In Memory of Anna Mitrofanova Shohov (1938 - 2021): Parable of the Talents
“His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”
When we as contemporary people hear the parable of the talents, we are sometimes inclined to perceive it through a secular prism. Nature has, we might say, bestowed certain talents, or capabilities, upon a person and he has either made use of them or not. He has managed to become famous, renowned, widely recognized and respected, or he has not. However, this interpretation, it seems, is superficial and erroneous. A thoughtful approach to this parable, with consideration for Orthodox teaching, provides us with an opportunity to uncover the parable’s deeper meaning, and the life of the newly reposed Anna Mitrofanovna Shohov serves as an example of its embodiment for our common edification.
Anna Mitrofanovna was born amongst extreme hardship: in the family of an Orthodox priest in Catholic interwar Poland, which was shortly thereafter occupied by the godless Soviet authorities, on the eve of an indescribably ruthless world war that took the lives of tens of millions of people. In her early years, little Anna was forced to endure a great many things: interrogations and persecution of her father by both Soviet and German agents, the death of relatives and loved ones, the loss of her homeland, migration, refugee camps, and fear of “repatriation” to the Red Moloch. Through all these trials, her inner compass consisted of Church and family, which under those circumstances were an integral whole, and they remained so for the rest of her life.
With her arrival at the Russian colony in Morocco at the end of the 1940s, Anna’s singing talent emerged. Music played an enormous role in the life of the Russian community. Evgeny Ivanovich Evetz brought the parish choir at the Dormition Church in Casablanca to a high level. The choir sang at church services and performed programs of Russian folk songs at concerts for the French public and on Radio Maroc. A youth choir was also established. Under these conditions, Anna Mitrofanovna’s musicality blossomed.
Upon arrival in the United States at the end of the 1950s, Anna Mitrofanovna possessed everything she needed to launch a music career: a beautiful voice, an outstanding musical ear, substantial experience, youth, and great potential. However, modesty and devotion to the Church and her family pointed her not toward the establishment of a career but to everyday labors on the kliros: to singing and reading at regular and special services for over fifty years. This limiting of oneself might be seen by a secular person as unfulfilled potential or a burying of one’s talents, but from a Christian point of view, this self-limitation was precisely a multiplication of talents. Her talents were directed toward service to God, people, and Christ’s Church. Anna Mitrofanovna instilled a love for God’s temple in her children and in successive generations. She participated in baptisms, weddings, funerals, and other sacraments, adorning them with articulate reading and prayerful singing. Her service to God and neighbor did not remain behind the church walls: on the great feasts, there was always a place at the Shohov table for the lonely and less fortunate, and Anna Mitrofanovna loved to visit and take care of elderly parishioners.
This type of self-limitation can also be seen as a sort of sacrificial offering. Anna Mitrofanovna sacrificed herself for the benefit of her parish, parents, husband, and children. For Anna Mitrofanovna, a conscious Christian raised by pious parents, this offering was undoubtedly wedded to participation in the Sacrifice made at Golgotha and which is made in the Eucharist during the Divine Liturgy, at which Anna Mitrofanovna sang and in which she participated for the whole of her earthly life. May the servant of God Anna enter into the joy of her Lord in His heavenly habitations!
Subdeacon Nicholas Ganson