Born probably about 344 A.D. revered as the patron saint of penitents, most particularly in the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Churches, and Oriental Orthodox Churches, St. Mary Of Egypt was a desert ascetic who repented of a life of prostitution and passed away in a remarkable manner in 421 A.D. The primary source of information on Saint Mary of Egypt is the Vita written of her by St. Sophronius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem (634–638).
The date of the saint is somewhat uncertain. The Bollandists place her death on 1 April, 421, while many other authorities put it a century later. The Greek Church celebrates her feast on 1 April, while the Roman Martyrology assigns it to 2 April, and the RomanCalendar to 3 April. The Greek date is more likely to be correct; the others may be due to the fact that on those days portions of her relics reached the West. Relics of the saint are venerated at Rome, Naples, Cremona, Antwerp, and some other places. In The Orthodox Church, she is also commemorated on the fifth Sunday in Great Lent due to her recognition by the Church as a model of repentance.
I will paraphrase a brief story of her life, as told by CatholicNewsAgency.com:
When she was 12 years old, she moved from Egypt to the city of Alexandria and worked as a prostitute for 17 years. She joined a large group that was making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the feast of The Exaltation of The Holy Cross. With the intention of luring others into sexual sin, she followed the crowd as it was headed to the Church in order to venerate the relic of The True Cross. When she got near the door of the church, a mysterious force prevented her from entering, pushing her back whenever she approached. After trying to enter several times, Mary moved to a corner of the churchyard and was filled with a sense of remorse for her sins. As she was crying, she saw a statue of The Virgin Mary and she prayed to The Holy Mother for the permission to enter the church for the purpose of venerating the relic. She promised the Virgin Mother, she would renounce the world and its ways. Mary of Egypt was then able to enter the church, as the mysterious force no longer held her back. After she venerated the relic, she returned to the statue outside and prayed for guidance. She heard a voice telling her to cross the Jordan river and then she would find rest. She did as told and arrived at the Jordan, where she received communion at a church dedicated to St. John The Baptist. The next day she crossed the river and lived in the desert alone for 47 years. Then, while making his Lenten retreat, a priest named Zosimus found her. She asked him to return to the banks of the Jordan on Holy Thursday of the following year and to bring her Communion. The priest was true to his word and returned bearing the Eucharist. Mary told him to come back again the next year, but to the place where he had originally met her. When Zosimus returned in a year’s time, he found Mary’s corpse. On the ground beside it was a written request that she be buried accompanied by a statement that she had died the previous year, in 421 A.D., on the very night she had received Holy Communion.
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