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April 1 Saints of the Day – Mary of Egypt and Gilbert of Caithness

On this day in 1957, the BBC broadcast a 3-minute mockumentary on the spaghetti farmers of Switzerland. Scientists estimate that if the hoax were perpetrated today, it would get 1,000,000 Likes in the first 5 minutes — comparable to the average George Takei meme.

Mary of EgyptThe story of Mary of Egypt (ca. 344 – ca. 421) starts with Abba Zosima, a hieromonk who (thought he) had reached the heights of monastic perfection. Zosima was led by the Spirit to the Monastery of St. John the Baptist by the Jordan River. Every year during Lent the monks there would scatter into the desert for 40 days, praying and fasting as each saw fit, then return for Holy Week. On his first such Lent, Zosima walked for 20 days, when he saw a leathery old man, who upon seeing him took off running. Zosima gave chase, yelling, “Why are you running away?”

The other said, “Father Zosimas, why are you chasing me? I am a woman, and I am naked. If you want me to turn and talk to you, toss me a cloak or something.” So he did. “Whoa,” he thought, “how does she know my name? This must be a great saint!” So he prostrated himself and begged for her blessing. She did the same.

“Bless me, for you are obviously a great saint.”

“No, you bless me, for you are a priest.”

“I’m a sinful priest. You bless me.”

“I’m a sinful woman. You bless me.”

“No, you bless me.”

“No, you bless me.”

“No, you bless me.”

“No, you bless me.”

“I order you to bless me.”

“Oh all right fine, but only because you’re a priest and you’ve ordered me to.”

As she began to pray, Zosima saw that she was levitating. When she finished, upon his implorement, she told her life’s story.

“I lived a life of sexual indulgence in Alexandria.”

“You were a prostitute?”

“No, I just liked sex.”

One day she heard of a package tour to Jerusalem for the feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross (Sept. 14). Having no money, she paid for her passage “with her body.” When she got to the church, though, she could not get in. She tried many times, but each time found herself out on the porch again. Finally the beeswax taper went on above her head. Seeing an icon of the most holy Theotokos, she prayed, promising to turn her life around. She went inside and venerated the Cross, then was led into the desert for 47 years, praying for forgiveness and eating whatever she could find.

After she finished her story, she told him, “Next year, do not cross the Jordan for Lent, but come to the shore with the Holy Mysteries. Oh, and don’t tell anybody about me until I’m dead.” Sure enough, when he went to the river next year, there she was on the far shore. She made the sign of the cross and walked across the water. Zosima started to prostrate himself, but she said, “Ack! What are you doing? You’ve got the Holy Mysteries!” So he gave her communion, after which she said, “Next year at this time, go back to where we first met.” He did, and there was her body, dead. He was unsure — should he bury her? Then he saw, written in the sand, “Yeah, bury me.” It was dated on the very day they had parted the year before.

He tried to dig, but the ground was too hard. Just then, a lion from Leonine Desert Mortuary Services LLC happened by. “Dig me a grave, there’s a puss,” said Zosima. The two of them buried the saint, then went their separate ways. Needless to say, when he got back to the monastery he told the whole story. Mary is the patron of the penitent, and (I’d like to think) of revolving door salesmen. She is celebrated in the west two days hence.

Gilbert of CaithnessGilbert of Caithness‘ (d. 1245) father owned “enormous tracts of land” (I did not make that up) in northern Scotland. He was priested and made Archdeacon of Moray, for good or for eel. His enemies torched his accounting ledgers, but “he miraculously survived.” Miraculously? That’s a lot of ledgers. He was made bishop to replace one who had been burned alive. “I’m sensing a theme,” he (no doubt) thought. But he escaped that fate, and was a worthy counselor to many Scottish kings, as well as a staunch supporter of Scottish independence. You might say he burned with zeal for his homeland.

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

April 1 (Wikipedia)
Spaghetti tree hoax (Wikipedia)
Venerable Mary of Egypt (OCA) – Main source
Mary of Egypt (Wikipedia)
Gilbert of Caithness (St. Patrick’s DC) – Main source


About Your Intrepid Blogger

I live in the Tacoma area. When not writing things some people think are funny, I teach technology to 7th and 8th graders at a local middle school.

One comment on “April 1 Saints of the Day – Mary of Egypt and Gilbert of Caithness

  1. So many gems in today’s installment: beeswax tapers in moments of epiphany; Byzantine-era package tours of the Holy Land; Leonine undertakers, and, last but certainly not least, a pretty snazzy Moray eel ref. Salaam!

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