On the Fifth Sunday in Lent, the Eastern Church commemorates Saint Mary of Egypt. Her life is an amazing story, in which there is everything: crime and punishment, sin and repentance, walking on water and a grave dug together by a monk and a wild lion.
“If you go beyond the Jordan, you will find a blessed peace” – the Blessed Virgin promised the fallen woman, and she kept her word. Mary crossed over and lived the remainder of her life on the far side of the Jordan River. This crossing over the Jordan symbolizes the first step from her life of sin to the salvation of her soul. This transition from sin to salvation is uniquely experienced in the life of every believing person.
Although an obvious theme of this story is about the sin of fornication, the main focus is perhaps not sin but rather repentance. The primary message of Saint Mary’s life is in the depth and truth of repentance and the unbearably heavy spiritual struggle that accompanies it.
Mere mental or emotional remorse does not save us from sin or from the temptation or inclination to indulge again. Let us recall that Judas Iscariot was remorseful over his sin of betrayal of the Son of God, but his regret did not lead him to God. Remorse alone is not true repentance.
Repentance begins with remorse and continues with metanoia (changing one’s mind, one’s attitude, and one’s ways). If we are truly repentant, our remorse manifests in action. And God, seeing that we are earnest, blesses our efforts and grants us the gift of grace and salvation.