18 July 2018

Holy New Martyr Elizaveta Fyodorovna

Today we commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the political murder of another of the Romanovs, Martyr Elizaveta Fyodorovna of Moscow, born Princess Elizabeth of Hesse-Darmstadt, the older sister of Tsarina Aleksandra whose memory we celebrated yesterday. A Lutheran German noblewoman who converted to Orthodoxy upon marrying her husband, she took to her new faith with the same passion, or even a greater one, than she brought to her marriage. Her husband, the Grand Duke Sergei, was killed by a member of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party to which belonged also, ironically, the New Martyr of Paris, Mother Maria (Skobtsova). She forgave her husband’s murderer, urged him to repent and even asked for his sentence to be commuted.

She became a true ‘social justice’ saint, and her life seems to have taken a parallel track to that of Mother Maria of Paris: after her husband’s death she sold everything she had, became a nun, started a convent, and founded within the convent grounds a hospital and an orphanage, and went outside herself to serve the poor and the sick of Moscow. Holy New Martyr Elizaveta thus stands in the great Constantinian Byzantine tradition of philanthrōpia, as well as in the peculiarly Muscovite tradition of caritative kenoticism. Even as she was dying, having been thrown down an old mineshaft by her Bolshevik killers, her very last Christ-like acts were to bandage the wounds of those within reach of her. She bore witness to Christ in the very truest sense of the word.

(As a minor point of interest, her relics seem to have been borne by the Whites to China and spent some time in Beijing in the care of the Russian mission there. They did not remain, however, as Saint John’s did.)

The Life of New Martyr Elizaveta Fyodorovna is recounted here by the Orthodox Church in America:
Saint Elizabeth was the older sister of Tsarina Alexandra, and was married to the Grand Duke Sergius, the governor of Moscow. She converted to Orthodoxy from Protestantism of her own free will, and organized women from all levels of society to help the soldiers at the front and in the hospitals.

Grand Duke Sergius was killed by an assassin’s bomb on February 4, 1905, just as Saint Elizabeth was leaving for her workshops. Remarkably, she visited her husband’s killer in prison and urged him to repent.

After this, she began to withdraw from her former social life. She devoted herself to the Convent of Saints Martha and Mary, a community of nuns which focused on worshiping God and also helping the poor. She moved out of the palace into a building she purchased on Ordinka. Women from the nobility, and also from the common people, were attracted to the convent.

Saint Elizabeth nursed sick and wounded soldiers in the hospitals and on the battle front. On Pascha of 1918, the Communists ordered her to leave Moscow, and join the royal family near Ekaterinburg. She left with a novice, Sister Barbara, and an escort of Latvian guards.

After arriving in Ekaterinburg, Saint Elizabeth was denied access to the Tsar’s family. She was placed in a convent, where she was warmly received by the sisters.

At the end of May Saint Elizabeth was moved to nearby Alopaevsk with the Grand Dukes Sergius, John, and Constantine, and the young Count Vladimir Paley. They were all housed in a schoolhouse on the edge of town. Saint Elizabeth was under guard, but was permitted to go to church and work in the garden.

On the night of July 5, they were all taken to a place twelve miles from Alopaevsk, and executed. The Grand Duke Sergius was shot, but the others were thrown down a mineshaft, then grenades were tossed after them. Saint Elizabeth lived for several hours, and could be heard singing hymns.
Holy Martyr Elizaveta Fyodorovna, pray to God for us sinners!
Emulating the Lord’s self-abasement on the earth,
You gave up royal mansions to serve the poor and disdained,
Overflowing with compassion for the suffering.
And taking up a martyr’s cross,
In your meekness you perfected the Saviour’s image within yourself,
Therefore, with Barbara, entreat Him to save us all,
O wise Elizabeth.

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