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Lent Day 33 - Friday

Day 33

Over the next few days, we’ll spend time with the life of St. Mary of Egypt, the one that’s a part of the Great Compline service.  ‘By your prayers, mother, Christ has granted lasting peace to all. But fulfill the unworthy petition of an old man and pray for the whole world and for me who am a sinner, so that my wanderings in the desert may not be fruitless.’

She answered:  ‘You who are a priest, Abba Zosimas, it is you who must pray for me and for all -- for this is your calling. But as we must all be obedient, I will gladly do what you ask.’

And with these words she turned to the East, and raising her eyes to heaven and stretching out her hands, she began to pray in a whisper. One could not hear separate words, so that Zosimas could not understand anything that she said in her prayers.”

A young woman approached me who had a friend who was very sick and at the point of death.  She asked me with tears in her eyes to pray for her friend, and I said that I would.  But I asked her, I’m not sure why, I think the Holy Spirit sometimes speaks through the mouths of unworthy Christians, if she had prayed for her friend as well.  She looked at me, almost horrified, and then started to pray for her friend.  We stood there, during a coffee hour after church, while she finished her prayer, and together said “Amen.”  At first I didn’t know why she did that, but later it occurred to me: the answer to my question was probably no – she hadn’t actually herself prayed for her friend.  She visited, she worried, she called – but she hadn’t prayed.  Since I was standing there, she spontaneously asked me to pray, but she hadn’t interceded herself.

I initially thought that she was just immediately doing what she thought I was asking her to do – to pray for her friend, perhaps rather than my doing it?  But that didn’t make any sense.  But nor does it make sense to believe in the power and effectiveness of prayer without actually praying when you know someone needs it.

In the quotation from the story of St. Mary of Egypt, we see those who are adepts at the art of prayer holding it as the first and greatest of their contributions to the world.  Zosimas asks St. Mary to pray for the world, as we do in the Divine Liturgy: “For the peace of the whole world, the good estate of the Holy Churches of God, and the unity of all, let us pray to the Lord.”  How important is this prayer?  I know this – those who are much more spiritual and knowledgeable than I am maintain that the only reason the world has survived to this point is because those prayers are being prayed by monastics everywhere.

I did indeed pray for her friend, who eventually died.  These kinds of things are difficult and sometimes even discouraging to me, but I know that prayer is good, and real, and effective, and so I continue to pray.  Someday, I hope, God will show me something of the roadmap of His Divine Will, and I will understand the things that today give me trouble in my soul.

Pray for me, brothers and sisters, as St. Mary of Egypt did for the priest Zosimas.

We have come to Friday of the fifth week, you and I the co-travellers, the thirty third day of the holy fast.  May our feet fall into the marks made by the saints of old, like St. Mary of Egypt, and may we experience some small part of their grace.  Amen.

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