Category Archives: Saints of OPF

Cover stories of saints; other content focused on specific saints and/or their lives; OPF “patron saints; does not include general content about saints or saintliness or theosis or virtues/virtuous living

St. Elizabeth the New Martyr: from Palace to Mine Shaft

by Lily Emilia Clerkx

Elizabeth Feodorovna was born in 1864, a German Hessian princess. Her maternal grandmother was Queen Victoria. At age 20, Elizabeth married Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, brother of Czar Alexander III. She at once began to study the Russian language in order to become familiar with the culture and religion of her adopted homeland. She and her husband lived on a country estate in Ilinskoe, near Moscow, and there attended church regularly. It was here that young Elizabeth, shocked by the poverty of the peasants, first began her response to the poor. Aware that many children died soon after birth, Elizabeth convinced her husband to bring a midwife to serve the district.

In 1891 Elizabeth announced her decision to become Orthodox, assuring her Lutheran father that she had not been pressured by her husband, but was taking this step of her own free will. Her decision was not a response to the “outer charms” of the Church, she assured her brother, but rather was due to “pure conviction — feeling [Orthodox Christianity] to be the highest religion.”

Czar Alexander III appointed her husband governor of Moscow, after which the couple moved to the city. Elizabeth now had many social obligations — attending balls and concerts, receiving guests — but also visiting hospitals, old age homes, orphanages and prisons. Each day she was confronted by the enormous contrast between the luxury of court life and the terrible poverty in which large sections of the population lived. Putting her large income to good use, she did all that was in her power to alleviate the suffering of the poor.

In 1894 Nicholas, heir to the throne, became engaged to Elizabeth’s younger sister, Alice. Elizabeth rejoiced at her coming to Russia and did all she could to help her sister prepare for her role as empress. Unfortunately this could not be done gradually. The same year Czar Alexander III died suddenly. The following day Princess Alice was received into the Orthodox Church and was given the name of Alexandra Feodorovna. Her marriage to Nicolas took place a week later.

At the end of the 19th century, many changes were taking place as a consequence of industrialization, the rapid growth of an impoverished urban working class, and the growing influence of Western ideas. Many lived in expectation of social reform when the new czar was crowned. Nicholas, however, though a gentle and compassionate man, held fast to his belief in absolute monarchy.

In rapid succession four daughters were born to the imperial couple, and finally, in 1904, a son, a successor to the throne. Unfortunately it was soon apparent that he suffered from hemophilia.

During the war with Japan in 1904, Elizabeth organized relief for soldiers. Taking possession of halls in the Kremlin Palace, she set up workshops where thousands of women worked at sewing machines and packing tables, gathering clothes, food, medicines, gifts, icons and prayer books to be sent the front.

War enthusiasm quickly turned to war bitterness as reverse followed reverse in the contest with Japan. As casualty lists arrived from the front, social tensions rose sharply. There was increasing poverty and hunger, as well as renewed activity to promote social reform. Protests, strikes and terrorist actions were met with increased police and military repression. There were also plots to murder members of the royal family.

On February 4, 1905, with a climate of revolution gripping the city, Grand Duke Sergei was assassinated when a bomb was hurled into his carriage. Elizabeth hastened to the place of the tragedy and knelt by the mutilated body of her husband and embraced it. On the day of the funeral, she arranged that free meals be served to the poor of Moscow. Three days later, Elizabeth secretly visited the imprisoned murderer of her husband. She offered forgiveness on her husband’s behalf, begging him to repent of his sin and to seek a pardon. The man, however, regarded his act as a virtuous deed. Elizabeth left a Bible and an icon in his cell. Czar Nicholas rejected her plea for mercy. Eventually the man was hanged. Elizabeth had a large crucifix erected over the place of her husband’s death, with the text, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Affliction brought about a profound change in Elizabeth’s soul. She withdrew from social life, renounced luxury, and no longer ate meat. Her bedroom in the Nicholas Palace was done over in such austerity that it resembled a nun’s cell. She opened a hospital in Ilinskoe where she herself served men who had been injured in the war, then opened another small hospital in Moscow.

Two-thirds of her jewelry she gave away; the rest was used to buy a property with five buildings at Ordynka on the far side of the Moscow River where she resolved to found a religious community for women who would serve the poor.

She dedicated the community to Saints Martha and Mary in the hope that the sisters would “combine the lofty destiny of Mary — given to hear words of eternal life — with Martha’s service to Our Lord through the least of His brethren.” The community’s rule drew inspiration from the words of the Savior: “I was hungry and you fed me . . . sick and you cared for me.”

Elizabeth moved into a few simply furnished rooms. For several years she was busy furnishing the buildings so they could function as a church, hospital, polyclinic, a home for the nuns, school, orphanage, library, and priest’s residence. From the beginning, she made herself available to every person in need.

She hoped her work might help revive the ancient institution of deaconess: women ordained to carry on merciful service. Since her vision of religious life differed from what was then customary in Russia, which placed its stress on monastic withdrawal from the world, at first she did not receive the approval of the church authorities; one bishop accused her of Protestant tendencies. Finally Czar Nicholas II signaled his support with an imperial decree. The Church Synod gave its endorsement of the community’s typicon. (The Czar’s sympathy had not been easily obtained. From letters Elizabeth wrote to her brother-in-law, it is clear he found her vocational decision hard to accept. As she wrote to him: “Forgive me living differently than you would have wished, forgive that I cannot often come to see you [in St. Petersburg] because of my duties here. Forgive … and pray for me and my work.”)

On February 10, 1909, Elizabeth’s took off her widow’s habit and put on the robes of the Sisters of Love and Mercy. At the same time she was officially appointed Abbess of the community — only six women at the time. On the occasion she said, “I am leaving the brilliant world where I occupied a high position, and now, together with all of you [my sisters], I am about to ascend into a much greater world, the world of the poor and afflicted.”

Gradually more sisters joined the community. Their spiritual father was the greatly revered priest, Father Mitrofan Serebrenski, who moved with his wife into the priest’s house.

The daily schedule resembled that of a monastery: Liturgy, vespers and matins were celebrated daily, and on Saturday, the vigil. An akathist was prayed four times a week. The nuns’ tasks were to nurse the sick, visit the poor, and care for children. They also were given an education. While organizing the work, receiving guests, and writing many letters, each day Mother Elizabeth helped attend to the sick, sometimes staying at a bedside until dawn. She lived in strict accordance with the rule and was obedient to her spiritual father. Her life was a sober one and she prayed a great deal, with the Jesus Prayer at its core. Though her life was ascetic, she took pains to reassure relatives that she was in no way harming herself. “Some kindhearted busybodies are afraid I will end by breaking down my health, don’t eat enough, don’t sleep enough …. That is not true. I sleep eight hours, I eat with pleasure, I feel physically marvelous, well and strong.”

Since the turbulent years following the uprising of 1905, Russia’s circumstances had gradually become calmer. The Czar’s power was curtailed with the establishment of a State Duma. A number of civil rights were recognized. After 1910 the economy began to recover. Production increased, foreign companies invested in Russia, farming land was reclaimed in Siberia. Such stars of the Russia opera, theater, and ballet as Chaliapin, Pavlova and Diaghilev were acclaimed at home and abroad.

The Convent of Martha and Mary also flourished. The best medical specialists of Moscow worked at the free hospital. There was an orphanage and a soup kitchen. Mother Elizabeth herself went into the poorest neighborhoods, offering care and education in the convent to abandoned children who had been living on the street. Though the economy was improving, poverty was greater than ever. Every year in Moscow, thousands of babies were abandoned.

News of the outbreak of the First World War caused her to weep; she saw in it the destruction of Russia. When the casualties began to arrive, Mother Elizabeth and her growing community devoted themselves to the care of the wounded. Russian troops suffered staggering losses.

Mother Elizabeth kept in contact with the imperial family by mail. Her relationship with her sister, however, was strained by the Rasputin affair. The Czarina felt personally responsible for her son’s incurable hemophilia, an illness that mothers transmit to their male children. In desperation she consulted not only doctors but charlatans. The last was Rasputin, a peasant whom many regarded as a holy man. He alone seemed able to stop the hemorrhages of the Czarevitch. The Czarina saw him as God’s answer to her prayers. In time, through the Czarina’s influence, Rasputin became influential in state affairs.

In this matter Elizabeth again showed great spiritual insight. In vain she implored her sister to free herself of Rasputin, but talks with her sister only resulted in a cooling of their relationship, for the empress credited Rasputin with her son’s survival; she saw Rasputin as a “maligned saint.” Mother Elizabeth’s efforts to speak on this matter with the Czar also failed; he was about to leave for the front and had no time. In these events, Mother Elizabeth foresaw the end of the imperial rule. That same year Rasputin was murdered by members of the nobility, who blamed Russia’s defeats on the front on Rasputin’s influence in St. Petersburg. The situation in Russia was chaotic. There were millions of dead to lament; the economy was in tatters; there was a shortage of food everywhere. Rebellion, strikes, terrorist actions and repression increased.

During the February revolution of 1917, the convent was stormed by an angry mob convinced Mother Elizabeth was a German spy. In response, Father Mitrofan with Elizabeth and her nuns held a moleben in the church. At last the crowd left the convent. Mother Elizabeth was unharmed but her peril was obvious. Several times diplomats offered her a chance to escape, but she refused, determined to share the fate of Russia.

In March 1917, Czar Nicholas abdicated, and shortly thereafter, the family was interned in the Summer Palace. When Mother Elizabeth heard that they were arrested, she said, “This will serve for their moral purification and will bring them closer to God.”

For a few months after the Bolsheviks seized power in October, the Martha and Mary Convent was spared and was even provided with food and medicines, but the sisters no longer went outside. The daily schedule was not changed, although the prayers were longer. During the Liturgy the church was crowded.

Each day saw radical changes. Factories and private property were expropriated. In February the “new” (secular) calendar was introduced. In March the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty was signed. For the first time since the rule of Peter the Great, Moscow became the capital. Red flags were raised over cathedrals. The Czar, his wife and children, a doctor and three servants were deported to Ekaterinburg where they were closely guarded and roughly treated. Resignedly, Nicholas and his family accepted all humiliations.

In April 1918 Mother Elizabeth was arrested. Attempts by Patriarch Tikhon to obtain her release failed. She was taken away with Sister Barbara, who chose to share her abbess’s fate. On the way to prison, she was able to smuggle a letter to the community: “The Lord has found that it is time for us to bear His cross,” she said. “Let us try to be worthy of it. . . .Blessed be the name of the Lord for evermore.” She spent the last months of her life in prison in Alapayevsk, not far from Ekaterinburg. Other members of the Czar’s family and of the imperial household were imprisoned with her.

On July 18, 1918, the day after the Czar and his family were murdered, Mother Elizabeth and the other prisoners with her were thrown alive into an old mine shaft. When the executioners hurled her into the 60-meter pit, they heard her say, “Lord, forgive them, they know not what they do.” Because of ledges and projecting logs, not all died in the fall. A peasant who witnessed what happened said he could hear voices in the shaft singing the Cherubic Hymn from the Holy Liturgy. The executioners threw in one hand grenade, then another.

The following year priests were able to recover the bodies of Elizabeth and Barbara. Two years later, after long wanderings, the coffins were brought to the Russian convent at Gethsemani just outside Jerusalem. In 1991 the martyrs, Grand Duchess Elizabeth and Nun Barbara, were canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church. The feast day of Elizabeth is 5/18 July.

The convent survived for another seven years although the Communist authorities prohibited the community continuing its charitable work. The hospital became a state-run institution. Father Mitrofan and his wife were arrested in 1926 and died in the Gulag.

After the collapse of Communism, many brotherhoods and sisterhoods based on the example of the community of Martha and Mary, were established which are now devoting themselves to health care, relief of the poor and education.

* * *

If we look deep into the life of every human, we discover that it is full of miracles. You will say, “Of terror and death, as well.” Yes, that also. But we do not clearly see why the blood of these victims must flow. There, in the heavens, they understand everything and, no doubt, have found calm and the Truer Homeland — a heavenly Homeland.

We on this earth must look to that Heavenly Homeland with understanding and say with resignation, “Thy will be done.” Completely destroyed now is the “Great Russia without fear or reproach,” but “Holy Russia,” the Orthodox Church, the Church against which “the gates of hell shall not prevail,” exists and exists as never before; and those who believe, who have no doubts, have an “inner sun” that illuminates the darkness of the thundering storm,”

— from a letter of St. Elizabeth to her brother-in-law, the former Czar, when he was living under house arrest in April 1918

* * *

Lily Emilia Clerkx is an iconographer and a member of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship living in Amsterdam. Her essay uses material included in Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia by Lubov Millar, published by the Nikodemos Orthodox Publication Society.

posted: January 27, 1998 / text published in the Theophany 1998 issue of In Communion

Icon: Sergey Proskunov http://www.iconpublish.com

 

Good Reading

Mother Maria Skobtsova: Essential Writings

Orbis Books, 2003, pp 192, $15

ISBN: 1-57075-436-5

edited by Helene Klepinin-Arjakovsky

preface by Olivier Clement, introduction by Jim Forest

Many know the life of Mother Maria thanks to Fr. Serge Hackel’s biography, Pearl of Great Price. Now at last there is a collection in English of some of her the principal essays.

Mother Maria was the first woman to study at the theological academy in Saint Petersburg. She was also a poet of note as well as an artist. Some of her pen drawings are used to illustrate this book. Like so many Russians, the revolution made her a refugee. She finally settled in Paris. Following the death of one of her children, she became a nun but living in the world rather than apart from it. Her life became a ceaseless act of hospitality. During the German occupation, the relentless efforts she and her co-workers made to save Jews and others in danger resulted finally in her arrest and martyrdom.

“Man ought to treat the body of his fellow human beings with more care than he treats his own,” she wrote. “Christian love teaches us to give our fellows material as well as spiritual gifts. We should give them our last shirt and our last piece of bread. Personal almsgiving and the most wide-ranging social work are both equally justified and needed.”

The book’s editor, Hèléne Klepinin-Arjakovsky, is the daughter of Father Dimitri Klepinin, a priest who worked closely with her and, like Mother Maria, died in a German concentration camp. The book’s principal translators are Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, renowned for their new editions of Dostoevsky, Gogol, Chekhov and Bulgakov.

In his preface, Olivier Clément comments: “Mother Maria lived a theology of encounter like that expressed in Matthew 25… She engaged herself fully in history, in organized spiritual resistance that she refused to distinguish from military resistance. But she remained fundamentally Orthodox in her mystical fervor and her love for the crucified and risen Christ, in her understanding of the cross of glory as the central point of history, and in her openness to the dynamism of the Holy Spirit.”

The Way of the Dreamcatcher

by Steve Georgiou

Novalis, 2002, pp 284, $19.95

ISBN 2-89507-244-2

In an exchange with his friend Thomas Merton when they were both university students, Box Lax told Merton the only thing worth aspiring to was sanctity. “How do you expect me to become a saint,” Merton asked. “Just by wanting to,” said Lax.

In 1993 Steve Georgiou, while visiting Patmos, happened to meet Lax. By then Lax had been living a hermit’s life on Patmos for many years. An enduring friendship took root between the young visitor and the old man. This book is a record of some of their conversations, the main theme of which could be summed up as sanctity.

Many readers will be drawn to this book by Lax’s haunting poetry. (The most recent collection is Circus Days and Nights, published last year just after Lax’s death.) Others will find their way to the poetry thanks to the conversations Georgiou “ an OPF member “ shares with his readers in this lovely book.

“Prayer is a way of sending out love everywhere at once,” Lax said. “When we forgive ourselves and each other, things that interfere with the flow of holiness dissolve.

Post-Holocaust theology

The relevance of Western post-Holocaust theology to the thought and practice of the Russian Orthodox Church

a paper given at the second conference on ‘Theology after Auschwitz and the Gulag’ (St Petersburg 1998)

by Sergei Hackel

published in Sobornost 20:1 (1998); Sobornost is the journal of the Fellowship of Saints Alban and Sergius (1 Canterbury Rd., Oxford OX2 6LU, England UK; fax +44-1865: 316700; +44-1865: tel 552991; e-mail: [email protected])

It was more than thirty years ago, but I remember her well, or at least I remember her feelings well. She had come to her hotel administrator’s desk in the centre of Moscow, and she had passed the Moscow synagogue en route. She had noticed a goodly gathering of people at the entrance. She had not found this disturbing. If you have a synagogue, then people must pass in and out. No, what she found offensive was their good cheer and their laughter. How can they dare to laugh on our streets, she asked me fiercely, when it was they who caused the Germans to invade?

At least she knew that Jews were special victims. This was not officially admitted even during wartime. On the contrary, the facts were craftily disguised or denied. No one will forget the official reluctance to commemorate Babii Iar. Even when a memorial was finally erected it avoided mention of up to 70,000 Jewish victims by reference to ‘Soviet citizens’ who had perished there. Earlier, a unique monument to Jewish victims of the Nazis which the Jews of Ponary (Lithuania) had dared to erect at the end of the war was simply destroyed (1952).

Nor were the Soviet authorities any less restrictive when the war was still in progress. In vain did Solomon Mikhoels try to arrange for mention of specifically Jewish casualties by the Soviet media as the holocaust proceeded.(1)

There was a rare gathering in Moscow of 3000 people in March 1944 when Mikhoels, Feffer and Ehrenburg were able to speak openly about Jewish sufferings. Ilia Ehrenburg and Vasilii Grossman nearly broke the official silence by the preparation of a comprehensive book on these sufferings, which was even set in type. But in 1948 the book was suppressed and all the printing plates destroyed.(2)

A symposium on the subject of this silence (which curiously did not extend to every novel in the period) was published by the Z. Gitelman last year (1997).(3)

Gitelman’s work demonstrates how thoroughly the programme was conducted. In effect it was a silent counterpart to the Nazi massacres. For both sides sought to display a world which was Judenrein, ‘free of Jews’.

It was never easy to find words for the sufferings of the Shoah, that Tremendum, to borrow Arthur Cohen’s term. But here were not only survivors who found difficulty in expressing their experience. Here was a whole social system which dismissed or distorted it.

In due course there was an additional reason for suppressing memories of Jewish massacres. A proportion of the local Slavic population (and not only Slavic) participated in the extermination of their Jewish neighbours. The Nazis themselves liked to emphasise such things in their reports. One of these, referring to the killing of 229 Jews in Khmel’nik, speaks of an event which alone might explain Jewish distrust in such post-Shoah dialogues and reconciliations as I shall be discussing later. Einsatzkommando 5 reported in 1941 that ‘the reaction of the population here in Khmel’nik to the delivery from the Jews was so strong that it resulted in a thanksgiving service’ (presumably, a moleben).(4)

The role of experience

In our discussions last year there was a natural division of our inquiries. When we spoke of theology ‘after Auschwitz’ our concerns were largely based on western and central Europe. The peoples of the former ussr had their own experience over a much longer period, which we designated ‘gulag’. In the process, we largely ignored the vast numbers of people in the Soviet Union who also experienced Nazi rule. So we ignored the Shoah as something which was experienced by our immediate forebears, whether Jews or Gentiles. It is only by redressing that balance that we might face problems of the post-Auschwitz period as our own in the simplest most ‘domestic’ sense. If the preceding centuries could have allowed any one of us Orthodox to sing in that Khmel’nik moleben we have to ask with particular urgency how that could ever come to be, and –even more important — how recurrence must for ever be prevented. Not that absence from the moleben would have been much better. Passivity provides no answers to urgent moral problems. At Khmel’nik and countless other such places the only Christian response to the anguish of the Jews should have been to risk one’s own well-being, even one’s life, in support or defense of the victim.

Could righteous gentiles point the way?

The Israeli authorities have taken the lead in perpetuating the memory of those non-Jews who risked and often lost their lives in the defence of Jewish victims of the Shoah. They are known as righteous gentiles. Each righteous gentile is commemorated with a tree on the outskirts of Jerusalem at Yad Vashem.

Where are the equivalent trees in Russia? Or at least the lists of righteous gentiles? The thoughtful but ill-fated speech which Patriarch Aleksii ii delivered to a largely Jewish audience in New York (it was in 1991) at least touched on the subject. He was able to mention just one Kievan priest, Aleksii Glagolev, as an example of self-sacrificing work in this sphere. He might also have mentioned Fr Aleksii’s wife, Tatiana, since they worked together. In any event, both husband and wife survived. The patriarch also mentioned two persons who were martyred, a priest and a nun. But both of these had to be borrowed from the martyrologies of the Russian emigration: Fr Dimitrii Klepinin (1900-44) and Mother Maria Skobtsova (1891-1945). It cannot be and should not be the case that no further names of Russians, Belorussians or Ukrainians are waiting to be added to this so far humble list.(5)

Rather should we endeavour to enrich it, and so enrich ourselves. Oral historians should hasten with this task to amplify the archives. And these themselves may well have failed to yield their treasures since the appropriate questions were not being asked.

Many opportunities were missed, and deliberately missed, in earlier times. Thus on 2 November 1941 a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Nikolai Iarushevich, was invited by its atheist (albeit formally Orthodox) persecutor Stalin to take part in the Soviet state commission charged with the investigation of Nazi war crimes in the occupied territories of the ussr. He was also required to express his outrage at the invaders’ bestial acts. In the process he was to dwell almost exclusively on anti-Orthodox outrages, in line with Soviet propaganda needs. But the mass-extermination of the Jews was not to be discussed by him. So neither could he draw attention to any of the righteous gentiles.

He stands in stark contrast to Metropolitan Andrei Szeptycki. of the Greek Catholic Church in Nazi-occupied L’vov. In 1942, ignoring all risks to his position and his life, he did not hesitate to confront the Nazi leadership with an unprecedented and utterly unvarnished protest against the treatment accorded to the Jews. For he addressed himself to Hitler and also, separately, to Himmler. Among other things he issued a heartfelt pastoral letter to his flock, ‘Thou shalt not kill’.(6)

Here was a righteous gentile of the first order, who also risked his life in sheltering potential victims of the Shoah under his own roof. Likewise he encouraged his Greek Catholic monastic communities to offer their support. All this needs to be acclaimed and pondered.

Difference in apprehension

As we learn more about the Shoah east of Poland, the image of the Shoah as something rooted and developed in the west will be dispersed. In the process we could give room for a creative reassessment of the past, and allow the Shoah, even now, to act as catalyst. This could redefine our potential and transform our expectations. Jew and Gentile might be enabled and encouraged to relate to one another with new openness and commitment, not least the Jew and the Orthodox Christian of the former ussr.

Decades of censorship and news-management in the former ussr have not only prevented Jews and Christians from taking this plunge. They have also prevented citizens of the ussr (as they then were) from gaining a proper under-standing, even any understanding, of western developments in this sphere.

Yet it is these very developments which demonstrate the potential for post-Shoah reassessment of inherited and age-old attitudes to Jewish-Christian relations. It is gratifying to report that such reassessment has involved many different Churches in the west in recent decades, many. But I need to be selective. So I shall limit my remarks to the Roman Catholic Church.

These remarks in turn will prompt me to turn to the Orthodox Church, and to the Russian Orthodox Church in particular, seeking to establish what comparable developments might be encouraged there.

‘Might be encouraged’, I say, as if we were free to accept or deny other proposals which sound equally valid. In fact we may find that our choices emerge as moral imperatives. And we would ignore them at our peril.

The making of Nostra aetate

Similar imperatives were faced by the Roman Catholic Church in modern times, and even in advance of the Shoah. But it was the Shoah which contributed the most powerful motivation. For it is after the Shoah that ‘we have to make every effort of cleansing Catholic thought of any residue of religious anti-Judaism or anti-semitism’, as Cardinal Willebrands has recently noted. And this is ‘because we have seen the abyss of horror into which hatred for the Jewish people exploded in our midst in Europe’.(7)

But it was not only because this abyss of horror had been seen: it was also because the Catholic world was accepting responsibility for teachings and attitudes which helped to provide the context, even the ‘justification’ (in inverted commas) for the horror. Had not a Catholic bishop in Slovakia responded to the personal appeals of a rabbi and his people in 1942 as they faced the threat of ‘deportation to the east’ with words about the justice of their plight?

It is not just a matter of deportation. You will not die there of hunger and disease. They will slaughter all of you, old and young alike, women and children at once. It is the punishment you deserve for the death of our Lord and Redeemer.(8)

The Second Vatican Council of the years 1962-5 sought to eradicate the words and concepts which could lead to this kind of un-christian, indeed anti-christian, withdrawal of love from people. And any suggestion that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus — the Jews collectively at the time and, even more outrageously, the Jews collectively for ever — was soon to be dismissed. Likewise withdrawn was the all-too-familiar accusation of deicide.

For so many centuries, and even in our own [insisted the bishop of Texas at the council], Christians have hurled this word against the Jews, and because of it they have justified every kind of horrid excess, […] even their slaughter and destruction. It is not up to us to make a declaration about something philosophical but to […] damn a word which has furnished so many occasions of persecution through the centuries. We must tear this word out of the Christian vocabulary so that it can never again be used against the Jews.(9)

In any case the term is inappropriate, argued Cardinal Bea in an anonymous article which he wrote on the eve of the council, when it seemed no longer certain that the question of the Jews would find its due place on the agenda. Not least is it inappropriate since ‘the circle of true actors in the drama [of Christ’s crucifixion] is restricted [and] the Jews who then lived dispersed throughout the world cannot be accused of the grave crime of deicide, still less their descendents through history’. But it is inappropriate most of all since the alleged perpetrators must have ‘acted in ignorance’ (and these words are attributed to St Peter [Acts3:17]): according to St Paul these same perpetrators ‘did not recognise Jesus, or understand the words of the prophets […]’ (Acts 13:27).

In any case, as Bea hastens to point out, ‘deicide can only be imputed to those who committed it [while] knowing clearly the divine-human nature of Christ.(10) Whereas the apostles themselves lacked clear knowledge of his nature even at a later stage.

In the event, the council’s impressively compact decree on the subject, Nostra aetate, was less concerned with problems of the past than with prospects for the future. These prospects were enhanced by the overwhelming support which it gained at Vatican ii — no less than 1763 voters were in favour, 250 against.

Thus the decree became part of that wide-ranging aggiornamento which the future Pope John xxiii had already anticipated in 1957. ‘You have probably heard the word aggiornamento repeated many times’, he had written to his then diocese of Venice. ‘Well, Holy Church, who is ever youthful, wants to be in a position to understand the diverse circumstances of life so that she can adapt, correct, improve and be filled with fervour’.(11)

By way of a corollary it could be said that without the necessary adaptation, correction and improvement, fervour could be lacking and faith itself distorted or depleted. As to the diverse circumstances of life which demand the understanding of the Church, these could not but include the Shoah, the anguish and the decimation of the Jews.

Dialogue

The Nostra aetate deliberations and decisions had their own internal logic and justification. But it is important to note that they are also the fruit of dialogue with at least one representative of the Jewish people. Indeed, had not a Jewish scholar suggested that such a project was desirable it might not have proceeded at the time or pace that it did. It is particularly gratifying to us at this conference that the Jewish scholar in question, Professor Jules Isaac (1877-1964), was acting on behalf of the International Council of Christians and Jews (iccj), one of the major sponsors of our present meeting. Moreover, it was an agreed statement from the first iccj conference of 1947 which he put before Pope John xxiii at their fateful meeting of 13 June 1960: this was itself the fruit of inter-religious dialogue.

No sooner had Pope John received the document than he passed it into the hands of his trusted friend Cardinal Augustin Bea, the first president of his new secretariat for promoting Christian unity. The dialogue was to continue. By October that year, Cardinal Bea had arranged a meeting with the president of the World Jewish Congress, Nahum Goldmann. And Bea was to be the principal promoter of Nostra aetate and all that followed from it (1965).

I stress the idea of dialogue since it is an important element in the preliminary procedures. But it is an equally important element in the proposals and the promise of the council’s text itself. Having established (in the council’s words) that ‘the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is […] so great, this sacred synod wishes to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit above all of biblical and theological studies, and of brotherly dialogues’.(12)

The dialogue and its effect

The Christian-Jewish dialogue proceeds until this moment, and we ourselves take part in it. In the Catholic world it was realised early in the day that it must be wide-ranging, if not all-embracing, that its success must depend on the careful definition of concerns and targets. Cardinal Willebrands was soon to issue Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration Nostra aetate […].(13) That was in 1974.

It was only the first of such documents to guide practitioners into the disparate but equally important areas of discourse, among them (i) dialogue itself, (ii) liturgy, (iii) teaching and education, (iv) joint social action.

The task of all practitioners was made the more difficult and the more necessary by the need to wean each other and oneself from centuries of prejudice and misrepresentation — ‘the past spirit of suspicion, resentment and distrust’ as it was described in a joint Catholic/Jewish statement of 1992.(14)

But every schoolroom through its teacher, just as every parish though its preacher, could benefit from this gigantic undertaking and, moreover, take it one stage further. The remark of Robert Daly to the effect that ‘”Removing anti-Judaism from the pulpit” is, in this post-Holocaust era, one of the most profoundly urgent of Christian tasks’ could be extended to every corner of public life.(15)

All the more impressive is the operation (some of it, in the words of John Pawlikowsky , requires ‘major surgery’)(16) since Roman Catholics, no less than Orthodox, are the heirs and guardians of an immutable deposit of faith. However, in no way should this deposit of faith be treated like the gospel talent which is fearfully buried in the ground. As Pope John xxiii put it in his own words at the inauguration of Vatican ii, ‘Our task is not merely to hoard this precious treasure, as though obsessed with the past, but to give ourselves eagerly and without fear to the task that the present age demands of us — and in so doing we will be faithful to what the Church has done in the last twenty centuries’.(17)

It was in this spirit that the Catholic Church was enabled to reestablish its profound, indeed genetic links with the Jewish world of its Saviour, to bypass the polemics of the first centuries, even though these found their reflection in scripture, and, perhaps most important of all, to reconsider — even to reject — supersessionism. Formerly, it would have been accepted that the Christian Church is the New Israel, which overshadows or displaces the Israel of old. More and more is it realised now that this theory was long ago rejected by its supposed originator, St Paul. ‘Has God cast away his people?’ asked the apostle rhetorically in Romans 11:1, and straightaway dismissed the thought, ‘Of course not!’. For ultimately, as Paul argued, ‘the gracious gifts of God and his call are irrevocable’ (Romans 11:29). Judaism thus has its own integrity, holiness and promise.

The Orthodox perspective

How is any of this heard or heeded in the Russian Orthodox Church? The Church begins with a disadvantage, which I have already described — ignorance of the Shoah. The Shoah as such has therefore not prompted any reassessment of the situation. But there is a second disadvantage. In marked contrast to the positive attitude of the Russian Orthodox hierarchy to the Roman Catholic Church at the time of Metropolitan Nikodim of Leningrad and Novgorod (1929-79), the Moscow patriarchate has little enthusiasm for its sister-Church in the West. Neither the latter’s alleged missionary outreach into Russia, nor its support of Greek/Ukrainian Catholics in the Ukraine have endeared it to the Russian Church. Apart from anything else, the gradual withdrawal of the Moscow patriarchate from ecumenism provides yet another reason for the weakening of links with Rome. So the Catholic developments of which I have spoken remain distant and indistinct for many of its members.

There is another disadvantage, which should also be a challenged: endemic anti-semitism, of which there were powerful reminders at last year’s conference in this city, and not only in the unofficial interventions.

All the more need, therefore, with all these disadvantages, to consider what the Russian Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Church as a whole, might one day reform.

But as I write that word I realise that there is yet one more disadvantage. In contemporary Russian church circles the very word ‘reform’ is itself used with extreme reluctance, not least because the disreputable reformers and renovators (obnovlentsy) of the 1920s and 1930s are then remembered: their reforms were secretly supported by the communist party in order to polarise and diminish the appeal of the patriarchal Church. This is enough to provoke cries of neo-renovationism (neo-obnovlenchestvo) the moment any scrutiny of received tradition is proposed. But this is hardly an argument in itself. Nor is it to the point, since the original obnovlentsy did not concern themselves with Jewish/Christian relations.

Tradition reconsidered

No reform in Orthodox church life would be conceivable without scrupulous consideration of scripture and tradition. But such consideration should not be hampered by unscholarly fears and inhibitions. There is a simplistic tendency to believe that scripture and tradition are both equally immutable, that hardly an iota can be changed or added for fear of heresy and/or damnation. Yet if truth is to be highlighted, safeguarded or restored, no amount of iotas should be allowed to stand in the way. And that regardless of their apparently venerable age.

The iotas are indeed many, and collectively they are therefore important. Some of them must be seen as impediments to a meaningful dialogue between our faiths. Nevertheless it is important not only to identify the negative factors in the situation but to place them in perspective. Certainly, doctors learn from symptoms. But mere suppression of the symptoms will not lead to health.

Exegesis

Even so, certain symptoms need to be discussed. Several of them are to do with limitations in our understanding of the gospel texts. These limitations are of two kinds.

The first involves a superficial or selective reading of the text itself. This allows the reader to conclude that the Jews crucified Christ. In order to do so he needs to ignore vital parts of the narrative concerning Pilate and the Roman administration, whose responsibility it was to sentence and to crucify this special prisoner – like any another, if it comes to that.

But the reader may be helped in this selective reading by the phraseology of books like Acts. Thus, according to Acts 2:36, St Peter speaks on the first Pentecost to a Jewish audience about ‘this same Jesus, whom you crucified’. This ‘you’ is emphatic. Elsewhere in Acts (3:13-15; 4:10; 10:39) its author makes similar assertions. And this despite the fact that he allows the occasional reference to ‘lawless men’, by whose hand the actual deed was done (2:23).(18)

And this brings one to the second type of limitation. Russian Orthodox New Testament scholarship has hardly begun on the task of determining the impact which contemporary disputes made on the writing and editing of sacred texts. Yet here is an example of that impact. The early Christians determined their separateness from Judaism ever more firmly as the first century drew to its close. This may have been a defensive reaction against increasing pressure and persecution of Christians by their former brethren in the Jewish faith.

Hence the repeated (usually negative ) use of the term ‘the Jews’ in the latest of the gospels, that of St John. There are no less than seventy mentions of ‘the Jews’ by him, and nearly half of these are derogatory. Under their influence ill-oriented readers could easily overlook the fact that Jesus himself is a Jew, that his mother is Jewish, that all his apostles (not only Judas) are Jews, that his teaching is deeply rooted in Judaism. As Russian scholarship begins to convey the authentic image of Jesus the Jew to preachers and teachers of this land, the Christian basis for dialogue with Judaism could be rediscovered.

Homilies against the Jews

For the present the teachers and preachers are deflected from taking even the preliminary steps towards such dialogue by those who developed the early, first-century, anti-Judaic polemic into something even more overt and strident.

By the fourth century, Christian rhetoric depended as much on stereotypes as reason. There were many who used this rhetoric to disparage all residual links or sympathy with Judaism or with Jews. A Gregory of Nyssa will not hesitate to speak of the Jews as ‘murderers of the Lord, murderers of prophets, rebels and full of hatred against God [ ]’. Indeed, ‘they resist God’s grace, they repudiate the faith of their fathers’. Thus, they are nothing but ‘confederates of the devil, offspring of vipers […], Sanhedrin of demons, accursed, utterly vile […]’.(19)

But best remembered since most strident is St John Chrysostom in his ‘Homilies against the Jews’ of 386 and 387. In Chrysostom’s submission, it is God himself who has abandoned the Jews, not least because they have crucified his Son. Therefore they were justly punished. ‘You Jews did crucify him,’ he insists. ‘But after he died on the cross, he then destroyed your city […], [and] scattered your nation over the face of the earth’. Let no one harbour delusions about the sacredness of synagogues: ‘God is not worshipped there’. Do Christians not realise, asks Chrysostom, that the synagogue is now nothing other than ‘a brothel, a strong-hold of sin, a lodging-place for demons, a fortress of the devil, the destruction of the soul, the precipice and pit of all perdition […]’? For ‘here the slayers of God gather together […], here God is blasphemed, here is the Father ignored, here the Son is outraged, here the grace of the Spirit is rejected’.(20)

It could be said that Chrysostom’s arguments are slight and that his rhetoric is dated. Furthermore the inter-religious problems of fourth-century Antioch, where he preached, can hardly concern us now. But there is a popular misconception which allows such fathers of the Church to be heeded still, regardless of the obvious limitations of a given set of texts. It is not for simple members of the Church to question the wisdom or sanctity of the fathers, they argue. After all, it is they who determine tradition. Therefore their utterances have a peculiar weight. To all intents and purposes, they are not far short of infallible. So we should not question, let alone dismiss them.

There are two other impediments to dialogue, two different expressions of the anti-Judaic mode of thought. One of these is latent in church life. The other is possibly most prominent of all. Both concern the Orthodox Church as a whole.

Canon law

Orthodox canon is too often taken to have permanent implications and effect. Too little is it realised (notes Archbishop Peter L’Huillier) that it is ‘sometimes only a knowledge of the historical context [which] permits us to affirm that, despite its formulation, a canon law has an application strictly limited to a moment in church history’. Or to a period in church history, one could add.(21)

Hence no one has questioned the retention of the ruling made by the council in Trullo (692) which required the segregation of the Jews and Christians: ‘Let no one […] have any familiar discourse with them [the Jews], nor summon them in illness, nor receive medicine from them, nor bathe with them’.(22)

In no way should Christians recognise their sacred meals, least of all partake of them. According to the mid-fourth-century council of Laodicea, ‘It is not lawful to receive unleavened bread from the Jews or to be partakers in their impiety’.(23)

Liturgical concerns

More serious, since potentially more influential, are the Orthodox services for Holy Week. These provide a poetic gloss to such laws, a liturgical conspect of anti-Judaic thinking in the early Church. The texts date back to the early middle ages and they could be Palestinian in origin. They may be used uncensored to this day.

The matins service for Good Friday gives a particularly convincing picture of Jesus as victim of the Jews, who accordingly deserve the designation ‘deicides’ given to them by the authors of these texts (‘deicidal assembly’ [bogoubiits sobor] or ‘company of deicides’ [bogoubiits sonmishche]).

‘Here is what the Lord says to the Jews’, reads this shameless invention.

My people, what have I done to you? By what means have I dismayed you ? I have given sight to your blind, cleansed your lepers, raised the cripple from his bed. My people, what have I done to you? And by what means have you repaid me? For manna you have given me gall, vinegar in return for water. In return for love you have nailed me to the cross. [you have nailed me to the cross]. I can bear no more. I shall call my nations [=gentiles] and they shall glorify me together with the Father and the Spirit. And to them I shall grant eternal life.(24)

Here is the displacement theory in its fulness. The Jews are the crucifiers and the deicides. And it is the Gentiles who receive eternal life. Meanwhile, as the preceding readings have already urged, the Jews should expect their deserts: ‘recompense them according to their deeds [dazhd’ im Gospodi po delom ikh], for they have vainly arraigned thee’.(25)

All the more regrettable is this petition since it might well have been understood by many of the worshippers: the Slavonic is not so far removed from Russian as it is elsewhere in this linguistically demanding service. It could therefore have been misinterpreted as a simple call for revenge. Although Thursday and Friday of Holy Week were not so often days of violence in pre-revolutionary Russia, there is no doubt that ‘traditionally the worst time for pogroms was Easter’.(26)

This was demonstrated to the full at Kishinev in 1903. But such seasonal pogroms have not ended yet, as was seen last Easter night at the Jewish cemetery of Smolensk. Thus can ill-motivated piety result in evil deeds.

An Orthodox Good Friday service has only the authority which accrues to it through centuries of use. It required no major council of the Church to bring it into play, and it requires no major council to prune it or displace it once for all. Such reforms have sometimes been proposed, not least by the Greek theologian Hamilcar Alivizatos (1960). But the service is with us to this day.

Myths of ritual murder

Finally, who would ever have expected that medieval fears of ritual murder should have survived in our midst? Yet such is the society in which we live and such our Church.

Let me mention two examples of such survivals. It is not easy for the most authentic of the Soviet period’s new martyrs to be canonised. Even so dedicated a man as Metropolitan Petr Polianskii was canonised only last year, sixty years after his execution. As for the canonisation of Mother Maria Skobtsova, it is not even on the agenda. Yet it is many a year since a little-known child, Gavriil, has occupied a place in the Russian Church calendar without any formal canonisation, simply because a plain secular court in the Belostok area decided in 1690 that he had been killed and therefore martyred by the Jews (ot zhidov ubiennyi is the usual phrase for such things). His day is commemorated with enthusiasm year by year in the place where he met his death. The service of the day repeatedly makes mention of the Jews who, so it is alleged, did away with him for ritual reasons of their own.

This is a regrettable survival. But even more regrettable is the indication given by the present chairman of the Holy Synod’s commission on canonisations of the Moscow patriarchate that Jewish ritual murders need not be discounted. For when the question arose in connection with the death of Nicholas ii and his family, the chairman felt bound to consult experts at the Moscow Theological Academy on the subject. He was to receive an ambiguous reply, which went as follows. The trial of Beilis (1913) had ‘failed to prove’ that ritual murders could exist among the Jews. In any case, this particular murder had ‘few of the characteristics’ associated with such killings by those people who [none the less] accept that they take place. Furthermore, ‘nothing is known about the religious affiliations of those participants in the murder whose origins were Jewish’.(27)

In no way can this be treated as a declaration that no such thing exists. And so we have to treat the myth of Jewish ritual murders as yet one more impediment to dialogue between the faiths. The more so since these conclusions were accepted without demur at the Moscow bishops’ council of 1997.

How far to go

We have a long way to go. As yet the Orthodox of Russia have been able to learn little from the Shoah. It has certainly moved them no nearer to the Jewish people. It has given them no insight to the meaning or the beauty of their faith. In the process they have failed to understand the fullness of their own.

We should not say that we lack the prospect of a council open to the Holy Spirit. At any rate, a Great and Holy (=Ecumenical) Council has been promised for some years. Yet we lack the scholarship, humility and persistence to reach beyond familiar norms even in the preparation of the council. Still less are we prepared to consider, let alone to take, hard conciliar decisions in this sphere. For each stage of this process we shall need much daring.

Against the day when we dare to take decisions we should also be prepared to implement them, however arduous that task will be. The Catholic experience is there to guide us in this field. But first we need to dare.

Only if we proceed beyond the various symptoms I have mentioned will we generate this daring. Thirst for recognition of and by the other must play a leading part in this. If only we could take seriously the words of the Greek metropolitan Damaskinos at the conclusion of the third international conference of Jews and Orthodox Christians (1993), would we be moving in the right direction. For [Orthodox] Christianity recognises in ‘the theology, anthropology and cosmology of Judaism basic elements of its own corresponding teaching’, said Damaskinos. And this is confirmed ‘by a sincere respect not only for the Old Testament, but also for the spiritual experience of the chosen people in the divine plan of man’s salvation’.(28) The spiritual experience of the chosen people (as he might have added) which includes the Shoah.

Such beliefs would allow him to appreciate and emulate the gesture of the future pope John xxiii in the days when Nostra aetate could hardly be envisaged. It was 1960, and he was still patriarch of Venice. A delegation of Jews had come to see him. He approached them with poignant words of welcome: ‘I am [Joseph] your brother’.(29) For here were long-lost kinsmen. Here were tears at the prospect of their reconciliation.

endnotes:

1. L. Rapoport, Stalins War against the Jews (New York and Toronto 1990), p.250, n.3 (but Rapoport casts doubts on the story).

2. L. Rapoport, Stalin ‘s War against the Jews (New York and Toronto 1990), p.78. The Ehrenburg/Grossman book, entitled Chernaia kniga, was only to appear in Israel several decades later (Jerusalem 1980). Ukrainian edition (in two volumes), Zaporozhe 1991. ET The Black Book (New York 1981).

3. Z. Gitelman, ed., Bitter Legacy (Indianapolis 1997). Among the novelists who dealt honestly with the plight of the Jews were V. Grossman (1943) and I. Ehrenburg (1948). T. Valednitskaia managed to publish her work on the Lvov ghetto, Solntse s vostoka, in 1946, but its sequel was never to appear.

4. Quoted in R. Headtand, Messages of Murder: A Study of the Reports of the Einsatzgruppen of the Security Police and the Security Service, 194 1–1943 (London and Toronto 1992), p.114.

5. On Glagolev see Chernaia kniga (1991), ii 67–71. On Maria Skobtsova and Dimitrii Klepinin see Sergei Hackel, Pearl of Great Price (London 1981), pp.98–149.

6. Pis’ma-Poslannia Mitropolita Andreia Sheptyts ‘kogo [..]chasiv nimets ‘koi okupatsii (Saskatchewan 1969), pp.222–31.

7. Johannes Cardinal Willebrands, Church and Jewish People (New York and Mahwah, NJ), p.169.

8. Quoted by I. Greenberg, ‘Judaism and Christianity after the Holocaust, Journal of Ecumenical Studies 12 (1975), p.525. The response could perhaps be related to the passage INTERNET: Thessalonians 2:14–16, the authenticity of which is widely doubted.

9. Quoted in J.H. Miller, ed., Vatican II: An Interfaith Appraisal (Notre Dame and London 1966), p.358.

10. Quoted in Willebrands, Church and Jewish People, p.58. 11. Quoted in P. Hebblethwaite, John XXIII: Pope of the Council (London 1984), p.264.

12. Text of Nostra aetate in Willebrands, Church and Jewish People, p.205.

13. Text in Willebrands, Church and Jewish People, pp.211-19.

14. ‘Joint Statement on the Shoah and Antisemitism (Prague 1992) in Willebrands, Church and Jewish People, p.250.

15. H.C. Kee and I.J. Borowsky, ed., Removing Anti-Judaism from the Pulpit (Philadelphia and New York 1996), p.50.

16. Ibid., p.35.

17. Translated (from the original [uncensored] Italian) in Hebblethwaite, John XXIII, p.431.

18. As John Pawlikowsky has noted, ‘Jesus was killed by some Jews and some Romans, but Christians have played up Jewish involvement [..]. Historically, Romans probably had more to do with the death of Jesus than the Christian scriptures lead one to think (quoted in Removing Anti-Judaism from the Pulpit, p.98).

19. PG 46:685.

20. John Chrysostom, Logoi kata Ioudaion v.1, i.3, vi.7 and i.6 (ET P.W. Harkins [1977]).

21. P. LHuillier, The Church of the Ancient Councils: The Disciplinary Work of the First Four Ecumenical Councils (Crestwood NY 1996), p.8.

22. A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, second series, vol.14: The Seven Ecumenical Councils (RP Grand Rapids 1979), p.370.

23. Ibid., p.151.

24. Triodpostnaia (Moscow 1992), matins for Great Friday, antiphon 12 after the fourth gospel reading. Translation into English mine. For ‘deicides see ibid., third sticheron for the beatitudes and ninth canticle of canon, verse 1.

25. Triodpostnaia, antiphon 11 after the fourth gospel reading.

26. P. Kenez, ‘Pogroms and White ideology of the Russian Civil War in J.D. Kiler and S. Lambroza, ed., Pogroms: Anti-Jewish Violence in Modern Russian History (Cambridge 1992), p.306.

27. Doklad o rabote Komissii Sviashchennogo sinoda (MI) po kanonizatstii sviatykh nad voprosom o muchenicheskoi konchine Tsarskoi Sem ‘i: predstavlen Mitropolitom Juvenaliem na zasedanii sinoda 10 oktiabria 1996.

28. Sobornost/ECR 15:2 (1993), p.63.

29. The actual words may not have included the name Joseph (hence the square brackets), but the greeting was preceded by some words about Josephs tearful encounter with his brothers (Genesis 45:4). Hebblethwaite, John XXIII, p.193.

posted August 26, 1998

The Asceticism of the Open Door

by Mother Maria Skobtsova

This is an extract from an essay, “The Second Gospel Commandment,” in Mother Maria Skobtsova: Essential Writings, published by Orbis. The book’s editor is Helene Klepinin Arjakovsky, daughter of Fr. Dmitri Klepinin, co-worker with Mother Maria, who died, as she did, in a concentration camp. The translation is by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

“The sign of those who have reached perfection is this: if ten times a day they are given over to be burned for the love of their neighbor, they will not be satisfied with that, as Moses, and the ardent Paul, and the other disciples showed. God gave His Son over to death on the Cross out of love for His creature. And if He had had something more precious, he would have given it to us, in order thereby to gain humankind. Imitating this, all the saints, in striving for perfection, long to be like God in perfect love for their neighbor.”

“No man dares to say of his love for his neighbor that he succeeds in it in his soul, if he abandons the part that he fulfills bodily, as well as he can, and in conformity with time and place. For only this fulfillment certifies that a man has perfect love in him. And when we are faithful and true in it as far as possible, then the soul is given power, in simple and incomparable notions, to attain to the great region of lofty and divine contemplation.”

These words from St. Isaac the Syrian, both from the Philokalia, justify not only active Christianity, but the possibility of attaining to “lofty and divine contemplation” through the love of one’s neighbor — not merely an abstract, but necessarily the most concrete, practical love. Here is the whole key to the mystery of human relations as a religious path.

For me these are truly fiery words. Unfortunately, in the area of applying these principles to life, in the area of practical and ascetic behavior toward man, we have much less material than in the area of man’s attitude toward God and toward himself. Yet the need to find some precise and correct ways, and not to wander, being guided only by one’s own sentimental moods, the need to know the limits of this area of human relations — all this is very strongly felt. In the end, since we have certain basic instructions, perhaps it will not be so difficult to apply them to various areas of human relations, at first only as a sort of schema, an approximate listing of what is involved.

Let us try to find the main landmarks for this schema in the triune makeup of the human being — body, soul, and spirit. In the area of our serving each of these main principles, ascetic demands and instructions emerge of themselves, the fulfillment of which, on the one hand, is unavoidable in order to reach the goal, and, on the other hand, is beyond one’s strength.

It seems right to me to draw a line here between one’s attitude toward oneself and one’s attitude toward others. The rule of not doing to others what you do not want done to yourself is hardly applicable in asceticism. Asceticism goes much further and sets much stricter demands on oneself than on one’s neighbors.

In the area of the relation to one’s physical world, asceticism demands two things of us: work and abstinence. Work is not only an unavoidable evil, the curse of Adam; it is also a participation in the work of divine economy; it can be transfigured and sanctified. It is also wrong to understand work only as working with one’s hands, a menial task; it calls for responsibility, inspiration, and love. It should always be work in the fields of the Lord.

Work stands at the center of modern ascetic endeavor in the area of man’s relation to his physical existence. Abstinence is as unavoidable as work. But its significance is to some degree secondary, because it is needed mainly in order to free one’s attention for more valuable things than those from which one abstains. One can introduce some unsuitable passion into abstinence — and that is wrong. A person should abstain and at the same time not notice his abstinence.

A person should have a more attentive attitude toward his brother’s flesh than his own. Christian love teaches us to give our brother not only material but spiritual gifts. We must give him our last shirt and our last crust of bread. Here personal charity is as necessary and justified as the broadest social work. In this sense there is no doubt that the Christian is called to social work. He is called to organize a better life for the workers, to provide for the old, to build hospitals, care for children, fight against exploitation, injustice, want, lawlessness.

In principle the value is completely the same, whether he does it on an individual or a social level; what matters is that his social work be based on love for his neighbor and not have any latent career or material purposes. For the rest it is always justified — from personal aid to working on a national scale, from concrete attention to an individual person to an understanding of abstract systems of the right organization of social life. The love of man demands one thing from us in this area: ascetic ministry to his material needs, attentive and responsible work, a sober and unsentimental awareness of our strength and of its true usefulness.

The ascetic rules here are simple and perhaps do not leave any particular room for mystical inspiration, often being limited merely to everyday work and responsibility. But there is great strength and great truth in them, based on the words of the Gospel about the Last Judgment, when Christ says to those who stand on His right hand that they visited Him in prison, and in the hospital, fed Him when He was hungry, clothed Him when He was naked. He will say this to those who did it either on an individual or on a social level.

Thus, in the dull, laborious, often humdrum ascetic rules concerning our attitude toward the material needs of our neighbor, there already lies the pledge of a possible relation to God, their spirit-bearing nature. ❖

A biographical essay about Mother Maria is posted on the OPF web site.

Mother Maria Skobtsova Bibliography

This bibliography of works by and about Elizaveta Skobtsova is a work in progress. Additions and corrections are welcomed. Kris Groberg , compiler.

Works about Skobtsova

Agenosov, L. and K. A. Tolkachev, comps. Poetessy RusskogoZarubezh’ia (Moscow: Sovetskii sport, 1998).

Alekseeva, M. P. ‘Sharl’z Robert Met’iurin i russkaia literatura,’ in Aleksandr N. Sokolov, ed., Ot romantizma k realizmu (Moscow: Izdatel’stvo Moskovskogo universiteta, 1978), pp. 53-55.

Aliger, Margarita Io. ‘Chto zhe takoe podvig?,’ in Tropinka vo rzhi. O poezii i poetsakh (Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel’, 1980), pp. 118-123.

Anthony (Bloom), Metropolitan of Sourozh [London] and Great Britain. ‘Prayer to Blessed Maria Martyr of Ravensbruck.’ Includes the color icon ‘Mother Maria of Ravensbrück’ painted by Raymond Mastroberte. Online at:

___. ‘Foreword,’ in Sergei Hackel, Pearl of Great Price (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1982; Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1982), i-xv.

Asmus, Valentin. ‘Propochoskii golos Nikity Struve i Mat’ Mariia (Skobtsova),’ Radonezh 17 (November, 1999): pp. Online at:

Baltrushaitis, Iu. ‘Novogofnee videnie. Vysokochtimoi materi Marii,’ in Liliia i serp (Paris: Publisher?, 1948), p. 153. Reprinted in Derevo v ogne (Vilnius: Publisher, 1983), p. 250.

___. ‘Otsup N. Fragment iz 3-i chasti ‘Dnevnika v stikhakh (1945-1950),’ in Okean vremeni (Leningrad: Publisher?, 1993), pp. 410-411.

Belodurov, Georgii. ‘O bogoslovii monakhinii Marii (Skobtsovoi). (Pis’mo Feofilu).’ Online at:

Benevich, Grigorii. ‘Mother Mariya (Skobtsova): A Model of Lay Service,’ trans. Geraldine Fagan, Religion, State and Society 27, no. 1 (March 1999): 101-108.

___. ‘Ot Dostoevskogo k Materii Marii.’ Paper presented at the Skobtsova Conference, St. Petersburg (March, 2000).

Berdiaev, Nikolai A. ‘Spasenie i tvorchestvo,’ Put’ 2 (Paris, 1925): pp.

___. ‘O dukhovnoi burzhuaznosti,’ Put’ 3 (Paris, 1926): pp.

___. ‘Iz razmyshlenii o teoditsee,’ Put’ 8 (Paris, 1927): pp.

___. Samopoznanie: Opyt filosofskoi avtobiografii (Paris: YMCA Press, 1949; reprint 1982).

___. ‘Pamiati monakhini Marii (Skobtsova) k 20-letiiu so dnia smerti),’ Vestnik Russkogo Studencheskogo Dvizheniia/La Messager 78 (1965): pp.

___. Smysl’ tvorchestva, 3 vols. (Paris: YMCA Press, 1991), vol. 3.

Berdyaev, Nicholas A. Dream and Reality, trans. Katherine Lambert (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1949; New York: Macmillan, 1951), pp. 279-280.

___. Selbsterkenntnis. Versuch einer philosophischen Autobiographie, trans. Reinhold von Walter (Darmstadt: Holle Verlag, 1953).

Bergman, Susan. ‘In the Shadow of the Martyrs: A Meditation on the Lives of Contemporary Martyrs,’ Christianity Today 40, no. 9 (1996): 18-26.

Blok, Aleksandr A. ‘Kogda vy stoite na moem puti . . .,’ Zemlia v snegu (Moscow, 1908): pp. [Poem reprinted by E. Bogat in Komsmol’skaia pravda, 1965.

___. ‘Ona prishla s moroza . . .,’ Zemlia v snegu (Moscow, 1908): pp.

___. Sobranie sochinenii Aleksandra Aleksandrovicha Bloka, 8 vols., ed. V. N. Orlov, A. A. Surkov, and K. I. Chukovska (Moscow and Leningrad: Gos. izd-vo khudozh. lit-ry, 1960-63), vol. 2:288-289; vol. 7:75-83; vol. 8:430.

___. Zapisnye knizhki 1901-1920 (Moscow: Gos. izd-vo khudozh. lit-ry, 1930; reprint 1965), 290-291.

___. Perepiska. Annotirovannyi katalog, 2 vols, ed. V. N. Orlov (Moscow: TsGALI, 1975-79).

Bogat, Evgenii M. ‘Takaia zhivaia, takaia krasivaia,’ Komsomol’skaia pravda 9 (Moscow, 1965): pp.

___. ‘Ne snizhaiite mysl’,’ Kul’tura i zhizn’ 1 (City, 1966): pp.

___. Akhill i Cherepakha (Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1966).

___. Bessmertny li zlyie volshebniki (Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1967).

___. Udivlenie (Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1969).

___. Vechnyii chelovek (Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1973).

___. . . . Chto dvizhet solntse i svetila: liubov’ v pis’makh vydaiushchikhsia liudei (Novosibersk: Zap.-Sib. knizhnoe izd-vo, 1978), pp. 194-217.

___. ‘Title,’ Iunost’ 7 (1980): 89-90.

___. ‘Razgadka DDB: Istoriia odnogo poseshcheniia: Drug Materi Marii,’ Literaturnaia gazeta (25 April 1984): 14-15.

___. ‘Title,’ Literaturnaia gazeta (26 June 1985): 13.

Bunin, Ivan A., and Vera N. Bunina. Ustami Buninykh: Dnevniki Ivana Alekseevicha i Very Nikolaevny i drugie arkhivnye materialy, 3 vols., ed. Militsa Grin (Frankfurt: Posev, 1977-1982).

Chertkov, L. N. ‘E. Iu. Kuz’mina-Karavaeva,’ in Kratkaia literaturnaia entisklopediia, 9 vols. (Moscow: Sovetskaia pisatel’, 1962-78), vol. 3:878.

Clément, Olivier. Orient-Oxident: deux passeurs, Vladimir Lossky et Paul Evdokimov (Geneva: Labor et Fides, 1985).

Conway, Timothy. ‘Mother Maria Skobtsova,’ in his Women of Power and Grace: Nine Astonishing, Inspiring Luminaries of Our Times (Santa Barbara, Cal.: Wake Up Press, 1995; reprint 1996), pp. 103-118.

Craig, Mary. Six Modern Martyrs (New York: Crossroad, 1985), pp.

Davis, Donald E. ‘The American YMCA and the Russian Emigration,’ Sobornost 9, no. 1 (Oxford, 1987): 24-41.

Deich, A. I. ‘Arabeski vremeni,’ Zvezda 12 (City, 1968): pp.

Dianin, Sergei A. ‘Akmeizm,’ Zavety 5, no. 2 (City, 1913): 153.

___. Revoliutsionnaia molodezh’ v Peterburge 1897-1917 gg. (Leningrad: Publisher, 1926), pp. 113-114.

Dine, Carol. ‘Maria,’ Venture (Boston, Suffolk University, 1999). Online at:

Doak, Margaret. The Orthodox Church (Oxford: The Religious Education Press [Pergamon], 1978), pp.

___. ‘Mother Maria Skobtsova,’ The Reconciler. Online at: and

‘Elizaveta Skobtsova, Righteous among the Nations.’ Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance Online Multimedia Center. Online at:

Ellsberg, Robert. ‘March 31: Mother Maria Skobtsova, Orthodox Nun and Martyr,’ in his All Saints (New York: Crossroad, 1997), pp. 144-146.

Emel’ianova, Tat’iana. ‘Bad-Naugeim v vospriiatii Bloka i Kuz’minnoi-Karavaevoi.’ Paper presented at the Skobtsova Conference, St. Petersburg (March, 2000).

Evlogii (Grigorievskii), Metropolitan. Put’ moie zhizni. Vospominaniia Mitropolita Evlogiia, ed. Tatiana Manukhina (Paris: YMCA Press, 1947), pp.

Fedotov, Georgii P. ‘Izuchenie Rossii,’ Vestnik Russkogo Studencheskogo Khristianskogo Dvizheniia/La Messager 2 (Paris, 1928): pp.

___. Sotsial’noe znachenie khristianstva (Paris: YMCA Press, 1933), pp.

___. ‘I. I. Fondamenskii v emigratsii.’ Novyi zhurnal 18 (New York, 1948): 321-328.

___. ‘Title,’ Sovremennye zapiski 35 (Paris, 1928): pp.

Forest, Jim. ‘Mother Maria Skobtsova: Nun and Martyr,’ draft text for an biographical essay introducing a collection of Skobtsova essays in English translation to be published in the Fall of 2002 by Orbis Books. Online at:

Foster, Liudmila A.. ‘Iurii Danilov,’ in her Bibliografiia russkoi zarubezhnoi literatury, 1918-1968 (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1970), pp. 747-748.

Gakkel’ [Hackel], Sergei. Mat’ Mariia (1891-1945) (Paris: YMCA Press, 1980; reprint 1992). 206 Pp.

___. Mat’ Mariia (1891-1945) (Moscow: Vsetserkovnoe Pravoslavnoe Molodezhnoe Dvizhenie, 1993). 170 Pp.

___. ‘Na strazhe svobody: Mat’ Mariia i N. Berdiaev.’ Paper presented at the Skobtsova Conference, St. Petersburg (March, 2000).

de Gaulle Anthonioz, Geneviève. ‘Mère Marie,’ Voix et Visages vol. (Paris, 1966): pp.

Gillet, Lev. ‘Strazhdushchii Bog,’ Pravoslavnoe delo (Paris, 1939): 9-20.

Gorodetskii, Sergei. ‘Elizaveta Pilenko (‘V vysokom kurgane, nad morem, nad morem . . .’),’ in his Svetnik posokh (St. Petersburg, 1914), p. 121. Reprinted in Voprosy literatury 9-10 (1991): 302-04.

Groberg, Kristi A. ‘Elizaveta Kuz’mina-Karaveva,’ n Dictionary of Russian Women Writers, ed. Marina Ledkovsky, Charlotte Rosenthal, and Mary Zirin. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1994), pp. 346-349.

Gumilëv, Nikolai. ‘Eto bylo ne raz, eto budet ne raz . . .,’ Zhemchuga (Moscow, 1910): pp.

___. Pis’ma o russkoi poezii, ed. Georgii Fridlender (Petrograd: Publisher, 1923; reprint Moscow: Sovremennik, 1990), pp. 144-146.

Hackel, Sergei. One, of Great Price: The Life of Mother Maria Skobtsova, Martyr of Ravensbrück (London: SCM, 1965).

___. ‘Mother Maria Skobtsova: Deaconess Manque?,’ Eastern Churches Review 1 (City, 1967): pp.

___. Ed., Mère Marie Skobtsova (1891-1945) (Paris: SOP, 1967).

___. Die grössere Liebe. Der Weg der Maria Skobtsova (1891-1945), trans. Annemarie Böll. Düsseldorf: Patmos Verlag, 1967. Source of the German television documentary ‘Meine Zelle heisst-Welt: Das Leben der Maria Skobcova’ (ESD: 15 April 1968).

___. Pearl of Great Price: The Life of Mother Maria Skobtsova, 1891-1945 (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1982; London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1982). Pp. 160. Revised edition of One of Great Price.

___. ‘The Relevance of Western Post-Holocaust Theology to the Thought and Practice of the Russian Orthodox Church,’ Sobornost 20, no. 1 (Oxford, 1998): 7-25.

___.”What Can We Say to God?’: The Poetry of Mother Maria Skobtsova,’ Sobornost 7, no. 5 (Oxford, 1977): 377-384.

___. ‘The Relevance of Western Post Holocaust Theology to the Thought and Practice of the Russian Orthodox Church,’ Sobornost 20, no. 1 (1998): pp. Online at:

Haight, Amanda. Anna Akhmatova: A Poetic Pilgrimage (New York and London: Oxford University Press, 1976), pp.

Ianovskii, Vasilii S. Poleiia Eliseiskie: Kniga pamiati. New York: Serebrianye vek, 1983.

Johnson, Doris V. ‘Introduction,’ in Konstantin Mochulsky, Aleksandr Blok, trans. Doris V. Johnson (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1983), pp. 7-11.

Kaidash, S. N. ‘Mat’ Mariia i velikaia kniaginiia Elizaveta Fedorovna.’ Paper presented at the Skobtsova Conference, St. Petersburg (March, 2000).

Kantor, M. ‘Preface,’ in Konstantin V. Mochul’skii, Aleksandr Blok (Paris: YMCA, 1948), pp.

Karpushko, Pyotr Robertovich. ‘Surviving,’ in The Other Russia: The Experience of Exile, comp. and ed. Michael Glenny and Norman Stone (New York and London: Viking Penguin, 1990), pp. 276-281..

Kasack, Wolfgang, ed. Lexicon der russischen Literatur ab 1917 (Stuttgart: Kröner, 1976), pp.

___. ‘Mariya Mat,’ in Dictionary of Russian Literature since 1917, trans. Maria Carlson and Jane T. Hodges (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), pp. 241-242. See also ‘Emigration,’ pp. 96-98.

___. Lexikon der russisches Literatur des 20 Jahrhunderts (Munich: Publisher, 1992), pp.

Kauchtschischwili, Nina. Mat’ Mariia: Il cammino di una monaca (Magnano: Editione Qiqajon, Communità di Bose, 1997).

Kazak, Val’ter. Entsiklopedicheskii slovar’ russkoi literatury s 1917 goda (London: Publisher, 1977), pp.

Klepinina-Arzhakovskaia, Elena D. ‘Title,’ Vestnik Russkogo Studencheskogo Khristianskogo Dvizheniia/La Messager 138 (Paris, 1983): pp.

___. ‘Mat’ Mariia i sud’ba izbrannogo naroda.’ Paper presented at the Skobtsova Conference, St. Petersburg (March, 2000).

Klepinina-Arzhakovskaia, Elena, and Tat’iana Emel’ianova. ‘Dukhovnye puti na strazhe svobody: V Sankt-Peterburge proshla mezhdunarodnaia konferentsiia pamiati Materi Marii (Skobtsovoi),’ Russkaia mysl’ 4314 (Paris, 20 April 2000): pp. Online at:

Kochetkov, Fr. Georgii. ‘The Triumph of Orthodoxy,’ Firsthour Magazine, ed. Bishop Seraphim Sigrist (City, 199?): pp. Online at: and

 

___. ‘Dukhovnye iskaniia na poroge tret’ego tysiacheletiia.’ Paper presented at the Skobtsova Conference, St. Petersburg (March, 2000).

Kolosov, S., and E. Mikulina. ‘Mat’ Mariia’ (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1983). Cinematic Scenario; see ‘Mat’ Mariia’ below for information on the film.

Kornblium, R. ‘Nikitinskie subbotniki,’ Voprosy literatury 12 (City, 1964): pp.

___. ‘Mat’ Mariia,’ in Chelovek iz Rossii (Moscow: Sovetskaia Rossiia, 1967), pp.

Kovalevskaia, Ol’ga T. ‘Realizm sviatosti.’ Paper presented at the Skobtsova Conference, St. Petersburg (March, 2000).

Krakhmal’nikova, Zoiia. Russkaia ideia Materi Marii (Uhldingen, Germany: Stefanus, 1997).

Krasikov, Anatolii. ‘Gosudarstvo, tserkov i religioznaia svoboda,’ Nezavisimaia gazeta 189 (Moscow, 9 October 1996): pp.

Krasikov, Anatoly. ‘State, Church and Religious Freedom,’ trans. Paul D. Steeves. Online at:

Kriukova, E. ‘Mat’ Mariia,’ Novyi mir 1 (New York, 1993): 181-182.

Krivoshein, Igor’ A. ‘Mat’ Mariia,’ Voix et Visages 102 (Paris, 1966): 1-3.

___. ‘Mat’ Mariia (Skobtsova) k 25-letiiu so dnia konchiny,’ Zhurnal Moskovskii Patriarkhii 5 (Moscow, 1970): pp.

___. ‘Tak nem velelo serdtse,’ in Protiv obshchego vraga: Sovetskie liudi vo frantsuzkom dvizhenii soprotivleniia, ed. Ivan V. Parot’kin (Moscow: Nauka, 1972), pp. 270-280.

___. ‘Blok i Kuz’mina-Karavaeva (po povodu ee vospominanii o Bloke),’ in Dmitrii E. Maksimov, Poezii i proza Al. Bloka (Leningrad: Sovetskii pisatel’, 1975), pp. 498-516.

L’emigration russe. Revues et recueils, 1920-1980 (Paris: Publisher, 1988).

Lentz, Robert. ‘Captive Daughter of Zion.’ Icon dedicated to Elizaveta Skobtsova. Online at:

 

Liubimov, L. ‘Na chuzhbine,’ Novyi mir 2-4 (New York, 1955): pp.

Losskii, Nikolai O. ‘Zlo i dobro v proizvedeniiakh Dostoevskogo k 75-letiiu so dnia smerti D.,’ Vestnik Russkogo Studencheskogo Khristianskogo Dvizheniia/La Messager 3 (1955): pp.

Lowrie, Donald A. Rebellious Prophet: A Life of Nicolai Berdyaev (New York: Harper, 1960; reprint Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1974), pp. 193, 204, 210-212, 169-170.

Maksimov, Dmitrii E. ‘Title,’ Voix et Visages 79 (Paris, 1961): 5.

___. Ed., ‘Vospominaniia o Bloke E. Iu. Kuz’minoi-Karavaevoi,’ Uchenye Zapiski Tartuskogo Gosudarstvennogo Universiteta 209 (Tartu, 1968): pp. Annotated by Z. G. Mints.

___. ‘Title,’ in Blok i vospominaniiakh sovremennikov, 2 vols., ed. V. N. Orlov (Moscow: Khudozhnaia literatura, 1980), vol. 2:58-75, 429-431.

___. ‘Une Hèroine,’ [?] Lyons, 1946.

___. Filateliia SSSR 3 (1978): 15.

Maliarova, I. ‘Monolog poetessy E. Iu. Kuz’minoi-Karavaevoi,’ in Den Poezii (Leningrad: Publisher, 1968), pp. 74-75.

‘Mansion of L. A. von Derviz.’ Online at:

Manukhina, Tatiana I. ‘Monakhinia Mariia,’ Novyi zhurnal 41 (New York, 1955): 137-157.

Mastroberte, Raymond J. ‘Blessed Mother Maria Skobtsova.’ Online at:

‘Mat’ Mariia.’ Biographical drama. Feature film produced by Mosfilm, 1982. 94 minutes, color. Starring Liudmila Kasatkina as Elizaveta Iur’evna Kuz’mina-Karavaeva. Script by Sergei Kolozov and Elena Mikulina; directed by Sergei Kozolov; cinematography by Valentin Zhelezniakov; score composed by Aleksei Rybnikov. Source: Domashnaia kinemateka: Otechestvennoe kino 1918-1996. Order online at:

‘Meine Zelle heipt-Welt: Das Leben der Maria Skobcova.’ Documentary film produced for German television 15 March 1968. Includes interviews with Mother Evdokiia, Fedor T. Pianov, Sregei Iava, Sofiia Zernova, and others.

Men’, Fr. Aleksandr. ‘Mat’ Mariia.’ Online at: <http://www.amen.org.ru8101/bibliography/mir/mir29.html>

Mikulina, Elena. ‘Mat’ Mariia,’ Prostor 12 (Moscow, 1973): 90-124. Short story.

___. Mat’ Mariia (Moscow: Sovremennik, 1983; reprint Moscow: Sovetskaia Rossiia, 1988). Novel.

___. ‘Mat’ Mariia’ (Moscow, 1983). Pp. 210. Drama in two acts.

Miliutina, T. P. ‘Tri goda v russkom Parizhe,’ Blokovskii sbornik 10 (St. Petersburg, 1991): pp.

Mints, Z. G. ‘Neizdannye pis’ma A. A. Bloku,’ Uchenie zapiski Tartuskogo universiteta 220 (1974): pp.

Mints, Z. G., and Iu. M. Lotman. ‘O glubinnykh elementach khudozhestvennogo zamysla. K deshifrovke odnogo neponiatnogo mesta iz vospominanii o Bloke,’ Materialy vsesoiuznogo simpoziuma po vtorichnym modeliruiushchim sistemam 5 (Tartu, 1974): pp.

Mishal, Bonnie A. ‘Mother Maria Skobtsova: A Saint of Our Day,’ Saint Nina Quarterly 2, no. 2 (1998): 3ff. Online at:

Mochul’skii, Konstantin V. ‘Stikhi,’ Put’ 4-7 (Paris, 1937): pp.

___. ‘Monakhinia Mariia Skobtsova,’ Tretii chas 1 (New York, 1946): 64-73.

___. Aleksandr Blok (Paris: YMCA Press, 1948), pp.

Moskovskaia-Eiger, Iu. Ia. ‘Vospominaniia o E. Iu. Kuz’minoi-Karavaevoi (Liza Pilenko).’ Hand-written document, dated 1964. GBL (the former Lenin Library, Moscow), f. 218, k. 1399., ed. khr. 23. Copies in the possession of I. A. Krivoshein, B. Pliukhanov, S. Gakkel’, A. N. Shustov, and others.

Nichols, Aidan. Theology in the Russian Diaspora (Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp.

Nosovich, S. V. ‘Russkaia zhenshchina v riadakh soprotivleniija vo Frantsii,’ Vestnik russkikh dobrovol’tsev, partizan, uchastnikov Soprotivleniia vo Frantsii 2 (Paris, 1947): pp.

Novikova, Liudmila. ‘Isk strakh davno pobezhden liubov’iu. Zheny-mironositsy rossiiskie,’ 1 September 15 (1999): pp. Online at:

Oboisshchikov, K. ‘Mat’ Mariia,’ Kubanskie novosti (Kuban, 30 January 1992).

Ol’shanskaia, E. ”Glavnyi chas’: Fragment iz poemy (pamiati E. Iu. Kuz’minoi-Karavaevoi, izvestnoi kak Mat’ Mariia),’ in Sirenevyi chas (Kiev: Publisher, 1991), pp. 87-88.

Orlov, V. N. ‘Blok i Kuz’mina-Karavaeva,’ in O poezii i proze A. Bloke, ed. V. N. Orlov(Leningrad: Publisher, 1975), pp.

Paldiel, Mordecai. ‘To the Righteous Among the Nations Who Risked Their Lives to Rescue Jews,’ Yad Vashem Studies 19 (1968): 403-425.

___. ‘The Altruism of the Righteous Gentiles,’ Holocaust and Genocide Studies 3, no. 2 (1988): 187-196.

___. ‘E. Skobstova,’ in Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, 4 vols., ed. Yisroel Gutman (New York: Macmillan, 1990), vol:pp.

___. ‘Elizabeta Skobtsova,’ in The Path of the Righteous: Gentile Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust (Hoboken, N.J.: KTAV, 1993), pp. 32-34. Online at:

___. Sheltering the Jews: Stories of Holocaust Survivors (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), pp. 42-43, 131-132, 168.

Pilenko, Sofiia B. ‘Detstvo i iunost’ Materi Marii,’ in Mat’ Mariia, Stikhi, ed. S. B. Pilenko, D. E. Skotbsov, and I. N. Vebster (Paris: Izdatel’stvo Obshchestva druzei Materi Marii, 1949), pp. 5-11.

Plekon, Michael. ”An Offering of Prayer’: The Witness of Paul Evdokimov (1900-70),’ Sobornost 17, no. 2 (Oxford, 1995): 28-37.

___. ‘Free in the Faith, Open to the World: The Work of Alexander Men,’ Eastern Churches Journal 5, no. 2 (1998): pp. Online at:

___. ‘Maria Skobtsova: Woman of Many Faces, Mother in Many Ways,’ Jacob’s Well (Fall-Winter, 1999-2000): pp. Online at:

Pliukhanov, B. V. Vstrechi s monakhinei Mariei (Skobtsovoi) (Riga: Publisher, 1973).

___. ‘Uchenie zapiski,’ Chtenie Tartuskogo universiteta 857 (Tartu, 1989): pp.

Prokurat, Michael, Alexander Golitzin, and Michael D. Peterson. ‘Mother Maria Skobtsova,’ in Historical Dictionary of the Orthodox Church (London: Scarecrow Press, 1996), pp. 303-304.

Rashkovskii, Evgenii B. ‘Nazad k soderzhaniiu. Pis’mo v muzei Materii Marii (g. Anapa).’ Online at:

 

Seraphim, Presiding Bishop, FOCUS, HOCC Federated Orthodox Catholic Churches International. ‘Proclamation of the Synod of the Bishops of the Federated Orthodox Catholic Churches International on the Beatification of Mother Maria Skobtsova (+1945), August 15-17, 1997,’ The Reconciler. Online at: and

Schell, Donald. ‘The Dancing Saints.’ Online at:

Schroeder, Gisela-Athanasia. ‘Nichts anderes als Christus besitzen (Zum 50. Jahrestag der Ermordung von Mutter Maria),’ Kirche im Osten 39 (City, 1996): 101-28.

Shmaina-Velikanova, A. I. ‘Vnekhramovaia sotsial’nogo delaniia Materii Marii.’ Paper presented at the Skobtsova Conference, St. Petersburg (March, 2000).

Shtein, E. Poeziia russkogo rasseianiia 1920-1977 (Ashford: Publisher, 1978), pp.

Shustov, Anatolii N. ‘Zhizn’ i tvorchestvo E. Iu. Kuz’minoi-Karavaevoi,’ Russkaia literatura 4 (Leningrad, 1981): 160-170.

___. Doch’e Rossii. Belye nochi (Leningrad: Publisher, 1985), pp. 198-227.

___. ‘Blok i zhizn i tvorchestve E. Iu. Kuz’minoi-Karavaevoi,’ in Aleksandr Blok, Issledovaniia i materialy (Leningrad: Publisher, 1991), pp.

___. ‘Raskryvaia tainu materi Marii,’ Vol’naia Kuban’ (City, 5-6 November 1992): pp.

___. Bibliograficheskii ukazatel’ literaturnykh, filosofskikh, publitsisticheskikh i khudozhestvennykh proizdvedenii E. Iu. Kuz’minoi-Karavaevoi, Materii Marii (Tomsk: Vodolei, 1994). 23 Pp. Bibliography.

Skobtsov, Daniil E. [Danilo]. Tri goda revoliutsii i grazhdanskoi voiny na Kubani (Paris: YMCA Press, 1962-65). Autobiography of Skobtsova’s second husband.

Sokolov, Aleksandr N. Istoriia russkoi literatury kontsa xix-nachala xx veka (Moscow: Vyssh. shkola, 1976), p. 37.

Smith, T. Stratton. The Rebel Nun: The Moving Story of Mother Maria of Paris (Springfield, Ill.: Templegate, 1965; London: Souvenir Press, 1965). 252 Pp.

___. Mère Maria, nonne et rebelle, trans. R. Jouan (Paris: Presses de la Cité, 1965).

Stöhr, Johannes. ‘Von der Nachahmung der Mutter Gottes (Maria Skobtsova). Übersetzung und Kommentare eines zeugnisses orthodoxer Marienfrömmigkeit,’ in Festschrift zum Jubiläum: 350 Jahre Theologie im Bamberg, trans. G. Kraus (Frankfurt and Berlin: Peter Lang, 1998), pp. 53-73.

Struve, Gleb. Russkaia literatura v izgnanni (New York: Chekhov, 1956), pp.

Struve, Nikita A. ‘Novye svedeniia o poslednikh dniakh Materi Marii.’ Online at:

___. ‘Mat’ Mariia i Otsenke Prot. V. Asmus,’ Vestnik Studencheskogo Russkogo Khristianskogo Dvizheniia/La Messager 178 (Paris, date): pp. Online at:

Sukhomlinin, V. V. ‘Gitlerovtsy v Parizhe,’ Novyi Mir 11-12 (New York, 1965): pp.

Sytova, A. S. ‘Neizvestnye portrety poetessy E. Iu. Kuz’minoi-Karavaevoi,’ Pamiatniki Kul’tury. Novye otkrytiia. Ezhegodnik 1979 (Leningrad: Nauka, 1980): 319-325. Includes early portraits of Kuz’mina-Karavaeva.

Tamarina, P. ‘Moim podrugam,’ in Den poezii (Moscow: Publisher, 1966), p. 47.

Target, George W. The Nun in the Concentration Camp: The Story of Mother Maria (City: Religious Education Press, Faith in Action Series, 1974).

Tarsenkov, A. K. Russkie poety xx veka, 1900-1955 (Moscow: Publisher, 1966), pp.

Terapiano, Iurii. Vstrechi (New York: Chekhov, 1953), pp.

Terras, Victor. ‘Mariya Mat’ or Monakhinia,’ in Handbook of Russian Literature, ed. Victor Terras (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1985), p. 274.

Tol’stoi, Aleksei N. Sobranie sochinenii, 10 vols. (Moscow: Publisher, 1959-61), vol. 2:265.

Tsetlin, M. ‘Title,’ Sovremennye zapiski 66 (Paris, 1938): pp.

Tvertinova, A. M. ‘Vospominaniia,’ Zvezda 4 (City, 1960): pp.

Varaut, Laurence. Mère Marie, 1891-1945, St. Petersbourg-Paris-Ravensbrück (Paris: Editions Perrin, 2000). 200 Pp. Forthcoming.

Velichkovskaia, Tamara. ‘O poezii Materi Marii,’ Vozrozhdenie 205 (Paris, 1969): pp.

Volkov, Iu. ‘Sad v Ravensbriuke’ (Leningrad, 1985). Drama-Monologue in two acts.

Volkov, Sergei [Feofil]. ‘Mnenie i ‘kritika’ stat’i Materi Marii (Skobtsovoi) ottsom Valentinom Asmusom (Pis’mo Georgiiu).’ Online at:

Voznesenksii, A. ‘Pesnia (‘Nazyvali ee Mat’ Mariia’),’ in Vypusty ptitsy! (Moscow: Publisher, 1974), pp. 161-162.

Wilson, Katharina M. ‘Mat’ (or Monakhinia) Mariia,’ in her An Encyclopedia of Continental Women Writers, 2 vols. (New York: Garland, 1991), vol. 2:783-784.

Yanovsky, Vasily S. Elysian Fields: A Book of Memory, trans. Isabella Levitin Yanovsky (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1987), pp.

Zander, Lev. ‘Mat’ Mariia k desiatiletiiu so dnia smerti (+31 Marta 1945),’ Vestnik Russkogo Studencheskogo Khristianskogo Dvizheniia/La Messager 3 (Paris, 1955): pp.

Zernov, Nikolai. Russkie pisateli emigratsii (Boston: Publisher, 1973), pp.

Zhirmunskaia, T. ‘Epilog iz poemy ‘Mat’ Mariia’,’ in Pamiati protoiereia Aleksandra Menia (Moscow: Publisher, 1991), pp. 183-184.

___. ‘Mat’ Mariia: (Tri fragmenta iz poemy),’ Literaturnaia Tver’ 1-2 (Tver’, 1992): 3.

___. ‘Mat’ Mariia,’ in Prazdnik (Moscow: Publisher, 1993), pp. 71-200.

Zverev, Aleksei. ‘Solntse Vechnosti: retsenziia na kn.: E. Iu. Kuz’mina-Karavaeva. Nashe vremia eshche ne razragado . . .. Sostavlenie, predislovie, primechaniia A. N. Shustova. Tomsk: Vodolei, 1996. 155 Pp.’ [Review]. Online at:

 

Works by Skobtsova

Anonymous. ‘Ob’edinenie ‘Pravoslavnoe delo’.’ Vestnik Russkogo Studencheskogo Khristianskogo Dvozheniia/La Messager 1-2 (Paris, 1937): 24-26.

Danilov, Iurii (N.) [pseud.]. ‘Ravnina russkaia (khronika nashikh dnei).’ Sovremennye zapiski 19 (Paris, 1924): 79-133; 20 (1924): 125-215. [Unfinished novel.] Review:

___. ‘Poslednie Rimliane.’ Volia Rossii 18-19 (Prague, 1924): 103-124. [Article on pre-revolutionary intelligentsia.]

___. ‘Drug moego detstva Vospominaniia o K. P. Pobedonostseve.’ Poslednie novosti vol. (Paris, 1925): pp.

___. ‘Klim Semënovich Baryn’kin.’ Volia Rossii 7-18 (Prague, 1925): 3-37; 9-10 (1925): 3-38. [Autobiographical novel.] Review:

___. ‘Voprosy razoruzheniia v Lige Natsii.’ Sovremennye zapiski 29 (Paris, 1926): 342-78.

___. ‘Novoe voennoe zakonodatel’stvo vo Frantsii.’ Sovremennye zapiski 32 (Paris, 1927): 441-51.

Iu. D. [pseud.]. ‘Kak ia byla gorodskim golovoi.’ Volia Rossii 4 (Prague, 1925): 63-80; 5 (1925): 68-88.

Kuz’mina-Karavaeva, Elizaveta Iu. Skifskie cherepki. St. Petersburg: Tsekh poetov, 1912. Pp. 94. [Collection of 34 poems.] Reviews:

___. ‘Stikhotvoreniia.’ Giperborei 2 (St. Petersburg, 1912): 18-20.

___. ‘Stikhotvoreniia.’ In Rukonog. Sbornik stikhov i kritiki. Moscow: Tsentrifuga, 1914. [3 poems.]

___. Iurali. Petrograd:I. A. Lavrov and Co., 1915. Pp. 94. [Prose poem.]

___. Ruf’. Edited by M. V. Popov. Petrograd:M. V. Popov, 1916. Pp. 139 + iv. [Short poems with lyrical introduction, declaration of religious intent.] Review:

___. ‘Stikhotvoreniia.’ In Vesenii salon poetov: Al’manakh, 108-10. Moscow: Zerna, 1918. [3 poems.]

___. ‘Stikhotvoreniia.’ Sovremennye zapiski 39 (Paris, 1929): 170-173. [4 poems.]

___. ‘Stikhotvoreniia,’ in Iakor’: Antologiia zarubezhnoi poezii, edited by G. Adamovich and M. Kantor (Berlin: Petropolis, 1936), pp. 75-76. [2 poems.]

___. ‘Vstrechi s Blokom.’ Uchenie zapiski Tartuskogo universiteta 209 (Tartu, 1968): 265-78.

___. ‘Smotriu, smotriu s odinokoi bashni . . . Zemli Tvoei ubogoe zhit’e . . ..’ Antologiia peterburgskoi poezii epokhi akmeizma, 135-36. Edited by Iu. P. Ivask and Kh. V. T’ialsma. Munich: Publisher, 1973.

___. ‘Stikhotvoreniia.’ Published by E. N. Mikulina. In Den’ poezii: Al’manakh, 206-08. Moscow: Publisher, 1978. [8 poems.]

___. ‘Dostoevskii i sovremennost’ (Fragmenty).’ Published by S. V. Belov. Baikal 4 (Ulan Ude, 1979): 136-40. Review:

___. ‘Vospominaniia o Bloke.’ Published by V. N. Orlov. In Aleksandr Blok i vospominaniiakh sovremennikov, 2 vols. Edited by V. N. Orlov. Moscow: Publisher, 1980. Vol. 2:58-75. Review:

___. ‘Uvidish’ ty ne na voine . . ..’ Published by A. N. Shustov. Baikal 5 (Ulan Ude, 1980): 150. [Poem]

___. ‘Uvidish’ ty ne na voine . . ..’ Published by Iu. Gal’perin. Literaturnoe obozrenie 10 (City, 1980): 98.

___. ‘Kazhdi byl bezumno strog . . .,’ Literaturnoe nasledstvo 92 [3 vols.] (Moscow, 1981): Vol. 2:210-11. [1 poem.]

___. ‘Stikhotvoreniia.’ Literaturnoe nasledstvo 92 [3 vols.] (Moscow, 1981): Vol. 3:560. [3 poems.]

___. ‘Stikhotvoreniia,’ in Mat’ Mariia: Kinostsenarii, by S. Kolosov and E. Mikulina (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1983), pp. 77-78. [3 poems.]

___. ‘Stikhotvoreniia,’ published by E. Bogat, in Den poezii Moscow: Publisher, 1985), pp. 124-126. [9 poems.]

___. ‘Poema o Mel’mote Skital’tse,’ published by A. V. Lavrov and A. N. Shustov, Pamiatniki kul’tury. Novye otkrytiia: Ezhegodnik 1986 (Leningrad: Nauka, 1987): 85-104.

___. ‘Dukhov Den’,’ published by E. A. Evtushenko, Ogonek 9 (Moscow, 1987): 9. [3 fragments of poems.]

___. ‘Smotriu na vysokie stekla . . .,’ published by M. V. Otradina, in Peterburg v russkoi poezii: Poeticheskaia antologiia (Leningrad: LGU, 1988), pp. 306-307. [1 poem.]

___. ‘Stikhotvoreniia,’ compiled by L. A. Ozerov, in Chudnoe mgnoven’e: Liubovnaia lirika russkikh poetov, 2 vols. (Moscow: Publisher, 1988), vol. 2, pp. 134-136.

Contains:

1) ‘V poslednii den’ ne plach’ i ne krichi . . .’

2) ‘Ia silu mnogo raz eshche utrachu . . .’

3) ‘Pust’ otdam moiu dushu ia kazhdomu . . .’

___. ‘Stikhotvoreniia,’ in Sto zhemchuzhin: Litika russkikh zhenshchin XX veka, compiled by S. N. Povartsov (Omsk: Publisher, 1989), pp. 89-100.

Contains:

1) ‘Ia silu mnogo raz eshche utrachu . . .’

2) ‘Ustalo dyshit parovoz . . .’

3) ‘Mat’, my s Toboiu dogovor . . .’

4) ‘Srazu dal’ obnazhena . . .’

5) ‘Postylo mne nenuzhnoe vitiistvo . . .’

6) ‘Chto ostalos’ nam? . . .’

7) ‘Pust’ otdam moiu dushu v kazhdomu . . .’

8) ‘Parizhskie primu ia Solovki . . .’

9) ‘Na znaiu, zazhgutsia kostry.’

___. ‘Anna: P’esa,’ published by S. N. Kaidash, Teatr 5 (City, 1989): 152-58.

___. ‘Stikhotvoreniia,’ published by A. Mikhailov and A. Kravtsova,’ Smena (City, 25 October 1989): n.p.

Contains:

1) ‘Dukh moi, plenennyi nevedomoi siloi . . .’

2) ‘Vzletaia v nebo, k zvezdnym, mlechnym rekam . . .’

3) ‘I okolo spokonnoi smerti stoia . . .’

4) ‘Ne nado vsekh bylykh vremen . . .’

5) ‘Mnogo putnikov proshlo; ne postuchalos’ . . .’

6) ‘Donesu moiu tiazhkuiu noshu . . .’

7) ‘Srednevekovykh ulits tish’ . . .’

___. ‘Zavorozhennye godami . . .,’ in Vechernii al’bom: Stikhi rus. poetess, compiled by L. Varanova-Gopchenko (Moscow: Sovremennik, 1990), p. 18. [Poem.]

___. Izbrannoe, edited by Nikolai V. Os’makov (Moscow: Sovetskaia Rossiia, 1991). Pp. 445.

___. Nashe vremia eshche ne razgadano E. Iu. Kuz’mina-Karavaeva. Collected and with an introduction by Anatolii N. Shustov. Tomsk: Izdatel’stvo Vodolei, 1996. Pp. 159.

Contains:

1) Skifskie cherepki (poems):

‘Kurgannaia tsarevna,’ 10-14

‘Nevziraiushchii,’ 14-19

‘U pristani,’ 20-21

‘Nemerknyshchie kryl’ia,’ 21-24

2) From ‘Giperborei’, 25-26

3) Iz ‘Rukonog’, 26-27

4) Ruf’ (poems):

‘Ruf,’ 32

‘Iskhod,’ 33-42

‘Vestniki,’ 42-47

‘Voina,’ 48-51

‘Ovrechennost’,’ 52-59

‘Sputniki,’ 60-62

‘Iskupitel’,’ 62-68

‘Preobrazhennaia semlia,’ 69-75

‘Poslednie dni,’ 76-86

‘Monakh,’ 87-90

5) Vospominaniia i pis’ma:

‘Poslednie rimlianie,’ 99-132

‘Ia mnogo dumaiu o vas . . .,’ 133-49

___. ‘Tishina, ogon’ i slovo.’ Novyi mir 9 (1998). Online at:

Mat’ Mariia. Stikhotvoreniia, poemy, misteriia, vospominaniia ob areste i lagere v Ravensbriuke. Edited by G. A. Raevskii. Published by S. B. Pilenko, D. E. Skobtsov, and I. N. Vebster. Paris: La Presse francaise et étrangère/Oreste Zeluck, 1947. Pp. 167. [Foreword by D. E. Skobtsov, 7-8; Memoirs by S. B. Pilenko and I. N. Vebster, 151-165.]

___. Stikhi, edited by G. A. Raevskii. Paris: Izdatel’stvo Obshchestva Druzei Materi Marii, 1949. Pp. 99 + ii. [Introduction by S. B. Pilenko, 5-11; Foreword by G. A. Raevskii, 13-14.] Review:

___. ‘Stikhovoreniia.’ In Na Zapade: Poeticheskii sbornik, 49-53. Edited by Iu. P. Ivask. New York: Chekhov, 1953.

___. ‘Stikhotvoreniia.’ In Muza diaspory: izbr. stikhi zarubezhnykh poetov, 212-24. Edited by Iu. K. Terepiano. Bm: Posev, 1960. [4 poems.]

___. ‘Stikhotvoreniia.’ In Russkaia zhenshchina v emigratsii: Sbornik prozy i poezii, pp. Washington, D.C.: Publisher, 1970.

___. ‘Stikhotvoreniia.’ Otchizna 2 (Moscow, 1979): 23. [3 poems.]

___. ‘Stikhotvoreniia.’ In Mat’ Mariia, edited by Sergei Gakkel’. Paris: YMCA Press, 1980. Poems and pages:

___. ‘Stikhotvoreniia,’ edited by B. V. Pliukhanov, Blokovskii sbornik 9 (Tartu: TGU, 1989): 171-173, 175.

Contains:

1) ‘Plyvet s dvumia barzhami tikho kater . . .’

2) ‘I v etu liamku radostno vpriagus’ . . .’

3) ‘Smotri,–izmozoleny pal’tsy.’

4) ‘Gospodi, Gospodi, Gospodi . . .’

5) ‘Nashu russkuiu zateriannost’ . . .’

6) ‘Marsel’ Lenuar (‘Belyi tsvet i tsvet korichnevatyi’).’

___. ‘Stikhotvoreniia,’ Sem’ia (City, 15 February 1989): 9.

Contains:

1) ‘Podvel ko mne, skazal: usynovi . . .’

2) ‘Ustalo dyshit parovoz . . .’

3) ‘Iskala ia tainstvennoe plemia . . .’

4) ‘Noch’. I zvezd na nebe net . . .’

5) ‘Dva treugol’nika, zvezda . . .’

6) ‘S osennimi list’iami vmeste . . .’

7) ‘Eshche do smerti budet sud . . .’

___. Vospominaniia, stat’i, ocherki, 2 vols. Paris: YMCA Press, 1992.

Vol. 1 contains:

1) ‘Drug moego detstva,’ 11-23

2) ‘Vstrechi s Blokom,’ 24-46

3) ‘Kak ia byla gorodskim golovoi,’ 47-92

4) ‘O podrazhanii Bogomateri,’ 93-108

5) ‘Pochitanie Bogomateri,’ 109-28

6) ‘O monashestve,’ 129-52

7) ‘Eshche o monashestve,’ 152-62

8) ‘Asketizm,’ 163-88

9) ‘K delu,’ 200-210

10) ‘Vtoraia evangel’skaia zapoved’,’ 211-30

11) ‘Nishchie dukhom,’ 231-33

12) ‘Stradanie i krest,’ 234-37

13) ‘Krest i serp s molotom,’ 238-43

14) ‘Ob’edinenie ‘Pravoslavnoe delo’ I,’ 244-50

15) ‘Ob’edinenie ‘Pravoslavnoi delo’ II,’ 251-64

16) ‘Religiia i demokratiia,’ 275-85

17) ‘Rasizm i religiia,’ 286-95

18) ‘Chetyre portreta,’ 296-311

19) ‘Prozrenie v voine,’ 312-28

Vol 2 contains:

1) ‘Nasha epokha,’ 9-32

2) ‘Mysliteli,’ 33-105

3) ‘Rossiiskoe messianskoe prizvanie,’ 106-16

4) ‘V poiskakh sinteza,’ 117-35

5) ‘Rozhdenie v smerti,’ 155-66

6) ‘Ob antikhriste,’ 167-70

7) ‘Opravdanie fariseistva,’ 171-80

8) ‘Sviataia zemlia,’ 181-96

9) ‘K istokam,’ 211-30

10) ‘O tserkovnom Sobore 1917 goda,’ 239-49

11) ‘Nastoiashchee i budushchee tserkvi,’ 239-49

12) ‘Pod znakom nashego vremeni,’ 250-60

13) ‘Na strazhe svobody, 261-73

14) ’12-i chas,’ 274-78

15) ‘Pis’mo v redaktsiiu,’ 279-81

___. Stikhi Monakhiniia Mariia. Moscow: MIK, 199?. Pp. 97.

___. Nashe vremia eshche ne razragado . . .. Collected, edited, and with an introduction by Anatolii N. Shustov. Tomsk: Vodolei, 1996.

Mère Marie. ‘Naissance et mort.’ Buisson Ardent, les Cahiers Saint-Silouane l’Athonite 4 (Pully, Switzerland, 1998): pp.

Monakhinia Mariia [M. M.]. ‘Sotsial’nyi vopros i sotsial’naia real’nost’.’ Novyi grad 4 (Paris, 1932): 73-76.

___. ‘K delu.’ Novyi grad 5 (Paris, 1932): 93-98.

___. ‘Russkaia geografiia Frantsii.’ Poslednie novosti (Paris, 14 June 1932; 18 June 1932; 24 June 1932).

___. ‘Krest i serp s molotom.’ Novyi grad 6 (Paris, 1933): 78-81.

___. ‘Istoki tvorchestva.’ Put’ 43 (Paris, 1934): 35-48.

___. ‘Pravoslavnoe delo.’ Novyi grad 10 (Paris, 1935): 111-115.

___. ‘U groba ottsa Aleksandra. Otets Aleksandr kak dukhovnik.’ In Pamiati otetsa Aleksandra Elchaninova, 21-24. Paris: YMCA Press, 1935; reprint 1991.

___. ‘Otets Aleksandra kak dukhovnik.’ In Pamiati o Aleksandra Elchaninova, 56-59. Paris: YMCA Press, 1935; reprint 1991.

___. ‘Mistika chelovekoobshcheniia (fragment stati ‘O monashestve’).’ Krug: Al’manakh 1 (Berlin, 1936): 152-59.

___. ‘Stikhotvoreniia.’ Sovremennye zapiski 62 (Paris, 1936): 185-187. [3 poems.]

___. ‘Vstrechi s Blokom (K piatnadtsatiletiiu so dnia smerti).’ Sovremennye zapiski 62 (Paris, 1936): 211-228.

___. Stikhi Monakhiniia Mariia. Berlin: Petropolis, 1937. Pp. 97 + vii. [83 poems.]. Reviews:

___. ‘Ispytanie svobodoi.’ Vestnik. Organ Tserkovno-Obshchestvennoi Zhizni 1-2 (Paris, 1937): 11-15. Reviews:

___. ‘Pis’mo v redaktsiiu.’ Vestnik. Organ Tserkovno-Obshchestvennoi Zhizni 3-4 (Paris, 1937): 24-26.

___. ‘Nikogda, ni na kakom puti . . ..’ Put’ zhizni (Petsery, 24 July 1937). [1 poem.]

___. ‘Pod znakom nashego vremeni.’ Novyi grad 12 (Paris, 1937): 115-22.

___. ‘Pod znakom gibeli.’ Novyi grad 13 (Paris, 1938): 145-152.

___. ‘Stikhovoreniia.’ Russkie zapiski 3 (Paris, 1938): 161-164. [4 poems.]

___. ‘Rasizm i religiia.’ Russkie zapiski 11 (Paris, 1938): 150-157.

___. ‘Opravdanie fariseistva.’ Put’ 56 (Paris, 1938): 37-46.

___. ‘O podrazhanii Bogomateri.’ Put’ 59 (Paris, 1939): 19-30.

___. ‘Chertyre portreta.’ Novyi grad 14 (Paris, 1939): 26-40.

___. ‘Poezdka v sumasshedshii dom. St. Ilie: Stat’ia-otchet o poseshchenii psikhiatricheskoi lechebnitsy.’ Poslednie novosti (Paris, January 1939): pp.

___. ‘Vtoraia Evangel’skaia zapoved’.’ Pravoslavnoe Delo. Sbornik 1 (Paris, 1939): 27-44.

___. ‘Na strazhe svobody.’ Pravoslavnoe Delo. Sbornik 1 (Paris, 1939): 84-95.

___. ‘Anna: P’esa-misteriia.’ Tserkovnyi vestnik zapadno-evropeiskoi eparkhii 9-10 (Paris, 1939): pp.

___. ‘Dva treugol’nika, zvezda . . ..’ Published by K. V. Mochul’skii. Vstrecha 1 (Paris, 1945): 5. [1 poem.]

___. ‘Stikhotvoreniia.’ Published by B. V. Pliukhanov. Daugava 3 (Riga, 1987): 118-20. [8 poems.] Review:

___. ‘Otets Aleksandr kak dukhovnik.’ On Fr. Aleksandr Elchaninov. Online at:

Skobtsova, Elizaveta Iu. Zhatva Dukha (Zhitie Sviatykh), 2 vols. Paris: YMCA [IMKA] Press, 1927. Pp. 41 each volume. [Stylized retelling of saints’ lives.] Review:

___. ‘Sviataia zemlia.’ Put’ 6 (Paris, 1927): 95-101.

___. ‘Izuchenie Rossii.’ Vestnik Russkogo Studencheskogo Khristianskogo Dvizheniia/La Messager 9 (Paris, 1927): 17-19.

___. ‘Vo dni godovogo s’ezda.’ Vestnik Russkogo Studencheskogo Khristianskogo Dvizheniia/La Messager 11 (Paris, 1927): 12-17; 12 (1927): 18-22.

___. ‘Zametki.’ Dni (Paris, 11 November 1928; 9 December 1928; 11 December 1928).

___. ‘Zametki.’ Dni (Paris, 3 March 1929; 12 March 1929; 9 June 1929).

___. ‘V poiskakh sintez.’ Put’ 16 (Paris, 1929): 49-68.

___. ‘K istokam.’ Sovremennye zapiski 38 (Paris, 1929): 488-500.

___. Dostoevskii i sovremennost’. Paris: YMCA Press, 1929. Pp. 74. Review:

___. A. Khomiakov. Paris: YMCA Press, 1929. Pp. 61.

___. Mirosozertsanie Vladimira Solov’eva. Paris: YMCA Press, 1929. Pp. 49. Review:

___. ‘O sotsial’noi rabote.’ Dni (7 September 1930).

___. ‘O iurovdivykh.’ Vestnik Russkogo Studencheskogo Khristianskogo Dvizheniia/Le Messager 8-9 (Paris, 1930): 3-13.

___. ‘Rozhdenie v tvorenie.’ Put’ 30 (Paris, 1931): 35-47.

___. ‘Sotsial’nye sdvigi v emigratsii.’ Novyi grad 2 (Paris, 1932): 70-74.

___. ‘Russkaia geografiia Frantsii.’ Posledniia novosti (Paris, 14 June 1932): n.p.; (18 June 1932): n.p.; (24 June 1932): n.p.

___. [Poetry]. In Put’ zhizni 24 (Petsery, 1937): pp.

___. ‘Pod znamenem nashego vremeni.’ Novyi grad 12 (Paris, 1937): 115-122.

___. ‘Vstrechi s Blokom (K piatnadtsatiletiiu so dnia smerti).’ Uchenye Zapiski Tartuskogo Gosudarstvennogo Universiteta 209 (Tartu, 1968): 265-278.

___. ‘Stikhotvoreniia,’ Lit.-Krit. Ezhegodnik 9 (Moscow, 1989): 168-169.

Contains:

1) ‘Vnizu napisano: ‘Agata’.’

2) ‘Glaza, glaza,–ia snaiu vas . . .’

3) ‘Edinstvo mira ugadat’ . . .’

4) ‘Ispantsy nekogda zdes’ zhit’ khoteli . . .’

5) ‘Pril’nut’ k oknu v chuzhuiu maetu . . .’

6) ‘Ty, serebrianaia ptitsa, Golub’ . . . ‘

7) ‘Kholodno li?–Netu kholoda.’

___. [Poetry]. In Tsaritsy muz, edited by Viktoriia V. Uchenova, pp. Moscow: Publisher, 1989.

___. Zhatva dukha. Tomsk: Vodolei, 1994.

___. ‘A. Khomyakov,’ translated by Fr. Stephen Janos. Typescript, 1996. Pp. 27. [Original 1929.]

___. ‘Dostoevsky and the Present,’ translated by Fr. Stephen Janos. Typescript, 1996. Pp. 50. [Original 1929.]

___. ‘The World Concept of Vl. Soloviev,’ translated by Fr. Stephen Janos, 1996. Pp. 61. [Original 1929.]

___. ‘In Search of Synthesis,’ translated by Fr. Stephen Janos. Typescript, 1997. [Original in Put’ 16 (Paris, 1929): 49-68.]

Skobtsova, Mother Maria. Le sacrement du frére, translated and edited by Hélène Klépinine-Arjakovsky. Paris: Editions Cerf, 1995.

___. ‘Tipy Religioznoi Zhizni.’ Vestnik Russkogo Studencheskogo Khristianskogo Dvizheniia/La Messager 176, Nos. 1-3 (Paris, 1997): pp. Online at:

___. ‘Types of Religious Lives,’ translated by Fr. Alvian Smirensky. and and

___. ‘Types of Religious Lives,’ translated by Fr. Alvian Smirensky. Sourozh 74 (London, November 1998): 4-10; 75 (February 1999):pp.; 76 (May 1999): 21-35.

___. ‘Two Types of Love,’ translated by Fr. Alvian Smirensky. In Communion 13 (September 1998): pp. Excerpt from ‘Types of Religious Lives.’ Online at:

Archives

Pilenko, Sofiia Borisovna. ‘Moi vospominaniia o materi Marii.’ Located in the Sofiia B. Pilenko Papers, Bakhmeteff Archives, Columbia University, New York, N.Y.

Skobtsova, Elizaveta. ‘Papers 1912-1955.’ Located in the Sofiia B. Pilenko Papers, Bakhmeteff Archive, Columbia University, New York, N.Y.

Krymskii oblastnoi gosudarstvennyi arkhiv, f. 623, op. 2, dd. 19, 22.

Tsentral’nyi gosudarstvennyi istoricheskii arkhiv Latviiskoi SSSR, f. 232, op. 2, d. 157, ll. 38, ob. 39.

Gosudarstvennyi istoricheskii arkhiv Leningradskoi oblasti (GIALO) [since renamed]. F. 177, op. 1, d. 47, l. 134 (birth registration documents); f. 148, op. 1, d. 299, l. 33; f. 113 (Archive of the Bestuzhev Courses), op. 1, d. 192, l. 73 ob.; f. 113, op. 1, d. 1054, l. 83.

[Letters from Blok.] Institut Russkoi lieratury RAN (Pushkinskii dom), (IRLI, St. Petersburg), f. 654, op. 1, ed. khr. 320, l. 26 ob.

[Letters from E. Iu. Kuz’mina-Karavaeva to A. A. Blok, 1913-16.] Rossisskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv literatury i iskusstve, St. Petersburg (RGALI, Moscow), f. 50, op. 1, ed. khr. 375; f. 14; f. 55, op. 1, ed. khr. 299, ff. 4-7, 21-22, 23-24, 25-26.

[Letters to Paul B. Anderson]. Paul B. Anderson Papers, 1913-1982. University Archives Record Series 15/35/54, boxes 27-29. Slavic and East European Library, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

[Portraits by N. S. Voitinskaia and Kuz’mina-Karavaeva]. GRM [?], otdel risunkov, R. 56909; otdel graviury, Gr. 41537 (1908); otdel graviury, Gr. 40491 (1911); otdel graviury, Gr. 41846 (1914).

Not Located

Dni (Paris): 11 November 1928, 9 December 1928, 30 December 1928, 3 May 1929, 12 May 1929, 9 June 1929. [Newspaper articles.]

Skobtsova, E. ‘Drug moego detstva.’ [Published in the emigre press sometime in the 1920s.]

text as of February 16, 2002; please send corrections or additions to Dr. Kris Groberg

The example of five saints

Jim Forest’s talk for the Sourozh Diocesan Conference in Oxford, presented 31 May 2004

Becoming the Gospel: the example of five newly recognized saints

My theme, becoming the Gospel, is inspired by a sentence from Metropolitan Anthony:

We should try to live in such a way that if the Gospels were lost, they could be re-written by looking at us.

These few words seem to me the underlying theme of all his books, lectures and sermons. To be a Christian is to devote one’s life to becoming the Gospel. The Gospel exists so that each of us can make of our lives a unique living translation of its stories, sayings and parables. Like no other book in the world, it is meant to be lived, to be lived in such a way that those who have not read the text might guess at least its major themes simply by knowing those who are absorbing the text into their lives.

Orthodox ritual goes to great lengths to draw our attention to the Gospel. This small book, containing only the texts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, is enthroned on the altar. It is something we bow toward and often kiss. Side by side with the Cross, it is before us when we confess our sins. Held high, it is solemnly carried through the church in procession every week. It is decorated with relief icons. During services, it is not simply read but chanted so that the words of the Gospel might enter us more deeply.

Only a degree less important in the life of the Orthodox Church is our close attention to the lives of the saints, that is to those people who, to a remarkable degree, in some way became the Gospel. Each saint provides a unique translation of the Gospel. Each saint not only helps us see what the Gospel is about but also how diverse are the ways in which a person can become the Gospel. Each saint throws a fresh light on how the Gospel can be lived more fully in the particular circumstances of our lives.

I would like to look at the example given by several newly glorified saints: Alexis Medvedkov, a priest who died in 1934; and Mother Maria Skobtsova plus three others closely associated with her: the priest Dimitri Klépinin, her friend and collaborator Ilya Fondaminsky, a Jewish convert to the Orthodox Church; and Mother Maria’s son, Yuri. On the first weekend of May, in the Cathedral of St Alexander Nevsky in Paris, their names were added to the Church’s calendar of saints.

mmaria3

Their glorification was an amazing celebration of Orthodox unity. Archbishop Gabriel presided at these services, assisted by our own Bishop Basil and by Bishop Silouan, representing the Romanians. There were also priests and deacons from various jurisdictions. The cathedral was crowded as if for Pascha. One of the priests was Serge Hackel, whose biography of Mother Maria, Pearl of Great Price, was a factor in starting the process that culminated in the canonizations. Appropriately, Fr Serge wore a chasuble that had been made by Mother Maria for Fr Dimitri, who, incidentally, was ordained a priest in this same cathedral.

stalexis

I start with the least well known of the five, Father Alexis Medvedkov. Born in Russia in 1867, he went to seminary and afterward became a reader and choir director at a St Petersburg parish. He felt unworthy of the priesthood but finally, encouraged by St John of Kronstadt, accepted ordination. He was sent to serve a village 60 miles from the capital. As was the case for many priests, his meager salary was not enough. Side by side with his neighbors, he worked the land. Yet he also lived a life of mind and spirit, saving money to buy the writings of the Church Fathers. He was a parent as well — he and his wife had two daughters. His pastoral zeal was recognized — in 1916, age 49, he was made an archpriest. Then the next year, in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution, he was arrested, tortured and sentenced to death. Remarkably, his eldest daughter succeeded in freeing her father by offering herself as a hostage in his place. The effects of torture, however, remained with him for the rest of his life. Because of nerve damage, his right eye was always open wider than his left.

In 1919 the entire family managed to escape to Estonia where Fr Alexis worked in a mine and then as a night watchman. In 1923 he became assistant priest at a local parish, also helping in the parish school. In 1929, following prolonged illness, his wife died.

After this heavy blow, he was invited by Metropolitan Evlogy in Paris to come to France. He was sent to the town Ugine, near Grenoble, to serve as rector of St Nicholas Russian Orthodox church. A local factory employed 600 Russian immigrants.

He often celebrated the Liturgy on weekdays as well as Sundays and feast days. He was known for how carefully he intoned each word when he stood in the sanctuary. After services, he would stay on to do memorial services and meet whatever other needs were brought to him by his parishioners, never charging money.

His congregation proved difficult. The parish council was dominated by secular-minded lay people of a military background, men used to giving orders, whose main interest was politics. Some harassed Fr Alexis during services. Some were abusive. When insulted, he replied with silence. He patiently endured the criticism of those who regarded the services as too long or criticized him for not dressing better.

His health declined — doctors diagnosed cancer of the intestines. In July 1934, he was taken to hospital. His died on the 22nd of August. On the advice of a physician who warned that Fr Alexis’ cancer-ridden body would rapidly decompose, he was buried in a double coffin.

His parishioners, even those who had been hostile, came to remember him as an exceptionally modest man, shy, full of gratitude, prayerful, outgoing, compassionate, slow to criticize, eager to forgive, generous with what little he had, who never turned his back on anyone in need.

A friend who visited him during those final weeks of his life recalled him saying: “In my parish the true parishioners are the children … and if those children live and grow up, they will form the inner Church. And we too, we belong to that Church, as long as we live according to our conscience and fulfil the commandments … Do you understand what I mean? In the visible Church there is an invisible Church, a secret Church. In it are found the humble who live by grace and walk in the will of God. They can be found in every parish and every jurisdiction. The emigration lives through them and by the grace of God.”

It was a life of ordinary sanctity — small deeds of holiness performed day after day that were either taken for granted or ridiculed. He might have been entirely forgotten had it not been for a decision by the Ugine town council in 1953 to build flats on the site of the cemetery. The remains of those buried in the old cemetery were moved. On the 22nd of August, 1956, precisely 22 years after Fr Alexis’s death, workmen came to his grave and found that his double coffin had entirely disintegrated but his body, priestly vestments and the Gospel book buried with him, had not decayed.

I have left out many details of his life, but you see the main lines: great suffering, endurance, patient service to impatient people, belief in the face of disbelief, an uprooted life, the early death of his wife, his own hard death, a love of prayer, a constant witness to God’s love — and then a sign after death that served to resurrect his memory and inspired the decision that this humble priest ought to be remembered by the Church. The memory of the Church is the calendar of the saints.

Now let me speak about the four others glorified in Paris this month.

The central figure is Mother Maria Skobtsova. Born in 1891 and given the name Elizaveta, she grew up near the Black Sea and later in St. Petersburg. Her childhood faith collapsed following her father’s death, but as a young adult her faith was gradually reborn. Liza prayed and read the Gospel and the lives of saints. While regarding herself as a socialist, it seemed to her that the real need of the people was not for revolutionary theories but for Christ. She wanted “to proclaim the simple word of God,” she told Alexander Blok in 1916. She was the first woman to study at the theological institute in St. Petersburg. After Lenin’s forces took power, she narrowly escaped summary execution by convincing a Bolshevik sailor that she was a friend of Lenin’s wife.

One of the many refugees who fled Russia during the civil war, by the time she reached Paris in 1923 she had finished one marriage and started another and was the mother of three.

One child, Nastia, died very young — the kind of death that visited many Russian families struggling to survive in France in those days. Liza’s monastic vocation is partly connected with Nastia’s death in the winter of 1926. During her month-long vigil at her daughter’s bedside, Liza came to feel how she had never known “the meaning of repentance.”

[N]ow I am aghast at my own insignificance …. I feel that my soul has meandered down back alleys all my life. And now I want an authentic and purified road. Not out of faith in life, but in order to justify, understand and accept death …. No amount of thought will ever result in any greater formulation than the three words, ‘Love one another,’ so long as it is love to the end and without exceptions. And then the whole of life is illumined, which is otherwise an abomination and a burden.

After Nastia’s burial, Liza became aware, as she put it, “of a new and special, broad and all-embracing motherhood.” She emerged from her mourning with a determination to seek “a more authentic and purified life.” She felt she saw a “new road before me and a new meaning in life, to be a mother for all, for all who need maternal care, assistance, or protection.”

In 1930, she was appointed traveling secretary of the Russian Student Christian Movement, work which put her into daily contact with impoverished Russian refugees in cities, towns and villages throughout France.

She took literally Christ’s words that he was always present in the least person. “Man ought to treat the body of his fellow human being with more care than he treats his own,” she wrote.

If someone turns with his spiritual world toward the spiritual world of another person, he encounters an awesome and inspiring mystery …. He comes into contact with the true image of God in man, with the very icon of God incarnate in the world, with a reflection of the mystery of God’s incarnation and divine manhood. And he needs to accept this awesome revelation of God unconditionally, to venerate the image of God in his brother. Only when he senses, perceives and understands it will yet another mystery be revealed to him — one that will demand his most dedicated efforts …. He will perceive that the divine image is veiled, distorted and disfigured by the power of evil …. And he will want to engage in battle with the devil for the sake of the divine image.

Metropolitan Anthony, then a layman in Paris studying to become a physician, recalled a story about her from this period that he heard from a friend:

[S]he went to the steel foundry in Creusot, where a large number of Russian [refugees] were working. She came there and announced that she was preparing to give a series of lectures on Dostoevsky. She was met with general howling: “We do not need Dostoevsky. We need linen ironed, we need our rooms cleaned, we need our clothes mended — and you bring us Dostoevsky!” And she answered: “Fine, if that is needed, let us leave Dostoevsky alone.” And for several days she cleaned rooms, sewed, mended, ironed, cleaned. When she had finished doing all that, they asked her to talk about Dostoevsky. This made a big impression on me, because she did not say: “I did not come here to iron for you or clean your rooms. Can you not do that yourselves?” She responded immediately and in this way she won the hearts and minds of the people.

While her work for the Russian Student Christian Movement suited her, she began to envision a new type of community, “half monastic and half fraternal,” which would connect spiritual life with service to those in need, in the process showing “that a free Church can perform miracles.”

Father Sergei Bulgakov, dean of the St. Sergius Theological Institute and her confessor, was a source of support and encouragement. He was a confessor who respected the freedom of all who sought his guidance, never demanding obedience, never manipulating. Another key figure in her life was her bishop, Metropolitan Evlogy. He was the first one to suggest to Liza the possibility of becoming a nun. Assured by him that she would be free to develop a new type of monasticism, engaged in the world and marked by the “complete absence of even the subtlest barrier which might separate the heart from the world and its wounds,” in March 1932 Liza was professed as a nun and received the name Maria. Her goal was to create a model of what she called “monasticism in the world.”

Here again there is an interesting impression by Metropolitan Anthony if what Mother Maria was like in those days:

She was a very unusual nun in her behavior and her manners. I was simply staggered when I saw her for the first time in monastic clothes. I was walking along the Boulevard Montparnasse and I saw: in front of a café, on the pavement, there was a table, on the table was a glass of beer and behind the glass was sitting a Russian nun in full monastic robes. I looked at her and decided that I would never go near that woman. I was young then and held extreme views.

Mother Maria’s intention was “to share the life of paupers and tramps,” but how she would do so was not yet clear. She knew that it could not be a life of withdrawal from the sufferings of the world. “Everyone is always faced,” she wrote, “with the necessity of choosing between the comfort and warmth of an earthly home, well protected from winds and storms, and the limitless expanse of eternity, which contains only one sure and certain item … the cross.”

With financial help and the encouragement of Metropolitan Evlogy, she started her first house of hospitality. As the building was completely unfurnished, the first night she wrapped herself in blankets and slept on the floor beneath the icon of the Protection of the Mother of God. Donated furniture began arriving, and also guests, mainly unemployed young Russian women. To make room for others, Mother Maria gave up her own room and instead slept on an iron bedstead in the basement. A room upstairs became a chapel while the dining room doubled as a hall for lectures and discussions.

When the first house proved too small, a new location was found — a house of three storeys at 77 rue de Lourmel in the fifteenth arrondisement, an area where many impoverished Russian refugees had settled. While at the former address she could feed only 25, here she could feed a hundred. A stable behind the house was made into a church. The house was a modern Noah’s Ark able to withstand the stormy waves the world was hurling its way. Here guests could regain their breath “until the time comes to stand on their two feet again.”

As the work evolved, she rented other buildings, one for families in need, and another for single men. A rural property became a sanatorium.

Donations were given and quickly spent, yet the community purse was never empty for long. She sometimes recalled the Russian story of the ruble that could never be spent. Each time it was used, the change given back proved to equal a ruble. It was exactly this way with love, she said: No matter how much love you give, you never have less. In fact you discover you have more — one ruble becomes two, two becomes ten.

She enjoyed a legend concerning two saints of the fourth century, Nicholas of Myra and John Cassian, who returned to earth to see how things were going. They came upon a peasant, his cart mired in the mud, who begged their help. John Cassian regretfully declined, explaining that he was soon due back in heaven and therefore must keep his robes spotless. Meanwhile Nicholas was already up to his hips in the mud, freeing the cart. When the Ruler of All discovered why Nicholas was caked in mud and John Cassian immaculate, it was decided that Nicholas’ feast day would henceforth be celebrated twice each year — May 9 and December 6 — while John Cassian’s would occur only once every four years, on February 29.

Mother Maria felt sustained by the opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount: “Not only do we know the Beatitudes, but at this hour, this very minute, surrounded though we are by a dismal and despairing world, we already savor the blessedness they promise…”

Of course she had her critics. The house on rue de Lourmel, some charged, was an “ecclesiastical Bohemia.” There should be more emphasis on services, less on hospitality. But Mother Maria’s view was that “the Liturgy must be translated into life. It is why Christ came into the world and why he gave us our Liturgy.”

She had an unusual opinion regarding exile. In her view, far from being a catastrophe, it was a heaven-sent opportunity to renew the Church in ways that would have met with repression in her mother country:

What obligations follow from the gift of freedom which [in our exile] we have been granted? We are beyond the reach of persecution. We can write, speak, work, open schools …. At the same time, we have been liberated from age-old traditions. We have no enormous cathedrals, [jewel] encrusted Gospel books, no monastery walls. We have lost our environment. Is this an accident? Is this some chance misfortune?… In the context of spiritual life, there is no chance, nor are there fortunate or unfortunate epochs. Rather there are signs which we must understand and paths which we must follow. Our calling is a great one, since we are called to freedom.

She saw expatriation as an opportunity “to liberate the real and authentic.” It was similar to the opportunity given to the first Christians. “We must not allow Christ,” she said, “to be overshadowed by any regulations, any customs, any traditions, any aesthetic considerations, or even any piety.”

In September 1935 Orthodox Action was founded. It was a name proposed by her friend Nicholas Berdyaev. In addition to Mother Maria and Berdyaev, the co-founders included the theologian Father Sergei Bulgakov, the historian George Fedotov, the literary scholar Constantine Mochulsky, her long-time co-worker Fedor Pianov, and Ilya Fondaminsky, who had once had a post in the Kerensky government — one of the three others canonized with her. Metropolitan Evlogy was honorary president. Mother Maria was chairman. Its projects included hostels, rest homes, schools, camps, hospital work, help to the unemployed, assistance to the elderly, and publication of books and pamphlets. By now many co-workers were involved.

While many valued what she and her co-workers were doing, there were others who were scandalized with the shabby nun who was so uncompromisingly devoted to the duty of hospitality that she would leave a church service to answer the door bell. “For church circles we are too far to the left,” Mother Maria noted, “while for the left we are too church-minded.”

In October 1939, Metropolitan Evlogy sent a priest to rue de Lourmel: Father Dimitri Klépinin, then 35 years old. He had been born in Russia in 1904. He came to Paris from Belgrade in 1925 to study at the St Sergius Theological Institute. Like Mother Maria, he was a spiritual child of Father Sergei Bulgakov. A man of few words, great modesty and a profound love of the Liturgy, Father Dimitri proved to be a major partner in Mother Maria’s work.

The last phase of the life of Mother Maria and her co-workers — these now included her son Yuri — was shaped by World War II and Germany’s occupation of France.

Paris fell on the 14th of June 1940. France capitulated a week later. With defeat came greater poverty and hunger for many people. Local authorities in Paris declared the house at rue Lourmel an official food distribution point.

Paris was now a prison. “There is the dry clatter of iron, steel and brass,” wrote Mother Maria. “Order is all.” Russian refugees were among the particular targets of the occupiers. In June 1941, a thousand were arrested, among them Ilya Fondaminsky, a close friend and collaborator of Mother Maria and editor of various Russian expatriate journals. His long delayed baptism occurred within the makeshift Orthodox chapel at the prison camp in Compiegne. He died at Auschwitz the following year.

When the Nazis issued special identity cards for those of Russian origin living in France, Mother Maria and Father Dimitri refused to comply, though they were warned that those who failed to register would be regarded as citizens of the USSR — thus enemy aliens — and be punished accordingly.

Early in 1942, Jews began to knock on the door at rue de Lourmel asking Father Dimitri if he would issue baptismal certificates to them. The answer was always yes. The names of those supposedly baptized were duly recorded in his parish register in case there was any cross-checking by the police or Gestapo. Father Dimitri was convinced that in such a situation Christ would do the same.

In June the Jews of occupied France were ordered to wear the yellow star.

There were, of course, Christians who said that the anti-Jewish laws being imposed had nothing to do with Christians and therefore this was not a Christian problem. “This is not only a Jewish question but a Christian question,” replied Mother Maria. “Don’t you realize that the battle is being waged against Christianity? If we were true Christians we would all wear the Star. The age of confessors has arrived.”

In July Jews were forbidden access to nearly all public places while shopping by Jews was limited to one hour per day. A week later, there was a mass arrest. Nearly 13,000 Jews, two-thirds of them children, were brought to a sports stadium less than a mile from rue de Lourmel where they were held for five days before being transported to Auschwitz.

Mother Maria had often regarded her monastic robe as a God-send in aiding her work. Now her nun’s robes opened the way for her to enter the stadium. Here she worked for three days trying to comfort the children and their parents, distributing what food she could bring in, and even managing to rescue a number of children by enlisting the aid of garbage collectors and smuggling them out in trash bins.

The house at rue de Lourmel was bursting with people, many of them Jews. In this period, if anyone came to the house searching for Jews, she would show them an icon of the Mother of God.

Father Dimitri, Mother Maria, Yuri and their co-workers set up routes of escape to the unoccupied south — complex and dangerous work. An escaped Russian prisoner of war was also among those assisted. A local resistance group helped secure the food that was needed.

On February 8, 1943, Nazi security police entered the house Lourmel and found a letter in Yuri’s pocket in which Fr Dimitri was asked to provide a Jew with a false baptismal document. Yuri was arrested, and Fr Dimitri the next day. Under interrogation he made no attempt to hide his beliefs. Called a “Jew lover,” he responded by pointing to the cross he wore. “Do you know this Jew?” he asked. For this he was struck in the face.

Mother Maria’s arrest followed. At first she was confined at the Gestapo headquarters in Paris in the same building where Yuri, Father Dimitri and their co-worker of many years, Feodor Pianov, were being held. Pianov later recalled the scene of Father Dimitri in his torn cassock being taunted as a Jew. One of the SS officers began to beat him while Yuri stood nearby weeping. Father Dimitri consoled him, reminding him that “Christ withstood greater mockery than this.”

In April they were transferred to Compiègne. Mother Maria was able to have a final meeting with Yuri. Hours later, Mother Maria was sent in a sealed cattle truck to the Ravensbrück camp in Germany. In a letter Yuri sent to the community at rue de Lourmel, he said his mother told him “that I must trust in her ability to bear things and in general not to worry about her. Every day [Fr Dimitri and I] remember her at the proskomidia … We celebrate the Eucharist and receive communion each day.”

“Thanks to our daily Eucharist,” he reported in another letter, “our life here is quite transformed and to tell the honest truth, I have nothing to complain of. We live in brotherly love. Dima [Fr Dimitri] … is preparing me for the priesthood. God’s will needs to be understood. After all, this attracted me all my life and in the end it was the only thing I was interested in, though my interest was stifled by Parisian life and the illusion that there might be ‘something better’ — as if there could be anything better.”

For nine months the three men remained together at Compiègne. “Without exaggeration,” Pianov wrote after being liberated in 1945, “I can say that the year spent with [Father Dimitri] was a godsend. I do not regret that year…. From my experience with him, I learned to understand what enormous spiritual, psychological and moral support one man can give to others as a friend, companion and confessor.”

On December 16, Yuri and Father Dimitri were deported to Buchenwald in Germany, followed several weeks later by Pianov. In January 1944, Father Dimitri and Yuri were sent to another camp, Dora, about 20 miles away. On the 6th of February, Yuri was “dispatched for treatment” — a euphemism meaning sentenced to death. Four days later Fr Dimitri died of pneumonia.

A final letter from Yuri made its way to rue de Lourmel:

I am absolutely calm, even somewhat proud to share mama’s fate. I promise you I will bear everything with dignity. Whatever happens, sooner or later we shall all be together. I can say in all honesty that I am not afraid of anything any longer…. I ask anyone whom I have hurt in any way to forgive me. Christ be with you!

At Ravensbruck, Mother Maria endured for two years, an achievement in part explained by her long experience of ascetic life. A fellow prisoner who survived recalls how Mother Maria she would discuss passages from the New Testament: “Together we would provide a commentary on the texts and then meditate on them. Often we would conclude with Compline… This period seemed a paradise to us.”

By March 1945, Mother Maria’s condition was critical. On the 30th of March — Good Friday, as it happened — she was selected for the gas chambers and the following day entered into eternal life. The shellfire of the approaching Red Army could be heard in the distance.

Regarding her last day, accounts vary. According to one, she was simply one of the many selected for death that day. According to another, she took the place of a fellow prisoner, a Jew. Her friend Jacqueline Péry wrote afterward:

“It is very possible that [Mother Maria] took the place of a frantic companion. It would have been entirely in keeping with her generous life. In any case she offered herself consciously to the holocaust … thus assisting each one of us to accept the cross …. She radiated the peace of God and communicated it to us.”

Five saints — a humble priest who died of cancer, and four victims of one of the ideological insanities that destroyed so many millions of people in the 20th century.

Father Alexis of Ugine gives an example of the priesthood that from a distance seems in no way remarkable, yet his entire adult life was illumined by the Gospel. He reminds me of St Nicholas.

In Mother Maria, Fr Dimitri, Yuri Skobtsov and Ilya Fondaminsky, we see an extraordinary example of what perhaps could be called “the sacrament of the open door.”

Recently my wife asked me what is the most important thing in our house. I thought for a moment, then mentioned certain books and icons. “No,” she said, “it is the front door. Everything depends on how we open the door. Everything depends on hospitality.”

It was a startling thought. I’m sure all the newly canonized saints said very similar things many times. Indeed in one of her essays Mother Maria uses the term “the asceticism of the open door.”

Controversial in life, Mother Maria remains a subject of contention to this day and I expect this controversy will continue even now that she has been recognized as a saint. While clearly she lived a life of heroic virtue and is among the martyrs of the twentieth century, her verbal attacks on nationalistic and tradition-bound forms of religious life still raise the blood pressure of many Orthodox Christians. St. Maria of Paris, as perhaps she will now be called, remains an indictment of any form of Christianity that seeks Christ chiefly inside church buildings.

All saints show us in certain ways what it means to become the Gospel. From such people, even if we knew nothing at all about the words of Christ, we could guess the outline of Christ’s teaching simply by the example given by these dedicated followers. Each of their lives provides a translation of the Gospel into the circumstances of their vocation and time.

All saints, whether from the first century or from our own era, provide a living witness to the Beatitudes, the foundation of which is Jesus’ declaration that “blessed are the poor in spirit.”

“Blessed” — not a word one finds in headlines nor does it often appear in conversation. In the Greek New Testament, each Beatitude begins with the word makarios. In classical Greek makar was a condition associated with the immortal gods. Kari means “fate” or “death,” but given a negative prefix the word means “being deathless, no longer subject to fate.” Being deathless was a condition both inaccessible and longed for by mortals. It was because of their immortality that the gods were the blessed ones.

In Christian use, makarios meant sharing in the life of God, the ultimate joy. There is no higher gift. We are not simply capable of an abstract awareness that God exists, an infinitely remote Being whom we can faintly glimpse through an intellectual telescope. In the kingdom of God, the blessing extended to us is nothing less than participation in the communion of the Holy Trinity. It is being received into God’s immortality. It is being blessed with qualities that seem humanly impossible.

Understood in this way, the word “blessed” might be translated “freed from death” or “risen from the dead.” To be blessed is to participate in Christ’s resurrection. Risen from the dead are the poor in spirit. Risen from the dead are they who mourn. Risen from the dead are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Risen from the dead are the merciful. Risen from the dead are the pure of heart. Risen from the dead are the peacemakers. Risen from the dead are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.

To be risen from the dead is not simply a condition of the life to come. It has to do with our lives here and now. And this is what we see in each of these five saints: living in the kingdom of God even though the world has plunged itself into hell.

Let me finish by reading aloud one last passage from Mother Maria:

The way to God lies through love of people. At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, nor how many bows and prostrations I made. Instead I shall be asked, Did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners. That is all I shall be asked. About every poor, hungry and imprisoned person the Savior says ‘I’: ‘I was hungry and thirsty, I was sick and in prison.’ To think that he puts an equal sign between himself and anyone in need…. I always knew it, but now it has somehow penetrated to my sinews. It fills me with awe.

Note: The principal source of biographical material used in this text is Fr. Serge Hackel’s book, Pearl of Great Price, published in Britain by Darton Longman & Trodd and, in America, by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

Icons of Saints Maria of Paris and those canonized with her plus prayers

Here is a small collection icons of St. Maria of Paris and those canonized with her. The Tropar and Kontak for the feast day of the four saints, July 20, are at the bottom of this page.

Above, an icon painted in 2007 by John Reves in Austria. (Mounted prints of this icon are available from Come and See Icons: http://www.comeandseeicons.com/m/opf01.htm.)

Above Icon by Father John Matusiak 2009

 

 

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This icon was made in 2008 for Archbishop Gabriel of Comana, Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarch. The iconographer is Patricia Fostiropoulis. The icon size is 30.5 x 40 cm.

The icon below, used at the services of glorification at the Cathedral of St Alexander Nevsky in Paris on May 1 and 2, 2004, was written by Maria Struve, who personally knew the four saints. This is scanned from the card given to all who were present for the glorification. Note that the background color of the actual icon is more cream than orange.

canonization icon

 

icon of St Maria Skobtsova of Paris (iconographer: Olga Poloukhine )

 

A new icon of Mother Maria by the Deacon-iconographer Paul of the Monastery of Pervijze in Diksmuide, Belgium.

Above, an icon of Mother Maria by the Deacon-iconographer Paul of the Monastery of Pervijze in Diksmuide, Belgium.

Mother Maria of Ravensbruck

Above, an icon painted in 2006 by Patricia Fostiropoulos in London. The icon is at the Orthodox parish in Lewes, Sussex, England,

Above: Iconographer Macha Struve is based in Paris.

Below, An icon commissioned by Fr. Michael Plekon and painted by John Reves.

Below, an icon of Mother Maria by Janet Peters.

St Dimitri Klepinin of Paris

was the priest working closely with Mother Maria. Like her, he died in a concentration camp. The icon is on the wall of the church in the Monastery of the Protection of the Mother of God in Bussy, France.

A large set of icons and photos relating to the four saints is here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/sets/72157594152181792/

Tropaire, ton 1:

Par les souffrances que les saints ont endurées pour Toi
sois emploré, Seigneur,
et guéris toutes nos maladies:
nous t’en prions, ô Ami des hommes.

Tropar – Tone 1:

Through the sufferings which the saints have endured for Your sake,
O Lord, we beseech You
to heal all of our infirmities,
O Good Friend of Man.

Kontakion, ton 8. Sur: Commes premices:

Comme témoins de la vérité, et prédicateurs de la piété,
honorons dignement par des chants divinement inspirés
Dimitri, Marie, Georges et Elie,
ayant supporté les liens, les souffrances et l’injuste jugement,
et que par les martyre ont reçu la couronne inflétrissable.

Kondak – Tone 8:

As witnesses of truth and preachers of piety,
let us worthily honor through divinely inspired chants:
Dimitri, Maria, George and Elias,
who have borne the sufferings,
the bonds and unjust judgment,
in which like the martyrs
have received the imperishable crown.

* * *

Here are the Troparion and Kontakion for St. Maria from an Orthodox Church in America publication–Saints in Times of Trouble–published by the OCA. You can find the entire document here: www.iglesiaortodoxa.cl/revistas/saints-in-trouble.pdf

The booklet provides an activity book for children.

Troparion (Tone 4)

You became a bride of Christ, O venerable Mother,
And offered your body and soul to Him as a living sacrifice.
You exposed the evil side of humanity’s ways
By allowing the light of the Resurrection to shine forth from you.
We celebrate your memory in love.
O Martyr and Confessor Maria
Pray to Christ our God that He may save our souls.

Kontakion (Tone 6)

You became an instrument of divine love, O holy martyr Maria,
And taught us to love Christ with all our being.
You conquered evil by not submitting yourself into the hands of the destroyer of souls.
You drank from the cup of suffering.
The Creator accepted your death above any other sacrifice
And crowned you with the laurels of victory with His mighty hand.
Pray fervently that nothing may hinder us from fulfilling God’s will
Because you are a bright star shining in darkness!

* * *

Mother Maria of Paris: Saint of the Open Door

Mother Maria Skobtsova
Mother Maria Skobtsova

On January 18, 2004, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul recognized Mother Maria Skobtsova as a saint along with her son Yuri, the priest who worked closely with her, Fr. Dimitri Klépinin, and her close friend and collaborator Ilya Fondaminsky. All four died in German concentration camps.

by Jim Forest

“No amount of thought will ever result in any greater formulation than the three words, ‘Love one another,’ so long as it is love to the end and without exceptions.”

Those who know the details of her life tend to regard Mother Maria Skobtsova as one of the great saints of the twentieth century: a brilliant theologian who lived her faith bravely in nightmarish times, finally dying a martyr’s death at the Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany in 1945.

Elizaveta Pilenko, the future Mother Maria, was born in 1891 in the Latvian city of Riga, then part of the Russian Empire, and grew up in the south of Russia on a family estate near the town of Anapa on the shore of the Black Sea. In her family she was known as Liza. For a time her father was mayor of Anapa. Later he was director of a botanical garden and school at Yalta. On her mother’s side, Liza was descended from the last governor of the Bastille, the Parisian prison destroyed during the French Revolution.

Her parents were devout Orthodox Christians whose faith helped shape their daughter’s values, sensitivities and goals. As a child she once emptied her piggy bank in order to contribute to the painting of an icon that would be part of a new church in Anapa. At seven she asked her mother if she was old enough to become a nun, while a year later she sought permission to become a pilgrim who spends her life walking from shrine to shrine. (As late as 1940, when living in German-occupied Paris, thoughts of one day being a wandering pilgrim and missionary in Siberia again filled her imagination.)

When she was fourteen, her father died, an event which seemed to her meaningless and unjust and led her to atheism. “If there is no justice,” she said, “there is no God.” She decided God’s nonexistence was well known to adults but kept secret from children. For her, childhood was over.

When her widowed mother moved the family to St. Petersburg in 1906, she found herself in the country’s political and cultural center — also a hotbed of radical ideas and groups.

She became part of radical literary circles that gathered around such symbolist poets as Alexander Blok, whom she first met at age fifteen. Blok responded to their unexpected meeting — Liza had come to visit unannounced — with a poem that included the lines:

Only someone who is in love

Has the right to call himself a human being.

In a note that came with the poem, Blok told Liza that many people were dying where they stood. The world-weary poet urged her “to run, run from us, the dying ones.” She replied with a vow fight “against death and against wickedness.”

Like so many of her contemporaries, she was drawn to the left, but was often disappointed that the radicals she encountered. Though regarding themselves as revolutionaries, they seemed to do nothing but talk. “My spirit longed to engage in heroic feats, even to perish, to combat the injustice of the world,” she recalled. Yet no one she knew was actually laying down his life for others. Should her friends hear of someone dying for the Revolution, she noted, “they will value it, approve or not approve, show understanding on a very high level, and discuss the night away till the sun rises and it’s time for fried eggs. But they will not understand at all that to die for the Revolution means to feel a rope around one’s neck.”

Liza began teaching evening courses to workers at the Poutilov Plant, but later gave it up in disillusionment when one of her students told her that he and his classmates weren’t interested in learning as such, but saw classes as a necessary path to becoming clerks and bureaucrats. The teen-age Liza wanted her workers to be every bit as idealistic as she was.

In 1910, Liza married Dimitri Kuzmin-Karaviev, a member of Social Democrat Party, better known as the Bolsheviks. She was eighteen, he was twenty-one. It was a marriage born “more of pity than of love,” she later commented. Dimitri had spent a short time in prison several years before, but by the time of their marriage was part of a community of poets, artists and writers in which it was normal to rise at three in the afternoon and talk the night through until dawn.

She not only knew poets but wrote poems in the symbolist mode. In 1912 her first collection of poetry, Scythian Shards, was published.

Like many other Russian intellectuals, she later reflected, she was a participant in the revolution before the Revolution that was “so deeply, pitilessly and fatally laid over the soil of old traditions” only to destroy far more than it created. “Such courageous bridges we erected to the future! At the same time, this depth and courage were combined with a kind of decay, with the spirit of dying, of ghostliness, ephemerality. We were in the last act of the tragedy, the rupture between the people and the intelligentsia.”

She and her friends also talked theology, but just as their political ideas had no connection at all to the lives of ordinary people, their theology floated far above the actual Church. There was much they might have learned, she reflected later in life, from “any old beggar woman hard at her Sunday prostrations in church.” For many intellectuals, the Church was an idea or a set of abstract values, not a community in which one actually lives.

Though still regarding herself as an atheist, little by little her earlier attraction to Christ revived and deepened, not yet Christ as God incarnate but Christ as heroic man. “Not for God, for He does not exist, but for the Christ,” she said. “He also died. He sweated blood. They struck His face … [while] we pass by and touch His wounds and yet are not burned by His blood.”

One door opened to another. Liza found herself drawn toward the religious faith she had jettisoned after her father’s death. She prayed and read the Gospel and the lives of saints. It seemed to her that the real need of the people was not for revolutionary theories but for Christ. She wanted “to proclaim the simple word of God,” she told Blok in a letter written in 1916. The same year her second collection of poems, Ruth, appeared in St. Petersburg.

Deciding to study theology, she applied for entrance at the Theological Academy of the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in St. Petersburg, in those days an entirely male school whose students were preparing for ordination as priests. As surprising as her wanting to study there was the rector’s decision that she could be admitted.

By 1913, Liza’s marriage collapsed. (Later in his life Dimitri became a Christian, joined the Catholic Church, and later lived and worked among Jesuits in western Europe.) That October her first child, Gaiana, was born.

Just as World War I was beginning, Liza returned with her daughter to her family’s country home near Anapa in Russia’s deep south. Her religious life became more intense. For a time she secretly wore lead weights sewn into a hidden belt as a way of reminding herself both “that Christ exists” and also to be more aware that minute-by-minute many people were suffering and dying in the war. She realized, however, that the primary Christian asceticism was not self-mortification, but caring response to the needs of other people while at the same time trying to create better social structures. She joined the ill-fated Social Revolutionary Party, a movement that, despite the contrast in names, was far more democratic than Lenin’s Social Democratic Party.

On a return visit to St. Petersburg, Liza spent hours visiting a small chapel best known for a healing icon in which small coins had been embedded when lightning struck the poor box that stood near by — it was called the Mother of God, Joy of the Sorrowful, with Kopeks. Here she prayed in a dark corner, reviewing her life as one might prepare for confession, finally feeling God’s overwhelming presence. “God is over all,” she knew with certainty, “unique and expiating everything.”

In October 1917, Liza was present in St. Petersburg when Russia’s Provisional Government was overthrown by the Bolsheviks. Taking part in the All-Russian Soviet Congress, she heard Lenin’s lieutenant, Leon Trotsky, dismiss people from her party with the words, “Your role is played out. Go where you belong, into history’s garbage can!”

On the way home, she narrowly escaped summary execution by convincing a Bolshevik sailor that she was a friend of Lenin’s wife. It was on that difficult journey of many train rides and long waits at train stations that she began to see the scale of the catastrophe Russia was now facing: terror, random murder, massacres, destroyed villages, the rule of hooligans and thugs, hunger and massive dislocation. How hideously different actual revolution was from the dreams of revolution that had once filled the imagination of so many Russians, not least the intellectuals!

In February 1918, in the early days of Russia’s Civil War, Liza was elected deputy mayor of Anapa. She hoped she could keep the town’s essential services working and protect anyone in danger of the firing squad. “The fact of having a female mayor,” she noted, “was seen as something obviously revolutionary.” Thus they put up with “views that would not have been tolerated from any male.”

She became acting mayor after the town’s Bolshevik mayor fled when the White Army took control of the region. Again her life was in danger. To the White forces, Liza looked as Red as any Bolshevik. She was arrested, jailed, and put on trial for collaboration with the enemy. In court, she rose and spoke in her own defense: “My loyalty was not to any imagined government as such, but to those whose need of justice was greatest, the people. Red or White, my position is the same — I will act for justice and for the relief of suffering. I will try to love my neighbor.”

It was thanks to Daniel Skobtsov, a former schoolmaster who was now her judge, that Liza avoided execution. After the trial, she sought him out to thank him. They fell in love and within days were married. Before long Liza found herself once again pregnant.

The tide of the civil war was now turning in favor of the Bolsheviks. Both Liza and her husband were in peril, as well as her daughter and unborn child. They made the decision many thousands were making: it was safest to go abroad. Liza’s mother, Sophia, came with them.

Their journey took them across the Black Sea to Georgia in the putrid hold of a storm-beaten steamer. Liza’s son Yura was born in Tbilisi in 1920. A year later they left for Istanbul and from there traveled to Yugoslavia where Liza gave birth to Anastasia, or Nastia as she was called in the family. Their long journey finally ended in France. They arrived in Paris in 1923. Friends gave them use of a room. Daniel found work as a part-timer teacher, though the job paid too little to cover expanses. To supplement their income, Liza made dolls and painted silk scarves, often working ten or twelve hours a day.

A friend introduced her to the Russian Student Christian Movement, an Orthodox association founded in 1923. Liza began attending lectures and taking part in other activities of the group. She felt herself coming back to life spiritually and intellectually.

In the hard winter of 1926, each person in the family came down with influenza. All recovered except Nastia, who became thinner with each passing day. At last a doctor diagnosed meningitis. The Pasteur Institute accepted Nastia as a patient, also giving permission to Liza to stay day and night to help care for her daughter.

Liza’s vigil was to no avail. After a month in the hospital, Nastia died. Even then, for a day and night, her grief-stricken mother sat by Nastia’s side, unable to leave the room. During those desolate hours, she came to feel how she had never known “the meaning of repentance, but now I am aghast at my own insignificance …. I feel that my soul has meandered down back alleys all my life. And now I want an authentic and purified road. Not out of faith in life, but in order to justify, understand and accept death …. No amount of thought will ever result in any greater formulation than the three words, ‘Love one another,’ so long as it is love to the end and without exceptions. And then the whole of life is illumined, which is otherwise an abomination and a burden.”

The death of someone you love, she wrote, “throws open the gates into eternity, while the whole of natural existence has lost its stability and its coherence. Yesterday’s laws have been abolished, desires have faded, meaninglessness has displaced meaning, and a different, albeit incomprehensible Meaning, has caused wings to sprout on one’s back …. Before the dark pit of the grave, everything must be reexamined, measured against falsehood and corruption.”

After her daughter’s burial, Liza became “aware of a new and special, broad and all-embracing motherhood.” She emerged from her mourning with a determination to seek “a more authentic and purified life.” She felt she saw a “new road before me and a new meaning in life, to be a mother for all, for all who need maternal care, assistance, or protection.”

Liza devoted herself more and more to social work and theological writing with a social emphasis. In 1927 two volumes, Harvest of the Spirit, were published in which she retold the lives of many saints.

In the same period, her husband began driving a taxi, a job which provided a better income than part-time teaching. By now Gaiana was living at a boarding school in Belgium, thanks to help from her father. But Liza and Daniel’s marriage was dying, perhaps a casualty of Nastia’s death.

Feeling driven to devote herself as fully as possible to social service, Liza, with her mother, moved to central Paris, thus closer to her work. It was agreed that Yura would remain with his father until he was fourteen, though always free to visit and stay with his mother until he was fourteen, when he would decide for himself with which parent he would live. (In fact Yura, found to be in the early stages of tuberculosis, was to spend a lengthy period in a sanatarium apart from both parents.)

In 1930, the same year her third book of poetry was published, Liza was appointed traveling secretary of the Russian Student Christian Movement, work which put her into daily contact with impoverished Russian refugees in cities, towns and villages throughout France and sometimes in neighboring countries.

After completing a lecture in some provincial center, Liza might afterward find herself involved in confessional conversations with those who had come to hear her and who sensed that she was something more than an intellectual with a suitcase full of ideas and theories. “We would embark on frank conversations about émigré life or else about the past …. A queue would form by the door as if outside a confessional. There would be people wanting to pour out their hearts, to tell of some terrible grief which had burdened them for years, of pangs of conscience which gave them no peace.”

She took literally Christ’s words that he was always present in the least person. “Man ought to treat the body of his fellow human being with more care than he treats his own,” she wrote. “Christian love teaches us to give our fellows material as well as spiritual gifts. We should give them our last shirt and our last piece of bread. Personal almsgiving and the most wide-ranging social work are both equally justified and needed.”

“If someone turns with his spiritual world toward the spiritual world of another person,” she reflected, “he encounters an awesome and inspiring mystery …. He comes into contact with the true image of God in man, with the very icon of God incarnate in the world, with a reflection of the mystery of God’s incarnation and divine manhood. And he needs to accept this awesome revelation of God unconditionally, to venerate the image of God in his brother. Only when he senses, perceives and understands it will yet another mystery be revealed to him — one that will demand his most dedicated efforts …. He will perceive that the divine image is veiled, distorted and disfigured by the power of evil …. And he will want to engage in battle with the devil for the sake of the divine image.”

Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, who later became Russian Orthodox bishop in London, was then a layman in Paris where he was studying to become a physician. He recalls a story about Mother Maria her from this period that he heard from a friend:

[S]he went to the steel foundry in Creusot, where a large number of Russian [refugees] were working. She came there and announced that she was preparing to give a series of lectures on Dostoevsky. She was met with general howling: “We do not need Dostoevsky. We need linen ironed, we need our rooms cleaned, we need our clothes mended — and you bring us Dostoevsky!” And she answered: “Fine, if that is needed, let us leave Dostoevsky alone.” And for several days she cleaned rooms, sewed, mended, ironed, cleaned. When she had finished doing all that, they asked her to talk about Dostoevsky. This made a big impression on me, because she did not say: “I did not come here to iron for you or clean your rooms. Can you not do that yourselves?” She responded immediately and in this way she won the hearts and minds of the people.

While her work for the Russian Student Christian Movement suited her, the question was still unsettled in her life what her true vocation was. She began to envision a new type on community, “half monastic and half fraternal,” which would connect spiritual life with service to those in need, in the process showing “that a free Church can perform miracles.”

Father Sergei Bulgakov, her confessor, was a source of support and encouragement. He had been a Marxist economist before his conversion to Orthodox Christianity. In 1918 he was ordained to the priesthood in Moscow, then five years later was expelled from the USSR. He settled in Paris and became dean at the newly-founded St. Sergius Theological Institute. A spiritual father to many people, he was a confessor who respected the freedom of all who sought his guidance, never demanding obedience, never manipulating.

She also had a supportive bishop, Metropolitan Evlogy Georgievsky. He was responsible from 1921 to 1946 for the many thousands of Russian expatriates scattered across Europe, with the greatest number in France. “Everyone had access to him,” recalled Father Lev Gillet, “and placed on his shoulders all the spiritual or material burdens . . . . He wanted to give everyone the possibility of following his or her own call.” Metropolitan Eulogy had become aware of Liza through her social work and was the first one to suggest to her the possibility of becoming a nun.

Assured she would be free to develop a new type of monasticism, engaged in the world and marked by the “complete absence of even the subtlest barrier which might separate the heart from the world and its wounds,” Liza said she was willing to take such a step, but there was the obvious problem of her being married, even if now living alone. For a time it seemed the obstacles were insurmountable, as Daniel Skobtsov did not approve of his estranged wife taking monastic vows, but he changed his mind after Metropolitan Eulogy came to meet him. An ecclesiastical divorce was issued on March 7, 1932. A few weeks later, in the chapel at St. Sergius Theological Institute, Liza was professed as a nun. She was given the name Maria.

She made her monastic profession, Metropolitan Eulogy recognized, “in order to give herself unreservedly to social service.” Mother Maria called it simply “monasticism in the world.”

Here is an impression by Metropolitan Anthony of what Mother Maria was like in those days:

She was a very unusual nun in her behavior and her manners. I was simply staggered when I saw her for the first time in monastic clothes. I was walking along the Boulevard Montparnasse and I saw: in front of a café, on the pavement, there was a table, on the table was a glass of beer and behind the glass was sitting a Russian nun in full monastic robes. I looked at her and decided that I would never go near that woman. I was young then and held extreme views.

From the beginning Mother Maria’s intention was “to share the life of paupers and tramps,” but exactly how she would do that wasn’t yet clear to her. She lived in a room made available to her by Lev and Valentina Zander as she contemplated the next step in her life.

That summer she set out to visit Estonia and Latvia on behalf of the Russian SCM where, in contrast to Soviet Russia, convents and monasteries still flourished. Here she had a first hand experience of traditional monastic life. The experience strengthened her conviction that her own vocation must follow a different path. It seemed to her that no one in the monasteries she visited was aware that “the world is on fire” or sensed that the times cried out for a new form of monasticism. In a time of massive social disruption, she wrote, it was better to offer a monastic witness which opened its gates to the desperate people living outside and in so doing participate in Christ’s self-abasement. “Everyone is always faced … with the necessity of choosing between the comfort and warmth of an earthly home, well protected from winds and storms, and the limitless expanse of eternity, which contains only one sure and certain item … the cross.”

It was clear to her that it was not only Russia which was being torn to shreds. “There are times when all that has been said cannot be made obvious and clear since the atmosphere around us is a pagan one and we are tempted by its idolatrous charms. But our times are firmly in tune with Christianity in that suffering is part of their nature. They demolish and destroy in our hearts all that is stable, mature, hallowed by the ages and treasured by us. They help us genuinely and utterly to accept the vows of poverty, to seek no rule, but rather anarchy, the anarchic life of Fools for Christ’s sake, seeking no monastic enclosure, but the complete absence of even the subtlest barrier which might separate the heart from the world and its wounds.”

Mother Maria had a particular devotion to saints who were classed as Holy Fools: people who behaved outrageously and yet revealed Christ in a remarkable way — such Holy Fools as St. Basil the Blessed, whose feast on August 2nd she kept with special attentiveness. An icon she painted contains scenes from his life. The Holy Fools were, she wrote, saints of freedom. “Freedom calls us to act the Fool for Christ’s sake, at variance with enemies and even friends, to develop the life of the Church in just that way in which it is most difficult. And we shall live as Fools, since we know not only the difficulty of this way of life, but also the exaltation of sensing God’s hand on our work.”

She saw that there were two ways to live. The first was on dry land, a legitimate and respectable place to be, where one could measure, weigh and plan ahead. The second was to walk on the waters where “it becomes impossible to measure or plan ahead. The one thing necessary is to believe all the time. If you doubt for an instant, you begin to sink.”

The water she decided to walk on was a vocation of welcoming and caring for those in desperate need. She began to look for a house of hospitality and found it at 9 villa de Saxe in Paris.

Metropolitan Eulogy remained deeply committed to Mother Maria’s activities. When she had to sign the lease and had found no other donors, he paid the required 5000 francs. On another occasion, riding in the Paris Metro with the bishop, she voiced her discouragement about problems she was then facing. At that exact moment the Metro exited a tunnel and was bathed in the light of day. “You see,” said Metropolitan Eulogy, “it is the answer to your question.”

The house was completely unfurnished. The first night she wrapped herself in blankets and slept on the floor beneath the icon of the Protection of the Mother of God. Donated furniture began arriving, and also guests, mainly young Russian women without jobs. To make room for others, Mother Maria gave up her own room and instead slept on a narrow iron bedstead in the basement by the boiler. A room upstairs became a chapel, its icon screen painted by Mother Maria, while the dining room doubled as a hall for lectures and dialogues.

In time the house soon proved too small. Two years later a new location was found — a derelict house of three storeys at 77 rue de Lourmel in the fifteenth arrondisement, an area where many impoverished Russian refugees had settled. While at the former address she could feed only 25, here she could feed a hundred. The house had the additional advantage of having stables in back which were now made into a small church. Again the decoration was chiefly her own work, many of its icons made by embroidery, an art in which Mother Maria was skilled. she saw the new property as a modern Noah’s Ark able to withstand the stormy waves the world was hurling its way. Here her guests could regain their breath “until the time comes to stand on their two feet again.”

Her credo was: “Each person is the very icon of God incarnate in the world.” With this recognition came the need “to accept this awesome revelation of God unconditionally, to venerate the image of God” in her brothers and sisters.

As the work evolved she rented other buildings, one for families in need, and another for single men. A rural property became a sanatorium.

By 1937, there were several dozen women guests at 77 rue de Lourmel. Up to 120 dinners were served each day, normally soup plus a main course that included meat plus plenty of bread supplied gratis by a sympathetic baker.

Mother Maria’s day typically began with a journey to Les Halles to beg food or buy cheaply whatever was not be donated. The cigarette-smoking beggar nun became well known among the stalls. She would later return with a sack of bones, fish and overripe fruit and vegetables.

On rue de Lourmel she had a room beneath the stairs next to the kitchen. Here on one occasion a visitor found her collapsed in an arm chair in a state of exhaustion. “I can’t go on like this,” she said. “I can’t take anything in. I’m tired, I’m really tired. There have been about 40 people here today, each with his own sorrow and needs. I can’t chase them away!”

She would sometimes recall the Russian story of the ruble that could never be spent. Each time it was used, the change given back proved to equal a ruble. It was exactly this way with love, she said: No matter how much love you give, you never have less. In fact you discover you have more — one ruble becomes two, two becomes ten.

She enjoyed a legend concerning two fourth-century saints, Nicholas of Myra and John Cassian, who returned to earth to see how things were going. They came upon a peasant, his cart mired in the mud, who begged their help. John Cassian regretfully declined, explaining that he was soon due back in heaven and therefore must keep his robes spotless. Meanwhile Nicholas was already up to his hips in the mud, freeing the cart. When the Ruler of All discovered why Nicholas was caked in mud and John Cassian immaculate, it was decided that Nicholas’ feast day would henceforth be celebrated twice each year — May 9 and December 6 — while John Cassian’s would occur only once every four years, on February 29.

Mother Maria felt sustained by the opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount: “Not only do we know the Beatitudes, but at this hour, this very minute, surrounded though we are by a dismal and despairing world, we already savor the blessedness they promise.”

It was no virtue of her own that could account for her activities, she insisted. “There is no hardship in it, since all the relief comes my way. God having given me a compassionate nature, how else could I live?”

In addition to help from volunteers, in 1937 another nun came to help: Mother Evdokia Meshcheriakova. Later Mother Blandina Obelenskaya entered the community. There was also Father Lev Gillet, thanks to whom the Liturgy was celebrated frequently. Father Lev lived in an outbuilding near the stable until his departure to London in 1938.

Yet life in community was not easy. Conflicting views about the relative importance of liturgical life were at times a source of tension. Mother Maria was the one most often absent from services or the one who would withdraw early, or arrive late, because of the pressing needs of hospitality. “Piety, piety,” she wrote in her journal, “but where is the love that moves mountains?”

Mother Evdokia, who had begun her monastic life in a more traditional context, was not as experimental by temperament as Mother Maria. As the community had no abbess, there was no one to arbitrate between the two. For Mother Evdokia, though always in awe of Mother Maria’s endurance and prophetic passion, the house at rue de Lourmel was too much an “ecclesiastical Bohemia.” Mother Maria’s view was that “the Liturgy must be translated into life. It is why Christ came into the world and why he gave us our Liturgy.” (In 1938 Mother Evdokia and Mother Blandina departed to establish a more traditional monastery at Moisenay-le-Grand.)

Mother Maria clung to her experiment. “In the past religious freedom was trampled down by forces external to Christianity,” she wrote. “In Russia we can say that any regime whatsoever will build concentration camps as its response to religious freedom.” She considered exile in the west a heaven-sent opportunity to renew the Church in ways that would have met repression with in her mother country.

“What obligations follow from the gift of freedom which [in our exile] we have been granted? We are beyond the reach of persecution. We can write, speak, work, open schools …. At the same time, we have been liberated from age-old traditions. We have no enormous cathedrals, [jewel] encrusted Gospel books, no monastery walls. We have lost our environment. Is this an accident? Is this some chance misfortune?… In the context of spiritual life, there is no chance, nor are there fortunate or unfortunate epochs. Rather there are signs which we must understand and paths which we must follow. Our calling is a great one, since we are called to freedom.”

For her, exile was an opportunity “to liberate the real and authentic” from layers of decoration and dust in which Christ had become hidden. It was similar to the opportunity given to the first Christians. Of paramount importance, “We must not allow Christ to be overshadowed by any regulations, any customs, any traditions, any aesthetic considerations, or even any piety.”

Mother Maria’s difficulties at times made her feel a terrifying loneliness. “I get very depressed,” she admitted. “I could desist, if only I could be convinced that I stand for a truth that is relative.”

She was sustained chiefly by those she served — themselves beaten down, people in despair, cripples, alcoholics, the sick, survivors of many tragedies. But not all responded to trust with trust. Theft was not uncommon. On one occasion a guest stole 25 francs. Everyone guessed who the culprit was, a drug addict, but Mother Maria refused to accuse her. Instead she announced at the dinner table that the money had not been stolen, only misplaced, and she had found it. “You see how dangerous it is to make accusations,” she commented. At once the girl who stole the money burst into tears.

“It is not enough to give,” Mother Maria might say. “We must have a heart that gives.” If mistakes were made, if people betrayed a trust, the cure was not to limit giving. “The only ones who make no mistakes,” she said, “are those who do nothing.”

Mother Maria and her collaborators would not simply open the door when those in need knocked, but would actively seek out the homeless. One place to find them was an all-night café at Les Halles where those with nowhere else to go could sit as long as they liked for the price of a glass of wine. Children were also cared for. Part-time schools were opened at several locations.

Fortunately for the community, their prudent business manager, Fedor Pianov, formerly general secretary of the Russian Christian Student Movement, at times intervened in cases where a trusted person was systematically violating the confidence placed in him, as sometimes happened.

Turning her attention toward Russian refugees who had been classified insane, Mother Maria began a series of visits to mental hospitals. In each hospital five to ten percent of the Russian patients turned out to be sane and, thanks to her intervention, were released. Language barriers and cultural misunderstandings had kept them in the asylum.

An inquiry into the needs of impoverished Russians suffering from tuberculosis resulted in the opening in 1935 of a sanatorium in Noisy-le-Grand. Its church was a former hen house. Her efforts bore the unexpected additional fruit of other French TB sanatoria opening their doors to Russian refugees. The house at Noisy, no longer having to serve its original function, then became a rest home. It was here that Mother Maria’s mother Sophia ended her days in 1962. She was a century old.

Another landmark was the foundation in September 1935 of a group christened Orthodox Action, a name proposed by her friend, the philosopher Nicholas Berdyaev. In addition to Mother Maria and Berdyaev, the co-founders included the theologian Father Sergei Bulgakov, the historian George Fedotov, the scholar Constantine Mochulsky, the publisher Ilya Fondaminsky, and her long-time co-worker Fedor Pianov. Metropolitan Evgoly was honorary president. Mother Maria was chairman. With financial support coming not only from supporters within France but from other parts of Europe as well as America, a wider range of projects and centers were made possible: hostels, rest homes, schools, camps, hospital work, help to the unemployed, assistance to the elderly, publication of books and pamphlets, etc.

Mother Maria’s driving concern throughout the expansion of work was that it should never lose either its personal or communal character: “We should make every effort to ensure that each of our initiatives is the common work of all those who stand in need of it,” she wrote, “and not [simply part of] some charitable organization, where some perform charitable actions and are accountable for it to their superiors while others receive the charity, make way for those who are next in line, and disappear from view. We must cultivate a communal organization rather than set up a mechanical organization. Our concept of sobornost [conciliarity] commits us to this. At the same time we are committed to the personal principle in the sense that absolutely no one can become for us a routine cipher, whose role in to swell statistical tables. I would say that we should not give away a single piece of bread unless the recipient means something as a person for us.”

She was certain that there was no other path to heaven than participating in God’s mercy:

The way to God lies through love of people. At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, nor how many bows and prostrations I made. Instead I shall be asked did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners. That is all I shall be asked. About every poor, hungry and imprisoned person the Savior says ‘I’: ‘I was hungry and thirsty, I was sick and in prison.’ To think that he puts an equal sign between himself and anyone in need. . . . I always knew it, but now it has somehow penetrated to my sinews. It fills me with awe.

Russians have not been last among those enamored with theories, but for Mother Maria, theory always had to take second place. “We have not gathered together for the theoretical study of social problems in the spirit of Orthodoxy,” she wrote in 1939, “[but] to link our social thought as closely as possible with life and work. More precisely, we proceed from our work and seek the fullest possible theological interpretation of it.”

Yet time was also given to abstract inquiry. Sunday afternoons were normally a time for lectures and discussions at rue de Lourmel. Berdyaev, Bulgakov and Fedotov were frequent speakers. In addition there were courses set up during the week, including sessions of the Religious-Philosophical Academy that Berdyaev had founded.

While many valued what she and her co-workers were doing, there were others who were scandalized with the shabby nun who was so uncompromising to the duty of hospitality that she might leave a church service to answer the door bell. “For church circles we are too far to the left,” Mother Maria noted, “while for the left we are too church-minded.” Those on the left also saw no point in efforts to relieve individual cases of suffering, still less in time given to prayer. One must rather devote all one’s efforts to bringing about radical social change. There were also supportive friends, Berdyaev among them, who had little understanding of her monastic vocation, though for Mother Maria this remained at the core of her identity. “Thanks to my being clothed as a nun,” she commented, “many things are simpler and within my reach.”

In October 1939, Metropolitan Eulogy send a new priest to rue de Lourmel: Father Dimitri Klepinin, then 35 years old. He was a spiritual child of Father Sergei Bulgakov, who had also been one of his teachers. A man of few words and great modesty, Father Dimitri proved to be a real partner for Mother Maria. [photo of Fr Dimitri at right]

The last phase of Mother Maria’s life was a series of responses to World War II and Germany’s occupation of France.

It would have been possible for her to leave Paris when the Germans were advancing toward the city, or even to leave the country to go to America. Her decision was not to budge. “If the Germans take Paris, I shall stay here with my old women. Where else could I send them?”

She had no illusions about the Nazi threat. It represented a “new paganism” bringing in its wake disasters, upheavals, persecutions and wars. It was evil unveiled, the “contaminator of all springs and wells.” The so-called “master race” was “led by a madman who needs a straightjacket and should be placed in a cork-lined room so that his bestial wailing will not disturb the world at large.”

“We are entering eschatological times,” she wrote. “Do you not feel that the end is already near?

Death seemed to rule the world. “Now, at this very minute, I know that hundreds of people have encountered death, while thousands upon thousands more await their turn,” she wrote at Easter in 1940. “I know that mothers wait for the postman and tremble when a letter is delayed by more than a day.” But she saw one gain in all this: “Everything is clearly in its place. Everyone must make their choice. There is nothing disguised or hypocritical in the enemy’s approach.”

Paris fell on the 14th of June. France capitulated a week later. With defeat came greater poverty and hunger for many people. Local authorities in Paris declared the house at rue Lourmel an official food distribution point — Cantine Municipale No. 9. Here volunteers sold at cost price whatever food Mother Maria had bought that morning at Les Halles.

Paris was now a great prison. “There is the dry clatter of iron, steel and brass,” wrote Mother Maria. “Order is all.” Russian refugees were among the particular targets of the occupiers. In June 1941, a thousand were arrested, including several close friends and collaborators of Mother Maria and Father Dimitri. An aid project for prisoners and their dependents was soon launched by Mother Maria.

Early in 1942, their registration now underway, Jews began to knock on the door at rue de Lourmel asking Father Dimitri if he would issue baptismal certificates to them. The answer was always yes. The names of those “baptized” were also duly recorded in his parish register in case there was any cross-checking by the police or Gestapo, as indeed did happen. Father Dimitri was convinced that in such a situation Christ would do the same.

When the Nazis issued special identity cards for those of Russian origin living in France, with Jews being specially identified, Mother Maria and Father Dimitri refused to comply, though they were warned that those who failed to register would be regarded as citizens of the USSR — enemy aliens — and be punished accordingly.

In March 1942, the order came from Berlin that the yellow star Jews must be worn by Jews in all the occupied countries. The order came into force in France in June.

There were, of course, Christians who said that the law being imposed had nothing to do with Christians and that therefore this was not a Christian problem. “There is not only a Jewish question, but a Christian question,” Mother Maria replied. “Don’t you realize that the battle is being waged against Christianity? If we were true Christians we would all wear the Star. The age of confessors has arrived.”

She wrote a poem reflecting on the symbol Jews were required to wear:

Two triangles, a star,

The shield of King David, our forefather.

This is election, not offense.

The great path and not an evil.

Once more in a term fulfilled,

Once more roars the trumpet of the end;

And the fate of a great people

Once more is by the prophet proclaimed.

Thou art persecuted again, O Israel,

But what can human malice mean to thee,

who have heard the thunder from Sinai?

In July Jews were forbidden access to nearly all public places. Shopping by Jews was restricted to one hour per day. A week later, there was a mass arrest of Jews — 12,884, of whom 6,900 (two-thirds of them children) were brought to the Velodrome d’Hiver sports stadium just a kilometer from rue de Lourmel. Held there for five days, the captives in the stadium received water only from a single hydrant, while ten latrines were supposed to serve them all. From there the captives were to be sent via Drancy to Auschwitz.

Mother Maria had often thought her monastic robe a God-send in aiding her work. Now it opened the way for her to enter the stadium. Here she worked for three days trying to comfort the children and their parents, distributing what food she could bring in, even managing to rescue a number of children by enlisting the aid of garbage collectors and smuggling them out in trash bins.

The house at rue de Lourmel was bursting with people, many of them Jews. “It is amazing,” Mother Maria remarked, “that the Germans haven’t pounced on us yet.” In the same period, she said if anyone came looking for Jews, she would show them an icon of the Mother of God.

Father Dimitri, Mother Maria and their co-workers set up routes of escape, from Lourmel to Noisy-le-Grand and from there to other, safer destinations in the unoccupied south. It was complex and dangerous work. Forged documents had to be obtained. An escaped Russian prisoner of war was also among those assisted, working for a time in the Lourmel kitchen. In turn, a local resistance group helped secure provisions for those Mother Maria’s community was struggling to feed.

On February 8, 1943, while Mother Maria was traveling, Nazi security police entered the house on rue de Lourmel and found a letter in her son Yura’s pocket in which Father Dimitri was asked to provide a Jew with a false baptismal document. Yura, now actively a part of his mother’s work, was taken to the office of Orthodox Action, soon after followed by his distraught grandmother, Sophia Pilenko. The interrogator, Hans Hoffman, a Gestapo officer who spoke Russian, ordered her to bring Father Dimitri. Once the priest was there, Hoffman said, they would let Yura go. His grandmother Sophia was allowed to embrace Yura and give him a blessing, making the sign of the cross on his body. It was last time she saw him in this world.

The following morning Father Dimitri served the Liturgy in a side chapel at rue de Lourmel dedicated to St. Philip, a bishop who had paid with his life for protesting the crimes of Tsar Ivan the Terrible. Fortified by communion he set off for the Gestapo office on rue des Saussies. Interrogated for four hours, he made no attempt to hide his beliefs. A fragment of their exchange survives:

Hoffman: If we release you, will you give your word never again to aid Jews?

Klepinin: I can say no such thing. I am a Christian and must act as I must. (Hoffman struck Klepinin across the face.)

Hoffman: Jew lover! How dare you talk of helping those swine as being a Christian duty!

(Klepinin, recovering his balance, held up the cross from his cassock.)

Klepinin: Do you know this Jew?

(For this, Father Dimitri was struck on the face.)

“Your priest did himself in,” Hoffman said afterward to Sophia Pilenko. “He insists that if he were to be freed, he would act exactly as before.”

The next day, February 10, Mother Maria was back in Paris and was also arrested by Hoffman, who brought her back to Lourmel while he searched her room. Several others were called for questioning and then held by the Gestapo, including a visitor to the home of Father Dimitri. His wife, Tamara, sensing the danger she was in and aware that she was powerless to free her husband, left Paris with their two young children, one four, the other six months old. The three survived.

Arrested a week later at rue de Lourmel, Mother Maria saw her mother for the last time. “We embraced,” he mother recalled. “I blessed her. He had lived all our life together, in friendship, hardly ever apart. She bade me farewell and said, as she always did at the most difficult moments, ‘Mother, be strong’.”

Mother Maria was confined with 34 other woman at the Gestapo headquarters in Paris. Her son Yura, Father Dimitri and their co-worker of many years, Feodor Pianov, were being held in the same building. Pianov later recalled the scene of Father Dimitri in his torn cassock being taunted as a Jew. One of the SS began to prod and beat him while Yura stood nearby weeping. Father Dimitri “began to console him, saying the Christ withstood greater mockery than this.”

In April the prisoners were transferred to Compiegne, and here Mother Maria was blessed with a final meeting with Yura, who crawled through a window in order to see her. In a letter Yura sent to the community at rue de Lourmel, he said his mother “was in a remarkable state of mind and told me … that I must trust in her ability to bear things and in general not to worry about her. Every day [Father Dimitri and I] remember her at the proskomidia … We celebrate the Eucharist and receive communion each day.” Hours after their meeting,Mother Maria was transported to Germany.

“Thanks to our daily Eucharist,” another letter from Yura reported, “our life here is quite transformed and to tell the honest truth, I have nothing to complain of. We live in brotherly love. Dima [Father Dimitri] and I speak to each other as tu [the intimate form of ‘you’] and he is preparing me for the priesthood. God’s will needs to be understood. After all, this attracted me all my life and in the end it was the only thing I was interested in, though my interest was stifled by Parisian life and the illusion that there might be ‘something better’ — as if there could be anything better.”

In a letter Father Dimitri sent to his wife, he reported that their church was “a very good one.” It was a barrack room transformed, as many other unlikely structures had been in the past. They even managed to make an icon screen and reading stand.

For nine months the three men remained together at Compiegne. “Without exaggeration,” Pianov wrote after being liberated in 1945, “I can say that the year spent with [Father Dimitri] was a godsend. I do not regret that year…. From my experience with him, I learned to understand what enormous spiritual, psychological and moral support one man can give to others as a friend, companion and confessor…”

On December 16, Yura and Father Dimitri were deported to Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany, followed several weeks later by Pianov. In January 1944, Father Dimitri and Yura — now in striped prison uniforms and with shaved heads — were sent to another camp, Dora, 40 kilometers away, where parts for V-1and V-2 rockets were being manufactured in underground factories. Within ten days of arrival, Yura contracted furunculosis, a condition in which large areas of the skin are covered in boils. On the 6th of February, he was “dispatched for treatment” — a euphemism for sentenced to death. Four days later Father Dimitri, lying on a dirt floor, died of pneumonia. His body was disposed of in the Buchenwald crematorium.

A final letter from Yura, written at Compiegne, was discovered in a suitcase of his possessions returned from the camp to rue de Lourmel:

My dears, Dima [Father Dimitri] blesses you, my most beloved ones. I am to go to Germany with Dima, Father Andrei [who also died in a concentration camp] and Anatoly [Vishkovsky]. I am absolutely calm, even somewhat proud to share mama’s fate. I promise you I will bear everything with dignity. Whatever happens, sooner or later we shall all be together. I can say in all honesty that I am not afraid of anything any longer. . . . I ask anyone whom I have hurt in any way to forgive me. Christ be with you!

Mother Maria, prisoner 19,263, was sent in a sealed cattle truck from Compiegne to the Ravensbruck camp in Germany, where she endured for two years, an achievement in part explained by her long experience of ascetic life. She was assigned to Block 27 in the large camp’s southwest corner. Not far away was Block 31, full of Russian prisoners, many of whom she managed to befriend.

Unable to correspond with friends, little testimony in her own words has come down to us, but prisoners who survived the war remembered her. One of them, Solange Perichon, recalls:

“She was never downcast, never. She never complained…. She was full of good cheer, really good cheer. We had roll calls which lasted a great deal of time. We were woken at three in the morning and we had to stand out in the open in the middle of winter until the barracks [population] was counted. She took all this calmly and she would say, ‘Well that’s that. Yet another day completed. And tomorrow it will be the same all over again. But one fine day the time will come for all of this to end.’ … She was on good terms with everyone. Anyone in the block, no matter who it was, knew her on equal terms. She was the kind of person who made no distinction between people [whether they] held extremely progressive political views [or had] religious beliefs radically different than her own. She allowed nothing of secondary importance to impede her contact with people.”

Another prisoner, Rosane Lascroux, recalled:

“She exercised an enormous influence on us all. No matter what our nationality, age, political convictions — this had no significance whatever. Mother Maria was adored by all. The younger prisoners gained particularly from her concern. She took us under her wing. We were cut off from our families, and somehow she provided us with a family.”

In a memoir, Jacqueline Pery stressed the importance of the talks Mother Maria gave and the discussion groups she led:

“She used to organize real discussion circles … and I had the good fortune to participate in them. Here was an oasis at the end of the day. She would tell us about her social work, about how she conceived the reconciliation of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. We would question her about the history of Russia, about its future, about Communism, about her frequent contacts with young women from the Soviet army with whom she liked to surround herself. These discussion, whatever their subject matter, provided an escape from the hell in which we lived. They allowed us to restore our depleted morale, they rekindled in us the flame of thought, which barely flickered beneath the heavy burden of horror.”

Often, Pery wrote, she would refer to passages from the New Testament: “Together we would provide a commentary on the texts and then meditate on them. Often we would conclude with Compline… This period seemed a paradise to us.”

Yet, as was recalled by another prisoner, Sophia Nosovich, Mother Maria “never preached but rather discussed religion simply with those who sought it, causing them to understand it and to exercise their minds, not merely their feelings. Whatever and however she could, she would sustain the as yet incompletely extinguished flame of humanity, no matter what form it took.”

The same former prisoner wrote that “it was not submissiveness which gave [Mother Maria] strength to bear the suffering, but the integrity and wealth of her interior life.”

And all this happened in what Mother Maria described not as a prison but as hell itself, nothing less, a bestial place in which obscenity, contempt and hatred were normal and where hunger, illness and death were daily events. In such a climate, many opted for the numbing of all feeling and withdrawal as a survival strategy while others, in their despair, looked forward only to death.

“I once said to Mother Maria,” wrote Sophia Nosovich, “that it was more than a question of my ceasing to feel anything whatsoever. My very thought processes were numbed and had ground to a halt. ‘No, no,’ Mother Maria responded, ‘whatever you do, continue to think. In the conflict with doubt, cast your thought wider and deeper. Let it transcend the conditions and the limitations of this earth’.”

One prisoner even recalled how Mother Maria had used the ever-smoking chimneys of  the camps several crematoria as a metaphor of hope rather than being seen as the only exit point from the camp. “But it is only here, immediately above the chimneys, that the billows of smoke are oppressive,” Mother Maria said. “When they rise higher, they turn into light clouds before being dispersed in limitless space. In the same way, our souls, once they have torn themselves away from this sinful earth, move by means of an effortless unearthly flight into eternity, where there is life full of joy.”

Anticipating her own exit point from the camp might be via the crematoria chimneys, she asked a fellow prisoner whom she hoped would survive to memorize a message to be given at last to Father Sergei Bulgakov, Metropolitan Eulogy and her mother: “My state at present is such that I completely accept suffering in the knowledge that this is how things ought to be for me, and if I am to die, I see this as a blessing from on high.”

In a postcard she was allowed to send friends in Paris in the fall of 1944, she said she remained strong and healthy but had “altogether become an old woman.”

Her work in the camp varied. There was a period when she was part of a team of women dragging a heavy iron roller about the roads and pathways of the camp for 12 hours a day. In another period she worked in a knitwear workshop.

Her legs began to give way. At roll call another prisoner, Inna Webster, would act as her crutches. As her health declined, friends no longer allowed her to give away portions of her own food, as she had done in the past to help keep others alive.

Friends who survived recalled that Mother Maria wrote two poems while at Ravensbruck, but sadly neither survive. However a kerchief she embroidered for Rosane Lascroux, made with a needle and thread stolen from the tailoring workshop at last came out of the camp intact. In the style of the medieval Bayeux Tapestry, it was a depiction of the Allies’ Normandy Landing in June 1944. Her final embroidered icon, purchased with the price of her precious bread ration, was of the Mother of God holding the infant Jesus, her child already marked with the wounds of the cross.

With the Red Army approaching from the East, the concentration camp administrators further reduced food rations while greatly increasing the population of each block from 800 to 2,500. “People slept three to a bunk,” a survivor recalls. “Lice devoured us. Typhus and dysentery became a common scourge and decimated our ranks.”

By March 1945, Mother Maria’s condition was critical. She had to lie down between roll calls and hardly spoke. Her face, as Jacqueline Pery recalled, “revealed intense inner suffering. Already it bore the marks of death. Nevertheless Mother Maria made no complaint. She kept her eyes closed and seemed to be in a state of continual prayer. This was, I think, her Garden of Gethsemane.”

In November-December 1944, she accepted a pink card that was freely issued to any prisoner who wished to be excused from labor because of age or ill health. On January all who had received such cards were rounded up and transferred to what was called the Jugendlager — the “youth camp” — where the camp authorities said each person would have her own bed and abundant food. Mother Maria’s transfer was on January 31. Here the food ration was further reduced and the hours spent standing for roll calls increased. Though it was mid-winter, blankets, coats and jackets were confiscated, and then even shoes and stockings. The death rate was at least fifty per day. Next all medical supplies were withdrawn. Those who still persisted in surviving now faced death by shootings and gas, the latter made possible by the construction of a gas chamber in March 1945. In this 150 were executed per day.

It is astonishing that Mother Maria lasted five weeks in the “youth camp,” and was finally sent back to the Jugendlager to the main camp on March 3. Though emaciated and infested with lice, with her eyes festering, she began to think she might actually live to return to Paris, or even go back to Russia.

That same month the camp commander received an order from Reichsfuhrer Himmler that anyone who could no longer walk should be killed. While such orders had been anticipated and many already killed, the decree accelerated the process. With the help of Inna Webster and others to lean on, Mother Maria managed to continue standing at roll calls, but this became far more difficult when groups of prisoners were ordered into ranks of five for purposes of selecting those to be killed that day. Within her block, Mother Maria was sometimes hidden in a small space between roof and ceiling in expectation of raids in which additional “selections” were made.

On the 30th of March Mother Maria was selected for the gas chambers — Good Friday as it happened. She entered eternal life the following day. The shellfire of the approaching Red Army could be heard in the distance.

Accounts are at odds about what happened. According to one, she was simply one of the many selected for death that day. According to another, she took the place of another prisoner, a Jew, who had been chosen. Her friend Jacqueline Pery wrote afterward:

“It is very possible that [Mother Maria] took the place of a frantic companion. It would have been entirely in keeping with her generous life. In any case she offered herself consciously to the holocaust … thus assisting each one of us to accept the cross …. She radiated the peace of God and communicated it to us.”

Although perishing in the gas chamber, she did not perish in the Church’s memory. Survivors of the war who had known her would again and again draw attention to the ideas, insights and activities of the maverick nun who had spent so many years coming to the aid of people in desperate straights. Soon after the end of World War II, essays and books about her began appearing, in French and Russia. A Russian film, “Mother Maria,” was made in 1982. There have been two biographies in English and little by little the translation and publication in English of her most notable essays. A 22-page bibliography of Mother Maria-related writings has been assembled by Dr. Kristi Groberg.

Controversial in life, Mother Maria remains a subject of contention to this day, a fact which may explain the slowness of the Orthodox Church in adding her to the calendar of saints, an event that finally occurred in 2004. Her day of commemoration is 20 July. While clearly she lived a life of heroic virtue and is among the martyrs of the twentieth century, her verbal assaults on nationalistic and tradition-bound forms of religious life still raise the blood pressure of many Orthodox Christians. Mother Maria remains an indictment of any form of Christianity that seeks Christ chiefly inside church buildings.

* * *

The main part of this essay is the introduction to Mother Maria Skobtsova: Essential Writings, published by Orbis Books. The principal source of biographical material used in this text is Fr. Serge Hackel’s book, Pearl of Great Price, published in Britain by Darton Longman & Todd and, in America, by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

Jim Forest is editor of In Communion, co-secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, and author of various books, including Praying with Icons, Ladder of the Beatitudes, Confession: Doorway to Forgiveness, and The Wormwood File: E-Mail from Hell.

See also our other pages in the St. Maria Skobtsova category.

text as updated July 8, 2004

Becoming the Gospel: the example of four saints

by Jim Forest

We should try to live in such a way that if the Gospels were lost, they could be re-written by looking at us.

mmaria3

These few words from Metropolitan Anthony Bloom were the underlying theme of all his books, lectures and sermons. To be a Christian is to devote one’s life to becoming the Gospel. The Gospel exists so that each of us can make of our lives a unique living translation of its stories, sayings and parables. Like no other book in the world, it is meant to be lived, to be lived in such a way that those who have not read the text might guess at least its major themes simply by knowing those who are absorbing the text into their lives.

Orthodox ritual goes to great lengths to draw our attention to the Gospel. This small book, containing only the texts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, is enthroned on the altar. It is something we bow toward and often kiss. Side by side with the Cross, it is before us when we confess our sins. Held high, it is solemnly carried through the church in procession every week. It is decorated with relief icons. During services, it is not simply read but chanted so that the words of the Gospel might enter us more deeply.

Only a degree less important in the life of the Orthodox Church is our close attention to the lives of the saints, that is to those people who, to a remarkable degree, in some way became the Gospel. Each saint provides a unique translation of the Gospel. Each saint not only helps us see what the Gospel is about but also how diverse are the ways in which a person can become the Gospel. Each saint throws a fresh light on how the Gospel can be lived more fully in the particular circumstances of our lives.

I would like to look at the example given by several people newly recognized as saints: Mother Maria Skobtsova plus three others closely associated with her: the priest Dimitri Klepinin, her friend and collaborator Ilya Fondaminsky; and Mother Maria’s son, Yuri. On the first weekend of May, in the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky in Paris, their names were added to the Church’s calendar of saints.

Mother Maria Skobtsova was born in 1891 in Latvia — then part of the Russian Empire — and was given the name Elizaveta. She grew up near the Black Sea and later in St. Petersburg. Her childhood faith collapsed following her father’s death, but as a young adult her faith was gradually reborn. Liza prayed and read the Gospel and the lives of saints. While regarding herself as a socialist, it seemed to her that the real need of the people was not for revolutionary theories but for Christ. She wanted “to proclaim the simple word of God,” she told Alexander Blok in 1916. She was the first woman to study at the theological institute in St. Petersburg. After Lenin’s forces took power, she narrowly escaped summary execution by convincing a Bolshevik sailor that she was a friend of Lenin’s wife.

One of the many refugees who fled Russia during the civil war, by the time she reached Paris in 1923 she had finished one marriage and started another and was the mother of three.

One child, Nastia, died very young — the kind of death that visited many Russian families struggling to survive in France in those days. Liza’s monastic vocation is partly connected with Nastia’s death in the winter of 1926. During her month-long vigil at her daughter’s bedside, Liza came to feel how she had never known “the meaning of repentance.”

“Now I am aghast at my own insignificance,” she wrote. “I feel that my soul has meandered down back alleys all my life. And now I want an authentic and purified road. Not out of faith in life, but in order to justify, understand and accept death …. No amount of thought will ever result in any greater formulation than the three words, ‘Love one another,’ so long as it is love to the end and without exceptions. And then the whole of life is illumined, which is otherwise an abomination and a burden.”

After Nastia’s burial, Liza became aware “of a new and special, broad and all-embracing motherhood.” She emerged from her mourning with a determination to seek “a more authentic and purified life.” She felt she saw a “new road before me and a new meaning in life, to be a mother for all, for all who need maternal care, assistance, or protection.”

In 1930, she was appointed traveling secretary of the Russian Student Christian Movement, work which put her into daily contact with impoverished Russian refugees in cities, towns and villages throughout France.

She took literally Christ’s words that he was always present in the least person. She wrote:

If someone turns with his spiritual world toward the spiritual world of another person, he encounters an awesome and inspiring mystery …. He comes into contact with the true image of God in man, with the very icon of God incarnate in the world, with a reflection of the mystery of God’s incarnation and divine manhood. And he needs to accept this awesome revelation of God unconditionally, to venerate the image of God in his brother. Only when he senses, perceives and understands it will yet another mystery be revealed to him — one that will demand his most dedicated efforts …. He will perceive that the divine image is veiled, distorted and disfigured by the power of evil …. And he will want to engage in battle with the devil for the sake of the divine image.

Metropolitan Anthony, then a layman in Paris studying to become a physician, recalled a story about her from this period that he heard from a friend:

She went to the steel foundry in Creusot, where many Russian refugees were working. She came there and announced that she was preparing to give a series of lectures on Dostoevsky. She was met with general howling: “We do not need Dostoevsky. We need linen ironed, we need our rooms cleaned, we need our clothes mended — and you bring us Dostoevsky!” And she answered: “Fine, if that is needed, let us leave Dostoevsky alone.” And for several days she cleaned rooms, sewed, mended, ironed, cleaned. When she had finished doing all that, they asked her to talk about Dostoevsky. This made a big impression on me, because she did not say: “I did not come here to iron for you or clean your rooms. Can you not do that yourselves?” She responded immediately and in this way she won the hearts and minds of the people.

While her work for the Russian Student Christian Movement suited her, she began to envision a new type of community, “half monastic and half fraternal,” which would connect spiritual life with service to those in need, in the process showing “that a free Church can perform miracles.”

Fr. Sergei Bulgakov, dean of the St. Sergius Theological Institute and her confessor, was a source of support. He was a confessor who respected the freedom of all who sought his guidance, never demanding obedience, never manipulating. Another key figure in her life was her bishop, Metropolitan Evlogy. He was the first one to suggest to Liza the possibility of becoming a nun. Assured by him that she would be free to develop a new type of monasticism, engaged in the world and marked by the “complete absence of even the subtlest barrier which might separate the heart from the world and its wounds,” in March 1932 Liza was professed as a nun, receiving the name Maria. Her goal was to create a model of what she called “monasticism in the world.”

Here again there is an interesting impression by Metropolitan Anthony of what Mother Maria was like in those days:

She was a very unusual nun in her behavior and her manners. I was simply staggered when I saw her for the first time in monastic clothes. I was walking along the Boulevard Montparnasse and I saw: in front of a cafe, on the pavement, there was a table, on the table was a glass of beer and behind the glass was sitting a Russian nun in full monastic robes. I looked at her and decided that I would never go near that woman. I was young then and held extreme views.

Mother Maria’s intention was “to share the life of paupers and tramps,” but how she would do so was not yet clear. She knew that it could not be a life of withdrawal from the sufferings of the world. “Everyone is always faced,” she wrote, “with the necessity of choosing between the comfort and warmth of an earthly home, well protected from winds and storms, and the limitless expanse of eternity, which contains only one sure and certain item … the Cross.”

With financial help and the encouragement of Metropolitan Evlogy, she started her first house of hospitality. As the building was unfurnished, the first night she wrapped herself in blankets and slept on the floor beneath the icon of the Protection of the Mother of God. Donated furniture began arriving, and also guests, mainly unemployed young Russian women. To make room for others, Mother Maria gave up her own room and instead slept on an iron bedstead in the basement. A room upstairs became a chapel while the dining room doubled as a hall for lectures and discussions.

When the first house proved too small, a new location was found — a house of three storeys at 77 rue de Lourmel in the fifteenth arrondisement, an area where many impoverished Russian refugees had settled. While at the former address she could feed only 25, here she could feed a hundred. A stable behind the house was made into a church. The house was a modern Noah’s Ark able to withstand the stormy waves the world was hurling its way. Here the guests could regain their breath “until the time comes to stand on their two feet again.”

As the work evolved, she rented other buildings, one for families in need, and another for single men. A rural property became a sanatorium.

Donations were given and quickly spent, yet the community purse was never empty for long. She sometimes recalled the Russian story of the ruble that could never be spent. Each time it was used, the change given back proved to equal a ruble. It was exactly this way with love, she said: No matter how much love you give, you never have less. In fact you discover you have more — one ruble becomes two, two becomes ten.

Mother Maria felt sustained by the opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount: “Not only do we know the Beatitudes, but at this hour, this very minute, surrounded though we are by a dismal and despairing world, we already savor the blessedness they promise.”

Of course she had her critics. The house on rue de Lourmel, some charged, was an “ecclesiastical Bohemia.” There should be more emphasis on services, less on hospitality. But Mother Maria’s view was that “the Liturgy must be translated into life. It is why Christ came into the world and why he gave us our Liturgy.”

She had an unusual opinion regarding exile. In her view, far from being a catastrophe, it was a heaven-sent opportunity to renew the Church in ways that would have met with repression in her mother country:

What obligations follow from the gift of freedom which [in our exile] we have been granted? We are beyond the reach of persecution. We can write, speak, work, open schools …. At the same time, we have been liberated from age-old traditions. We have no enormous cathedrals, [jewel] encrusted Gospel books, no monastery walls. We have lost our environment. Is this an accident? Is this some chance misfortune?… In the context of spiritual life, there is no chance, nor are there fortunate or unfortunate epochs. Rather there are signs which we must understand and paths which we must follow. Our calling is a great one, since we are called to freedom.

She saw expatriation as an opportunity “to liberate the real and authentic.” It was similar to the opportunity given to the first Christians. “We must not allow Christ,” she said, “to be overshadowed by any regulations, any customs, any traditions, any aesthetic considerations, or even any piety.”

In September 1935 Orthodox Action was founded. The name was proposed by her friend Nicholas Berdyaev. The co-founders included the theologian Fr. Sergei Bulgakov, the historian George Fedotov, the literary scholar Constantine Mochulsky, her long-time co-worker Fedor Pianov, and Ilya Fondaminsky, the editor of various Russian expatriate journals who had once had a post in the Kerensky government. Metropolitan Evlogy was honorary president. Mother Maria was chairman. Its projects included hostels, rest homes, schools, camps, hospital work, help to the unemployed, assistance to the elderly, and publication of books and pamphlets. By now many co-workers were involved.

While many valued what she and her co-workers were doing, there were others who were scandalized with the shabby nun who was so uncompromisingly devoted to the duty of hospitality that she would leave a church service to answer the door bell. “For church circles we are too far to the left,” Mother Maria noted, “while for the left we are too church-minded.”

Following the departure for England of the first chaplain, Fr. Lev Gillet, in October 1939, Metropolitan Evlogy sent another priest to rue de Lourmel: Father Dimitri Klepinin, then 35 years old. He had been born in Russia in 1904. He came to Paris from Belgrade in 1925 to study at the St. Sergius Theological Institute. Like Mother Maria, he was a spiritual child of Father Sergei Bulgakov. A man of few words, great modesty and a profound love of the Liturgy, Father Dimitri proved to be a major partner in Mother Maria’s work.

The last phase of the life of Mother Maria and her co-workers — these now included her son Yuri — was shaped by World War II and Germany’s occupation of France.

Paris fell on the 14th of June 1940. France capitulated a week later. With defeat came greater poverty and hunger for many people. Local authorities in Paris declared the house at rue Lourmel an official food distribution point.

Paris was now a prison. “There is the dry clatter of iron, steel and brass,” wrote Mother Maria. “Order is all.” Russian refugees were among the particular targets of the occupiers. In June 1941, a thousand were arrested, among them her friend Ilya Fondaminsky. His long delayed baptism occurred within the makeshift Orthodox chapel at the prison camp in Compiegne. He died at Auschwitz the following year.

When the Nazis issued special identity cards for those of Russian origin living in France, Mother Maria and Father Dimitri refused to comply, though they were warned that those who failed to register would be regarded as citizens of the USSR — thus enemy aliens — and be punished accordingly.

Early in 1942, Jews began to knock on the door at rue de Lourmel asking Father Dimitri if he would issue baptismal certificates to them. The answer was always yes. The names of those supposedly baptized were duly recorded in his parish register in case there was any cross-checking by the police or Gestapo. Father Dimitri was convinced that in such a situation Christ would do the same.

In June the Jews of occupied France were ordered to wear the yellow star.

There were, of course, Christians who said that the anti-Jewish laws being imposed had nothing to do with Christians and therefore this was not a Christian problem. “There is no such thing as a Christian problem,” replied Mother Maria. “Don’t you realize that the battle is being waged against Christianity? If we were true Christians we would all wear the Star. The age of confessors has arrived.”

In July Jews were forbidden access to nearly all public places while shopping by Jews was limited to one hour per day. A week later, there was a mass arrest. Nearly 13,000 Jews, two-thirds of them children, were brought to a sports stadium less than a mile from rue de Lourmel where they were held for five days before being transported to Auschwitz.

Mother Maria had often regarded her monastic robe as a God-send in aiding her work. Now her nun’s robes opened the way for her to enter the stadium. Here she worked for three days trying to comfort the children and their parents, distributing what food she could bring in, and even managing to rescue a number of children by enlisting the aid of garbage collectors and smuggling them out in trash bins.

The house at rue de Lourmel was bursting with people, many of them Jews. She told Berdyaev that, if anyone came to the house searching for Jews, she would show them an icon of the Mother of God.

Father Dimitri, Mother Maria, Yuri and their co-workers set up routes of escape to the unoccupied south — complex and dangerous work. An escaped Russian prisoner of war was also among those assisted. A local resistance group helped secure the food that was needed.

On February 8, 1943, Nazi security police entered the house Lourmel and found a letter in Yuri’s pocket in which Fr. Dimitri was asked to provide a Jew with a false baptismal document. Yuri was arrested, and Fr. Dimitri the next day. Under interrogation he made no attempt to hide his beliefs. Called a “Jew lover,” he responded by pointing to the cross he wore. “Do you know this Jew?” he asked. For this he was struck on the face.

Mother Maria’s arrest followed. At first she was confined at the Gestapo headquarters in Paris in the same building where Yuri, Father Dimitri and their co-worker of many years, Feodor Pianov, were being held. Pianov later recalled the scene of Father Dimitri in his torn cassock being taunted as a Jew. One of the SS officers began to beat him while Yuri stood nearby weeping. Father Dimitri consoled him, reminding him that “Christ withstood greater mockery than this.”

In April they were transferred to Compiegne. Mother Maria was able to have a final meeting with Yuri. Hours later, Mother Maria was sent in a sealed cattle truck to the Ravensbrück camp in Germany. In a letter Yuri sent to the community at rue de Lourmel, he said his mother told him “that I must trust in her ability to bear things and in general not to worry about her. Every day [Fr. Dimitri and I] remember her at the proskomidia … We celebrate the Eucharist and receive communion each day.”

“Thanks to our daily Eucharist,” he reported in another letter, “our life here is quite transformed and to tell the honest truth, I have nothing to complain of. We live in brotherly love. Dima [Fr. Dimitri] … is preparing me for the priesthood. God’s will needs to be understood. After all, this attracted me all my life and in the end it was the only thing I was interested in, though my interest was stifled by Parisian life and the illusion that there might be ‘something better’ — as if there could be anything better.”

For nine months the three men remained together at Compiegne. “Without exaggeration,” Pianov wrote after being liberated in 1945, “I can say that the year spent with [Father Dimitri] was a godsend. I do not regret that year…. From my experience with him, I learned to understand what enormous spiritual, psychological and moral support one man can give to others as a friend, companion and confessor.”

On December 16, Yuri and Father Dimitri were deported to Buchenwald in Germany, followed several weeks later by Pianov. In January 1944, Father Dimitri and Yuri were sent to another camp, Dora, about 20 miles away. On the 6th of February, Yuri was “dispatched for treatment” — a euphemism meaning sentenced to death. Four days later Fr. Dimitri died of pneumonia.

A final letter from Yuri made its way to rue de Lourmel: “I am absolutely calm, even somewhat proud to share mama’s fate. I promise you I will bear everything with dignity. Whatever happens, sooner or later we shall all be together. I can say in all honesty that I am not afraid of anything any longer…. I ask anyone whom I have hurt in any way to forgive me. Christ be with you!”

At Ravensbrück, Mother Maria endured for two years, an achievement in part explained by her long experience of ascetic life. A fellow prisoner who survived recalls how Mother Maria she would recite passages from the New Testament: “Together we would provide a commentary on the texts and then meditate on them. Often we would conclude with Compline… This period seemed a paradise to us.”

By March 1945, Mother Maria’s condition was critical. On the 30th of March — Good Friday, as it happened — she entered into eternal life. The shellfire of the approaching Red Army could be heard in the distance.

Regarding her last day, accounts vary. According to one, she was simply one of the many selected for death that day. According to another, she took the place of a fellow prisoner, a Jew. Her friend Jacqueline Pery wrote afterward:

“It is very possible that [Mother Maria] took the place of a frantic companion. It would have been entirely in keeping with her generous life. In any case she offered herself consciously to the holocaust … thus assisting each one of us to accept the cross …. She radiated the peace of God and communicated it to us.”

Four saints, all victims of one of the ideological insanities that destroyed so many millions of people in the 20th century.

In them, we see an extraordinary example of what perhaps could be called “the sacrament of the open door.”

Recently my wife asked me what is the most important thing in our house. I thought for a moment, then mentioned certain books and icons. “No,” she said, “it is the front door. Everything depends on how we open the door. Everything depends on hospitality.”

It was a startling thought. I’m sure all the newly canonized saints said very similar things many times. Indeed in one of her essays Mother Maria uses the term “the asceticism of the open door.”

Controversial in life, Mother Maria remains a subject of contention to this day and I expect this controversy will continue even now that she has been recognized as a saint. While clearly she lived a life of heroic virtue and is among the martyrs of the twentieth century, her verbal attacks on nationalistic and tradition-bound forms of religious life still raise the blood pressure of many Orthodox Christians. St. Maria of Paris, as perhaps she will now be called, remains an indictment of any form of Christianity that seeks Christ chiefly inside church buildings.

All saints show us in certain ways what it means to become the Gospel. From such people, even if we knew nothing at all about the words of Christ, we could guess the outline of Christ’s teaching simply by the example given by these dedicated followers. Each of their lives provides a translation of the Gospel into the circumstances of their vocation and time.

Jim Forest is secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. This is a shortened version of a talk delivered at the Sourozh diocesan conference held in Oxford in May. The main source of biographical material used in this text is Fr. Serge Hackel’s biography of Mother Maria, Pearl of Great Price, published in Britain by Darton Longman & Trodd and, in America, by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

Impressions of a Canonization

by Nancy Forest

The canonization of Mother Maria Skobtsova and several people closely associated with her was the occasion of a trip to Paris the first weekend of May, 2004, for many members of our Amsterdam parish. It was my first visit to the church on the Rue Daru. The name of the church itself is the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky, but the phrase “Rue Daru” is used far more often. For Orthodox Christians of the Russian tradition in Western Europe, it’s a way of distinguishing a jurisdiction: “our church isn’t Moscow Patriarchate, it’s Rue Daru.” After the Russian Revolution and the civil war that came in its wake, many Russians — including members of the nobility as well as intellectuals — fled to the west. Thousands ended their journey in or near Paris. With the Church in Russia enduring severe persecution, there was a real question as to the connection between this new diaspora church and the Moscow Patriarchate. The church of the emigres appealed to the Ecumenical Patriarch and asked if they, as Russian Orthodox, could be received under his jurisdiction. This change took place, and now the “Rue Daru” church, so very Russian as it is, is still under the Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul rather than Moscow.

This was the situation that Mother Maria Skobtsova and Father Dimitri Klepinin found themselves in. Not only that, but over the years, as more and more French people became Orthodox, and more of the Russians became real Frenchmen, a stressful situation developed between the Russian and the “French” parts of the congregation. The solution was to split the church, with the Russians having Slavonic service upstairs (where the canonization took place) and the French having services in French in the lower church (known among European Orthodox simply as The Crypt). This situation still stands.

This is important background information, and I think it was partly because I knew this that the canonization service struck me so profoundly.

The cathedral is a beautiful building. It’s often included among guidebook sites — one of the spots even a non-Orthodox visitor might wish to see in this part of Paris. According to the guide book Jim and I had with us, it was built in 1861, “designed by members of the St. Petersburg Fine Arts Academy and financed jointly by Tsar Alexander II and the local Russian community.”

The iconography reminded me very much of the work of the 19th-century Russian itinerant painters and iconographers, especially Vasnetsov. These were men who painted ordinary Russians — peasants, women, children — in a very compelling, compassionate way, a style which carried over into their icons. So even though the inside of the cathedral is quite splendid, there is something almost homely about the way it is decorated, something very human and solid. There are two large painted panels on either side of the church — one of Christ preaching from a boat on the Sea of Galilee to a great crowd of people, the other of Christ walking on the water, a small haloed figure in the moonlight moving across a vast expanse of water, and in both you sense that this is Christ of the people, the ordinary people. I have a feeling Mother Maria must have felt very much at home in this place, and that it may even have helped stir her feelings of great compassion for ordinary people.

We attended both the Saturday evening Vespers, which began with a panikhida — a final memorial service for those soon to be recognized as saints — and the Sunday Liturgy. The services were long, but no longer than you would expect for something of this magnitude in the unhurried Russian tradition.

In addition to the services themselves there were other things that struck meeven though we were “upstairs” in the Russian Church, there was a blend of French and Russian used throughout both services. (We spoke with a friend later on, the wife of a French priest, who said this has to be regarded as one of Mother Maria’s miracles.)

The archbishop for the Ecumenical Patriarchal Russian church in Western Europe, Archbishop Gabriel, is from Flanders, and his mother tongue is neither Russian nor French but Flemish. He conducted the service mainly in Slavonic and preached in French. We know him from years ago when he was the priest of the Russian church in Maastricht here in the Netherlands. (When I went up for the blessing during the Vespers service he smiled at me and said “Christus is opgestaan!”, the Easter greeting in Dutch.) Celebrating with him was Bishop Basil of Sergievo of the Moscow Patriarchate in Great Britain (successor to Metropolitan Anthony Bloom). Bishop Basil is an American but has lived in England for 35 years. So standing there in the center of that staunchly Russian church were two Western bishops. On the other side of Archbishop Gabriel was Bishop Silouan, who is serving the Romanian church in Western Europe.

Also present was Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Paris, who was given a seat of honor in front of the iconostasis. Cardinal Lustiger was a dual representative at the canonization, not only of the Catholic Church but also of the Jewish community, since he is a convert from Judaism and always identifies himself as a Jew. He was born in Paris of Polish Jewish parents. When the Germans occupied the city he was sent to live with a Christian family and was baptized in 1940. His parents were both deported, and his mother was killed in Auschwitz. So this service, and the nature of the martyrdom of Mother Maria, Father Dimitri, Yuri Skobtsov and Ilya Fondaminsky must surely have meant a great deal to him.

We also noticed a very old, white-haired woman on the other side of the church — she had been provided with a chair and given a place of honor — and were later told that she was a fellow prisoner in Ravensbrück with Mother Maria and was with her until the end.

The church gradually filled to overflowing during both services. It must have taken nearly an hour to serve Communion.

Both the cathedral choirs provided music — the Russian choir and the French choir — and they switched back and forth. This meant that neither choir became exhausted, and the singing continued at the same glorious level all the way through both services. So here, again, was another sign of reconciliation — the Russian and the French choirs, singing together.

There were many priests involved in the services, but the most visually interesting was Father Serge Hackel. Father Serge wrote the book Pearl of Great Price, the story of Mother Maria, and it is partly due to his work that the life of Mother Maria became known to so many people in the West.

Father Serge was wearing an old, tattered, faded vestment of coarse fabric, obviously hand-embroidered. There’s a vestment with a story, I said to myself. Later on we discovered that this was a vestment Mother Maria herself had embroidered by hand for Father Dimitri. (We recalled that Mother Maria wrote with disdain about nuns who do nothing but embroider vestments for the clergy; so much for saintly consistency.)

After the Liturgy we met Father Serge out in the church parking lot, carrying his vestments in a plastic bag. Jim asked him if he could take a picture of the vestment, and he was only too happy to oblige. Then we asked if we could touch it, realizing instantly that this was a relic. He told us how he came to have this vestment. In 1967, a German film crew had come to Paris to do a film based on Fr. Serge’s biography of Mother Maria. At rue de Lourmel, in a room that served as the chapel vestry, Fr. Serge discovered vestments Mother Maria had made. Due to moth damage they were soon to be burned, he was told. Instead they were entrusted to Fr. Serge’s care and have since been repaired.

The high point of the canonization service occurred Saturday evening when the icons of the new saints were brought out. I knew this was going to happen, but I had no idea how strong the impact would be. There were actually five saints who were canonized, shown on two icons. One was an icon of Father Alexis d’Ugine Medvedkov, a Russian priest who worked in France after the Russian Revolution in great obscurity and humility; when his remains were unearthed they were discovered to be incorrupt. The other icon was of the martyrs Father Dimitri Klepinin, Mother Maria, Yuri, Skobtsov (Mother Maria’s son), and Ilya Fondaminsky, a Russian Jewish intellectual who was baptized after his arrest by the Nazis. [The icon plus two others are on the OPF website. Also on the site are articles about St. Dimitri, St. Ilya and St. Alexis. See St. Maria Skobtsova]

Many members of Father Dimitri’s family were at the services: his daughter Helene Arjakovsky and four of Helene’s children. Her daughter Tanya, Father Dimitri’s granddaughter, is a member of our parish in Amsterdam and is married to Deacon Hildo Bos. Tanya told us she and her mother felt as if they had been taken out of themselves, the services were so beautiful; they had to pinch themselves to make sure they were really awake. (Helene’s collection of essays — Mother Maria Skobtsova: Essential Writings — was recently published in English translation by Orbis Books.)

We were also happy to meet Father Paul Schroeder and Elizabeth and their two children at the canonization. The Schroeders had come all the way from California. After the Liturgy, we went to a small flat they had rented and went out to lunch with Elizabeth and Zachary (who, he told me proudly, is seven).

After visiting with the Schroeders we did something we had very much wanted to do — went on a pilgrimage to 77 Rue de Lourmel, once site of the house hospitality Mother Maria founded. It took some navigating by metro, but finally we found the place — a very ordinary Paris street, it was raining slightly, and once we got there we found that Mother Maria’s building was gone. In its place was a modern block of flats. But at the building’s entrance we discovered that someone had put up a white marble plaque with gold letters, explaining that this had been the place where Mother Maria and Father Dimitri had done their good work and saved the lives of many Jews, and that they had been killed by the Nazis. So even though the building is gone, they are commemorated on the streets of Paris to this day.

Nancy Forest-Flier is a translator and editor living in Alkmaar, the Netherlands.

Photos of the canonization: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/sets/164907/