Fifth Sunday of Great Lent

St Mary of Egypt

This kind cannot come forth by anything but by prayer and fasting.

Without labor you can't be saved.


In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


This kind cannot come forth by anything but by prayer and fasting.[1]  So we read last week.  What is this kind that cannot come forth?  The demoniac boy was made by the demons to fall into fire and water, the fire being impurity - the lusts of the flesh, all manner of anger, meanness, murder and strife, envy, and all other such things.  And the water means a distraction with worldly things - avarice, desire for things, distraction.  Fire and water: this kind comes out not but by prayer and fasting.


But today we see indeed, that this kind will come out - if prayer and fasting and labor are applied.  We see this because we have the example, the spectacle, before us of holy mother Mary of Egypt - a woman that knew whom Zosimas was from afar, who knew God's will for Zosimas to fulfill one last wish of hers that she would have the Mysteries the following year; a woman who, when she prayed, stood in the air. We can't even lift up ours eyes to heaven, and she was standing in the heavens when she prayed.  She walked upon water as if on dry land.  And she called herself a miserable sinner. 


She struggled for many, many, many years.  If you read her life, you will learn she spent 17 years in great, terrible struggles after she had repented.  She was about 30.  She had lived a life of total, complete debauchery and depravity.  Her modesty precluded her from completely fulfilling the command of Zosimas and she couldn't tell him everything that she did, but suffice it to say that she was a most wretched and sinful human being.  Everything that is possible to do to defile one's self she did.  But when she repented, she understood something that we would do well to understand.  Labor.


Labor!  This is the key to the Christian life.  Laboring in Christ.  And the church understands this.  The church makes the connection between St. Mary and the sinful woman who was also a prostitute, a repentant prostitute of whom our Savior would later say, "The harlots and the tax-collectors are coming into heaven before you"[2], when speaking to the Pharisee.


He is in the home of the Pharisee and a prostitute comes in, and she begins to anoint his feet with her tears, and with ointment.  Why?  Because of love.  Because previously she had been forgiven.  She knew this in her soul.  It changed her.  She lived with this reality.  And she was thankful in the depths of her being.  That's what made her anoint His feet - love.    This anointing, this coming to the house -- is labor


Without labor you can't be saved.  Without demeaning yourself and remembering what God has done for you, you won't be saved. 


St Mary of Egypt realized what God had done, and what the Mother of God had done, by praying to her Son, and helping her.  She spent 48 some years in the desert alone, coldness, nakedness, hunger, longing, desire that could not be fulfilled. She said she would even go and bite the ground and lay on the ground until these feelings would go away from her.  Oh, yes, she still had impure feelings, for many, many years.  But she had great love, and labored because of this love.  Like this woman who anointed our Lord's feet. 


This is the key to the Christian life.  This is why the Church presents this woman, great among women, and St. Mary of Egypt, great among the saints, as examples for us.  And we've been given everything they've been given.  Read what our Savior says about "he who has little forgiven, loveth little, but he who has much forgiven loveth much"[3].  Then He refers to the sinful woman. 


We can take this two ways.


If you have very little forgiven, then you don't have much to be thankful for.  We have little forgiven if we do not repent and strive to learn the commandments, and live the Christian life.


But when you realize what's been done for you, then you realize that you have had much forgiven.  For really everyone, everyone -- has had much forgiven them.  And so he should love much.  He should turn to His Savior. 


But a man who doesn't turn to our Savior is not a Christian whether he calls himself a Christian or not. I don't care about all the "trappings" - I don’t care how many songs you know - I don’t care about any of that. It's all part and parcel of the life of the church.  It's critical for our salvation - but the knowledge of things doesn't save.  Action based on knowledge - that's what saves.  


So when a man knows what Christ has done for him, he loves much.  When a man doesn't care, when he's all filled up with pride, or filled up with the life that he's living, or filled up with lust or avarice or whatever else, then how can he love?  He has no room in his heart to love.  He's already chosen the object of his love.  And he will have his reward, right here, such as it is[4].  And even the richest man is a pauper, compared to the lowest in the kingdom of heaven. 


This woman and St. Mary sealed their repentance by action, by activity.  We just read a couple nights ago the great canon[5], and St. Andrew compares Leah and Rachel to activity and contemplation.[6]  He said without these two you cannot be saved.  This woman who anointed our Lord's feet, she contemplated what our lord had done for her; He had forgiven her.  Perhaps she was the one who had been caught in adultery and was about to be stoned[7].  Perhaps she was just another nameless, faceless prostitute that saw Divinity and cleaved to it and changed.  And when she contemplated what He had done her heart was filled, and this is what caused the activity, action, desire, longing to be with her Savior, to caress him, to kiss his feet, to be close to Him, to be in His presence. 


Do we have this longing?  If we don't then we should fear greatly for our souls.  The church presents us extravagance here, extravagant repentance, and without it we can't be saved.  Without it we cannot be saved.  Not partial repentance.  If you have something that ails you, then you must lament it, you must pound your breast about it.  You must prostrate with tears over it.  You must do whatever you have to do, labor in order to eradicate it, and in the process of doing that, at the same time, you must renew yourself with Who God is. 


St. Mary of Egypt knew.  This was a woman who could neither read nor write.  This was a woman who, the only time she had darkened the door of the church was at her baptism, save two other times, when she saw the holy cross, and received the holy mysteries at the monastery of the Forerunner before she went into the desert.  And in the end of her days, she knew the entire scripture by heart, and she lived the entire scripture by heart.  The church speaks of her as an angel.  She had so transcended the flesh that she previously had lived with in such a base way.  None of us probably can claim to have been as sinful as she was.  That's the truth.  But none of us can claim to have one tiny grain or repentance compared to her. 


The Christian life is simple.  If you know that which you've been forgiven of, you should love much, but the only way to know is to open your eyes and to pray with your heart.  God will fill you.  He will show you.  You will be overwhelmed by it.  You won’t want anything but … Christ.  The key to the Christian life is …  contemplating what God has done for you, and acting upon it. 


These women are the examples we have before us today.  But what does the world tell us?  It tells us all manner of garbage. Probably all of us have had this secular saying said to us, when one or the other of our parents or an uncle or aunt, said, "I don't care what the other kids do.  You don’t do it that way."  The world tells you so many things, and the church says, "I don't care what the world tells you.  God your Savior tells you to do something else." 


In fact, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ said this to His apostles, didn't he, when they had been jousting about who would be greatest?[8]  They had forgotten Who He was.  He tells them a very important saying:  "He who will be greatest must be the servant."  But before then what did He say?  He described the way the world is, how the greatest, the chiefest among people are the ones who grind people in the mud, and lord things over people, and the boastful pride of life in the extravagance of power and authority.  And then He said that it "shall not be so among you."[9]  Instead, the church gives us the example of the sinful woman, formerly sinful woman - two formally sinful women, the unnamed woman who is great among the saints, and Mary, who is great among the saints. 


Don't listen to the world.  Listen to what the church says.  Be renewed.


The Gospel for St Mary of Egypt

Luke 7:36-50


 And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee's house, and sat down to meat. {37} And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, {38} And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. {39} Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. {40} And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. {41} There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. {42} And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? {43} Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. {44} And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. {45} Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. {46} My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. {47} Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. {48} And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. {49} And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? {50} And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.





Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


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[1] Mark 9:29

[2] Mat 21:31 - "Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you."

[3] Cf. Luke 7:77

[4] See Matthew 5:46 and onwards.

[5] The complete Great Canon, and the Life of St Mary of Egypt, is always read in the matins service for 5th Thursday of Great Lent. This service is usually served Wednesday evening.

[6] St Andrew makes a reference to Gen 29:16-30,31-40: "Because of his crying need the Patriarch endured the scorching heat of the day, and he bore the frost of the night, daily making gains, shepherding, struggling, slaving, in order to win two wives  By the two wives understand action and direct knowledge in contemplation: Leah as action, for she had many children, and Rachel as knowledge, which is obtained by much labor. For without labors, my soul, neither action nor contemplation will achieve success. Clean Monday or the 5th Thursday of Great Lent: The Great Canon, Ode 4 Troparia 7,8



[7] John 8:4-11

[8] Mark 9:33 and onwards

[9] (Mat 20:25-27)  But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. {26} But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; {27} And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: