Let Moses’ hand assure us, my soul, how God can whiten and cleanse a leprous life. So do not despair of yourself, even though you are leprous
The Great Canon, as sang on Monday of the first week of Lent, Song 6
We are finishing the fifth week of Lent, the great feast of the Resurrection of Christ is closer and closer. However, before we reach Resurrection, we have to undergo the Way of the Cross. Just like our Lord Jesus did, and like His Hole Apostle and all saints who went through this way.
According to the Church tradition, this week we commemorate Saint Mary of Egypt who is seen by our Church as example, as icon, if you want, of repentance and spiritual revival of a human being, trough fast, humility, and prayer.
Saint Mary of Egypt’s conversion is one of the most extraordinary examples of conversion in our Church. We know that all her youth was devoted to pleasure and fornication, a life plunged in sin that she refused to abandon even in her thought. However, God works in any soul, and the work of Grace awakens her from spiritual death. And awaken to spiritual reality, refused to enter the Church, she understands that her previous sinful life prevents her from nearing God.
She understands that she needs to change her entire life, to be able to approach Christ, and in front of the icon of the Thetokos she makes a promise to change her life. Indeed, after she bends in veneration before the Holy Cross, she retreats into desert… where during 47 years she prays to be forgiven for all hear bodily pleasures, she brings to the Lord her sincere repentance, fasting in order to restrain her flesh, as, although many Christians are not aware of this, fasting does not kill human body, but passions.
Saint Mary, stopped by unseen force, awakens immediately from her fallen state and promises to abandon this destructive sin, never returning to it – and following her example should we do the same. Saint Mary didn’t intend to change the other day, or some time later, but immediately upon making this decision, she followed this goal during her entire life.
The Grace of our Lord can release us from our passions, but if we do not decide to fight them, we will be bound by the same chains, and sometimes even stronger.
The Canon of repentance read out this week in churches contains the author’s appeal to the soul: remember Moses’ hand healed from leper. When, following God’s command, Moses put his hand into the folds of his clothes, and when he uncovered it, he saw with consternation that it was covered by leper. And then God told to Moses: “Put thine hand into thy bosom again. And he put his hand into his bosom again; and plucked it out of his bosom, and, behold, it was turned again as his other flesh” (Exodus 4, 7).
God can heal us from any sin, no matter how deep it may be. But He wants us to decide to fight with sin, with passions. To make a firm decision and to follow it till our death, through hardship and temptations, through falls and rises, but permanently seeking to improve and always turning to Good God for forgiveness and healing.
I would also like to ponder upon the fact, why this very way of repentance is commemorated on one of the Sundays of Lent. This is the moment for us to understand that we cannot proceed further, otherwise than following this model of abandoning sin; this is a model for all of us, not only to make a promise, because we often easily promise things which we forget with the same easiness – but now we need to make a decision to reach the end, to pluck our life out of sin, to retreat in deep desert of prayer, so that in the end we manage to prepare our heart to unite with Lord in Holy Communion.
Saint Mary of Egypt was prevented from entering Church, which changed the rest of her life. Today Christians are not really aware what it is like, to be prevented from entering a church. If we remembered this every time we approach the doors of a church, we would feel that we are not entering a mere building, but we are nearing Divine Realm. If we asked ourselves a question every Sunday: “What if the doors of the church would one day close in front of me?”, if we were sincere with ourselves, to recognize that sometimes we deserve to face closed doors, because although apparently we do not make grave sins, we are still infinitely far from God, infinitely unfaithful to Him – and then the force of these thoughts alone, full of repentance and humility, would be able to open other doors in front of our soul: the doors that make Kingdom of God accessible from earth.
Bishop Ioan (Moşneguţu)