Today on the Orthodox calendar we remember the repose of two relatively modern saints whose lives have touched mine. Both St. Innocent, Metropolitan of Moscow and Apostle to the Americas (1879) and St Maria Skobtsova of Paris (1945) died on March 31. St. Maria died at the hands of the Nazis in the Ravensbrück concentration camp. Jim Forest who has written a short biography of her,“Mother Maria of Paris: Saint of the Open Door”, says of her that “She was certain that there was no other path to heaven than participating in God’s mercy.”
St. Maria’s writings are, I think, important for all of us who are not monastics about how to keep Lent. For those of us living in the world, since we have the world’s goods it is most appropriate for us to keep Great Lent by remembering Christ’s parable of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46) which we proclaim at the Liturgy one week before Lent begins. Perhaps more than emphasizing food fasting, we ought to be thinking about the scriptural teachings on fasting from Isaiah 58 in which God tells us the kind of fast acceptable to Him, and from Christ’s parable of the Last Judgment. In both of the scriptural teachings, the emphasis is on charity towards others, not obeying rituals and rules.
St Maria writes:
“The way to God lies through love of people. At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, nor how many bows and prostrations I made. Instead I shall be asked did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners. That is all I shall be asked. About every poor, hungry and imprisoned person the Savior says ‘I’: ‘I was hungry and thirsty, I was sick and in prison.’ To think that he puts an equal sign between himself and anyone in need…. I always knew it, but now it has somehow penetrated to my sinews. It fills me with awe.”