Centenary of the Archdiocese of Orthodox Churches of Russian Tradition in Western Europe

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The Saints of the Archdiocese

During its session of January 16, 2004, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate canonized five key figures in the spiritual history of Russian emigration to France: Father Alexis Medvekov (1867-1934), mother Marie (Skobtsov) (1891-1945) and her companions, Father Dimitri Klépinine (1904-1944), Georges (Yuri) Skobtsov (1921-1944) and Elijah Fondaminsky (1880-1942).

« Canonization » in the Orthodox tradition is based on four criteria:

  1. The spiritual "fight" that the future saint led, the "beautiful / good fight of faith" of which Saint Paul speaks (1 Tm 6,12; 2 Tm 4,7) (agôn in Greek; in Russian подвиг: the achievement, the feat). In fact, the fulfillment of God's plan for this person, for we are all called to holiness. This can be realized in the duration of an entire life, a portion of life, or can have occurred in an instant, as with the good thief of the Gospel. In the case of Mother Marie, some biographers tend to separate resolutely the "sinful" part of her life (between her birth and her coming to Paris) from her "holy" life, and situate the reversal at the death of her daughter Anastasia , which leads to her monastic profession. This division is, in my opinion, arbitrary and erroneous, because there are many signs of the deeds and the spiritual combat of the future nun in the life of Elisabeth Pilenko, which reveal her vocation to dedicate her life to God, already from the beginning of her life, confirmed by her writings and her painted and embroidered work.
  2. Reputation or posthumous veneration, what the entourage of the future saint said about him after his death or what people who lived in his time may have said or written later about his spiritual warfare. In this regard, the Church also attaches importance to so-called "external" testimonies, thus guarding against the temptation to listen only to those close to them, who may be too subjective. The desire to leave oral or written testimonies arises from the will of the Christian people to know more about a person already loved and who inspires admiration. This recognition can take various forms, depending on the culture: spontaneous gathering at the tomb of the venerated person, Requiem celebrations, followed by homilies consecrated to their memory on the anniversary dates of birth or death, collection of objects that belonged to him, particularly a photograph or even an icon; the desire to place a memorial tablet, a cross, or another sign on the place which has had a particular meaning in their lives, publication of books, articles on the deceased, films, symposiums, etc.
  3. In the case of Mother Marie, the bibliography of works written about her includes, in all languages, more than a hundred titles. There are four films about her life, television shows, and even a cantata written by I. Zhvanetskaya, which was performed in Moscow in 1996 by some fifty musicians. Several icons were painted, bearing the mention "martyr" and presenting a halo. Most of these testimonies also mention Father Dimitri Klepinin, Youri Skobtsov and Elijah Fondaminsky. The Orthodox consider this type of "recognition before the letter" as the expression and will of the Christian people, which pushes the Bishop to begin a process of canonization. There is no "canonization process", nor "devil's advocate", except that there are, alas, pitiful people who only remember the cruel anecdotes told by those who have been disturbed by the Saint's "prophecy" ».
  4. The state of the body. In the case of Father Alexis Medvedkov [priest of the small parish of Ugine (Savoy), from 1931 to his death, in 1934]. His body was found intact, in 1956, during the exhumation made necessary by works done at the local cemetery, and transferred, the following year, to the crypt of the church of the Orthodox cemetery of Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois (Essonne). His canonization on January 16, 2004, is a sign of election, a way of attracting the attention of people who had not noticed during his lifetime that this humble priest was a saint. But, in most cases, and in particular among the martyrs, there is no longer a body: it has been drowned, forgotten, buried in the merzlota as, for example, is the case for most of the Russian neo- Russian martyrs of the XX century. In the case of the martyrs of the Orthodox Action, their bodies were burned in crematoria and their ashes scattered. But residents of Anapa, in southern Russia, a town of which Mother Mary was the mayor and who particularly venerate her, collected ashes in Ravensbrück and brought them back to venerate in the museum they built in her memory. In the Saint-Roch church in Paris, where concerts of Orthodox sacred music take place every June, there are urns where the ashes of those tortured from the various Nazi concentration camps were collected. It might be a good idea to collect four urns with ashes collected in Ravensbrück, Auschwitz and Buchenwald, and place them in an Orthodox monastery or church in France to be venerated by the faithful.
  5. The miracles. They are an important reason for veneration. Formerly, the Bishop, or the hagiographer in charge of the canonization file, collected and tried to verify testimonies of healings, conversions, reconciliations directly related either to a prayer addressed to the venerated person, or to contact with an object or to "a relic" that belonged to him. Today, the notion of miracle has widened and it is considered that the very fact that this revered person "fought the good fight", that he or she accomplished his "fight" and inspired his entourage to do the same is a miracle. The fact that the Orthodox behaved in a manner worthy of their quality as Christians, helping the homeless and saving the persecuted in the dark hours of the Nazi Occupation, honors them and inspires us. Just as we call miracle the fact that someone with little or no believing, having learned the life and veneration of the future saint, has turned to God or has placed his charitable action under his patronage by already addressing prayers to him. Thus, the nurses of the Center Saint Anastasia who devote themselves to the service of orphans and street children in Saint Petersburg have placed Mother Mary among the saints whom they venerate and invoke.