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Lent Day 34 - Saturday

Day 34

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.  “Believe me, Abba, seventeen years I passed in this desert fighting wild beasts -- mad desires and passions. When I was about to partake of food, I used to begin to regret the meat and fish which of which I had so much in Egypt. I regretted also not having wine which I loved so much. for I drank a lot of wine when I lived in the world, while here I had not even water. I used to burn and succumb with thirst. The mad desire for profligate songs also entered me and confused me greatly, edging me on to sing satanic songs which I had learned once. But when such desires entered me I struck myself on the breast and reminded myself of the vow which I had made, when going into the desert. In my thoughts I returned to the ikon of the Mother of God which had received me and to her I cried in prayer. I implored her to chase away the thoughts to which my miserable soul was succumbing. And after weeping for long and beating my breast I used to see light at last which seemed to shine on me from everywhere. And after the violent storm, lasting calm descended.”

The story of St. Mary of Egypt is compelling, not only because of the miracles that it proclaims, but also because of the humanity and humility of St. Mary.  She told Zosimas about the temptations she faced in the desert – she refers to them as “wild beasts.”  But these were not beasts as in lions and scorpions - her wild beasts consisted of the remembrances of the worldly things that she enjoyed during her previous life of sin; namely, food, drink, and music.

You’ll know what she means when you try to give up something you love in this world.  Some years ago I led a mission team to Guatemala, and we stayed at the Hogar Rafael Ayau.  Many of the orphans who come to the Hogar are addicted to coffee, and so the nuns don’t allow coffee on the grounds (sorry - unintentional pun).  I thought I would be fine, but after three days I was barely able to walk.  My head hurt like it had never hurt before.  I made the goal of giving up coffee some time in my life.

Well, right now, I have weaned myself off caffeine.  It was not a pleasant process.  There were times when I could think about nothing but coffee – usually early in the morning and mid-afternoon.  It was terrible.  A writer of the Philokalia says: “Just as a man blind from birth does not see the sun's light, so one who fails to pursue watchfulness does not see the rich radiance of divine grace. He cannot free himself from evil thoughts, words and actions, and because of these thoughts and actions he will not be able freely to pass the lords of hell when he dies.”

It’s the last part that gets me.  If the demons are going to keep me bound to the earth when I die, they would have, at that point in my life, used.  I could imagine them saying to me, as my soul rises from my body, “Don’t go.  There is no coffee in heaven, you won’t like it there.”  I ask God to forgive me, and grant me to love His heavenly kingdom more than the things of this world.

We have come to the Saturday of the fifth week, you and I the co-travellers, which begins the last week 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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