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Mother Maria Skobtsova. Mother Maria - a saint of our day

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Mother Maria Skobtsova

Mother Maria Skobtsova (1891-1945) known as, Saint Mary (or Mother Maria) of Paris, born Elizaveta Yurievna Pilenko, Kuzmina-Karavayeva by her first marriage, Skobtsova by her second marriag was a Russian emigre, poet, Orthodox nun, a member of the French Resistance during World War II and martyr under the Nazis.

The name of Mother Maria is fast gaining recognition as one of the most fascinating religious figures of the twentieth century. She has been canonized a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Born in 1891 in Riga to a family rooted in Ukrainian aristocracy, she was a promising poet, an amateur painter and craftsman, a theological student in St. Petersburg when women studying theology were virtually unheard of. In 1910 she married a Bolshevik Dimitri Kuzmin-Karaviev. During this period of her life she was actively involved in literary circles and wrote much poetry. Her first book, Scythian Shards, was a collection of poetry from this period. He latter collections "Ruth", "Yurali" followed. By 1913 her marriage to Dimitri had ended. During this time, however Elizaveta, gradually came to accept Chrustianity with increasing religious devotion.

Elizaveta was a member of Party of Socialists-Revolutionaries and even planned the assasination of Leon Trotsky, however was later talked out of this idea moved to Anapa. She was elected a deputy mayor of Anapa, and when the White Army took control of Anapa, the mayor fled and she became mayor of the town.

The White Army put her on trial for being a Bolshevik. However, the judge was a former teacher of hers, Daniel Skobtsov, and she was acquitted. Soon the two fell in love and were married. Two more children came from this marriage, a daughter who was to die as a child of meningitis during her exile in Paris and a son who was to die in the concentration camps.

The political situation changed and Elizaveta her daughter, mother and her second husband. fled the country. They traveled first to Georgia and then to Yugoslavia Finally they arrived in Paris in 1923. Soon Elizaveta was dedicating herself to theological studies and social work.

In 1932, with Daniel Skobtov's permission, an ecclesiastical divorce was granted and she took monastic vows. In religion she took the name Maria.

Mother Maria Skobtsova

Mother Maria made a rented house in Paris her "convent." It was a place with an open door for refugees, the needy and the lonely. It also soon became a center for intellectual and theological discussion. In Mother Maria these two elements-service to the poor and theology-went hand-in-hand. Next twelve years until her arrest and deportation to the Ravensbruck concentration camp where she would eventually die in the gas chambers, she would live an unusual existence as nun, diaconal worker, counsellor, administrator of several residences, not to mention fundraiser, cook, and writer. She was to establish several hostels for the homeless, helpless, the ill and marginal in Villa de Saxe, Rue Lourmel and Noisy-le-Grand, with support from a number of the leading figures of the emigration.

When the Nazis took Paris in 1940, Mother Maria, and the members of her community chose to remain in the city to care for those who had come to count on them. As Nazi persecution of Jews in France increased, the Orthodox community's work expanded to include protection and care of the most helpless. Eventually, this work led to the arrest of Mother Maria her associates.

Mother Maria was sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. It is believed that Mother Maria's last act was to take the place of a Jewish woman who was being sent to death in the gas chambers, voluntarily dying in her place.

"A woman of flesh and blood, Elizaveta Skobtsova, Mother Maria is considered to be a saint of our day a living icon, who stood fearlessly face to face with the problems of our century". (Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom))

Mother Maria and her companions were glorified by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 2004.


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