LOVE TO THE END
a documentary film on St. Maria of Paris
“Love to the End” is a 50 minute documentary film that rediscovers the life of Mother Maria of Paris through the lives of 3 contemporary American women. Mother Maria (born Elizaveta Pilenko, 1891) appeared and behaved contrary to conventional norms of what an Orthodox Christian nun should be. She was a Russian aristocrat, a poet, an intellectual and an atheist who was involved in the literary circles of St. Petersburg and transformed from an aristocratic intellectual to a saint whose life became a symbol of unconditional love and sacrifice. To anyone who could not see beyond the superficial posturing of Parisian society, she was scandalous, but she was just being true to herself. Fleeing from the turmoil in Russia, Elizaveta Pilenko and her family arrived in Paris in 1923. The tragic death of her daughter Anastasia three years later broke her heart but led her to an awareness: “For years I did not know, in fact I never knew the meaning of repentance, but now I am aghast at my own insignificance.” She concluded with three words that become the underlying theme of how she would live her life. “Love one another, so long as it is (love) to the very end and without exceptions…” Twice divorced, after the loss of her daughter Anastasia, Elizaveta Pilenko takes vows as an Orthodox Christian nun giving her life entirely to the rescue of impoverished Russian émigré’s lost in an alien country. Unwilling to remain cloistered in a convent she carries on her ministry in the world. A poet at heart, the homes she creates are sanctuaries, safe havens where the homeless can recover their dignity through her all embracing love. So completely and single mindedly did she believe in the second commandment, love thy neighbor, that when Paris fell to the Germans in 1940, Mother Maria prayed to find a way to rescue as many Jews as she could together with Fr. Dimitri Klepinin, the chaplain of the house at Rue Lourmel. She found her way, just as she found housing for the homeless she found a way to save the Jews, for creativity was at the heart of the way she transformed the world around her. For Mother Maria it was all about living life as an authentic encounter with the other, to be able to see the divine in each and every soul she rescued. Her story is a wake-up call to us to transcend our own brokenness by loving the other. So triumphant was her love that she took the place of a young woman in the gas chamber at Ravensbrück and is memorialized at Yad Vashem as the Righteous Among Nations. Her story is told through first hand accounts of people who knew her, her own writings and three contemporary American women. Through their own brokenness they encounter the extraordinary transformative example of Mother Maria as they learn to remake their lives trusting in love.