Tag Archives: Mother Maria Skobtsova

Mother Maria Skobtsova, Martyr of Sobornost

Mother Maria Skobtsova, Martyr of Sobornost

By Matthew Franklin Cooper

Mother Maria Skobtsova, Martyr of Sobornost
Mother Maria Skobtsova, Martyr of Sobornost

On the 31st of March, we celebrate the dies natalis of Mother Maria (Skobtsova), a beloved martyr and witness to Christ among the Russian émigré population in France. Her “Essential Writings” are particularly recommended during this Lenten season, as her essays, though brief, are spiritually and personally challenging on a number of levels. My apologies in advance to my readers – but if I quote Mother Maria directly once too often herein, please understand that it is not due to a lack of reflection on my part so much as an awe of the depth of her work, that I cannot bring myself to express her ideas better than she expresses them herself.

The association Jim Forest of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship (which hosts a considerable collection of resources on her life and works) makes between her and Dorothy Day is not at all coincidental. Her life, like that of Dorothy Day, was decidedly not what one might expect of a saint, though of course no two saints are ever completely alike. Mother Maria Skobtsova, in her youth, had been a member of the left-populist, peasant-driven Socialist-Revolutionary Party which had been outlawed by Trotsky, and lived its fate in an all-too-personal way. She narrowly avoiding execution in late 1917 after her party was disbanded, later became deputy mayor of the small town of Anapa in Krasnodar, was captured by the White Army and put on trial as a Bolshevik, and saved again from the gallows by Daniel Skobtsov, a judge who would become her second husband. Their family fled first to Georgia, then to Yugoslavia, and finally to Paris. Even though she had no taste at all for Marxism after her run-in with Trotsky, and though she abhored the brutalities she witnessed in the Russian Revolution, as Olivier Clément writes, she ‘became a Christian without ever having stopped being the socialist revolutionary, an intellectual of leftist bent’.

Her exile and the tragic death of her daughter to illness led her to take monastic vows which, though canonical, were nevertheless highly idiosyncratic. She lived the ‘new monasticism’ in an unfurnished rented house, amongst her fellow émigrés in the world, which she took to be her cloister. She dedicated herself to an active nonpossession, and kept the door of her house always open to the poor, the unemployed, the sick, the orphaned, the homeless, the mentally-ill; she gave of herself and everything she had to those who needed her help. She also organised discussions on philosophy and on the Orthodox faith from her house, and she maintained close friendships with a number of people in the Russian émigré community of Paris: the philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev, her confessor Fr. Sergey Bulgakov, and the historian Georgiy Fedotov. During the Second World War, her house became a refuge for Jews, and she and Fr. Dmitri Klepenin, another spiritual son of Fr. Sergey Bulgakov and the chaplain of her house, would give baptismal certificates to Jews who sought to flee the country. Eventually the Gestapo shut her down and sent her, along with Fr. Dmitri, her son Yuri, and her friend Ilya Fondaminsky – all of whom eventually met their martyrdoms in Nazi concentration camps. Mother Maria was sent to Ravensbrück, and was eventually put to death in the gas chambers. It is said in some of her hagiographies that she took the place of another woman, a Jew, who had been assigned to be killed that day.

During her life and in her martyrdom, the faith she lived in service to the poor and the faith she discussed in the émigré circles were one. She was devoted to the Mother of God, and even painted a variant of the ikon of the Mother of God Akhtirskaya, portraying the Holy Theotokos embracing the crucified body of Christ her child. Perhaps drawing upon her own experience of losing her daughter, she offered her motherly kindness, as a nun, to a suffering world without reservation or exception. She was insistent that the love of God could be lived only through a radical openness to the sufferings and the struggles of one’s neighbour – that only through keeping the second commandment of Christ in the Gospel could the first even become possible. And throughout her writings, she holds up and defends from a Patristic basis the Russian religious-philosophical idea of sobornost’, of radical dynamic community which is at the same time freeing and completing of the person who participates in it.

Her writings attest deeply to how her radical Socialist-Revolutionary ideals stuck with her. She gave up the idle hope that human revolution could achieve anything on its own terms, but she never gave up hope that all things could and would be achieved through Christ. Indeed, in her essays, she excoriates both capitalism and communism by name for their mutilation and violent enslavement of the human person, and ends up advocating something that looks very much like distributism:

 In fact, mankind has enough experience of the two opposing systems of coercion and violence. The old coercion of the capitalist regime, which destroys the right to life and leaves one only with the right to labour, has recently begun to deprive people of that right as well. Forced crisis, forced unemployment, forced labour, joyless and with no inner justification—enough of all that. But try going to the opposite system. It turns out to be the system of communist enforcement: the same joyless labour under the rod, well-organised slavery, violence, hunger—enough of that, too. It is clear to everybody that we must seek a path to free, purposeful and expedient labour, that we must take the earth as a sort of garden that it is incumbent upon us to cultivate. Who doubts that?

Her leftist bent extends to her personal ethics as well as to her social ones. She is highly critical of the tendency she saw within the Church to withdraw into one’s own shell of piety, to take only the vertical beam of the Cross descending from God to the individual man, and to leave behind the horizontal beam which embraces the other men and women around him as well. For Mother Maria, not only the crass and obvious impiety of greed, but also the much more subtle and insidious impiety of a philanthropy that is only seen as an occasion for the improvement of one’s own virtue or an exercise for the good of one’s own soul, is a form of selfishness which runs contrary to the Gospel. She writes:

 A person should have a more attentive attitude to his brother’s flesh than to his own. Christian love teaches us to give our brother not only material but also 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 organise 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 exactly the same, whether he acts on an individual or a social level; what matters is that his social work be based on love for his neighbour and not have any latent career or material purposes.

The social element of Christianity is, indeed, for her so inseparable from the core of Orthodox spirituality and the Gospel message, that she even criticises those Christians of like mind to her, who base their actions and their programmes not on the basis of an authentic Orthodox Christian (or Catholic, or Protestant) witness but instead upon the false ground of secular humanism.

The most doubtful, disputable and unsatisfying thing about all the concepts of… ‘social Christianity’… is their secondary character, their incommensurability with the idea of Christian life understood as communion with God. … All the trends of social Christianity known to us are based on a certain rationalistic humanism, apply only the principle of Christian morality to this world, and do not seek a spiritual and mystical basis for their constructions.

To make social Christianity not only Christian-like but truly Christian, it is necessary to bring it out of flat soulfulness and two-dimensional moralism into the depths of multi-dimensional spirituality. To substantiate it mystically and spiritually. It seems to me that this coincides precisely with what Orthodoxy—which has not yet spoken in this area—can and must say; it will give greater depth to Catholic and Protestant attempts to turn a Christian face to the world.

Throughout Mother Maria’s work there is always this similar challenge. Typically of Russian religious philosophy, Saint Maria places upon herself the demand of complete commitment, and will brook no compromises or comfortable lies. The Christian life is not truly or fully Christian until it ‘faces the desert’, an image to which she, being well-versed both in the Desert Fathers and in the ‘holy fools’ of the Church, continually returns. The reality of the Russian exile haunts her every page, and she is keenly aware of it. She writes with very few comforts for those Orthodox exiles who want to withdraw and take refuge in the old trappings of the state, of ritual, or of the æsthetic forms of Church life; she calls them instead – lovingly, but insistently – to the radical witness to Christ’s life and death in their own lives.

And yet there is also all too much in Mother Maria’s writings to discomfort and disorient those who are expecting to see in her a liberal and an œcumenist. She was neither. Early in her life she was a penpal of the arch-traditionalist Ober-Procurator of the Most Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church himself, Konstantin Pobedonostsev; Olivier Clément alludes that it was from him that she learned the personal ‘love of neighbour as opposed to love of those far away’. The three authors she alludes to most fondly are Aleksei Khomyakov, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Vladimir Solovyov, and it’s clear that she has absorbed much of their romantic-conservative Slavophil temperament. She has some notably harsh words for ‘godless and giftless… cool, uncreative, imitative… secular democracy’, which in her mind amounted to a form of ‘mystical totalitarianism’.

In the fog of the Second World War, she sees straight through those who claimed – and indeed, still claim in modern times, in the case of the EU and NATO – to be ‘defending the right cause, fighting for the liberation of national minorities, or for the federal organisation of Europe, or for democracy’. Not only does she bluntly say that these things are ‘not enough’, but she deliberately likens them to those pitiable flights of fancy to which Dostoevsky’s Underground Man was prone, and further posits that no one truly wants to or should die for such milquetoast abstract ideals: ‘your life is greater and your death is greater’ than the sum total of these things. The personalism-in-sobornost’ Mother Maria insists on cannot be reduced to such paper-thin abstractions. She speaks with dismay of the ‘religious League of Nations’ whose highfalutin, carefully-worded statements of unity were totally inadequate to halt the advances of fascism and Bolshevism – both ideologies which she deems, referring to the Brothers Karamazov, to be ‘Smerdyakovism enthroned’. And she has some critical things to say – perhaps, from the point-of-view of many readers here, too critical – of Pope Pius XI, whose ‘diplomatic subtlety and refinement’ in addressing German Christians she deemed fatally ill-suited to the spirit of the times, and whom she likens to a ‘sympathetic acquaintance at a funeral’ who is unaware of how the gates of eternity opened at the cataclysmic catastrophe being faced by Europe.

And perhaps under the influence of Solovyov, she sees in consistent pacifism ‘something egoistically vegetarian… which makes one sick at heart’. In truth, she rejects, just as Chesterton and Solovyov do, the idea of wars of choice, pre-emptive wars, wars of aggression; she holds the ‘motivation of the robber’ to be utterly incompatible and at odds with the Christian life. But ‘much more complicated’ for Mother Maria, ‘is the question of enduring war, of passive participation, of war in defence’. She is not unaware of the terrible human and civilisational costs of war, and clearly sympathises with the pacifist denunciation of the same. But her maternal compunction is what leads her to pity the most powerless in war, as well as those who come to their defence, and it is what leads her to point to God’s presence even in the worst desolation.

Mother Maria’s understanding of freedom is complex in a similar but perhaps obverse way to her thoughts on war. Clearly she is influenced here by her reading of Dostoevsky: freedom is a vital necessity to the Christian life; in all things free participation is called-for, and there is no part of the Christian life that can be forced. Her excoriations of capitalism and communism for their totalitarian demands on the human person are evidence enough of the value she places on freedom, rightly considered. And yet at the same time, she understands what a terrible thing, what a privation, the prescription of the ‘freedom’ of exile has been for the Russian émigrés. ‘We have lost our weightiness,’ she writes, ‘lost our corporeality, acquired an enormous mobility and lightness, become unbound… we are almost like shadows.’

And yet it is a privation in which an even more terrible and urgent call is present: the call to again live the Gospel in a meaningful and creative way, without seeking refuge in the pieties of a motherland they no longer lived in, and without succumbing to the ‘spiritual philistinism, spiritual mediocrity, lukewarmness’ of the deadening liberal culture sheltering them. Even more so than when the first Russian monks set out into the wastelands of Siberia, she comprehends the call to a ‘new monasticism’ among the Russian émigrés in the streets and apartment complexes of the totally-foreign cities in which they’ve landed. But even as she sympathises maternally with the plight of her fellow émigrés – ‘hard as it is to say to impoverished people, “become still more impoverished”’ – she still holds forth bluntly the ‘inner command’, that ‘our God-given freedom calls us to activity and struggle’.

And Mother Maria was active and struggled to the very last. She was, as Jim Forest rightly notes, a great comfort to those who were imprisoned with her in the ‘hell’ of Ravensbrück. Even in a place where human dignity had utterly stripped away from everyone, even in a place where – to borrow Forest’s description – obscenity, contempt and hatred were as commonplace as hunger, illness and death, Mother Maria provided the inmates with a family and a refuge. She once again organised discussion circles and kept evening prayers, brought French and Soviet prisoners alike together, and shared even what little food she got with those who had still less, until her health failed and her friends would not allow her to give away any more.

Mother Maria pointed to God’s presence even in the worst of places and in the worst of times; in many instances, she herself was a great testament to that presence. She lived under regimes of great turbulence, depravity and cruelty. Yet, in spite of them, she witnessed throughout to a much higher ideal worthy of struggle: that of the Kingdom of God as realised in sobornost’.

   As witnesses of truth and preachers of piety,

   Let us worthily honor through divinely inspired chants:

   Dimitry and Maria, George and Elias,

   Who have borne the sufferings,

   The bonds and unjust judgment,

   In which like the martyrs

   Have received the imperishable crown.

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Matthew Cooper is a parishioner and choir baritone at Saint Sava’s Serbian Orthodox Church in South Saint Paul, Minnesota a father of two, a former English teacher and now a data analyst working in the field of higher education. He has published articles online at Solidarity Hall, Christian Democracy Magazine, Oriental Review and Front Porch Republic, and runs the blog The Heavy Anglo-Orthodox. A slightly different version of this article was first published in The Dorothy Option.

* * *

Chapter 7: WAR, PEACE AND NATIONALISM IN ORTHODOX LITURGICAL TEXTS

WAR, PEACE AND NATIONALISM IN ORTHODOX LITURGICAL TEXTS

7.1 Prayer for Peace in the Liturgy

Extracts from the writings of Archimandrite Lev Gillet, most of whose books were published anonymously as “A Monk of the Eastern Church”

The Great Litany by which the Divine Liturgy begins opens with a fervent request that peace be granted to us. This request is so important and so basic that it recurs three times in slightly different forms. These are not superfluous repetitions, for each of these petitions is filled with a deep and special meaning.

“In peace let us pray to the Lord!” This means first of all that we are called to assume a state of inner peace. Those who will take part in the Divine Liturgy should rid their minds of all confusion, all susceptibility to fleshly and earthly temptations, all obsession with “worldly cares,” all hostile feelings towards any other person, and all personal anxiety. They should come before God in a state of inner calmness, trusting attentiveness, and single-minded concentration on “the one thing needful.” (Luke 10:42)

Then at once there is a second request: “For the peace from above and the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord!” The peace which we have already requested is something other than a state of mind or a psychological condition produced by our own effort. It is the peace which comes ‘from above.” We should humbly recognise that such peace is a gift from God, and we should open ourselves to this gift, stretching out our hands to receive it. On the other hand, we recognise that the divine peace and the “salvation” of our souls are intimately related. Peace is a sign of the presence and the work of the Saviour within us.

Then comes a third request for peace: “For the peace of the whole world, for the welfare of the holy Churches of God and for the union of all, let us pray to the Lord!” The peace which we request goes beyond our isolated persons and acquires a practical aspect. We pray for the peace of the universe, not only for mankind, but for every creature, for animals and plants, for the stars and all of nature. Thereby we enter into a cosmic piety, we find ourselves in harmony with everything God has called into being. We pray for every disciple of Christ, in order that through each one God might be worshipped “in Spirit and in Truth.” We pray for an end to warfare and to struggles between races, nations and social classes.

We pray that all of humanity might be united in a common love.

Every temple of the Lord is a house of divine Presence and a house of prayer. Every temple is also a house of peace. May the soul of all those who enter into this holy temple to take part in the assembly of God, become itself a house of peace.

— From Serve the Lord with Gladness by Fr. Lev Gillett, Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1990

7.2. From the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great

From the Eucharistic Canon (Anaphora) of the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great

The priest prays:

Again we pray thee, remember, O Lord, the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, which is from one end of the world to the other, and give peace to Her whom thou hast purchased with the precious Blood of thy Christ, and establish thou this holy house, even unto the consummation of the age.

Remember, O Lord, those who have offered unto thee these Gifts, and those for whom, and through whom, and the ends whereunto they are offered. Remember, O Lord, those who bear fruit and do good works in thy holy churches, and who remember the needy; requite them with thy rich and heavenly gifts; give them things heavenly for things earthly, things eternal for things temporal, things incorruptible for things corruptible. Remember, O Lord, those in the deserts, the mountains, and in the caverns and pits of the earth. Remember, O Lord, all those who continue in virginity and devotion, and in asceticism and a sober way of life.

Remember, O Lord, the Emperor, all civil authorities, and the armed forces; grant them peaceful times, that we also in their tranquility may lead a calm and quiet life in all piety and sobriety. In thy goodness guard those that are good, and make good those that are evil, by thy loving kindness.

Remember, O Lord, the people present, those that for good cause are absent, and have mercy on them and on us, according to the multitude of thy mercies. Fill their garners with every good thing; guard their marriage bond in peace and in oneness of mind; rear the infants; train the young; support the aged; encourage the fainthearted; gather together the scattered, and lead back those who wander astray, and join them to thy Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Free those who are vexed by unclean spirits; travel with those that journey by land, by sea, and by air; protect the widows; defend the orphans; deliver the captives; heal the sick. And those that are under trial, in the mines, in exile, in bitter bondage, in every tribulation, necessity, and danger, do thou remember, O God.

And all those that are in need of thy great goodness of heart, and those also who love us, and those who hate us, and those who have commanded us the unworthy to pray for them, do thou remember, O Lord our God, and all thy people, and upon all pour out thy rich mercy, granting to all their petitions which are unto salvation. And those whom we through ignorance or forgetfulness or the multitude of names have not remembered, do thou thyself remember, O God, who knowest the age and name of each, and knowest every man even from his mother’s womb. For thou art the Helper of the helpless, the Hope of the hopeless, the Savior of the storm-tossed, the Haven of the voyager, the Physician of the sick. Be thou thyself all things to all men, O thou who knowest every man, his petitions, each house and its need.

Deliver, O Lord, this city and every city (or this village, or this abode), and country from famine, pestilence, earthquake, flood, fire, the sword, foreign invasion, and civil war.

And the priest exclaims:

Among the first, remember, O Lord, our lord, the Most Holy Patriarch (Name), our Bishop (Name), whom do thou grant unto thy holy churches in peace, safety, honor, health, and length of days, rightly dividing the word of thy truth.

The singers sing:

And all mankind.

7.3. Commentary of the Mysteries, by St. Cyril of Alexandria

In his commentary on the Divine Liturgy, St. Cyril gives a brief summary of the “Great Intercession,” in which, according to the common text of the Liturgy of St. James, there is a suffrage “for the peace and welfare of the whole world, and of the holy Churches of God.” From Chrysostom’s language, we must infer that the prayer formed part of the “Great Intercession” in his Liturgy.

Ye have seen then the Deacon who gives to the Priest water to wash, and to the Presbyters who stand round God’s altar. He gave it not at all because of bodily defilement; it is not that; for we did not enter the Church at first with defiled bodies. But the washing of hands is a symbol that ye ought to be pure from all sinful and unlawful deeds; for since the hands are a symbol of action, by washing them, it is evident, we represent the purity and blamelessness of our conduct. Didst thou not hear the blessed David opening this very mystery, and saying, I wall wash my hands in innocence, and so will compass Thine Altar, O Lord? The washing therefore of hands is a symbol of immunity from sin.

Then the Deacon cries aloud, “Receive ye one another; and let us kiss one another.” Think not that this kiss is of the same character with those given in public by common friends. It is not such: but this kiss blends souls one with another, and courts entire forgiveness for them. The kiss therefore is the sign that our souls are mingled together, and banish all remembrance of wrongs. For this cause Christ said, If thou art offering thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against time, leave there thy gift upon the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. The kiss therefore is reconciliation, and for this reason holy: as the blessed Paul somewhere cried, saying, Greet ye one another with a holy kiss; and Peter, with a kiss of charity.

Then, after the spiritual sacrifice, the bloodless service, is completed, over that sacrifice of propitiation we entreat God for the common peace of the Churches, for the welfare of the world; for kings; for soldiers and allies; for the sick; for the afflicted; and, in a word, for all who stand in need of succour we all pray and offer this sacrifice.

— Lecture 23 on the Mysteries, by St. Cyril of Alexandria, Chapter 5, “On the Sacred Liturgy and Communion.”

7.4. Prayers by the Lake, by Bishop Nikolai of Ochrid

Bishop Nikolai (Velimirovic) of Ochrid ( 1956) is regarded by many as a saint of the Serbian Orthodox Church yet to be canonised. He is best known for The Prologue from Ochrid, a four-volume work on the lives of the saints. Little by little his writings are being translated into English.

I.

Thou hast filled thyself with peace, O Glory of the realms on high, and the anger of all lands cannot shake Thy peace.

Among mortals there is little peace; therefore anger has gained in strength.

Anger makes its nest in the breast of arrogance and murder lies in the breast of anger.

All sins tend to murder, and none stands so close to murder as anger.

One-eyed earthly laws do not punish anger, because they do not see that anger kills. But Thy discerning law, O Glory of the realms on high, calls anger murder.

I have striven, in sunlight and moonlight, to penetrate the mystery of Thy law and, once my striving began to wear away all my worldly hopes, I began to perceive how my anger towards neighbours was killing me.

The children of anger are slaves, while the children of peace are sons. Therefore Thy wisdom speaks to men and reiterates to them: Be sons! A son looks into the face of his father, and turns his own face towards that of his father. When he sees peace in his father’s face, how can he distort his own face with anger, and yet not turn his gaze away from his father?

Anger brings infirmity into both the one who is angry and the one against whom the anger is vented. And infirmity is the precursor of death.

A wonder worker does not work miracles among children of anger, for the children of anger bring infirmity unto him.

O my neighbours, why do you feel stronger among those who love you, and weaker among those whom your presence angers? Is it not because the former add to your life by love, and the latter take from it through anger?

It is therefore my delight to be constantly with thee, O Glory of the realms on high. For only in Thy presence I neither kill them nor they me.

Just as drop after drop of water wears away even the hardest stone, so anger wears away the life of two people.

Like a murderer waiting in ambush with a knife, so anger burns in a proud heart.

Truly, arrogance knows that it is guilty; therefore it places anger at the gate, to act as its sentry.

Arrogance knows that it is sinful; therefore it has found itself an advocate in another sin.

Fill my heart with humility, O Glory of the realms on high, with the humility of the angels before Thy throne, for humility gives no abode or resting place to anger.

Grant me the humility of a son, and I shall be ashamed to become angry at slaves or kill slaves. Arm me with Thy peace, that the anger of the children of anger will not be able to confound.

II.

The Father looks down from heaven and sees me all covered with wounds from the injustice of men, and says: “Take no revenge.”

On whom should I take revenge, O Lord? On part of a flock on its way to slaughter?

Does a doctor take revenge on his patients for cursing him on their death beds?

Or whom should I take revenge? On the snow for melting, or on the grass for withering? Does a grave digger take revenge on those going down into the grave?

On whom shall I take revenge? On simpletons, for thinking that they can do evil to someone else in the world besides themselves? Does a teacher take revenge on illiterate children for not knowing how to read?

Eternity is my witness that all who are quick to take revenge are slow to read and comprehend its mysteries.

Time is my witness that all who have taken revenge have accumulated poison in themselves and have, with this poison, blotted themselves out of the Book of Life.

In what can you avengers boast before your adversaries, except my being able to repeat their evil? Are you not thereby saying: “We are no better than you?”

God is my witness that both you and your adversaries are equally reckless and equally incapable of good.

I have seen a cherry tree stripped of its bark and set fire to by children, yet it gave ripe fruit to those same children.

And I have seen cows, which men tormented with heavy burdens, patiently give milk to those same men.

Tears welled up in my eyes, and I asked: Why is nature more compassionate to men than man is to his fellow man?

Nature is my witness, O ye avengers, that only he is more powerful than those who do him evil who is powerless to copy their evil deeds.

There is no end to vengeance, and the descendants continue the work of their fathers and then go hence, leaving it unfinished.

Evil hastens along a wide road, and from each new duel it gains strength and territory, and increases its retinue.

A wise man gets off the road and leaves evil to hurry on.

A barking dog is more quickly silenced by a piece of bread than by many hurled stones.

He who taught men: “An eye for an eye,” also taught them how they would all be left blind.

On whom shall I take revenge, O my heavenly Father? On part of a flock on its way to slaughter?

Ah, how wretched are all evildoers and all who take revenge! Truly, they are like a flock of sheep on the way to slaughter that, unaware of where they are heading, butt horns with each other and wreak a slaughter before the slaughter.

I do not seek vengeance, my Father; I do not seek vengeance, but rather that Thou grant me a sea of tears, so that I can bewail the wretchedness of those who are on their way to slaughter, not knowing where they are going.

III.

Men can do me no evil as long as I bear no wound.

I saw two caves, one of which gave off an echo, while the other was dumb. Many curious children visited the former, incessantly engaged in shouting matches with the cave. But visitors quickly left the other cave, because it gave them no echo in return.

If my soul is wounded, every worldly evil will resound within it. And people will laugh at me, and will bear more and more strongly on me with their shouting.

But evil-speaking people will not really harm me, if my tongue has forgotten how to form evil words.

Nor will external malice sadden me, if there is no malice in my heart to resound like a goatskin drum.

Nor shall I be able to respond to wrath with wrath if the lair of wrath within me has been vacated and there is nothing to be aroused.

Nor will human passions titillate me if the passions within me have been turned to ashes.

Nor will the untruthfulness of friends sadden me if I have chosen Thee for my friend.

Nor can the injustice of the world overwhelm me if injustice has been banished from my thoughts.

Nor will the deceitful spirits of worldly pleasure, honour and power delude me, if my soul is like a spotless bride, who receives only the Holy Spirit and yearns for Him alone.

Men cannot send anyone off to hell unless that person sends himself, nor can men hoist anyone up on their shoulders to the throne of God, unless that person elevates himself.

If my soul has no open windows, no mud can be thrown into it.

Let all nature rise up against me; it can do nothing to me except a single thing — to become as soon as possible the grave of my body.

Every worldly crop is covered with manure, so that it will sprout as soon as possible and grow better. If my soul were, alas, to abandon its virginity and receive the seed of this world into itself, then it would also have to accept the manure that the world casts on its fields.

But I call upon Thee day and night: “Come, dwell in my soul and close all the places where my enemies can enter. Make the cavern of my soul empty and dumb, so that no one from the world will desire to enter it.”

O my soul, my only care, be on guard and learn to distinguish between the voices that smite your ears. Once you hear the voice of your Lord, abandon your dumbness and echo it with all your strength.

O my soul, thou cavern of eternity, never allow temporal thieves to enter into thee and kindle their fire within thee. Be dumb when they shout at you. Stay still when they bang on you, and patiently await your Master — for He will truly come.

7.5. A Soldier’s Prayer

The following prayer was found in the pocket of a Russian soldier killed during World War II.

Do you hear me, God?

Never before in my life have I spoken to you, but today I want to greet you.

You know that since I was a child, they said that you didn’t exist… And I was foolish enough to believe them.

Never before have I realized the beauty of your creation.

Today only I discovered this beauty, when suddenly an abyss opened.

Above me, a sky filled with stars. Amazed, I saw how they twinkled.

How could I have been so cruelly deceived!

I don’t know, Lord, whether you will stretch out your hand to reach me, but for me, I will recognize you, and you will understand.

It’s a miracle that in the depth of this terrifying hell, light illuminates me… and that I have been able to see you.

I won’t tell you anything else, except what a joy it is to know you.

At midnight, we have received the order to attack; but I am not afraid. You are watching us.

Listen, there is the signal. I have to go. Yet, it was so good to be with you.

What I still wanted to say, You know, this combat will be mean. Maybe, tonight I will knock on your door. Even though I never was your friend, will you let me enter, when I come?

But — am I crying? Look what’s happening to me! My eyes have opened. Forgive me God.

I am going, and surely I will not come back.

But, o wonder, I am no longer afraid of death.

7.6. Prayer for the Salvation of the Russian State

This prayer of intercession for the salvation of the Russian state and the elimination of strife and disorder in, the first version of which was written by St. Tikhon of Moscow, was frequently used by Hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church during the coup d’Etat of October 1993.

Lord God, our Redeemer! We bow down before you with contrite hearts and confess our sins and wilful unruliness by which we have angered you in your mercy and obstructed your blessings. For we have turned away from you, O Lord, we have not obeyed your commandments nor done as you have bidden us. Wherefore you have punished us with disorder and cast us under the feet of our enemies, we have become lower than the heathens and a scandal and disgrace to our neighbours. Great and wonderful God, you sorrow at our wickedness, you who raise up those who fall and make firm the feet of those who stumble. Send down to us here your heavenly power, heal the festering wounds of our soul and raise us up from our bed of sickness, for our loins are filled with weakness, we are ill with falsehood and we bring forth lawlessness. Take away the strife and turmoil in our land, remove from us envy and quarrelsomeness, murder and drunkenness, divorce and temptation, root out of our hearts all impurity, enmity and wickedness, that we may love one another once more and be one in you, our Lord and Ruler, as you have commanded and bidden us. Have mercy upon us O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we are filled with dishonour and we are not worthy to raise our eyes to heaven. Remember your mercy to our fathers, transform your wrath into pity and help us in our time of trouble. This prayer comes to you from your Church, which offers to you the supplication of your friends: our venerated and God-bearing fathers Sergi of Radonezh and Seraphim of Sarov, the holy Hierarchs of Moscow Peter, Alexis, Iona, Philip and consecrated martyr Hermogen, especially the holy Hierarch Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow and all the saints who have shone forth in our land, but especially the All-holy Mother of God and All-pure Virgin Mary, who from times immemorial has covered our land with her protection and intercedes for it. Bring to reason all who govern and rouse in them good for your Church and for all your people. Strengthen our army through the power of your Cross and save it from all attacks by the enemy. Grant to us men of strength and understanding, and give us the spirit of wisdom and fear of God, the spirit of strength and devotion.

Lord, we seek refuge in you, teach us your will for you are God, in you is the source of life, in your light we see the light. Extend your goodness to those who know you for ever and ever. Amen.

7.7. Prayers for Peace in Former Yugoslavia

During the war in Bosnia, and later Yugoslavia, the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church has directed that the following petitions be inserted into appropriate litanies at Vespers, Matins and the Divine Liturgy:

Into the Great Litany:

For God’s mercy upon us, His unworthy servants, that we may all be protected from hatred and evil actions, that we may have instilled in us unselfish love by which all shall know that we are disciples of Christ and God’s people, as were our holy ancestors, so that we may always know to decide for the truth and righteousness of the Heavenly Kingdom, let us pray to the Lord.

For all those who commit injustice against their neighbours, whether by causing sorrow to orphans or spilling innocent blood or by returning hatred for hatred, that God will grant them repentance, enlighten their minds and hearts and illumine their souls with the light of love even towards their enemies, let us pray to the Lord.

At the Augmented Litany:

O Lord, how many are our foes who battle against us and say: there is no help for them from God or man. O Lord, stretch forth Thy hands that we may remain Thy people in both faith and works. If we must suffer, let it by in the ways of Thy justice and Thy truth — let it not be because of our injustice or hatred against anyone. Let us all fervently say: Lord have mercy (three times).

Again let us pray to God, the Saviour of all men, also for our enemies — that our Lord who loves mankind will turn them away from attacks on our Orthodox people, that they not destroy our churches and cemeteries, that they not kill our children or persecute our people, but that they too may turn to the way of repentance, justice and salvation. Let us all fervently say: Lord have mercy (three times).

7.8. On the issue of the blessing of weapons

In July 1995, the Orthodox Peace Fellowship addressed a letter to his Holiness Pavle, Patriarch of Serbia requesting that “the Synod require that no use be made of a service for blessing weapons included in an edition of the Book of Needs published in Kosovo in 1993. In the context of the events in former Yugoslavia, the blessing of weapons can only be regarded as sanctioning the use of weapons in a fratricidal war.” The letter refers to a private 1993 edition of the Book of Needs (Euchologion, Trebnik) which contains a service for the blessing of arms. The service does not figure in the Books of Needs published by the Holy Synods of the local Orthodox Churches. Nevertheless its usage of the words “swords” and “sabers” seems to indicate its ancientness, reflecting the fact that in many countries, the blessing of armies and arms is an established ecclesiastical custom. The text of the service is given below.

The Bishop or priest comes out of the altar to the table with the weapons in front of the ambon, incenses the weapons crosswise beginning as it is common.

Reader: Heavenly King, Trisagion, Our Father, Lord have mercy (12 times). Glory; both now and; come let us worship. . . and psalm 35. Glory; both now: hallelujah (three times)

Deacon: Let us pray to the Lord

The Bishop or priest reads this prayer over the weapons:

Lord our God, God of powers, powerful in strength, strong in battle, you once gave miraculous strength to your child David granting him victory over his opponent the blasphemer Goliath. Mercifully accept our humble prayer. Send your heavenly blessing over these weapons (naming each weapon). Give force and strength that they may protect your holy Church, the poor and the widows, and your holy inheritance on earth, and make it horrible and terrible to any enemy army, and grant victory to your people for your glory, for you are our strength and protection and we sing praise to your glory, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Then the priest sprinkles blessed water on the weapons saying:

Let the blessing of Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, come down on and remain upon these weapons and those who carry them, for the protection of the truth of Christ. Amen.

After this the soldiers carrying the weapons are blessed, with the prayer:

Be brave and let your heart be stronger and win victory over your enemies, trusting in God, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

After this each soldier kisses the cross.

This is the way to bless sword and saber. If there is only one sword to be blessed, or only one saber, he says only once: this sword, or: this weapon. If there are many, he says: bless these swords, or: bless these weapons.

7.9. Prayer for the Pacification of Animosity

This prayer has been taken from the English translation of the Slavonic Book of Needs (Synodal edition of the Russian Orthodox Church) but may be found in the Books of Needs of most Local Orthodox Churches.

Deacon: Let us pray to the Lord.

Singers: Lord have mercy.

Priest: “We thank you, O Master, Lover of Mankind, King of the ages and Bestower of good things, Who destroyed the dividing wall of enmity, and granted peace to the human race, and Who now has granted peace to Your servants. Instill in them the fear of you and confirm in them love one for the other. Extinguish every dispute and banish all temptation to disagreement. For You are our peace and to You we ascribe glory: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

— From the Book of Needs, South Canaan PA, 1987

marginal quotations from chapter 7:

There is something to war that might be like the only chance for the present condition of humanity. This does not mean that we might want war. But now that it has burst loose, it has to be used. … More than ever before, the war demands the mobilisation of absolutely all our spiritual forces and capacities. … Christ and the life-giving Holy Spirit demand the entire human being — now. The only difference with state mobilisation is that the State mobilises compulsorily, while our faith awaits volunteers. Will there be such volunteers, and, if so, which will their effort and their readiness for sacrifice — from this, in my view, the destiny of the human race depends. Indeed, war is the wing of death which overshadows the earth; war opens the gates of eternity for thousands and thousands of people; war crushes the established bourgeois order, cosiness and stability. War is a calling, war opens our eyes. … I know that right now, at this very instant, hundreds of people have encountered what is the most serious, Seriousness itself: death, and that thousands are standing in line. … And finally I know, I know with all my being, with all my faith, with all the spiritual strength that has been granted to the human soul, that God visits His world in this instant. And the world can receive His visitation — my heart is ready, it is ready,” — and instantly, our temporary and fallen life will encounter the depths of eternity, our human cross will become the likeness of the Cross of the God-Man, and then, through our very grief of death we will see the white robes of the angel who announces us: “He, who was dead, is no longer in the grave.”

— Mother Maria (Skobtsova), 1939

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For the Peace From Above — Table of Contents

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/