Meditation on the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt – The Fifth Sunday of Great Lent

St. Mary of Egypt and Abba Zosimas

On this the fifth Sunday of Great Lent, we have an opportunity to learn from three different examples that the Church presents us, the Epistle, the Gospel reading, and the life of St. Mary of Egypt. 

As a starting point let’s look at the last sentence of the Epistle reading (Hebrews. 9, 13). St. Paul ends this passage with the statement “Purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” We might ask ourselves, what are ‘dead works?” For examples let’s first go to the Gospel reading of today (Mark 10, 32 – 45).  Jesus tells His disciples exactly what is going to happen during His passion. James and John respond in a way that shows how much they don’t get it. They believe Jesus will be an earthly ruler and they want to share in His glory and His power. Their selfish desire is to have a position of prominence over the other disciples. Driven by their egos, they want to be first. In response to their desire to be the most important of the disciples, Jesus defines true leadership for them and  for us. Christ replaces their “dead works” of ambition with what it is to truly live in Christ as a servant leader.

The next lesson that the Church presents to us today to help us purify our ‘dead works’ is the story of St. Mary of Egypt. We all know Mary’s story, her conversion from sinner to saint. Looking at her and her early life of degradation, we can see several lessons of “dead works.” No doubt, her lifestyle is a warning to us to not attach ourselves to the pleasures of this life, the pleasures that seduced Mary.  There is also a much deeper lesson here for us. Think, what do we feel of when we look at the young Mary? We might say to ourselves – “what a sinner, she is beyond hope, I thank God I am not like her.”  How can we point our finger and judge her?  We see that God is not finished with Mary, but in our own mind we have already passed judgement on her! 

As Mary’s life unfolds, we see the love of God and the prayers of the Theotokos bring her to repentance and to conversion. She destroys her dead works and becomes a model of contrition. Being prevented from entering the Church of the Holy Sepulcher  by the  force of her sins.  Mary recognizes her wretchedness and asks for forgiveness and seeks redemption. After being freed to venerate Christ’s Holy Cross, she flees to the desert beyond the Jordan in obedience to the directions of the Theotokos. Here she finds her true self. 

The life of Mary was documented for us by St. Sophronios, the Patriarch of Jerusalem in the seventh century.  Sophronios introduces us to the Monk Zosimas, who is lead by God to travel to the desert in search of a holier monk to spiritually edify him.  Zosimas journeys into the Jordanian wilderness and encounters a naked stranger. Without telling him her name, Mary recounts her life story. She confesses all her past sins leaving out nothing. She relates how she came to the desert lead by the instructions of the Theotokos. She informs him that she has struggled in the wasteland for 47 years. She tells the monk that for the first 17 years, she battled her demons of temptation; but how her heart was cleansed and purified by God’s love. As she speaks, Zosimas is profoundly affected by her humility and her holiness. Mary’s old life, all her “dead works,” have been purged away and Zosimas sees a soul truly alive in Christ. For us today during this period of “social isolation,” we are living isolated as did Mary. Isolated from everyone, Mary found God and God’s grace. What an opportunity we have to follow the lonely isolation that Mary’s example provides us.

Take a moment to look at the icon, it shows Abba Zosimas giving St. Mary Holy Communion. He returned, one year after their first encounter on Holy Thursday,  as Mary had requested. He had not said anything about her to anyone. To his amazement, he witnessed  a miracle, as this still unidentified woman, walked on the water and crossed the River Jordan so that she could receive the sacrament. The holy woman asks the monk to return again next year on that very same day to the spot they first met to again give her Holy Communion. Zosimas does as she asks, only to find the incorrupt body of the dead saint laying on the ground. Scratched in the sand beside her was a note asking the monk to bury and to pray for “Mary, the miserable sinner”. The note also said that she had died the very day she first received communion from his hands the year before. Zosimas marveled that Mary had traveled the journey of two days in only one hour and had then peacefully fallen asleep in the Lord. With the miraculous help of a wild lion, Zosimas buried body of the holy saint and returned to his monastery to relate her story. This is the story that was chronicled for us by St. Sophronios. There are many more details you can read for yourself in her life. But even now, close to the end of Great Lent and during our time of isolation, let us remember that Our Lord can heal our dead works of ego, ambition, pride and sinful living if we only turn to Him in sincere repentance. ….God Bless! dn g


The Protection of the Theotokos

Earlier in the week the “March for Life” rally as held in Washington, D.C. It is held to coincide with the anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision.  This year marked the 38th. anniversary of that court ruling. The question I would like to pose does not have direct bearing on the issue of abortion, as disturbing as it is; but the general topic of the Church and social consciousness.  Do we, as an Orthodox community, speak out as often as we should or with a loud enough voice on pressing social issues and moral concerns in this country?

Looking below the surface of this question, what the real question that underlies this concern is; are we comfortable in this country, yet? Have we grown comfortable and confident enough to freely comment on the pressing issues of our society or that confront our nation?  This question has bearing on the degree, which we now view ourselves as fully American. Is this country home; or do we still feel like the Diaspora? If we answer by declaring this home, then we absolutely have an obligation to speak with a loud voice of moral guidance based on an Orthodox ethos and ethics.

There is part of me that looks at our reticence to speak with a loud voice as a consequence of our immigrant background.  As an immigrant Church, we did not speak out due to our own sense of isolation and insecurity. Our community and even our leadership, both clergy and laity, felt isolated, inferior and was focused introspectively.  We looked inward. Fortunately, these days are behind us; or are they?   It is fitting to raise our voices in the event of a catastrophe or a difficulty befalling a sister Orthodox community anywhere in the world.  This is our duty and our responsibility, to focus the American society and leadership on the difficulties our fellow Orthodox face.  But, do we not also have a responsibility to speak to issues that our country faces.  Please, encourage our leadership to speak out. Hierarch, clergy and knowledgable lay leadership need to speak out and to attempt to positively influence the course of our nation.  The Orthodox social conscious can be that new perspective that the American society needs to make better choices in these crucial times. May Our Lord Guide us all and may the Theotokos ever protect this great country.

A New Year’s Challenge

The Saints of January

The Saints of January

If you take a quick look at January’s ecclesiastical calendar you notice that it is dominated by big events.  Christ’s Circumcision, St Basil, Epiphany and its associated feast days, St. John the Forerunner, St. Anthony, Sts. Athanasios and Cyril and the Three Hierarchs (together and separately).  Goodness, it’s enough to make you tired. With this post, I would like to look at some of the other commemoration; lest they slip by us.  January has a great number of saints that are not featured in bold type, but are extremely interesting in their diversity and their spiritual examples to us.  From the very first day, we see the unfolding of families of holiness with Gregory of Nanzianzos (Sr.), father of Gregory the Theologian, to the last day Sts. Cyrus and John the Unmercinaries. We see examples of piety, sacrifice, people who defended the faith and ascetics.  There really isn’t enough space to write concerning each saint, but needless to say  the variety and diversity are a little mind boggling.

Perhaps, it is more beneficial to think a moment of the intent of the Church to commemorate saints at all. Why do we bother?  What good do all these strange names and strange sounding places do us?  Most of the people held up for our consideration are literally strangers. We might know someone named Gregory or Tatiana, but few of us know a Hermylos or a Kalogeras.  What good do all these historical figures do us?  It would seem to me that we can all acknowledge that we live in an age of celebrity.  All over television, radio, newsstands and the internet we can not get away from what some “personality” wore last night, said inappropriately, or with whom they were seen.  From film stars, to sports’ figures, politicians or the new name of the week; we are constantly inundated by useless prattle about someone who is looking for their fifteen minutes of fame.  The sad truth is that many times, we stop and pay attention; only, so that we are “in the know”.  What a sad commentary!  When confronted by the Church calendar, do we think that these people, who are commemorated, have been held up as examples for hundreds or even thousands of years?  How many present day celebrities will have that kind of staying power? The answers to these rhetorical questions truly challenge us to put our priorities straight.  Who do we wish to understand, some temporary here today gone tomorrow plastic celebrity or a saint who has been remembered by Christians throughout the ages.  Perhaps, we should put a little effort in getting to know a new saint a month. Pick one, choose a new name and look them up.  You can even Google most of them.  Make this a project this year. Less fluff and more substance; it might be fun and think of how edifying it will be when we know twelve new saints.  Within these saints there very well might be a new friend or someone who catches our imagination with the way they brought Christ alive in their time. If you would like refer to Prologue of Ohrid for information on the saints. (

Driving me Crazy – (10 Jan 2011)

Get a Life !!!

Get a Life !!!

It is regrettable that periodically we must have this conversation! What “fun” is it to sit and spend time flooding the comment section of a blog with all sort of junk. Look, I read and evaluate each comment, and will answer those that call for personal attention. I get hundreds of comments all the time. So that my serious readers understand, I am tired of emails that are lewd, pornographic, attempts to sell internet services, pharmaceuticals, or to entice me to open some link to wherever. PLEASE, KNOCK IT OFF. I will always identify you as spam and delete you; so quit wasting time – both yours and mine!!!! Thank you and God Bless.

Dn. George

Silent Voices (04 January 2011)


The pain on Pope Shenouda III’s face.

One of the sad consequences of our Orthodox disunity on this continent became so evident this week.   Unless you have been totally disconnected from current events, you could not help but noticing the tragic events in traditional Orthodox lands.  In Egypt, we witnessed the bloody martyrdom of Coptic Christians.  In Alexandria, the city of Sts. Athanasius, Cyril and many more luminaries of Orthodoxy, our sister Coptic Orthodox Christians were massacred by fanatics. In “Northern” Cyprus, Orthodox were murdered and Churches desecrated.  In Lebanon, a leader of the Christian community has correctly labeled the systematic elimination of Christians in the Middle East as genocide. In Palestine, we continue to here terrible reports from Fr. and Pres. Khoury about the misery the Palestinian Christians endure each day.  Even in New York, we continue to await the resolution of  issue of St. Nicholas Church at ground zero.  What do all these issues have in common?  The small voices of divided Orthodox leaders are barley heard above background noise!  Archbishop Demetrios issues a statement, Metropolitan Jonas prays for Egypt and unfortunately Constantinople must remain silent!  Since our voices are not united they can barely be heard.  Who cares what we say since, we have succeeded in marginalizing ourselves!

Our own disunity and divisions assure that no one pays attention to us.  We are small ethnic enclaves who are quoted in our own jurisdictional press and by a few niche publications.  We don’t make an impact; consequently we don’t make a difference. Critical events and essential issues present themselves and we provide little cogent Orthodox witness.  We live not only in a time when national and international events occur at break neck speed, but when moral and ethical judgments need an Orthodox compass.

If we insist on staying apart, how can we begin to have a louder voice?  What about a joint press office that would issue simultaneous press releases in New York and Washington, perhaps under the auspices of the Assembly of Bishops of the Orthodox Church.  What about a joint commission of Orthodox Theologians who could speak to moral and ethical concerns. Little voices are whispers and are not heard.  We must begin to act united and who knows it might get to be a habit!!

Traveling to Bethlehem (17 December 2010)


Let Christ be born in our hearts!

Question: Are we the Church of Christ or the church or Baklava and Kibbeh? This is a serious question. The reality is what started as a way to share our culture and to expose our ethnic heritage to the American public has now become something else.  It was a really good purpose, but somewhere along the way we got hooked.  What do I mean?  The festivals that our Churches sponsor each year have become an income stream for many parishes.  They have become a necessity and not icing on the cake.  How many parishes dedicate 100% of the receipts to charity, civic endeavours or philanthropy?  Just like a narcotic our parishes have learned to depend upon these yearly events, while allowing us, the parishioners, to avoid our personal responsibility to our parish. Stewardship should be the support for our Churches, yet as we rely on outsiders to fund our Churches: we deny our own duty and let the guests support of our parishes.

If we provide according to our means and responsibility then our festivals should be bonuses. There is a deeper question. Are we mature in our faith? Are able to look at our Parish as ours and as given to us by Christ to care for and support.  If are faith is centred on Christ, then the parish is Christ and never a burden. The problem is our attitude towards Christ.  Are we committed to His Church and to Incarnate Him in the world? During this Nativity season are we prepared to care for Christ out of love or are we content to let others meet our obligations?

Traveling to Bethlehem (29 November 2010)

Checking it Twice

Checking it Twice

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, the focus naturally turns toward Christmas.  In the language of the Church, turns to the Nativity of Our Lord in the Flesh. Even though, we are beginning to concentrate on Christmas; what does it take to be really ready. This question doesn’t have anything to do with trees, decorations, gifts or menus. Are we really ready? It seems to me we are overwhelmed with things and we neglect to get our interior self ready.  The Christmas carol says Santa has a list and he is checking it twice.  What about a spiritual list:

CHARITY – are we concerned so much with ourselves that we forget our brothers and sisters?

LOVE – do we express Christian Love to our neighbours or strangers? Christ told us it is easy to love those who love us.

PATIENCE – with others and with ourselves.

HUMILITY – do we try to consciously check our ego, to be less prideful and understand our own sinfulness.

A PEACEFUL SPIRIT – do we seek to control our anger or rage?

FORGIVENESS – are we willing to forgive and FORGET?

SILENCE – are we able to shut out the hustle and bustle and seek tranquility of spirit?

FAITH – do we trust in GOD as we encounter our daily challenges?

Perhaps, we should make our list and check it twice!

Traveling to Bethlehem (24 November 2010)

The Lord of the Dance

The Lord of the Dance

I can’t tell you how perplexed I have been by all the “hoorah” concerning the “Dancing With The Stars.” You know it doesn”t make sense. Don’t we have anything better to think about? I will say it did remind me of one of my favourite Christian songs.

“I danced in the morning when the world begun. And I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun.

And I came down from heaven and I danced on earth.

At Bethlehem I had My birth.

Dance then wherever you may be….

I am the Lord of the Dance said He:

And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be; And I’ll lead you all in the dance said He.”


This is the star we should all dance with. The star leads us all to a manger and there is the leader of the greatest dance, the dance from Bethlehem to our salvation. The Lord of the Dance is ultimately the Lord of All.

Traveling to Bethlehem (23 November 2010)

Protecting the Theotokos

Protecting the Theotokos

As I related last week, the hardest aspect of the forty days of blogging is not the writing, but the thinking about what to write. In today’s Wall Street Journal (online) there is a comment on a blog written by theologian Stephen Prothero decrying the lengthening of the Christmas season.  If you’re like me you noticed Christmas creeping into September. Very subtly, there were isolated aisles of decorations and Christmas “glitch” right next to Halloween costumes.

Why – to sell things, of course!  I don’t want to pound a dead horse, but it seems to get earlier each year. I don’t want to be trite and pound the “put the Christ back in Christmas” jingle, but the shorter Christmas season might not be a bad idea. Say forty days…oh goodness, the Church already figured that out.  Isn’t it amazing how attuned to human nature the Church is? We do need preparation and time to recover, so it is build into the ecclesiastical calendar.  Even the Gospel lessons, offer us an opportunity to think over concepts so that we can prepare for the coming Feasts.  Lessons concerning the glory of the Theotokos, the correct perspective towards money, charity to our neighbors, then the fullness of Christ within the “Law and the Prophets” and God’s preparation of humanity for coming of the Christ; all  provide spiritual and intellectual opportunities for us to prepare.  Do we look at these weeks as a time to spiritually prepare?  Or, are we too bogged down with the hype allowing that cynicism to overshadow every chance we have to block out the commercialism and focus on the real gift?