Commemorated February 12
The outcome of every affliction endured for the sake of virtue is joy, of every labour rest, and of every shameful treatment glory; in short, the outcome of all sufferings for the sake of virtue is to be with God, to remain with Him for ever and to enjoy eternal rest. - Saint Maximos the Confessor
First Century of Various Texts, The Philokalia
Our righteous mother Mary was born in Bithynia, in northwest Asia Minor, or what is now Turkey. She was the only daughter of pious and God-fearing parents. Her mother died when Mary was still a young girl, and she was raised by her father, Eugenios. When Mary came of age, her father decided to enter a monastery, leaving Mary his property and all his possessions. But Mary protested:
"My father, you want to go to a monastery to save your soul. Can it be that you have less concern for the salvation of my soul? You know what the Lord said in the Gospel: The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:11). Whoever saves another man's soul gives it life." Mary burst into tears. Seeing that her heart also longed for the spiritual life, Eugenios rejoiced. But he found himself in a quandary. "My beloved daughter," he said, "I do not know what to do with you. You are a woman, and I am going to a men's monastery. How can you live there with me? The devil might use you to lead someone into sin." "Father, I will not go to the monastery as a woman. I will cut my hair and put on men's clothing; no one will know that I am a woman." The blessed Eugenios approved her idea. He gave away his entire estate, distributing it among the poor, orphans, and widows. Then he cut his daughter's hair and gave her men's clothes, cautioning her carefully to conceal her female identity.
"You know that women are not permitted in a men's monastery. You will be among men as if in a fire. Guard your virginity. If we fulfill our vows, we will inherit the kingdom of heaven."
Eugene gave his daughter the name Marius, and together they entered a monastery. They both began to struggle in company with the other monks. Day by day, Marius advanced in virtue, distinguishing herself by her exemplary obedience and humility, always striving for greater spiritual struggles. Several years passed. Seeing that Marius did not grow a beard and that his voice remained quite high, some monks assumed that he must be a eunuch. Others thought that this was the result of his strict fasting and other ascetic practices, for Marius ate very little, and even that only every other day. In this way his true identity remained concealed.
It was not many years before the righteous Eugene departed this life, and the young monk Marius was left an orphan. She intensified her ascetic struggle still more, exhausting her body with many labors and self-denial. By God's grace, she progressed in the virtues to such an extent that she received power over wicked spirits. People possessed with evil spirits were frequently brought to her. The saint laid her hands on them and with prayer expelled the evil spirits, and the possessed came into their right minds.
There were some forty monks at that monastery. Each month four brothers were sent to work in the gardens, located some distance from the monastery proper. En route, both on their way and on their return journey, they would stop to spend the night at an inn. The innkeeper was always glad to welcome the monks and reserved a special room for them.
The enemy of mankind, unable to bear the virtuous life of the young ascetic, her love for God, her zeal in labors and monastic struggles, and her steadfast endurance, rose up against her. He cunningly devised the following stratagem.
One day the abbot of that monastery summoned the monk Marius and said to him: "Brother Marius, I know your virtuous life, I know that you practice obedience, and therefore you will not refuse my behest: Go this time with the brothers to the gardens. Some of the monks are offended that you always stay here in the monastery and never go to work in the gardens. That work is necessary to the monastery. Go, my child, and the all-good God will reward you generously, for He Himself did not refuse to serve His disciples."
On hearing this, Marius fell down before the abbot and said, "Bless me, honorable father. I will go as you direct."
And Marius left for the gardens together with three other monks. En route he spent the night in the aforementioned inn. Now, the innkeeper of that establishment had a grown daughter who became pregnant by a soldier who had spent the night there. The latter told her to tell her parents that it was Marius who had seduced her. When the innkeeper heard this, he was outraged. He went to the monastery and angrily demanded to see Marius. "Where is that evil and fake Christian who passes himself off as a monk?"
The monastery steward came out to greet him.
"At last you have come, and welcome. But why are you so upset, what are you yelling about? Pray calm down."
"Cursed be the hour that I made my acquaintance with your monastery. Woe is me! What misfortune has visited me! What am I to do?"
The abbot, hearing the commotion, called the innkeeper and asked him what had happened, what had grieved him, and what he wanted.
"What do I want?" asked the innkeeper. "I want never to see any of your monks or to talk with any of them ever again."
When the abbot asked what reason he had for saying this, the innkeeper replied, "I had an only daughter. I thought that she would be my consolation in my old age, and just look what Marius has done to her, Marius, whom you consider to be such a good and moral Christian. He seduced my daughter and she is pregnant."
The abbot was stunned.
"What can I do? Marius is not here; he has not yet returned from the gardens. When he comes I will immediately expel him from the monastery." It was not long before the monks returned from their work in the monastery gardens. The abbot summoned Marius at once.
"Is this the kind of life you lead, brother? Is this how you struggle in the ascetic life? Spending the night at the inn, you seduced the innkeeper's daughter, and she is now pregnant. Her father came here and castigated us because of you."
On hearing this, Marius fell down before the abbot and said: "Father, forgive me, a sinner, for God's sake. I have sinned as a man." Then the abbot, burning with indignation, expelled Marius from the monastery in shame and dishonor.
Expelled from the monastery, the innocent Marius settled outside the monastery gates; there he sat, stripped of his monastic garb, enduring whatever the weather brought, whether heat or cold. Those entering or leaving the monastery asked him,
"Why is it, father, that you are sitting here, enduring such deprivations?" "I have sinned," explained Marius, "and for this reason I have been expelled from the monastery."
Meanwhile, the innkeeper's daughter gave birth to a baby boy. The father took the infant and came to the monastery. Finding Marius sitting at the gates, he threw the infant in front of him and left.
Taking the baby, Marius lamented:
"Alas, I am cursed and rejected. Truly I, a wretch, have received this penalty according to my deeds. But why should this poor baby suffer and die on my hands?"
Marius began asking shepherds for milk, and in this way was able to feed the baby. Now, in addition to enduring the elements, the scoffing of passersby, and utter poverty, he had to care for this child - not an easy task in his situation. Often the baby soiled his clothes, but the holy
Marius endured all this without murmuring, and only gave gratitude to God. Three years passed, and the brethren began to feel sorry for Marius. They gathered together and went to the abbot.
"Reverend father, Marius has sufficiently repented. We ask you, receive him back into the monastery. After all, he admitted his sin before the entire brotherhood, and he has given proof of his penitence."
When the abbot resisted their request, the monks added: "If you do not receive brother Marius back into the monastery, we will all leave. After all, how can we ask the Lord to forgive us our sins if we ourselves do not forgive the sins of our brother, who has been suffering for three years already, without any shelter, in front of the gates of our monastery."
"The sin which Marius committed," said the abbot, "makes him unworthy of reentering the monastery. However, for the sake of your love and your petition, I will receive him."
Calling Marius into the presence of the assembled brotherhood, the abbot said to him:
"Brother, because of the sin you committed, you are unworthy of taking your former place among the brothers. However, for the sake of their love, I am giving you the last place in the monastery. From now on you are to consider yourself to be the least of monks."
With tears Marius said to the abbot, "Honorable father, it is already a great thing for me that you allow me to enter the monastery, where I can serve the brethren."
On receiving Marius, the abbot assigned him to the most difficult and menial tasks. The saint undertook the work with great diligence and compunction of heart. The little boy followed him everywhere and called him father. Meanwhile, Saint Marius did not neglect the child's upbringing. As he grew older, the boy, by the prayers of his supposed father, began to progress in the spiritual life, in humility and prayer. He was beloved by the rest of the brethren for his virtue and entered their ranks as a monk. But this occurred already after the blessed repose of the holy Marius, which happened on this wise.
Christ saw the faith and patient endurance of His bride, who, laboring on His behalf in the guise of a man, endured such great misfortune and undeserved suffering. And the Lord desired to console her in her sorrows and give her repose from her many labors and settle her in the mansions of paradise.
By God's will, she reposed in her cell, and no one knew about it. (The holy one departed this life in the year 508.) When the abbot noticed that Marius had not come to church for three days, nor to his obediences, he asked the monks:
"I have not seen Marius for three days. He is always the first to come for services, and he is not here. Go to his cell; perhaps he has taken ill." The brothers went and found that Marius had given his soul to the Lord. Next to him sat the boy, weeping. The brothers hastened to inform the abbot that Marius had died.
"His soul has left his body," said the abbot. "What answer," he wondered, "will he give the Lord concerning his sins?"
He told the brethren to prepare Marius' body for burial, according to custom. As they did so, the monks were shocked to discover that here was the body of a woman. "Lord, have mercy!" they cried. The abbot himself, on seeing this wonder, fell to the ground and kissed the saint's feet.
"Forgive me, Lord Jesus Christ," he exclaimed, "for having sinned unwittingly in bringing such hardship upon Thy holy and pure bride." To the saint he said, loudly lamenting, "Here at your honorable feet I will die if you do not first forgive me for having caused you such grief." Suddenly there was a voice from heaven:
"Had you done this knowingly, it would not be forgiven you, but since you sinned unknowingly your sins are now forgiven."
The abbot arose and sent at once for the innkeeper. When the latter arrived, the abbot informed him that Marius had died. "May God forgive his sin," exclaimed the innkeeper.
"Repent, brother," broke in the abbot, "for you have sinned against the Lord, and what you told me led me to sin as well. Marius is - a woman!" The innkeeper was stupefied. Led to where the body of the blessed Mary lay, the innkeeper began to sob and repent of the anger he had harbored against the saint.
Later, the abbot and the other monks, with the singing of funeral hymns, placed the virgin body of the pure bride of Christ in a specially prepared grave there in the monastery. The innkeeper's daughter also came and confessed the whole truth of the matter. She had been tormented by an evil spirit, and when she was brought to the grave of the holy Mary, the evil spirit departed from her at once, and she was healed. On seeing this miracle, everyone present glorified the most merciful God and His holy handmaid Mary, who, unbeknownst to all, had preserved the secret unto death and had endured so much for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Let us also, brethren, emulate her steadfastness and patience. Then we, too, will receive in the future life grace from our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory and dominion together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and every and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Translated and adapted from Izbranniye Zhitiya Sviatikh Zhon, Russian Orthodox Youth Committee, New York, 1997.[OA/_private/oabot.htm]