Sunday, July 02, 2006

Grand Duchess Elizabeth

Elizabeth of Russia was the Lutheran descendant of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. Elizabeth married Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, the fifth son of Tsar Alexander II of Russia. Elizabeth found Orthodoxy increasingly absorbing, and in 1891 she adopted the faith. Although her life had assurance and all the comforts of eminence, it rested on fragile foundations. The Tsarist state maintained its grip over a changing society by repression. Talk of revolution persisted, and grew louder. Acts of terrorism mounted. On 18 February 1905, the Grand Duke Sergei was assassinated. This marked a turning point in Elizabeth’s life. Now she gave away her jewellery and sold her most luxurious possessions, and with the proceeds she opened the Martha and Mary home in Moscow, to foster the prayer and charity of devout women. Here there arose a new vision of a deaconate for women, one that combined intercession and action in the heart of a disordered world. She said, “I am leaving a glittering world where I had a glittering position, but with all of you I am descending into a greater world - the world of the poor and the suffering.”
When the revolutionary storm broke out she met it with amazing self-control and calm. She did not harbour even a shadow of ill feelings against the madness of the agitated masses. “The people are children, innocent of what is transpiring,” she remarked quietly. “They are led into deception by the enemies of Russia.” Nor was she depressed by the great suffering and humiliation that befell the royal family who were so close to her. She said, “It will serve for their moral purification and bring them nearer to God.”
She was admired by many revolutionaries because of her silence and simplicity. One of them even discussed about the Christian values of the revolutionaries. The revolutionary concluded, “Perhaps we are headed for the same goal, only by different paths.” Elizabeth thought that the palm of martyrdom was still far away from her. She said, “Obviously, we are not yet worthy of a martyr’s crown.” The Soviet government even supported the convent and granted them freedom. But more and more members of the royal family were being imprisoned.
Finally, the Grand Duchess was imprisoned in 1918. She was kept in a school with Sister Barbara, a nun from her convent, and some Grand Dukes. Nevertheless she did not lose her abiding firmness of spirit and occasionally would send words of encouragement and comfort to the sisters of her convent who were deeply grieving over her.
On the night of July 5, 1918, Elizabeth, Sister Barbara, and the other Grand Dukes were taken outside the city and buried alive in mine shafts. The results of later excavation there has shown that she strived until the last moment to serve the grand dukes who were severely injured by the fall. Some local peasants who carried out the sentence on these people, whom they did not know, reported that for a long time there was heard a mysterious singing from below the earth.


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