Mary’s Standing

“Mary’s Standing” (Мариино Стояние) is the colloquial folk term used for the Matins Service prescribed in the liturgical practice of the Byzantine Rite for the Thursday of the fifth week of Great Lent. At this service, the entire Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete is read together with the Life of Saint Mary of Egypt.

The theme of this service is repentance with specific attention focused on the life of St. Mary of Egypt. Though once a harlot, she became through repentance a very righteous woman. This will be the last time during this Lenten season that the Canon of Saint Andrew with its familiar refrain “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me!” will be chanted.

Repentance is the means by which each of us can obtain our salvation. Whatever kind things we do, if we are praised for them, we are in danger of the temptation of becoming a Pharisee, looking only at the exterior, while the interior can remain like the inside of a coffin full of decay. For by the works of the law we will not be justified, no one is able to perform such acts that would cover one’s evil deeds. Repentance is what stands above all.

It seems to some that repentance is easy, however genuine repentance is an incredibly difficult task. Repentance is not simply saying: “I repent!” It is erroneous to believe that merely reciting one’s sins in confession is sufficient. Confessing one’s sin is certainly a good start; however, if no subsequent efforts follow, one’s words spoken in the confessional remain merely words. Repentance demands from us sincere change (metanoia), and it is only through repentance that our sins are forgiven. God requires our cooperation and helps those who make genuine effort. Through repentance, many have achieved salvation.

So what do we do? We must fervently pray and be vigilant to overcome our sins and temptations. The ascetics, who have trod the path of repentance and have gained experience, guide and help us. The power of prayer strengthens our path of repentance.

We often delay our repentance, rationalizing that we need to finalize a few minor “mistakes” and then repent. Such a calculation is a fraud, as warned in the Great Canon:

“My soul, my soul, arise! Why are you sleeping? The end is drawing near!”

Our lives pass rapidly. Many persons meet an unexpected and untimely death. Postponing one’s repentance is a dangerous risk, for we may find ourselves without time or control over our circumstances. We need to repent without hesitation or delay. It’s tempting to rationalize in taking just one last “sip”, but that may be the fatal sip.

It is already the fifth week of Lent. Very soon we will be celebrating the Resurrection of Christ. Repentance leads us to resurrection. Before this spiritual feast, let us examine ourselves in what manner have we repented? Easter (Pascha) is the victory of the power of death, our reconciliation with God and with one another. Repentance leads us to resurrection. May we hasten our repentance, preparing our hearts and souls as open vessels for the outpouring of paschal grace.

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