This Sunday, on the Orthodox calendar, commemorates St. Mary of Egypt, 6th century harlot-turned-saint. This meditation was written in Jerusalem in 2008 when I was on pilgrimage. The image is of the icon mentioned in the meditation.
Today, walking and weaving our way through the streets of Old Jerusalem, shops on each side of the alley, the smells of a rich mixture of spices and a thousand other things, shop-keepers calling with eagerness to the “foreigners” passing by – we were on a free morning, and there were gifts to be found.
We came across another pilgrim, separate from our group, who took us to a greater gift. In the environs of the Holy Sepulchre Church, there are two small chapels that are used for the local Arab Christian congregation. That chapel’s treasure is quietly situated in a corner of the rear of the Church. No sign announces its presence. It is an icon of the Mother of God – indeed – the icon which hung at the entrance of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that spoke to St. Mary of Egypt, when, as a young harlot, she was unable to cross the threshhold of the Church. That moment led to her conversion and her immediate entrance into the trans-Jordan desert.
Everything here, things that have filled the stories of Scripture and the lives of the saints who have populated this area, are amazingly proximate. Nothing is a terribly great distance. The desert is only a hill away from Jerusalem.
But winding through alley ways and shops, we found the Icon of the Mother of God through which God showed mercy on Mary of Egypt. It stood at the border of the grace of God. God’s grace, of course, has no border, except the stony heart that refuses Him hospitality. But He knocks on that stony door with great persistence.
I knelt before the icon and prayed for our stony hearts – my stony heart – the many places in our lives that have created borders for grace. St. Mary of Egypt pray to God for us!