Silent as a Stone – Mother Maria of Paris and the Trash Can Rescue, Jim Forest.£9.99p Both books obtainable from Marston Book Services Ltd, P.O. Box 269, Abingdon, Oxford, OX14 4YN
It is good to see the late Father Sergei Hackel's moving book on Mother Maria (now canonized by the Russian Church) is back in print, and is complemented by Jim Forest`s book.
Mother Maria`s life was somewhat outlandish even for an ordinary woman, let alone a nun. She was married to a man who later became a priest and there was a daughter by this marriage, who used to shock the Russian emigre community in Paris by announcing at dinner parties that her father was a Roman Catholic priest and her mother an Orthodox nun. Few believed her, but it was perfectly true. She was professed by Metropolitan Evlogie, the Russian hierarch in Paris who was under the Ecumenical Throne.
When the Second World War came to Paris and the rounding up of the Jews began Mother Maria had established a small farm outside Paris in which she concealed Jewish refugees, particularly children, whom she hid under the loads of cabbages or in dustbins. She was eventually rounded up and sent to Ravensbruck extermination camp, where, like St Maximilian Kolbe in Auschwitz, she substituted herself to be gassed instead of, in her case, a young terrified Jewish mother. She died as the sound of the Red Army`s guns could be heard approaching. She died on Orthodox Good Friday.
But there was a strange twist to her story. A year later, the war over, the Russian émigré poet George Rajevsky was walking on a path on Mother Maria’s old farm, when suddenly he saw her coming towards him, smoking her usual fag (she enjoyed a cigarette, as did Prince Phillip`s mother despite being a nun) and wearing her shabby habit and the men`s shoes she found so comfortable. “Mother Maria! “exclaimed Rajevsky “They told me you were dead “. Mother Maria looked at him over her wire framed spectacles and said, “Well, people tell all sorts of stories” and she disappeared. Rajevsky, not a believer, felt he had had a Resurrection experience.