Mother Maria Skobtsova

People make a choice between the sorrowful face of Christ and the joy of life. He who rejects the sorrowful face of Christ in the name of the joys of life believes in those joys, but tragedy is born at the moment when he discovers that those joys are not joyful. Forced, mechanized labor gives us no joy; entertainment, more or less monotonous, differing only in the degree to which it exhausts our nerves, gives us no joy; the whole of this bitter life gives us no joy. Without Christ the world attains the maximum of bitterness, because it attains the maximum of meaninglessness.

These words which come towards the end of Mother Maria’s essay The Mysticism of Human Communion (Mother Maria Skobtsova: Essential Writings, tr. R. Pevear and L Volokhonsky, New York, 2003, p. 83) are a stinging indictment of our materialism, especially as we start preparing for Christmas. Why is the celebration of the good news of the Incarnation so bitter for so many people? Because it is meaningless; society has removed the Incarnation from Christmas and has replaced it with Santa Claus, the god of materialism.

Mother Maria

True Christianity can never be bitter or sad because the central message is so joyful: the victory of life over death. Mother Maria continues in her essay:

Christianity is Paschal joy, Christianity is collaboration with God, Christianity is an obligation newly undertaken by mankind to cltivate the Lord’s paradise, once rejected in the fall, and in the thicket of this paradise, overgrown with the weeds of many centuries of sin and the thorns of our dry and loveless life, Christianity commands us to root up, plow, sow, weed, and harvest.

As the Christmas icon shows us, where Christ is, there is Paradise. The death of this world is replaced by life. But in order to take part in this paradise, we need to do a lot of gardening in our souls and in our society. For Mother Maria, the two cannot be separated! This is the thought with which she concludes the essay:

It is necessary to build our relations to man and to the world not on human and worldly laws, but within the revelation of the divine commandment. To see in man the image of God and in the world God’s creation. It is necessary to understand that Christianity demands of us not only the mysticism of communion with God, but also the mysticism of communion with man.

As we begin planning our Christmas celebrations, Mother Maria’s words should be ringing in our ears. We cannot have a meaningful celebration without a relationship with God and our fellow human beings. Anything short of this vertical and horizontal communion can only result in the “maximum of bitterness”.