Among the many roles I play in life—husband, father, radio host, a follower of Jesus—I am also a biographer. How I became one is a long story, but let me say why I love writing and reading about the lives of others. Biographies allow us to step outside the narrow confines of our own time and place; they challenge our cultural assumptions. Great biographies help us to look in the mirror: How do we measure up?
Holding up that mirror is what I attempted to do in my latest book, “7 Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness.” Several of the women I write about won’t be entirely new to you. A couple of them, however, probably will be; for example a woman now known as Saint Maria of Paris. She is a great hero of the Orthodox Church, and her story should inspire—and challenge—Christians of every tradition.
The future saint, Elizabeth Pilenko, was born in Latvia in 1891. She grew up a pious child in Russia and the Ukraine. But at age 14, after the death of her father, she declared herself an atheist.
As a young woman, Elizabeth was a poet who “swam among the literary elites of St. Petersburg.” It was here that she became aware of the suffering of the poor, teaching many of them to read.
By age 18, Elizabeth was a committed Bolshevist. She married her first husband, only to separate four years later. As I write in my book “7 Women,” “Somehow, during this time, ‘her passion for justice and for the poor” led her back to a full-blown faith in Christ. She studied theology, re-married, and had two more children.
In 1923, following the Russian Revolution, Elizabeth and her family moved to Paris, where they would struggle for survival and deal with the death of a daughter.
The death was a turning point in Elizabeth’s life. She separated from her second husband and became a nun. Yet as a nun she remained outside the doors of the monastery so she could dedicate herself to helping the poor of Paris.
Mother Maria was a little unorthodox for an orthodox nun: She was casual about ritual observances and continued to smoke and drink, often shocking passersby on the street. She also annoyed church authorities, and once challenged a German pastor—a proud Nazi—by asking him, “How could you be both a Christian and a Nazi?”
During World War II, Mother Maria began hiding Jews and helping transport them to safety out of France. She paid for it with her life. Shipped off to the Ravensbruck concentration camp, she went to the gas chamber just five weeks before the war’s end. Many of her fellow prisoners believed that she took the place of a Jewish woman chosen to die. Mother Maria was canonized by the Orthodox Church in 2004.
As I write in “7 Women,” Mother Maria “heroically and uncompromisingly challenged a church hierarchy that had allowed the church of Jesus Christ to become ossified by traditionalism…” It had abandoned “its holy and prophetic witness against the world around it.” Today, Mother Maria “remains an indictment of any form of Christianity that seeks Christ chiefly inside the walls of our churches.”
And that, I believe, is a message we must remember today. I hope you’ll pick up a copy of my book, “7 Women.” We’ve got it for you at BreakPoint.org.
The life of Saint Maria reminds us how costly steadfast obedience to Christ can be. Are we willing to put obedience—total obedience—above everything else?
BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.
Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.
Publication date: September 11, 2015