by Arta Skuja
On July 20th the Eastern Orthodox Church commemorates Righteous Martyr Maria Skobtsova. In 1945 she died in Ravensbrück concentration camp.
Her earthly journey was only 53 years long, but she managed to life, as some suggest, three lives. Mother Maria’s heart from a very young age carried a deep wisdom of Love that is ready to live and die for others.
If living is preparing for dying, the emptying and abandonment of one’s self, then we see, that Maria Skobtsova’s life is filled with such events, that lead to contemplating death and repeatedly to respond and enter the fragility of life. She lost her beloved father in early teens, she knew what it meant to love someone deeply and to be rejected. She experienced the violence of two wars, the loss of her brother, the loss of her country. She became a refugee. She lost her young daughter. Her two marriages fell apart. Her oldest daughter Gayana died. She experienced the occupation of her adopted home country. And then, her third child, son Yurii, was to share in the death of a martyr in another concentration camp.
In 1926, Maria Skobtsova keeps a long vigil, at the bedside of her dying child. Staying in the hospital with her for days and nights, watching and praying. She takes paper and pencils to bear witness and to share her pain, drawing a moving series of portraits of her daughter.
When four-year-old Nastya dies, Maria Skobtsova, a mother in mourning, hears God’s call to be born again in all embracing motherhood. In time it leads her to make a monastic profession and to receive the religious name of Mother Maria, after the mother of Jesus, the mother of all.
In her writings, Mother Maria, says, that we must more fully imitate the Mother of God in her journey with Christ. Not only in the Annunciation or the God bearing in bringing forth the newness of life rooted in Jesus, but to walk all the way to Golgotha. There we must go and live the compassion fully, where we are called co suffer, to co – die with Jesus, who is in every sister and brother we meet.
And sorrow, like a sharp sword, will break your own heart…
Archive footage shows her in Paris in 1930ties, wearing her black habit, a round, open face, wide hand gestures and a broad smile, so full of life. So very close and human.
A woman who, on several occasions, had been in Mother Maria’s cell (a space under the stairs without a proper door that served as her room, studio and a place where she had private conversations with the many house visitors), remembers her last visit. Mother Maria hangs vegetables and herbs on a string for drying and enthusiastically explains to her how to properly dry berries and carrots, etc., so that when there is nothing fresh to use, one can make a lovely soup with their dry reserves. She recalls that as they sat there talking about vegetable dehydration, she realized that in front of her is a saint, behind whose cheap metal glasses, are eyes that see profoundly, eyes that understand the human fragility, eyes that have faced death and the Love of God.
These very same glasses were taken away and broken, when Mother Maria was imprisoned in a concentration camp, but that did not stop her from seeing Jesus in every person she encountered. The more miserable and poor one was, the more loved by her.