Saint Mary of Egypt (above) by William Bouguereau.
Saint Mary of Egypt (344 – 421) is revered as the patron saint of penitents in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches, as well as in the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches. Saint Mary, also known as Maria Aegyptica, was born in Egypt,; she ran away from home at age 12 to the metropolitan city of Alexandria (the San Francisco or Las Vegas of the Ancient and Early-Christian eras) where she lived a promiscuous existence; often refusing money for her sexual services; though, oddly enough, she frequently supplemented her income by begging and spinning flax. At age 29, as a lark, she went on a bizarre sort of sexual tour of the Middle East, following a religious pilgrimage from Egypt to Jerusalem, by promising free sexual favors to various pilgrims. This strange performance mirrored the wanderings of prostitute troop followers, who provided armies with a paid sexual outlet. Once in Jerusalem, Saint Mary continued her depraved life. Miraculously, while trying to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – she was invisibly barred from going inside. Instantly, she was struck by remorse. Then, through the intercession of Our Lady, she begged Our Lord for forgiveness and desired to reform her life as an ascetic. At the urging of an inner voice, she fled her lurid past and became a desert hermitess.
One of the remarkable aspects of the Saint Mary of Egypt story is that it closely parallels the life of the Biblical Saint Mary Magdalene; the former party girl, who abandoned sin, was a follower of Christ, left the Holy Land for France, and eventually lived out her life as a hermit. On a personal level, besides the similarities to Saint Mary Magdalene, who has played a major role in my own conversion, the obsession Saint Mary of Egypt had with sex took her life in the same exact direction that mine went into. When I learned of her penchant for sometimes giving sex away, I can completely relate; while I hustled, I did the same thing. Though, for a prostitute to give sex away, it seems totally unreal to outsiders, but when you are in that world – it becomes a sort of sick power trip. You see yourself as a God. In your mind, you can deal out sexual favors as a deity grants prayers: to one you listen, to another you do not. Furthermore, her delving into sex-tourism is a completely modern phenomenon: with Western males, and females, traveling to exotic locals for cheap sex with the impoverished locals. To me, her story is only unexpected because it happened over 1,500 years ago. To the contemporary porn-addicted reader, it could be anyone. For that reason, she is a Saint for today.