This Life of Our Venerable Mother Mary of
Egypt was written down in the seventh century by Saint
Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, some hundred years after the
repose of the holy Mary, who fell asleep in the Lord April 1, 522.
It is one of the most beautiful and edifying lives of a saint. Its
obvious and stated purpose is to glorify God and to feed the souls
of its readers. St. Sophronius lifts up the life of blessed Mary as
a most wondrous example of repentance for all the faithful. Indeed,
the Church has lifted up this life before all the faithful on the
Fifth Sunday of the Great Fast, the Sunday before Palm Sunday. It is
both a challenge and an inspiration to us. It shows us what a human
being is capable of when she works with the all-powerful saving and
forgiving grace of our all-loving God.
This life should not discourage us by the superhuman efforts of
glorious Mary; it should instead give us hope and the will to take
courage to begin our repentance. As we go along the compunctionate
path of repentance, God will give us the strength to go deeper and
deeper into our souls, opening our whole life to Him so that He can
heal, restore, and glorify it by uniting it to Himself. To Him be
the glory forever. Amen.
Pray to our venerable Mother Mary that she will not forsake us but
that she will bear with our weaknesses, even our lack of repentance,
and will always stand with us and uphold us with her holy prayers,
that she will always intercede for all those who honor her.
Father John Townsend, Rector
Saint Mary of Egypt
"It is good to hide the secret of a
king, but it is glorious to reveal and preach the works of God"
(Tobit 12:7). So said the Archangel Raphael to Tobit when he
performed the wonderful healing of his blindness. Actually, not to
keep the secret of a king is perilous and a terrible risk, but to be
silent about the works of God is a great loss for the soul. And I
(says St. Saphronius), in writing the life of St. Mary of Egypt, am
afraid to hide the works of God by silence. Remembering the
misfortune threatened to the servant who hid his God-given talent in
the earth (Mat. 25:18-25), I am bound to pass on the holy account
that has reached me. And let no one think (continues St. Saphronius)
that I have had the audacity to write untruth or doubt this great
marvel — may I never lie about holy things! If there do happen to be
people who, after reading this record, do not believe it, may the
Lord have mercy on them because, reflecting on the weakness of human
nature, they consider impossible these wonderful things accomplished
by holy people. But now we must begin to tell this most amazing
story, which has taken place in our generation.
Father Zosima and the Search for Sanctity
There was a certain elder in one of the monasteries of Palestine,
a priest of the holy life and speech, who from childhood had been
brought up in monastic ways and customs. This elder's name was
Zosima. He had been through the whole course of the ascetic life and
in everything he adhered to the rule once given to him by his tutors
as regard spiritual labours. He had also added a good deal himself
whilst laboring to subject his flesh to the will of the spirit. And
he had not failed in his aim. He was so renowned for his spiritual
life that many came to him from neighboring monasteries and some
even from afar. While doing all this, he never ceased to study the
Divine Scriptures. Whether resting, standing, working or eating food
(if the scraps he nibbled could be called food), he incessantly and
constantly had a single aim: always to sing of God, and to practice
the teaching of the Divine Scriptures.
Zosima used to relate how, as soon as he was taken from his mother's
breast, he was handed over to the monastery where he went through
his training as an ascetic till he reached the age of 53. After
that, he began to be tormented with the thought that he was perfect
in everything and needed no instruction from anyone, saying to
"Is there a monk on earth who can be of use to me and show me
a kind of asceticism that I have not accomplished? Is there a
man to be found in the desert who has surpassed me?"
Thus thought the elder, when suddenly an angel appeared to him
"Zosima, valiantly have you struggled, as far as this is
within the power of man, valiantly have you gone through the
ascetic course. But there is no man who has attained perfection.
Before you lie unknown struggles greater than those you have
already accomplished. That you may know how many other ways lead
to salvation, leave your native land like the renowned patriarch
Abraham and go to the monastery by the River Jordan."
The Monastery on the Jordan
Zosima did as he was told. He left the monastery in which he had
lived from childhood, and went to the River Jordan. At last he
reached the community to which God had sent him. Having knocked at
the door of the monastery, he told the monk who was the porter who
he was; and the porter told the abbot. On being admitted to the
abbot's presence, Zosima made the usual monastic prostration and
prayer. Seeing that he was a monk the abbot asked:
"Where do you come from, brother, and why have you come to us
poor old men?"
"There is no need to speak about where I have come from, but
I have come, father, seeking spiritual profit, for I have heard
great things about your skill in leading souls to God."
"Brother," the abbot said to him, "Only God can heal the
infirmity of the soul. May He teach you and us His divine ways
and guide us. But as it is the love of Christ that has moved you
to visit us poor old men, then stay with us, if that is why you
have come. May the Good Shepherd Who laid down His life for our
salvation fill us all with the grace of the Holy Spirit."
After this, Zosima bowed to the abbot, asked for his prayers and
blessing, and stayed in the monastery. There he saw elders
proficient both in action and the contemplation of God, aflame in
spirit, working for the Lord. They sang incessantly, they stood in
prayer all night, work was ever in their hands and psalms on their
lips. Never an idle word was heard among them, they know nothing
about acquiring temporal goods or the cares of life. But they had
one desire — to become in body like corpses. Their constant food was
the Word of God, and they sustained their bodies on bread and water,
as much as their love for God allowed them. Seeing this, Zosima was
greatly edified and prepared for the struggle that lay before him.
Many days passed and the time drew near when all Christians fast and
prepare themselves to worship the Divine Passion and Resurrection of
Christ. The monastery gates were kept always locked and only opened
when one of the community was sent out on some errand. It was a
desert place, not only unvisited by people of the world but even
unknown to them. There was a rule in that monastery which was the
reason why God brought Zosima there. At the beginning of the Great
Fast [on Forgiveness Sunday] the priest celebrated the holy Liturgy
and all partook of the holy body and blood of Christ. After the
Liturgy they went to the refectory and would eat a little Lenten
food. Then all gathered in church and after praying earnestly with
prostrations, the elders kissed one another and asked forgiveness.
And each made a prostration to the abbot and asked his blessing and
prayers for the struggle that lay before them.
After this, the gates of the monastery were thrown open, and
singing, "The Lord is my light and my Savior;
whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defender of my life; of whom
shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 26:1) and the rest of that psalm,
all went out into the desert and crossed the River Jordan. Only one
or two brothers were left in the monastery, not to guard the
property (for there was nothing to rob), but so as not to leave the
church without Divine Service. Each took with him as much as he
could or wanted in the way of food, according to the needs of his
body: one would take a little bread, another some figs, another
dates or wheat soaked in water. And some took nothing but their own
body covered with rags and fed when nature forced them to it on the
plants that grew in the desert. After crossing the Jordan, they all
scattered far and wide in different directions. And this was the
rule of life they had, and which they all observed — neither to talk
to one another, nor to know how each one lived and fasted. If they
did happen to catch sight of one another, they went to another part
of the country, living alone and always singing to God, and at a
definite time eating a very small quantity of food.
In this way they spent the whole of the fast and used to return to
the monastery a week before the Resurrection of Christ, on Palm
Sunday. Each one returned having his own conscience as the witness
of his labour, and no one asked another how he had spent his time in
the desert. Such were rules of the monastery. Every one of them
whilst in the desert struggled with himself before the Judge of the
struggle — God — not seeking to please men and fast before the eyes
of all. For what is done for the sake of men, to win praise and
honor, is not only useless to the one who does it but sometimes the
cause of great punishment.
Father Zosima meets Saint Mary in the Desert
Zosima did the same as all. And he went far, far into the desert
with a secret hope of finding some father who might be living there
and who might be able to satisfy his thirst and longing. And he
wandered on tireless, as if hurrying on to some definite place. He
had already walked for 20 days and when the 6th hour came he stopped
and, turning to the East, he began to sing the sixth Hour and recite
the customary prayers. He used to break his journey thus at fixed
hours of the day to rest a little, to chant psalms standing and to
pray on bent knees. And as he sang thus without turning his eyes
from the heavens, he suddenly saw to the right of the hillock on
which he stood the semblance of a human body. At first he was
confused thinking he beheld a vision of the devil, and even started
with fear. But, having guarded himself with the sign of the Cross
and banished all fear, he turned his gaze in that direction and in
truth saw some form gliding southwards. It was naked, the skin dark
as if burned up by the heat of the sun; the hair on its head was
white as a fleece, and not long, falling just below its neck. Zosima
was so overjoyed at beholding a human form that he ran after it in
pursuit, but the form fled from him. He followed. At length, when he
was near enough to be heard, he shouted:
"Why do you run from an old man and a sinner? Slave of the
True God, wait for me, whoever you are, in God's name I tell
you, for the love of God for Whose sake you are living in the
"Forgive me for God's sake, but I cannot turn towards you and
show you my face, Abba Zosima. For I am a woman and naked, as
you see, with the uncovered shame of my body. But if you would
like to fulfill one wish of a sinful woman, throw me your cloak
so that I can cover my body and can turn to you and ask for your
Here terror seized Zosima, for he heard that she called him by
name. But he realized that she could not have done so without
knowing anything of him if she had not had the power of spiritual
insight. He at once did as he was asked. He took off his old,
tattered cloak and threw it to her, turning away as he did so. She
picked it up and was able to cover at least a part of her body.
A Sinful Woman
Then she turned to Zosima and said:
"Why did you wish, Abba Zosima, to see a sinful woman? What
do you wish to hear or learn from me, you who have not shrunk
from such great struggles?"
Zosima threw himself on the ground and asked for her blessing.
She likewise bowed down before him. And thus they lay on the ground
prostrate asking for each other's blessing. And one word alone could
be heard from both:
After a long while the woman said to Zosima:
"Abba Zosima, it is you who must give blessing and pray. You
are dignified by the order of priesthood and for many years you
have been standing before the holy altar and offering the
sacrifice of the Divine Mysteries."
This flung Zosima into even greater terror. At length with tears
he said to her:
"O mother, filled with the spirit, by your mode of life it is
evident that you live with God and have died to the world. The
Grace granted to you is apparent — for you have called me by
name and recognized that I am a priest, though you have never
seen me before. Grace is recognized not by one's orders, but by
gifts of the Spirit, so give me your blessing for God's sake,
for I need your prayers."
Then giving way before the wish of the elder the woman said:
"Blessed is God Who cares for the salvation of men and their
And both rose to their feet. Then the woman asked the elder:
"Why have you come, man of God, to me who am so sinful? Why
do you wish to see a woman naked and devoid of every virtue?
Though I know one thing — the Grace of the Holy Spirit has
brought you to render me a service in time. Tell me, father, how
are the Christian peoples living? And the kings? How is the
"By your prayers, mother, Christ has granted lasting peace to
all. But fulfill the unworthy petition of an old man and pray
for the whole world and for me who am a sinner, so that my
wanderings in the desert may not be fruitless."
"You who are a priest, Abba Zosima, it is you who must pray
for me and for all — for this is your calling. But as we must
all be obedient, I will gladly do what you ask."
And with these words she turned to the East, and raising her eyes
to heaven and stretching out her hands, she began to pray in a
One could not hear separate words, so that Zosima could not
understand anything that she said in her prayers. Meanwhile he
stood, according to his own word, all in a flutter, looking at the
ground without saying a word. And he swore, calling God to witness,
that when at length he thought that her prayer was very long, he
took his eyes off the ground and saw that she was raised about a
forearm's distance from the ground and stood praying in the air.
When he saw this, even greater terror seized him and he fell on the
ground weeping and repeating may times,
"Lord have mercy."
And whilst lying prostrate on the ground he was tempted by a
thought: Is it not a spirit and perhaps her prayer is hypocrisy. But
at the very same moment the woman turned round, raised the elder
from the ground and said:
"Thoughts, tempting you about me, trouble you, Abba, telling
you I am a spirit, and that my prayer is feigned? Know, holy
father, that I am only a sinful woman, though I am guarded by
Holy baptism. And I am no spirit but earth and ashes, and flesh
And with these words she guarded herself with the sign of the
Cross on her forehead, eyes, mouth and breast, saying:
"May God defend us from the evil one and from his designs,
for fierce is his struggle against us."
Hearing and seeing this, the elder fell to the ground and,
embracing her feet, he said with tears:
"I beg you, by the Name of Christ our God, Who was born of a
Virgin, for Whose sake you have stripped yourself, for Whose
sake you have exhausted your flesh, do not hide from your slave,
who you are and whence and how you came into this desert. Tell
me everything so that the marvelous works of God may become
known. A hidden wisdom and a secret treasure — what profit is
there in them? Tell me all, I implore you. For not out of vanity
or for self-display will you speak but to reveal the truth to
me, an unworthy sinner. I believe in God, for whom you live and
whom you serve. I believe that He led me into this desert so as
to show me His ways in regard to you. It is not in our power to
resist the plans of God. If it were not the will of God that you
and you r life would be known, He would not have allowed be to
see you and would not have strengthened me to undertake this
journey, one like me who never before dared to leave his cell."
Saint Mary describes her Sinful Life of Lust and Debauchery to
Much more said Abba Zosima. But the woman raised him and said:
"I am ashamed, Abba, to speak to you of my disgraceful life,
forgive me for God's sake! But as you have already seen my naked
body I shall likewise lay bare before you my work, so that you
may know with what shame and obscenity my soul is filled. I was
not running away out of vanity, as you thought, for what have I
to be proud of — I who was the chosen vessel of the devil? But
when I start my story you will run from me, as from a snake, for
your ears will not be able to bear the vileness of my actions.
But I shall tell you all without hiding anything, only imploring
you first of all to pray incessantly for me, so that I may find
mercy on the day of Judgment."
The elder wept and the woman began her story.
"My native land, holy father, was Egypt. Already during the
lifetime of my parents, when I was twelve years old, I renounced
their love and went to Alexandria. I am ashamed to recall how
there I at first ruined my maidenhood and then unrestrainedly
and insatiably gave myself up to sensuality It is more becoming
to speak of this briefly, so that you may just know my passion
and my lechery. For about seventeen years, forgive me, I lived
like that. I was like a fire of public debauch. And it was not
for the sake of gain — here I speak the pure truth. Often when
they wished to pay me, I refused the money. I acted in this way
so as to make as many men as possible to try to obtain me, doing
free of charge what gave me pleasure. Do not think that I was
rich and that was the reason why I did not take money. I lived
by begging, often by spinning flax, but I had an insatiable
desire and an irrepressible passion for lying in filth. This was
life to me. Every kind of abuse of nature I regarded as life.
That is how I lived. Then one summer I saw a large crowd of
Lybians and Egyptians running towards the sea. I asked one of
them, `Where are these men hurrying to?' He replied, `They are
all going to Jerusalem for the Exaltation of the Precious and
Life-giving Cross, which takes place in a few days.' I said to
him, `Will they take me with them if I wish to go?' `No one will
hinder you if you have money to pay for the journey and for
food.' And I said to him, `To tell you truth, I have no money,
neither have I food. But I shall go with them and shall go
aboard. And they shall feed me, whether they want to or not. I
have a body — they shall take it instead of pay for the
journey.' I was suddenly filled with a desire to go, Abba, to
have more lovers who could satisfy my passion. I told you, Abba
Zosima, not to force me to tell you of my disgrace. God is my
witness, I am afraid of defiling you and the very air with my
Zosima, weeping, replied to her:
"Speak on for God's sake, mother, speak and do not break the
thread of such an edifying tale."
And, resuming her story, she went on:
"That youth, on hearing my shameless words, laughed and went
off. While I, throwing away my spinning wheel, ran off towards
the sea in the direction which everyone seemed to be taking.
And, seeing some young men standing on the shore, about ten or
more of them, full of vigor and alert in their movements, I
decided that they would do for my purpose (it seemed that some
of them were waiting for more travelers whilst others had gone
ashore). Shamelessly, as usual, I mixed with the crowd, saying,
`Take me with you to the place you are going to; you will not
find me superfluous.' I also added a few more words calling
forth general laughter. Seeing my readiness to be shameless,
they readily took me aboard the boat. Those who were expected
came also, and we set sail at once. How shall I relate to you
what happened after this? Whose tongue can tell, whose ears can
take in all that took place on the boat during that voyage! And
to all this I frequently forced those miserable youths even
against their own will. There is no mentionable or unmentionable
depravity of which I was not their teacher. I am amazed, Abba,
how the sea stood our licentiousness, how the earth did not open
its jaws, and how it was that hell did not swallow me alive,
when I had entangled in my net so many souls. But I think God
was seeking my repentance. For He does not desire the death of a
sinner but magnanimously awaits his return to Him.
At last we arrived in Jerusalem. I spent the days before the
festival in the town, living the save kind of life, perhaps even
worse. I was not content with the youths I had seduced at sea
and who had helped be to get to Jerusalem; many others —
citizens of the town and foreigners — I also seduced. The holy
day of the Exaltation of the Cross dawned while I was still
flying about — hunting for youths. At daybreak I saw that
everyone was hurrying to the church, so I ran with the rest.
When the hour for the holy elevation approached, I was trying to
make my way in with the crowd which was struggling to get
through the church doors.
The Force at the Doors of the Church
"I had at last squeezed through with great difficulty almost
to the entrance of the temple, from which the life-giving Tree
of the Cross was being shown to the people. But when I trod on
the doorstep which everyone passed, I was stopped by some force
which prevented by entering. Meanwhile I was brushed aside by
the crowd and found myself standing alone in the porch. Thinking
that this had happened because of my woman's weakness, I again
began to work my way into the crowd, trying to elbow myself
forward. But in vain I struggled. Again my feet trod on the
doorstep over which others were entering the church without
encountering any obstacle. I alone seemed to remain unaccepted
by the church. It was as if there was a detachment of soldiers
standing there to oppose my entrance. Once again I was excluded
by the same mighty force and again I stood in the porch. Having
repeated my attempt three or four times, at last I felt
exhausted and had no more strength to push and to be punched, 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 which barred the entrance to me. I began to weep and lament
and beat my breast, and to sigh from the depths of my heart.
"And so I stood weeping when I saw above me the icon of the
most holy Mother of God. Not taking my eyes off her, I said,
`O Lady, Mother of God, who gave birth in the flesh to God the
Word, I know, O how well I know, that it is no honor or praise
to thee when one so impure and depraved as I look up to thy
icon, O ever-virgin, who didst keep thy body and soul in purity.
Rightly do I inspire hatred and disgust before thy virginal
purity. But I have heard that God Who was born of thee became
man on purpose to call sinners to repentance. Then help me, for
I have no other help. Order the entrance of the church to be
opened to me. Allow me to see the venerable Tree on which He Who
was born of thee suffered in the flesh and on which He shed His
holy Blood for the redemption of sinners an for me, unworthy as
I am. Be my faithful witness before thy son that I will never
again defile my body by the impurity of fornication, but as soon
as I have seen the Tree of the Cross I will renounce the world
and its temptations and will go wherever thou wilt lead me.'
Thus I spoke and as if acquiring some hope in firm faith and
feeling some confidence in the mercy of the Mother of God, I
left the place where I stood praying. And I went again and
mingled with the crowd that was pushing its way into the temple.
And no one seemed to thwart me, no one hindered my entering the
church. I was possessed with trembling, and was almost in
"Having got as far as the doors which I could not reach before —
as if the same force which had hindered me cleared the way for
me — I now entered without difficulty and found myself within
the holy place. And so it was I saw the life-giving Cross. I saw
too the Mysteries of God and how the Lord accepts repentance.
Throwing myself on the ground, I worshipped that holy earth and
kissed it with trembling. Then I came out of the church and went
to her who had promised to be my security, to the place where I
had sealed my vow. And bending my knees before the Virgin Mother
of God, I addressed her with these words:
`O loving Lady, thou hast shown me thy great love for all
men. Glory to God Who receives the repentance of sinners
through thee. What more can I recollect or say, I who am so
sinful? It is time for me, O Lady to fulfil my vow,
according to thy witness. Now lead me by the hand along the
path of repentance!'
And at these words I heard a voice from on high:
`If you cross the Jordan you will find glorious rest.'
Hearing this voice and having faith that it was for me, I
cried to the Mother of God:
`O Lady, Lady, do not forsake me!'
With these words I left the porch of the church and set off
on my journey.
Three Loaves of Bread
"As I was leaving the church a stranger glanced at me and
gave me three coins, saying:
`Sister, take these.'
And, taking the money, I bought three loaves and took them
with me on my journey, as a blessed gift. I asked the person who
sold the bread:
`Which is the way to the Jordan?'
I was directed to the city gate which led that way. Running
on I passed the gates and still weeping went on my journey.
Those I met I asked the way, and after walking for the rest of
that day (I think it was nine o'clock when I saw the Cross) I at
length reached at sunset the Church of St. John the Baptist
which stood on the banks of the Jordan. After praying in the
temple, I went down to the Jordan and rinsed my face and hands
in its holy waters. I partook of the holy and life-giving
Mysteries in the Church of the Forerunner and ate half of one of
my loaves. Then, after drinking some water from Jordan, I lay
down and passed the night on the ground. In the morning I found
a small boat and crossed to the opposite bank. I again prayed to
Our Lady to lead me whither she wished. Then I found myself in
this desert and since then up to this very day I am estranged
from all, keeping away from people and running away from
everyone. And I live here clinging to my God Who saves all who
turn to Him from faintheartedness and storms."
Zosima asked her:
"How many years have gone by since you began to live in
"Forty-seven years have already gone by, I think, since I
left the holy city."
"But what food do you find?"
The woman said:
"I had two and a half loaves when I crossed the Jordan.
Soon they dried up and became hard as rock. Eating a little
I gradually finished them after a few years."
"Can it be that without getting ill you have lived so
many years thus, without suffering in any way from such a
The woman answered:
"You remind me, Zosima, of what I dare not speak of. For
when I recall all the dangers which I overcame, and all the
violent thoughts which confused me, I am again afraid that
they will take possession of me."
"Do not hide anything from me; speak to me without
Temptation in the Desert —for 17 years
She said to him:
"Believe me, Abba, seventeen years I passed in this
desert fighting wild beasts — mad desires and passions. When
I was about to partake of food, I used to begin to regret
the meat and fish of which I had so much in Egypt. I
regretted also not having wine which I loved so much, for I
drank a lot of wine when I lived in the world, while here I
had not even water. I used to burn and succumb with thirst.
The mad desire for profligate songs also entered me and
confused me greatly, edging me on to sing satanic songs
which I had learned once. But when such desires entered me I
struck myself on the breast and reminded myself of the vow
which I had made, when going into the desert. In my thoughts
I returned to the icon of the Mother of God which had
received me and to her I cried in prayer. I implored her to
chase away the thoughts to which my miserable soul was
succumbing. And after weeping for long and beating my breast
I used to see light at last which seemed to shine on me from
everywhere. And after the violent storm, lasting calm
"And how shall I tell you, O Abba, of the thoughts that
pushed me towards lust once more? A fire was kindled in my
miserable heart which seemed to burn me up completely and to
awake in me a thirst for embraces. As soon as this craving
came to me, I flung myself on the earth and watered it with
my tears, as if I saw before me my witness, who had appeared
to me in my disobedience, and who seemed to threaten
punishment for the crime. And I did not rise from the ground
(sometimes I lay thus prostrate for a day and a night) until
a calm and sweet light descended and enlightened me and
chased away the thoughts that possessed me. But always I
turned to the eyes of my mind to my Protectress, asking her
to extend help to one who was sinking fast in the waves of
the desert. And I always had her as my Helper and the
Accepter of my repentance. And thus I lived for seventeen
years amid constant dangers. And since then even till now
the Mother of God helps me in everything and leads me as it
were by the hand."
“Not by Bread Alone”
"Can it be that you did not need food and clothing?"
"After finishing the loaves I had, of which I spoke, for
seventeen years I have fed on herbs and all that can be found in
the desert. The clothes I had when I crossed the Jordan became
torn and worn out. I suffered greatly from the cold and greatly
from the extreme heat. At times the sun burned me up and at
other times I shivered from the frost, and frequently falling to
the ground I lay without breath and without motion. I struggled
with many afflictions and with terrible temptations. But from
that time till now the power of God in numerous ways had guarded
my sinful soul and my humble body. When I only reflect on the
evils from which Our Lord has delivered me I have imperishable
food for hope o of salvation. I am fed and clothed by the
all-powerful Word of God, the Lord of all. For it is not by
bread alone that man lives. And those who have stripped off the
rags of sin have no refuge, hiding themselves in the clefts of
the rocks (Job 24; Heb. 11:38)."
Hearing that she cited words Scripture, from Moses and Job,
Zosima asked her:
"And so you have read the psalms and other books?"
She smiled at this and said to the elder:
"Believe me, I have not seen a human face ever since I
crossed the Jordan, except yours today. I have not seen a beast
or a living being ever since I came into the desert. I never
learned from books. I have never even heard anyone who sang and
read from them. But the word of God which is alive and active,
by itself teaches a man knowledge. And so this is the end of my
tale. But, as I asked you in the beginning, so even now I
implore you for the sake of the Incarnate word of God, to pray
to the Lord for me who am such a sinner."
The Bread of Life — a Request and a Promise
Thus concluding her tale she bowed down before him. And with
tears the elder exclaimed:
"Blessed is God Who creates the great and wondrous, the
glorious and marvelous without end. Blessed is God Who has shown
me how He rewards those who fear Him. Truly, O Lord, Thou dost
not forsake those who seek Thee!"
And the woman, not allowing the elder to bow down before her,
"I beg you, holy father, for the sake of Jesus Christ our God
and Savior, tell no one what you have heard, until God delivers
me of this earth. And now depart in peace and again next year
you shall see me, and I you, if God will preserve us in His
great mercy. But for God's sake, do as I ask you. Next year
during Lent do not cross the Jordan, as is your custom in the
Zosima was amazed to hear that she knew the rules of the
monastery and could only say:
"Glory to God Who bestows great gifts on those who love Him."
"Remain, Abba, in the monastery. And even if you wish to
depart, you will not be to do so. And at sunset of the holy day
of the Last super, put some of the life-giving Body and Blood of
Christ into a holy vessel worthy to hold such Mysteries for me,
and bring it. And wait for me on the banks of the Jordan
adjoining the inhabited parts of the land, so that I can come
and partake of the life-giving Gifts. For, since the time I
communicated in the temple of the Forerunner before crossing the
Jordan even to this day I have not approached the Holy
Mysteries. And I thirst for them with irrepressible love and
longing. And therefore I ask and implore you to grant me my
wish, bring me the life-giving Mysteries at the very hour when
Our Lord made His disciples partake of His Divine Supper. Tell
John the Abbot of the monastery where you live. Look to yourself
and to your brothers, for there is much that needs correction.
Only do not say this now, but when God guides you. Pray for me!"
With these words she vanished in the depths of the desert. And
Zosima, falling down on his knees and bowing down to the ground on
which she had stood, sent up glory and thanks to God. And, after
wandering through the desert, he returned to the monastery on the
day all the brothers returned.
For the whole year he kept silent, not daring to tell anyone of what
he had seen. To himself he prayed God to show him again the face
that he desired. He tormented himself and worried himself to pieces,
imagining to himself how long a year is and wanting, if possible,
that the year be shortened into one single day. And when at length
the first Sunday of the Great Fast came, all went out into the
desert with the customary prayers and the singing of psalms. Only
Zosima was held back by illness — he lay in a fever. And then he
remembered what the saint had said to him: "and even if you wish to
depart, you will not be able to do so."
Saint Mary Walks over the River Jordan
Many days passed and at last recovering from his illness he
remained in the monastery. And when attain the monks returned and
the day of the Last Supper dawned, he did as he had been ordered.
and placing some of the most pure Body and Blood into a small
chalice and putting some figs and dates and lentils soaked in water
into a small basket, he departed for the desert and reached the
banks of the Jordan and sat down to wait for the saint. He waited
for a long while and then began to doubt. Then raising his eyes to
heaven, he began to pray:
"Grant me O Lord, to behold that which Thou hast allowed be
to behold once. Do not let me depart in vain, being the burden
of my sins."
And then another thought struck him:
"And what if she does come? There is no boat; how will she
cross the Jordan to come to me who am so unworthy?"
And as he was pondering thus he saw the holy woman appear and
stand on the other side of the river. Zosima got up rejoicing and
glorifying and thanking God. And again the thought came to him that
she could not cross the Jordan. Then he saw that she made the sign
of the Cross over the waters of the Jordan (and the night was a
moonlight one, as he related afterwards) and then she at once
stepped on to the waters and began walking across the surface
towards him. And when he wanted to prostrate himself, she cried to
him while still walking on the water:
"What are you doing, Abba, you are a priest and carrying the
He obeyed her and on reaching the shore she said to the elder:
"Bless, father, bless me!"
He answered her trembling, for a state of confusion had overcome
him at the sight of the miracle:
"Truly God did not lie when He promised that when we purify
ourselves we shall be like Him. Glory to Thee, Christ our God,
Who has shown me through this thy slave how far away I stand
Here the woman asked him to say the Creed and our Father. He
began, she finished the prayer and according to the custom of that
time gave him the kiss of peace on the lips. Having partaken of the
Holy Mysteries, she raised her hands to heaven and sighed with tears
in her eyes, exclaiming:
"Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in
peace, O Lord, according to Thy word; for my eyes have seen Thy
salvation." (Luke 2.29-30)
One More Wish
Then she said to the elder:
"Forgive me, Abba, for asking you, but fulfil another wish of
mine. Go now to the monastery and let God's grace guard you. And
next year come again to the same place where I first met you.
Come for God's sake, for you shall again see me, for such is the
will of God."
He said to her:
"From this day on I would like to follow you and always see
your holy face. But now fulfil the one and only wish of an old
man and take a little of the food I have brought for you."
And he showed her the basket, while she just touched the lentils
with the tips of her fingers, and taking three grains said that the
Holy Spirit guards the substance of the soul unpolluted. Then she
"Pray, for God's sake pray for me and remember a miserable
Touching the saint's feet and asking for her prayers for the
Church, the kingdom and himself, he let her depart with tears, while
he went off sighing and sorrowful, for he could not hope to vanquish
the invincible. Meanwhile she again made the sign of the Cross over
the Jordan, and stepped on to the waters and crossed over as before.
And the elder returned filled with joy and terror, accusing himself
of not having asked the saint her name. But he decided to do so next
And when another year had passed, he again went into the desert. He
reached the same spot but could see no sign of anyone.
The Death of Saint Mary
So raising his eyes to heaven as before, he prayed:
"Show me, O Lord, Thy pure treasure, which Thou hast
concealed in the desert. Show me, I pray Thee, the angel in the
flesh, of which the world is not worthy."
Then on the opposite bank of the river, her face turned towards
the rising sun, he saw the saint lying dead. Her hands were crossed
according to custom and her face was turned to the East. Running up
he shed tears over the saint's feet and kissed them, not daring to
touch anything else. For a long time he wept. Then reciting the
appointed psalms, he said the burial prayers and thought to himself:
"Must I bury the body of a saint? Or will this be contrary to
And then he saw words traced on the ground by her head:
"Abba Zosima, bury on this spot the body of humble Mary.
Return to dust that which is dust and pray to the Lord for me,
who departed in the month of Fermoutin of Egypt, called April by
the Romans, on the first day, on the very night of our Lord's
Passion, after having partaken of the Divine Mysteries."
Reading this the elder was glad to know the saint's name. He
understood too that as soon as she had partaken of the Divine
Mysteries on the shore of the Jordan she was at once transported to
the place where she died. The distance which Zosima had taken twenty
days to cover, Mary had evidently traversed in an hour and had at
once surrendered her soul to God.
The Lion and the Lamb
Then Zosima thought:
"It is time to do as she wished. But how am I to dig a grave
with nothing in my hands?"
And then he saw nearby a small piece of wood left by some
traveler in the desert. Picking it up he began to dig the ground.
But the earth was hard and dry and did not yield to the efforts of
the elder. He grew tired and covered with sweat. He sighed from the
depths of his soul and lifting up his eyes he saw a big lion
standing close to the saint's body and licking her feet. At the
sight of the lion he trembled with fear, especially when he called
to mind Mary's words that she had never seen wild beasts in the
desert. But guarding himself with the Sign of the Cross, the thought
came to him that the power of the one lying there would protect him
and keep him unharmed. Meanwhile the lion drew nearer to him,
expressing affection by every movement. Zosima said to the lion:
"The Great One ordered that her body was to be buried. But I
am old and have not the strength to dig the grave (for I have no
spade and it would take too long to go and get one), so can you
carry out the work with your claws? Then we can commit to the
earth the mortal temple of the saint."
While he was still speaking the lion with his front paws began to
dig a hole deep enough to bury the body.
The Burial of Saint Mary
Again the elder washed the feet of the saint with his tears and
calling on her to pray for all, covered the body with earth in the
presence of the lion. It was as it had been, naked and uncovered by
anything but the tattered cloak which had been given to her by
Zosima and with which Mary, turning away, had managed to cover part
of her body. Then both departed. The lion went off into the depth of
the desert like a lamb, while Zosima returned to the monastery
glorifying and blessing Christ our Lord.
And on reaching the monastery he told all the brothers about
everything, and all marveled on hearing of God's miracles. And with
fear and love they kept the memory of the saint. Abbot John, as St.
Mary had previously told Abba Zosima, found a number of things wrong
in the monastery and got rid of them with God's help. And Saint
Zosima died in the same monastery, almost attaining the age of a
hundred, and passed to eternal life.
The monks kept this story without writing it down and passed it on
by word of mouth to one another. But I (adds Sophronius) as soon as
I heard it, wrote it down. Perhaps someone else, better informed,
has already written the life of the Saint, but as far as I could, I
have recorded everything, putting truth above all else. May God Who
works amazing miracles and generously bestows gifts on those who
turn to Him with faith, reward those who seek light for themselves
in this story, who hear, read and are zealous to write it, and may
He grant them the lot of blessed Mary together with all who at
different times have pleased God by their pious thoughts and labors.
And let us also give glory to God, the eternal King, that He may
grant us too His mercy in the day of judgment for the sake of Jesus
Christ our Lord, to Whom belongs all glory, honor, dominion and
adoration with the Eternal Father and the Most Holy and Life-giving
Spirit, now and always, and through all ages. Amen.
The End and Glory Be to God
Troparion, tone 8
In thee, O Mother, was exactly preserved what was according to
the divine image. For thou didst take the cross and follow Christ,
and by thy life, didst teach us to ignore the flesh, since it is
transitory, but to care for the soul as an immortal thing.
Therefore, thy spirit, St. Mary, rejoices with the Angels.
Kontakion, tone 4
Having escaped the fog of sin, and having illumined thy heart
with the light of penitence, O glorious one, thou didst come to
Christ and didst offer to Him His immaculate and holy Mother as a
merciful intercessor. Hence thou hast found remission of
transgressions, and with the Angels thou dost ever rejoice.
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