Seventy years ago a Russian nun was killed in the gas chambers of the Ravensbruck concentration camp on March 31, 1945, Holy Saturday.
Mother Maria Skobtsova had fled Russia and lived in Paris, where she became a nun. But she did not live a cloistered life, but a life that embraced the world, especially the poor, for “each person is the very icon of God incarnate in the world.”
As a nun she fed and housed the destitute, especially caring for the many Russian émigrés. But many intellectual émigrés met in her home to consider the renewal of Orthodoxy.
A new phase of her life began with the German occupation of Paris. She began rescuing Jewish children from the Nazis, even hiding them in trash cans.
For her there was no barrier between worshipping God and serving God’s people. For her, the service of the poor was another way of recognizing the presence of God in our world.
“The meaning of the liturgy must be translated into life. It is why Christ came into the world and why He gave us our liturgy.”
May the example of Mother Maria Skobtsova move us to worship God and serve the poor.
A tribute to Mother Maria by Jim Forest can be found here.
Mother Maria Skobtsova (1891-1945), an Russian Orthodox nun, protector of Jews in Paris, was killed in the Appel [Ravensbruck] concentration camp, by the Nazis, on Holy Saturday, March 31, 1945. Canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church, she is a sign of prayerful and effective resistance to evil.
She lived for many years in Paris. One delightful story of her ingenious efforts to save persecuted Jews in occupied France is detailed in Jim Forest’s book Silent as a Stone. She persuaded trash collectors to hide children about to be taken by the Nazis in trash cans so that they could be moved to safe locations.
Hers is a spirituality needed for our time – combining deep prayer and courageous and imaginative resistance to injustice.
In 1938, she wrote:
“Open your gates to homeless thieves, let the outside world sweep in to demolish your magnificent liturgical system, abase yourself, empty yourself, make yourself of no account… Accept the vow of poverty in all its devastating severity; destroy all comfort, even the monastic kind.
“Our times are firmly in tune with Christianity, in that suffering is part of their character….They help us genuinely and completely to accept the vow of poverty, to seek no rule, but rather anarchy, the anarchic life of Fools for Christ’s sake, seeking no monastic enclosure but rather the complete absence of even the subtlest barrier which might separate the heart from the world and its wounds.”