July 20 – Maria Skobtsova; Elijah the Prophet

Maria Skobtsova (1891–1945) (née Elizaveta) (aka Maria of Paris or Mother Maria) (Мария Скобцова) was born in Riga (now in Latvia) but grew up “on the shore of the Black Sea” (tide pool?). Her father, devoutly Orthodox and mayor of Anapa, died when she was 14, prompting her conversion to atheism. Her mother, devoutly Orthodox but not mayor of anything, moved the family to St. Petersburg, where Elizaveta fell in with revolutionaries and poets and artists (oh my!), and even married one. She looked up to Christ as a self-sacrificing hero, complaining 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 Russia needed Jesus, not revolution. She applied and was admitted to the Nevsky Monastery’s academy, becoming their first woman student.

Between 1913 and 1914 her marriage collapsed, her first daughter was born, the Great War began, and she moved back 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, her old schoolmaster Daniel Skobtsov, acquitted her. They fell in love, got married, and fled in fear 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. 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, and given the name Maria. Sure enough 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 speaking.

When France fell to the Nazis, she worked with her priest, Father Dmitry, to smuggle Jews to safety. When the Jews were gathered into the stadium, she (with help) smuggled children out in trash bins. Finally the Gestapo busted the community. Dmitry was 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. She was recognized as a saint (in 2004) by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and as Righteous Among the Nations (in 1985) by Yad Vashem, and as “badass” (I don’t have a date) by several websites. (And if you can’t trust websites….)

Elijah the Prophet (IX Cent. BC(E)) (aka Elias), was the greatest of the prophets of Israel (after Moses). He attributed the nation’s drought/famine to Baal worship, strictly forbidden by the Mosaic Law’s monotheism clause, and confronted King Ahab, whose wife Jezebel was instrumental in promoting the worship of this false god. This led to a showdown between the priests of Baal and those of the LORD God. Each side built an altar for sacrifice, and prayed to its god to kindle the flames. The Baalians went first, but Baal boycotted the proceedings. Elijah taunted them cheekily, suggesting Baal was on a journey or asleep or something. He drenched his firewood with water and called upon God, who sent down “fire from heaven” and burned the whole thing up, spillage and all. The Baalite priests were rounded up and killed. Jezebel, somewhat peeved, vowed to do the same to E, but he fled to the desert and hid in a cave. Ultimately he was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind, or a chariot, or both. His apprentice was Elisha (Jun 14). He is the patron of the Carmelite order.

We close with a miracle story. During the famine Elijah asked a widow to make some food for him. She complained that she was down to the ingredients for one last meal for herself and her son, but nevertheless agreed to feed Elijah. Her flour and her cruze (is that a great word or what?) of oil miraculously held out until the end of the famine.