Today, the Fifth Sunday in Lent, is the Sunday of St Mary of Egypt.
I HAVE charged you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the powers and the virtues of the field: if ye should find my kinsman, what are ye to say to him?
That I am wounded with love.
Song of Songs 5:6-8
LIKE the prodigal son (“who frittered away a livelihood among prostitutes” [Lk 15:30]), so the holy Mary of Egypt spent many years amidst carnal pleasures.
At the end of her life, she revealed her life in confession to Elder Zosima, and he relates something that shocks a believer: she did not exclusively go to men for a fee, but from time to time went without money changing hands, only and solely because she wanted to — so intense was her carnality and thirst for pleasure.
This very libertine and deeply carnal way of life suggests that there was within her an intense capacity for love. It was certainly a capacity that she had perverted, shifted completely to an impersonal pleasure, to an impersonal gratification, in ‘a desire of bodies’, says Saint John the Sinaite in his “Ladder”.
Nevertheless, there did not cease to be a capacity to desire, that is, a capacity for powerful love. And with the saint’s miraculous turnaround, this loving force was redirected exclusively towards God, giving her the ability to undergo such asceticism and affliction, that her appearance was no longer recognisable.
If we underwent such trials, not for forty years as the saint did, but even for a week, we would be plunged into melancholia. This kind of ascetic feat cannot be explained with any other rationale, that by supposing that people who display great carnality possess a very intense power of loving — albeit damaged by longstanding passions.
This supposition also applies in the case of the Prodigal. Repentance is consequently a transformation of the powers of a man’s soul: a transformation driven by love, and so one which follows the character which that capacity of loving possesses in each one of us.
If we want answers to the question “why do we not repent enough?”, perhaps we should be prepared to accept that may not have enough love for God and men.
From Piraïki Ekklisia, March 2009 (list of 2009 issues here). This is my amateur translation.
MASTER and God all-compassionate, by the judgements which you know, grant that my heart may possess your fear, grant that I may love you with my whole soul; grant that I may loathe the deeds of the boaster and do your saving will.
For you are our God who said: Ask and you will receive.
Weekday Vespers, Monday. Translation from Anastasis.