“St. Mary’s Standing” – this is what this service on the threshold of Christ’s Passion is called. The life we are leading is insipid, without any salt. We know everything ahead of time, we plan everything, we calculate. In such a life there is no miraculous encounter with God, no repentance of the sort we heard about today in the life of St. Mary of Egypt. It seems like all that took place a very long time ago…
But how can this happen today, in our modern world? How can this happen with me personally, when I already know and understand everything, when it seems that God is somewhere far away? But that is exactly the point: God is nearby, but we are far away! Therefore the spiritual dewdrops that the Church offers us today are of such importance for us: the Penitential Canon of Andrew of Crete, read in full, and the life of St. Mary of Egypt.
This is a wondrous service, one that should strengthen us. We have grown accustomed to a life commensurate with our experience, and we do not dare to speak about the battle with, and victory over, sin. Yet we see that God exists and that the grace of the Holy Spirit exists, strengthening and restoring the repentant person. We hear the words of St. Symeon the New Theologian about how true repentance restores virginity in a person. It is indeed a miracle when one renounces sin and belongs wholly to God! And this miracle can take place in anyone’s life.
But today we see an entirely different picture: showdowns, harsh words, insults, accusations, self-pity – there is no consciousness of one’s guilt before God. When we go to confession, we see not Christ, but simply a human priest; we carry on human conversations in which our words lack the beauty of repentance. After all, repentance is change; it is our transfiguration by the Lord.
I would like us to learn to stand in church, to lean to participate in the divine services and the Mysteries of Christ, in which ours souls are renewed. The soul should constantly receive grace-filled help to battle against the world of sin and temptation. My God grant that, in the remaining time before Pascha, we not lose spirit, a drop of which is still in us! It is very easy to lose spirit: a single word, a single thought, a single offense, a single judgment can cause one to lose touch with God. This is a terrible condition. We need to be vigilant and attentive about what we look at, about how we talk, about how we go about – everything in us should be beautiful and spiritual. We have not come to church only to look at the faces of the saints and to contemplate their beauty. The light of Christ shines in all the saints. But we ourselves need to become like them in order to approach that which is holy, to become capable of safeguarding this holiness in our hearts, and to share it with our neighbors.
How much love, how much care, how much mercy of God is poured upon each one of us! How many times have we already approached the immortal Source of Life, the Cup of Christ? And why are we often such leaky vessels, losing this grace? We encounter passions, despondency, despair, and murmuring – all of which becomes a wall beyond which we cannot see our neighbor or God. We must be tearing down this wall at all times. St. Seraphim of Sarov carried stones on his back, saying: “I torment that which torments me.” We should always remember that the enemy is nearby. We should not trust ourselves, but seek God’s help and blessing on every step of our lives.