This homily was given by Fr. Gabriel on the 5th Sunday of Great Lent, where two children and three adults were brought into the Holy Orthodox Faith
I greet you on this glorious 5th Sunday of Great Lent, where our parish family is blessed to have witnessed the Baptism and Chrismation of 5 new warriors for Christ as they begin their journey into Holy Orthodoxy.
It is not an accident, brothers and sisters in Christ, that these five underwent this transformation on this day…because the 5th Sunday of Great Lent is when Holy Orthodoxy remembers and commemorates one of the greatest transformations of a person, in the life of St. Mary of Egypt from the 4thCentury.
I hope that many of you were edified by either reading or listening to the account of her life this past week, but for those who are visitors to the Church today, St. Mary was a woman from Alexandria, who when she was just 12 years old, ran away from her loving parents and began to live a life as a harlot. She spent the next 17 years not only ruining her own life through the passions of the flesh…but destroying many others as well.
When St. Mary recounts her life to St. Zosima the monk, she often talked about all of the unimaginable horrors that she, one single person, brought upon the human race. One can only imagine how many diseases she spread…how many relationships she might have destroyed…how many innocent youths she took advantage of. She lived a life of complete and utter darkness, the likes of which many of us cannot imagine in our worst nightmares.
When she was 29 years old, Mary saw a group of people going on a boat, heading towards Jerusalem for the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. Being curious, she followed them on the boat, and negotiated passage by offering herself to the other passengers.
Once Mary reached Jerusalem, she followed after the crowds, who were all hurrying to the Church to see the Cross that Christ was crucified on. But when she tried to enter into the Church, she couldn’t…as if some invisible force was stopping her!
“Having repeated my attempt three or four times,” she said, “at last I felt exhausted and had no more strength to push and to be pushed…so I went aside and stood in a corner of the porch. 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 that barred the entrance to me. I began to weep and lament and beat my breast, and sigh from the depths of my heart…”
Weeping, and with the weight of her entire life now coming down upon her shoulders, St. Mary went to a nearby icon of the Mother of God, and said a very tear-filled and heart felt prayer of repentance. She promised right there and then, to change her life, if she would only be allowed to catch a small glimpse of the Cross.
After some time, she gained some hope and confidence in the mercy of God, and was able to walk through the entrance of the Church. When she finally saw the Cross, she did what we all did just a few weeks ago, and prostrated onto the ground before the life-giving wood…trembling and kissing it with awe for the tremendous love and mercy that God has for His creation.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, all it took was that one moment for St. Mary. In one moment, she felt the love of God pressing upon her, calling her to true repentance in order to change her life around, and walk towards the path of righteousness.
In one moment, a simple harlot, who destroyed so many lives during for those 17 years of harlotry, became a beacon of hope for the last 1600 years for all those who “miss the mark” in their spiritual lives.
In one moment, St. Mary showed us all what it means, to go from living a life like an animal…constantly allowing our passions and desires to get the best of us…to becoming a true Human Being.
Julianna, Ileana, Augustine, Elizabeth, and Ruth:
The life of St. Mary of Egypt is one that I hope and pray you all take too heart, as you begin your journey into Christ’s Holy Orthodox Church. Like her, you have all taken your first steps today towards becoming True Human Beings…to live up to that Image and Likeness of God that is found inside each and every one of you.
As you begin your life’s journey this morning, I want to offer you two words of wisdom from the life of St. Mary, that I hope you will take with you throughout the rest of your days.
First: Learn to Thirst for the Cross.
Despite all of her wickedness, despite being away from the Church, and no matter how dark her life had been…all Mary wanted to do was see the cross of Christ. It was the desire to venerate the cross, and then shortly thereafter, to participatein the sacraments of the Church, that ultimately led to her about face towards God.
You have all entered a new battlefield, and have heard me say before that the demons like to attack the hardest those who are trying to live a life like Christ. Your shield…your sword…and your protection…especially in the times of your life where there is doubt, despair, and hopelessness…is the cross.
You can ask any of your new brothers and sisters in this Church! Tt is the thirst of that life-giving wood that gives us all the strength to bear our own crosses in life, and follow after Christ.
Second: When we were young children, the first person that we ran to when we fell off of the swing…the first person’s advice we sought after a horrible break up…or the first person we wept to when losing a dear friend or loved one…was our mother.
When things get difficult in life, and when it feels like the entire world is falling down around you, do what St. Mary did, and take your tears to Christ…and His Mother.
On our darkest days, all of us need to learn, to take our tears to the Mother of God. When life seems to offer you a cold shoulder, light a candle, sit in front of her icon in silence, and allow her prayers to her Son to be a warm blanket of comfort around your shoulders.
Know that we love you, and each of you and your families are in our prayers as you walk with the rest of us through Holy Week. Like St. Mary, may you find yourselves bowing down low at the foot of the cross, giving thanks for the Mercy and Love that our Savior shows all mankind…Amen.