Archpriest Artemis (Vladimirov), the Spiritual father of Moscow's St. Elisabeth Gymnasium and a writer, discusses the relevance of the martyrdom of Grand Duchess Elisabeth Romanov and the Russian royal family to the present, and the lessons to be learned.
Speaking about the martyrdom of Elisabeth Romanov and her cell attendant Nun Barbara, how would you describe the magnitude of their feat and its relevance for the present?
Their feat is an accomplishment of their whole lives, not of the few months of their imprisonment and torment. Grand Duchess Elisabeth Romanov was like a candle. She gave away her light and warmth to others as she slowly melted away. In this act of self-sacrifice, she was magnificent.
The feat of Saint Elisabeth and her cell assistant is also outstanding. They did not perform it in seclusion but amid Moscow's bustling social life. Following the teachings of the Venerable Seraphim of Sarov, she was absorbing the sparkles of the Holy Spirit. In the silence of her cell and her acts of charity, she drew on them and let them grow. For her, the daily hubbub of worldly life, idle talk or entertainments were non-existent. She subjugated her life to the only thing that was needed. She attended worship at the Church of the Protection of the Mother of God that stood in the part of Moscow that was most dear to her heart. She had hand-picked almost every bring of which the church was built. She spent time with the sisters of her convent in heartfelt prayer and conversation. She ministered among the homeless children and brings them out of the vicious circle of their lives. She organises their daily life, study and leisure steering them towards productive and satisfying lives. She speaks before the gentry and merchants. With her white wimple and a cross on her chest, she restored calm and reason in their tumultuous hearts. She directed her whole life in the body and spirit towards one single goal - following the commandments of our Lord by her love of God and the people. The greater was her ascent in the grace of the Holy Spirit, the harder was the opposition from the forces of evil that coveted the demise of historical Russia. She shared the tragic fate of the royal martyrs. Elisabeth Romanov followed the way of martyrdom with her trusted companion, the Holy Martyr Barbara, who gave her generous support and encouragement. Her diaries portray Saint Elisabeth as a righteous woman, a fruit ripe for the harvest of the Lord Almighty.
Her martyrdom became the highest point in her ascent to sainthood and her ultimate achievement. Her magnificent feat still warms our hearts, inspires us in our present lives and calls us to tread on our own path of spiritual ascent.
How was the life of Saint Elisabeth Romanov an ascent to sainthood? How can we all learn from her as we follow the divine calling to become the likeness of God?
The thirteen years that followed the tragic death of Elisabeth Romanov's husband was the time of her decisive turn from a secular lifestyle towards a life of asceticism, piety and monasticism. From ballroom dresses, she changed into humble monastic vestments. She learned the art of heartfelt prayer, and in the greatness of her heart, raised her prayers to the Lord for her neighbours and the whole of Russia. Yet the progress of these thirteen years was prepared by her early life experiences - the learning from her mother, her engagement in charitable work, her well-rounded education, refinement of her mind and heart, her self-direction and perseverance with which she was learning the Russian language and culture and immersing herself in it. These seeds of virtue gave rise to a beautiful blossoming plant and fine fruit. As her life teaches us, the progress to sainthood begins at birth, the mother steers her child gently as she grows and passes on to her all the assets of her soul and spirit without any reservation; sanctity begins with the selfless work of the parent on cultivating righteousness in their child.
Another milestone in her progress was her conscious acceptance of the charisma of Orthodoxy, her steadfast practice of the faith and eschewal of all sin that dims the light of God's grace. She fully dedicated herself to the service of God and her neighbours, finding rest in the change of occupation. As she bore her cross, she drew her strength from solitary prayer and see the giving of practical love as the ultimate reward and joy of an ascetic who puts the needs of others before his own. It was not an accident, therefore, to be called by her contemporaries the white angel of Moscow.
Just as in the time of Saint Elisabeth, we are seeing rising levels of violence and cruelty. What guidance can we find in Saint Elisabeth's life as we consider our response?
Again, the opposition between good and evil, light and day and the truth and a lie is becoming ever starker and more intense. Taking the middle ground is not a possibility. Yet, as long as we remain pure at heart as good Christians, we need not be afraid of the spreading sea of impurity, wickedness and violence. Remember that the stars shine all the brighter amid the dark sky. As Christians, we have a mission to shine for others with the light of our spirits, hope, faith and love. In the sacrament of baptism, we defy the forces of darkness as we spit on the king of darkness, Satan. It should come as no surprise for us that our desire to keep peace and purity, guard ourselves against sinful thoughts and bring goodness, beauty and life to the world will encounter the irrational rage from the agents of darkness. God never promised Christians that they would be in the majority. He called them the little flock. But he also proclaimed: "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom." (Luke 12:32). He also said, "Take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16; 33).
Icon of Saint Elisabeth and Saint Barbara
"In this world, you will have trouble" (John 16, 33). “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Let us find strength in these words of our Lord. With them, we wield a treasure that this world that lies in evil could never conceive. May the grace of the Holy Spirit light our hearts and fill them with peace; may it nurture our spirits with the bread of heaven in the Holy Sacraments of our Church. May we have the blessing of our Lord to grow in our wisdom, understanding, love, understanding and mercy; may the grace of His spirit reveal to us the past present and future, guide us towards the truth, protect us from all trouble and danger, and help us advance along the way of selfless love. It is a blessing that members of the Church are not just you and me, but so many others. We have strength in numbers; the Earth revolves for the sake of the Lord's Church. The sun shines for it.
What can we learn from Russia's tragedy shared by the Holy Royal Martyr Elisabeth?
In the life of a country, people or family, all sorrows have one root cause - disloyalty of the human spirit to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. They come from the broken promises and vows that we make at our baptism on our entry to the fold of the mother church. The decline of our faith and devotion to God, the darkening of our mind and our abandonment of the Church are the beginning of all evil and harbingers of the dire consequences that are as predictable as they are legitimate. This tragedy would never have happened if loyalty to God and the Church had predominated in all of Russia's classes. Sadly, the number of loyal believers had decreased catastrophically across the board, but especially in the upper classes that held dominant positions in society.
But we should also appreciate how the lives of the new martyrs are enriching us spiritually, as their descendants. We are in a good position to take over from them their desire and aspiration to piety and purity. Their martyrdom is also a poignant reminder to all of us about our responsibility for our own lives, and the fate of our countries. Here is the quote that best summarises the main lesson to be learned, "Life is given to man but once, and he must live it so as to feel no torturing regrets for wasted years."
Interviewer: Natalya Fedotova
We draw our inspiration from the life and works of our patron saint, Grand Duchess Elisabeth. After the assassination of her husband, she went on to found a convent dedicated to ministering to the poor. She was martyred by the Bolsheviks.
Not every generation is destined to meet along its path such a blessed gift from heaven as was the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna for her time, for she was a rare combination of exalted Christian spirit, moral nobility, enlightened mind.