What a contrast we have this week as we celebrate the obedience of the most pure virgin in the Feast of the Annunciation and then the life choices of St. Mary of Egypt and her conversion. So I will ask the question, which one do you resemble? We know as the scripture records the Virgin was described as lowly, she was a God seeker. She is obedient to Archangel Gabriel’s instructions. (Luke 1:24-38)
According to Tradition, based on the writings of the Hieromartyrs Dionysius the Areopagite and Ignatius the God-Bearer, Saint Ambrose of Milan had occasion to write in his work “On Virgins” concerning the Mother of God: “She was a Virgin not only in body, but also in soul, humble of heart, circumspect in word, wise in mind, not overly given to speaking, a lover of reading and of work, and prudent in speech. Her rule of life was to offend no one, to intend good for everyone, to respect the aged, not envy others, avoid bragging, be healthy of mind, and to love virtue.
“When did She ever hurl the least insult in the face of Her parents (or elders)? When was She at discord with Her kin? When did She ever puff up with pride before a modest person, or laugh at the weak, or shun the destitute? With Her there was nothing of glaring eyes, nothing of unseemly words, nor of improper conduct. She was modest in the movement of Her body, Her step was quiet, and Her voice straightforward; so that Her face was an expression of soul. She was the personification of purity.
“All Her days She was concerned with fasting: She slept only when necessary, and even then, when Her body was at rest, She was still alert in spirit, repeating in Her dreams what She had read, or the implementation of proposed intentions, or those planned yet anew. She was out of Her house only for church, and then only in the company of relatives. Otherwise, She seldom appeared outside Her house in the company of others, and She was Her own best overseer. Others could protect Her only in body, but She Herself guarded Her character.”
On the other side of life, drowning in freedom and darkness and everything to do about herself, St. Mary of Egypt wasted her precious life in pursuit of pleasure. She did not know God. Listen to a glimpse of her story: "One summer I saw a crowd of people from Libya and Egypt heading toward the sea. They were on their way to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. I also wanted to sail with them. Since I had no food or money, I offered my body in payment for my passage. And so I embarked on the ship. "Now, Father, believe me, I am very amazed, that the sea tolerated my wantonness and fornication, that the earth did not open up its mouth and take me down alive into hell, because I had ensnared so many souls. I think that God was seeking my repentance. He did not desire the death of a sinner, but awaited my conversion. "So I arrived in Jerusalem and spent all the days before the Feast living the same sort of life, and maybe even worse."When the holy Feast of the Exaltation of the Venerable Cross of the Lord arrived, I went about as before, looking for young men. At daybreak I saw that everyone was heading to the church, so I went along with the rest. When the hour of the Holy Elevation drew nigh, I was trying to enter into the church with all the people. With great effort I came almost to the doors, and attempted to squeeze inside. Although I stepped up to the threshold, it was as though some force held me back, preventing me from entering. I was brushed aside by the crowd, and found myself standing alone on the porch. I thought that perhaps this happened because of my womanly weakness. I worked my way into the crowd, and again I attempted to elbow people aside. However hard I tried, I could not enter. Just as my feet touched the church threshold, I was stopped. Others entered the church without difficulty, while I alone was not allowed in. This happened three or four times. Finally my strength was exhausted. I went off and stood in a corner of the church portico. "Then I realized that it was my sins that prevented me from seeing the Life-Creating Wood. The grace of the Lord then touched my heart. I wept and lamented, and I began to beat my breast. Sighing from the depths of my heart, I saw above me an icon of the Most Holy Theotokos. Turning to Her, I prayed: "O Lady Virgin, who gave birth in the flesh to God the Word! I know that I am unworthy to look upon your icon. I rightly inspire hatred and disgust before your purity, but I know also that God became Man in order to call sinners to repentance. Help me, O All-Pure One. Let me enter the church. Allow me to behold the Wood upon which the Lord was crucified in the flesh.
We pray daily for this same type of conversion for ourselves. Although our paths may differ, sin separates us from the salvific embrace of our Savior. “O Most Holy Theotokos, Save Us”! Just as Most Pure Theotokos stopped St Mary of Egypt from entering the House of God, she intercedes for you daily!! A miracle happened! Listen to the prophet Isaiah speak of another miracle: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel."(Isaiah 7:14) And a miracle can happen for you if you allow it! We all are called to conversion. But how much of an effort are you making?
The Church's attitude towards women can be visible by the high position accredited to the Most Holy Mother of God. The Church glorifies Her more than all of the saints and even more than the angels. She is praised in hymns as: “more honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim”. The Holy Virgin is the Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church - it is in Her person that the Church glorifies motherhood.
Motherhood is an integral part of woman's dignity and it may be noted that those Protestant churches neither venerate the Mother of God nor pray to Her. A church community deprived of the Mother of God loses its fullness in the same way that a community deprived of the priesthood is not a complete Church. If fatherhood is realized in the person of the hierarchy - the episcopate and the priesthood - then motherhood is personified in the Church in the Most Holy Mother of God. She is our mother! “O Most Holy Theotokos save us”!!