St Zosimas was a pretty shit-hot monk, and he knew it. He was assiduous in his study of the Scriptures, faithful in his devotion to the Lord and tireless in helping his fellow monks. Yet he felt a nagging sense that something was missing. Had he really mastered so easily what the Lord was asking of him? Was there no teacher who could stretch him further?
Zosimas got his answer when he was called to leave his monastery and go into the desert near the River Jordan. For three weeks he walked into the unpopulated wastes, searching for the one who would show him what he'd been missing; and when he found her, he almost ran away.
After living alone in the desert for year after year, Mary's clothes had long since gone, and her modesty was preserved only by her immensely long, grey hair. She was fearful of the newcomer, but Zosimas eventually persuaded Mary to tell him the extraordinary story of her fall and repentance.
As a young woman, Mary had been the archetypal 'happy hooker'. Passing curiousity led her to join pilgrims on board a ship travelling to the Holy Land, saying 'I have a body and that will serve as both fare and food for me.' Yet when she reached the doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, she found her way barred by an invisible force. Realising the sinfulness of her ways, she broke down and prayed to the Virgin Mary, who instructed her to go to the desert and spend her life in repentance.
Zosimas was the first human being she had seen in many years, and she greeted him by name despite never having met him. Having calmed his fears, she then begged him to grant her Holy Communion; yet, ultimately, it was Zosimas who would profit most from their meeting.