St Mary of Egypt

Venerated as Passion Sunday in the Old Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, the fifth Sunday in Lent is set aside in those traditions for the presentation of Mary of Egypt (344 – 421), prostitute and saint.

Born in Alexandria, Mary leaves home very young, and finds a life fulfilled in insatiable passion, exchanging sexual favours and spinning flax, to keep herself. One day, entering the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, she hears a voice that instructs her to cross the river Jordan, and receive peace. Thus she goes to the monastery of St John the Baptist, and is received into the river.

Upon baptism, she renounces her earlier life of great passion, and becomes a wild-woman hermit, entering the vast desert wilderness. Meeting Zosimas of Palestine in the desert, many years later, naked and unkempt, she manifests great clairvoyance as she recounts her life story to him. He returns a year later to the exact spot, at her instruction, to find that she had died, and the power of the story of her baptism, and the transformation that baptism symbolises, is preserved by him through the oral tradition, and is passed down to us, to this very day.