In Memoriam: Sister Aggeliki Tsaousi the Unmercenary Paediatrician (1932-2015)

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+ Memory Eternal!  Καλόν Παράδεισον! + Theophany 2015

Today I have been to the Annual Greek Memorial Service for a very special person, one I consider my spiritual mother.  On the anniversary of the repose the tradition is for members of the church to pray for the reposed during Holy Liturgy, at the very centre of the temple, with  Koliva, accompany the relatives to the graveside with flowers, candles, incense, prayers and singing … and follow these prayers by a special meal with the family and friends.

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After Meeting such a Person, how can you not change? 

St. Porphyrios once told a Pediatrician: “Listen to what I have to say to you. Every time you examine a child*** you should offer a fervent prayer with love: Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on your servant.”

As he said this he took a deep breath while he opened his hands. “It is in this way that you should pray for every child. God has sent a precious soul into your hands. As you place your hands on them pray fervently within yourself that the grace of God will be transfused into the soul of the child. 

“Do all this things spiritually and in secret. The others who are present won’t understand anything. You will prescribe to them medicines which science dictates but in the final analysis Christ will heal the child.” (source)

* This is exactly how Sister Aggeliki lived and ministered the needs of her younger (and older) patients. She was a true Child of God, taking care of all of us, children of God. She was a paediatrician for “paedia” (children) from newborn to 99+ years old  😊

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Sister Aggeliki Tsaousi slept in Christ last year amidst the Lights of Theophany, having lived a long life of poverty for Christ, of sacrifice and prayer, dedicated to the ministering of the poor, the sick, the needy, the addicted, the refugees, families in crises, all her brethren in Christ, no matter what their country of origin was and what their religion. She established a charitable organization “Love of Christ”, recruited other like-minded volunteer doctors and founded an ‘international’ humanitarian-aid non-governmental organization (NGO), a model Doctors Without Borders, before that term was even invented. The fact that the doors of her clinic remained open 24/7 and welcomed everybody drew upon her the criticism, even wrath  of some of Thessaloniki’s local society, who could  not understand why she bothered with gypsies, Muslims, drug addicts, Albanians or atheists. She often got into trouble for being no respecter of persons, but the Lord did not abandon this handmaiden who trusted in Him and lived a life of holiness and humility. She was a woman of integrity, great strength and faith, and pursued the path of the Cross, of sacrifice, with the Holy Unmercenary St. Panteleimon and St. Nektarios of Pentapolis by her side, making their presence most  powerfully  felt in her daily ministry with great miracles of healing.

 

After Meeting such a Person, how can you not change? 

 

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St. Nektarios of Pentapolis (Sister Aggeliki’s Patron Saint)

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Holy Unmercenary St. Panteleimon (Sister Aggeliki’s ‘Medical Assistant’)

I have never written before in my life an obituary, especially in a language which is not my mother tongue! but I feel deeply moved to make a humble attempt for Sister Aggeliki, since I have been blessed to be on her side for more than 2 decades.

Sister Aggeliki was truly, genuinely ecumenical. She “incarnated” John Donne’s Meditation:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee. 

Sister Aggeliki’s  love for God and her ‘neighbour’ was proverbial, unwavering, selfless, unconditional and boundless. She was special and she made everybody feel special and loved!  She became a legend all over Greece! A doctor who was never granted her degree, because as a University student she refused to take the oath, which was  the custom of Greek universities back in those days, since she felt it contradicted God’s law: “But I say unto you, Swear not at all …” (Matthew 5:34).

A doctor whose career collapsed before its beginning, but not her calling! A doctor who never “earned” any salary for her services, who worked as a volunteer in all major hospitals, clinics, charitable and missionary organisations, in Greece and abroad, a doctor who was eventually hired as a cleaning lady (!) but was never paid, again (!), and even her “pension” as a cleaning lady went straight to the poor, the church and various charitable organisations, as we all found out after her repose. So, how on earth did she make it? This remains still a mystery to everyone but God!

Dear Sister Aggeliki, such zeal, such a pure spirit and love for Christ! She strove so hard to remain invisible, hidden, but God’s Grace “betrayed” her … She would make it a point to frequent ‘anonymous’ chapels to hide herself from people and their praise — indeed I remember her ‘confessing’ this ‘secret’ to me — yet, everybody recognised her everywhere and sought her blessing and her prayers! She was the families’ refuge and strength, a proverbial Rock in times of distress, always present in times of need, always preferring fasts to feasts, when faced with conflicting demands in her hectic schedule.

 

Serving as the doctor of ‘Love for Christ’, assisting administratively nearby and far monasteries , supporting charitable/missionary organisations, ministering the needs of the poor who flocked around her, had Sister Aggeliki working from dawn to midnight each day. In the midst of her exhausting ministry she devoted careful time to her inner life of prayer, composed Christian poetry and wrote Christian plays, kept a diary in which she set down her thoughts, feelings, and prayers, and systematically recorded Patristic teachings on monasticism together with her broad experience in contemporary monasticism, encoding them in her voluminous work, her magnum opus (in the editing process; under publication) Rule of Love for Christ: A Set of (Spiritual) Articles of ‘Incorporation’ For a Woman’s Monastery.

So, let me eventually dare upon a few vignettes …

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Vignette1: It all started very unexpectedly, back to the days when my son was a toddler, and undergoing from one medical complication to another, being sent from one hospital to another, with doctors at their wits’ ends, experimenting on all sorts of medication on him, without being able to diagnose, let alone treat, his health problem, whatever that was. In despair, always in search for a paediatrician who could assist us in our impasse and bring our woes to an end, God took care of us and I was given her telephone number, I cannot recall by whom …

I remember our first telephone call in full detail. I was very upset and frustrated and all she did was calmly ask a couple of questions to understand what the problem was and then she paused! I thought the line was broken, but she was still there on the other side; she told me she had to pray so that she would not pile error upon error on this chain of medical misjudgments to avoid further jeopardising my son’s health. So, I waited and … waited in silence … Finally, she told me in full detail what we had to do, until she would examine our son, which she promptly did, once she was available, and then treated him for just one week, and do I need to add that she was correct 100% in her “diagnosis” and that this was the end to my son’s  health problems?

You would not want to let such a paediatrician disappear from your life, would you? The fact that you would not have to  pay anything for such treatment, or  travel all the way  to hospitals or wait long hours in queues outside surgeries, was the least for such a Godsend present. Even the fact that she never erred, even in the most difficult cases, never! , was a “minor” detail to what just a single visit to this amazing woman offered you. Really, could it be that people like her truly existed? Indeed, she was in “possession” of something which none or very few other paediatricians or doctors, or indeed anybody, could offer, and that was nothing less than a  glimpse to another world, a beautiful world full of Serenity, Love, Compassion, Light, Peace, Hope and true Healing.

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She was such a magnet and we soon got stuck to her, like practically anybody else who got to know her better. One could not help but be drawn into her strong, warm, calm, prayerful, charismatic circle of grace- and be changed! Gradually we even began to fathom the depths of her life and ministry  if that could ever be possible ! Because you have to somehow be spiritually similar  to such a person to be able to understand or describe her by any means. And we most surely were not. But we were blessed to be next door neighbours (😊), so we would regularly visit her at her home-clinic, and spend hours and days talking, praying, helping, planning … Yes, planning! Because during these intimate visits, we eventually became attracted to her vision and started ourselves volunteering to help other people

All these long days of ministry, of driving her to homes in need, of visiting terminal patients, orphans, of children summer camps and soup kitchens, of concerts and plays, of sharing the holiness of fellowship in Christ and bringing the Church to the Laity of God, to give you just a few examples, would not only not tire us, but on the contrary would help us forget or deal better with “our” problems, would most deeply refresh us. She had such a fine sense of humour and was always so cheerful! So many memories, dear Sister Aggeliki, a true Angel, Messenger of God, so many words of yours still echoing in my ears, so many pieces of invaluable spiritual advice. May you remember us in your prayers now that you are face to face to God and behold His Glory in the company of His Saints.

After Meeting such a Person [Προς-Ωπο, Prosopon (/ˈprɒsɵpɒn/[1] or /prɵˈspən/;[2] from Ancient Greekπρόσωπον, πρός ‎(próstowards) + ὤψ ‎(ṓpseye), most often translated as “person”, and as such is sometimes confused in translation with hypostasis, which is also translated as “person.”, but  pros-opon originally meant a Person whose eyes are directed Up-wards, to Heaven — Sister Aggeliki’s eyes were most certainly directed Up-wards!

Vignette2: Preparations for a feast for the children’s summer camp were under way and a volunteer got very tired, lost its temper, started shouting at Sister Aggeliki and insulting her, and eventually slammed the door in her face! As if all this exhaustion had triggered an explosion of deep-rooted rivalry, jealousy, pride and resentment! She wanted so desperately to be in charge and lead! And what did most patient Sister Aggeliki do? Did she lose her temper? She was older, exhausted after all and suffering from cancer too. No, she just took a deep breath and started praying spiritually and in secret. I was stupefied !! What was that woman thinking?! Just the age, frailty and the habit that Sister Aggeliki was wearing should be more than enough to teach her to behave herself and show more respect! I rushed downstairs to try to appease her (to no avail), as she was still shouting at the top of her voice that she was right and that Sister Aggeliki was to blame for all this!  So what did Sister Aggeliki decide to do? Magnanimous Sister Aggeliki, generous in forgiving an insult or injury, free from petty resentfulness or vindictiveness. She “punished” herself just like St. Nektarios, who rather than punish two students of his, when they misbehaved, when he served as the headmaster of the Rizarion Ecclesiastical School,  he ‘punished’ himself and started fasting (ie. eating nothing!) and praying for their sake. Likewise, Sister Aggeliki repented, fasted, prayed and refrained from Holy Communion that Sunday until she confessed to her spiritual father and asked for forgiveness for a wrong she had not committed! Needless to add, she forgave that woman wholly and unconditionally that very moment and never entertaining any bad thought (logismos).  Sister Aggeliki would always, very humbly, like her patron Saint, Saint Nektarios, endure injustice  slanders and meekly face temptations

Vignette 3: She was on her deathbed, facing terminal cancer, and stifling her moans with Hymns and Martyrs’ Apolytikia. To her very last day, she examined sick children and ministered people’s needs. Just to remember her hoarse from pain voice singing a hymn a day before her end reduces me to tears. 

Vignette 4: The minute her pure soul flew to her Maker, Sister Aggeliki’s face glowed; she raised her hand with her prayer rope, and blessed everybody at her side, leaving this world with ineffable Joy!

After Meeting such a Person, how can you not change? 

–– Geronda [ie. Saint Paisios], the final diagnosis has been made. Your tumor is cancerous and it’s aggressive. 

–– Bring me a handkerchief so that I may dance to the song: “I bid farewell to you, O poor world!” I have never danced in my life, but now I will dance for joy as my death approaches. [Dialogue With Elder Paisios as He Faces Death at http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.gr/2014/10/ dialogue-with-elder-paisios-as-he-faces.html

And so, she danced her way to Heaven! Sister Aggeliki had always wanted to become a nun; she fasted and prayed like a nun; she owned nothing, gave away everything, and wore a habit all her life, but she stayed in the desert of the cities instead, because she sacrificed her “calling” in order  to take care of her blind sister, who was suffering from a very serious mental disorder and was dangerous to herself, her environment and Sister Aggeliki of course. Humbly she would confess that this cross was for the expiation of her sins! She did not want to commit het to a mental institution, because this sister was simultaneously a fool for Christ, and wanted to spend endless hours in Church and in prayer. Sister Aggeliki knew that she could not lead  such a church life in a mental hospital, where they would ‘sedate’ her with heavy medication, so she ‘waited’ by her side for 50+ years and would walk her to church whenever there was a service. Sister Aggeliki received tonsure only a few months before her death, when her sister had died. And yet, how moving it was today to hear her commemorated in Church as a “Sister”, because if there was any woman who deserved to be thus commemorated as a nun, if not on Earth, then surely in Heaven, this was most certainly her!

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Today, during the Memorial Service, it suddenly occurred to me that rather than praying for her, we ought to pray to her, and ask her blessing from “above”!

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Why these bitter words of the dying, o brethren,
which they utter as they go hence?
I am parted from my brethren.
All my friends do I abandon and go hence.
But whither I go, that understand I not,
neither what shall become of me yonder;
only God who hath summoned me knoweth.
But make commemoration of me with the song:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

But whither now go the souls?
How dwell they now together there?
This mystery have i desired to learn; but none can impart aright.
Do they call to mind their own people, as we do them?
Or have they forgotten all those who mourn them and make the song:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

We go forth on the path eternal, and as condemned,
with downcast faces, present ourselves before the only God eternal.
Where then is comeliness? Where then is wealth?
Where then is the glory of this world?
There shall none of these things aid us, but only to say oft the psalm:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

If thou hast shown mercy unto man, o man,
that same mercy shall be shown thee there;
and if on an orphan thou hast shown compassion,
the same shall there deliver thee from want.
If in this life the naked thou hast clothed,
the same shall give thee shelter there, and sing the psalm:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Youth and the beauty of the body fade at the hour of death,
and the tongue then burneth fiercely, and the parched throat is inflamed.
The beauty of the eyes is quenched then, the comeliness of the face all altered,
the shapeliness of the neck destroyed; and the other parts have become numb,
nor often say: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

With ecstasy are we inflamed if we but hear that there is light eternal yonder;
that there is Paradise, wherein every soul of Righteous Ones rejoiceth.
Let us all, also, enter into Christ, that we may cry aloud thus unto God:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

 

 

 

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The ‘Trash Can’ Rescue

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The Trash Can Rescue was the code name for an undercover operation aimed at smuggling out Jewish children headed for the death camps in Paris. “The story occurs after Mother Maria had established the house with the blessing and help of her bishop, Metropolitan Evlogy Georgievsky, on rue de Lourmel.  Word got out that something was happening at the stadium, not far from the house. “. . .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  . . . 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 of Paris wrote both poetry and religious essays in addition to running a soup kitchen and community center in a ghetto of Paris

Mother Maria of Paris wrote both poetry and religious essays in addition to running a soup kitchen and community center in a ghetto of Paris.

Because Mother Maria was well-known to the police and sanitation crews as she would scour the back alleys of Paris and the central market gathering day old food and recyclables for the poor of her community, she was granted access into the stadium.  She quickly sized up the situation.  The stadium had become a central transfer and processing hub for the thousands of Jews of Paris.

She prayed for assistance.  The idea came to her.  By employing the confidence of the local sanitation workers in charge of hauling the garbage from the stadium, Mother Maria perpetrated a plot that would at least save the children from the gas chambers: stuff them into the garbage bins, haul them out on the trucks from the stadium, and then under the cover of night, sneak the children to the house on rue de Lourmel where she then could orchestrate their continued passage to the south of France, an area outside of Nazi control, and to safety. The chronicle of the Trash Can Rescue has been memorialised in the children’s book Silent as Stone written by Jim Forest and beautifully illustrated by Dasha Pancheshnaya (St Vladimir’s Press: http://www.svspress.com/silent-as-a-stone/ )“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?” http://incommunion.org/2004/10/18/saint-of-the-open-door

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No one is sure how many children Mother Maria and her garbage crew saved.  But what is certain is that she eventually was found out by the Nazis. (When Nazis interrogated her about whether she had seen any Jews, she would point to an icon of the Mother of God or else point to the body of Christ on her crucifix.)  The priest, Father Dimitri Klepinin who had served alongside her in the “monasticism in the world” and her son Yuri were arrested.  They had been guilty of forging fake baptismal certificates for Jews who came begging for help.  Yuri and Father Dimitri eventually died in Buchenwald camp while Mother Maria was sent to Ravensbruck. … It was Good Friday, March 30th, on the eve of the liberation of Paris, 1945, that Mother Maria was one of those chosen for death. According to other accounts, she took the place of another prisoner who was marked for the gas chamber that day. …

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For the rest of the article go to http://greekamericangirl.com/mother-maria-of-paris-says-oxi-to-the-nazi-mass-murder-machine/

For more information about Maria’s activism, inspiration, grace, heroism, and hope-filled commitment, so needed in our world today, go to my earlier posts “Like a Russian Novel” at https://orthodoxcityhermit.com/2015/09/23/mother-maria-of-paris-saint-of-the-open-door/ and “Solitary and Naked Before God” at https://orthodoxcityhermit.com/2015/09/23/taking-up-the-cross/

Solitary and Naked Before God

... If we decide responsibly and seriously to make the Gospel truth the standard for our human souls, we will have no doubts about how to act in any particular case of our lives: we should renounce everything we have, take up our cross, and follow Him. The only thing Christ leaves us is the path that leads after Him, and the cross which we bear on our shoulders, imitating His bearing of the cross to Golgotha.

[And that is all]

It can be generally affirmed that Christ calls us to imitate Him. That is the exhaustive meaning of all Christian morality. And however differently various peoples in various ages understand the meaning of this imitation, all ascetic teachings in Christianity finally boil down to it. Desert dwellers imitate Christ’s forty-day sojourn in the desert. Fasters fast because He fasted. Following His example, the prayerful pray, virgins observe purity, and so on. It is not by chance that Thomas Kempis entitled his book The Imitation of Christ; it is a universal precept of Christian morality, the common title, as it were, of all Christian asceticism.

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El Greco – Christ Embraced the Cross (detail) (1587-96)

I will not try to characterize here the different directions this imitation has taken, and its occasional deviations, perhaps, from what determines the path of the Son of Man in the Gospel. There are as many different interpretations as there are people, and deviations are inevitable, because the human soul is sick with sin and deathly weakness.

What matters is something else. What matters is that in all these various paths Christ Himself made legitimate this solitary standing of the human soul before God, this rejection of all the rest – that is, of the whole world: father and mother, as the Gospel precisely puts it, and not only the living who are close to us, but also the recently dead – everything, in short. Naked, solitary, freed of everything, the soul sees only His image before it, takes the cross on its shoulders, following His example, and goes after him to accept its own dawnless night of Gethsemane, its own terrible Golgotha, and through it to bear its faith in the Resurrection into the undeclining joy of Easter.

[And that is all]

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Here it indeed seems that everything is exhausted by the words “God and my soul.” All the rest is what He called me to renounce, and so there is nothing else: God – and my soul – and nothing.

No, not quite nothing. The human soul does not stand empty-handed before God. The fullness is this: God – and my soul – and the cross that it takes up. There is also the cross.

[And that is all]

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El Greco — Christ Carrying the Cross (1587-96)

The meaning and significance of the cross are inexhaustible. The cross of Christ is the eternal tree of life, the invincible force, the union of heaven and earth, the instrument of a shameful death. But what is the cross in our path of the imitation of Christ? How should our crosses resemble the one cross of the Son of Man? For even on Golgotha there stood not one but three crosses: the cross of the God-man and the crosses of the two thieves. Are these two crosses not symbols, as it were, of all human crosses, and does it not depend on us which one we choose? For us the way of the cross is unavoidable in any case, we can only choose to freely follow either the way of the blaspheming thief and perish, or the way of the one who called upon Christ and be with Him today in paradise. For a certain length of time, the thief who chose perdition shared the destiny of the Son of Man. He was condemned and nailed to a cross in the same way; he suffered torment in the same way. But that does not mean that his cross was the imitation of Christ’s cross, that his path led him in the footsteps of Christ.

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Detail from the Crucifixion from the Isenheim Altarpiece, circa 1512-16

… What is most essential, most determining in the image of the cross is the necessity of freely and voluntarily accepting it and taking it up. Christ freely, voluntarily took upon Himself the sins of the world, and raised them up on the cross, and thereby redeemed them and defeated hell and death. To accept the endeavor and the responsibility voluntarily, to freely crucify your sins – that is the meaning of the cross, when we speak of bearing it on our human paths.  … The free path to Golgotha – that is the true imitation of Christ.

[And that is all]

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Crucifixion, by Titian, circa 1555

This would seem to exhaust all the possibilities of the Christian soul, and thus the formula “God and my soul” indeed embraces the whole world. All the rest that was renounced on the way appears only as a sort of obstacle adding weight to my cross. And heavy as it may be, whatever human sufferings it may place on my shoulders, it is all the same my cross, which determines my personal way to God, my personal following in the footsteps of Christ. My illness, my grief, my loss of dear ones, my relations to people, to my vocation, to my work – these are details of my path, not ends in themselves, but a sort of grindstone on which my soul is sharpened, certain – perhaps sometimes burdensome – exercises for my soul, the particularities of my personal path.

[And that is all]

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If that is so, it certainly settles the question. It can only be endlessly varied, depending on the individual particularities of epochs, cultures, and separate persons. But essentially everything is clear. God and my soul, bearing its cross. In this an enormous spiritual freedom, activity, and responsibility are confirmed. And that is all.

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… There are simply millions of people born into the world, some of whom hear Christ’s call to renounce everything, take up their cross, and follow Him, and, as far as their strength, their faith, their personal endeavor allow, they answer that call. They are saved by it, they meet Christ, as if merging their life with His. …

The cross of Golgotha is the cross of the Son of Man, the crosses of the thieves and our personal crosses are precisely personal, and as an immense forest of these personal crosses we are moving along the paths to the Kingdom of Heaven. And that is all.

*

Taking Up The Cross

By St. Maria Skobtsova  

  • The first icon on the left is Cross-bearing Theotokos painted by St. Maria Skobtsova of Paris

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Mother Maria Skobtsova died on Good Friday, 1945, in Ravensbr ck concentration camp near Berlin. Maria’s real life is more incredible than any fiction! The “crime” of this influential painter, poet, social activist, Orthodox nun and Russian refugee was her effort to rescue Jews and others being pursued by the Nazis in her adopted city, Paris, where in 1932 she had founded a house of hospitality. … The essay reprinted here is part of a longer text included in Mother Maria Skobtsova: Essential Writings, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky and published by Orbis Books.

Source: https://incommunion.org/2007/10/27/taking-up-the-cross/

For her life, look at: https://orthodoxcityhermit.com/2015/09/23/mother-maria-of-paris-saint-of-the-open-door/

Like a Russian Novel

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A very unlikely nun

For a nun, Maria’s story is more than a little unconventional. At Bishop Anthony Bloom’s first encounter with her, Maria sat at a cafe table with a beer. She was often seen shambling around the Paris market in her tattered habit, cigarette perched on her lip, haggling for deals. And she kept company with the lowest of the low.

“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.”

That was her calling. Former-revolutionary, twice-married, twice divorced, cigarette-smoking, poet, painter, theologian, nun and martyr-saint, she knew the meaning of God’s mercy and desired only to share it with as many as she could muster. The number was not small.

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Her backstory is the stuff of Russian novels. Born into a wealthy family in 1891, her father died when she was young, and the shock of the loss drove her to renounce her faith. Mixing with smart and fashionable of St. Petersburg, she published poetry, married a Bolshevik, and distressed over the state of the city’s beleaguered poor. But idealism couldn’t save her marriage, which ended in 1913.

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The following year she moved to her family’s estate on the coast of the Black Sea with her daughter, Gaiana. Headstrong and independent, Maria was politically active and eventually became mayor of the town of Anapa as a single mom! She also rediscovered her faith, which informed her activism. “[T]he Christian,” she said, “is called to social work.”

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The problem for Maria was that she was too conservative for the radicals and too radical for the conservatives. After the start of the Russian Revolution she found herself arrested and tried by the anti-Bolshevik party and only escaped conviction because of a kindly judge, Daniel Skobtsov. The two married within months of her acquittal.

With the Revolution in full swing, life in Anapa became impossible. The family fled, swelling in the sojourn. By the time they settled in Paris in 1923, Yuri and Anastasia had been born.

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And now the obvious question: How did this wife of two men and mother of three children become a nun?

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Not good, but revolutionary

It started when Anastasia succumbed to a wasting illness and died in 1926. The family, already strained, was devastated. Maria and Daniel separated and eventually divorced. But out of the devastation Maria’s calling to help the downtrodden was renewed.

Refugee life was terrible, especially for the Russians. Work was scarce. Despair and alcoholism was rampant. Maria saw herself as uniquely suited to help, to rescue, to comfort these victims and misfits. She would be, she said, “a mother to all.”

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The proposed path was monasticism. Revealing is her conversation with her bishop, Metropolitan Evlogy. “I could never be a good nun,” she protested. “I know,” he said. “But I want you to be a revolutionary nun.”

“[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.”

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And so she was. There would be no convent for Maria. Her monastery, as she said, was “the whole world.” Several houses and a chapel were set up to shelter and serve those in need. Maria worked tirelessly, Gaiana and Yuri aiding the effort, Father Lev Gillet serving as the ‘convent’’s chaplain for many years. In addition to painting icons and leading religious discussions, she cooked, counseled, and combed the streets looking for anyone she could help.

maria skobtsova

“[E]ach of us,” she wrote, “is faced with the demand to strain all our forces, not fearing the most difficult endeavor, in ascetic self-restraint, giving our souls for others sacrificially and lovingly, to follow in Christ’s footsteps to our appointed Golgotha.”

Maria’s appointment emerged as World War II began and the Nazis seized control of Paris. The only response was obvious.

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A martyr for our own time

Maria and her associates began working with the French Resistance, hiding Jews, forging records and papers, anything to foul Nazi aims. She was brazen. “If the Germans come looking for the Jews,” she said, “I’ll show them the icon of the Mother of God.”

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* 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? * 

The Gestapo knew something was afoot, but it took time to foil the plot. When they finally did, the Nazis dragged Maria and her coconspirators—including her son Yuri—off to prison.

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During her two-year confinement in the Ravensbrück concentration camp, she was a beacon, bringing hope to people in utter despair. She led prayers and Bible study, fed people from stores she smuggled away, and radiated hope to any and all.

But while her hope was invincible, her body was not. The trauma of the camp took its toll and she became increasingly frail. “Though she was unable to stand for roll calls, she traded some bread for thread so she could embroider one last icon.” It depicted Mary holding a crucified Christ. Before she could finish, she was taken to the gas chamber where she died on Great and Holy Saturday.

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MOTHER MARIA OF PARIS: SAINT OF THE OPEN DOOR

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Sources: http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/joeljmiller/maria-skobtsova/

https://incommunion.org/2004/10/18/saint-of-the-open-door/

http://jimandnancyforest.com/2006/08/mothermaria/

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*Maria’s own poem reflecting on the symbol Jews were required to wear during WWII*

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* * If you are interested in more details about Maria’s activism, inspiration, grace, heroism, and hope-filled commitment, so needed in our world today, please visit: https://incommunion.org/2004/10/18/saint-of-the-open-door/

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For ST. MARIA SKOBTSOVA RESOURCES, on her life and writings, please go to: https://incommunion.org/st-maria-skobtsova-resources/

Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.

Lords_Prayer_Religious

A favourite scene by an all-time favourite film-maker of spiritual quest: The Sacrifice (Offret) by A.Tarkovsky 1986 – PRAYER: The Lord’s Prayer. The scene poignantly illustrates the power of faith and self-sacrifice.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4z8Y-NpW1c

The Sacrifice, Tarkovsky’s swan song, tells in esoteric terms of Christian iconography, masterly mise-en-scène, and astounding use of sound composition, of a literary critic, once an actor (Josephson), who promises to give up everything ‘that connects him with the world’ in a bid to save it from the impending nuclear holocaust he hears announced on television.