Esther vs. Maria Skobtsova

“The End is Near!” proclaims the ubiquitous sign of the doomsday prophet. In the case of Lent Madness 2018, our sign-wielding friend would be correct. Welcome to the Faithful Four. After weeks of learning and voting and debating, the saintly field has been whittled down from 32 to four spiritual heavyweights: Esther, Maria Skobtsova, Anna Alexander, and Richard Hooker.

As we like to tell our five-year-olds when they join their first soccer team (that’s football for our friends across the pond), “there are no losers, everybody’s a winner.” Of course we’re lying. Thus, while we can sing the praises of these four saintly souls, only one Golden Halo will be awarded.

Today Esther takes on Maria Skobtsova; tomorrow Anna Alexander battles Richard Hooker; and on Spy Wednesday the championship round will take place. For the Faithful Four, we let our remaining Celebrity Bloggers loose as they answer the question “Why should Saint XX win the Golden Halo?” In other words, they’ve been charged with letting us know why their particular saint is so awesome. In this match-up, we have the unique situation of Megan Castellan writing for both Esther and Maria. Oddly enough this is familiar ground for Megan who, in 2015, also had both sides of a Faithful Four matchup in advocating for both Brigid of Kildare and Egeria. Tomorrow Anna Courie is writing for Anna Alexander and Marcus Halley for Richard Hooker.

To make it to the Faithful Four, Esther made it past Lazarus of Bethany, Michael the Archangel, and Peter, while Maria bested Thomas à Kempis, Quiteria, and Martin de Porres. Here’s your chance to send one of these inspiring women off to vie for the Golden Halo.


I was introduced to Esther the same way most of us are. She was the pretty, beauty-pageant winner in the book of children’s Bible stories. She seemed glamorous and likable—like the popular cheerleader in high school. It wasn’t until later that I began to see her as a partner-in-crime.

Esther, the only popular biblical heroine who does not fit either the category of mother or reformed prostitute, somehow manages to survive and prosper in a world that sees her at every turn as less than human. Consider the story we know: the king begins his search for a new queen only because Vashti makes the (perfectly reasonable) request to not attend his dinner party so he can show her off. The king picks Esther to marry, not because he loves her, but because she’s the prettiest. So Esther becomes queen, having realized two fundamental things at the exact same time: first, that her worth consists solely in her appearance, and secondly, and most crucially, that will not protect her life from the king’s displeasure.

And yet, in this most dehumanizing situation, Esther steps up and intercedes for her people, valuing their safety and security just as highly as she prizes her own. In so doing, she became an inspiration and adopted patron to the countless conversos of Spain who were baptized at the end of a sword. Through her aid, they held onto their belief in their own humanity, their faith, and God’s goodness towards them. Esther remained, for them, a sign that God still acted for God’s people even when the truth was shrouded, religion perverted, and all seemed lost.

For us, Esther is an example of faithful leadership. Having made her way into power and privilege, she then uses that privilege in the service of those without it. Esther is a model of leadership through kenosis; a self-emptying leader who risks her life just as she had managed to save it, so that others, too, might be as free as she.

In these turbulent times, may we all be as brave as Queen Esther.

- Megan Castellan

Maria Skobtsova

Maria Skobtsova was a simple woman, who lived a simple life. She was born in Russia, under the czar, and early on, discovered a passion for art and the life of the mind. She joined the Russian Revolution, but became disenchanted with it soon after.

She finally found what she had been searching for in the Church. She studied theology and ultimately took orders as a nun. But what set Maria apart was not her dedication to the church—it was her dedication to the world. When she took her final vows, she required the bishop to make her a promise, that she would never be taken out of the world. For her, serving the people who suffered was the true calling of Christ. That was where she found her greatest call. She frequently ran into trouble with the other nuns and priests she brought to her boarding house in Paris, because she would skip the daily prayers in order to attend to some emergency with someone off the street. She was notorious for her stubbornness, but she persisted, replying “At the Last Judgment I will not be asked whether I satisfactorily practiced asceticism, nor how many bows I have made before the divine altar. I will be asked whether I fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick, and the prisoner in his jail. That is all I will be asked.”

Maria lived such a dedicated and passionate life that it is difficult to sum it up briefly. She was, above all, clear in her calling and in her purpose, even when it confused and confounded everyone else, including her own Church. When she found the sick, she nursed them; when she found the homeless, she housed them. When the Nazis began rounding up Jews for deportation, Maria snuck into the Vélodôme d’Hiver in Paris and brought them food, and falsified baptismal certificates. At every point in her life, it was clear that she knew the call of Christ, and nothing, not society, not the church bureaucracy, and not even Hitler’s legions, would stop her from following.

Sadly, there were not many following Maria’s path during the Nazi occupation. Far too many Christians chose silence and denial to survive, rather than courageous resistance for the sake of the gospel. Yet Maria shows us just how powerful one person’s act of sacrifice can be. While in the moment, it may seem to have been in vain, if Maria’s life can shine a light for us in our day, then she will have accomplished something magnificent.

-  Megan Castellan

Esther vs. Maria Skobtsova

  • Maria Skobtsova (73%, 4,888 Votes)
  • Esther (27%, 1,844 Votes)

Total Voters: 6,732

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180 comments on “Esther vs. Maria Skobtsova”

    1. Don't forget Ruth. Neither mother (until the end of the story) nor prostitute. AND she allied herself with her mother-in-law.

    1. Exactly! When she found the sick, she nursed them; when she found the homeless she housed them. It wasn't just one opportunity, but every one she could find.

  1. Maria for the Golden Halo! Eastern conference bracket hasn’t got anything on this lady!!

      1. Robin, thanks for the spelling correction! I blush to admit that I had not looked up the actual spelling. In the case of Мария Скобцова (Mariya Skobtsova), of course, the TS is a single consonant.

  2. Our Lord said the first shall be last and the last should be first. Just wondering if that means our Golden Halo winner should be considered the last place finisher and all the first round losers are actually the winners?

  3. AARRRGGGGGGGGGG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Go Girls, right up there on the podium together. Don't back down now, either one of you.
    Esther and Maria,hand in hand
    Oh my goodness 'twould be so grand.

  4. Maria had neither beauty nor a position of favor with those in power to save her, and still she acted anyway. We can't all be pageant winners , but we can all follow Maria's example.

  5. New Delaware bishop mandated Passion Sunday instead of Palm Sunday. I cannot get my mind ready for Holy Week now. This matching unfortunately did not help. Voted for Esther.

    1. Oh, I'm so sorry about your Palm Sunday! What is that about? No "All Glory, Laud and Honor"? No "Ride On, Ride On In Majesty"? No palm fronds in the courtyard?

    2. We treat Palm Sunday as both! Palm and Passion Sunday! I feel that helps people really prepare for Easter Sunday. Especially those who are unable to attend any of the other Holy Week services.

      1. Same with us. The first half is all palms and joy. The second half was a dramatization of the passion. Plus communion. We lost the creed somewhere and the spot where I count everyone.

      2. I agree. We also have both. Palm Sunday begins with a Samba parade (excellent choice for the "frozen chosen). It is so joyful. Then Bang! we enter church solemnly. It helps me enter into Holy Week--with the sense of how quickly happiness and hope were dashed for those hailing Jesus with Hallelujahs and palms. This year, after the March for Our Lives on Saturday, it was especially meaningful knowing there will be disappointments and times of despair ahead. But we know how the story ends.

        1. How appropriate that the Marchs for Our Lives happened the day before the reenactment of that very political and extraordinary march we observe on Palm/Passion Sunday.

  6. Maria for the Golden Halo! Can we correct the spelling of her name on the bracket poster?
    Skobtsova - Yes!
    Skobstova - No

  7. I voted for Maria simply because of an erroneousstatement in Esther... Esther, the only popular biblical heroine who does not fit either the category of mother or reformed prostitute...
    there are others so Maria got the vote.

    1. Yeah, where did that come from? Miriam, Deborah, and Jael, off the top of my head. And three cheers for Vashti for refusing to be exploited in the first place. Also, I'm not sure where the idea came from that Mary Magdalene was ever a prostitute. Sounds suspiciously like a fabrication approved and put in place by the early Church patriarchy because they needed a fallen woman as a foil for their Madonna.

        1. Although we could just stop thinking of being 'accused of being a prostitute' as slander. It is an honourable and ancient profession.

          1. I've never understood the "outrage" against prostitution. For some it has been the only way to survive. And it seems as though it's a fairly popular activity, from heads of state on down to the little johns. Not to be confused with Little John. Maybe.

      1. Exactly. That Gregorian slander against Mary Magdalene was much discussed the year she won the Golden Halo.

    2. While not explicited stated, Esther definitely did prostitute herself to win the beauty contest to replace Vashti.

    3. "Esther, the only popular biblical heroine who does not fit either the category of mother or reformed prostitute".

      Into which category does Judith fit? Yes, I know Judith is part of the Apocrypha, but still...

      Also Shiphrah and Puah, the midwives to the Hebrews who misled Pharaoh to save the Hebrew baby boys. A midwife is not necessarily a mother.

  8. Marija's activism to aid Jewish people during the Nazi occupation of France swung me to vote for her. To use the modern vernacular, "she walked the talk."

  9. I must vote for Maria. I read Sarah's Key with my students, and we discussed the roundup of Jewish families in Paris, and their imprisonment in the Velodome d'Hiver. I continue to be in awe of the individuals who risked their lives to live out Christ's message during those years of depravity and devastation.

  10. This was the most difficult decision yet! Both women lived in their own time and with their own resources served God's people well. I also chose Maris. She answered the mandate of Mathew 25 as does everyone who serves throughout Episcopal Relief and development.

  11. It does not get easier, but we have to vote, abstention is not an option.

    When I read: "I will be asked whether I fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick, and the prisoner in his jail. That is all I will be asked.” That was sufficient, add her enjoying a beer was an additional positive note. Maria is a blessing

  12. They both saved Jews, didn't they? And risked their lives doing it. Esther arguably saved more heads, but Maria sacrificed her life. Esther has a whole book and a holiday for herself, but I had never heard of Maria until this Lent. So, Maria for the halo.

    1. left out of these accounts about Esther is the ending of the story in which all sorts of innocent people were killed in revenge for the plan to kill the Jews - Maria gets my vote.

      1. Actually, Sharon Kilpatrick, this is not the case. The Jews were allowed to kill in defense, not "in revenge." Since Haman's decree to slaughter the Jews had already gone out, Esther pleaded with the king to rescind the order. The king allowed Mordecai to handle the situation, in the king's name. See Esther 8:10-12 (all capitals indicate my emphasis):

        "...Letters were this effect: The king has permitted the Jews of every city to assemble AND FIGHT FOR THEIR LIVES; IF ANY PEOPLE OR PROVINCE ATTACKS THEM, they may destroy, massacre, and exterminate its armed force together with women and children, and plunder their possessions -- ON A SINGLE DAY...". (Later, Esther requested that permission be extended to a second day, to prevent revenge killings of the Jews, presumably.)

        NOTE: this was how the letters were written, NOT what was done. Permission was granted for the Jews to plunder and kill women and children, but there's absolutely no indication that they did so. See chapter 9 for what actually occurred (if one takes the text literally).

        In 9:2, we read: "Throughout the provinces of King Ahasuerus, the Jews mustered in their cities TO ATTACK THOSE WHO SOUGHT THEIR HURT." This was in defense only. Notice that further along in the chapter, as details are described, the text specifies that MEN were killed. Furthermore, the text notes three times (by my counting) that "...they did not lay hands on the spoil." In other words, the Jews defended themselves but DID NOT PLUNDER, despite getting specific permission to do so in writing. (Earlier in the chapter it described Jewish defenders as striking at "their enemies," not innocents, and without looting.)

        People frequently assume that there were innocents killed and revenge taken, but there's absolutely no evidence of it in the book of Esther.

        1. Thank you for that thorough explanation, Belle. I hadn't taken the time to read it myself.

  13. I love both of these saints. Maria served the poor and persecuted and died for it; Esther saved a nation, could have been killed, but lived to remain in a life of luxury. To be fair, she was forced into this marriage with the king, and may have been miserable the entire time. However, weighing all this, since I must choose, I vote for Maria.

  14. I, too, must vote for Maria. She continued to work in disastrous times to save people’s lives, in spite of the threat to herself, she persisted. Her example sets the tone for us who weary of fighting impossible odds, Maria all the way!

  15. I chose Maria. She shows me how I might make a difference as a Christian in my world. Feed the poor, shelter those who are persecuted.

  16. Maria. I discovered her a few years ago, and consider her an inspiration. I love Esther too, and find it interesting in these times that we are voting one of two women who advocated for the Jews in times of danger, but... Maria because she is such an interesting, well-rounded person besides being a great protector who paid the ultimate price.

    1. Some gremlin has set the dashboard authorizations in WordPress so that we cannot paste images into the text box (what could possibly go wrong?). But here is a link to James Martin, SJ's Twitter site, where he has posted an icon of Loyola for the (wrong) final four: Hopefully this link takes you directly to the tweet with the terrific icon of Loyola. I'm guessing Sister Jean would vote for whoever had an icon resembling this one.

      1. It works! I would like to suggest to the dashboard gremlins that they set the controls so that all links open into new windows. That's a very minor miracle.

        1. Hint for desktop/laptops (though it is not recommended to actually place them in your lap): Control+Click in Windows & Command+Click in Mac OS will open a link in a new tab.

          For iOS: 3D Touch gives you a menu which includes the option to open in a new tab.

          [rainbow emoji should proceed hashtag]

    1. Not when it comes to Lent Madness. Yes, well-know Episcopalian laywoman & Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins is the only former cabinet member to win Lent Madness.

  17. Saints' Brackets look better than my Basketball brackets.
    Both of these ladies were my picks w/Anna Alex. that means
    today's vote will be like casting lots-a roll of the di-
    Based on brackets-Hi = Esther, L = Maria.....
    Boxcars! God Save the Queen

  18. Voted for Esther knowing that it will be near impossible for her to defeat a saint who stood up to the Nazis. Everybody hates the Nazis, and "Modern" saints nearly always win the day in this contest, because I think it is just so difficult for us to put ourselves in the shoes of those who lived so long ago. But Esther too found power in a position of powerlessness, and used it to also save her Jewish family and neighbors. It is the conversos who ultimately swayed me, though. They chose Esther to be their saint, and so do I.

  19. Thank you Megan for wonderful write ups for both of these saints. Maria's focus on the obedience to Christ as opposed to church bureaucracy really brought it home to me - Inquisition, segregation, homophobia........

  20. By the way, Maria Skobtsova died in Ravensbrück on March 31, 1945. Wouldn't the Golden Halo be such a fitting tribute for her so close to the anniversary of her death?

    1. Yes, and [Liturgical nerd alert] according to page 882 of The Book of Common Prayer 1979 she was martyred on Holy Saturday, as Easterday 1945 fell on 1 April that year too.


      Be it a coffee mug or a beer mug, I just hope her surname is spelled correctly.

      (Note:  This year is only the second time Easterday has fallen on 1 April since then, the other being 1956.)

      1. My 12 year old grandson started laughing when he heard Easter was on April 1 this year. He said "Jesus can say 'April Fool!! I'm alive!'"

          1. Like. I also agree that the Golden Halo would be a fitting tribute for Maria. Saint of The Open Door. She got my vote, but I liked learning more about Esther.

      1. Huh? March only has 31 days.

        Multiple sources tell me March 31st, the day on which she was martyred, ifell on a Saturday in 1945 and does so again this year. Easterday fell on Sunday the First of April in 1945 and does so again this year.

  21. I voted for Maria. Although it was a difficult choice. Maria’s dedication through her faith touched my heart.