Tonight (and it will continue into tomorrow) the third installment of the Great Canon of St. Andrew introduces a new person into the mix. Besides the Old and New Testament figures which appear, supplicatory prayers are offered to St. Mary of Egypt. For myself, until I was introduced to the Eastern traditions as a convert had never heard of St. Mary of Egypt, but she is an important person in the Eastern Lenten tradition. This week, as many of the western Protestants react in revulsion to ascetic practices of the former Pope, her story may make for interesting counterpoint.

Her story can be found in many places, here for example, but the highlights are that she was woman who in her youth resided in Alexandria and led a life devoted to the pursuit of passion, specifically sex. At some point, however she fell into the company of a party going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and decided to accompany them (without it might be noted dropping her particular pursuits). Then, when she arrived in Jerusalem she found that she could not enter the church. With great effort she was only able to get near the doors. She realized her sins were keeping her away, she prayed to the Theotokos and was allowed entry. Shortly thereafter she was Baptised in the Jordan and fled into the desert and dwelt there alone for 47 years before meeting Abba Zosimas through whom we learn her story.

Anyhow, if the papal ascetic practices strike allergic reaction in Protestants then the story of St. Mary of Egypt would likely do the same. However her extreme examples of sin, repentance, and asceticism which signal her importance in the East.

Tonight’s canon, like last night made an interesting connection. In the last post, I noted that Moses striking the rock produced water, which is seen as a type of Jesus on the cross when speared gushing water (and blood). This was brought up again. This event, when Jesus was pierced and water and blood and specifically the water and blood is connected with the liturgical sacramental acts of Baptism (water) and Eucharist (blood) with his death (and resurrection).

From Ode 4:

May the blood and water that wells from Thy side be a font for me and a draught of forgiveness, that I may be cleansed, anointed and refreshed by both as with drink and unction by Thy living words, O Word. (John 19:34; Acts 7:38)

The Church has acquired Thy life-giving side as a chalice, from which gushes forth for us a twofold torrent of forgiveness. and knowledge as a type of the two covenants, Old and New, O our Saviour.

From Ode 6:

Rise and make war against the passions of the flesh, as Joshua did against Amalek, and ever conquer the Gibeonites – illusive thoughts. (Exodus 17:8; Josh. 8:21)

From Ode 7:

Rise and make war against the passions of the flesh, as Joshua did against Amalek, and ever conquer the Gibeonites – illusive thoughts. (Exodus 17:8; Josh. 8:21)

Ode 8 (Theotokion):

As from scarlet silk, O spotless Virgin, within thy womb the spiritual purple was woven, the flesh of Emmanuel.  Therefore we honour thee as in truth Mother of God.

A remark on that last, tradition I am told has it that Mary was spinning thread when the Angel came her at the Annunciation, as is seen in some of the annunciation icons. Scarlet as well as purple were royal colors, if you notice Byzantine mosaics the royalty are shown with red shoes … which was an indication of high honor. Which came first, red as royal -> Mary spinning red thread or vice versa I don’t know.

Filed under: ChristianityMark O.OrthodoxReligion

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