Sunday of St Mary of Egypt
sermon by Fr Andrew Gliga
Looking back about over a month ago, most of our lives were progressing without any sort of constraints. Our children were in school studying and doing what they needed to do in order to get good grades. Our jobs were maybe mundane but still were going on with the typical office culture. We had places that we could shop at and could meet with anyone we wanted at any time. Our Churches were open, always welcoming, having people come and go as they pleased and could. Almost in the blink of an eye, our lives changed and everything turned upside down on its head. Now the things that we took for granted are gone and will be gone for the time being. Our churches are closed to the public, schools done for the school year, shops and gatherings are prohibited. Speaking to anyone a couple months ago and they would never dream of being told by our government to shelter in place and having all churches closed. Basically, the unexpected happened, and this unexpected which happened is supposed to transform our lives. This theme of having the unexpected happen is so important to us today as we are living in these modern and chaotic times. The church this week presents us a perfect model of repentance this week. We are speaking of course of St. Mary of Egypt, whose life is revealed and placed in front of us.
This past Wednesday we read her life in Church during the Great Canon of St Andrew. As most of us have heard the story, we know that in her early youth, she was living life in a state of sin. For 17 years as she relates that she was able to indulge in innumerable exploits and sinful pleasures. Everything in her life was going just fine, she did not have a care in the world. And yet, something unexpected happened that made her change her whole way of being. When she arrived in Jerusalem to venerate the Cross of the Lord, some invisible force stopped her on the porch of the Church and she was not allowed to enter inside. This took her by surprise and changed everything about her life. Everything she knew or had done was all for nothing when this one moment arrived. She knew in her heart that her past life was what was holding her back from Christ.
So when St Mary came face to face to Christ and had the unexpected happen to her, what did she do? She abandoned every form of her past life, had confession, took Holy Communion, and departed in the desert. In a sense, her reaction to the unexpected, was in fact unexpected. Instead of justifying her sin, or asking people to feel sorry for her, or even to have her sin be accepted, she instead turned to repentance and embraced holiness. Now this new life wasn't easy as she was obviously tempted in the desert. But she was able to endure it to the end and was even able to perform great miracles. This great feat she undertook of giving up her old life and living in the desert is why she is known and beloved among all of us Orthodox Christians. And especially in this time, she is a model example for us struggling in the world.
So what can we learn from St Mary, especially in this time. We too had our world unexpectedly turned around. No one over a couple months ago expected any of this to happen. We all expected our lives to go on as usual. But now we are here, and we are in this state. We are nearing the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, let us finish this fast strong and with vigor. Maybe we will not be able to gather as a community, which is heartbreaking. But we should know that Christ is with us and does not abandon us! Let us observe this quarantine as a spiritual blessing. What a great thing that the world around us has slowed down. Maybe people around us do not observe Great Lent and yet a Lenten lifestyle has been given to all of us. This means we all are in the same boat and traveling together among the rapids. But we have the teachings of the Church to strengthen us and give us direction to where to go.
We see a major difference between what the world and the Church expects us to do in this time? The world expects us to stay at home, watch movies, spend time on our phones reading new updates on the coronavirus, and embrace distractions in this time. So let us also emulate Mary of Egypt and do the unexpected. Let us instead have a strong prayer life, fast extra, give alms if we can, and love those around us in this time. Let us not be distracted by the things happening around us. As Bishop Luke of Jordanville said this past week, spend no more than 15 mins a day to inform yourselves about this epidemic. He continues: "The Lord commands,"Let not your heart be troubled..." We create our own spiritual problems by our obsession with these issues which do little positive towards our hope for salvation. As true Orthodox Christians prepare for eternity, spend the extra time in heartfelt prayer, spiritual reading and other good works!". This is perfect advice. We have to keep in mind that our life here is temporal, we will all pass and come to the next life. What will matter for us is what we did with what was given to us. Therefore, let us have a sober attitude about us. With our prayer book in hand, we can successfully finish the course of the fast and be drawn closer to Christ.