Fifth Week of the Great Fast, 2012. Mark. pericope 47
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The Lord's earthly ministry was coming to an end. The Lord called the twelve Apostles and said: Behold, we go up to Jerusalem (Mark 10:33), and when they were still on the way, the Lord warned them about what awaited Him, saying: the Son of Man will be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver Him to the Gentiles. And they shall mock Him, and shall scourge Him, and shall spit upon Him, and shall kill Him: and the third day He shall rise again (Mark 10:33-34).
The Lord had previously told his disciples about this. But this was the last time, because the end had now come. And immediately James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up and started to ask the Lord that he seat them at His right and His left hand in His Kingdom, i.e., to be first in honor. The disciples had argued previously about who would be first in Christ's Kingdom, because there was much that they did not understand. The Lord spoke of His impending Passion and Death, but the disciples understood this in earthly terms, that the Lord was going up to Jerusalem to restore the Kingdom of Israel, and the brothers Zebedee hurried to get ahead of the other disciples by asking to be be first.
And the Lord answered them: Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? And they said unto him, we can (Mark 10: 38-39).
To drink of the cup and to be baptized with the baptism means to join in Christ's suffering. For those who take this path, the question of place is unimportant. The path itself determines the place in the Heavenly Kingdom, and therefore the Lord said: It is not Mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared (Mark 10:40).
Further the Lord explained what it means to be chosen for the Heavenly Kingdom: Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10: 43-45).
The forty days of Holy Lent are a symbol for us of cross bearing; and for our cross bearing to be successful, we need to apply repentance with intensified prayer for self-abnegation, i.e., the rejection of our sinfulness.
At the same time, the Holy Church commemorates St. Mary of Egypt to demonstrate to us the power of repentance.
Mary of Egypt left her parents' house at age twelve and went to Alexandria where she led a life of sin.
On the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross in Jerusalem, people from all over thronged to venerate the Holy Cross. Mary found herself in Jerusalem and went to the Church to venerate the Cross, but some power kept her from entering the Church. After three or four vain attempts, Mary came to understand that the reason was her sinfulness. She stood crying in the corner of the vestibule, praying to the Mother of God, whose icon she saw on the wall: be my faithful intercessor before Your Son so that I no longer defile my body with the uncleanness of fornication.
Heartened by her faith, she entered the Church without obstruction and approached the Life-Giving Cross of the Lord with trepidation. Returning to the vestibule, she once again addressed the Mother of God,“It is time for me, O Lady to fulfill my vow, according to thy witness. Now lead me by the hand along the path of repentance!” And at these words she heard a voice from on high, “If you cross the Jordan you will find glorious rest.”
Going out of the church, she went in the direction of the Jordan. After partaking of the Holy Mysteries of Christ in the Church of John the Baptist along the Jordan, she found a boat and crossed the Jordan, ascended the opposite bank and disappeared into the depths of the wastes of the Trans-Jordan.
Mary lived in complete isolation in the desert for forty-seven years. For seventeen years she suffered greatly from heat and cold, and especially from the passions of her previous sinful life. For the other thirty years, as she told the venerable Zosimus, “the Word of God everywhere and at all times enlightens the mind and even reaches me, unknown to the world.”
At the venerable Zosimus's behest, Mary agreed in obedience to pray to the Lord for the whole world and for him and that his wandering in the desert not be fruitless. Turning to face the east, lifting up her eyes and raising her arms, she began praying, but so softly that Zosimus could not discern, and he stood with his head bowed. After some while he opened his eyes and looked on with awe as she floated a forearm's distance above the ground.
Let this feat by Mary of Egypt be encouragement for us, not just for women, but also for men.
And when the disciples argued about who would be first, the Lord stated that salvific primacy comes from service; for the Lord said of Himself, that He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).