37. Mary of Egypt

I could not shake the image of a hairline thin path back to my home in the heavens where I used to sing praises to The Lord continually. 'How could it be so hard to return when I flew down here so effortlessly? Is it possible that God doesn't want me back?' I fretted.

Worry is in my nature, so this fear actually made me feel great!

Saint John Climacus, who had been focused on his writing, looked up at me and said, 'Your ego is far too big to travel that hairline path. I heard that your chanting sounds like clashing dishes falling and breaking in pieces, like the sound of pride and hypocrisy whose tone would shrivel a flower and turn it brown before it blooms, and yet you insist on standing in front of the heavenly hosts crooning out-of-tune.'

John's critique rang true. I remember being aware of my voice cracking, and other mistakes. Then he asked, "If your singing distresses the other angels, are you aiding worship or harming it? Do you chant for yourself or for worship?"

Instead of responding I wondered if my exile was a punishment. Here am I, a lover of God, and a lover of myself. Like waves in the sea I draw close to the shores of true love only to retreat again. I am caught between heaven and hell in a world of clashing angels and demons, anchored to neither. How can I break free from this invisible prison of pride?

John interrupted, "If you are looking for consolation you won't get it from me. Not far from here and at this moment there is a promiscuous woman who, like you, disregards the condition of other souls and her own when it comes to her ambition. She even elevates herself by refusing payment, thinking that gratification is payment enough."

By the time Climacus finished firing at my pride with his canon I could no longer hold myself together. I became a loose mass of fallen gray vapor, without form. At that moment I would have preferred Poppy's deadly fire. I knew neither how to annihilate my spirit self, nor what sort of form I should take.

With complete disregard for my misery Climacus continued, "Courage angel, that whore is in the process of becoming a Saint. Go to her and learn how to shrink your ego so you may safely travel the hairline thin path home."

Given the ounce of hope he offered I rose to a semblance of my former form and said sarcastically, "Did she read your book?"

Climacus patiently replied, "Angel, to tell you the truth, she has been helping me write it. Now go. In the time we have spoken, she has travelled from Alexandria to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Do you need directions?"

The hyper-critical Climacus gradually morphed into a caring father figure, so off I flew in search of a promiscuous woman at the Holy Sepulcher.

When I arrived at the massive and crowded church I flew inside and out in search of a young Egyptian woman. Frankly, I didn't even know what a sepulcher was and why it was so crowded, but that wasn't relevant. I needed to find this woman. Hundreds fit the description, but my senses didn't point out any of them.

I was becoming quite discouraged when a distinguished man approached me. "Angel, may I help you?" he asked.

"No sir." I replied politely. "I am looking for a young woman. Thank you anyway."

He responded knowingly and with a somber tone, "You are too late. Mary of Egypt passed away on April 1st."

I was flabbergasted! "What do you mean? I flew here as fast as I could. I didn't even come from very far and practically in the same year. This can't be! I need to speak with her; it's a matter of life and death!"

I admit that I exaggerated imagining that my passion could bring her back from the dead.

He replied, "I have never met such an hysterical angel before. Are you okay?"

"No, I am not okay!" I cried, "I was sent to this lousy war-zone of a planet to learn about the Bride and her mystical year, and now I think that I was tricked into coming down here to get rid of me. I was told that this woman could show me how to go home, and it turns out she left without me!"

"Calm down angel." He responded. "Your problems are not so dire. My name is Sophronius. I have recently written down her story and can tell you what you came to learn. Come."

I followed Sophronius into his grand office in the Patriarchate embellished with reds and gold. He walked slowly over to his desk, opened a drawer, and carefully pulled out a manuscript which he proceeded to read to me. (Follow this link to read the original manuscript, rich in valuable details of Mary's amazing story). http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/maryegypt.asp

A promiscuous woman went from Alexandria to Jerusalem to visit the Holy Sepulcher during the feast of the Elevation of the Cross. When a mysterious force prevented her entry, she was at first perplexed, but soon realized that her lifestyle prevented her contact with the sacred. She felt great shame and offered the Virgin Mary to leave the world and never commit any licentious crime again if only she would be allowed to enter. Her prayer request was granted and she went into the church easily and witnessed the Elevation of the Cross.'

As I was listening to the story, I wondered if Mary's entry into the church was like my return to heaven, and if I needed to make promises to God like a willingness to leave the choir.

Sophronius continued, 'When she left the church a man handed her some coins with which she purchased three loaves of bread and proceeded into the desert wilderness where she lived in isolation for 47 years. In the 47th year, a monk named Zosima was lead by the Holy Spirit to meet her.

"I know the Holy Spirit!" I blurted to impress Sophronius.

Unfazed, he continued, 'He encountered Mary naked and emaciated, horrified by the sight of this woman who appeared barely human. He was even more surprised when she spoke his name to address Zosima. How could she have known him? After giving her his cloak for a covering, and begging for her story, Mary recounted her life and then asked Zosima to return in a year with the sacrament of Holy Communion.

The following year Zosima eagerly went to the spot where they agreed to meet by the Jordan River and waited for Mary to arrive. After a while Zosima saw the emaciated figure approach the river, make the sign of the cross over it, and proceed to walk on the water towards him. She received communion and sent Zosima back, asking him to return again the following year at the same time in Lent.

The second year when Zosima returned, he found her lying dead on the ground with her head facing east. After praying many psalms and prayers for the deceased, Zosima then noticed words traced on the ground by her head: 'Abba Zosima, bury on this spot the body of humble Mary.'

Zosima was glad to learn her name and continued to read the inscription that said she passed into the arms of a God on April 1st, soon after receiving the holy Eucharist the year before. After burying Mary Zosima returned to his monastery where he told his fellow monks the secret story of the remarkable repentance of this woman.

After finishing, Sophronius gazed at me for several moments piercing my angelic soul, and said. "Do you see how in the cocoon of the desert, the caterpillar Mary evolved into a beautiful butterfly?"

I wasn't quite sure how Sophronius expected me to relate my situation to this story of a promiscuous woman.

Patiently, Archbishop Sophronius asked, "Tell me angel, why did Mary want to repent?"

I replied, “She wanted to repent because she saw that the Holy Spirit would not let her into the Church."

"Exactly, perhaps just as He won't let you return to heaven, but why not?" He said, insisting on a better answer.

I thought more and said, "Because she cared so much more about her own physical gratification (something I have NO interest in) than she cared about the condition of her soul, or anyone else's."

"Isn't that like you who care more about yourself than even the quality of heavenly worship? Then how did she get in after all?" Sophronius insisted.

"The whore made a deal with the Virgin Mary, promising to renounce the world and never seek this gratification again. She asked for credit, and promised to pay later." I replied wishing I had time to think more about what I had just said.

"Did she pay her debt?"

"Yes, immediately and for 47 years. I suspect that she suffered with the excessive cold and heat of the desert and starvation," then I added, "Not having a body though, I cannot expose myself to any of these hardships."

Sophronius added, "She battled demons as well, as you should. In the desert Mary would get cravings and thoughts of the past, for wine and sex and she would beg the Virgin to remove them from her. She would lay prostrate crying all night until the thoughts went away when she would feel warm peace. That was not physical suffering.

Angel, I have news for you. It is your stubborn ego, not your voice, that makes you too big to traverse the hairline path.

Would you be willing to step down from the holy choir and find a role for which you are better suited rather than clanging away?"

"But I love to sing, it makes me so happy!" I insisted. Lying, I added that I didn't realize that my singing wasn't good.

Torn between desires to escape from this interrogation and to go home I forced myself to stay and listen to Sophronius. I asked, "Don't you think that the extent to which Mary polluted her soul makes her story and her conversion unique. After all, I hardly think being off-key can compare to adultery!" I doubted that I managed to say that with even the slightest humility, but out it went, and I had no choice but to wait for his reply.

He answered with a question saying, "Tell me the difference between separation from God with adultery or with pride?"

I knew what to say, but I didn't even like my own words, nevertheless I replied, "Hell is hell, and there is a highway of shocked people going there because Christ said, 'Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it.' and 'The gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.'

There is a tendency to assume that by loving us more than we love ourselves, that God loves our egos too, even when our egos make us love ourselves more than we love Him."

"Good!" replied Sophronius, and I perked up like an honor-student with my feathers all erect and fanned out.

Sophronius added, "You are fortunate angel. We humans in the world must not only fight to rid our souls of parasitic demons, but we must at the same time battle with the demons in others.

Follow the example of Mary, not by living in the desert and starving a body you don't have, but by becoming as alert as she became to the demons that her pride had invited into her soul. You my angelic friend have been imitating the dark angels more than you will admit to yourself. Yet, only God can heal the infirmity of your soul."

I gasped to think of myself as entertaining demons!

Sophronius then stood up to usher me out of his royal office and said, "Farewell. Ask Saint Mary to intercede for you, and lead you into the cocoon of repentance. I have faith that you will make it. You are in for a real shock soon. Good bye angel."