the works of God’ (Tobit 12:7). … Actually, not to keep the secret of a king is perilous and a terrible risk, but to be silent about the works of God is a great loss for the soul.” Mary was so honored after her death for God’s work in her that St Andrew of Crete used her as a model of repentance in his Great Canon, which is prayed during the first and fifth weeks of Lent. St Mary of Egypt lost her soul by selling her body, only to gain both soul and body by giving her life to Christ.
Published 23 April 2005