July 20 Saints of the Day – Maria Skobtsova and Elijah the Prophet

On this date in 1969, Apollo 11 successfully deposited the first humans on the Moon. Lunar officials protested the lack of proper visas, but since they were imaginary, they largely went unheeded.

Maria SkobtsovaMaria Skobtsova (Мария Скобцова) (or Maria of Paris) (or Mother Maria) (1891 – 1945) was born in Riga (now in Latvia) but grew up “on the shore of the Black Sea” (in a tide pool?). Her father, both devoutly Orthodox and mayor of Anapa, died when she was 14, leading to a faith crisis from which she emerged an atheist. Her mother, devoutly Orthodox but not mayor of anything, moved the family to St. Petersburg, where Elizaveta (not yet Maria; you’ll see) fell in with revolutionaries and poets and artists (oh my!) and even married one. She began to be attracted to Christ, not as God, but as a self-sacrificing hero. (She complained that her comrades would argue all night until it was “fried egg time,” but weren’t terribly interested in actually dying for the cause.) Reading about Christ and the saints reawoke her faith, and convinced her that what Russia needed was not revolution but Jesus. She applied and was (amazingly) admitted to the Nevsky Monastery’s academy, their first woman student.

Between 1913 and 1914 her marriage collapsed, her first daughter was born, the Great War began, and she moved back to the south. She was visiting in St. Pete when the October Revolution came, and heard Lenin betray her party at the first All-Russian Soviet. She returned to Anapa and was elected deputy mayor, arrested, and tried. But the judge was her old schoolmaster, Daniel Skobtsov, who acquitted and fell in love with her, and vice versa (well, she didn’t acquit him, just fell in love). They were married, then in fear fled to Georgia (where their son Yuri was born), then Yugoslavia, then Paris.

There she began touring, lecturing, and most importantly listening to Russian refugees. She envisioned a semi-monastic community for them, and when her marriage died, at the suggestion of her bishop and with the understanding that she would not be cloistered, she was tonsured a nun, with the name Maria. (Told you.) She built a refuge for poor expats, whom she sought in the highways and hedges, sometimes spending all night in some dive café talking and smoking with some downcast soul. Some clucked their tongues at such behavior, turning the Russian quarter into a regular chicken coop. Metaphorically.

When France fell to the Nazis, her priest, Father Dmitry, began signing fake baptismal certificates for Jews, and later, when things got really ugly, an underground railroad was set up. When the Jews were gathered into the stadium, Maria smuggled food in, and children out — in trash bins. Eventually the Gestapo busted the community. Dmitry was interrogated, and when ordered “Show me the Jews!” he lifted his pectoral crucifix and said, “Here’s a Jew.” Mensch. Maria was sent to Ravensbrück, where she showed Christlike peace and humility, gave away the better part of her food ration, and finally died in the gas chamber. She was recognized as a saint (in 2004) by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and as Righteous Among the Nations (in 1985) by Yad Vashem.

Elijah the ProphetElijah (Elias) (IX Cent. BC(E)), greatest of the prophets of Israel, confronted King Ahab about Baal worship, strictly forbidden by the Mosaic Law’s monotheism clause. In a showdown with the Baalian priests, he instructed each side to create an altar for sacrifice, and pray for its god to kindle the flames. When Baal boycotted the proceedings, Elijah cheekily taunted, “Cry aloud; for he is a god: either he is musing, or he is gone aside, or he is on a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth and must be awaked.” He drenched his own firewood with water, and called upon the God of Israel, who sent down “fire from heaven” and burned the whole thing up, even the water that had overflowed onto the ground in puddles. He then had the Baalite priests rounded up and killed. Ahab’s wife Jezebel, somewhat peeved, vowed to do the same to him, but he fled to the desert, and was ultimately taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. He is the patron of the Carmelite order.

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

July 20 (Wikipedia)
Righteous Martyr Maria (Skobtsova) (OCA) – Main source
Hackel, Sergei. Pearl of Great Price: The Life of Mother Maria Skobtsova (book on paper)
Maria Skobtsova (Wikipedia)
Righteous Among the Nations Honored by Yad Vashem by 1 January 2013: Russia (pdf)
The Bible (There are many great Bible resources online; my favorite is Bible Gateway). – Main source (quote is from ASV, in the public domain)
Elijah (Elias), Prophet (St. Patrick DC)