Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I discover a new saint - St Maria Skobtsova of Paris and Ravensbruck and her companions

In writing my pieces here I generally will search out relevant internet material. While writing my last two pieces on St Mary's I stumbled across an interesting Orthodox site, In Communion, which I'm going to add to my links here. While checking out the site I discovered a new saint, Maria Skobtsova of Paris and Ravensbruck, several actually because she has some companions, including her son, all of whom were martyrs under the Nazis.

Everything about this woman is remarkable, a poet, a member of the Social Revolutionary Party, she was elected mayor of her town in 1918. Twice married, the second time to the White Army judge who released her rather than sentence her to death as a Red. They fled Bolshevik Russia with her mother and child from her first marriage. Eventually they settled in Paris. She hads a son and daughter to her second husband. The death of the daughter led ot the break up of the marriage. Eventually Maria took vows as a nun but resolved not to live in a clositered convent but to be out and active in the world. In the early 30s she established a house of hospitality in Paris. It appears she mostly worked amongst the Russina emigre population. I rather love this snapshot of her 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.

And another

She 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.

It's amazing to reflect that at the same time as St Maria is active in Paris, Dorothy Day is likewise active in the Catholic Worker movement with its houses of hospitality in the US and Catherine de Hueck had opened Madonna House in Toronto. Catherine was also from Russia. The 1930s was an amazing time spiritually.

Maria Skobtsova's 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.

It was this that led to her martyrdom by the Nazis, together with her son and other companions. Maria gave assistance to Jews, sheltering them in her house of hospitality, helping them to escape Paris and through her priest, St Dimitri Klepinin, providing Jews with baptismal certificates to help avoid Nazi repressions. Eventually they were arrested together with her son, St Yuri Skobtsova and another friend and collaborator Ilya Fondaminsky. All were eventually deported to Nazi concentration camps were they would perish, Maria at Ravensbruck and the men at Buchenwald.

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. Their feast day is July 20.

You can read all about St Maria and her companions here and this page has some wonderful icons plus liturgical material for their commemoration.

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