The Orthodox writer Jim Forest reminded me on Facebook that today is the 70th anniversary of the death of Mother Maria Skobtsova. (An excellent collection of resources about her may be found on the In Communion website.) Killed in the Ravensbrück concentration camp as the war in Europe was almost over, she was canonized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 2004.
I was thinking about her extraordinary and staggering life again last week as I was finishing up what I hope to be the final edits to one of my forthcoming books (more on that later), a collection of papers from the Huffington Ecumenical Institute's 2012 symposium on Orthodoxy and the local Church in North America. One of the contributors, Fr. Justin Mathews, a priest of the OCA and founder of FOCUS, was discussing how inspirational Mother Maria's life was for those who, like him, have been working with the poor on the streets of North America--just as she worked with the poor, with Russian refugees, and with Jews hiding from the Nazis, on the streets of Paris. A political radical who may have wanted to see Trotsky assassinated, she was divorced twice, and in these and many other ways was nobody's idea of a nun, still less a "saint." And yet, as we contemplate this week the sacrificial self-offering of One on behalf of many, we see clearly that she too offered her life as a holy oblation outside the city in witness to Christ and in defense of His people--and long before that had served those people with a radical hospitality that many of us still need to learn.
Forest was the editor and compiler of a book of her writings: Mother Maria Skobtsova: Essential Writings (Orbis, 2002).
He also put together a charming book about her life suitable for children: Silent as a Stone: Mother Maria of Paris and the Trash Can Rescue.
Sergei Hacke's 1981 biography is still available: Pearl of Great Price: The Life of Mother Maria Skobtsova, 1891-1945.
And finally my friend Michael Plekon has a good chapter on her life in his collection, Living Icons: Persons of Faith in the Eastern Church.