O Lord Thou shalt open my lips and my mouth shall declare Thy praise.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

How the Biggest Whore Became A Levitating Prophetess


It is no secret that I have devotion to penitents above just about all other saints. Penitents are female saints who were neither virgins nor married. I have already written about St. Margaret of Cortona, St. Pelagia of Antioch, and St. Mary Magdalene. Now I am overdue to cover St. Mary of Egypt. The life of St. Mary of Egypt was recorded by Sophronios of Jerusalem (do go there and read the whole thing, although it is rather long). I could tell this story briefly, but I would rather include quotes of the saint, because of the great beauty of her statements.

Sophronios begins by recounting the life of St. Zosimas, the monastic priest who found St. Mary in the desert near the River Jordan. During Great Lent, the monks of his monastery would live in the desert as hermits, returning only on Palm Sunday. Only one monk would remain behind and that was to keep Our Lord in the tabernacle company. One Great Lent, in 521, while out in the desert, St. Zosimas spotted a figure on the horizon. Realizing that it was a person, he went closer to investigate. He saw that the person was nude and had white hair, short, reaching only to the shoulders. The figure fled from him, so he called out to her, asking why she fled. The figure responded, "Forgive me for God's sake, but I cannot turn towards you and show you my face, Abba Zosimas. For I am a woman and naked as you see with the uncovered shame of my body. But if you would like to fulfil one wish of a sinful woman, throw me your cloak so that I can cover my body and can turn to you and ask for your blessing." He was terrified that she knew his name, but realized that he could only know it by a special grace from God, so he threw her his cloak and looked away as she crudely covered her body. She asked what he wanted of her. Knowing her sanctity, he asked for her blessing. Knowing (by her insight) that he was a priest, she asked for his. They each prostrated themselves before each other repeating to each other "Bless me." and this continued for a long time. Eventually they relented and the woman blessed saying, "Blessed is God Who cares for the salvation of men and their souls."

He asked for her prayers. She insisted that he instead pray since he was the priest, but out of obedience, she prayed silently. The sight of her praying filled him with such awe and when she started to levitate, all he could do was prostrate himself and with tears repeated incessantly, "Lord, have mercy." While prostrate he was tempted to think that she was an evil spirit, but she interrupted his thoughts by telling him that she is only a sinful woman, albeit guarded by baptism; not a spirit, but mere earth and ashes, and flesh alone. She guarded herself with the sign of the cross saying, "May God defend us from the evil one and from his designs, for fierce is his struggle against us." Gripped with even more terror, St. Zosimas begged and insisted that she tell him her life story. She responded, "I am ashamed, Abba, to speak to you of my disgraceful life, forgive me for God's sake! But as you have already seen my naked body I shall likewise lay bare before you my work, so that you may know with what shame and obscenity my soul is filled. I was not running away out of vanity, as you thought, for what have I to be proud of -- I who was the chosen vessel of the devil? But when I start my story you will run from me, as from a snake, for your ears will not be able to bear the vileness of my actions. But I shall tell you all without hiding anything, only imploring you first of all to pray incessantly for me, so that I may find mercy on the day of Judgment." With tears, she began her story.

She said she was a native of Egypt. When she was twelve years old, she ran away from her loving parents and went to the big city of Alexandria. There she violated her virginity and gave herself up to debauchery. She did not whore herself out for money, rather she often refused payment from the young men and did it only for the pleasure. She was so whored out that she made herself a prostitute that worked for free. During the day, she supported herself by begging and spinning flax. Harlotry was done only for the fun of it. She lived 17 years like this and kept the account brief out of shame of such a vile lifestyle. One day, she saw vast crowds boarding ships and inquired why. They were on their way to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Holy and Life-Giving Cross. She decided to go in order to find new partners for her lusts. I can't call them "clients" as they didn't need to pay and I can't call them "lovers" as that would be blasphemy against love, which is a supernatural grace. She was laughed at by the pilgrims for trying to beg her way onto the boat and using her harlotry to pay for the journey, but she tempted them and taught them every manner of depravity, even against their wills.

Upon reaching Jerusalem, she looked for more youths with which to defile herself and decided to follow the crowds into the Church of the Resurrection (the Holy Sepulcher). When she tried to cross the threshold, she was stopped by an unseen force, as if she ran into an invisible wall. She tried about half a dozen times to enter but couldn't manage to enter. Completely exhausted, she went aside to rest. She related, "And only then with great difficulty it began to dawn on me, and I began to understand the reason why I was prevented from being admitted to see the life-giving Cross. The word of salvation gently touched the eyes of my heart and revealed to me that it was my unclean life which barred the entrance to me. I began to weep and lament and beat my breast, and to sigh from the depths of my heart. And so I stood weeping when I saw above me the icon of the most holy Mother of God. And turning to her my bodily and spiritual eyes I said: 'O Lady, Theotokos, who gave birth in the flesh to God the Word, I know, O how well I know, that it is no honour or praise to thee when one so impure and depraved as I look up to thy icon, O ever-virgin, who didst keep thy body and soul in purity. Rightly do I inspire hatred and disgust before thy virginal purity. But I have heard that God Who was born of thee became man on purpose to call sinners to repentance. Then help me, for I have no other help. Order the entrance of the church to be opened to me. Allow me to see the venerable Tree on which He Who was born of thee suffered in the flesh and on which He shed His holy Blood for the redemption of sinners and for me, unworthy as I am. Be my faithful witness before thy Son that I will never again defile my body by the impurity of fornication, but as soon as I have seen the Tree of the Cross I will renounce the world and its temptations and will go wherever thou wilt lead me.'"

She then was able to enter the church with no difficulty and the crowd even cleared in front of her, as if an invisible force was escorting her. After spending some time in prayer, she came back out and returning to the icon said, "'O loving Lady, thou hast shown me thy great love for all men. glory to God Who receives the repentance of sinners through thee. What more can I recollect or say, I who am so sinful? It is time for me, O Lady to fulfil my vow, according to thy witness. Now lead me by the hand along the path of repentance!' And at these words I heard a voice from on high: 'If you cross the Jordan you will find glorious rest.' Hearing this voice and having faith that it was for me, I cried to the Mother of God: 'O Lady, Lady, do not forsake me!'" Leaving, a stranger gave her three coins with which she bought three loaves, inquiring the way to the Jordan, she quickly made her way to the holy river, still with tears in her eyes. Upon reaching the Church of St. John the Baptist, she received the sacraments. She ate half of one of her loaves and drank water from the Jordan. She spent the night on the ground there near the Church of the Forerunner and in the morning found a small boat to cross the river into the desert in which the Forerunner lived. She then spent 47 years in the desert until the present moment in the story with St. Zosimas. She had only for food the two and a half loaves which quickly turned hard and took several years to finish. St. Zosimas was amazed that she had only that for food and was still healthy.

She continued, "Believe me, Abba, seventeen years I passed in this desert fighting wild beasts -- mad desires and passions. When I was about to partake of food, I used to begin to regret the meat and fish of which I had so much in Egypt. I regretted also not having wine which I loved so much, for I drank a lot of wine when I lived in the world, while here I had not even water. I used to burn and succumb with thirst. The mad desire for profligate songs also entered me and confused me greatly, edging me on to sing satanic songs which I had learned once. But when such desires entered me I struck myself on the breast and reminded myself of the vow which I had made, when going into the desert. In my thoughts I returned to the icon of the Mother of God which had received me and to her I cried in prayer. I implored her to chase away the thoughts to which my miserable soul was succumbing. And after weeping for long and beating my breast I used to see light at last which seemed to shine on me from everywhere. And after the violent storm, lasting calm descended.

"And how can I tell you about the thoughts which urged me on to fornication, how can I express them to you, Abba? A fire was kindled in my miserable heart which seemed to burn me up completely and to awake in me a thirst for embraces. As soon as this craving came to me, I flung myself on the earth and watered it with my tears, as if I saw before me my witness, who had appeared to me in my disobedience, and who seemed to threaten punishment for the crime. And I did not rise from the ground (sometimes I lay thus prostrate for a day and a night) until a calm and sweet light descended and enlightened me and chased away the thoughts that possessed me. But always I turned to the eyes of my mind to my Protectress, asking her to extend help to one who was sinking fast in the waves of the desert. And I always had her as my Helper and the Accepter of my repentance. And thus I lived for seventeen years amid constant dangers. And since then even till now the Mother of God helps me in everything and leads me as it were by the hand."

She continued further, "After finishing the loaves I had, of which I spoke, for seventeen years I have fed on herbs and all that can be found in the desert. The clothes I had when I crossed the Jordan became torn and worn out. I suffered greatly from the cold and greatly from the extreme heat. At times the sun burned me up and at other times I shivered from the frost, and frequently falling to the ground I lay without breath and without motion. I struggled with many afflictions and with terrible temptations. But from that time till now the power of God in numerous ways had guarded my sinful soul and my humble body. When I only reflect on the evils from which Our Lord has delivered me I have imperishable food for hope of salvation. I am fed and clothed by the all-powerful Word of God, the Lord of all. For it is not by bread alone that man lives. And those who have stripped off the rags of sin have no refuge, hiding themselves in the clefts of the rocks (Job 24; Heb 11.38)."

Hearing that she quoted the Scriptures, St. Zosimas asked her how she learned them. She said, "Believe be, I have not seen a human face ever since I crossed the Jordan, except yours today. I have not seen a beast or a living being ever since I came into the desert. I never learned from books. I have never even heard anyone who sang and read from them. But the word of God which is alive and active, by itself teaches a man knowledge. And so this is the end of my tale. But, as I asked you in the beginning, so even now I implore you for the sake of the Incarnate word of God, to pray to the Lord for me who am such a sinner." Finishing her story, she bowed before him and he exclaimed, "Blessed is God Who creates the great and wondrous, the glorious and marvellous without end. Blessed is God Who has shown me how He rewards those who fear Him. Truly, O Lord, Thou dost not forsake those who seek Thee!"

She begged him to keep all this secret while she was still living and the following year he wouldn't be able to go into the desert, but asked him to bring her Holy Communion on Holy Thursday the next year, since she hadn't received since being baptized in the Church of the Forerunner. She told him to tell Abbot John of his monastery that there is much that needs correction in the monastery. Off St. Zosimas went, returning with the others on Palm Sunday, keeping secret everything that happened. On the First Sunday of the Great Fast the following year, St. Zosimas was ill with a fever and so he was chosen to be the one to remain behind that year. He remembered the prophecy of St. Mary. Holy Thursday came and after the community Divine Liturgy, he put some of the Holy Body and Blood in a chalice, and taking some figs and soaked lentils, set off for the Jordan. After a long wait filled with doubt as to whether she would come, she finally arrived, but he did not see how she could cross the river. She made the sign of the cross over the river and walked on the water to the other side. At the sight, St. Zosimas wanted to prostrate himself, but she admonished him to stand aright since he was holding the Sacred Mysteries. She asked his blessing and he did so saying, "Truly God did not lie when He promised that when we purify ourselves we shall be like Him. Glory to Thee, Christ our God, Who has shown me through this Thy slave how far away I stand from perfection." Having received the Holy and Life-Giving Mysteries, she exclaimed, "Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, O Lord, according to Thy word; for my eyes have seen Thy salvation." She asked him to return the following year and took only three lentils of the food he brought. She crossed again as before and he returned home, regretting not asking her name.

The next year her returned only to find her dead body lying on the ground, facing east and arranged according to the manner of a body for burial. Weeping, he said the burial psalms and prayers and found the inscription on the ground, "Abba Zosimas, bury on this spot the body of humble Mary. Return to dust that which is dust and pray to the Lord for me, who departed in the month of Fermoutin of Egypt, called April by the Romans, on the first day, on the very night of our Lord's Passion, after having partaken of the Divine Mysteries." The year in which she died was 522. He understood that she died shortly after their last meeting after travelling in an hour what took him twenty days. He tried digging a grave with a piece of wood, but fount it exceedingly difficult. A lion happened by and he became afraid as she said she never had encountered wild animals in her 47 years in the desert. He asked the lion to dig a grave and it did. Having buried her body, he and the lion departed peacefully, each his own way. St. Zosimas told the brethren all that happened and Abbot John indeed found much wrong that he corrected with Divine Assistance. St. Zosimas died almost at a hundred years of age and the monks passed down the story of Sts. Zosimas and Mary of Egypt until Sophronios wrote it down.