A Call to Light

Two triangles, a star,

The shield of King David, our forefather.

This is election, not offense.

The great path and not an evil.

Once more in a term fulfilled,

Once more roars the trumpet of the end;

And the fate of a great people

Once more is by the prophet proclaimed.

Thou art persecuted again, O Israel,

But what can human malice mean to thee,

who have heard the thunder from Sinai?

My wife and I are currently watching “A Small Light,” a dramatized-but-historical account of the efforts of those who concealed Anne Frank’s family’s hiding place during WWII. So of course, when I saw that today’s feast commemorates Maria Skobtsova, who wrote the above poem in July 1942, the similarities between these two stories jumped out at me.

Maria Skobtsova, born in 1891, was a Russian Orthodox nun, theologian, and martyr. Though not as well known, her life was marked by a deep commitment to serving the marginalized and oppressed. After experiencing personal tragedy, including the loss of her husband and child, Skobtsova dedicated herself to the work of social justice and compassion. She founded a house of hospitality in Paris, providing shelter, food, and care to the homeless, and played an active role in assisting refugees and Jews during World War II. 

Like Miep Gies and the others who hid Anne Frank and her family, Maria Skobtsova had to be gritty, determined, savvy, and smart. Once France fell to the Nazis, she sheltered many Jews and helped them flee the country. With the help of a priest, she provided falsified baptismal certificates to many Jews who were seeking protection from persecution. 

Miep and Maria (curiously, “Miep” is also the Dutch diminutive of “Maria”), two women in two different, neighboring countries, both struggled to preserve life at a time when hatred and violence were on the ascent. Their paths were similar, in that they were forced to do things they would never otherwise do in order to protect the lives of those they cared for.

But they differed in one respect, to be sure: Maria’s dedication to serving the resistance was informed by her own deep well of theological inquiry, and vice versa. As a nun who refused to remain within a convent, she lived out in the world and acted out her faith by putting her life on the line serving others. It was her faith in Christ that led her to risk everything for those whom she was given to love.

Skobtsova’s commitment to social justice and her tireless efforts to alleviate suffering serve as a profound witness to the Gospel of Christ for our times. These days, we live in a time marked by increasing inequality, systemic racism, and the devaluation of human life; her message of radical inclusivity and selfless service is more relevant to us today than it has been in decades. Even if living out our faith may not lead us to persecution and death, as it did for Maria, there are many ways in which her life offers inspiration and hope for those seeking to spread more kindness, generosity, and love in the world. I hope we may take courage from her example, and the example provided by others such as Miep Gies, and be willing to take personal risk to serve those who are in need around us. 

Peter Levenstrong is Associate Rector at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. Having grown up non-religious, he enjoys bringing “a fresh pair of eyes” to explore the Christian tradition, and is particularly interested in the intersection of faith and justice. You can find more of his sermons at https://peterlevenstrong.wordpress.com/

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