Good Reading

Mother Maria Skobtsova: Essential Writings

Orbis Books, 2003, pp 192, $15

ISBN: 1-57075-436-5

edited by Hèléne Klepinin-Arjakovsky

preface by Olivier Clement, introduction by Jim Forest

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

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

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

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

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

The Way of the Dreamcatcher

by Steve Georgiou

Novalis, 2002, pp 284, $19.95

ISBN 2-89507-244-2

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

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

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

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