Imitating St Mary of Egypt in the Loneliness of Our Homes

What is a desert as understood by the Holy Fathers? How to preserve peace in the family during isolation? Why is any end a happy end for a Christian?

We have heard a lot about St. Mary of Egypt. She was a young woman of easy virtue but then she repented and went away to the Jordanian desert for the rest of her days to atone for her sins. The result of Mary’s downshifting was her gaining holiness (the Virgin Mary spoke to her; she knew the Scripture without ever reading it; she soared above the ground and tamed a fierce lion) and the Church devoted the fifth Sunday of Great Lent to her memory. To be honest, at first glance, it is difficult to draw parallels between us, who have to stay in isolation, and the hermit, who freely and willingly retreated miles away from Jerusalem. However, we are used to drawing metaphysical parallels with our Christian ideal, especially if they overlap with the calendar of our religious life.

What is a desert? Well, first of all, it is literally an area with an arid climate, which is pretty vast and has little vegetation. Secondly, it’s a place with little or no population. Third, the places where Christian hermits prayed were called deserts. Finally, fourthly, this name was given to monasteries located in remote places and away from civilization. Can an apartment or private residence become a desert in the spiritual sense? Yes, it can. There aren’t many people here – just our family members. A home is a fortress of our peace, comfort, and solace. If it isn’t, it’s a good chance for us to make it cozy. Also, our homes are now the places for our prayer efforts. If we do not go to the service because of fears or restrictions, it means that we have to celebrate the divine service at home. Do not be surprised, the monks in the deserts used the beads or the Psalter for this purpose, completing the entire daily cycle. You may want to learn how to conduct a layman’s service. The internet is still working, and all the handbooks are readily available.

Your family is also your own personal monastery, as one priest said. If you are the head of the family – be a kind and caring abbot, who listens to the requests of the brethren – that is, your family. Make an arrangement for this time of isolation: how to pray, what to read together, how to live in general now. The situation calls for some entirely new rules.

If you are the spouse of the head of the family – be a faithful assistant to the “abbot”. Look for ways to help, not to reprimand. Remember that isolation will test the lasting peace in your family. A family is a small congregation, or a small monastery. Children, of course, need to be patient and obedient. The elderly people who live with grown-up children need to exercise self-control, whereas the children need to show respect and condescension to their parents who have lived a long life. Everyone should have as much love for one another as we can squeeze out of our hardened hearts, which have become intoxicated by the worldly insanity.

Who knows, maybe this whole situation, no matter how uncomfortable and frightening it may be, no matter what scary images we paint in our minds about its future development, will benefit us Christians. We are optimists and remember the words of John Chrysostom, who was humiliated, expelled from his diocese, sick and tortured, dying in chains on his way to the place of his exile: “Thank God for everything.” The Lord allows us to be tested according to our strength, and it is thanks to those trials that our souls are cleansed from impurities and brought nearer to perfection. Circumstances are a test of our personal identity as Christians and of our willingness to bear our cross. No matter how tough it may be for some people to hear it, Christianity is not about balloons or lanterns, nor is it about endless festivals of false smiles and pious jokes, cultural events, forums, and gatherings. Christianity is the imitation of Jesus in His way of life, preaching, fasting, prayer and the Cross. By the way, this is exactly what the Lent is about, so the best time for imitating Jesus is now. We will survive all ordeals with God’s help. Have courage, friends, eternity awaits us!

Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds

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