Food for All is inspired by an Orthodox Christian understanding of charity. The life and writings of an Orthodox saint, St. Maria of Paris, have had a strong impact on our focus and way of doing things.
Maria was born in the Russian Empire in 1891 and raised as an Orthodox Christian. But when she was 14, her father died, and she became an atheist.
She would grow into an intellectual, a poet, and an artist. In her early twenties, prior to the Russian Revolution, Maria married a Bolshevik. But she quickly became disillusioned with just talking about social change and revolution. After much internal struggle, she would write, “The people’s only need is Christ—that I know.”
In 1923, as the revolution intensified, Maria left Russia for safety with her second husband and three young children. Three year later, they finally arrived in Paris, to which many Russian refugees were fleeing.
Twelve years later, after being granted her second divorce, Maria became an Orthodox nun. By faith and with the help of a church official, she acquired two large houses and created living spaces, a church, and a kitchen that fed as many as 125 needy Russian refugees a day. She went out daily to beg for food in the markets in her shabby clothes and became known as "the smoking nun,” due to her ever-present cigarette.
In 1941, Paris was taken over by the Nazis. Soon after, Maria, the priest she worked closely with, and her son began protecting Jews, such as by giving them Christian baptismal certificate. When the Nazis discovered this, the three were sent to concentration camps. Maria and her cohorts are believed to have saved hundreds in this and other ways during the Nazi occupation.
On March 31,1945, 22 years after first arriving in Paris and after two years in the Ravensbrück camp, Maria died in a gas chamber. One camp survivor reported that Maria had willingly taken the place of a panicking Jewish woman.
The next day, which was Easter Eve, liberation of the prisoners of Ravensbrück began.
St. Maria’s basic conviction and motivation was that people are made in God’s image and likeness--and that when we serve
others, we are actually serving Jesus (Matthew 25:34-40).
"The eyes of love will perhaps be able to see how Christ Himself departs, quietly and invisibly, from the sanctuary. ... He will go out on to the church steps and mingle with the crowd: the poor, the lepers, the desperate,
the embittered, the holy fools. Christ will go out into the streets,
the prisons, the hospitals, the low haunts and dives. Again
and again, Christ lays down His soul for His friends."
“It is possible to walk on water. Then it becomes impossible
to measure or plan ahead; the one thing necessary
is to believe all the time. An instant of doubt,
and you begin to sink.”
"Our neighbor’s cross should be a sword that pierces our soul.
To co-participate, co-feel, co-suffer with our
neighbor’s destiny— this is love.”
"The way to God lives through love of people.”