June 25, 2024

True Orthodox Diocese of Western Europe

Russian True Orthodox Church (RTOC)

MARTYR GREAT PRINCE SERGIUS AND NUN-MARTYR GREAT PRINCESS ELIZABETH and those with them

48 min read
Royal Martyrs

By Dr. Vladimir Moss


Great Prince Sergius Alexandrovich was born in 1857, the son of Tsar
Alexander II and the brother of Tsar Alexander III. He was a very religious and highly cultured man who loved reading and music. Shy by nature, he made some of those around him think he was cold. But he was not. Without advertising the fact, he helped very many people. Ludmila Koehler writes:
“All available evidence shows that Grand Duke Sergius was an outstanding personality and that he was highly educated, strict and demanding, but also kind-hearted. Naturally, he was disliked by liberals and especially by the
revolutionaries for his firm convictions; he was therefore eliminated by them,
like so many other outstanding conservatives.”
The Great Prince’s first educators were Anna Tiutcheva, the daughter of
the great Russian poet, who taught him to love Holy Rus’ and its holy sites,
Naval Captain Demetrius Arseniev, the Over-Procurator of the Holy Synod
Constantine Petrovich Pobedonostsev, the economist Vladimir Petrovich
Bezobrazov, the historian Constantine Nikolayevich Bestuzhev-Ryumin and
the talented archaeologist Alexis Sergeyevich Uvarov. The Great Prince’s
favourite subject, as of his beloved nephew, Tsar Nicholas II, was history.
In 1882 Great Prince Sergius founded the Imperial Orthodox Palestine
Society, becoming its first president, and after his death his wife inherited
from him the chairmanship of the society.
Great Princess Elizabeth was born on October 20 / November 1, 1864, the
second child of Prince Ludwig (Louis) and Princess Alice of Hesse-Darmstadt,
being the granddaughter (on her mother’s side) of Queen Victoria of England.
She was named after one of her ancestors, Elizabeth of Turingen, whose life
exerted a great influence on her. She was brought up in conditions of
simplicity and modesty. The elder daughters themselves cleaned their rooms
and stoked up the fire. The parents of Elizabeth distributed a large part of
their income in charity, and every Saturday the children would go with
bouquets of flowers to the hospital. They were instilled with love for people,
especially suffering people, as the foundation of life. Later Elizabeth would
say: “They taught me everything at home”. Elizabeth’s mother died when she
was only fourteen, but her nobility of heart transformed this suffering into a
lifelong compassion for the bereaved.
From childhood Elizabeth loved nature and especially flowers. She had an
artistic gift, and throughout her life spent a lot of time drawing. She also
loved classical music.
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People of various characters and positions in life were very similar in their
estimates of Elizabeth: “Exceptional beauty, a remarkable mind, a subtle sense
of humour, angelic patience, nobility of heart”, was one such estimate.
Metropolitan Anastasy, second president of the Synod of the Russian Church
in Exile, wrote of her: “She was a rare combination of exalted Christian spirit,
moral nobility, enlightened mind, gentle heart and refined taste. She
possessed an extremely delicate and multi-faceted spiritual composition and
her outward appearance reflected the beauty and greatness of her spirit.”
In June, 1884, Elizabeth married Great Prince Sergius Alexandrovich,
having refused a whole series of other suitors, including the future German
Emperor Wilhelm. The couple had no children of their own, but later adopted
the two children of Great Prince Sergius’ brother Paul. According to one
source, Great Prince Sergius and his wife had both secretly wanted to remain
virgins. Learning that they shared this secret desire, they decided to marry
while living as brother and sister. Those around them never suspected this.
However, other authoritative sources do not confirm this story.
The couple were married in St. Petersburg, first according to the Orthodox
rite, and then according to the Protestant rite.
Although Elizabeth remained Protestant for the time being, she studied
Russian and tried hard to understand the culture and faith of her new
homeland.
The couple’s summers were spent in Great Prince Sergius’ estate of
Ilinskoye, near Moscow, and their winters in St. Petersburg. Later they built a
winter residence in Usovo, but Ilyinskoye remained the favourite residence of
the couple, and they were very popular with the peasants on the estate.
In 1887 the couple went to England to represent the emperor at Queen
Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. In 1888 they went to Jerusalem for the consecration
of the church of St. Mary Magdalene. There Elizabeth said: “How I would like
to be buried here” – and she was. The trip to the Holy Land made a deep
impression on her. She wrote to her family in Darmstadt: “You cannot
imagine how joyful it is to be able to see all these holy places… where our
Lord walked and lived.”
Soon after this, the grand duchess converted to the Orthodox Church.
Already in 1890 she wrote to the Tsarevich Nicholas that she had tried with
all her strength to convince her sister Alexandra (the future spouse of the
Tsarevich) that she would love the Orthodox faith, “to which I also am
striving to be united, the genuine and true faith, the only faith which has
remained undistorted down the centuries and has retained its original
purity.”
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On January 1, 1891 she wrote to her father: “You must have noticed how
profoundly I venerate the religion here since you were here last time, more
than one and a half years ago. I have been constantly thinking and reading,
and praying to God to show me the right path, and I have come to the
conclusion that it is only in this religion that I can find all the real and
powerful faith in God that a person must have in order to be a good Christian.
It would be a sin for me to stay as I am because I now belong formally and for
the outside world to one church, while inwardly I pray and believe as does
my husband. You cannot imagine how kind he has been: he never tried to
force me in any way, presenting all this to my conscience alone. He knows
what a serious step this is, and that one has to be completely convinced before
deciding on it. I would have done it even earlier, only I was tormented by the
thought that I would causing you pain, and that many of those dear to me
would not understand me. But don’t you understand, my dear Papa? You
know me so well. You must see that I have decided on this step only out of
profound faith, and that I feel that I must stand before God with a pure and
believing heart. How simple it would be to remain as I am now, but then how
hypocritical, how false it would be, and how I would be lying to everyone,
pretending in all external rites that I am a Protestant when my soul belongs
completely to the religion here. I have thought and thought deeply about all
this, having been in this country already for more than six years and knowing
religion has been ‘found’. I so strongly want to receive the Holy Mysteries at
Pascha with my husband… Earthly happiness I have always had as a child in
my homeland, as a wife – in my new homeland, but when I saw how deeply
religious Serge was, I felt so far behind, and the better I got to know his
Church, the more I felt that it brought me closer to God – it is difficult to
describe such a thing… This may seem sudden, but I have thought about it
already for such a long time, and now, finally, I cannot put it off. My
conscience does not allow me to. I earnestly beseech you, when you have
received these lines, forgive your daughter if she has caused you pain. But is
not faith in God and the confession of faith one of the main consolations of
this world? Perhaps you can telegraph me just one line, when you receive this
letter. May the Lord bless you. This will be such a consolation for me, because
I know that there will be many unpleasant moments, since nobody will
understand this step. I ask only for a small affectionate letter.”
Her father did not send her the telegram she wanted with the blessing, but
he wrote a letter in which he said that her decision caused him pain and
suffering and that he could not give his blessing. Then Elizabeth Fyodorovna
showed courage and spiritual firmness and, in spite of her moral sufferings,
she unhesitatingly decided to become Orthodox. In general, firmness was one
of the main qualities of her character: on taking a decision, she went straight
for the goal no matter what the obstacles. “My conscience,” she wrote to her
father, “does not allow me to continue in this spirit – it would be a sin; when I
remained in my old faith I was lying all the time… It would be impossible for
me to continue living as I lived before
“Dear one,” she wrote to her brother, “you call me unserious, and you write that the
external splendour of the church has charmed me. You are mistaken. Nothing external has
attracted me, and not the services, but the foundation of the faith. The external signs only
remind us of that which is inner… I am converting out of a pure conviction; I feel that this is
the loftiest religion and that I will do this with faith, with profound conviction and with the
assurance that God’s blessing is on it.”
About her husband she wrote to her brother: “He was a real angel of kindness. How often,
by touching my heart, he could have brought me to a change of religion, so as to make
himself happy; and never, never did he complain. Take his side with your close ones and tell
them that I adore him, and also my new country and that in this way I learned to love their
religion also.” Elizabeth said that it was her husband who had educated her (presumably, in
the Orthodox faith).
Her German relatives were not sympathetic to her conversion, unlike her
English relatives, in particular her grandmother, Queen Victoria, who wrote
her an affectionate, encouraging letter, which brought her great joy. As she
wrote to the queen: “The only thing which made me wait so long was that I
knew that so many would be pained and not understand me. But God gave
me courage and I hope they will forgive me the pain I caused them, as I do so
having my whole soul in this Church here, and I felt I was lying to all and to
my old religion in continuing to be a Protestant. It is a matter of conscience
whose profound importance only the person concerned can really feel.”
When she told her husband of her decision, according to a former courtier,
“tears involuntarily spurted from his eyes”. He had not spoken a word to her
about his desire that she become Orthodox. As she wrote on April 18, 1909:
“He with his large heart never forced his religion upon me and found
strength to bear up in this great grief of not seeing me in his faith, thanks to
Fr. John, who told him: ‘Leave her alone, don’t speak about her faith, she will
come to it of herself’, and thank God it was so. Well, Serge, who knew his
faith and lived in it as perfectly as a true Orthodox Christian can, brought me
up and thank God warned me against this spirit of delusion you talk of.”
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Tsar Alexander and his wife, and all the Orthodox relatives of the
Romanov house, were overjoyed at Ella’s decision. Her husband was in
raptures. As he wrote to Tsarevich Nicholas: “I am infinitely happy. I don’t
know by what right I deserve such grace. I am completely unworthy.”
On March 8/20 she again wrote to her father: “Please, please forgive me
for causing you so much suffering, but I feel so infinitely happy in my new
faith. Earthly happiness I have always had as a child in my homeland, as a
wife – in my new homeland, but when I saw how deeply religious Serge was,
I felt so far behind, and the better I got to know his Church, the more I felt
that it brought me closer to God – it is difficult to describe such a thing…
However, in this case everything is in my hands and in God’s, and I am
convinced that He will bless this step; my hope depends on His strength, and
I constantly pray that I will always be a good child and faithful wife and
always remain a good Christian, and that in my earthly happiness I will
always think of the future and my salvation and always be prepared for it
(death)… Please show Alix… this letter.”
She was received into the Orthodox Church by Holy Chrismation on
Lazarus Saturday, April 13/25, 1891. She kept her former name, but now in
honour of Righteous Elizabeth, the mother of St. John the Baptist. Now she
could say to her husband, in the words of the Moabitess Ruth: “Your people
has become my people, and your God – my God” (Ruth 1.16).
In the same year Grand Prince Sergius was appointed governor-general of
Moscow. As she wrote to her father: “After seven years – long, happy years –
of our married life, which we have spent with our dear relatives and friends
here in Petersburg, now to have to begin a completely new way of life, and to
more or less have to give up our cosy home life in the city, since we have to
do so much for the people there, and actually we are playing the part of a
ruling prince – it will be very difficult for us…”
And indeed it was difficult for both of them. Sergius loved his former post
as colonel-in-chief of the Preobrazhensky regiment, and now had to govern
the province of Moscow at a time of increasing revolutionary activity when
society was becoming increasingly anti-monarchist. Elizabeth had to smile to
guests, dance and talk, independently of her mood or health. Often she was
exhausted and had headaches. She was very popular, but also there were
many slanders. Once she told her brother Ernest that she thought that every
human being had to have an ideal in life. When he asked her what her ideal
was, she replied: “To be a fully perfect woman, and this is not easy, for one
must learn to forgive everything…”
Her sufferings, both physical and spiritual, were increased by the death of
her father, to whom she was very attached… A trip down the Volga, and
another to Darmstadt and England, consoled her, and she involved herself
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more in charities for the poor in addition to the many public engagements
that she could not avoid. But her sadness lingered on…
According to the witness of Metropolitan Anastasy, the Great Prince did
much to raise the level of Muscovite life. “His meek, idealistic personality was
filled with instruction and a favourable influence on all Russians. The woes,
sorrows and misfortunes of the people always found a ready response in his
heart and speedy help.” Indeed, the charitable work of the couple was
amazing in its variety and extent.
Ella worked hard to bring abut the union of her sister Alix (Alexandra) to
Tsarevich Nicholas. As she wrote to Queen Victoria, “the world is so spiteful,
and not knowing how long and deep this affection on both sides has been, the
spiteful tongues will call it ambition”. However, the marriage finally took
place in 1894, and the two sisters were united in Russia in the Orthodox faith.
Grand Prince Sergius’ brother Paul married a divorcée and a commoner,
and was forced to leave Russia. And so his children Marie and Dmitri came
under the tutorship of Great Prince and Princess. Elizabeth had already
shown herself a wonderful mother to the poor and sick, and now became in
effect the mother of two more children.
In 1903 Sergius and Elizabeth went to the uncovering of the relics of St.
Seraphim in Sarov. From there she wrote: “What infirmities and what
illnesses we saw, but also what faith! It seemed as if we were living in the
time of the earthly life of the Saviour. And how they prayed, how they wept –
these poor mothers with their sick children. And, glory to God, many of them
were healed. The Lord counted us worthy to see how a mute girl began to
speak. But how her mother prayed for her!”
During the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05, the Great Princess became the
leader of a patriotic movement that swept the whole of society: she organized
sewing workshops for the needs of the army, several in the Kremlin itself,
where women of all classes worked; she equipped several hospital trains
excellently at her own expense, including camp churches equipped with
everything necessary for the Divine services; she daily visited hospitals; and
she worried over the widows and orphans of those killed in the war.
But then came the tragedy that changed her life. Great Prince Sergius had
just resigned from the office of governor general of Moscow because he
disagreed with the government on policy towards the terrorists, thinking that
they should be treated more severely. His letters show his complete devotion
to the monarchy and to Tsar Nicholas in particular. “You know,” he wrote to
him in 1896, “how I love You; my whole life belongs to You and the service
and works of Your Father. Believe me: Your glory is dearer to me than
anything on earth.” But he felt that the Tsar was being too soft, and therefore
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retired into private life. For some time before his death he had been receiving
death threats, and when he went out used to try to ensure that he was as far
as possible alone. On February 6/18, 1905 he was killed by a bomb that
exploded almost at the doorstep of the palace that he and his wife inhabited
in the Kremlin. At that moment the Great Princess was leaving for her
workshops. She was alarmed by the sound of an exploding bomb nearby.
Hurrying toward the place (near the Chudov monastery in the Kremlin), she
saw a soldier stretching his military overcoat over the maimed body of her
husband. The soldier tried to hide the horrible sight from the eyes of the
unfortunate wife. But the Great Princess dropped to her knees, on the street,
and put her arms out trying to embrace the torn remains of her husband. The
bomb had shattered his body to such an extent that his fingers were found,
still in their gloves, on the roof of the neighbouring building.
After the first pannikhida in the Chudov monastery, Elizabeth returned to
the palace, put on black mourning clothes and began to write telegrams. From
time to time she asked about the condition of the wounded coachman of the
Great Prince. They told her that his condition was hopeless, and that he could
die soon. So as not to upset the dying man, Elizabeth took off her mourning
clothes, put on the blue dress she had been wearing before and went to the
hospital. There, leaning over the bed of the dying man, she caught his
question about Sergius Alexandrovich and, so as to reassure him, she smiled
and said: “He has sent me to you.” Calmed by her words, and thinking that
the Great Prince was alive, the devoted coachman Andrew died that night…
The next day St. Elizabeth received Communion in the church in which her
husband’s coffin was standing. On the third day after his death she felt that
the soul of the deceased was asking her to do something. She understood that
Sergius Alexandrovich wanted to send his forgiveness to his assassin,
Kaliayev, through her. She went to the prison where he was detained.
“Who are you?” he asked upon meeting her.
“I am his widow,” she replied, “Why did you kill him?”
“I did not want to kill you,” he said. “I saw him several times before when I
had the bomb with me, but you were with him and I could not bring myself to
touch him.”
“And didn’t you understand that by killing him you were killing me?”…
Then she said that she was bringing him forgiveness from Sergius
Alexandrovich and asked him to repent. The Gospel was in her hands and she
begged the criminal to read it. He refused, but she left it in his cell together
with a little icon. Leaving the prison, the Great Princess said:
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“My attempt was unsuccessful, but, who knows, perhaps at the last minute
he will understand his sin and repent.”
She asked the tsar for clemency for him. And he was ready to bestow it
provided the bomber did not refuse it himself. (According to another source,
her request was refused.) On the memorial cross erected upon the site of her
husband’s death, the grand-duchess inscribed the Gospel words:
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do…”
Great Prince Sergius was buried in the Chudov monastery in the Kremlin;
a chapel dedicated to St. Sergius, his patron saint, was built there.
Igumen Seraphim says of the Great Princess’ conduct after the murder:
“Like a spiritual heroine she did not break down in consequence of her great
sorrow, as happens to many women. She grieved most of all about the
sudden death of her husband, afraid for his fate in the world to come.” And
yet she herself said of him that he was “a holy person, an angel of goodness,
who never did any harm to anyone”. And she was comforted by spiritual
elders, who told her that the blood of her husband’s martyrdom would surely
efface all the errors and sins of his past.
From that time on, she remained in mourning clothes, refused the food she
was accustomed to, and vegetables and bread became her daily nourishment,
even before she took her monastic vows. She dissolved her court, withdrew
from the world and devoted herself entirely to the service of God and her
neighbour. She opened two hospitals in which she looked after the sick. She
divided her property into three parts, distributing it to the state, to the heirs of
her husband and (the largest part) to charity. With what remained she then
acquired a small estate with four little houses and a garden, and then another
neighbouring plot, on the Ordynka in Moscow.
Here, with the blessing of the elders of the Zosima hermitage, to whom she
placed herself in complete obedience, she founded a small monastic
community, calling it the convent of Saints Martha and Mary, in order to
unite in it the virtues of the two sisters of Lazarus – prayer and good works. It
contained a hospital with a house church, an out-patients’ department, a
chemist’s, a refuge for young girls, a library, and a hostel for the sisters. In
1911 the main Protection church was built in the traditional Novgorod-Pskov
style according to a plan by A.V. Shusev and with interior paintings by
Nesterov. Protopriest Metrophanes Serebryansky, an exceptional pastor, was
appointed the spiritual father of the community.
At first Elizabeth wanted to regenerate the institution of the deaconess in
the convent that she founded. In early Christianity deaconesses had been
widows or elderly virgins. Their main duties were to look after women

entering the Church, to teach them the faith, to help them during the
sacrament of Holy Baptism and to look after the sick and needy. During the
persecutions against Christianity the deaconesses had served the martyrs in
prison. However, the Russian Synod did not approve of her idea of
regenerating the institution, and she had to put aside this thought.
In April 1909 the Great Princess wrote: “My darling Serge rests in God
with so many he loved who have gone to join him and God has given me on
this earth a beautiful work to fulfil. Only He knows whether I will do it well
or badly, but I will try my best and put my hand in His and go with no fear
whatever the crosses and criticism this world may have in store – little by
little my life has turned onto this way. It is not a fantasy of the moment and
no disappointment ever can come – I can be disappointed in myself but then I
also have no illusion and don’t imagine I am different to others. I want to
work for God in God for suffering mankind, and in my old age when my
body can’t work anymore I hope God will let me then rest and pray for the
work I began and then I will leave the busy life and prepare for that great
home – but I have health and energy and there is so, so much misery and
Christ’s steps guide us amongst the suffering, in whom we help Him…”
The convent began its existence on February 10, 1909. At first it had only
six sisters, but within a year the number had risen to thirty and continued to
rise. On April 9 seventeen sisters headed by Elizabeth were tonsured into
monasticism (probably the little schema). She put off her black mourning
clothes, put on the white habit of a sister of mercy, and took the name Alexia
after St. Alexis of Moscow, whose relics rested in the Chudov monastery.
According to one source, she was tonsured by the future Hieromartyr,
Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev. According to another source, however, Bishop
Tryphon, in the world Prince Turkestanov, gave her her monastic vestments
with the prophetic words: “These vestments will hide you from the world,
and the world will be hidden from you, but at the same time they will witness
to your charitable activity, which will shine before the Lord to His glory.”
Just before her tonsure, the Great Princess wrote: “My taking of vows is
even more serious than if a young girl marries. I am espousing Christ and His
cause, I am giving all I can to Him and our neighbours, I am going deeper
into our Orthodox Church and becoming a missionary of Christian faith and
charity work and – oh dear! – I am so unworthy of it all, and I do so want
blessings and prayers…” And on the morning of her tonsure she said to the
sisters: “I am leaving the glittering world where I had a glittering position.
But together with all of you I am ascending to a greater world – the world of
the poor and the suffering. I have lain this upon myself, not as a cross, but as
certain way full of light, which the Lord showed me after the death of Serge
and which for many, many years before this began in my soul…”


The community’s twenty-two-bed hospital in time acquired a high
reputation. The best specialists in the city worked there for nothing. Often the
most seriously ill people from other clinics were brought there. Every week 34
doctors worked, also for nothing, in the out-patients’ department. In the
chemist’s they took no money from the poor for medicines, and distributed
them to others at a considerable discount. They gave the orphans a basic
foundation in medicine as well as a general education. They served over 300
meals to the poor daily. On Sundays the community organized a school for
illiterate factory women.
Mother Elizabeth very carefully distributed tasks among the sisters – to
each according to her strength. She watched over their health and tried to see
that they had enough rest. She looked after the incurably ill and helped at
operations, taking all the most burdensome tasks upon herself.
At the same time, her personal life was very ascetic. She slept for no more
than three hours in every twenty-four on a wooden bed without a mattress,
and after praying for a long time at night, she would go round the hospital
wards. For food she had a few vegetables and some milk, and kept all the
fasts strictly.
However, she considered the most important thing to be not the hospital,
but visiting and helping the poor in their homes. The community received up
to 12,000 requests for help every year. They had to arrange treatment for
some, look for work for others, send still others abroad to study. How much
money, food, clothing and medicine was distributed! But “Great Matushka”,
as she was called, considered their main work to be bringing the love of
Christ to the suffering.
She used to visit the notorious Khitrovka market, believing, as did all the
sisters of the community, that everyone is made in the image of God even if
that image is partly distorted by the passions of life. She tried to touch the
depths of their hearts, to arouse the beginnings of repentance in people sunk
in corruption. Sometimes she succeeded, and then the gradual recovery of a
spiritually sick person would begin. Mother Elizabeth rescued orphans from
these dens of iniquity, and tried to persuade their parents to hand them over
to her for education. She set up the boys in a hostel, and one such group even
formed an artel of messenger-boys. The girls were educated in the refuge and
in closed boarding-schools.
The sisters did not work for personal glory, and they did not count how
many people they helped. They had to endure insults and mockery,
sometimes they were deceived. But they did not despair in their service. The
pledge of their constancy and conscientiousness was their faith in the words
of Christ: “And he who gives even one of these My little ones to drink a cup of
cold water… will not lose his reward.”
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One of the nuns of the convent, Mother Lyubov’, Euphrosyne in the world,
came to the monastery in the following remarkable way. At the age of sixteen
she fell into a lethargic sleep, during which her soul was met by St.
Onuphrius the Great. He took her to three saints. Euphrosyne recognized one
of them to be St. Sergius of Radonezh, but she did not know the other two.
Then St. Onuphrius told Euphrosyne that she was needed in the Martha-Mary
convent. Waking from her sleep, Euphrosyne began to ask where such a
convent might be in Russia. One of her acquaintances turned out to be a
novice in the convent and told Euphrosyne about it and its abbess.
Euphrosyne wrote to the abbess asking whether she could be received into
the convent, and received an affirmative reply. When she arrived at the
monastery she went into the cell of the abbess and recognized in her the
female saint whom she had seen standing next to St. Sergius. Then, on
receiving the blessing of the spiritual father of the convent, Fr. Metrophanes,
she recognized in him the second of the saints. Exactly six years after this St.
Elizabeth received the crown of martyrdom on the day of the uncovering of
the relics of St. Sergius of Radonezh, while Fr. Metrophanes later received the
monastic tonsure with the name of Sergius in honour of St. Sergius… Once,
when she was not yet trained in the rules of the monastic life, Euphrosyne
went into the cell of the abbess without asking a blessing. She saw St.
Elizabeth in a hairshirt and chains. “My dear,” said the saint, “when you
enter, you must knock.”
Among her very varied charitable works, St. Elizabeth paid the fares of
pilgrims sailing from Odessa to Jaffa, and built a large hospital in Jerusalem.
She also built an Orthodox church in Bari in Italy where the relics of St.
Nicholas the Wonderworker rested.
In spite of her many and arduous duties, she found time to go on
pilgrimage to the greatest shrines of Russia, like Sarov, Pskov, Kiev, Optina
Hermitage, Zosima Hermitage, Solovki, Pochayev.
Among the holy elders she knew, writes Ludmila Koehler, “the grand
duchess singled out Schema-Archimandrite Gabriel. The grand duchess was
in the habit of seeing him on her annual pilgrimage to the Seven Lakes
Hermitage (near Kazan). There she attended all the monastery services and
shared the simple food with the brotherhood. Archbishop Tikhon (of San
Francisco) relates that she and her faithful cell attendant Barbara usually were
present at the four o’clock tea in the Abbot’s quarters.
“When Schema-Archimandrite Gabriel died later stayed at the Eleazorov
Hermitage (near Pskov) and his health began to fail, it was decided to add a
little church to his small dwelling. The grand duchess not only contributed
money but donated icons and even designed the iconostasis for the church.
Schema-Archimandrite Gabriel decided to go to Moscow in order to thank her
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personally; on this occasion, he invited her to attend the blessing and
dedication of the church, and she did. He, in his turn, visited the Martha and
Mary Sisterhood at the invitation of the grand duchess for the spiritual
enlightenment of the sisters.
“When Schema-Archimandrite Gabriel died (in Kazan, in 1915), the grand
duchess came for the funeral service and took part (with the sisters of the
Mother of God Convent in Kazan) in the funeral repast. She also accompanied
the coffin up to the Monastery of our Saviour on its way to the Seven Lakes
Hermitage.
“News of the impending war reached the grand duchess while she was in
the province of Perm. She proceeded to Verkhoturye to venerate the relics of
St. Simeon; here she took Holy Communion. Verkhoturye is located only a
short distance from Alapayevsk, which was destined to be the scene of her
martyrdom.
“The Grand Duchess became something of a legend in her time. It is
enough to quote a few of the numerous stories depicting her selfless services
to the needy. A poor woman was admitted to the sisterhood hospital, the wife
of a worker who was an unbeliever. As a consequence of malicious
propaganda about the Royal House, he disliked all its members. During the
many hours the man spent at the bedside of his stricken spouse, he noticed
one particular sister who was like a compassionate, loving mother to the sick,
and to his wife in particular. She not only rendered all the usual services, but
also encouraged the patient by kind, heartening words. After the dying
woman had received the Final Communion, this sister spent the night with
her trying to alleviate her suffering and dying agony. After the woman’s
death this same sister helped others prepare the body for the funeral. When
the husband found out that it was the grand duchess, he admitted his error
and turned to God.
“Almedingen tells another fascinating story about a radical student, whose
only sister had joined the Martha and Mary Sisterhood. When this
‘republican’ went to pay a call at Great Ordynka, she ‘met the grand duchess,
and to be in the same room with her was peace. I understood nothing about
her vocation. I merely knew that she was good, creative and friendly, and I
envied her the faith I did not possess.’
“She was particularly impressed when her sister told her that ‘once when
visiting a particularly dirty part of Khitrovka, the grand duchess sneezed, and
the woman in the room at once offered her a very dirty rag, and she accepted
it as though it were of finest, cleanest linen.’
“Another story concerns a woman ‘who had overturned a lighted oil
stove… Her clothes had caught fire and her body was a mass of burns.
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Gangrene had set in and the doctors despaired of saving her. With gentle but
obstinate courage, the grand duchess nursed her back to life. It took two
hours each day to dress her wounds, and the stench was such that several of
the nurses fainted. The patient recovered within a few weeks and this was
considered a miracle at the time.'”
By the middle of 1914 there were already ninety-seven sisters in the
community, and there was talk of building daughter-communities outside the
city.
Then the war began, and part of the sisterhood was sent to work in the
field hospitals. Others served in a hospital in Moscow. Serious difficulties
arose with the provision of food and clothing, but the community did not
suspend its charitable work.
The Dowager Empress, the Empress and Mother Elizabeth among
themselves the work of nursing the wounded according to the front lines: the
German front, the Austrian front, and the Turkish front. The latter, although
smaller in size of operations, was just as intense in fighting. They were able to
draw all kinds of people into their organization, men of high and low ranks,
officials, clerks, government workers and a whole hierarchy of women. The
Red Cross on a uniform was seen on everyone who could spare any time from
housework. There was no sacrifice too great – money was given freely and
personal life was not important in time of war.
Together with her younger sister, the Empress Alexandra, Mother
Elizabeth was slandered on account of her German blood. But she harboured
no bitterness against her enemies. Once she tried to warn her sister against
Rasputin, but was rebuffed.
Metropolitan Anastasy wrote: “She suffered deeply for the royal family…
when the thorns of grievous slander were woven around them, especially
during the war. In order not to give impetus to new evil gossip, the grand
duchess tried to avoid conversations on the subject. If it so happened that
because of idle people’s tasteless curiosity the subject was broached in her
presence, she immediately killed it by her expressive silence. Only once after
returning from Tsarskoye Selo, she forgot herself and remarked, ‘That terrible
man (i.e. Rasputin) wants to separate me from them, but, thank God, he will
not succeed.’ The occasion referred to is probably the one mentioned by
several writers when the grand duchess went to warn her sister.”
Rasputin was killed on December 29, 1916 by Prince Felix Yusupov. He
owed much to the grand-duchess’ warmth and good counsel, and considered
her his second mother. She asked him to accompany her to the glorification of
St. Joasaph of Belgorod, which made a great impression on him. And he was
always fleeing to her when he was in distress.
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“I was immeasurably grateful to the great princess,” he wrote, “that she
understood my despair and was able to direct me to a new life. However, I
was tormented by the fact that she did not know everything about me and
considered me to be better than I was.
“Once, when speaking to her face to face, I told her about my adventures,
which, as it seemed to me, were unknown to her.
“’Calm down,’ she smiled, ‘I know much more about you than you think. It
was for that reason that I called you. You are capable of much evil, and of
much good if you find the right path. And great sin is not greater than sincere
repentance. Remember that the reason sins more than the soul. But the soul
can remain pure even in a sinful body. Your soul is important to me. And I
want to open it to you yourself. Destiny has given you everything that a man
could desire. But from him to whom much is given, much is required. Think
that you are responsible. You are obliged to be an example. You should be
respected. Trials have shown you that life is not a game. Think how much
good you could do! And how much evil you could cause! I have prayed much
for you. I hope that the Lord has hearkened to my prayer and will help you.’
“How much hope and strength of soul sounded in her words!”
Immediately after the February revolution Prince Felix flew to Moscow to
inform her about recent events. “She embraced me,” he writes in his Memoirs,
and blessed me with tears in her eyes.
“’Poor Russia!’ she cried. ‘What terrible trials await her! And we are all
powerless to resist the will of the Lord. It remains to us only to pray and hope
on His mercy.’”
“She listened very attentively to my account of the tragic night [of
Rasputin’s killing].
“’You could not have acted otherwise,’ she said when I fell silent. ‘Your act
was the last attempt to save the homeland and the dynasty. And it is not your
fault that events did not measure up to your expectations. The guilt lies on
those who did not understand their own duty. The killing of Rasputin is not a
crime. You killed a demon. But it was even to your credit: in your place
anyone should acted in the same way.’
“Then Great Princess Elizabeth Fyodorovna informed me that several days
after the death of Rasputin the abbesses of monasteries came to her to tell her
about what had happened with them on the night of the 30th. During the allnight vigil priests had been seized by an attack of madness, had blasphemed
and shouted out in a voice that was not their own. Nuns had run down the
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corridors crying like hysterics and tearing their dresses with indecent
movements of the body.
“’The Russian people is not responsible for everything that is happening,’
continued the great princess. ‘Poor Nicky, poor Alex! What torments are
prepared for them! May the will of the Lord be done. No power of evil can
overcome Holy Rus’ and the Orthodox Church. Good will triumph without
fail. And those who keep faith in it in themselves will finally see the light. The
Lord punishes and He has mercy.’”
“Time flies so unnoticeably that you don’t even distinguish days or years,
everything merges together into one second of prayer and mercy… Today is
twenty-five years since I was united to our beloved Church… Everything is
merged together in the profoundest gratitude to God, to our Church and to
those noble examples that I have been able to see in truly Orthodox people.
And I feel myself to be so insignificant and unworthy of the limitless love of
God and of that love which has surrounded me in Russia – even the minutes
of sorrow were sanctified by such consolation from above, and while the
petty misunderstandings that are natural for people were smoothed away
with such love that I can say only one thing: ‘Glory to God for all things, for
all things.’”
The Lord bestowed upon Mother Elizabeth the gift of spiritual discernment
and prophecy. Fr. Metrophanes related that not long before the revolution he
had a very vivid and clearly prophetic dream, but he did not know how to
interpret it. It was composed of a sequence of four pictures, in colour. The first
revealed a beautiful church. Suddenly, it became surrounded by tongues of
fire, and the whole church went up in flames – a terrifying spectacle. The
second showed a portrait of the Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna in a black
frame; the corners of the frame sprouted forth shoots bearing lily buds that
blossomed, becoming so large as to conceal the portrait. The third showed the
Archangel Michael holding a flaming sword. In the fourth, St. Seraphim of
Sarov stood on his knees on a rock, his hands upraised in prayer.
Perplexed by this dream, Fr. Metrophanes described it to the Abbess one
morning before the Liturgy. St. Elizabeth said she understood the dream. The
first picture signified that there would soon be a revolution in Russia, that a
persecution would be raised against the Church, and for our sins, our
unbelief, the country would be brought to the brink of destruction. The
second picture signified that her sister and the entire Royal Family would
receive a martyr’s death. The third picture signified that subsequently Russia
would be overtaken by frightful tribulations. The fourth signified that by the
prayers of St. Seraphim and other saints and righteous ones of the Russian
land, and by the intercession of the Mother of God, the country and its people
would obtain mercy.
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The revolution threw the country into chaos. Crowds of freed prisoners
roamed round Moscow. Mother Elizabeth forbade the sisters to leave the
community. In the spring of 1917 she wrote to her sister Victoria: “God’s ways
are a mystery and perhaps it is a great blessing we can’t know all that the
future has in store for us. All our country is being snipped into little bits. All
that was gained in centuries is being demolished, and by our own people,
those I love from all my heart. Truly, they are morally ill and blinded not to
see where we are going. And one’s heart aches, but I have no bitterness. Can
you criticize or condemn a man in delirium, a lunatic? You can only pity and
long for good guardians to be found, who can keep him from smashing all
and murdering whomever he can get at.”
The German ambassador Mirbach twice tried to see her and pass on an
invitation to go to Germany, but she refused to receive the representative of
an enemy country and said that she categorically refused to leave Russia: “I
have done no harm to anyone. May the will of the Lord be done.”
In this year, Mother Elizabeth wrote to her friend, Countess Alexandra
Olsufiev: “God in His great mercy has again helped us to go through these
days of internal strife, and today I had the infinite consolation of praying in…
and attended the divine ceremony of blessing by our Patriarch [Tikhon]. The
sacred Kremlin, with visible marks of these sad days, was dearer to me than
ever before, and I realized to what extent the Orthodox religion is God’s True
Faith. I felt such pity for Russia and her children who, at this moment, know
not what they do. Isn’t it a sick child that one loves a hundredfold more in the
time of his illness rather than when he’s gay and healthy? One would like to
bear his suffering, to teach him patience, to help him. This is what I feel every
day. Holy Russia cannot perish. But, alas, Great Russia is no more; but in the
Bible God shows how He had pardoned His repenting people and once more
granted them blessed power. Let us hope that the prayers, which intensify
every day, and the repentance, which increases, will bring the Holy Virgin to
intercede for us before her Divine Son, and that God will pardon us.”
In April, 1918 she wrote to the same correspondent: “If we look deep into
the life of every human, we discover that it is full of miracles. You will say, ‘Of
terror and death, as well.’ Yes, that also. But we do not clearly see why the
blood of these victims must flow. There, in the heavens, they understand
everything and, no doubt, have found calm and the True Homeland – a
Heavenly Homeland. We on this earth must look to that Heavenly Homeland
with understanding and say with resignation, ‘Thy will be done.’ Great Russia
is completely destroyed, but Holy Russia and the Orthodox Church, which
‘the gates of hell cannot overcome’, exists and exists more than ever. And
those who believe and who do not doubt for one moment will see ‘the inner
sun’ which enlightens the darkness during the thundering storm… I am only
convinced that the Lord Who punishes is also the same Lord Who loves. I
have read the Gospel a great deal, and, we wish to recognize that great
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sacrifice of God the Father when He sent His son to die and be resurrected for
us, we must feel the presence of the Holy Spirit, who illumines our path. And
then joy will become eternal, even if our poor human hearts and our little
earthly minds will experience moments that seem very terrible… We work,
we pray, we hope, and each day we feel the mercy of God. Each day we
experience a constant miracle. And others begin to feel this and come to our
church in order to relax in soul.”
“Even though all the powers of hell may be set loose, Holy Russia and the
Orthodox Church will remain unconquered. Some day, in this ghastly
struggle, Virtue will triumph over Evil. Those who keep their faith will see
the Powers of Light vanquish the powers of darkness. God punishes and
pardons.”
“The spring of 1917,” writes Ludmilla Koehler, “marks the beginning of her
slow but steady ascent to martyrdom: searches, accusations, disruptions of the
welfare system so painstakingly established by her, deportation, and finally a
martyr’s death. God led her to her great destiny by measured steps so as to
strengthen her spirit. By the end of her ordeal she was as strong as tempered
steel, radiating the bright light of her sainthood. Grand Duchess Elizabeth’s
attitude toward the turmoil besetting Russia is seen in a letter she sent to an
old friend about this time. In it she predicts the complete disintegration of
Russia and accepts it with the words, ‘Thy will be done.’ She is, however,
simultaneously convinced that the gates of Hell will not prevail over the
Church, which has been promised an eternal existence. Those who believe in
this will be able, according to her, ‘to discern the concealed beam of light
shining through the darkness at the very height of the storm.’ To be sure, she
anticipated severe trials, but she looked on the approaching storm as having
both ‘horrifying as well as spiritualizing elements’.
“The harassment and persecution started gradually, first with a visit by a
revolutionary gang under the leadership of a student who was visibly
impressed by what he saw – the simple life-style of the sisters, including their
Mother Superior, their activities, the relief they were able to provide to the
needy. They parted in a friendly fashion, but this was just the beginning. It is
obvious that the grand duchess was aware of the road ahead of her. She
dampened the joyful reaction of the sisterhood to this ‘peaceful’ intrusion with
the prophetic remark, ‘Obviously we are still not worthy of a martyr’s crown.’
But she did not have long to wait for it.
“For a while the convent was allowed to go about its activities
unhampered. The authorities largely ignored it, save for supplying it
occasionally with critically needed supplies. One may speculate that at this
point the authorities were afraid to attack the grand duchess and the
sisterhood because of the popularity they enjoyed among the poorer
inhabitants of Moscow.”
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At about this time, Igumen Seraphim of the Seraphim-Alexeyev monastery
in Perm tried to convince the Great Princess to go with him to Alapayevsk.
“There,” he told her, “I know good people in Old Believers’ sketes and
they can protect Your Highness.”
She refused to hide from fear of repression, but added:
“If I am killed, I ask you to bury me in a Christian manner.”
It was not long before Fr. Seraphim was able to retrieve her body and fulfil
his promise to the Great Princess…
Another trial came at Pascha, 1918, when the chekist secret police arrested
some of the sick and declared that they were transferring the orphans to a
children’s home. Then, on the third day of Pascha, continues Ludmilla
Koehler, “on the feast day of the Appearance of the Iberian icon of the Most
Holy Theotokos (March 31), Patriarch Tikhon was celebrating the Liturgy in
the Iberian church across the street from the Martha and Mary Convent. After
the service, the Patriarch visited the sisterhood and served a moleben, finding
heartening words for the abbess and the sisters. He promised his assistance
and protection should they be needed. The sisters felt greatly relieved and
encouraged by this gesture but the grand duchess may have had
premonitions of an impending separation from her community.
And indeed, immediately following the Patriarch’s departure, she was to
be cruelly torn from her sisters. Red guards intruded into the convent and
ordered her to go to the station with them. The parting was agonizing. Both
the abbess and her closest collaborators realized that this separation was
forever. The scene must have been touching. The sisters surrounded their
beloved Mother Superior and cried. There followed and painful leavetaking
and prayers. Only the departing grand duchess remained calm. She blessed
all the sisters with the sign of the Cross. She could not bid farewell to each of
them individually, pressed for time by her captors as she was. She was able to
say only a few words, making her orders known. The emotional scene only
impelled the lawless authorities to act in a still ruder fashion. Using force,
they literally tore the grand duchess from the flock of sisters and dragged the
innocent victim away. Patriarch Tikhon made an attempt to intercede on
behalf of the Great Princess, but to no avail.
They arrested Mother Elizabeth and two other sisters – Barbara
Yakovlevna and Catherine Ianysheva. Before sitting in the car, the abbess
signed all the sisters with the sign of the Cross. One of them recalled: “And
they took her away. The sisters ran after her as far as they could. One fell on
the road. When I came to the liturgy, I heard the deacon reading the litany,
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but he couldn’t, he was crying… And they took her away to Yekaterinburg,
with someone escorting her, and Barbara was with her. They were
inseparable… Then she sent a letter to us, to batyushka and each sister. 105
little notes, and every one in accordance with her character. To one a
quotation from the Gospel, to another from the Bible, to another from herself.
She knew all the sisters, all her children…”
During the rail journey she wrote to the sisters: “Lord, give the blessing.
May the Resurrection of Christ console and strengthen you all… May St.
Sergius and the holy hierarch Demetrius and St. Euphrosyne of Polotsk
protect you all, my dear ones… I cannot forget yesterday, all your dear faces.
O Lord, what suffering is in them, how their hearts are suffering! Every
minute you become dearer to me. How can I leave you, my children, how can
I console you and strengthen you? Remember, my dear ones, what I said to
you. Always be not only my children, but obedient pupils. Come closer to
each other and be as one soul, all for God, and say, with John Chrysostom:
‘Glory to God for everything!’ You older sister, unite your sister. Ask
Patriarch Tikhon to take the ‘chicks’ under his wing. Make a place for him in
my middle room. Make my cell a place for confession, and the big one for
receptions… For God’s sake, do not become despondent. The Mother of God
knows why Her Heavenly Son sent us this trial on the day of Her feast… only
don’t become despondent and don’t weaken in your radiant intentions, and
the Lord, Who has temporarily separated us, will strengthen you spiritually.
Pray for me, the sinner, that I may be counted worthy to return to my children
and become perfected for you, and that we may all think how to prepare
ourselves for eternal life.
“You remember how afraid I was that rely too much on my support as a
stronghold in life, and I said to you: ‘You must cleave more to God. The Lord
says: “My son, give Me your heart, and your eyes will see My paths”. Then be
assured that you will give all to God if you give Him your heart, that is, your
very selves.’
“Now we are going through one and the same experience and
involuntarily we find the consolation to bear our common cross of separation
only with Him. The Lord has found that it is now time for us to bear His
cross. Let us strive to be worthy of this joy. I thought that we would be too
weak, that we had not grown sufficiently to bear a great cross. ‘The Lord has
given, the Lord has taken away.’ As it was pleasing to God, so has it
happened. May the name of the Lord be blessed unto the ages. What an
example St. Job gives us by his submissiveness and patience in sorrows. For
this the Lord later gave him joy. How many examples of this sorrow do we
find in the Holy Fathers in the holy monasteries, but then there was joy.
Prepare for the joy of being again together. Let us be patient and humble. Let
us not grumble but be thankful for all things.
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“Your constant intercessor in prayer and loving mother in Christ,
“Matushka.”
St. Elizabeth and her two nuns were joined in Yekaterinburg by other royal
prisoners: Great Prince Sergius Mikhailovich, the three Brother Princes Igor,
John and Constantine Constantinovich, the poet Prince Vladimir Paley (who
wrote about “Aunt Ella’s” great kindness to him) and Prince John’s wife, the
Serbian Queen Elena Petrovna.
Then, on May 20, the prisoners were taken to the Urals town of
Alapayevsk, where they were imprisoned in one of the city schools. For some
weeks Mother Elizabeth, though under guard, was able to go to church, to do
some gardening, to paint and to pray. She was also in contact with her nuns
in Moscow, and received gifts from the peasants of the region.
But on June 21 a stricter regime was imposed and Sisters Barbara and
Catherine were taken away from their spiritual mother to Yekaterinburg.
There they petitioned the authorities to be returned to Alapayevsk, and finally
they were allowed back.
Soon Prince John Constantinovich’s wife Elena Petrovna was torn from his
side, and it was obvious to the captives what was in store for them. By the
beginning of July their last contacts with the outside world were severed and
the number of guards increased.
On the night of July 3-4 Tsar Nicholas and his family were executed in
Yekaterinburg. On the following night, the eve of the feast of St. Sergius that
meant so much to Grand Prince Sergius and his wife, the two nuns and other
members of the royal family were taken outside the building where they were
staying on the pretext of an armed attack. Nobody was allowed to see them.
Outside the house their hands were tied behind their backs and they were
blindfolded. They were taken in a car twelve miles outside the town. The
leader of the assassins was named Ryabov.
Great Prince Sergius Mikhailovich started to struggle with the assassins
and was shot; the rest were blindfolded and thrown into a mine shaft that was
200 feet deep. According to an eye-witness, Mother Elizabeth crossed herself
and prayed loudly:
“Lord, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Grenades were thrown into the mine shaft; they killed Prince Theodore
Mikhailovich Remez. The others died in terrible sufferings from hunger,
thirst and wounds. The bodies of Mother Elizabeth and Prince John
Constantinovich were found on a ledge only 50 feet from the top. Mother
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Elizabeth had remained alive for a long time. Mortally wounded herself, she
had tried to bind the wounds of Great Prince John, serving her neighbour
until her very death. Two grenades fell beside her, but did not explode: the
Lord preserved the body of her who was pleasing to him. On her chest was an
icon of the Saviour Not Made with Hands adorned with precious stones,
which the Tsar had given her on day of her chrismation, and on the back of
which were inscribed the words: “Palm Saturday, April 13, 1891”.
According to one report from the recently published communist archives:
“From beneath the ground we heard singing! I was seized with horror. They
were singing the hymn, ‘Lord, save Thy people’.”
A peasant hid near the mine for two days, and all the while he could hear
the martyrs singing. It was the cherubic hymn that they chanted from under
the ground. The peasant drove to the camp of the not very far distant White
Army and told them about what had happened. They reproached him for not
giving any help, at least by throwing a piece of bread into the mine.
When the White Army was able to reach the spot they removed the bodies
of the martyred ones, who included, besides Mother Elizabeth and Nuns
Barbara and Catherine, were: Princes Sergius Mikhailovich, John
Constantinovich, Igor Constantinovich, Constantine Constantinovich,
Vladimir Paley and Theodore Remez.
Lubov Millar writes concerning the post-mortem on the bodies: “The
Grand Duchess was severely bruised: there was a bruise the size of a child’s
palm on her forehead and one the size of an adult’s palm on her left temple;
hypodermic tissues, muscles and the cranial dome were also bruised; the skull
bones were intact. Next to the martyr lay two unexploded hand grenades; the
Almighty did not allow the body of His chosen one to be torn to shreds. An
icon of the Saviour was found on her chest…”
Nun Barbara, in the world Vera Tsvetkova, was from Moscow. She
belonged to a religious family of intelligentsy that greatly venerated Mother
Elizabeth. After emigrating to the south of France, they found themselves in a
difficult situation. They had to find a new flat, but their poverty deprived
them of the possibility of finding it in such a short time. However, believing
in a miracle, the daughter nevertheless began to search. On the eve of the day
on which the family was to be evicted, Barbara had a dream in which she saw
Mother Elizabeth, who asked: “Why don’t the Tsvetkovs appeal to me for
help? If I could help them earlier, now it is still easier for me to give them
help.” And she promised Vera to arrange everything in the way she wanted.
On waking in the morning under the strong influence of her dream, Vera
renewed her search. As she was passing the office where she had only
recently applied for flats for sale without success, she felt an insistent desire to
ask again. Vera knew that her fresh inquiries were likely to be as
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unsatisfactory as her previous ones. But some clearly felt invisible force urged
her to try again. Great was her astonishment when the official, seeing her
arrive at the door, called her in, pulled out a map of the city and, pointing to a
house and garden with his finger, said to Vera: “This village will suit you.” It
turned out later that a Belgian had entrusted the office with offering his dacha
to needy Russian refugees. The owner of the house did his good deed in
memory of the happy years he had spent in Tsarist Russia. Later, Vera became
one of Mother Elizabeth’s nuns with the name Barbara.
Great Prince Sergius Mikhailovich Romanov was born in 1869, the
younger son of Great Prince Michael Nikolayevich, the brother of Tsar
Alexander II. He served as an artillery officer, and in the reign of Tsar
Nicholas became general-inspector of artillery. He was simple in manners and
approachable to all, and a close friend of Tsar Nicholas, remaining with him
at Army Headquarters to the end. In 1920 his body was taken to Peking and
buried in the vault of the church of St. Seraphim of Sarov.
Prince John Constantinovich Romanov, the son of Great Prince
Constantine Constantinovich, was born in 1886, was married to the daughter
of the King of Serbia, Elena Petrovna, and had two children. He was
distinguished by his exceptional religious feeling, and was often sent by the
Tsar to represent him at spiritual festivals. He was a very sensitive person and
did much to help the poor. He won the George medal for bravery in the First
World War. In 1920 his body was taken to Peking and buried in the vault of
the church of St. Seraphim of Sarov.
Prince Constantin Constaninovich, the son of Great Prince Constantine
Constantinovich, was born in 1890. A meek man by nature, he distinguished
himself by his courage in World War One. In 1920 his body was taken to
Peking and buried in the vault of the church of St. Seraphim of Sarov.
Prince Igor Constantinovich Romanov, the son of Great Prince
Constantine Constantinovich, was born in 1894. He served as an officer in the
First World War. In 1920 his body was taken to Peking and buried in the vault
of the church of St. Seraphim of Sarov.
In 1945 the Soviets occupied Manchuria, and the bodies of all the princes
buried in Peking disappeared.
On January 27, 1919 the following princes were also shot by the Bolsheviks
in the yard of the Peter and Paul fortress in Petrograd: Nicholas
Mikhailovich, Demetrius Constantinovich, George Mikhailovich and Paul
Alexandrovich. The latter in February, 1917 was working on the project of a
constitution, and his son, Demetrius Pavlovich was the murderer of Rasputin.
Great Princes Demetrius and George died with prayer on their lips.
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The bodies of the Alapayevsk martyrs were buried in the cathedral in
Alapayevsk, on October 18. Then, when the White Army was forced to
retreat, Igumen Seraphim of the Seraphim-Alexeyev monastery in Perm
escorted the bodies by train, first to Irkutsk (July, 1919) and later to China
(February 28, 1920). During the journey St. Elizabeth appeared several times
to Fr. Seraphim.
On the arrival of the bodies in Harbin, they were met by Duke Nicholas
Alexandrovich Kudashev, who reported that “the bodies were totally decayed
– all, except the Great Princess Elizabeth, whose body was totally incorrupt.
The coffins were opened and put in the Russian Church. The Great Princess
was lying as though she were alive and had not changed at all since the day
when I, before my departure for Peking, said good-bye to her in Moscow –
only on one side of her face was a large bruise from when she was thrown
into the mine.”
On April 3, 1920, the bodies of the martyrs were buried in the church of St.
Seraphim of Sarov at the cemetery of the Russian mission in Peking. The body
of the Martyr Elizabeth was found to be incorrupt. She looked asleep, and the
three fingers of her right hand were folded as if she had been trying to make
the sign of the cross.
At the request of the Great Princess’ relative, the Marquess of Milford
Haven, the bodies of the Martyrs Elizabeth and Barbara were taken by an
English warship to Jerusalem, were they were laid to rest in January, 1921 in
the crypt chapel of the Russian convent of St. Mary Magdalene on the Mount
of Olives. In 1888 the Great Princess had expressed the desire to be buried
there. Later, however, she said that she would like to be buried in her Martha
and Mary convent in Moscow…
On May 2, 1982, the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women, the relics of the
holy martyrs were translated from the crypt of the convent of St. Mary
Magdalene to the convent church. It was found that each of them had been
buried in five coffins, the outer one of oak containing two further zinc caskets,
a wooden one, and an inner one of metal. When the inner casket of the Great
Princess was opened, the chapel was filled with a sweet fragrance, which was
said to be like that of honey and jasmine. Although the chapel was open and
well-aired, this fragrance remained. The clothing of the martyrs was found to
be damp, although the atmosphere at Gethsemane is very dry. The material
was as if some liquid had been poured over it, so moist was it, although
hitherto the coffins had been sealed. When a small portion of the relics was
placed in a glass-topped receptacle, the glass became moist, and it was found
that the sacred relics of both the martyrs exuded a fragrant myrrh. The bodies
of both martyrs were found to be in a state of partial incorruption.
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In 1981 the hand of St. Elizabeth and the hand of St. Barbara were brought
to the glorification of the Holy New Martyrs of Russia in New York – the only
relics of New Martyrs taken beyond the borders of Russia.
St. Elizabeth once said: “It is easier for feeble straw to resist a mighty fire
than for the nature of sin to resist the power of love. We must cultivate this
love in our souls, that we may take our place with all the saints, for they were
all-pleasing unto God through their love for their neighbour.”
And again she said: “If we look deep into the life of every human being, we
discover that it is full of miracles. You will say, ‘Of terror and death, as well.’
Yes, that also. But we do not clearly see why the blood of these victims must
flow. There, in the heavens, they understand everything and, no doubt, have
found calm and the True Homeland – a Heavenly Homeland. We on this earth
must look to that Heavenly Homeland with understanding and say with
resignation, ‘Thy will be done.’ Great Russia is completely destroyed, but
Holy Russia and the Orthodox Church, which ‘the gates of hell cannot
overcome’, exists and exists more than ever. And those who believe and who
do not doubt for one moment will see ‘the inner sun’ which enlightens the
darkness during the thundering storm… I am only convinced that the Lord
Who punishes is also the same Lord Who loves…
“Even though all the powers of hell may be set loose, Holy Russia and the
Orthodox Church will remain unconquered. Some day, in this ghastly
struggle, Virtue will triumph over Evil. Those who keep their faith will see
the Powers of Light vanquish the powers of darkness. God both punishes and
pardons…”
(Sources: Velikaya Knyaginya Elisaveta Fyodorovna i Imperator Nikolai II,
St. Petersburg, 2009; Uderzhivayushchiye Taijnu Bezzakonia,
YYekaterinburg, 2009; Ludmilla Koehler, Saint Elisabeth the New Martyr,
New York: The Orthodox Palestine Society, U.S.A., 1988; Lubov Millar, Grand
Duchess Elizabeth of Russia, Redding, Ca.: Nikodemos Publication Society,
1993; Archpriest Michael Polsky, Noviye Mucheniki Rossijskiye, Jordanville,
1949-57, part 1, chapter 30, part 2, p. 318; Protopriest Alexander Shargunov,
“Velikaya Knyaginya”, Literaturnaya Gazeta, 4 October, 1989, No 40 (5262); “A
Sacrificing Love”, Orthodoxy America, July, 1984, vol. V, no. 1 (41); Orthodox
Life, September-October, 1981, January-February, 1981; Schemamonk
Epiphany (Chernov), “Arkhiepiskop Feofan Poltavskij” (MS); Otyets Arseny,
Moscow: St. Tikhon’s Theological Institute, 1994; Russkij Pastyr’, 22-23, 1995 –
II/III, p. 196; “A Prophetic Dream”, Orthodox America, February, 1997, p. 7;
Fr. Michael Harper, The True Light, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1997, pp.
140-142; Nun Seraphima, “’Bury me like a Christian…’”, Orthodox Life N 6,
1997, pp. 29, 30; Za Khrista Postradavshiye, Moscow: St. Tikhon’s Theological
Institute, 1997, pp. 415-416; “K 100-letiyu so dnya tragicheskoj gibeli velikago
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knyazya Sergeya Aleksandrovicha Romanova”, Pravoslavnaya Rus’, N 3
(1768), February 1/14, 2005, pp. 1, 2-3; Prince Felix Yusupov, Memuary,
Moscow, 1998, pp. 110-112, 229-230; Istochnik, 1994, no. 4;
www.orthodoxengland.org.uk/ellalet1.htm; http://www.pstbi.ru/cgihtm/db.exe/no_dbpath/docum/cnt/ans; http://www.stelizabet.narod.ru/elizabet.htm)

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