Maria Skobtsova (1891 – 1945), known as Mother Maria (Russian: Мать Мария), Saint Mary (or Mother Maria) of Paris, born Elizaveta Yurievna Pilenko (Елизавета Юрьевна Пиленко), Kuzmina-Karavayeva (Кузьмина-Караваева) by her first marriage, Skobtsova (Скобцова) by her second marriage, was a Russian noblewoman, poet, nun, and member of the French Resistance during World War II.
Born to an aristocratic family in 1891 in Latvia, she was given the name Elizaveta Pilenko. Her father died when she was a teenager, and she embraced atheism. In 1906 her mother moved the family to St. Petersburg, where she became involved in radical intellectual circles. In 1910 she married an Old Bolshevik by the name of Dmitriy Kuz'min-Karavaev. During this period of her life she was actively involved in literary circles and wrote much poetry. Her first book, Scythian Shards, was a collection of poetry from this period. By 1913 her marriage to Dimitriy had ended and the latter subsequently converted to Catholicism.
Through a look at the humanity of Christ — "He also died. He sweated blood. They struck his face" — she began to be drawn back into Christianity. She moved—now with her daughter, Gaiana—to the south of Russia where her religious devotion increased.
In 1918, after the Bolshevik Revolution, she was elected deputy mayor of the town of Anapa in Southern Russia. When the anti-communist White Army took control of Anapa, the mayor fled and she became mayor of the town. The White Army put her on trial for being a Bolshevik. However, the judge was a former teacher of hers, Daniel Skobtsov, and she was acquitted. Soon the two fell in love and were married.
Soon, the political tide was turning again. In order to avoid danger, Elizaveta, Daniel, Gaiana, and Elizaveta's mother Sophia fled the country. Elizaveta was pregnant with her second child. They traveled first to Georgia (country) (where her son Yuri was born) and then to Yugoslavia (where her daughter Anastasia was born). Finally they arrived in Paris in 1923. Soon Elizaveta was dedicating herself to theological studies and social work.
In 1926, Anastasia died of influenza—a heartbreaking event for the family. Gaiana was sent away to Belgium to boarding school. Soon, Daniel and Elizaveta's marriage was falling apart. Yuri ended up living with Daniel, and Elizaveta moved into central Paris to work more directly with those who were most in need.
Her bishop encouraged her to take vows as a nun, something she did only with the assurance that she would not have to live in a monastery, secluded from the world. In 1932, with Daniel Skobtov's permission, an ecclesiastical divorce was granted and she took monastic vows. In religion she took the name Maria. Her confessor was Father Sergei Bulgakov. Later, Fr. Dmitri Klepinin would be sent to be the chaplain of the house.
Mother Maria made a rented house in Paris her "convent." It was a place with an open door for refugees, the needy and the lonely. It also soon became a center for intellectual and theological discussion. In Mother Maria these two elements—service to the poor and theology—went hand-in-hand.
After the Fall of France in 1940, Jews began approaching the house asking for baptismal certificates, which Father Dimitri would provide them. Many Jews came to stay with them. They provided shelter and helped many to flee the country. Eventually the house was closed down. Mother Maria, Fr. Dimitri, Yuri, and Sophia were all arrested by the Gestapo. Fr. Dimitri and Yuri both died at the Dora concentration camp.
Mother Maria was sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp. On Holy Saturday, 1945, she took the place of a Jewish woman who was going to be sent to the Gas Chamber, and died in her place.
Mother Maria was glorified by act of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate on January 16, 2004. The glorification of Mother Maria, together with Fr. Dimitri, Yuri, and Ilya Fondaminsky took place at the Cathedral of Saint Alexander Nevsky in Paris on May 1 and 2, 2004. Their feast day is July 20.
Her life is dramatized in a Soviet film starring Lyudmila Kasatkina.
According to Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of Sourozh: "Mother Maria is a saint of our day and for our day; a woman of flesh and blood possessed by the love of God, who stood face to face with the problems of this century."
n July, 1942, when the order requiring Jews to wear the yellow star was published, she wrote a poem entitled "Israel":
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?