St Sophronius: God’s mercy to sinners
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Dear beloved, Saint Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, in one of his luminary writings, “The Life of our Holy Mother Mary of Egypt”, recounted the conversation between the Archangel Raphael to Tobit (Tobit 12:7), that “it is good to hide the secret of a king, but it is glorious to reveal and preach the works of God”. St Sophronius was courageous in sharing with us his Spirit-inspired wisdom.
Likewise, he reminded us through Holy Scripture, that there are many secular things that demand us to keep silence or to shy away from, but the glory and works of God, we can gladly share with others. What better way, in the season of Great Lent while many are in great suffering, to share the glory and works of God, than by sharing the blessings through charity and love for others. Saint Sophronius, pray for us.
Saint Sophronius shared the story of Saint Zosimas, a holy priest in Palestine. St Zosimas was pious, prayerful, disciplined, and thoroughly driven to finding God throughout his monastic life. However, he was also humble to know that his spiritual journey was lacking something.
And an angel of God appeared to him, and told St Zosimas that much as he could struggle within the power of a man, he could only reach greater spiritual heights if he left his monastery and go to another monastery by the River Jordan. The saint faithfully obeyed the will of God through the message relayed by the angel, left the monastery he stayed since childhood, and went to River Jordan.
The abbot of the monastery asked the saint why he would seek refuge with them, and where the saint came from. The saint answered that where he came from was unimportant, but that he was seeking only spiritual profit. The abbot of the monastery told the saint that it was the love of Christ that brought the saint to them, and that he could stay with them. Saint Zozimas found great spiritual solace and growth with the monks in the monastery, where the monks fervently prayed, kept the rule of silence, and sustained themselves on simple food and water.
During one Great Lent, the monks scattered in every direction after prayers and forgiveness of each other. Saint Zosimas went deep into the desert, prayed fervently unto God. And then, the saint saw a form of a human being, who ran from him. He shouted to the form not to run. But the form replied, “Forgive me for God’s sake, Abba Zosimas, that I cannot turn and show you my face, for I am a naked woman. But if you can fulfill the wish of a sinful woman, please throw me your cloak and I can then seek your blessing.”
The saint was shocked that the woman knew his name, realizing that she must have spiritual insight. He turned away and threw his cloak to her. The lady dressed in his cloak, and asked why the saint, a priest, would want to listen to a woman and a sinner.
The saint was filled with tears and said, “Mother, you who are filled with the Holy Spirit, it is clear that you live with God and have died to the world. God’s grace is clearly with you, for you called me by name and recognize me as a priest, even though you have never met me. God’s grace is not recognized by one’s vocation, but by gifts of the Holy Spirit. So please give me your blessing and your prayers.”
The lady said, “Blessed is God Who cares for the salvation of men and their souls.” Saint Zosimas answered, “Amen!” (Psalm 31:10-11 LXX).
Saint Zosimas pleaded with the lady, “Mother, Christ has given everlasting peace to all. But listen to the unworthy petition of an old man, and pray for the world and me, a sinner, so that my wandering in the desert is not futile.”
The lady said, “Abba Zosimas, you are a priest, and it is you who must pray for me and for all, for this is your calling. We are called to be obedient, and so I will respectfully do what you ask.” And she faced the East, and prayed to God (Exodus 19:5, 24:7).
Saint Zosimas dropped to the ground weeping, when he said the lady floating above the ground, and uttered, “Lord have mercy.”
But the saint was tempted by bad thoughts and questioned in his mind, if the lady was a spirit rather than a human, or that her prayers were false. Immediately the lady turned around and told the saint in certain terms, that she was guarded by Holy Baptism, and was a person. She made the Sign of the Cross, and prayed, “May God defend us from the evil one and from his designs, for fierce is his struggle against us.”
That is part of the account of Saint Mary of Egypt, whose early decadent life as a prostitute did not condemn her permanently, because she repented before an icon of the Theotokos, and renounced her former life. She lived the rest of her life as a penitent hermit in the wilderness, and we know her as Saint Mary of Egypt. Saint Mary of Egypt, pray for us.
From just part of the story, we can find tremendous solace and comfort.
First, where we come from, or our backgrounds, are irrelevant in our spiritual growth and profit especially if we are truly seeking after God and His mercy. All we need is a pure and penitent heart, and pray to God for forgiveness, and run to Him for the rest of our journey. God will joyously embrace us and lend us His strength to complete the journey.
Second, the priestly vocation, called by God, does not render all who don the vestments as saints, but God’s mysteries to work through them, who are mere sinners. Priests are to fulfill spiritual fatherhood to all who willingly come to them, to bring them closer to God, and to joyously celebrate the Holy Mysteries. It is in my humble opinion, a great blessing to be able to joyously serve others.
Third, God’s mysteries are profound, and can work through anything, as He is never bound by barriers, and He transcends all limitations, human or otherwise. Therefore, do not imagine a limit on God’s infinite power and mercy, and most certainly, never to deny His infinite love for all His children.
Let us make everyday a joyous pilgrimage, however challenging the journey, because everything we do towards God, brings joy to our Lord and God. Let us pray often, whenever, wherever: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”.
Let us close by praying the thanksgiving prayer:
It is truly meet to call thee blest, the Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious than the Seraphim, without corruption thou gavest birth to God the Word: True Theotokos, we magnify thee.
O virgin Theotokos, rejoice; O Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, for thou hast borne the Savior of our souls, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.