Mary of Egypt, Jordan Hainsey, Digital Photograph, 2016

Mary of Egypt

Born in 344 A.D., Mary moved to the city of Alexandria when she was 12 where she lived an extremely dissolute life. After seventeen years of this lifestyle, she traveled to Jerusalem for the Great Feasts of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. She undertook the journey as a sort of "anti-pilgrimage," stating that she hoped to find in the pilgrim crowds at Jerusalem even more partners in her lust. She paid for her passage by offering sexual favors to other pilgrims. When she tried to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for the celebration, she was barred from doing so by an unseen force. Realizing that this was because of her impurity, she was struck with remorse, and upon seeing an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary outside the church, she prayed for forgiveness and promised to give up the world. When she attempted to enter the Church again she was permitted in. After venerating the relic of the True Cross, she returned to the icon to give thanks, and heard a voice telling her, "If you cross the Jordan, you will find glorious rest."

Mary immediately went to the monastery of Saint John the Baptist on the bank of the Jordan River, where she received absolution and afterwards Holy Communion. The next day, she crossed the river and went into the desert, where she lived alone for 47 years. She took with her only three loaves of bread, and once they were gone she lived only on what she could find in the wilderness.

One year while making his Lenten retreat, a priest named Zosimus found the hermitess, Mary. When he unexpectedly met her in the desert, she was completely naked and almost unrecognizable as human. She asked Zosimas to toss her his mantle to cover herself, and then she narrated her life's story to him. She asked him to return to the banks of the Jordan on Holy Thursday of the following year and to bring her Communion. She asked him to meet her at the banks of the Jordan, on Holy Thursday of the following year, and bring her Holy Communion. When he fulfilled her wish, she crossed the river to get to him by walking on the surface of the water, and received Holy Communion, telling him to meet her again in the desert the following Lent.

The next year, Zosimas travelled to the same spot where he first met her, some twenty day's journey from his monastery. He found her lying there dead. According to an inscription written in the sand next to her body, she had died on the very night he had given her Communion and had been somehow miraculously transported to the place he found her, and her body preserved incorrupt. He buried her body with the assistance of a passing lion.

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