Quotes taken from Mother Maria Skobtsova: Essential Writings

Introduction

Mother Maria led a very inspirational life. Reading the biography on her life during World War II and the kindness she shared with the suffering can be incredible inspiration to us young Orthodox Christians. She left the Faith as a young adult but came back to the Church later in life with a deeper understanding of who Christ is (something many of us share). Mother Maria attained exceptional empathy and embodied Christ’s love of neighbor to the fullest.

Our discussion today will revolve around 5 quotes from St. Maria’s Essential Writings. We’ll be tackling the topics of love, illumination, and living in the world as an Orthodox Christian (really useful stuff, yeah?). We encourage you to take this time to sit with what Mother Maria has written; there is so much beauty in the simplicity of her words.

May St. Maria pray for us all!

Questions for Discussion

We cannot see the Church as a sort of aesthetic perfection and limit ourselves to aesthetics swooning — our God-given freedom calls us to activity and struggle. And it would be a great lie to tell searching souls: ‘Go to church, because there you will find peace.’ The opposite is true. She tells those who are at peace and asleep: ‘Go to church, because there you will feel real alarm about your sins, about your perdition, about the world’s sins and perdition. There you will feel an unappeasable hunger for Christ’s truth. There instead of lukewarm you will become ardent, instead of pacified you will become alarmed, instead of learning the wisdom of this world you will become foolish in Christ.’ (p. 115)

  1. The church can be a haven in different ways–a hospital for the sick, comfort for the troubled, or joy for the grateful. Mother Maria highlights the role of the church as a catalyst for spiritual discomfort, igniting a desire for our souls to grow spiritually and seek Truth. What role does the church currently play in your life, if any, and is this a relationship you would like to change?
  2. Aesthetics seem to take over our lives. Living in the 21st Century, we are constantly bombarded with shallow beauty, seeing how others live their lives through media and how we should ‘be like them’ (what I eat in a day, morning routine, etc.) Discuss the ways in which we view life with only the priority of ‘aesthetics’. How does this damage our lives, both spiritually and practically? How can aesthetics impact our view of the Church?

But if at the center of the Church’s life there is this self-giving Eucharistic love, then where are the Church’s boundaries, where is the periphery of this center? Here it is possible to speak of the whole of Christianity as an eternal offering of a Divine Liturgy beyond church walls … It means that we must offer the bloodless sacrifice, the sacrifice of self-surrendering love not only in a specific place, upon the altar of a particular temple; the whole world becomes the single altar of a single temple, and for this universal liturgy we must offer our hearts, like bread and wine, in order that they may be transformed into Christ’s love, that he may be born in them, that they may become “God-manly” hearts, and that He may give these hearts of ours as food for the world…” (p. 185)

  1. Christ gives us the Eucharist to feed our souls and help us grow closer to Him. Mother Maria describes our hearts as “food for the world.” In other words, we can be the Eucharist that feeds the world with Christ’s love. What can we give to the world to bring it closer to Christ? How can we bring the Eucharist into a world that sometimes seems far removed from Him?
  2. “The Liturgy begins when we walk out of church.” This quote reflects on how the true Liturgy does not happen within the walls of the church, but rather in our interactions with the world. St. Francis of Assissi instructs us to “preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” The Gospel should be our way of life. How can this thinking reorder your life? Do you see this sentiment in any writings from the Church Fathers?

Non-possession teaches us not only that we should not greedily seek advantages for our soul, but that we must not be stingy with our soul, that we should squander our soul in love, that we should achieve spiritual nakedness…There should be nothing so sacred or valuable that we would not be ready to give it up in the name of Christ’s love to those who need it. Spiritual non-possession is the way of the holy fool. It is folly, foolishness in Christ. It is the opposite of the wisdom of this age. It is the blessedness of those who are poor in spirit. It is the outer limit of love… (p. 181-182)

  1. Mother Maria instructs us that “there should be nothing so sacred or valuable that we would not be ready to give it up in the name of Christ’s love.” Is there anything in your life you would not be willing to give up, if asked to do so? What is holding you back?
  2. “We should squander our souls in love.” Through everything we do, we should aim to cultivate our soul and feed it with spiritual nourishment. However, it can be hard to do this when spiritual nourishment doesn’t always have tangible, instant results. How can we cultivate a desire to feed our souls rather than get caught up in tangible pleasures of the world?
  3. Thinking back to Adam and Eve: how could ‘spiritual nakedness’ play on Old Testament themes, if any? What should we clothe ourselves with if we are called to be spiritually naked?

However hard I try, I find it impossible to construct anything greater than these three words, ‘Love one another’ —only to the end, and without exceptions: then all is justified and life is illumined, whereas otherwise it is an abomination and a burden. (p. 19)

  1. We are to love one another “without exceptions.” In which instances do you find it hardest to love? How do we love someone who does not love others, or who does not love us?
  2. Contemplate how disordered love, or even absent love, could cause a person’s life to be a burden.
  3. Mother Maria defines love in the purest forms, stating that it ‘illumines’ life and results in life not being a burden. How does our world try to corrupt the true meaning of love? In what ways can we practice this sort of love that St. Maria references?

Such terrible times are coming, the world is so exhausted from its scabs and sores, it so cries out to Christianity in the secret depths of its soul, but at the same time it is so far removed from Christianity, that Christianity cannot and dare not show it a distorted, diminished, darkened image of itself. It should scorch the world with the flame of Christ’s love, it should go to the cross on behalf of the world. It should incarnate Christ Himself in it. (p. 186)

  1. The world is damaged, but the Church “dare not show it a distorted, diminished, darkened image of itself.” How do we seemingly rectify this juxtaposition? Does St. Maria actually contradict herself by saying that the world needs Christ, but that it needs to be in a certain way?
  2. We are called to shine light in a world that seems dark, hopeless, and despairing at times. How can we bring Christ into a world that deeply desires Christianity but refuses to accept it as such? How can we incarnate Christ in a society that refuses to accept the Incarnate Christ?
  3. “It should incarnate Christ Himself in it.” This quote is a heavy one and deserves some contemplation! Take about two minutes of silence with your chapter, reread quote 5, and discuss the ways that we can practice this kind of thinking that Mother Maria presents.

Closing Prayer (https://incommunion.org/2004/10/18/icons/)

You became an instrument of divine love, O holy martyr Maria,

And taught us to love Christ with all our being.

You conquered evil by not submitting yourself into the hands of the destroyer of souls.

You drank from the cup of suffering.

The Creator accepted your death above any other sacrifice

And crowned you with the laurels of victory with His mighty hand.

Pray fervently that nothing may hinder us from fulfilling God’s will

Because you are a bright star shining in darkness!