Friday, September 27, 2013

Mary, My Matron

I initially resisted my saint.

Our church was all white people before we came along. However, I have never been made to feel weird or awkward or had someone make "accidentally racist" careless comments to us. However, in some small chit chat during our initial visits, one of the members mentioned that his patron is St. Moses the Black. It was certainly surprising that this oldish, run-of-the-mill, white guy had a Black patron saint. He took that opportunity to tell me that there were lots of African saints in Orthodoxy. I hadn't asked, but looking back on it, I see that he was making sure that my child and I knew that this wasn't just some church that was for white people. We live in the American South and what Dr. Martin Luther King said is still true: "We must face the sad fact that at the eleven o’ clock hour on Sunday morning when we stand to sing, we stand in the most segregated hour in America."

Anyway, the man at church walked me around the church, showing all of the African saints on the walls. The first woman he showed me was St. Mary of Egypt. Later, I read more about her. To be quite honest, I wasn't "impressed". She didn't stick out to me. I think that I still had a very superficial view with regards to the saints. When the priest told my child and I we should be thinking about who we wanted to choose, my VanGoghKid went home and looked up the saints celebrated on hir birthday and found hir matron(s) within 5 minutes. They were absolutely perfect for hir. I was pretty astounded. It was like God just dropped them into hir lap and they were ready-made role models with the same career as hir and many similar coincidences in their lives (including curious gender issues).

I did NOT have the same experience. None of the saints from my birthday stood out to me. I looked at lists of saints online. I checked out books from the library. So many people in my church were telling them that they felt as if their saint really chose them. I did not experience that. I was trying so hard and praying about it. As our baptism neared, folks started suggesting saints and again someone mentioned St. Mary of Egypt. But I wanted a saint with a snazzy story, something cool. I cringe now thinking about it, but it's just the truth.

Then, 2 weeks before baptism, I was getting ready for Liturgy. I stepped out of the shower and then she came to mind. It really was like people said. I was almost sure and I was excited to tell my priest that I might have someone in mind. I went to church that morning and who were we commemorating that day? St. Mary of Egypt. I didn't even know anything about some saints having floating days nor did I know that we'd be commemorating her that day. Welp, I don't think she could have made it any clearer that we were going to do this Orthodoxy journey together.

Picture Description: St. Mary is wrapped in a brown cloak she borrowed from St. Zosima. One arm and shoulder remain exposed. Her hair is brown and white and brushes her shoulders. Her skin is golden brown. Her left hand hold the cloak against her body. In her right hand she holds up a wooden cross. A thin halo surrounds her head.

After we chose each other, I began to understand why she was meant to be my saint. The reasons that I'd been uninterested in her were the very same factors why I needed her. In all of her icons, she is very emaciated. Truthfully, so am I. I have struggled to gain more weight, but I'm learning that even with this body I can serve God. In the icons, her hair is prematurely gray. So is mine, thanks to the toll that cancer has taken on my body. She had been an adventurous woman who wanted to see the world. That's totally me. She had never married, though she'd unashamedly enjoyed her sexuality. No judging, y'all, but that's also like me. Also, for over fifteen years, I'd studied Semitic languages and studied North African and Arab cultures. This was where she lived and died.

No other saint that I read about could better understand me and my experiences. Though relatively little is known about her, I realized that her story is far from thin or simple. So, there's my long winded story about how St. Mary of Egypt became my matron saint.


I'd just finished writing this post and it occurred to me that I might have already written this as part of my baptism post. I used the search feature and realized that I didn't actually write a post about my baptism nor have I mentioned anything about the saints. However, I did find this

Our Lady of Africa

and this

Picturing the Feminine Divine

I wrote both of these posts before I'd ever even heard of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Make of that what you will.

1 comment:

Daisy Deadhead said...

There was this old hagiography that included Mary Of Egypt called "Whores of the Desert"--in the Catholic book store where I once worked, the book got all kinds of attention (from men), and we joked about how it got yanked out of alphabetical order nearly every day. THAT CATCHY TITLE! The publisher (maybe Ignatius press?) finally changed the title totally ... and I now can find no mention of it online anywhere.

One of those arcane historical things!
PS: I love Mary of Egypt and I loved the "Whores of the Desert" worldly women (not necessarily whores, but many worldly women got classed as "whores" in those days of course) who converted and went out to the Desert to become hermits and ascetics, as the Desert Fathers did. :)