What happened in the Byzantine East in the first centuries of Christian history has never yet been surpassed. Greek, Egyptian, and Syrian theologians found ways to unfold the mystery of Christ that challenge and nourish believers even today. It was a time of exciting intellectual debate and growth.
By the end of the first millennium, however, that excitement and growth had evaporated in the face of corrupt imperial politics and invasion by Muslim armies. The Christian East settled into a holding pattern, gazing back to a distant golden age. With the fall of the last Orthodox empire in 1917, Orthodox Christians scattered throughout the world. Many succumbed to an even deeper nostalgia, awaiting the end of the world. Others found freedom in the shattering of old structures. One of these was a nun named Maria Skobtsova, who devoted her life in Paris to the poor and oppressed.
By 1985, years of apocalyptic pessimism from monastic mentors had left Brother Robert disillusioned with the faith of his ancestors. Encountering the writings of Mother Maria that year brought him new hope that treasures from the past might find new expression in a world desperately in need of light. For thirty years her example has guided him in his work. This icon of Mother Maria is enshrined above his bed.