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Lent Day 36 - Monday

Today we’ll look at the last of our quotations from the life of St. Mary of Egypt.  This is the scene from her burial by Zosimas: “And then he saw nearby a small piece of wood left by some traveler in the desert. Picking it up he began to dig the ground. But the earth was hard and dry and did not yield to the efforts of the elder. He grew tired and covered with sweat. he sighed from the depths of his soul and lifting up his eyes he saw a big lion standing close to the saint's body and licking her feet. At the sight of the lion he trembled with fear, especially when he called to mind Mary's words that she had never seen wild beasts in the desert. But guarding himself with the sign of the cross, the thought came to him that the power of the one lying there would protect him and keep him unharmed. Meanwhile the lion drew nearer to him, expressing affection by every movement. Zosimas said to the lion: "The Great One ordered that her body was to be buried. But I am old and have not the strength to dig the grave (for I have no spade and it would take too long to go and get one), so can you carry out the work with your claws? Then we can commit to the earth the mortal temple of the saint." While he was still speaking the lion with his front paws began to dig a hole deep enough to bury the body.”

What a scene.  The old monk and the lion digging together to prepare a final resting place for the saint.  The monk struggling with not only the fast and his own sinfulness, but also with grief for his deceased friend, and the wild beast made tame by the exceeding sanctity of the scene and of the body lying there on the sandy ground.  It’s a scene of the consummation of the end of time, when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and they will be ruled by the one King, Jesus.

I told the story in last week’s children’s sermon about some people who went to see St. Seraphim of Sarov at his little cabin in the forest.  As they approached the clearing, they saw the saint sitting on a stump, but they were horrified to also see a large bear approaching the clearing.  They didn’t know what to do: if they shouted to the saint, the bear might attack them, and if they remained hidden, the bear might kill the saint.  They froze in place.  Suddenly, St. Seraphim started to talk to the bear, and give the animal some of the meager food that was delivered to him weekly by the monastery.  He fed the bear from his hand, and the animal ate peacefully, then went his way.

As the prophet Isaiah writes in the 11th chapter of his prophesy: “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.

His delight is in the fear of the Lord, and He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, nor decide by the hearing of His ears; But with righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins, and faithfulness the belt of His waist.

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den.  They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

Here we have a picture of paradise – just as we do in the life of the Saints, Mary of Egypt and Seraphim of Sarov.  Holy saints, pray to God for us!

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