St. Mary of Egypt: Patroness of Penitent Women

April 1 is the feast of an obscure saint, whose life illustrates the power of forgiveness, healing, and redemption the Church provides. St. Mary of Egypt was a prostitute for 17 years before she chose the life of a hermitess. She is the patroness of penitent women and reformed prostitutes.

Mary of Egypt, who was born in 344 A.D, moved to Alexandria when she was 12 years old and worked as a prostitute for more than seventeen years. She joined a large group that was making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, fully intending to continue her trade.

On the feast day itself, she joined the crowd as it was headed to the church in order to venerate the relic of the True Cross, again with the goal of tempting others into sin. However, when she reached the door of the church, she was unable to enter. A miraculous force pushed her away from the door each time she approached. After trying to get in several times, Mary of Egypt moved to a corner of the churchyard and began to cry tears of remorse.

Then she saw a statue of the Blessed Virgin. With strong faith and deep humility, she prayed to the Blessed Mother for permission to enter the church to venerate the cross of Christ. She promised the Virgin Mother that if she were allowed to enter the church, she would convert and change her sinful ways.

Relying on the mercy of the Mother of God, Mary of Egypt once more approached the door of the church, and this time succeeded in entering.  She venerated the relic and returned outside to pray for guidance. She heard a voice telling her to cross the Jordan River and find rest. She set out and in the evening, arrived at the Jordan and received Holy Communion in a church dedicated to St. John the Baptist.

The next day, she crossed the river and went into the desert, where she lived alone for 47 years. Then, while making his Lenten retreat, a priest named Zosimus found the hermitess. 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 one year ago, in 421 A.D., on the very night she had received Holy Communion. With the assistance of a lion, Zosimus prepared her grave, prayed over her and returned to the monastery, where for the first time, he shared her amazing conversion story.


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