Saint Mary was born somewhere in the Province of Egypt and lived during the reign of Emperor Justinian (527-565 AD). From an early age she began to live beyond the rules of morality.
Having spent next seventeen years in debauchery, she once followed the pilgrims who went to Jerusalem for the Great Feasts of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
When she reached the threshold of the church, an invisible force prevented her entering. She stood before the Holy Icon of the Mother of God, begging for mercy and asking for help from Virgin Mary. After that she entered unhindered this time in the church and venerated the Holy Cross. Then, after showing her gratefulness to Virgin Mary, she heard a voice that prompted her to go to the desert, beyond the Jordan. She immediately asked for the assistance and protection of the Virgin Mary and followed the path that the Virgin had shown her, having previously visited the Holy Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in the Jordan River and received Communion in the Holy Mysteries. She lived from that time on in the desert for forty-seven years without ever encountering either another human being or any animal.
During the first seventeen years in the desert, she struggled very hard to defeat her desires, essentially she had to face violent assaults from the passions and the memory of her sins.
At that time, Abba Zosimas was a monk at a certain Palestinian monastery. He was a clairvoyant as he was given the gift of spiritual insight because he had dwelt at the monastery since his childhood and he had lived there in asceticism until he reached the age of fifty-three. However, he disturbed by some spiritual arrogance about whether there was another monk who could instruct him or could show him some form of asceticism that he had not attained. In order to teach him and make him think better, God told him that no one can attain perfection. And then He told him to go to a monastery by the Jordan.
Abba Zosimas obeyed the voice of God and followed the path that the Virgin had shown him, that is the monastery of St. John the Baptist.
There was only one rule in this monastery. According to him, on Cheesefare Sunday, before the beginning of Great Lent, the monks received Communion in the Holy Mysteries, prayed and embraced, and then each took with him as much food as he needed, and went into the desert, crossed the Jordan and scattered in various directions to fight in the period of Great Lent his ascetic struggles. The monks returned to the monastery on Palm Sunday, to celebrate the Holy Week. Each having his own conscience as a witness of his ascetic struggles, it was a rule of the monastery that no one asked how anyone else had toiled in the desert.
Abba Zosimas was also bound by this rule. Having taken with him little food, he came out of the monastery and went deep into the desert, going as deep as possible, hoping to find someone living there who could benefit him. He was walking, making his usual prayers and eating little. He was sleeping wherever he could.
He walked into the wilderness for twenty days. At the time he sat to rest while signing the Psalms, he saw a human form.
Abba Zosimas tried to get closer, running after this apparition that fled before him. Abba Zosimas was running after the apparition. When he came within ear-shot, Mary, calling by name him whom she had never seen, revealed to him that she was a woman and she was totally naked. She asked him for his blessing and to throw her his cloak that she might cover her nakedness. Abba did what she told him, and then she turned to him. Abba Zosimas fell to the ground and asked for her blessing while she did the same.
Then, having finished her account, she begged him to come the following year to the bank of the Jordan with Holy Communion. Abba found her dead body and buried her with the help of a lion!
Saint Sophronius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, wrote: The life of Saint Mary in Egypt shows that a promiscuous woman can be pious by the Grace of God, that one can become an angel, and that Christ’s hope can replace the Devil’s despair. Saint Maria of Egypt was an example of someone who seeks the pleasure and chases the other for her satisfaction, but with the grace of God, she can be so exalted that the saints chased her in order to receive her blessing and venerate her sacred body. It was so sacred that even the wild animals respected her.
*The article was originally published in Greek in ikivotos.gr