Mother Maria Skobtsova

If one were to consider which Orthodox Saints particularly embodied a faithful response to Christ’s Parable of the Last Judgment (the Sheep and the Goats) in St. Matthew 25:31-46, one of the more recent ones,  Mother Maria Skobtsova of Paris, would be a prime candidate.

From the article “Saint of the Open Door” on the website In Communion:

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.”

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.

She was a warrior against those things by which “the divine image is veiled, distorted and disfigured by the power of evil,” a “disability that touches us all. And she fought by means of a gentle and practical welcome of people in deep need, acting boldly and courageously to meet those needs:

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 travel 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. . . . .

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. 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.”

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

Paris had come under Nazi occupation, and Mother Maria would not turn away Jews from her doorstep; she hid them from the Nazis. Eventually she was found out and she was sent to a concentration camp.

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.” . . . .

On the 30th of March [1945] Mother Maria was selected for the gas chambers — Good Friday as it happened. She entered eternal life the following day.

You may read the entire story on the Orthodox Peace Fellowship’s website: http://incommunion.org/?p=79

Also you will find great edification through reading one of her writings, Types of Religious Lives:

http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/jim_forest/mariatxt.htm

The icon above is from Jim Forest’s flicker page Mother Maria Skobtsova:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/sets/72157594152181792/

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