Two parishioners of the Sisterhood of Holy Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth took part in the pilgrimage to the Holy Land from 1st to 8th November 2010, organized by the Sourozh Diocese and lead by Archbishop Elisey and Father Michael Dudko.
They took with them on their distant journey two icons of Saint Elizabeth which are venerated in our chapel at Sisterhood. These icons were to be blessed by being placed on the relics of the martyred Grand Duchess and of her faithful companion the New Martyr Barbara which are enshrined in the church of St Mary Magdalene at the Russian Convent in Gethsemane, Jerusalem.
On the third day of the pilgrimage, in the afternoon, the pilgrims prayerfully entered the church of St Mary Magdalene where our heavenly protector, the Holy Martyr Elizabeth, had been present on the day of its consecration in the year 1888, and where she then expressed her wish to be buried, long before her martyrdom in Alapaevsk in 1918. After the Glorification of Elizabeth and Barbara as Holy Martyrs their relics were translated from the crypt to the church and placed in beautiful marble shrines on either side of the iconostas, Saint Elizabeth’s being on the right. The pilgrims prayed by the shrine of Saint Elizabeth, asking for her help and protection for our Sisterhood in all its future undertakings and good intentions.
That evening a service of the feast of the Kazan Icon of Mother of God was beginning. We felt this was significant as it was also the main altar feast of the Gornensky Convent where our group was staying, on the other side of Jerusalem. Earlier on this day we had prayed at the Site of the Dormition and we felt that Mother of God Herself brought us to the place of the burial and glorification of her beloved daughter.
By the gate of the Convent we met the nun Tamara who had her obedience there. She greeted us most warmly as pilgrims from England, the homeland of St Elizabeth’s mother Princess Alice. The Grand Duchess was connected with England not only by blood but spiritually as well. She came here to widen her experience of charitable monastic service in a big city, which she applied later at her Martha Mary Convent in Moscow. More recently, in 1988, another link was forged when the body of Princess Andrew of Greece, mother of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, was laid to rest in the crypt of St Mary Magdalene, in the place her aunt, Saint Elizabeth, had formerly occupied. Mother Tamara gave us some books and promised to pray for our Sisterhood. We left with the feeling that our community has now a prayerful “representative” next to the shrine of our common Heavenly protector.
It was significant that the beginning of our pilgrimage coincided with the birthday of Saint Elizabeth and with the day of her Glorification by the Synod of Russian Orthodox Church Abroad on the 1st of November 1981. On 1st November we had passed along the Way of the Cross – the Via Dolorosa - and before entering the Holy Sepulchre and Golgotha we had approached the Threshold of the Judgement Gates - a Russian archaeological discovery which became the sacred centre of the Russian House, later Alexander House of Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society. The House, called the “Russian Excavations”, incorporates the Church of St Alexander Nevsky, the heavenly patron of Emperor Alexander III. The House has strong connections with Grand Duchess Elizabeth. It was consecrated on the 5th of September 1891 on the Saint’s namesday. Her husband was a first Chairman of the Society and its main sponsor. To him, to his father Alexander II and to his brother Alexander III, we should be eternally grateful for the widespread Russian Church presence in the Holy Land. Thanks to their support and their generosity, extensive land and property was bought and many chapels, hostels, churches and monasteries were built to welcome the thousands of Russian and other Orthodox pilgrims who had started to arrive.
After tragic death of Sergey Alexandrovich, Saint Elizabeth became the enthusiastic Chairman of the Orthodox Palestine Society. Today in the Alexander House we can venerate her icons, one of them located next to the Judgement Gates in a splendid frame made from precious stones from Urals, by Urals and Moscow craftsmen, sponsored by a local benefactor. This has been done as an act of repentance sent from the region where the execution of Saints Elizabeth and Barbara and innocent Grand Princes took place. The frame (kiot) was consecrated on the 1st of November 2006. In the reception room which was restored and furnished recently, to show how it appeared at the end of 19th century, are Imperial portraits.
Finally we should mention the chapel of the Feodorovskaya Icon of Mother of God in the same place, which was created recently as an memorial to the Romanov Imperial House and which was also blessed in 2008 on the anniversary the glorification of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna. The name Feodorovna derived from the name of this icon which was the protector of the Romanov House.
One last but important detail. At the entrance to the church we were offered some memorial food for the repose of the soul of Alexander III, the anniversary of whose death was that day.
We described here only two days of our pilgrimage and those places which more than any other keep the memory of the New Martyr Elizabeth. However, her name and the name of her husband were mentioned to us by our guide, the nun Nadezhda from the Gornensky Convent, almost every day. These are the Martyrs who have built up and blessed Orthodox Palestine with their blood and who now guide us in our way to Salvation.