In Memoriam: Mother Maria Rule (1937 - 2013)
Mother Maria was born Marigold Rule, and grew up in Guildford, Surrey, of mixed French and English parentage. Both of her parents were atheists. Her journey to faith in Christ began as a child, during the blitz of the Second World War. After one night of particularly heavy bombing, when a number of people living near Marigold’s home had been killed in the blast, she asked her mother what would happen now to the people who had died. Her mother replied that for them, that was the end; nothing awaited them in eternity, there was no life after death, they were simply dead and would soon be buried. The young girl was so horrified at the bleakness of her mother’s response to her question that she was convinced that there must be something more, some ultimate spiritual purpose in life. Thus began a journey of faith that led her first to belief in God, and then to the pursuit of a life lived for Him.
Marigold was baptised and confirmed in the Anglican Church as a teenager, having to make a stand in her non-believing family to take this step. She then chose to train as a teacher at a church Training College, where she seems to have been somewhat of a star pupil. Linguistically gifted, she went straight from College to study for a degree, being interested in a specific area of the roots and formation of early English language. This training was to serve her well later.
After teaching for a few years Marigold entered the Anglican Community of Saint Mary the Virgin (CSMV) at Wantage. After her Profession, Sister Marigold continued teaching and became a House-mistress in the Community’s boarding school. She also served in the Community’s other social work with drug addicts and ‘unmarried mothers’. In the early 1970s when a school trip was being planned to take a group of girls to visit Serbia, Sister Marigold visited Oxford together with another sister to learn Serbian. Here she first attended Orthodox services at the chapel within the House of St Gregory and St Macrina. The experience of Orthodox worship made a deep impression on her. Soon afterwards she became acquainted with Metropolitan Anthony, and began a journey that led her, in 1974, to ask for release from CSMV and to be received by him into the Orthodox Church. She lived for a time as a lay person, supporting herself through translation work and exquisite needlework and attending the church in Oxford, where she got to know some of the prominent exiles from the Russian Revolution who were there, including Nicholas Zernov and his wife Militsa. In 1976 she was tonsured as an Orthodox nun and given the name Mary in honour of St Mary of Egypt.
Although for the next few years she lived and worked at the Parish House in Upper Addison Gardens, London, helping out at the church there and in the cathedral parish, a new chapter was soon to open in Mother Maria’s life. Having learnt Serbian and with many friends in the Serbian Church, she was asked to go to Serbia to oversee the restoration of the historic medieval convent at Gradac. There followed years when, from her base in Serbia, she travelled all over Europe, being sent as a representative of the Serbian church to Conferences and Ecumenical meetings. She was especially pleased to be able to master the Serbian language and communicate with ordinary people in the countryside as well as with the older nuns, some of whom were unable to read when she arrived. Under her leadership and with her travels and lectures to raise money for the project, it became possible to rebuild the monastery at Gradac and re-establish a small community of nuns there. The nuns elected Mother Maria, although a foreigner, as their Abbess. This was long before the fall of Communism and life was far from easy on many levels.
In the early 1990s, with a background of the ensuing Bosnian war, Mother Maria returned to England to care for her mother who had become ill and was in need of constant care. For several years she lived with her mother in Suffolk, only occasionally managing to attend the Liturgy in the London cathedral. During this period she completed a number of important translations, including the Prologue from Ochrid (Lives of the Saints) and the Homilies of Bishop Nikolaj Velimirovic. After her mother’s death, Mother Maria was able to move to London, where she hoped to become actively involved in the daily life of the cathedral parish once again. Sadly this was not to be, as she fell victim to a debilitating illness from which she was never to recover. For the last fifteen years of her life, Mother Maria was unable to leave her flat, and was unable to get to church. She continued her monastic life and work, firstly in her London flat and then from 2007 in Oxford, despite increasing pain and debilitation.
From her little flat near the Oxford railway station she maintained a network of friends that extended around the world. She kept up a daily round of intercessory prayer for people in need, becoming a one-woman prayer ‘factory’ for the needs of others from her monastic cell within her modest but cosy little home. She welcomed those who needed counsel or support, as well as renewing contact with friends from her Wantage days. She continued her work of translation and editing Church texts, which by now included the six-volume Synaxarion published by Simonopetra Monastery on Mount Athos. It was work she loved but often difficult and tiring to accomplish.
Although in her last months Mother Maria could barely get out of bed, she continued her translation work right up to the time when she was admitted to hospital following a fall in her flat. She worked, lying on a day bed, with a laptop on her knees. Her translations are a major and enduring legacy for the Church, which she was keen to finish before she died. Her health deteriorated quite quickly after the fall and she was admitted to hospital and to a nursing home, finally dying peacefully in hospital after a short but difficult period of more intense illness. At her request, her funeral was served by Father Stephen Platt, surrounded by family members, clerical and lay friends and her fellow nuns, who felt privileged to be there, praying together for and with her.
Although Mother Maria was serious about her monastic life and vocation, she was refreshingly realistic, grounded in everyday life and interested in ordinary people. An example of this came on Easter Sunday this year when Father Stephen visited her in her nursing home room to take her Easter Communion. After a very joyful time of prayer, singing the Easter hymns and her receiving the Holy Gifts, they sat and talked and Father Stephen asked Mother Maria what she was going to do for the rest of the day. She pointed to a new television set that had recently arrived in her room and announced that the rest of the day would be taken up with Formula One racing and international snooker!
Mother Maria will be sadly missed by those who knew and loved her, but her work and prayer continues. May her memory be eternal!
M.J., compiled from accounts by Father Stephen Platt and Mother Helena and used with their kind permission. Picture kindly furnished by Anne von Bennigsen.