Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mat' Mariya as churching assistant today

The Eastern Orthodox Church in the West (Patriarchate of Constantinople) celebrates the Day of Mother Mariya of Paris (Skobtsova - Мать Мария Скобцова) who was deported from Paris and died in the concentration camp of Ravenbrueck near Berlin for the sake of faith. Her day falls on July 20th (new style) and August 2nd (old style). There is also a bishop who helped in the process of the canonization of Mat' Mariya.

Elizaveta Yur"evna Pilenko\Елизавета Юрьевна Пиленко was born in 1891 into an aristocratic Russian family living in Riga (Latvia). She soon tended to join the Bolshevik movement, spent her youth in literary and political circles and led a rather dissolute life. She had been shortly married to Dimitri Kuzmin-Karaev. She was elected assistant mayor of Apana in South Russia and even became the official mayor. When the White Army showed, she was interrogated and faced the soldiers and incidentally married D. Skobtsov with whom she arrived in Paris. After the death of her daughter Nastya (1926), she turned to God and became more religious. Her path is interesting and appealing in many ways with regards to the Church in modern times.

Her way of living was known to the Russian immigrants in France nd caused some trouble when she started to act as a real "converted" Eastern Orthodox believer and an acting member of the Russian students movement in France (Acer). She could hardly refrain to smoke... well to be frank, I see some priest monks that like small kids go to the some restrooms to have cigarette. But she openly, as a woman behaved in a way that shocked a lot and was definitely not clerical. Metropolitan Eulogiy who had been sent by patriarch Tichon of Moscow to Western Europe in order to organize the Russia diaspora communities, welcomed her and accepted her as a nun in 1932 under the name of Mother Mariya\Мать Мария. She divorced her husband according to the Church law and became a monastic. Metropolitan Eulogiy accepted that she would not live in a monastery. She rented a house rue de Lourmel in Paris that sheltered all sorts of poor and needy, people of not fixed abode.

She got involved in the French Resistance movement and her home was a haven for wandering Jews, refugees that she welcomed heartfully and with much compassion. Thus she succeeded for a while to save a lot of Jews from deportation. Denounced with the people who lived at the home, she was deported to Ravensbrueck and died on Good Friday 1945 as the Soviet army was readily coming close to the area. She took the place of a women who should be executed by Zyklon B gas. During the time of her captivity, she was known for sharing bread and collecting needles to make the many embroideries that show her faith and hope.

The Yad VaShem Institute who acknowledges the "Righteous among the Nations\חסידי אומות עולם " recognized her as a "French" righteous who acted in the name of her faith. On January 16, 2004, the Patriarchate of Constantinople canonized her together with those who were deported with her and had witnessed for Jesus Christ. As he was asked why he was helping the Jews ("these swines", sic), Fr. Dimitri Klepinin took his Cross from under his cassock and showed it to the Nazi officer saying: "He is a Jew". He was deported with Mat' Mariya's son, Yuri and their companion, Elie Fondaminsky (a converted Jew).

Mat' Mariya wrote poems that really sound unusual in the Russian Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Church as a whole until nowadays. Metropolitan Anthony Bloom declared that she "is a saint of our day and for our day; a woman of flesh and blood possessed by the love of God, who stood face to face with the problems of this century". Interestingly, he used the Hebrew expression "bassar vadam\בשר ודם - flesh and blood" that is also a Eucharistic expression of death and resurrection.She was a woman who kept the freedom she thought she could misuse in her dissolute days in order to accomplish the mystery of hallowing God in loving all humankind and dedicate her life for saving some Jews. Her attitude in life, prayer, Church, charity, understanding of what the plerome/fulfillment of redemption are, is unique.

Who would have written in any standardized Orthodox monastery or Church (except those who were serving in the West, in particular in Paris) the following words she had in her poem "Israel":

"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?"
(July 1942)

There are several level in considering the life and sacrifice of Mat' Mariya and her caring actions toward the helpless. Yad VaShem recognizes in her the virtues of a woman whose activities are lining with the Noachide laws applicable to any human being. The same laws founded the Church and her extension to the Gentiles in the decision of the first synod of Jerusalem and the declaration of Mar Yaakov/saint James, the first bishop of the early Church (Acts of the Apostles, ch. 15). The Patriarchate of Constantinople took a courageous decision in canonizing Mat' Mariya and her companions who lived and offered their lives for the local Church in the Western part of Europe, acting under the omophoron of Metropolitan Eulogiy who, during the war was placed under both the Constantinople and Moscow omophora. The situation is embezzled as in times of dizziness.

Mat' Mariya activities are parallel to the way Paul of Tarsus developed his ministry: no frontiers could stop her, no "appearance or look" was important for the sake of God and His love. In that sense, she totally followed Jesus and unexpectedly became an image of love, in particular for Jews who would not easily have encountered such a free attitude in the Oriental Church. She was canonized together with a converted Jew, Elie Fondaminsky. There is a real problem with the Jews who converted during Word War II. In Paris, Louis Bergson, the famous philosopher and agnostic, and Simone Weil refused to go through baptism in the hardships of such a period.

Still, there might be a sort of misunderstanding. Jews are the natives of the Church and this is a historical factor that will never pass. It is impossible to erase it. It might be easier at the present for some Messianic Jews or convinced converts to live, settle in Israel and claim to be granted all legal rights. This is more a problem of ignorance. Today, the State of the Jews as all Christian denomination are at pains to recognize that Orthodoxy (Eastern rite Church) and Judaism have a lot in common. It does show in the development of the Israeli society since the arrival of the former Soviets and East-Europeans.

Mat' Mariya met with persecuted Jews. She hardly met with the Jewish Haganah fighters or those who would build the State of Israel. She was born in Riga, the native town of R. Yehoshua Leibowicz and, by that time, their really belonged to opposite and alien worlds. There also lived for a while R. Menachem Mendel Schneerson on his way to Berlin. Thus, it is very important that all the Eastern Orthodox Churches should at the present refer to Mat' Mariya and her companions as lights of God channeling renewed encounter abilities.

There was a very special Eulogian spirit in Paris, that he developed from the time of the Revolution till his death. Metropolitan Anthony was definitely right when he underscored how much this nun faced the problems of our time, our century. She also paves the way to new dialogue and freedom. As Patriarch Bartholomaios says, especially in response to Pope Benedict XVI, we must sustain everywhere and at all times all kinds of encounters and dialogues.

Tomorrow, on July 24th will start in Kiev the 1020th anniversary of the Baptism of the Kievan Rus'. We must be courageous in our way to adhere to faith. How come that Metropolitan Eulogiy could arrive in Europe as the envoy of patriarch Tichon of Moscow, accompanied by Metropolitan Vladimir? The runaway hierarchs were fleeing like NFA and where sheltered by metropolitan Andrei Sheptytskiy of L'viv-Lvov-Lemberg. He provided them with the required laissez-passer. He took care of them as the Greek-Catholic head of the Ukrainian Church. His brother, Hegumen Klement, has been recognized as a righteous among the Nations by Yad VaShem. Metropolitan Andrei is "on stand-by" both for the jews and his Church.

The courage we need today is to patiently knit up anew the threads of identity for each community, with full respect of who everyone is, was and would think they can be. God provides when we truly listen to His commandments. But we have also to courageously meet with those who even despise or ignore such or such community or individuals. This has been the sign of contradiction that every believer has the task to assume. Contradiction does not mean "provocation" or swagging around in all kinds of groups. We have no right to mirror ourselves.

We also need believers who would never judge anybody and welcome refugees, divorcees, raped women-men-children, drug-addicted, sick people, dealer of all sorts of killing businesses. We are good at playing the game that we are open-minded. Openness requires self-abandonment that showed Mat' Mariya.

Mat' Mariya is a real pearl on the way to a respectful encounter.

Av Aleksandr

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