Gallery Venerable Mary of Egypt

6. april 2018

Venerable Mary of Egypt; Feast: 1st April; additionally, she is commemorated on the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt, the fifth Sunday in Great Lent.

A very delicately and intimately written icon created by the technique of the egg tempera on wood. Its dimensions are 30.8 x 26.5 cm. It is a Russian iconographic school that follows the so called Stroganov's tradition from the 16th to 17th century – before the division of the church into the new and the old ceremonial manners. The icon is dated around 1800.

In the kovcheg, e.i. the deepened part of the icon, there is a central figure of Mary standing on a rock, and around her we find four scenes depicting the meeting of the monk Zosima with the Saint Mary in the desert. Above the figure of Mary there is Christ blessing the world, seated in the heavens and radiating the golden rays of the Divine Light. His glory is magnified by the golden cross-shaped nimbus, in which there are the Greek letters omicron, omega and nu. These are the initial letters of God's name: "I am that I am". On the right and left side of the aureole there are the letters IC XC, initial letters of the name of ISUS CHRISTOS according to the Cyrillic alphabet. The bottom purple-red garment symbolizes God in Heaven and King on the earth and at the same time Christ's martyr blood and His victory over death. The upper blue cloth signifies the human nature that the Son of God took on himself. Both garments are richly gilded. In contrast with the Lord we see the brown body of Mary, burned by the desert sun in a chaste position hiding her own nudity with her hands crossed on her chest. The brown colour is the colour of the earth, desert, poverty, and cessation; however, a piece of himation that Zosima gave Mary is red-brown, expressing the union of human humility with God's love and His mercy. Mary is looking at Christ, her Saviour. She stands on the rock which is brown at the bottom and light green on the top. It is the colour of the Holy Spirit, which brings life, irrigates and refreshes. The rock is the mirror of her life. The prostitute turns into the God's daughter, a wonderful spiritual being. There are two human beings meeting on the icon, a man and a woman, Zosima the monk, and Mary of Egypt in repentance. We can see two life stories and two ways to reach spiritual maturity and perfection. The human and the Divine way. In the case of Zosima, it is a journey of constant asceticism, zeal and superhuman effort, and in the case of Mary it is grace, a gift of deep regret, true repentance, and humility.

Mary of Egypt was a desert ascetic who repented of her life as a prostitute. She lived in the sixth century and passed away in a remarkable manner in 522. The primary source of information on Saint Mary of Egypt is the Vita written about her by St. Sophronius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem (634–638).

She began her life as a young woman who followed the passions of the body, at the age of twelve she ran away from her parents to the city of Alexandria. There she lived as a harlot for seventeen years, refusing money from the men that she had intercourse with, instead living by begging and spinning flax.

One day, however, she met a group of young men heading toward the sea to sail to Jerusalem for the veneration of the Holy Cross. Mary went along for the ride, seducing the men as they travelled for the fun of it. But when the group reached Jerusalem and actually went towards the church, Mary was blocked from entering it by an unseen force. After three such attempts, she remained outside on the church patio, where she looked up and saw an icon of the Theotokos. She began to weep and prayed with all her might that the Theotokos would allow her to see the True Cross; afterwards, she promised, she would renounce her worldly desires and go wherever the Theotokos may lead her.

After this heart-felt conversion at the door of the church, she fled to the desert to live as an ascetic. She survived for years on only three loaves of bread and thereafter on scarce herbs of the land. For another seventeen years, Mary was tormented by "wild beasts—mad desires and passions." After these years of temptation, however, she overcame the passions and was led by the Theotokos in all things.

After 47 years in solitude, she met the priest St. Zosima in the desert, who pleaded with her to tell him about her life. She recounted her story with great humility while also demonstrating her gift of clairvoyance; she knew who Zosima was and his life story despite never having met him before. At the end, she asked Zosima to meet her again the following year at sunset on the Holy Thursday by the banks of the Jordan river.

Zosima did exactly what she had told him, though he began to doubt his experience as the sun began to set that night. Then Mary appeared on the opposite side of the Jordan and she miraculously walked across the water and met Zosima. When he attempted to bow, she rebuked him, saying that as a priest he was far superior, and furthermore, he was holding the Holy Mysteries. Mary then received communion and walked back across the Jordan after giving Zosima instructions about his monastery. She also told him that he should return to where they first met exactly a year later. When he did so, he found Mary's body with a message written on the sand asking him for burial and revealing that she had died immediately after receiving the Holy Mysteries the year before (and thus had been miraculously transported to the spot where she now lay). Therefore Zosima, amazed, began to dig but soon got tired; then a lion approached and began to help him, that is, after Zosima had recovered from his fear of the creature. Thus St. Mary of Egypt was buried. Zosima returned to the monastery, recounted all he had seen, and improved the faults of the monks and the abbot there. He died when he was almost a hundred years old in the same monastery.