In May I had the privilege of listening to Rowan Williams, speak on Disciples in the Modern City. He told stories of three remarkable, awkward, rebellious, idealistic, radical women and the communities that emerged around them.
The first was Maria Skobtsova. From a wealthy Russian family she rebelled politically and religiously, espousing atheism and radical politics. However, too radical and idealistic for the Bolsheviks she fled Russia for Paris in 1923. There, her second marriage collapsed and she dedicated herself to theological studies and social work. She had been drawn to the Eastern Orthodox Church by focusing on the humanity of Christ, “He also died. He sweated blood, Thy struck his face.” Living in extreme poverty she began a ministry of hospitality amongst a community of refugees. She would venture to the market to find surplus and rejected food for a rejected community. When she felt a vocation to be a Nun, she found a Bishop willing to accept the vows of a twice divorced woman who refused to go into contemplative seclusion.
In the 1930’s she welcomed the Jewish refugees that were arriving in Paris. During the Occupation protecting as many as she could, declaring “Every Christian should wear the yellow star.” At the heart of her community was interdependence and solidarity, she was never Lady Bountiful handing out gifts to the poor. Her work was the common work of all who stand in need, “We should not give away a single piece of bread unless someone means something to us.” Maria would eventually die in the gas chamber at Ravensbrück, maintaining solidarity with her community until the end.
Rowan Williams closed with a question about discipleship and I pass it to you. “What solidarity do you make with people on the margins of safe society?” Jesus said, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” and I ask, “How does our discipleship express love and solidarity with our neighbour?”