On the fifth Sunday of Great Lent, we commemorate Saint Mary of Egypt. Her feast day is April 1, but we also commemorate her on the fifth Sunday of Great Lent because she is a model of Godly repentance.
Born in Egypt, Mary spent the first twelve years of her life there with her parents. When she was twelve, she ran away from home. For the next 17 years, she lived a life of gratifying her flesh. She had a life-changing experience when she went along with pilgrims to Jerusalem on a whim, but could not enter the church because an invisible force kept her from being able to set foot in the door. When she saw an icon of the pure Theotokos, she knew that she had lived a life full of sin. She promised to change her ways and asked the Mother of God to intercede on her behalf. After that, she was at last able to enter the church and venerate the Cross.
She spent the next 47years in the desert, repenting. Mary was found there by the monk Zosimas, one year when he made his annual trip into the desert to fast and pray during Great Lent. By that time, she was old and weathered. Still repentant, she fully relied on God for her provisions, and she pleaded with the Theotokos to help her to become pure. She told Zosimas her story, but asked him not to tell anyone about her as long as she lived. The next year, he brought her holy communion, and she walked across the Jordan River as if it were dry land, to partake. The following year, he brought her communion again: only he found just her body, for she had already departed this life. He saw from the writing in the sand beside her body that she had died the year before, right after partaking of communion.
Zosimas wondered how he would bury this woman in the sand. God provided a lion, who came and dug the hole for him to bury her. He buried her with prayers, and then returned to the monastery, at last able to tell others about this woman and how God had worked in her life, bringing her from a life of selfish sinfulness to purity.
Troparion (in tone 8):
The image of God was truly preserved in you, O mother,
For you took up the Cross and followed Christ.
By so doing, you taught us to disregard the flesh, for it passes away;
But to care instead for the soul, since it is immortal.
Therefore your spirit, O holy Mother Mary, rejoices with the Angels.
St. Mary of Egypt, please pray for us: that we may know our many sins and repent; that we, too, will forsake all to follow Christ; and, last but not least, that we may lead our children in repentance and living holy lives.