On the Feast Day of the Holy Royal Martyr Grand Duchess Elisabeth, we asked our nuns, lay sisters and Convent workers to share personal stories of their “acquaintance” with St. Elisabeth, and invited them to finish the sentence, “I am thankful to our heavenly patroness for…” May their words kindle a flame of inspiration and gratitude within our hearts.
We have been praying to Saint Elisabeth since the foundation of our Sisterhood. We have read a lot about her life and ministry. I will always have fond memories of Nun Nadezda (born Zinaida - the same name as me) who, as a layperson, attended divine liturgy in the Convent before going to her job. She eventually joined the Marfo-Mariinsky Convent to work side by side with Saint Elisabeth. Her mother strongly objected of Zinaida’s decisions and threatened to disown her if she became a monastic.
It was Zinaida’s desire to be with the Holy Abbess Elisabeth. The Grand Duchess promised her, “Zinaida, trust me, you will join us in due time; before you know it, you will be with us. Do you believe me?”
I was moved by this episode. It reveals the Holy Abbess’s great concern for others. These are the touching, vivid memories of Grand Duchess Elisabeth preserved for us by the last nun of the Marfo-Mariinsky Convent. She was filled with inner tenderness towards people. She seemed not of this world. She breathed a different air, and there was something unearthly about her.” Sometimes when the sisters of her convent argued which of them would do this or that obedience, the Grand Duchess would say nothing but go and do that obedience herself…
Today, the Sisters of our Visiting Nurse Service have much to learn from the Holy Abbess Elisabeth and her service to others. If someone were dying in pain, the Grand Duchess was always by their side, nursing them personally. I keep reflecting on this. Indeed, her example brings us to the correct understanding of what our obedience is; it inspires, encourages and strengthens us. We have to go and do what is needed at this very moment, ignoring our own needs and self-care.
I consider Saint Elisabeth to be the heavenly abbess of our Convent. In the most difficult moments I immediately turn to her: “Holy Mother Elisabeth, our heavenly patroness, here are the problems, give me your blessing, teach me, guide me, help me..” I’m confident that she will intercede on my behalf before the Lord. There are no words to describe what I feel. It comes as a revelation.
I would also like to talk about her letter to her father. On one hand, Grand Duchess Elisabeth was a gentle, caring and obedient daughter. On the other hand, after realizing the meaning and truth of Orthodoxy, she proved to be a person of strong will and determination! This letter reveals her inner spiritual culture.
Her great composure and spiritual concentration are the qualities that stand out for me. When her husband died in a bomb attack, she collected his torn remains herself.
We cannot even begin to imagine what she must have felt during that tragic moment. How hard it must have been for her to maintain her self-control. Only later that evening, in the bedchamber of Maria Pavlovna, did Grand Duchess Elisabeth allow herself to burst into tears. Her example helps me to stay composed when things are not going well or when I am doing an obedience…
I feel grateful to the Holy Abbess who remained faithful to God until the end in her path to serve Him. I feel her invisible presence and care. I am sure many sisters would agree with me. Actually, everything we do becomes possible largely because she is truly there for us. May God help us to remain faithful!
Deep within my soul, I am filled with gratitude towards our heavenly patroness who has provided me with a shelter within our Convent, a dwelling overflowing with joy and love. It is a great blessing to have found my obedience here, as it was made possible through her fervent prayers. I have no doubt that it was Saint Elisabeth herself who guided me to this sacred place.
My understanding of St. Elisabeth deepened significantly when I began my service in the St. Elisabeth Convent. Prior to that, I read about her and marveled at her captivating beauty, profound compassion for others, and boundless kindness. I had offered my prayers at her holy relics in Gethsemane. However, it was only here, within the Convent's embrace, that I truly encountered her spirit, felt the essence of her soul, and formed a profound connection with her.
From the moment I first arrived here eight years ago, I could perceive the hand of Saint Elisabeth in every aspect of the Convent. Her spirit permeated everything, and her impeccable taste, ability to appreciate and embrace beauty, became evident. Thus, it came as no surprise that every church, every intricate detail, and even the smallest objects within our Convent are imbued with a sense of exquisite beauty.
One of the priests I know wisely expressed, "The Convent mesmerizes our souls with its aesthetic beauty." Grand Duchess Elisabeth Feodorovna was renowned for her ability to create a warm and inviting atmosphere during various gatherings and charitable events. She poured her heart and soul into each occasion, bringing comfort to all those around her. The same spirit is alive within our meetings, exhibitions, concerts, and other events held within the Convent.
Above all, everyone here endeavors to emulate her love, compassion, and devoted service to God and neighbor. In this sacred dwelling, we witness the harmonious union of Martha's active service and Mary's serene presence in the company of Christ.
On my first day of work at the Pilgrim's House a year ago, I was profoundly reminded: "We represent Mother Elisabeth to our guests. As they visit her Convent, we should always strive to mirror her character." These words remain etched in my mind. I am certain that never did one witness a somber or indifferent expression on her face when she conversed with people. She remained fully present, devoid of detachment or irritation. She exuded pure radiance. This serves as a guiding light, showing me what to aspire to and how to continually improve myself.
St. Elisabeth has become my confidante, my spiritual mentor, and my beacon of inspiration. I am grateful for her ceaseless prayers, which enable me to carry out my obediences within the Convent. This period of service has been simultaneously rewarding and challenging for me. I recognize that this grace-filled season will eventually come to an end, possibly accompanied by trials, pains, and disappointments. Yet, I hold onto the hope that through the holy prayers of our heavenly patroness, her angelic countenance and the beauty I have witnessed within this holy abode will forever dwell in my heart.
I am filled with gratitude towards our heavenly patroness for she serves as an exemplary model of a truly Christian life marked by compassion and selflessness. As a member of our Sisterhood, I continually call upon her name for assistance, seeking strength for my spirit and an increase in faith.
An unexpected encounter with Saint Elisabeth once helped make a remarkable discovery. Our family has a cherished tradition of reading aloud to our children before bedtime. The children eagerly anticipate this special time and become disheartened if my husband and I are too busy or tired to read.
On the eve of Saint Elisabeth's feast day, I decided to read about her to my children. I chose a book about her life and waited anxiously for the evening. To my surprise, however, instead of lulling the children to sleep, the story captured our undivided attention. My children and I found ourselves completely engrossed, experiencing her life in a fresh and profound manner.
A world beyond human comprehension unveiled itself before me, revealing a person of a different kind, leading a life guided by profoundly different values. I witnessed Saint Elisabeth's unwavering and unconditional love for humanity throughout her life, even to the point of martyrdom. Her extraordinary display of love for each individual she encountered and served left an indelible impression on me.
Despite the circumstances, whether war, sin, or the atrocities committed by others, she exemplified true love and prayed for every person before her. Regardless of human nature and logic, she selflessly served others until her final moments, humbly accepting martyrdom while praying for her executioners. Overwhelmed, I couldn't bear it any longer and tearfully prayed, "Lord, help us!"
A small book titled "The Life of the Holy Martyr Elisabeth Feodorovna Told for Children'' profoundly impacted me, stirring an overwhelming sensation within my soul.
As for my children, they lay silently beside each other for a long time. The next morning, they gathered their cherished toys and asked me to donate them to the children’s care home.
I am forever grateful to God for leading me to the Holy Royal Martyr Elisabeth and placing me under her care.
Throughout my spiritual journey within the Church, I grappled with finding meaning in my service and how it could contribute to my salvation. Being the oldest child in my family, a high school teacher, homeroom teacher, and church choir conductor, I felt that my strong personality seemed to hinder my ability to cultivate humility. I sought guidance from priests, contemplating a change in my profession and striving to grasp the essence of humility without fully understanding its depths.
My anxiety dissolved instantly after reading a book about the life of the Holy Martyr Elisabeth, discovering the immense responsibility she bore and the heavy cross she carried. What resonated with me the most was the realization that, despite her loving, self-denying, and sacrificial nature, she possessed a resolute and even strict character.
In that very moment, I recognized that I now had a friend, a saint, to whom I could turn for help, wisdom, good judgment, love, and intercession! I understood that all my responsibilities were assigned to me by God, serving as my personal cross for each day. This realization filled me with joy and a sense of lightness, as there was no need to change my external circumstances. Instead, I needed to embark on inner work within the responsibilities entrusted to me. If I sought it, the Lord would also bring about changes in my external life.
Approximately 15 years ago, I first learned about the Convent. I was familiar with the life of St. Elisabeth, regularly attending Akathist services in her honor. However, I remained somewhat indifferent and did not feel a profound connection with her.
Everything changed in May 2018 when the holy right hand of St. Elisabeth was brought to our Convent for veneration. It felt as if the Holy Abbess herself came to our Convent, making it possible for me to finally meet her “in person.” For several days I hardly left the church of the Reigning Icon of the Mother of God where the holy relic rested within the Convent. We fervently chanted numerous Akathist and Moleben services, and at a certain moment, I experienced a sensation that Saint Elisabeth, so dear and real, had graciously visited us. This marked my true encounter with Saint Elisabeth, and ever since that day, she has held a special place within my heart. I now consider her a dear friend, someone to whom I can openly speak.
What truly inspires me in St. Elisabeth's life is her unwavering courage and determination. It is awe-inspiring to contemplate the tremendous amount of courage she possessed through her service. In our prayers, we beseech her, saying, "...having denied ourselves and taken up our cross, let us follow Christ..." Yet, we acknowledge that such a task cannot be accomplished through our own strength alone.
It requires relentless determination, a quality we often lack. However, St. Elisabeth resolutely left everything behind and faithfully followed Christ until the end. It is truly astounding. Since our friendship blossomed, she has become a concrete example for me. I now know what to pray to her for—strength, courage, and bravery. Our encounter with St. Elisabeth has had a profound impact on my life, my prayers, my work, and my service. I undeniably feel her support and encouragement, accompanying me on this journey.
You can also send us prayer requests for your loved ones that will be included in weekly Akathist to St. Elisabeth on Sundays.
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Ichthys Christian Orthodox School of St Elisabeth Convent offers all the subjects required by the national school curriculum. Most importantly, the teachers emphasise the development of a Christian worldview and understanding.
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