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7 Sep, 2009 08:14

Queen Victoria’s granddaughter returns to Russia

The relics of Grand Duchess Elizaveta, one of the most respected saints in the Orthodox Church, have arrived at Moscow's Martha and Mary Convent of Mercy, which she set up in 1909, after 90 years overseas.

The relics were handed over to the convent by Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany from the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.

The move only became possible after the reunification in 2007 of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad after the schism about 80 years ago.

Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill has held a liturgy to mark the return of the relics to where they belong. Among those assisting the event are relatives of Grand Duchess Elizaveta and descendants of Russia’s most prominent noble families.

Documents and personal belongings of the Romanov family members have also been brought to the Martha and Mary Convent of Mercy for a temporary exhibition. It is timed to coincide with its 100th anniversary.

Holy life and martyr death of the Grand Duchess

Elizaveta Romanova, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria of England, married into the Romanov family in 1884 when she was 19. She was also the elder sister of Empress Aleksandra, the wife of Russia’s last czar, Nicolas II.

Elizaveta converted to Orthodoxy and devoted her life to charity by trying to improve healthcare and education. In 1892 the Grand Duchess set up “Elizaveta’s Charity” in Moscow and the region. It was founded to take care of legitimate children whose mothers were too poor to take care of them. She also headed the women’s committee of the Russian Red Cross.

After her husband, Nicolas II’s uncle Grand Duke Sergey Aleksandrovich, died in a bomb blast organized by the party of socialists-revolutionaries, Elizaveta sold her jewelry and founded Martha and Mary Convent of Mercy in Moscow.

Elizaveta’s hermit pupils had to take vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, but unlike nuns, after a certain period they could leave the convent, start a family and be free from their vows.

In the convent they received profound psychological, methodological, spiritual and medical training. They gave complex aid to those who needed it, not only treating and feeding them and giving clothes, but also talking to them, helping to find work and sometimes persuading them to send their children to the shelter so they could get care, education and professional skills.

In the convent Elizaveta led a self-sacrificing life, fostering the sick and visiting the poorest parts of the city. It is thanks to her and her hermit pupils that the term “nurse” came to Russia.

After the Bolsheviks came to power, Elizaveta refused to leave the country. Alongside some other members of the Romanov family, she was thrown alive into a mine shaft and died an awful death there after several days.

Elizaveta’s relics were taken abroad and have been kept in Jerusalem since 1921. She was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1992.

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