It’s been a couple of years since I’ve blogged about my patron saint, Mary of Egypt. But since her feast day is coming up (April 1) and this Sunday is Saint Mary of Egypt Sunday in the Orthodox Church, this seems like a good day for some reflection on her.
About 35 years ago—we had been married for about ten years and were part of a “startup” religious group—my husband returned home from a trip to California he had taken with other “clergy” from our group in Mississippi. They had visited some Orthodox sites and he brought me a gift from one of them—an icon of a scantily-clad saint with sun-bleached skin and hair.
“Who is she?” I asked.
“Her name is Mary of Egypt.”
“So, why did you choose this particular icon to bring to me?”
He hesitated a moment, and then said, “She told me to bring it to you.”
My husband isn’t a touchy-feely sort of guy. At all. He’s also not prone to overtly mystical things. Except, of course, that he’s an Orthodox priest. But he wasn’t a priest when he brought me the icon. He wasn’t even sure about her story. So we looked it up and read about her.
It would be another ten years before I would embrace Mary of Egypt as my patron saint. And another ten years before I would come to realize why she reached out to me. But she’s been watching over me with diligence for over a quarter of a century now, so I honor her on her two feast days each year. It’s a simple gesture, really. I take flowers and place them before her icon at St. John Orthodox Church, my parish here in Memphis. And I continue to ask her to intercede for me in my struggles. That’s all.
But that’s the once-a-year ritual. The other 364 days each year I simply try to keep her in my heart. Be aware of her presence. Ask for her prayers. Icons help with that. So, at the end of this post I’m going to share a few images of this woman who has come to be known and loved as the “icon of repentance” throughout the Orthodox Church worldwide.
Oh—and I know I’ve shared this many times, but Mary of Egypt is also featured as one of the three main characters in my novel-in-progress, Cherry Bomb. I have fictionalized the story of her childhood, giving her the name, “Neema.” And there are weeping icons (hers) in the book as well.
In April of 1997, when I was visiting an Orthodox monastery in Michigan, I penned the following poem on Saint Mary’s Feast Day. Holy Mother Mary, pray to God for us.
Saint Mary of Egypt
Fill my soul, O Lord
As you filled the soul of Your Holy Mother;
Let there be no room in my soul
For anything but you.
Fill my belly, O Lord
As You filled blessed Mary in the desert;
Let my sustenance be only You
And the blessing of Your Saints.
Fill my mind, O Lord
As you filled the theologians
With words to teach us Your ways
And wisdom that gives life.
Fill my mouth, O Lord
As you filled the mouth of David,
Enabling him to sing your praise
And teaching repentance through his psalms.
Fill my days, O Lord
As you fill each moment of time
With good works appointed for our sake
Increasing us in virtues and piety.
Fill my nights, O Lord
As you filled the desert nights
With watchfulness, tears and victory
For holy saints who sought you there.
Fill my flesh, O Lord
As you fill those who keep the fast;
With Your own Body and Blood
So that it becomes my only satisfaction.
Fill my eyes, O Lord
As once you filled Saint Mary’s eyes,
First with humble tears of repentance
And finally with your glorious Light.