This Sunday we commemorate the Sunday dedicated to St. Mary of Egypt, a harlot who became a Saint of the Church. As the story goes St. Mary was a runaway child who went to the city of Alexandria where she became a prostitute. During her life and out of curiosity and the hopes of continuing her sinful profession, she joined a group of pilgrims that was traveling to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
Following the lead of the other pilgrims she tried to enter the church of the Holy Sepulcher but was prevented from doing so three times in a row, whereas everyone else had no problem on entering. After the last attempt she quickly realized that this was a sign from God of her sinfulness. She immediately repented and decided to change her life, becoming a monastic for over four decades living in the desert.
This Sunday, which falls on the 5th Sunday of the Great Lent, stands to remind idlers and sinners to be aroused by repentance, having as an example a sinful woman who becomes a Saint.
This day also reminds us of the Greek word, “askesis” which means to strive or to contend with the dedication of an athlete, one’s self-discipline. It is spiritual striving or spiritual training, not to be confused with the harshness of asceticism, but rather the struggle in our hearts between good and evil. Its primary goal is new life in Jesus Christ, whether a monastic or layman. Each of us is called to be a spiritual athlete who with his or her whole mind, heart and action contends within himself, family and community, for the supreme priority of the Kingdom, believing that all the other necessary things will be given to us as well as by God.
So let us sing the words of the Matins Hymn of this Sunday dedicated to St. Mary, “once you were defiled with every impurity, but today through repentance you have become the Bride of Christ, desiring the life of angels, you cast down the demons with the weapon of the Cross. Therefore, O glorious Mary, you have been made a bride of the Kingdom”.