The Magdalene Receiving Clothes from the Hermit Zosimo

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Giotto, The Magdalene Receiving Clothes from the Hermit Zozimo, First Quarter of the 14th Century

According to St. Saphronius, our friend Zozimo - known as Zosimus to his fellow monks - wasn't always a hermit. In fact, he was an accomplished monk living in Palestine. After spending his entire life in the monastery, "he began to be tormented with the thought that he was perfect in everything and needed no instruction from anyone, saying to himself mentally, 'Is there a monk on earth who can be of use to me and show me a kind of asceticism that I have not accomplished? Is there a man to be found in the desert who has surpassed me?'"

An angelic apparition appeared to him shortly after these thoughts began and prompted him to travel to the River Jordan to join a monastery at its bank. There, he learned they did things a bit differently. For Lent, starting on Forgiveness Sunday, each monk bundled up a few provisions and ventured out into the desert to "[struggle] with himself before the Judge of the struggle." Zozimo's first journey into the Negev desert was quite eventful.

"And as he sang thus without turning his eyes from the heavens, he suddenly saw to the right of the hillock on which he stood the semblance of a human body. At first he was confused thinking he beheld a vision of the devil, and even started with fear. But, having guarded himself with he sign of the Cross and banished all fear, he turned his gaze in that direction and in truth saw some form gliding southwards. It was naked, the skin dark as if burned up by the heat of the sun; the hair on its head was white as a fleece, and not long, falling just below its neck. Zosimas was so overjoyed at beholding a human form that he ran after it in pursuit, but the form fled from him. He followed. At length, when he was near enough to be heard, he shouted:

"Why do you run from an old man and a sinner? Slave of the True God, wait for me, whoever you are, in God's name I tell you, for the love of God for Whose sake you are living in the desert."

"Forgive me for God's sake, but I cannot turn towards you and show you my face, Abba Zosimas. For I am a woman and naked as you see with the uncovered shame of my body. But if you would like to fulfil one wish of a sinful woman, throw me your cloak so that I can cover my body and can turn to you and ask for your blessing."

Here terror seized Zosimas, for he heard that she called him by name. But he realized that she could not have done so without knowing anything of him if she had not had the power of spiritual insight.

He at once did as he was asked. He took off his old, tattered cloak and threw it to her, turning away as he did so. hSe picked it up and was able to cover at least a part of her body. The she turned to Zosimas and said:

"Why did you wish, Abba Zosimas, to see a sinful woman? What do you wish to hear or learn from me, you who have not shrunk from such great struggles?"

Zosimas 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!" "

The story diverges here. According to the New Testament, Mary Magdalene became a disciple of Jesus and was absolved of her sins. However, St. Saphronius tells a different story. He claims that Mary Magdalene - or Mary of Alexandria; sometimes speculated to be a completely different person - had a religious experience on the day of the Feast of the Cross at a church in Jerusalem prompting her to take off towards the River Jordan to live her life in the desert. The Mary Zozimo meets has been wandering the desert for 47 years. Giotto definitely gives her a face lift, or two.

- Excerpts from The Great Canon, the Work of Saint Andrew of Crete

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