May 2004

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Fr. Antony PortraitChrist is Risen!

I learned during Holy Week of a wonderful event: the glorification of new saints by the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Not only does the fact that these new saints lived in Europe among the population of Russian emigrants surprise and delight us, but the identities of these holy ones does as well. The glorification will take place at St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Paris the first week of May 2004.

From my early days as an Orthodox Christian I was deeply enamored of the life and person of a Russian nun from Paris and her companions. Mother Maria of Paris embodied for me the great creative and progressive spirit I had begun to recognize as the true heart of our Faith. She lived a remarkable form of monasticism, a monasticism in the world among the poor, the indigent and the despised certainly not unknown in Orthodoxy, but not predominant. She had as her contemporary predecessor St. Elizabeth the Grand Duchess who did the same kind of work in Russia during the troubled last days of the Empire and the early days of the Revolution, but throughout history there have been others. Some monasteries, for example, in Constantinople were founded in the worst of that city's slums and provided care for the inhabitants. Still Mother Maria was different, somewhat revolutionary, a strong and opinionated woman of depth, talent and passion. She died in Ravensbruck concentration camp because she dared to rescue Jews and anyone threatened by the Nazis from death.

Along with her will be glorified her son Yuri and Fr. Dimitri Klepinin and Elise Fondaminskii. All of these suffered the same fate as Mother Maria in different camps. When Fr. Dimitri was taken for interrogation he was asked how he could care for the miserable Jews. He held up his pectoral cross for his interrogator and said, "Do you know this jew?" For this he was beaten. Elise was himself a Jew who worked with Mother Maria and who was baptized into Holy Orthodoxy in the Compiegne Camp before being transported to Auschwitz where he died. Another Russian priest who worked tirelessly for the welfare of the Russian exile community and whose body was discovered incorrupt will be glorified with them.

Their lives should be beacons of light and hope for all Orthodox Christians; "light" because they lived as we all should live; "hope" because no matter where we find ourselves it is possible to be disciples. The road to sainthood, to lives of self-sacrifice, to courageous "spirit-filled" lives is as close to us as our own front doors.

God bless all of you,

Fr. Antony Hughes