One day a monk was wondering through the Egyptian desert, desperate for food and drink. It had been days since he had eaten food – when would a reprieve come? The monk realized that the hallucinations had already begun when he saw the blurry outline of a woman kneeling over water in the distance.
It turns out that the water was a hallucination, but the woman was not. As the monk neared her, she raised her gaze to meet his for an instant. She was naked. The moment that their eyes met, the woman ran with surprising speed into the distance.
The man chased after her with all of his remaining strength. He caught up to her, and she turned around to call him.
“Youta,” she said, calling him by name, “bless me, father.”
The monk only looked at her. The woman began to pray, levitating off the ground, and the monk believed her to be a spirit.
“Don’t leave,” she called, recognizing his hesitance. “Let me tell you who I am.”
“My name is Mary, and I was born in Egypt, unaccustomed to rules or to money. It was a dangerous combination of need. I lived in sexual abandonment from the age of 12 until I was 29 and decided to leave. I could only use my body to pay. When I arrived, I decided to go to the church. Why not? It was a new beginning,” she shared.
There is no way that this woman is truly praying to God, Youta ought.
“Something blocked me from the church – something strong – but I couldn’t see it. It was like a physical barrier. I was distraught – it was supposed to be the place of forgiveness,” explained the naked woman.
“I prayed to saint Mary, the Lady, and asked for a trade. If I could enter the church, I would live a life of chastity and forsake the world apart from God. I had nothing to lose,” she shared.
“The church opened, and I entered to worship. My path has been clear since then. I bought 3 loaves of bread, and I have lived here in the desert ever since. It will have been 17 years tomorrow.”
Youta stared at this woman incredulously. Was she mad? Or was she holy? What kind of human could live in the Egyptian desert on 3 mere loaves of bread for 17 years?
“Tell me how,” Youta demanded, cautiously watching the woman and inwardly dying of thirst.
“I was tempted o give in to food, drink, and my body as any human would be. But I prayed to the Lord and saw a great light. I have neglected the world of the earth, and the world of the Lord has nourished me. I know longer crave your food and water,” Mary explained. Her eyes showed no sign of pride or condescension.
“I want to learn from you, but I must return to my people first,” Youta shared.
“Return the Thursday before Easter,” she replied, and Youta accepted her only request.
When Youta returned a year later, Mary crossed water to reach him. He saw the miracle and tried to honor her, but she humbly forbade him.
He gave her a sacrament but said that he could not stay, though he wished to learn how she worships. This pleased Mary, for she was called to be alone, but she asked him to return each year.
Youta returned the next year, but he could not find Mary. Normally she appeared to him – via a mirage, walking across water, or however she felt inclined. But he couldn’t see her figure take shape anywhere.
Youta searched for days, and on the day of his return he found her body with a letter. His hands shook as he opened it. It read:
My only friend,
I have been called to heaven two days after receiving the Lord. It is finally done – I have been called a sinner, but I chose God. I will be happy now and without want. Please bury my body.
Author’s Note: I started with the story of Saint Mary of Egypt. I kept her name, but I changed the monk’s name from from Zosimus to another cool monk name. This story is pretty straight forward to the original tale – I just translated it into dialogue and added more perspective from the monk Zosimus’s side.
This story is based off of Saint Mary of Egypt, found here, from the Myth and Folklore UNTextbook.