Sep 19, 2009

Saint Mary Skobtsova of Paris on the Path to Salvation

The way to God lies through love of people. At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, nor how many bows and prostrations I made. Instead I shall be asked, Did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners. That is all I shall be asked. About every poor, hungry and imprisoned person the Savior says ‘I’: ‘I was hungry and thirsty, I was sick and in prison.’ To think that he puts an equal sign between himself and anyone in need. . . . I always knew it, but now it has somehow penetrated to my sinews. It fills me with awe.

Saint Who? I feel we RC need constant reminders that there are alternative ways of being both Christian and Catholic and holy (or at least I do). To go off on a tangent for a moment,  given the severe nature of the present crisis of leadership and ministry within the Roman Catholic Church, perhaps some of us (gays and women) are called to create alternative forms of Catholic communities, where the Eucharist is celebrated in an inclusive manner, as a sign of witness to the 'Church of the Future.' See,  for example, the United Ecumenical Catholic Church.  (thanks to Contemplative Catholic for referring this site). However, at the same time we can't help but be reminded of the tragedy of the divided church and the wounds of the great schism which are still with us today. Do we need yet more splinter groups and more fragmentation? My own personal answer, which needs far greater elaboration, is "Yes, we do," though I wouldn't think of it as fragmentation, but as prophetic witness in communion with the venerable Catholic tradition. See Easton Mountain for one example of a gay interfaith community formed by predominantly 'former' Roman Catholic clerics.

And once again, why do the Orthodox saints have such cool names?

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. All four died in German concentration camps.

 Controversial in life, Mother Maria remains a subject of contention to this day, a fact which may explain the slowness of the Orthodox Church in adding her to the calendar of saints. While clearly she lived a life of heroic virtue and is among the martyrs of the twentieth century, her verbal assaults on nationalistic and tradition-bound forms of religious life still raise the blood pressure of many Orthodox Christians. Mother Maria remains an indictment of any form of Christianity that seeks Christ chiefly inside church buildings.

And yet... just to put things in perspective... she remained within the rigid boundaries of her tradition, suffering all of the misunderstanding, intolerance and rejection as a result. In this time of severe crisis, each of us must search her or his own conscience as to where the Spirit of Truth is leading us. Some of us will be led to form 'witness communities' on the peripheries,  while others of us will be inspired by the Spirit to 'stay put,' which is a far more painful vocation.  But I believe that both callings have their own spiritual integrity. One Church, many charisms. I am definitely one of those called by vocation to remain on the outside edge looking in, but I have enormous respect for those who are 'fighting the good fight' from within 'the belly of the beast.'

Please access this wonderful site for more information about this extraordinary 20th century Christian martyr. Below is  a deeply moving account of the life journey of this beer drinking, cigarette smoking Orthodox saint: In Communion: Website of the Orthodox Peace Fellowshop. These are signs of hope! The Spirit is alive and well and moving us forward, but not necessarily in the ways we would have imagined or anticipated.

(For those who are interested, the OPF was affiliated with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, until a tragic break with the parent organization occurred in 1999 over the issue of abortion. Jim and Nancy Forrest of Catholic Worker fame are co-secretaries of the OPF and editors of the journal, In Communion. A very interesting site. Also check out Jim and Nancy's personal home page, for many fascinating essays on Merton, Dorothy Day and Jim and Nancy's own personal journey from Roman Catholicism into the Orthodox communion.)


colkoch said...

Thanks for bringing the story of Saint Mary Sckobtsova to our attention. The link you provided was a fascinating and inspiring read. Mother Maria would certainly understand the Emerging Church.

Contemplative Catholic said...

Dear Jayden,
Thank you so much for this post. I've only just come across. Mother Maria certainly has a message for the work of the UECC and for christians of all denomination. I will certainly find out more about her. With much peace