Archive for October 18th, 2004

The Asceticism of the Open Door

Monday, October 18th, 2004

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.

The Official Act of Canonization

Monday, October 18th, 2004

The Official Act of Canonization of Mother Maria (Skobtsova), Yuri Skobtsov, Fr Dimitri Klepinine, Elie Fondaminskii and Fr Alexis Medvedkov

The Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which is based in Istanbul (Turkey) resolved, during its session of 16 January [2004] on the Canonization of Fr Alexis Medvedkov (1867 – 1934), also of Fr Dimitri Klepinine (1904-1944) of Mother Maria (Skobtsova) (1891-1945) and of their companions George (Yuri) Skobtsov (1921-1944) and Elie Fondaminskii (1880-1942), outstanding personalities of the spiritual history of the Russian emigration in France. This Canonization followed the request presented to the Patriarchate, in September 2003, by Archbishop Gabriel, who heads the [Patriarchal] archdiocese of parishes of the Russian tradition in Western Europe.

This is the first time that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has canonized people who lived a part of their lives in Western Europe. Addressing the Synodal Act of Canonization to Archbishop Gabriel, The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I has asked all the metropolitans of other Patriarchal dioceses in Western Europe to commemorate these new saints in their respective dioceses. Their liturgical commemoration has been fixed by the Patriarchate on 20 July, the feast of the Holy Prophet Elijah. For his part, Archbishop Gabriel has decided also to inscribe their names in the liturgical calendar of the archdiocese on the date of the death of each of them. “By our present patriarchal and fraternal letter [---] we have the opportunity to let [you] know the outcome of the request that you made of us concerning the Archpriest Alexi Medvedkov, the priest Dimitri Klepinine, the nun Maria (Skobtsova) and her son Yuri Skobtsov and also of Elie Fondaminskii, who are distinguished by the purity and the sanctity of their lives. In conformity with the practice and the usage of our Holy Orthodox Church, we have inscribed their names in the list of her saints. Their memory is to be celebrated on 20 July each year” writes Patriarch Bartholomew I in his letter.

The Synodal Act makes it clear that “the Holy Church of Christ knows to honor and celebrate for ever in all piety and in hymns and praises those who in the present life conduct themselves in a holy and pious manner, and who exert themselves in word and deed in the service and in the love of God and of the neighbor, and who, after their departure for the beyond, through signs and miracles have been confirmed by God, and to invoke their intercession, which is acceptable to the very good God, for the remission of sins and the healing of the sick”.

“It is just as it appeared to be during their lives: the Archpriest Alexei Medvedkov, the Priest Dimitri Klepinine, the nun Maria Skobtsova and her son George Skobtsov and Elie Fondaminskii, born in Russia, and who served in the bosom of our Patriarchal Exarchate of Orthodox parishes of the Russian tradition in Western Europe, during the first part of the 20th Century – they were distinguished by the asceticism and holiness of their lives, and, by the dignity of their life and their good example, they have contributed to the edification of the souls of many of the faithful; several of them, during the Second World War, suffered greatly from evils and were subjected to torments, which they bore with fortitude” continues the Synodal Act.

“In consequence, we have decided, following the usual practice of the Church to accord to these very holy people the honor which is due to them. This is why we have decreed and ordered in Synod, and recommended in the Holy Spirit, that the Archpriest Alexei Medvedkov, the Priest Dimitri Klepinine, the nun Maria Skobtsova and her son George Skobtsov and Elie Fondaminskii, who ended their life in sanctity and, certainly, in martyrdom, be counted among the blessed martyrs and saints of the Church, honored by the faithful and celebrated in hymns of praises”, the document continued.

In a message to the clergy and members of the parishes of the archdiocese, dated 11 February, Archbishop Gabriel underlined the importance for Orthodox witness in France and, more generally, in Western Europe of the “glorification” of these saints, the first saints of the Orthodox Church in the modern age to have lived in the West.

“All five, each in accordance with the gifts which they received from the Holy Spirit and following the moments and the times willed by our Creator and Master, have been servants devoted to the Church of Christ. Led by Divine Providence, following the tragic events which drenched their native land in blood, they came here, to the land of France, and here zealously carried out their pastoral ministry and their Christian engagement in society, in the context of our archdiocese,” he writes, before expounding the spiritual lesson of their life and their commitment: “Faced with the trials of our times, they bring us a message of comfort and hope of absolute faithfulness to the Gospel of Christ: humility, gentleness, self-denial, concern for the weak and the oppressed, service to one’s neighbor, a spirit of sacrifice and love, because ‘There is no greater love than to give one’s life for one’s Friend (Jn 15,13)’.

The witness of these saints is situated in a critical moment when Russian Orthodoxy is trying to organize itself in Western Europe, and in a general sense in the ‘diaspora’ outside the canonical boundaries of the Church of Russia. Holiness always possesses a timeless and universal dimension of participation in the Divine Holiness. But, at the same time, it takes root in time and space, that is to say in the blessed and sad history of the Russian diaspora in the West. In short, it takes root, there where the Lord calls us in our turn to bear witness to our faith in Him, in communion with the saints of all times, in particular – for us – those of the land of France” continues Archbishop Gabriel, who announces that the celebrations on the occasion of the Canonization of the new saints will take place 1 and 2 May, in Paris, at the Cathedral of St Alexander Nevsky, seat of the archdiocese, and that representatives of the dioceses of the different canonical jurisdictions present in France and its neighboring countries will be invited to participate.

“The Church is built on the blood of the martyrs and by the prayer of the righteous. These saints will be for us a comfort in our earthly trials; tireless intercessors before the Lord our God, having our salvation in view, and guides on the way of the Heavenly Kingdom”, declares Archbishop Gabriel in conclusion.

Fr Alexei Medvedkov was, before the Russian Revolution, the priest of a small village in the region of St Petersburg. Arrested by the Bolsheviks in 1918, he escaped from the firing squad thanks to his close relatives and managed to escape to Estonia, where he was forced to live in great poverty, working for several months as a miner, then giving catechetical lessons. In 1930, he left for France, where he was received in the jurisdiction of Metropolitan Evlogy (Gueorguievskii) (1868 – 1946), who was responsible at that time for the Russian parishes in Western Europe.

Appointed rector of the little community of Ugine (Savoie), Fr Alexei Medvedkov carried out his pastoral ministry there with self-denial, in great hardship and in the face of the indifference of a good number of members of the parish, before dying of cancer. All the witnesses agree in portraying a man of prayer and of great humility. In 1956, during an exhumation on the occasion of a rearrangement of the cemetery of Ugine, his body was discovered to be incorrupt, as were the liturgical vestments in which it was wrapped, which in the Russian ecclesiastical tradition is considered to be a sign of especial grace. The following year, his remains were laid to rest in the crypt of the Church of the Dormition, in the cemetery of Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois (Essonne).

Fr Dimitri Klepinine and Mother Maria (Skobtsova), together with their companions George Skobtsov, son of Maria, and Elie Fondaminskii, bore witness to their faith in Christ and their total commitment to living his Gospel by saving, at the cost of their own lives, numerous Jews during the Nazi occupation.

In 1935, Mother Maria, a poet and artist who became a nun, founded a House of Hospitality and a hostel for the homeless at 77 rue de Lourmel, in the 15th Arrondisement of Paris, thereby giving a spiritual dimension to social action and advocating the development of a “monasticism in the city, in the desert of human hearts”. Assisted by a group of laity, members of the Orthodox Action association that she founded, she was at the service of the unemployed and of illegal immigrants, organizing a canteen, workshops and a social aid office. Fr Dimitri Klepinine, a young Parisian priest, graduate of St Sergius, married and father of two children, was put in charge, from 1939, of the parish dedicated to the Protection of the Mother of God, which had been opened close to the Hostel.

During the occupation, numerous persecuted Jews were taken in and hidden there. In 1942, at the time of the round up of Jews in the Vélodrome d’Hiver sports stadium, Mother Maria succeeded in gaining entrance to the stadium and saving the lives of several children. On 8 February 1943, a search took place of the premises in rue de Lourmel. In the absence of the directors of the association, Mother Maria’s son George, then aged 20, was taken hostage by the Gestapo. On 9 February, a year to the day before his death, Fr DK celebrated a final Eucharistic liturgy in the Chapel of the Hostel, before answering the summons of the Gestapo.

The following day, Mother Maria, having come to obtain the release of her son, was herself also arrested. All three were interned, first in Romainville Fort, then in the Compiègne Camp, before being deported to Germany.

Fr Dimitri Klepinine died of pneumonia in Dora Camp, on 9 February 1944, as did George Skobtsov who had also been deported to Dora. A close collaborator of Mother Maria’s in Orthodox Action, Elie Fondaminskii, a Russian intellectual of Jewish origin, came little by little to the Christian faith, having been arrested by the Nazis in 1941. He was baptized whilst he was interned in the Compiègne camp (Oise), before being deported to Auschwitz, where he would die on 19 November 1942. Mother Maria was gassed at Ravensbruck on 31 March 1945: according to certain witnesses she had taken the place of one of her fellow prisoners.

An appeal for her Canonization, which gathered numerous signatures of Orthodox – and also of Catholic and Protestant – personalities, was addressed to Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow in August 1993. Mother Maria Skobtsova and Fr Dimitri Klepinine received the title of “Righteous among the Nations” from the state of Israel, and their names are inscribed on the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem. A spiritual biography of Mother Maria as well as a selection of her poems and essays translated into France has been collected in a work by Helene Arjakovsky-Klepinine under the title Le Sacremant du Frere [The Sacrament of the Brother], Le Sel de la Terre, 1995, 2nd edition 2001*. Another biography, by Laurence Varant and called “Mother Maria Skobtsova” was published by Perrin in 2000.

* This has been published in an English-language edition by Orbis Books as Mother Maria Skobtsova – Essential Writings.

translation by Alasdair Cross

Mother Maria Skobtsova Bibliography

Monday, October 18th, 2004

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:

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

Who is St Alexis of Ugine?

Monday, October 18th, 2004

Among the saints added to the calendar of the Orthodox Church at services in the Cathedral of St Alexander Nevsky in Paris in May 2004 was Alexis Medvedkov, a priest who died in 1934. (The icon above, the work of Maria Struve, was used at the services of glorification.)

St Alexis of Ugine was 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, the children of my parishioners … 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.

– Jim Forest

note: This text is a portion of a lecture given in Oxford May 31, 2004, at the annual conference of the Sourozh Diocese. Read the full text of the lecture.

Metropolitan Anthony on Mother Maria

Monday, October 18th, 2004

Here is an interview with the late Metropolitan Anthony in which he recalls Mother Maria Skobtsova and others associated with her.

I did not know Mother Maria very well personally, that is, I met her, I saw her, I heard her speak, but I did not have a personal acquaintance with her, so I can only remember some very short episodes.

The first thing I remember was that, as is well known, she was twice married and by her first marriage she had a daughter Gayana. She was in the Movement, in the seniors, when I was in the juniors. Her father, Kuzmin-Karavaev, became a Jesuit. And she would joke, saying: ‘What a strange family I have, my father is a Jesuit and my mother an Orthodox nun.’ I remember her only by sight, but I cannot describe her, I somehow see how she walked, but that was in any case very many years ago. So that was my first impression of that group of people.

My second impression of Mother Maria was when she was not yet a nun. That was in the Sergiev Hostel. I do not remember how I came there, when she spoke on some subject. But she spoke with great enthusiasm and fire. This struck me, because I found that in her enthusiasm there was too much fire. I was quieter then. There was the feeling that she always spoke from deep conviction. From that period I was told that she went to the steel foundry in Creusot, where a large number of Russian soldiers and officers were working. She came there, she was not yet a nun, 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. This was my second impression of her.

The third impression relates to the period when she had already become a nun. She was a very unusual nun in her behaviour 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.

Then I learned something different about her. At that time she opened a hostel in Rue Lourmel, where some remarkable people were gathered. There was Fyodor Timofeevich Pyanov.

MF: Ilya Fundaminski?

MA: Yes, Father Dimitri Klepinin and …

MF: Fedotov, certainly.

MA: Fedotov was around, and Mochulski played a very important part. And they gathered together all those who needed assistance. They did not ask whether you were innocent or guilty, why you were living such a life.

Mother Mary went through the most dangerous and dubious streets of Paris, entered those guest houses where other people were simply afraid to go, found out whether there were Russians there, took them out of that place — beggars and drunkards, took them to Rue Lourmel, washed, clothed and fed them and for some time they lived there. But then they went away again, went back to their previous situation, because their poverty and living conditions were such that it was very difficult to hold out, when you had lost everything and taken only a short rest. And she would then again return to the same place, bring them back, again wash them, dress them and feed them, and so years passed like this. And Mochulski took part in this work with her, although he was not concerned with the physical work, but immersed them in his culture. He was also a Dostoevsky specialist. But he did not teach them Dostoevsky, but simply Russian culture and tried to awaken in them some interest in life, which would draw them away from drink or unemployment.

MF: When was that, was it in the thirties?

MA: It was in the late twenties — early thirties

MF: It was a terrible time; even the French went hungry.

MA: Even the French went hungry, but Russians even more so, because apart from anything else they were foreigners. We did not have passports: in 1925 we lost our Russian citizenship, and they did not give us a new one, we had the ‘Nansen passport’, which essentially did not give us any rights, except that we had a civil identity. But we could not move, could not travel with it.

MF: And were there any priests at Rue Lourmel?

MA: Besides Father Dimitri, who was there constantly and worked inseparably with his wife Tamara, I think Father Kern was there.

MF: Was he apparently the abbot there?

MA: Possibly, I do not remember. I am not sure of it.

MF: I was once in Paris at one of the meetings, and the organisers arranged a car for me at the station. A very good, nice woman took us in the car and when we talked, I learned that she, it turned out, was the daughter of Father Dmitri Klepinin. She was certainly quite young when he died; he perished in Buchenwald.

MA: He was a very fine man, a simple, uncomplicated man, with a pure heart, pure thoughts, a pure life, who wanted good things and did good deeds.

MF: And what was Mother Mary’s reputation in Paris? How did Orthodox public opinion take her?

MA: On the one hand, they praised her very much for her social work.

MF: For her exploits.

MA: Yes. On the other hand, she was somewhat eccentric. And for that reason some people regarded her in a positive light, while other looked at her in a negative light.

MF: Can one not say that her ‘eccentricity’ was a manifestation of the intellectual side of her character? Because she was very unusual and came from completely irreligious, lay circles.

MA: Yes, if you read, for example, her poetry. It is very lively, but in it are some very unusual passages, which you do not expect, not because they offend any feeling of yours, but because if you think that this is a nun, it is strange — why did she write this poetry?

MF: If you imagine her as an heiress of the St Petersburg circles and generally of that whole Silver Age movement, then maybe she was in her right place, but in a new dress?

MA: I think she was in her right place, but would be an eccentric even in Russia. I remember, when she had not yet become a nun and somebody standing next to her raised an objection to her, she seized this person by the shoulders and shook him in front of everyone. Not every lecturer relates so hotly to his lecture.

MF: It is interesting to know that there are such strange people, who are suitable not only for exploits, but also for martyrdom in spite of everything.

MA: There are various rumours about her death. I had a letter from a Frenchwoman, who was with her in the Ravensburg concentration camp. I received all Mother Mary’s papers and gave everything to Father Serge [Hackel]. This woman wrote that the Germans assembled them one day and called out the names of those who had to go to the gas chambers for asphyxiation and among them was a young woman, who struggled and cried, and Mother Mary, whom they did not call out, stepped forward out of the ranks and said to her: ‘Do not struggle, it is not terrible and I can show you that — I shall go with you’. And she, as an extra person, went to her death. A witness wrote this to me. Even now witnesses do not always clearly understand. Father Serge has another witness account. In any case, she freely gave up her life for others. She hid Jews in Paris. When the Germans came to arrest her, they did not find her, but found her son, Yuri. They arrested him and left her a note saying that if she came, they would release Yuri — she came, but they did not release Yuri, and he also died there in the concentration camp.

MF: And is there any veneration of her as a martyr in the Russian Church?

MA: There was talk of canonisation, there were even articles in Russian newspapers about this. I have not heard that they in fact canonised her, but there was talk of it and I think that she was no less a martyr than others who were arrested in Russia for the faith or for Church activities. She did not die for the faith in the sense of confession of faith, dogma, but for the fact that she lived according to the faith with readiness to give all of herself, unto death, moreover not only when she died, because you imagine how much hunger and cold there was at Rue Lourmel and how crowded it was. That house was overflowing with those needing constant support, assistance, food, clothing, whom it was necessary to wash, comfort, give new hope to, so that sooner or later they would get out of those holes where they lived. She was all the same a cultured and refined woman, but she did not at all take that into account — it was not a way of life she led at that time. She continued to write, she wrote both prose and poetry, but that was somehow another expression of what she did. Her faith consisted of action, she never taught anyone how to live, she just lived like that. I think that is about all I can remember about her.

Recorded on 21 September 1999. Translated by John Phillips. Edited and annotated by Oleg Belyakov.

From the Cathedral Newsletter, Sourozh Diocese, London; issue of May 2001; the full text of the newsletter is posted on the diocesan web site: www.sourozh.org

The example of five saints

Monday, October 18th, 2004

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.

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.

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.

Who is St Ilya Fondaminsky?

Monday, October 18th, 2004

I’m curious about Ilya Fondaminsky and how he came to be included in the canonization. Just by his date of death, it would appear he passed away before St. Mother Maria Skobtsova and company were arrested. What do you know about him?

On the web site of Amherst University, in a section devoted to the papers of Vladimir Zenzinov, there is this biographical summary:

Ilya Isidorovich Fondaminsky (pseudonym Bukanov), political figure and publisher, was born in Moscow in 1881 and died at Auschwitz on November 19, 1942). From 1900 he studied philosophy at Berlin and Heidelberg Universities and in the spring of 1902 was arrested at the Russian border for transporting illegal literature into Russia. In 1905 he became a member of the Moscow Committee of the S.R. (Socialist-Revolutionary Party). In 1906 he fled to Paris, where he became good friends with Z. Gippius, D. Merezhkovsky, and B. Savinkov. He returned to Moscow in April 1917 and as a Commissar of the Provisional Government opposed the Bolsheviks. In 1919 he emigrated to France, and in Paris published a variety of religious and philosophical journals. Although he converted to Christianity in 1941, he was deported to Germany and died in a concentration camp in 1942.

In his biography of Mother Maria Skobtsova, Pearl of Great Price, Fr Serge Hackel writes that Fondaminsky was one of the distinguished people who gave occasional lectures at the Sunday afternoon gatherings at the house on rue de Lourmel (along with Berdyaev, Bulgakov, etc.).

In 1940, in a discussion at Fondaminsky’s apartment in Paris, Mother Maria spoke of her awareness that these were eschatological times. “Do you not feel that the end is already near, that it is at hand?” [Hackel, p 99]

For many years he was haunted by Christ and drawn to the Orthodox Church. He regularly attended the French-language liturgies celebrated by Fr Lev Gillet at the chapel adjacent to Mother Maria’s house of hospitality on rue de Lourmel. He explained his hesitancy to be baptized on the grounds that he was unworthy, though Hackel also mentions the factor of loyalty to his wife, an unbaptized Christian who had died in 1935.

Their mutual friend Fedor Pianov remarked, “It is difficult to say who had the greater influence on whom, Mother Maria on him or him on Mother Maria.” [Hackel 105]

Already an Orthodox Christian in his faith, he played a major role in the founding of Orthodox Action in 1935.

In 1941 he was in the first wave of Russians arrested by the German invaders.

Though a catechumen for years, Fondaminsky was finally baptized and chrismated at the makeshift Orthodox chapel at the camp at Compiegne. Afterward he wrote to a friend that he was “ready for anything, whether life or death.”

Following treatment of a gastric ulcer, he had the possibility to escape to the zone of France not under German occupation and from there could have escaped to the USA, but he decided it was better to share the fate of those who had no such opportunity, especially his “kinsmen according to the flesh.”

The theologian Georgi Fedotov writes: “In his last days he wished to live with the Christians and die with the Jews.”

“It is out of dough like this that saints are made,” commented Mother Maria, weeping as she read his last letter.

He was sent to Auschwitz where he died on the 19th of November 1942.

Jim Forest, 25 May 2004

The main entries about him in Serge Hackel’s book are on pp 103-106.

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

Monday, October 18th, 2004

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!

* * *

Father Dimitry Klepinin

Monday, October 18th, 2004

Martyr of the Dora Concentration Camp

By Helene Arjakovsky-Klepinin

On February 11, 2004, Father Dimitry Klepinin was glorified by the Orthodox Church. On this day the Diocesan Council of the Russian Exarchate of Western Europe, under the Ecumenical Patriarchate, announced that Fr. Dimitry, along with his friend Mother Maria Skobtsova and three other contemporaries, had been added to the Synaxarion of saints.

Few people today are familiar with the efforts of a small group of Orthodox who, during the Second World War, protected and saved numerous Jews in France at the risk of their own lives, by hosting them and acquiring forged papers for them. One of those who attempted in this way to witness their faithfulness to Christ and the life of the Gospel was Fr. Dimitry, a young Russian-born parish priest with a wife and two children. He was the associate of Mother Maria Skobtsova in the shelter that she had created at 77 rue Lourmel in Paris.

In France, Fr. Dimitry and his wife Tamara had been among the most active members of the Russian Student Christian Movement (RSCM). Tamara Klepinina later worked for many years at the publishing house YMCA-Press (famous for the publication of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago), where she published a bibliography of the works of Nicholas Berdyaev. Fr. Dimitry’s daughter Helene Arjakovsky-Klepinin is currently completing work on a book about her father, to be published in French. She has offered the following article in tribute to her father’s canonization.

Father Dimitry Klepinin was born in 1904 in Piatigorsk, in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains. He was the third child of an architect, Andrey Nikolaevich, who had constructed one of the city’s churches and built the famous baths of Kislovodsk, and of his wife Sophia Alexandrovna. While Dimitry was still a young child, the family moved to Odessa, where Andrey oversaw the construction of houses for the port authority.

The Klepinin family was very cultivated, musically gifted, and devout. Sophia’s cousin Zenaida Hippius and her husband, the philosopher Dimitry Merezhkovsky, were little Dimitry’s godparents. Sophia herself composed prayers and longed for a renewal of Orthodox life. In Odessa, she established an Orthodox school and engaged in social work in the city’s poor neighborhoods. Arrested in 1919 by the Cheka (the predecessor of the KGB), she was released from prison by a young female Cheka officer who knew about her work with the poor.

Dimitry left Odessa amidst the Bolshevik terror and was hired as apprentice on a ship. He briefly joined his family in Constantinople, where they had found a first refuge. Dimitry began studying at the American College in Constantinople. There the Zernov family, with whom the Klepinins were close, proposed the idea of a religious fellowship that would focus on action. This idea laid the foundation for the subsequent establishment of the Russian Student Christian Movement, in which Dimitry would play a key role. The Klepinins moved on to Yugoslavia, where Andrey successfully continued his career as an architect.

Two episodes from this period define Dimitry’s difficult spiritual journey. The first took place in Odessa when he was fifteen years old. Overwhelmed by the arrest of his mother, Dimitry went to a church to pray. He stood still, hands behind his back. A nun came up to him and admonished him, saying it was not fitting to stand in church like this. Dimitry left mortified, and vowed never again to set foot in a church.

The second episode took place in Yugoslavia. This fortunate event was also connected with his mother, who had passed away in 1923. Fr. Dimitry described this experience in a letter to a friend: “For the first time in my life I understood the meaning of suffering, when I realized that everything I had hoped for in life had evaporated. . . . I recalled the words of the Lord, ‘Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ I went to my mother’s grave with a heavy load of worldly sorrows, everything seeming so muddled up and forlorn, and suddenly I found the ‘light yoke’ of Christ. After this revelation, I changed the direction of my life.”

Dimitry began to participate in the Orthodox student circles established in Belgrade by the Zernovs. As Nicholas Zernov remembers, “We gathered around the Church; for us, the Church was the column and the foundation of truth, a force allowing everyone to be born again and capable of transfiguring our homeland. The members of our circle later became active members of the Orthodox Church in the West, of the Ecumenical Movement, of the Russian Student Christian Movement, and of different brotherhoods.” Dimitry absorbed the hopes of the student circle. One of the most prominent and influential Russian hierarchs and theologians in exile, Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky, showed great affection to Dimitry, as did Father Alexis Neliubov, the spiritual father of many members of the circle.

In 1925 Dimitry enrolled at the Saint Sergius Theological Institute, which had recently opened in Paris. While at the Institute, he was especially moved by the lectures of his favorite teacher, Fr. Sergei Bulgakov. After graduating in 1929, he received a scholarship to study for one year at the New York Protestant Theological Seminary. His studies focused on Saint Paul, who became for him, as he would say himself, “both dear and near.”

Back in Europe, Dimitry made a living working in the copper mines of Yugoslavia, where his father was architect. During this time he encountered Father Sergei Tchetverikoff, who became his spiritual father; Dimitry became a chanter at his church.

Restless and searching, Dimitry soon returned to Paris. He knew hard times, and became a window-cleaner and parquet-waxer. Dimitry continued taking part in the life of the RSCM, singing in the church at 10 Boulevard Montparnasse and directing the choir at the RSCM summer camp. However, he found himself facing a grave dilemma. He did not feel a monastic vocation, but desired with his whole being to become a priest. Metropolitan Eulogius describes in his memoirs how the Orthodox community of Paris undertook to marry Dimitry. At one of the RSCM conferences, he was introduced to Tamara Feodorovna Baimakova, an RSCM member and correspondent of the Messenger of the RSCM in Riga.

Dimitry and Tamara married in 1937. That same year Dimitry was ordained to the priesthood by Metropolitan Eulogius at Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Paris. Initially he served at the Church of the Presentation of the Virgin at 91 rue Olivier de Serres, a parish dear to his heart. In 1939 he was named dean of the parish of the Protection of the Mother of God, at the shelter established by Mother Maria Skobtsova. Mother Maria welcomed the family and their little daughter Helene with joy. A boy, Paul, was born in 1942.

Thus began the years of the war and the German occupation. Fr. Dimitry actively joined the resistance efforts of Orthodox Action, the organization founded by Mother Maria. The small group of people at the rue Lourmel center collected parcels for prisoners and found hideouts for those suffering persecution. An entire Jewish family was given shelter in Fr. Dimitry’s bedroom. His ministry during this time of trouble led him to support many people in need, including mental patients. A former patient remembers how Fr. Dimitry saved her from depression: “He taught me to see other people’s misery, he took me to hospitals and entrusted children to me whose parents were in hiding. Thanks to him I stopped thinking about myself and found my balance in life again.”

Many former parishioners remember vividly the night of Pascha 1942 at the rue Lourmel. As one of those present described, “Outside there were restrictions, fear, war. In the church, illuminated by the light of candles, our priest, dressed in white, seemed to be carried by the wings of the wind, proclaiming with a radiant face: ‘Christ is risen!’ Our reply ‘He is risen indeed!’ tore apart the darkness.”

Many Russians and converted Jews came to the shelter seeking certificates of baptism, as a shield against arrest by the Nazis. Father Dimitry would pass long hours with each to prepare for baptism. But as events accelerated, others with no interest in becoming Christian came seeking certificates of baptism as well. While this troubled Fr. Dimitry, he still felt called to act. He told Mother Maria, “I think the good Christ would give me that paper if I were in their place. So I must do it.” While Fr. Dimitry never baptized anyone who did not truly want to be Christian, he gave out several dozen certificates, primarily to Jews. “These unfortunate ones are my spiritual children,” he used to say. “In all times, the Church has been a refuge for those who fall victims to barbarism.”

The concluding chapter of Fr. Dimitry’s life has been recounted powerfully by the Russian writer Sophie Koulomzin. What follows is a description of this time of trial and glory, as told by Sophie in an article published in 1970 by Young Life magazine.

Mother Maria and Fr. Dimitry were warned that they were likely to be arrested in the near future. They had been denounced for helping Jews and their case was being investigated. Gestapo officers arrived at Lourmel while Mother Maria was away. They arrested her son Yuri, searched the building, and ordered Fr. Dimitry to present himself at their headquarters the following day. Fr. Dimitry went willingly, accompanied by a woman from the Lourmel shelter.

A German officer named Hoffman had collected a large amount of evidence on how Jews had been helped by Mother Maria and Fr. Dimitry. He was prepared to question the priest for a long time, and was astonished when Fr. Dimitry told him frankly about everything he had done.

Hoffman said curtly, “And if we release you, will you promise never again to aid Jews?”

Dimitry answered, “I can say no such thing. I am a Christian, and must act as I must.”

Hoffman stared at him in disbelief for a moment, and then struck Dimitry across his face. “Jew lover!” he screamed. “How dare you talk of those pigs as being a Christian duty!”

The frail Dimitry recovered his balance. Staying calm, he raised the Cross from his cassock and faced Hoffman with it.

“Do you know this Jew?” he said quietly.

The blow he received knocked him to the floor.

Dimitry’s interrogation lasted another six hours. Finally, Hoffman took Fr. Dimitry back to the Lourmel, to pick up Mother Maria and finish the search. One of Hoffman’s assistants told her, “Your priest has sentenced himself!”

Fr. Dimitry took leave of his wife and children. Almost his last words were to remind her of an elderly woman who lived on the sixth floor of a walk-up apartment building nearby. Only then did Tamara learn why this visit had always taken so long. Fr. Dimitry would chop wood for the old woman, make fires for her, bring her food, and prepare it.

Two months later, Fr. Dimitry, together with Mother Maria’s son Yuri, was being transferred from their prison to a prison camp in Compiegne, France. His cassock torn and dirty, Fr. Dimitry was ridiculed. To amuse a watching group of office girls, a German began pushing and hitting him, crying out “Jew! Jew!” Fr. Dimitry remained calm, but beside him Yuri began to cry. Fr. Dimitry said gently, “Don’t cry — remember that Jesus Christ had to bear much greater humiliations.”

In the camp at Compiegne, Fr. Dimitry continued to act as a priest. Tamara managed to send him his books and vestments. Out of tables and beds a makeshift chapel was arranged in one of the barrack rooms, complete with altar table and iconostasis. Divine Liturgy was served every day. Catholics and Orthodox worked side by side. Artists in the camp painted icons, craftsmen hand-made a crucifix, the chalice, and the diskos. Orthodox services alternated with those of the Catholics. Fr. Dimitry drew a sketch of the church in a letter he smuggled out to Tamara.

For almost a year Fr. Dimitry remained in the French camp. He was then transferred briefly to the camp at Buchenwald in Germany, and then to the camp at Dora. While Fr. Dimitry had always been frail, his health had remained strong throughout his ordeal. Not long after his arrival at Dora, though, he began to deteriorate. He could not carry out the work that was assigned to him. Some of his friends told the German foreman, “The priest is an old man, he cannot do this work.” And indeed Fr. Dimitry looked old and unwell. But when the foreman asked him his age, he told the truth. “I am 39 years old,” he said. The foreman, angry because the prisoners had tried to deceive him, struck Fr. Dimitry.

Fr. Dimitry’s forces continued to fail. He began to feel abandoned, like Jesus Christ on the cross. He was dismissed from the work gang. In the bitterness of the mountain winter, wearing only cotton work clothes and wooden shoes, he became sick and ran a high fever. Doctors among the prisoners saw that he had pneumonia, but they could do nothing for him. He was sent to the camp death house. One of his friends was able to visit him there. He brought him the monthly letter-card on which he could write something to Tamara and his children. Fr. Dimitry stared at the card but wrote nothing. He was too weak, and he knew he was dying. He just looked at his old friend, who survived to tell the story. That night, Fr. Dimitry died.

A Grandson’s Reflections

Helene’s son, and Fr. Dimitry’s grandson, Anton Arjakovsky spoke about his grandfather at the Kiev Monastery of the Caves in 2001. During his address, Antoine gave the following tribute:

Since childhood, I remember hearing stories about the tragic life of my grandfather. Still it seems that I really heard them when I was twelve. One morning my mother, displeased with my behavior, spoke about her father, with all her heart, about a hero. I went to school crying. I still consider this day as the beginning of my moral memory. It also meant the beginning of a dialogue with my grandfather, following the gradual and startling discovery of his discreet presence and protection…..

After the war, there were the first anniversaries of Father Dimitri’s death celebrated at the church of the Russian Student Christian Movement, the first parcels with clothing and food sent to my grandmother by grateful Jewish families in the United States. There was solidarity. There was the witness of former victims of the deportation, such as Geneviève Anthonioz de Gaulle, the niece of the General who had been incarcerated in Ravensbrück together with Mother Maria.

A poet, George Rayevsky, told the small group of survivors a dream he had had. One night, my mother later told me, he had dreamt of Mother Maria crossing a field full of ears of grain, walking in her usual calm manner. He rushed up to her and said: ‘But Mother Maria, they told me you were dead!’ She answered, looking at him over the rim of her spectacles with kindness and wit: “O, if one should believe everything they say You see, don’t you, that I’m alive!” [Hélène Arjakovsky, "The Joy of Giving," in Mother Maria, The Sacrament of our Neighbor, Pully 1995 p. 69 (in French); included in Mother Maria Skobtsova: Essential Writings (English language edition, Orbis Press]

Then there was the twentieth anniversary of his death in 1964, followed the next year by the publication of Father Sergi Hackel’s Pearl of Great Price, translated into German in 1967 by Heinrich Böll’s wife, and the book The Rebel Nun by Stratton Smith, translated into French some years later. Again twenty years later, in 1984, the Orthodox Messenger dedicated an issue to their memory, and the Jewish memorial in Yad Vashem granted the title “Just among the Nations” to Father Dimitri and Mother Maria. (Still, the production of a film on Mother Maria in the USSR didn’t help calm the collective memory of the émigré community. It depicted the rue Lourmel parish as a group of pro-Soviet Russian patriots combating the Fascist invaders )

Personally I believe that the end of Communism and the Soviet Union contributed largely to revive the flame of memory, not only with the publication of Fr Sergi Hackel’s book in Russia in 1993, but also among the emigres. When the outer enemy disappears, the inner enemy becomes visible. The 1990s in France were a period when the participation of the French authorities in the anti-Semitic Vichy regime was finally acknowledged. The Russian emigration ceased at last to exhaust itself in combating the “giant on feet of clay” of totalitarianism.

In this context, my mother started speaking little by little about the tragic destiny of the “modernist” group at the ‘Orthodox Action.’ Indeed, those who fell in battle were not just anyone. They were the heirs of the great movement of renewal in the Russian religious thought of the early Twentieth Century, transformed in exile into a movement of non-conformist, and later spiritual, Orthodox thought. They were among the intimate friends of Father Sergi Bulgakov and Nicholas Berdyaev. In 1994, at the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Father Dimitri, my mother published a biography of her father and an introduction to the first collection of articles of Mother Maria in French, The Sacrament of our Neighbor. As introduction to her article she used the saying of Evagrius of Pontus: ‘Sell was you have and give the proceeds to the poor.’ Some time later she allowed the review Khristianos in Riga (Latvia) to publish the correspondence of my grandfather and grandmother during his months in the camps.

It was in this period that a growing number of voices could be heard calling for the canonization of Mother Maria and Father Dimitri as well as other associated with them who had died as martyrs. New voices were added to those that had been calling for this for years (Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, Father Sergi Hackel, Olivier Clement, Elisabeth Bahr-Siegel): the Russian priest Father Ekonomtzev, dean of one of Moscow’s Orthodox universities, Deacon Maxim Egger, editor and secretary of the Saint Silouan Fellowship, and also Catholic and Protestant Christians inspired by their lives. Internet sites have been dedicated to their memory, icons have been painted in their honor, and so on. Following this appeal Tatiana Emilianova, a young Russian scholar, then compiled the dossier for the canonization of Mother Maria and Father Dimitri, with the help of my mother (to whom this seemed a natural development). .

Allow me to end with a personal memory. One morning, at our dacha in the countryside near Paris, I had breakfast with my grandmother, who was over 80 by then. Both of us had raised late. Suddenly she told me, with a wide smile: “You know, Anton, last night I had a wonderful dream. I walked by a field with Father Dimitri, we held hands. The sun was radiant. We were so happy ”

Fr. Dimitry, pray for us!

This essay was first published in English in the January-March 2004 issue of Again magazine, published by Conciliar Press, Ben Lomond, California. Translated from the French by Deacon Hildo Bos. Reprinted with permission. The section by Antoine Arjakovsky has been expanded.

Published in the Spring 2004 issue of In Communion, the quarterly journal of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. Copyright by the author.

Mother Maria of Paris: Saint of the Open Door

Monday, October 18th, 2004

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 final 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 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 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.

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. 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 she 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. A part-time school was 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 was a daily event. 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 chimney’s 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; 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