Lives of all saints commemorated on July 20


Holy, Glorious Prophet Elijah

The Holy Prophet Elijah is one of the greatest of the prophets and the first dedicated to virginity in the Old Testament. He was born in Tishba of Gilead into the Levite tribe 900 years before the Incarnation of the Word of God.

St Epiphanius of Cyprus gives the following account about the birth of the Prophet Elijah: “When Elijah was born, his father Sobach saw in a vision angels of God around him. They swaddled him with fire and fed him with flames.” The name Elijah (the Lord’s strength) given to the infant defined his whole life. From the years of his youth he dedicated himself to the One God, settled in the wilderness and spent his whole life in strict fasting, meditation and prayer. Called to prophetic service, which put him in conflict with the Israelite king Ahab, the prophet became a fiery zealot of true faith and piety.

During this time the Israelite nation had fallen away from the faith of their Fathers, they abandoned the One God and worshipped pagan idols, the worship of which was introduced by the impious king Jereboam. Jezebel, the wife of king Ahab, was devoted to idol worship. She persuaded her husband to build a temple to the pagan god Baal, which led many Israelites away from the worship of the true God. Beholding the ruin of his nation, the Prophet Elijah began to denounce King Ahab for impiety, and exhorted him to repent and turn to the God of Israel. The king would not listen to him. The Prophet Elijah then declared to him, that as punishment there would be neither rain nor dew upon the ground, and the drought would cease only by his prayer. Indeed, the word of Elijah was a torch (Eccles. 48: 1) The heavens were closed for three and a half years, and there was drought and famine throughout all the land.

During this time of tribulation, the Lord sent him to a cave beyond the Jordan. There he was miraculously fed by ravens. When the stream Horath dried up, the Lord sent the Prophet Elijah to Sarephta to a poor widow, a Sidonian Gentile who suffered together with her children, awaiting death by starvation. At the request of the prophet, she prepared him a bread with the last measure of flour and the remainder of the oil. Through the prayer of the Prophet Elijah, flour and oil were not depleted in the home of the widow for the duration of the famine. By the power of his prayer the prophet also performed another miracle: he raised the dead son of the widow.

After the end of three years of drought the Merciful Lord sent the prophet to appear before King Ahab, and promised to send rain upon the earth. The Prophet Elijah told the king to order all of Israel to gather upon Mount Carmel, and also the priests of Baal. When the nation had gathered, the Prophet Elijah proposed that two sacrificial altars be built: one for the priests of Baal, and the other for the Prophet Elijah who served the True God.

The Prophet Elijah told them to call on their gods to consume the sacrificial animals with fire, and he would call on his. Whichever was first to send fire on the sacrifice would be acknowledged as the true God. The prophets of Baal called out to their idol from morning till evening, but the heavens were silent. Towards evening the holy Prophet Elijah built his sacrificial altar from twelve stones, the number of the tribes of Israel. He placed the sacrifice upon the wood, gave orders to dig a ditch around the altar and commanded that the sacrifice and the wood be soaked with water. When the ditch had filled with water, the prophet turned to God in prayer. Through the prayer of the prophet fire came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifice, the wood, and even the water. The people fell down to the ground, crying out: “Truly, the Lord is God!” Then the Prophet Elijah had all the pagan-priests of Baal put to death, and he began to pray for rain. Through his prayer the heavens opened and an abundant rain fell, soaking the parched earth.

King Ahab acknowledged his error and repented of his sins, but his wife Jezebel threatened to kill the prophet of God. The Prophet Elijah fled into the Kingdom of Judea and, grieving over his failure to eradicate idol worship, he asked God to let him die. An angel of the Lord came before him, strengthened him with food and commanded him to go upon a long journey. The Prophet Elijah traveled for forty days and nights and, having arrived at Mount Horeb, he settled in a cave.

The Lord told him that the next day Elijah would stand in His presence.There was a strong wind that crushed the rocks of the mountain, then an earthquake, and a fire, but the Lord was not in them. The Lord was in “a gentle breeze” (3 Kings 19: 12). He revealed to the prophet, that He would preserve seven thousand faithful servants who had not worshipped Baal.

Later, the Lord commanded Elijah to anoint Elisha into prophetic service. Because of his fiery zeal for the Glory of God the Prophet Elijah was taken up alive into Heaven in a fiery chariot. The Prophet Elisha received Elijah’s mantle, and a double portion of his prophetic spirit.

According to the Tradition of Holy Church, the Prophet Elijah will be the Forerunner of the Dread Second Coming of Christ. He will proclaim the truth of Christ, urge all to repentance, and will be slain by the Antichrist. This will be a sign of the end of the world.

The life of the holy Prophet Elijah is recorded in the Old Testament books (3 Kings; 4 Kings; Sirach/Ecclesiastes 48: 1-15; 1 Maccabees 2: 58). At the time of the Transfiguration, the Prophet Elijah conversed with the Savior upon Mount Tabor (Mt. 17: 3; Mark 9: 4; Luke. 9: 30).

Orthodox Christians of all times, and in all places, have venerated the Prophet Elijah for centuries. The first church in Russia, built at Kiev under Prince Igor, was named for the Prophet Elijah. After her Baptism St Olga (July 14) built a temple of the holy Prophet Elijah in his native region, at the village of Vibuta.

In iconography the Prophet Elijah is depicted ascending to Heaven in a fiery chariot, surrounded with flames, and harnessed to four winged horses. We pray to him for deliverance from drought, and to ask for seasonable weather.


Repose of the Venerable Abramius of Galich or Chukhom Lake, and Disciple of the Venerable Sergius of Radonezh

Saint Abraham of Galich (Chukhloma Lake), lived and pursued asceticism at the monastery of St Sergius of Radonezh during the fourteenth century. After long years as a novice, he was deemed worthy of the priesthood. Yearning after the perfection of silence, he asked for the blessing of St Sergius, and in the year 1350 settled in the Galich countryside, inhabited by foreign tribes of people.

Having settled in a remote place, St Abraham had a revelation to go up a mountain, where he found an icon of the Mother of God shining with an indescribable light. The appearance of the holy icon became known to Prince Demetrius of Galich, who entreated the monk to bring it to the city. St Abraham came with the icon to Galich, where he was met by the Prince and a throng of clergy. Numerous healings were worked through the icon of the Mother of God.

Prince Demetrius gave the monk the means to build a church and monastery near Chukhlomsk Lake, at the place of the appearance of the icon of the Mother of God. The church was built and dedicated in honor of the Dormition of the Most Theotokos. The newly built monastery of St Abraham became a source of spiritual enlightenment for the local foreign peoples. When the monastery was built up, he established in his place as head his disciple Porphyrius, and he himself withdrew 30 versts away in search of a solitary place, but there also disciples found him.

Still another monastery was established with a temple in honor of the Placing of the Robe of the Mother of God, called “the great Abraham wilderness monastery.” St Abraham twice withdrew to a quiet place, after which there gathered about him anew the disquieters. Thus two more monasteries were founded. One was named in honor of the Synaxis of the Most Holy Theotokos, of which St Abraham made Porphyrius the igumen. The other was dedicated to the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos, where St Abraham finished his earthly life. He died in 1375 A year before his death, he appointed his disciple Innocent to govern the monastery. St Abraham was an enlightener of the Galich land, having founded four monasteries dedicated to the Mother of God, who granted him Her icon at the beginning of his ascetical exploits.


Uncovering of the relics of the Venerable Athanasius the Abbot of Brest-Litovsk

The Monastic Martyr Athanasius of Bretsk (Uncovering and Transfer of Relics 1649): The martyric death of the holy Passion-bearer Athanasius, igumen of Bretsk, occured on September 5, 1648. For eight months the body of the sufferer for Orthodoxy lay in the ground without a church funeral. On May 1, 1649 a boy pointed out to the brethren of the Simeonov monastery the place of the igumen’s burial. The ground in which the martyr was buried belonged at the time to the Jesuits, and therefore they had to go to work secretly. At night the monks dug up the incorrupt body of the igumen and immediately took it off to another place. In the morning, they brought it to their monastery, where after several days, on May 8, they buried him with honor at the right kleiros (choir) in the main church of the monastery dedicated to St Simeon the Stylite.

The earthly life of the monastic martyr Athanasius had come to an end, but the remembrance of him remained always alive and sacred among the Orthodox inhabitants of the west Russian frontier. The profound veneration of believers here for his holy name. His incorrupt relics, placed in a copper reliquary, were glorified by grace-filled gifts of wonderworking, and attracted a vast number of believers.

On November 8, 1815 at the time of a fire at the Bretsk Simeonov monastery, the wooden monastery church burned, and the copper reliquary, in which the relics of the martyr were kept, melted in the flames. The day following the fire, an unharmed portion of the relics were found by the priest Samuel of Lisovsk and placed by the pious inhabitants of the city of Bretsk beneath the altar of the monastery trapeza church. In the year 1823, with the blessing of Archbishop Anatolius of Minsk, the holy relics were placed in a wooden vessel by the head of the monastery and put in church for veneration.

Thus, it pleased God to preserve a portion of the relics of the holy Martyr Athanasius.

Rising up before us is this great champion of Orthodoxy, with his great faith and love of neighbor. Deeply religious, inexorably devoted to the faith of the holy Fathers, he became bold and expressed by word and by deed his priestly indignation against the oppression of Orthodox Christians by the haughty Uniates. With fervent faith in his calling by God, he entered into the struggle for his oppressed brethren. “I am not a prophet, but only a servant of God my Creator, sent because of the times, in order to speak the truth to everyone. He has sent me, so that I might proclaim beforehand the destruction of the accursed Unia.” Such were the words of the fervent, unyielding and inspired struggler for Orthodoxy, who deeply believed in the victorious power of the true Faith.

St Athanasius saw the complete affirmation of Orthodoxy and the final and total undoing of the Unia as his single goal. He dedicated his whole life to this end. Having submitted to the will of God, he had no thought of danger, nor did he consider the obstacles, in fulfilling his holy duty. St Athanasius used His daring, spiritually-inspired speeches and writings, his published grievances, and voluntary folly in Christ for the attainment of his sacred goal: the affirmation of Orthodoxy in the ancient Russian land.

Having repudiated the Unia, he was inspired with a deep sense of pity and love towards those who had become the victims of Uniate proselitism. The righteousness and sincerity of St Athanasius in relation to those nearby defined the course of all his deeds. By his existence in the solitary life, surrounded by open and hidden enemies, the holy ascetic remained a steadfast defender and pillar of Orthodoxy. He constantly repeated his prediction: “The Unia will die out, but Orthodoxy will flourish.”


Icon of the Mother of God “Chukhloma” from Galich

The Chukhloma Icon of the Mother of God of Galich appeared in the year 1350 to St Abraham of Galich, who came there from the north for ascetical labors with the blessing of St Sergius of Radonezh. On the wild shores of the Galich lake near the large mountain, hidden in the dense forest, he turned with prayer to the Mother of God, asking Her blessing for his endeavors. After completing his prayer the saint sat down to rest, and suddenly a bright light appeared on the nearby mountainside and he heard a voice: “Abraham, come up the mountain, where there is an icon of My Mother.”

The monk went up the mountain where the light shone, and indeed found an icon of the Mother of God with the Infant on a tree. With tenderness and in gratitude to God, the holy ascetic took the revealed icon and, strengthened by prayers to the Most Holy Theotokos, he built a chapel at that place, in which he put the icon.

After a certain time the Galich prince Demetrius Feodorovich, learned about the Elder’s trip, and asked him to bring the icon. St Abraham rowed across the Galich lake in a boat and, accompanied by clergy and a throng of people, he took the wonderworking icon to the cathedral church of the city of Galich.

On this day a large number of the sick were healed by this icon. When St Abraham told about the appearance of the icon, the Prince offered money to build a monastery. Soon a church was built in honor of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, around which a monastery grew. St Abraham founded several more monasteries, the last being founded was the Chukhloma, not far from the city of Chukhloma, from the name of this monastery the ascetic was named “of Chukhloma,” and the wonderworking icon became known as the Chukhloma Icon of Galich.

The icon is also commemorated on May 28, July 4, and August 15.


Martyr Ilia Chavchavadze of Georgia

Saint Ilia, called the “Uncrowned King of Georgia,” the “Father of the Nation” and “the Righteous,” belonged to the noble family Chavchavadze. He was born on October 27, 1837, in the village of Qvareli in Kakheti. He received his primary education at home: his mother instructed him in reading and writing, prayer and the law of God. When he was eight years old, Ilia was sent to study with Archdeacon Nikoloz Sepashvili of Qvareli. The years he spent there left an indelible impression on this holy man’s life.

Ilia continued his education at a Tbilisi boarding school, and later at the court gymnasium (high school). His parents died at a young age, and the orphaned children were entrusted to the care of their aunt Macrina.

In 1857 Ilia enrolled in the law school at St. Petersburg University. There he read a great deal and struggled to improve himself as an individual. He was fascinated by Georgian history and spent much of his time in the St. Petersburg archives in search of old Georgian texts. His academic achievements were outstanding, but he was uninterested in receiving an official diploma from the school of law. In his fourth year he dropped out of the program and returned to Georgia.

Ilia was certain that a nation that forgets its own history “is like a beggar who knows neither his past nor where he is going.” For this reason he sought to inspire his fellow countrymen with the past glories of their nation and the loyalty of their forefathers to the Christian Faith and the Georgian nation.

The restoration of national independence and the autocephaly of the Georgian Church were the chief objectives toward which St. Ilia strove in every aspect of his life. As a means by which to achieve these goals, Ilia took up the work of a historian: he conducted intensive research and exposed those who had falsified history and dishonored the Georgian nation.

This great philosopher, writer, and historian often repeated the statement “A nation whose language is corrupted can no longer exist as a nation.” He cared deeply about the Georgian language and fought to ensure that it remained the primary language taught in schools.

Ilia inspired many with his patriotic zeal, and he founded the Society for the Propagation of Literacy among the Georgians. He established a depository of Georgian manuscripts and antiquities. In addition he initiated a movement to document oral folk traditions and helped to found the Georgian Agrarian Bank.

Ilia the Righteous was often heard declaring, “We, the Georgian people, have inherited three divine gifts from our ancestors: our motherland, our language and our faith. If we fail to protect these gifts, what merit will we have as men?”

But Ilia’s righteous deeds were an affront and threat to those who adhered to the new atheist ideology, so they plotted to kill him. On August 30, 1907, Ilia Chavchavadze and his wife, Olga (Guramishvili), had just set off from Tbilisi for Saguramo when their carriage stopped abruptly outside of Mtskheta, near Tsitsamuri Forest.

They were awaited by a band of militant social democrats who attacked them and shot Ilia to death.

The Military Court of the Caucasus sentenced Ilia Chavchavadze’s murderers to death by hanging. But Ilia’s wife Olga requested that the governor-general pardon her husband’s murderers. She asserted that, if Ilia had survived, he would have done the same, since the killers were simply his “unlucky brothers gone astray.”

Indeed, Ilia had forgiven his murderers’ offense long before, in his prophetic poem “Prayer”:

Our Father Who art in Heaven!

With tenderness I stand before Thee on my knees;

I ask for neither wealth nor glory;

I won’t debase my holy prayer with earthly matters.

I would wish for my soul to rest in heaven,

My heart to be radiant with love heralded by Thee,

I would wish to be able to ask forgiveness of mine enemies,

Even if they pierce me in the heart:

Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do!

In 1987 the Holy Synod of the Georgian Orthodox Church considered the deeds of Ilia Chavchavadze before God and his country and decreed him worthy to be numbered among the saints. He was joyously canonized as St. Ilia “the Righteous.”


Righteous Martyr Maria (Skobtsova)

Elizaveta Pilenko, the future Mother Maria, was born in 1891 in Riga, Latvia, then part of the Russian Empire, and grew up in the south of Russia on the shore of the Black Sea. Her father was mayor of the town of Anapa, while on her mother's side, she was descended from the last governor of the Bastille, the Parisian prison destroyed during the French Revolution.

Her parents were devout Orthodox Christians whose faith helped shape their daughter's values, sensitivities and goals. As a child she once emptied her piggy bank in order to contribute to the painting of an icon that would be part of a new church in Anapa. At seven she asked her mother if she was old enough to become a nun, while a year later she sought permission to become a pilgrim who spends her life walking from shrine to shrine.

At the age of 14, her father died, an event that seemed to her meaningless and unjust and led her to embrace atheism. "If there is no justice," she said, "there is no God." She decided God's nonexistence was well known to adults but kept secret from children. For her, childhood was over. When her widowed mother moved the family to St. Petersburg in 1906, she found herself in the country's political and cultural center — also a hotbed of radical ideas and groups — and became part of radical literary circles that gathered around such symbolist poets as Alexander Blok, whom she first met at age 15. Like many of her contemporaries, she was drawn to the left, but was often disappointed at the radicals she encountered. Though regarding themselves as revolutionaries, they seemed to do nothing but talk. "My spirit longed to engage in heroic feats, even to perish, to combat the injustice of the world," she recalled. Yet no one she knew was actually laying down his or her life for others. Should her friends hear of someone dying for the Revolution, she noted, "they will value it, approve or not approve, show understanding on a very high level, and discuss the night away till the sun rises and it's time for fried eggs. But they will not understand at all that to die for the Revolution means to feel a rope around one's neck."

In 1910, she married Dimitri Kuzmin-Karaviev, a Bolshevik and part of a community of poets, artists and writers, but she later commented that it was a marriage born "more of pity than of love." In addition to politics and poetry, she and her friends also talked theology, but just as their political ideas had no connection at all to the lives of ordinary people, their theology floated far above the actual Church. There was much they might have learned, she reflected later in life, from "any old beggar woman hard at her Sunday prostrations in church." For many intellectuals, the Church was an idea or a set of abstract values, not a community in which one actually lives.

Though still regarding herself an atheist, gradually her earlier attraction to Christ revived and deepened, not yet Christ as God incarnate but Christ as heroic man. In time, she found herself drawn toward the religious faith she had abandoned after her father's death. She prayed and read the Gospel and the lives of saints and concluded that the real need of the people was not for revolutionary theories but for Christ. She wanted "to proclaim the simple word of God," she told Blok in a letter written in 1916. Desiring to study theology, she applied for admission to St. Petersburg's Theological Academy of the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, in those days an entirely male school whose students were preparing for ordination. As surprising as her wanting to study there was the rector's decision that she could be admitted.

By 1913, her marriage collapsed. Later that year, her first child, Gaiana, was born. Just as World War I was beginning, she returned with her daughter to southern Russia, where her religious life grew more intense. For a time she secretly wore lead weights sewn into a hidden belt as a way of reminding herself both "that Christ exists" and also to be more aware that minute-by-minute many people were suffering and dying in the war. She realized, however, that the primary Christian asceticism was not self-mortification, but caring response to the needs of other people.

In October 1917, she was present in St. Petersburg when Russia's Provisional Government was overthrown by the Bolsheviks. Taking part in the All-Russian Soviet Congress, she heard Lenin's lieutenant, Leon Trotsky, dismiss people from her party with the words, "Your role is played out. Go where you belong, into history's garbage can!" She grew to see how hideously different actual revolution was from the dreams of revolution that had once filled the imagination of so many Russians! In February 1918, she was elected deputy mayor of Anapa. Eventually, she was arrested, jailed, and put on trial for collaboration with the enemy. In court, she rose and spoke in her own defense: "My loyalty was not to any imagined government as such, but to those whose need of justice was greatest, the people. Red or White, my position is the same — I will act for justice and for the relief of suffering. I will try to love my neighbor." It was thanks to Daniel Skobtsov, a former schoolmaster who was now her judge, that she avoided execution. After the trial, she sought him out to thank him. Eventually they married.

As the course of the civil war was turning in favor of the Bolsheviks, the Skobtsovs fled to Georgia, where she gave birth to a son, Yura, in 1920. A year later, having relocated to Yugoslavia, she gave birth to Anastasia, Their long journey ended with their arrival in Paris in 1923, where to supplement their income she made dolls and painted silk scarves, often working ten or twelve hours a day.

A friend introduced her to the Russian Student Christian Movement, an Orthodox association founded in 1923. She began attending lectures and other activities and felt herself coming back to life spiritually and intellectually. In 1926, she grieved the death of her daughter Anastasia. She emerged from her mourning determined to seek a "new road before me and a new meaning in life, to be a mother for all, for all who need maternal care, assistance, or protection." She devoted herself to social work and theological writing. In 1927 two volumes, Harvest of the Spirit, were published, in which she retold the lives of many saints.

In 1930, she was appointed traveling secretary of the Russian Student Christian Movement, work which put her into daily contact with impoverished Russian refugees throughout France and neighboring countries. She often lectured, but she was quick to listen to others as they related some terrible grief that had burdened them for years. She took literally Christ's words, that He was always present in the least person. "Man ought to treat the body of his fellow human being with more care than he treats his own," she wrote. "Christian love teaches us to give our fellows material as well as spiritual gifts. We should give them our last shirt and our last piece of bread. Personal alms-giving and the most wide-ranging social work are both equally justified and needed."

In time, she began to envision a new type on community, "half monastic and half fraternal," that would connect spiritual life with service to those in need, in the process showing "that a free Church can perform miracles." Father Sergei Bulgakov, her confessor, was a source of support and encouragement, as was her bishop, Metropolitan Evlogy [Georgievsky], who was responsible from 1921 to 1946 for the many thousands of Russian expatriates scattered across Europe. Recognizing her devotion to social work, and knowing of her waning marriage, he suggested to her the possibility of becoming a nun. In time, Daniel came to accept the idea after meeting with Metropolitan Evlogy. In the spring of 1932, in the chapel at Paris' St. Sergius Theological Institute, she was professed as a nun with the name Maria. She made her monastic profession, Metropolitan Evlogy recognized, "in order to give herself unreservedly to social service." Mother Maria called it simply "monasticism in the world." Intent "to share the life of paupers and tramps," she began to look for a house of hospitality and found it at 9 villa de Saxe in Paris, which she leased with financial assistance from Metropolitan Evlogy. She began receiving guests, mainly young Russian women without jobs, giving up her own room to house them while herself sleeping on a narrow iron bedstead in the basement. A room upstairs became a chapel — she painted the iconostasis icons — while the dining room doubled as a hall for lectures and dialogues.

In need of larger facilities, a new location was found two years later in an area of Paris where many impoverished Russian refugees had settled. While at the former address she could feed only 25, here she could feed a hundred. Here her guests could regain their breath "until the time comes to stand on their two feet again." Her credo was: "Each person is the very icon of God incarnate in the world." With this recognition came the need "to accept this awesome revelation of God unconditionally, to venerate the image of God" in her brothers and sisters. As her ministry evolved, she rented other buildings, one for families in need, and another for single men. A rural property became a sanatorium. By 1937, she housed several dozen women, serving up to 120 dinners every day. Every morning, she would beg for food or buy cheaply whatever was not donated.

Despite a seemingly endless array of challenges, Mother Maria was sustained chiefly by those she served — themselves beaten down, people in despair, cripples, alcoholics, the sick, survivors of many tragedies. But not all responded to trust with trust. Theft was not uncommon. On one occasion a guest stole 25 francs. Everyone guessed who the culprit was, a drug addict, but Mother Maria refused to accuse her. Instead she announced at the dinner table that the money had not been stolen, only misplaced, and she had found it. "You see how dangerous it is to make accusations," she commented. At once the girl who stole the money burst into tears.

Mother Maria and her collaborators would not simply open the door when those in need knocked, but would actively seek out the homeless. One place to find them was an all-night café at Les Halles where those with nowhere else to go could sit for the price of a glass of wine. Children also were cared for, and a part-time school was opened at several locations. Turning her attention toward Russian refugees who had been classified insane, Mother Maria began a series of visits to mental hospitals. In each hospital five to ten percent of the Russian patients turned out to be sane and, thanks to her intervention, were released. Language barriers and cultural misunderstandings had kept them in the asylum. In time, she and her associates helped establish clinics for TB sufferers and a variety of other ministries. Another landmark was the foundation in September 1935 of a group named "Orthodox Action" — a name proposed by her friend, philosopher Nicholas Berdyaev. Cofounders included Father Sergei Bulgakov, historian George Fedotov, the scholar Constantine Mochulsky, the publisher Ilya Fondaminsky, and her long-time coworker Fedor Pianov, with Metropolitan Evgoly serving as honorary president. With financial support from supporters across Europe and the United States, a wider range of projects and centers were made possible: hostels, rest homes, schools, camps, hospital work, help to the unemployed, assistance to the elderly, publication of books and pamphlets, etc. In all of these growing ministries, Mother Maria's driving concern was that it should never lose its personal or communal character.

In October 1939, Father Dimitri Klepinin, then 35 years old, began to assist Mother Maria as she began the last phase of her life — a series of responses to World War II and Germany's occupation of France. While Mother Maria could have fled Paris when the Germans were advancing, or even sought refuge in America, she would not budge. "If the Germans take Paris, I shall stay here with my old women. Where else could I send them?" She had no illusions about the Nazi threat, which to her represented a "new paganism" bringing in its wake disasters, upheavals, persecutions and wars. With defeat came greater poverty and hunger, and the local authorities in Paris declared her house an official food distribution point, where volunteers sold at cost price whatever food Mother Maria had bought in that morning.

Russian refugees were among the particular targets of the occupiers. In June 1941, a thousand were arrested, including several close friends and collaborators of Mother Maria and Father Dimitri, who launched an aid project for prisoners and their dependents. Early in 1942, their registration now underway, Jews began to knock at Mother Maria's door, asking Father Dimitri if he would issue baptismal certificates to them. The answer was always yes. The names of those "baptized" were also duly recorded in his parish register in case there was any cross-checking by the police or Gestapo, as indeed did happen. Father Dimitri was convinced that in such a situation Christ would do the same. When the Nazis issued special identity cards for those of Russian origin living in France, with Jews being specially identified, Mother Maria and Father Dimitri refused to comply, though they were warned that those who failed to register would be regarded as citizens of the USSR — enemy aliens — and be punished accordingly.

With the subsequent mass arrest of Jews — 12,884, of whom 6,900 (two-thirds of them children) were brought to the Velodrome d'Hiver sports stadium and held for five days before being sent to Auschwitz — Mother Maria entered the stadium and for three days offered comfort to the children and their parents, distributing what food she could bring in. She even managed to rescue a number of children by enlisting the aid of garbage collectors and smuggling them out in trash bins. Meanwhile, her house house was bursting with people, many of them Jews. "It is amazing," Mother Maria remarked, "that the Germans haven't pounced on us yet." Father Dimitri, Mother Maria and their coworkers set up routes of escape to the unoccupied south. It was complex and dangerous work. Forged documents had to be obtained. A local resistance group helped secure provisions for those Mother Maria's community was struggling to feed.

On February 8, 1943, while Mother Maria was traveling, Nazi security police entered the house and found a letter in her son Yura's pocket in which Father Dimitri was asked to provide a Jew with a false baptismal document. Yura, now actively a part of his mother's work, was taken to the office of Orthodox Action, soon after followed by his distraught grandmother, Sophia Pilenko. The interrogator ordered her to bring Father Dimitri. Once the priest was there, said the interrogator, they would let Yura go. His grandmother Sophia was allowed to embrace Yura and give him a blessing. It was last time she saw him in this world.

The following morning, after celebrating the Divine Liturgy, Father Dimitri set off for the Gestapo office, where he was interrogated for four hours, making no attempt to hide his beliefs. The next day, February 10, Mother Maria was arrested and her quarters were searched. Several others were called for questioning and then held by the Gestapo. She was confined with 34 other woman at the Gestapo headquarters in Paris. Her son Yura, Father Dimitri and their coworker of many years, Feodor Pianov, were held in the same building. Pianov later recalled witnessing Father Dimitri being prod and beaten by an SS officer while Yura stood by, weeping. Father Dimitri "began to console him, saying the Christ withstood greater mockery than this."

In April, the prisoners were transferred to Compiegne, where Mother Maria was blessed with a final meeting with Yura, who said his mother "was in a remarkable state of mind and told me ... that I must trust in her ability to bear things and in general not to worry about her. Every day [Father Dimitri and I] remember her at the proskomidia ... We celebrate the Eucharist and receive Communion each day." Hours after their meeting,Mother Maria was transported to Germany.

On December 16, Yura and Father Dimitri were deported to Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany, followed several weeks later by Pianov. In January 1944, Father Dimitri and Yura were sent to another camp, Dora. Within ten days of arrival, Yura contracted furunculosis. On February 6, "dispatched for treatment" — a euphemism for "sentenced to death." Four days later Father Dimitri, lying on a dirt floor, died of pneumonia. His body was disposed of in the Buchenwald crematorium.

Meanwhile, Mother Maria — now "Prisoner 19,263" — was sent in a sealed cattle truck to the Ravensbruck camp in Germany, where she endured for two years, an achievement in part explained by her long experience of ascetic life. She was assigned to Block 27 and befriended the many Russian prisoners who were with her. Unable to correspond with friends, little testimony in her own words has come down to us, but prisoners who survived the war remembered her. One of them, Solange Perichon, recalls: "She was never downcast, never. She never complained.... She was full of good cheer, really good cheer. We had roll calls which lasted a great deal of time. We were woken at three in the morning and we had to stand out in the open in the middle of winter until the barracks [population] was counted. She took all this calmly and she would say, 'Well that's that. Yet another day completed. And tomorrow it will be the same all over again.' ... She allowed nothing of secondary importance to impede her contact with people."

Anticipating that her own exit point from the camp might be via the crematoria, Mother Maria asked a fellow prisoner whom she hoped would survive to memorize a message to be given at last to Father Sergei Bulgakov, Metropolitan Evlogy and her mother: "My state at present is such that I completely accept suffering in the knowledge that this is how things ought to be for me, and if I am to die, I see this as a blessing from on high." Her work in the camp varied. There was a period when she was part of a team of women dragging a heavy iron roller about the camp's pathways for 12 hours a day. In another period she worked in a knitwear workshop. Her legs began to give way. As her health declined, friends no longer allowed her to give away portions of her own food, as she had done in the past to help keep others alive.

With the Red Army approaching from the East, the concentration camp administrators further reduced food rations while greatly increasing the population of each block from 800 to 2,500. In serious decline, Mother Maria accepted a pink card freely issued to any prisoner who wished to be excused from labor because of age or ill health. In January 1945, those who had received such cards were transferred to what was called the Jugendlager — the "youth camp" — where the authorities said each person would have her own bed and abundant food. Mother Maria's transfer was on January 31. Here the food ration was further reduced and the hours spent standing for roll calls increased. Though it was mid-winter, blankets, coats and jackets were confiscated, and then even shoes and stockings. The death rate was at least fifty per day. Next all medical supplies were withdrawn. Those who still persisted in surviving now faced death by shootings and gas, the latter made possible by the construction of a gas chamber in March 1945, in which 150 were executed every day. Amazingly, Mother Maria survived five weeks in the "youth camp" before she was returned to the main camp on March 3. Though emaciated and infested with lice, with her eyes festering, she began to think she might actually live to return to Paris, or even go back to Russia.

Such was not to be the case. On March 30, 1945 — Great, Holy and Good Friday that year — Mother Maria was selected for the gas chambers, in which she perished the following day, on Great and Holy Saturday. Accounts are at odds about what happened. According to one, she was one of the many selected for death that day. According to another, she took the place of another prisoner, a Jew, who had been chosen. Although perishing in the gas chamber, she did not perish in the Church's memory. Survivors of the war who had known her would again and again draw attention to the ideas, insights and activities of the unusual nun who had spent so many years coming to the aid of people in desperate straights. Soon after the end of World War II, essays and books about her began to appear in France and Russia. A Russian film, "Mother Maria," was made in 1982. There have been two biographies in English and, little by little, the translation and publication in English of her most notable essays.

On January 18, 2004, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople 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. Their glorification took place in Paris' Cathedral of Saint Alexander Nevsky.


Priestmartyr Demetrius (Klepinine)

No information available at this time.


Priestmartyr Alexei (Medvedkov)

No information available at this time.


Martyr Salome the Georgian

Very little information has come down to us about the holy martyr Salome of Jerusalem and Kartli, who lived in the XIII century at a women’s monastery in Jerusalem. She was arrested by the Persian Moslems because of her outspoken defense of Christ.

The SYNAXARION of the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, where she was martyred, tells us that at first, she gave in to the threats of the Persians and denied Christ. Later, however, she repented and publicly confessed Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

St Salome was tortured by the Persians because of her faith in Christ. Finally, she was beheaded and her holy relics were thrown into the fire.

It is believed that she was executed after the martyrdom of St Luka of Jerusalem, which occurred on February 12, 1277.