This past Sunday, although it was not included in the Divine Liturgy as we were celebrating the Feast of the Annunciation, we honored the memory of Saint Mary of Egypt. Her life is an example of complete and total repentance after a life of complete and total depravity. In her willingness to repent from her sin, she is an inspiration to us that there is nothing in life which can control us beyond our ability to repent….if we choose repentance.
I encounter many who struggle with sin, and many feel helpless to repent. Many feel controlled by their sin, or at least by the excitement of their sin. Many say to me, “I just can’t seem to stop!” In these moments, normally in front of the Holy Icon of Christ during confession, I remind people that repentance comes in the form of vigilance and love.
During our Great Lenten Journey, we have been learning (hopefully) to be vigilant. It may have been vigilance against eating meat and dairy, but it was vigilance nonetheless. The Fast has given us an opportunity to learn self-control, but only if we have been fasting out of love. If our fasting has been out of obligation, chances are we resentful and won’t gain any spiritual ground. Without love, fasting only reinforces prohibition, and we fallen human beings tend to rebel against prohibition.
In the life of Saint Mary of Egypt we understand that sometimes we need to radically repent in order to be victorious over sin. We may not be called to live the rest of our lives in the desert, but our repentance should be no less radical. An alcoholic must refuse to drink if his illness is to be controlled. A drug addiction cannot be cured if the addict continues to use. Neither is possible without a desire to defeat the addiction, and we cannot defeat sin without a desire to stop sinning.
If you can gain anything from your Great Lenten Journey this year, I invite you to learn that repentance is possible if you desire. With the lessons of vigilance and love, any sin can be defeated one day at a time. It has been thirty-eight days since the beginning of Great Lent. You may not have thought you would ever “get this far” without meat, daily, fish etc. You may even have failed to fast once or twice or even more often, but you have made it to day thirty-eight still engaged in the battle, still vigilant to keep the fast to the best of your ability. The next step is to take that same commitment and use it in your desire to repent from sin. Saint Mary did it, so can you.