Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Fifth Sunday of Lent
Sunday of St Mary of Egypt

   It is not possible to establish with any certainty what part history and what part legend play in the traditions that relate to “St Mary of Egypt”. One may as well simply admit the fact that the Church wished to make her, as we sing during matins: “a pattern of repentance”. She is a symbol of conversion, of contrition, and of austerity. On this last Sunday of Lent, she expresses the last and most urgent call that the Church addresses to us before the sacred days of the Passion and the Resurrection.

   The epistle read at the liturgy (Heb. 9. 11-14) compares the ministry of Christ to that of the High Priest of the Jews. Once, each year, he entered into the Tabernacle, but Christ “entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us”. The High Priest purified and sanctified the faithful by sprinkling them with the blood and ashes of sacrificed animals. “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”.

   The gospel (Mark 10. 32-45) describes Jesus’ ascent to Jerusalem before His Passion. Jesus takes the twelve apostles aside and starts to tell them that he will be betrayed, condemned and put to death, and that he will rise again from the dead. At the threshold of Holy Week could we be “taken aside” by the Saviour for a talk in which he explains to us, personally, the mystery of Redemption? Do we ask the Master to help us understand at greater depth what is taking place for our sakes on Golgotha? Do we make it possible for Jesus to meet us in secret? Do we seize opportunities to be alone and quiet with the Lord? Then the sons of Zebedee come to Jesus and ask him to let them sit with him in his glory, one on his right and the other on his left. Jesus asks them - and puts the same question to us: “Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?” The Master then explains to the disciples that true glory lies in serving others. For “the Son of man came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many”.

   Already the evening of this last Sunday of Lent allows a glimmer of the light of Holy Week, the following Sunday, to shine in it. Next Saturday will be the Saturday of Lazarus, whom Jesus will raise from the dead; and vespers which are celebrated on the evening of the fifth Sunday of Lent, by alluding to Lazarus, the beggar in the gospel parable, announce Lazarus who was raised from the dead. “Grant me to be with the poor man, Lazarus, and deliver me from the punishment of the rich man .... Allow us to rival his endurance and long suffering”. The Church, as if somehow impatient to enter the very holy days which begin the following week, urges us, on this last Sunday of Lent to anticipate the feast which we will celebrate in seven days: “Let us sing a hymn in preparation for the Feast of Palms, to the Lord who comes with glory to Jerusalem in the power of the Godhead, that He may slay death”… Let us prepare the branches of victory, crying: “Hosannah to the Creator of all!”.

By a Monk of the Eastern Church

Cowen D. (1980), The Year of Grace of the Lord - Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church by a Monk of the Eastern Church -, Mowbray, Oxford, England.