Little Girl Lost
Sometimes being a bit rebellious tips over into deeper trouble.
A 12-year-old girl, Mary, just on the cusp of young womanhood, ran away. This was not the tantrum that leads a kid to hide in the woods through dinner to punish her parents. Mary found her way to the big city.
She fell into her parents worst nightmare.
When she told her story to the old man, so many years later, she was perfectly clear: she had not been a prostitute. No, she had refused to take money for sex. But she had a lot of sex. A whole lot of sex.
From her telling of the story it sounds like luring men into sex gave her a high, a sense of power.
She sounds like what we would call a sex addict.
She begged or did other work for money. Sex brought opportunities. Sex was a tool. Sex was a pleasure.
Once she saw crowd by the shore. It looked like something fun was in the works, so she asked. Turns out they were going to set sail for Jerusalem — a significant trip from Alexandria in Egypt but not impossible.
They were going up for the celebration when the church venerated the cross of Christ — the real one, discovered not long before by St. Helena, Constantine’s mother.
They said she could come along if she had her own money for food.
Well that just sounded like a challenge.
She spent the voyage teaching the pious young men every kind of sexual debauchery she could think of. And she had studied the issue. For 17 years.
Lost Woman Found
But when they got to Jerusalem the fun dried up. She joined the throng going into the church to see the true cross, but somehow she could not cross the doorway.
She thought she was just being pushed, so she stepped back and tried again. No go. She simply couldn’t cross the threshold, though she tried again and again.
Something kept her from entering that church.
This give her time to ponder situation. She considered her way of life, her obsession. And now here she was, pushing her way, for fun, to get a casual view of the wood on which the son of God had died — for her.
These were thoughts that could cause even Mary to weep.
From where she stood she could see a holy icon of Jesus’ mother. Like countless millions of Christians, in that Mary’s eyes this Mary saw compassion — she saw someone who knew the Son of God and his love better than anyone in the world.
And so Mary prayed, confessing her sin. She promised to change. She asked help to really see Christ’s cross.
Now the way was clear. Mary came in. She worshiped.
A message reached her tear-softened heart:
Cross the Jordan.
Mary made one stop along the way: At the edge of the river she received communion at a church dedicated to John the Baptist. She bought three loaves of bread. She crossed the Jordan, into the wilderness beyond.
Sex Addict Finds Recovery
There in the desert she spent 47 years in a recovery program of her own devising.
She nibbled her three loaves of bread for a very long time until they were gone. Then she ate what plants she could find. She prayed. She saw no one.
Like all the desert fathers and mothers, in solitude she battled her demons. When the longing for sex struck she lay on the ground in prayer until it passed — it might take a day or two.
Her story would have been unknown, as surely many great saints are unknown, but God prompted an old monk to enter her part of the desert one year during Lent.
The naked, sunburned, old woman asked for his cloak so she could approach for his blessing.
He suspected she was a holy person when somehow she knew his name and monastery. He insisted she bless and pray for him.
He knew for sure she was holy when he looked up to find her praying for him two feet off the ground.
At her request he promised to return in a year, at the end of the next Lent, bringing the Eucharist. He did so. She died later that day.
St. Mary of Egypt (c. 344-c. 421) is celebrated on the fifth Sunday of Lent in Orthodox churches. Most saints are honored on a particular date of the calendar year. St. Mary is such a witness to the life of repentance, and of transformation by Christ from sinner to saint, that she is always honored at the height of the holy season of repentance, just before Palm Sunday. You can read her story in the words of St. Sophronius of Jerusalem (560-638) by clicking here.
St. Mary of Egypt described her life in terms that today would call addiction. She bears witness that in Christ sex addicts, and all addicts, can find grace and healing.