A WOMAN BLESSES A PRIEST
“Then she (St. Mary of Egypt) turned to Zosima and said: ‘Why did you wish, Abba Zosima, to see a sinful woman? What do you wish to hear or learn from me, you who have not shrunk from such great struggles?’ Zosima threw himself on the ground and asked for her blessing. She likewise bowed down before him. And thus they lay on the ground prostrate asking for each other's blessing. And one word alone could be heard from both: ‘Bless me!’ After a long while the woman said to Zosima: ‘Abba Zosima, it is you who must give blessing and pray. You are dignified by the order of priesthood and for many years you have been standing before the holy altar and offering the sacrifice of the Divine Mysteries.’ This flung Zosima into even greater terror. At length with tears he said to her: ‘O mother, filled with the spirit, by your mode of life it is evident that you live with God and have died to the world. The grace granted to you is apparent -- for you have called me by name and recognized that I am a priest, though you have never seen me before. Grace is recognized not by one's orders, but by gifts of the Spirit, so give me your blessing for God's sake, for I need your prayers.’ Then giving way before the wish of the elder the woman said: ‘Blessed is God Who cares for the salvation of men and their souls.’" (The Life of St. Mary of Egypt, attributed to Sophronius of Jerusalem)
Among the many not-very “pc” moments in the Life of St. Mary of Egypt, read in our churches at matins of the fifth Thursday of Lent, the one quoted above caught my attention this year. Zosima, who is a priest-monk, is asking for, nay, begging for “with tears,” the blessing of a woman. (She made “a grown man cry,” in fact, – so even the Rolling Stones would be impressed, I’m thinking, rather irrelevantly). Zosima notes that “grace is recognized not by one’s orders, but by gifts of the Spirit.”
From all this I can glean a basic lesson about the openness of the Holy Spirit to all of us, regardless of our gender, or “order,” or anything else, when we open ourselves to participating in His grace. All of us can, indeed, be blessed, and also impart “blessing” (“ev-logia” in Greek, meaning “a good word”) onto our world and those we encounter, when we choose to embrace God’s “good” Word, the eternal “Logos” and our Lord, Jesus Christ, – rather than “other” words and narratives of reality, like the voices in our own heads or other sources of merely-human opinion.
So let me be blessed this morning, by re-connecting with God’s Spirit in some heartfelt prayer, that I may bless, throughout my schedule today. Holy Mother Maria, pray to God for us!