For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)
Mary had a past.
But she also had a future.
Her story begins in the middle of the fourth century, when she disowned her parents and fled to the Egyptian city of Alexandria where she spent the next 17 years living a promiscuous life. She never took money for what she did with the men she enticed into her bed, preferring instead to earn money by begging or spinning flax. The thrill of the chase – and of being caught – is what Mary wanted most.
One day, she came across pilgrims preparing to leave for Jerusalem, and asked if she would be permitted to go along. Her answer when she was told she could provided she had the money was horrifying.
To tell you truth, I have no money, neither have I food. But I shall go with them and shall go aboard. And they shall feed me, whether they want to or not. I have a body — they shall take it instead of pay for the journey.
You can guess what happened on that trip across the sea. Later, Mary would admit that she was amazed that “the earth did not open its jaws, and how it was that hell did not swallow me alive” for the depravity she brought aboard the ship. But she also came to understand why she was kept alive, saying, “But I think God was seeking my repentance. For He does not desire the death of a sinner but magnanimously awaits his return to Him.“
The ship soon reached its port and the pilgrims made their way to Jerusalem. The pilgrims went about their journey, but Mary found she was barred by an unseen force from entering the church. She repeated her attempt only to have the force push her back once more. Three or four more times she made the attempted, and each time she failed.
She went off by herself, hurt and angry, looking for answers.
That’s when the light began to dawn in her dark life. As she stood weeping, she understood it was her unclean life that barred entrance. She prayed that she would not return to her previous way of life, but would renounce the world and go wherever she was led.
She entered the church without difficulty, and then vanished into the desert.
Forty-seven years later, a monk named Zosimas, who was dealing with his own prideful thoughts, met her in the desert. Her story, it is said, was revealed to him, and the story was passed along for two centuries before it was written down.
Mary died only a few years after meeting Zosimas. At their first meeting, she told him her life story, and asked him to come to the banks of the Jordan River the following year and bring the Communion elements with him. She also gave him instructions to meet her the following year at the site of their first meeting.
When he arrived, he found Mary had died. A message written in the sand told Zosimas she had died on the very night he had delivered Communion to her.
The darkness of Mary’s past did not prevent her from knowing the light of Christ in her life. Though she chose to spend her days apart from the world in a life of poverty, her final encounter with Zosimas offered the monk the spiritual guidance he sought. How can your story of being called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light bring hope to someone else?
This is the fourth post in my Write 31 Days series for 2017 in which I am taking a devotional look at key women in Christian history. For more information, or to start the series from the beginning, visit the introductory post.