Δευτέρα 1 Απριλίου 2024

Saint Mary of Egypt, April 1

Ἀπῆρε πνεῦμα, σάρξ ἀπερρύη πάλαι.
Τὸν ὅστινον γῆ κρύπτε νεκρὸν Μαρίας.
Πρώτῃ Ἀπριλίου Μαρίη θάνεν εὖχος ἐρήμου.
Mary of Egypt (4th or 5th century) is a Saint/Osia of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, as well as Pre-Chalcedonian Churches such as the Coptic Church of Egypt. She is considered the patroness of penitents
Icon of Mary of Egypt, with scenes from her life (17th century, Moscow)

Life
The main source of information on the life of Mary of Egypt is her Life written by Saint Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem (634–638).

Mary was born somewhere in the Roman Province of Egypt and at the age of 12 she left her parents and went to the big city, Alexandria. There he lived an extremely secluded life. In her account on which the Life is based she declares that she was "seventeen years a politician" (i.e. a prostitute) and adds that she often refused money for her amorous services, being impelled "by an insatiable and insatiable passion," making a living more by begging and the making of flax.

After 17 years of such a life, he traveled to Jerusalem for the great feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. She undertook this journey as a kind of "anti-pilgrimage", hoping to find in the crowds of pilgrims enough customers to satisfy her passion. She covered her fares by offering sexual services to ship passengers and continued her normal lifestyle for a while in Jerusalem. However, when he went to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for the feast, he was prevented from entering by an unseen force. Perceiving that the cause of this was her impure life, she had a sudden inclination to penitence, and, seeing an image of the Virgin outside the temple, prayed for forgiveness and promised to renounce worldly things and become an ascetic. Then he tried again to enter the temple and this time he entered unhindered. After worshiping the real Holy Cross, she returned to the outside image of the Virgin to please her, whereupon she heard a voice say to her: "If you cross the Jordan, you will find glorious rest." Immediately Mary of Egypt went to the monastery of St. John the Forerunner on the banks of the Jordan River, where she confessed and received communion, and the next morning she actually crossed the Jordan and retired to the desert to live out the rest of her life as an ascetic in penance. She took only three loaves of bread with her and after eating them she lived only on what she could find in the desert\.

About a year before she fell asleep, Osia Maria told the story of her life, which would otherwise be unknown to us, to Saint Zosimas (who was probably a monk of the above Monastery of Saint John), who happened to meet her in the desert. Osia was now completely bony from the exercise and it was almost impossible to tell that she was a human being. Since she was naked, she asked Zosimas to throw his cloak over her to cover herself, and then she told him her story. At the end she asked him to meet her on the banks of the Jordan on Maundy Thursday of the following year and bring her Holy Communion. The following year Zosimas did grant her request and then she crossed the river to reach him by miraculously walking on the surface of the water. She communicated and told him to meet her again in the desert next Great Lent. The following year Zosimas traveled to the place where he had first encountered her, about twenty days' journey from the monastery, and there he discovered Ossia's lifeless body. According to an inscription written in the sand next to her head, she had passed away that very night she had spent and had somehow been miraculously transported to the place where she was found, while her body had been preserved unchanged for nearly a year. Zosimas buried her body in a pit dug by a passing lion. Returning to the Monastery, he told the story of Saint Mary to the monks, who preserved it among themselves as an oral tradition, from mouth to mouth, until it was recorded by Bishop Sophronius.

Honoring her memory
In Christian iconography, Saint Mary of Egypt is depicted as a very sun-tanned, bony old woman, with uncombed long gray hair, either naked or covered with the cloak of Zosimas. The three loaves of bread that he originally took in the desert are often depicted.

Her memory is celebrated by the Orthodox Church twice a year: as a fixed holiday on April 1st and as a movable one, in the Easter cycle, on the 5th Sunday of Lent. The Life of St. Mary of St. Sophronius is renewed during the Orthro of the Great Canon of the previous Thursday (held on Wednesday evening), as an example of repentance and overcoming temptation.

The Roman Catholic Church commemorates the Saint only on April 1st. In Italy, St. Mary of Egypt is considered in popular belief as the patron saint of "wives with peptic ulcers", as is Mary Magdalene..
The Temple of Portunus in Rome was saved because it was converted into a Christian temple, dedicated to Saint Mary of Egypt, in 872.

Temples
There are several temples and chapels dedicated to Saint Mary of Egypt, including:

The former Church of Portunus (Santa Maria Egiziaca) in Rome
Two churches in Naples, Italy (Santa Maria Egiziaca a Forcella and Santa Maria Egiziaca a Pizzofalcone)
Chapel next to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (Resurrection Church) in Jerusalem, commemorating the site of the Saint's conversion.
In Greece there is the small church of Saint Mary of Egypt in the desert settlement of Samaria, in the gorge of the same name in western Crete. The settlement and from it the gorge got their name from a corruption of the name "Agia Maria" (in Venetian Santa Maria and from there Sa-Maria, Samaria).
In Cyprus there was the now-ruined chapel of Saint Mary of Egypt near Cape Akamas (Drusian Community).
"Saint Mary of Egypt", painting by Jose de Ribera

In culture
In Goethe's Faust Mary of Egypt is one of the three penitential saints who pray for the intercession of the Virgin Mary so that Faust is forgiven. Her words there were incorporated by Gustav Mahler in his 8th Symphony, as the appeal of the last saint to the Virgin Mary.
Agia is the subject of two homonymous operas:
Maria egiziaca (1932) by the Italian composer Otorino Respighi
Mary of Egypt (1992) by British composer John Tavener
In the short story The Unknown Masterpiece (1831), Balzac gives a long description of a painting on the subject of Mary of Egypt.
In the fantasy novel The Salt Roads (2003) Jamaican Canadian author Nalo Hopkinson also writes about Mary of Egypt and takes a historical fiction approach to telling her story.
In the poetry collection The Dream Songs (1969, Pulitzer Prize) by the American poet John Berryman, poem no. 47 (subtitled "April Fool's Day or Saint Mary the Egyptian") mentions the walk of the Saint on the Jordan River.

Icon of the Mother of God
Two images of the Virgin are claimed to be the very image before which Mary of Egypt prayed for forgiveness. One is kept in the chapel of Saint James the Righteous, located in the western part of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The other icon is located in the Cave of Agios Athanasios of Athonite, at the southern end of Mount Athos.

Cave
The cave where Mary of Egypt spent the rest of her life after her conversion is a place of pilgrimage.

Remains
The canonical relics of Saint Mary of Egypt are kept in the following churches:
Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence Italy (skull)
Church of Santa Maria Egiziaca a Forcella, Naples, Italy (a relic encased in a bust of the saint)
Sens Cathedral, Sens, France (right leg)
Church of Agios Dimitrios Ampelokipi, Greece
Sretensky Monastery, Moscow, Russia (a particle from the right foot)
Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Moscow, Russia
Novo-Tikhvin Monastery, Ekaterinburg, Russia
Church of Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki, Moscow, Russia (part of right leg)
Holy Patriarchal and Crucifixion Orthodox Monastery of Agia Irene Chrysovalantou, Astoria, Queens, New York
Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Monastery, Fort Myers, Florida, USA (particle)

Λειτουργικά κείμενα
Ἀπολυτίκιον
Ἦχος πλ. α’. Τὸν συνάναρχον Λόγον.
Φωτισθεῖσα ἐνθέως Σταυροῦ τὴ χάριτι, τῆς μετανοίας ἐδείχθης φωτοφανῆς λαμπηδών, τῶν παθῶν τὸν σκοτασμὸν λιποῦσα πάνσεμνε, ὅθεν ὡς ἄγγελος Θεοῦ, Ζωσιμᾶ τῷ ἱερῷ, ὠράθης ἐν τὴ ἐρήμω, Μαρία «Ὅσιε Μῆτερ» μεθ' οὐ δυσώπει ὑπὲρ πάντων ἠμῶν.

Έτερον Ἀπολυτίκιον
Ἦχος πλ. δ’.
Ἐν σοί Μῆτερ ἀκριβῶς διεσώθη τό κατ᾽ εἰκόνα· λαβοῦσα γάρ τόν σταυρόν, ἠκολούθησας τῷ Χριστῷ, καί πράττουσα ἐδίδασκες, ὑπερορᾷν μέν σαρκός, παρέρχεται γάρ· ἐπιμελεῖσθαι δέ ψυχῆς, πράγματος ἀθανάτoυ· διό καί μετά Ἀγγέλων συναγάλλεται, Ὁσία Μαρία τό πνεῦμά σου.

Κοντάκιον
Ἦχος γ'. Ἡ Παρθένος σήμερον.
Ἡ πορνείαις πρότερον, μεμεστωμένη παντοίαις, Χριστοῦ νύμφη σήμερον, τῇ μετανοίᾳ ἐδείχθης, Ἀγγέλων τήν πολιτείαν ἐπιποθοῦσα, δαίμονας, Σταυροῦ τῷ ὄπλῳ καταπατοῦσα, διά τοῦτο βασιλείας, ἐφάνης νύμφη Μαρία πάνσεμνε.