July is packed with feasts and celebrations at Saint Elisabeth Convent. Apart from some big feasts like the Nativity of John the Baptist and the feast of Peter and Paul, we also celebrate two Patron Saint days this month, the Holy Royal Martyrs on July 17 and the Convent’s Heavenly intercessor - Saint Elisabeth the New Martyr on July 18.
Her Grand Ducal Highness, Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Luise Alice of Hesse and the Rhine, was born in 1864. Her mother, Princess Alice of the United Kingdom, was the daughter of Queen Victoria.
In 1887, Princess Alice died of diphtheria and the two sisters, Elisabeth and Alix (the future Tsaritsa Alexandra, the wife of Tsar Nicholas), were partly brought up by their grandmother. The princesses were raised as Protestant Christians.
In June 1884, the young Princess Elisabeth married Grand Duke Sergei and moved with him to Russia. She visited the Orthodox Church several times and read extensively about Orthodoxy in general. Eventually, she decided to convert to the Orthodox faith. She was baptized in 1891 on Lazarus Sunday and participated in the Eucharist for the first time the following week.
On February 18, 1905, Grand Duke Sergei was murdered by a bomb explosion near the Kremlin in Moscow. Princess Elisabeth forgave his assassin, Kaliaev, and even visited him in prison. She gave the man the Gospel and begged him to read it, understand his sin, and repent.
After her husband’s death, she became a nun and gave away all of her possessions. Nun Elisabeth opened the Martha and Mary Home in Moscow and started a movement of sisters of mercy. Saint Elisabeth and the sisters were tirelessly helping the poor, the homeless, and orphans. They later opened a hospital for the sick.
In 1918, she was exiled to Alapaevsk where she, along with nun Barbara (who followed her Abbess, even though she didn’t have to), and a few other people (four princes, a duke and Grand Duke Sergei’s secretary), were violently killed by the Bolsheviks on July 18.
The relics of Saint Elisabeth were placed in the Church of Saint Mary of Magdalene in Jerusalem.
Our Convent is named in honor of Saint Elisabeth because our mission is to continue her philanthropic work by helping those in need. On the Convent’s grounds, there is a beautiful white church which was consecrated in honor of Saint Elisabeth on January 2, 2005.
Inside the church, you can find a five-tier iconostasis and beautiful icons painted in the Convent’s own icon painting workshop. The church is always open for the faithful and the Divine Liturgy is served there on a daily basis.
Saint Elisabeth is our Heavenly Patroness. This is why June 18 is always a very important and joyous feast day for the clergy, the sisters and the parishioners of Saint Elisabeth Convent. We serve the festive Divine Liturgy at the church in honor of St Elisabeth. On the day of the feast, the church is usually decorated with white veils and white lilies - our dear Patroness’ favorite flower.
During the Liturgy, we sing special hymns to the Saint:
“Causing meekness, humility and love to dwell in thy soul,
Thou didst earnestly serve the suffering,
O holy passion-bearer Princess Elizabeth;
Wherefore, with faith thou didst endure sufferings and death for Christ, with the martyr Barbara.
With her pray for all who honor you with love.”
(Troparion on the feast of St Elisabeth the New Martyr)
On July 17, 1918, the Bolsheviks murdered Tsarina Alexandra (Saint Elisabeth’s sister) and her whole family - Tsar Nicholas II, their four daughters - Tatiana, Olga, Maria and Anastasia, as well as their only son Alexei.
Tsar Nicholas was meek and gentle. He loved Christ and Christianity more than anything. He considered it his duty to set an example of a pious Christian to his people. During his reign, the number of churches in the country increased.
The whole Romanov family was a unity in Christ. The Royal children were brought up in the Orthodox Faith. Tsarina Alexandra converted to Orthodoxy from Protestantism.
During the First World War, the Romanov women became nurses and helped the injured. Every family member tried to do their best to live a truly Christian lifestyle - to pray regularly, to give alms, to have love for one another and our Lord.
The Royal Martyrs were first canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church abroad in 1981 and then by the Moscow Patriarchate in 2000.
At Saint ELisabeth Convent, there is a rather small but beautiful crypt church. It was consecrated in honor of the Royal Martyrs on October 13, 2012.
The church’s architecture is truly extraordinary. The interior looks like an ancient catacomb in which early Christians held their services. In the middle of the church there is a large stone baptismal font decorated with carvings and mosaics. It is in this church that the Sacrament of Baptism always takes place.
On the eve of the feast, we serve a festive All-Night Vigil service at the church in honor of the Royal Martyrs and sing special hymns:
“Royalty and martyrdom were joined together, O blest ones, in your death for righteousness and right belief, O wise Sovereigns, Nicholas and Alexandra, with your five children. Hence, Christ God hath deemed you worthy of thrones in Heaven; and with twofold crowns of glory, ye reign for ever, adorned with grace divine.” (Kontakion of Royal Martyrs of Russia)
In the first part of her account, Matushka Larisa, the wife of one of our clergy - Fr. Sergius Nezhbort, discusses how the decision to adopt was made.