Each Sunday, both of Pre-Lent and Lent itself, has a poignant message for us so that we might take seriously the business of repentance (metanoia) and have the direction about how to achieve this goal. The Pre-Lenten Sundays are meant to shape our attitude so that we might be predisposed to enter into this sacred time without the grievous pitfall of hypocrisy. There is nothing worse than seemingly observing Lent, but through pride, lack of forgiveness or other hypocrisy to make this season of no value at all, but rather worthy of condemnation. Many people, to the outside world may appear to be piously observing Great Lent, but if they do not forgive from the heart or are proud are actually spiritually blind and their supposing observance is just a sham and total waste of time. We have hopefully learned to be humble as the Publican and not proud or judgmental like the Pharisee. The view of the last judgment, which we all must face, should have prodded us to the necessity of changing our ways. The all-important Sunday of forgiveness should have taught us to see one another with the eye of Christ and through love forgive all things no matter what we may have suffered from others. Contemplating the theme of each Sunday, there is a lesson and a corrective to our way of thinking.
St. Mary of Egypt Sunday, coming towards the end of Great Lent, has some final important lessons for us to consider. Mary is a Christian, but her life is wrapped up or rather consumed in the business of providing sexual pleasure to men. Down through history and in many third world countries, prostitution may be the only way a single woman without family support is able to live and financially support herself. This is not the case with Mary, whose motivation for such activity is not caused by desperate circumstances, but rather is fueled by an insatiable lust for men. Her manner of living was reprehensible, but her reasoning was even more worthy of condemnation. Knowing that Christian men at that time would often journey from Egypt on pilgrimage to the holy sites of Christ's passion during Great Lent, she proposed to join this pilgrimage to entice men into sexual liasons with her. Men , supposedly on a serious journey of repentance, are sidetracked into sin by the allure of a gorgeous temptress exuding a blatant sensuality. Her brash boldness in seductive entrapment led her to the ultimate scenario in which she would draw men to her lustful embrace within the confines of Christ's tomb. This last affront to a sacred site was thwarted by God, who reached out to her. God sees redeemable features in us even if we are seemingly totally and irrevocably consumed by sinful pursuits. Physically she seemed to be prevented from entering the sacred precincts and looking up she saw the icon of the pure Theotokos, whose gaze pierced the core of her conscience. Such an experience emblazoned upon her the immense gravity of her sinful existence. Overcome with shame and revulsion of her chosen way of life, she crossed the River Jordan and entered into the barren desert to live a life of repentance as a hermitess. As deep as she was immersed in sinful practices, through fasting and prayer she attained an angelic mode of life.
What is to learned from all of this? God is awaiting our return to Him no matter how heinous or revolting our sinful path becomes. He provides moments, hopefully when we will respond to His call by a sincere repentance. The hope being that an act of repentance is, in fact, not mere words ,but a true metanoia, a complete break with our past and an embarking on a path of virtue.
May the lessons learned in Great Lent take root in our soul so that our mindset be so altered that virtue flowers and provides worthy fruit in do season as the Lord expects!
By Fr. John W. Harvey