April 2, 2023

Second Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Great Lent (St. Luke of Simferopol)

Turn To Me With All Your Heart

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered on April 22, 1945)

Today the Holy Church cites the example of Saint Mary of Egypt, one of the greatest saints, whose life is so amazing and so deeply instructive that everyone should know about it.

In her youth, Mary of Egypt was a brilliant beauty. She lived in Alexandria, leading a wild and depraved life. Once, walking along the seashore, she saw a ship leaving for Palestine for the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross of the Lord. There were many young people on the ship, and the idea came to her to board this ship in order to seduce them. Upon arrival in Palestine, all the pilgrims rushed to Jerusalem, to the Church of the Resurrection of Christ; Mary went there too. But when she wanted to enter the temple together with everyone, she felt that some invisible force repelled her and did not allow her to enter.

Three times she repeated the attempt to enter, and each time she was restrained by this mysterious force. Mary was deeply shocked and could not understand what this meant, why everyone entered the temple, but she could not cross its threshold. In deep spiritual agitation, she raised her eyes and saw the icon of the Most Holy Theotokos. At that moment, for the first time, she began to fervently pray and ask the Most Holy Theotokos to let her into the church. And after this fervent prayer, nothing else held her back, and she freely entered the temple. She was deeply shocked by the service of the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross of the Lord, and when the service ended, she went to the Jordan River, crossed to the other side and went far, far away, into the wild desert, where she lived without seeing anyone for forty-seven years.

She spoke to Venerable Zosimas, who met her in the desert by the Providence of God. She told him that in the first seventeen years of her life in the desert, her torment was extremely severe: she suffered from heat and hunger, while she was presented with luxurious food and wine and all her brilliant and depraved life in Alexandria. For seventeen years she struggled with these dreams, and only in her eighteenth year did she find deep peace. After that she lived in the wilderness for another thirty years.

She became a true angel in the flesh, for when she prayed, she rose from the earth and stood in the air. And it's not a legend. We do not doubt this, because some other great saints were also able to acquire such a prayer. How can this be explained? How can a human body rise above the earth and stand in the air? This can only be explained by the fact that the human spirit, sanctified by endless prayer and fasting, acquires tremendous power over the flesh, for our flesh is an instrument of the spirit and can be subject to its dictates. The flesh can become so light and thin that it becomes able to float in the air.

After finishing the conversation with Venerable Zosimas, Venerable Mary told him to come in a year to the Jordan and wait for her with the Holy Gifts. He carried out her command. Arriving a year later, he saw from afar approaching him Saint Mary, and when she approached the river, she crossed the water by walking on the water to him. Venerable Zosimas communed her in trembling and horror, and Saint Mary told him to come a year later to the same place where he had seen her for the first time.

A year passed, and Zosimas again came to the same place and saw Saint Mary lying dead on the ground. And on the sand was inscribed: “Sinful Mary died on the first of April; bury her." Venerable Zosimas buried her, but was in difficulty, not knowing how to bury her, for there was nothing to dig the grave with. And then a new miracle happened: a lion came, dug a deep hole with his paws and left. This is how Venerable Zosimas buried Saint Mary.

An amazing, wonderful life, completely different from the life of ordinary people! But two things stand out in particular. First of all, this is God's greatest grace, God's greatest mercy and God's foresight that a miserable harlot will become the greatest saint. And the second is the suddenness and extraordinary depth and decisiveness of the appeal of Saint Mary from her former sinful life to the path of incomparable asceticism in the wilderness. Venerable Mary fulfilled what was said by the holy Prophet: “Turn to Me with all your heart, says the Lord, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm” (Joel 2:12–13).

And Saint Mary "tore her heart to pieces" and with all her thoughts suddenly turned to God. She also fulfilled what what was said by the holy prophet Ezekiel: “Remember all your ways and all your deeds with which you have defiled yourself, and loathe yourselves for all your evil deeds that you have done” (Ezek. 20:43). These words of God were fulfilled in her, and she learned about His infinite mercy, about His immeasurable holiness, when the Lord dealt with her not according to her evil deeds, but according to His mercy for the sake of His holy name.

This is what true repentance is like, this is how all serious sinners should act - suddenly, with all their hearts, turn to God, despise their whole previous life, despise themselves, and immediately leave everything that was old, and embark on a new path, and repent all their lives, as Saint Mary of Egypt repented. You see how immeasurably deep her repentance was, nothing can compare with her consciousness of her unworthiness, how amazing her willpower in the struggle with passions was, how long her life devoted to holy repentance and fasting was. We do not know what Saint Mary for forty-seven years did in the wild wilderness, but she lived there for a long time and reached great holiness. She showed to all those who follow the path of evil, along the path of their passions, an example of how to break with a sinful life, how to repent and ask God for forgiveness.

Many other examples of unusually deep repentance are known from the lives of the saints. Such repentance is obligatory, necessary for all grave sinners who turn to God. And what can be said about us, ordinary Christians, who cannot be called very serious sinners, who did not live in fornication, did not wallow in debauchery, drunkenness, villainy, theft? Should we repent deeply? Or you can tell us the way many of us do: “Well, what are my special sins? Ordinary, human.

Is it necessary to commit demonic sins in order to begin repentance? Do these human sins mean nothing? Doesn't Christ demand that we be perfect, just as our Heavenly Father is perfect (see Matt. 5:48)? Doesn't He threaten with heavy punishments even for every unkind word (see Matt. 12:36)? Meanwhile, there are many people who commit fornication and are calm about it: “Well, what is it, is it a great sin? This is only human weakness,” trusting in God’s love for mankind, in the fact that He will forgive them all their sins. Do they have a right to such a hope? Of course not. The Lord is not only philanthropic, He is just, He forgives only those sins that we have deeply realized and which we have repented of with all our hearts. And then He forgives with amazing ease.

You have heard in the current Gospel reading how the Lord forgave the harlot who washed His feet with tears and wiped them with her hair. He immediately forgave her everything because she loved Him with all her heart.

You need to love the Lord with all your heart, you need to be afraid of even your small sins, you need to strive to be like those holy ascetics of piety who did not have grave sins, but spent their whole lives in repentance.

Many saints constantly cried out the words of the prophet Jeremiah: “Let us try and explore our ways and turn to the Lord. Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God who is in heaven: we have fallen away and are stubborn” (Lamentations 3:40-42). With great diligence, they searched for any impurity in their hearts, constantly repented and constantly lamented about their sins. They were as the holy apostle James described: "Lament, weep, and wail; Let your laughter turn into weeping, and your joy into sorrow” (James 4:9). This command is addressed not only to great sinners, but to all of us. In such a disposition of deep sorrow for their sins lived those who with all their hearts turned to the Lord Jesus Christ.

The holu apostle Paul says: “Godly sorrow produces unchanging repentance unto salvation, but worldly sorrow produces death” (II Cor. 7:10). What is godly sorrow? This is longing for God, longing for purity, for holiness, this is the sadness that fills the heart of a person who sees his impurity and unworthiness. It is this sadness that saves. What is worldly sorrow? This is sadness about the blessings of life, about all our failures in the struggle "for" a rich and well-fed life, about all the losses that we experience in this pursuit of worldly blessings.

So, the constant disposition of the Christian heart should be godly sorrow. Laughter will be far from the one who is so disposed, he will not strive for fun. And then, if he is captured by one aspiration - the aspiration for God, purity and holiness - he becomes wise, deeply calm, meek and quiet. The wise King Solomon said a very profound word about those who have acquired such wisdom: “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of the foolish is in the house of joy” (Eccl. 7:4). We have no place in the house of joy, our place throughout our life is in the house of weeping, in the company of those who cry, lament, in the company of those who tear their hearts apart before God, who are aware of their impurity.

This is the path indicated to ordinary people, ordinary Christians. And how many of us go down this path. How many of us are so deeply aware of the importance of repentance? Not many at all. The majority believes that it is enough just to repent of clearly recognized grave sins. But this is not at all enough, for there are much more sins of little consciousness than grave sins, and we must always look for any impurity in our hearts, we must not be careless in the matter of our salvation, for carelessness is spiritual death.

But it happens that people fall into the other extreme: grave sinners despair of their salvation, of God's mercy. They think it's too late to repent, and Satan whispers to them, "Yes, yes, it's true, it's useless for you to repent, don't waste your time on this." Such people who have fallen into despair, refusing to repent, do not know what is written in the book of the prophet Ezekiel: "But if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live. Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die and not that he should turn from his ways and live?” (Ezek. 18:21-23).

God does not want the death of the sinner, He wants his salvation. Thinking that God's mercy is not enough to forgive grave sins is like saying that if you throw a handful of dirty sand into the sea, it will become polluted. But the sea will wash this dirty sand, and it will disappear into its bottomless depths. God's mercy is infinite, it is immeasurably greater than an endless ocean, and in God's mercy one can easily sink all grave sins if one repents of them with all one's heart.

Many people postpone the great work of repentance until old age. “Well, while I’m young, I’ll have fun, enjoy life, and when the time comes for old age, I’ll have time to repent of my sins,” they say. Is it reasonable? Does any of us know when the hour of death will come? Is it possible to count on the fact that you will reach old age? You need to repent immediately, as soon as a sin is committed, without postponing it for a day or an hour. We must remember the words that Saint John the Baptist spoke on the Jordan, calling the people to repentance: “Already the ax lies at the root of the trees. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:10).

Let us be afraid of this and remember that the ax is already lying at the root of the tree; if we do not bear fruits of goodness, love and purity, then we will be cut with this ax when we do not expect it. May our heart tremble, fearful of negligence for unforgiven sins, and may the amazing angelic image of Saint Mary of Egypt, who showed us such a wonderful, such a perfect path to repentance, with her holy prayers, may the Lord vouchsafe us true repentance and forgiveness of our sins. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

Become a Patreon or Paypal Supporter:

Recurring Gifts

Contact Form


Email *

Message *