The blood of martyrs nourishes the Church. From the beginning of the early Church, there were men and women who were truly willing to die for the Gospel. Living a Christian life is about love, honor, humility, forgiveness, and sacrifice. Very few people have ever embodied these things in the modern age as well as Saint Elizabeth Romanova. With undying compassion for the less fortunate, a drive to live a Christlike existence dedicated to others, and a devotion to the Church that was unshakable, Saint Elizabeth Romanova should inspire Christian men and women alike by her example.
Born Elizabeth Alexandra Louise Alice in Germany in the winter of 1864, the young Elizabeth quickly grew into a beautiful and truly dedicated Christian. Being born of one of the highest and most honorable families in Germany, Elizabeth could have easily rested in luxury for the entirety of her life. Truly believing in the Christian principle of “noblesse oblige” as a young girl she went with her mother to volunteer at a soldier’s hospital during the Austro-Prussian War. Elizabeth helped distribute food and supplies to grateful soldiers, truly following the Biblical principle of “feeding the hungry.”
When Elizabeth was a teenager she became an orphan when a horrendous wave of disease ripped through Germany and her home. While hurt and grieving, she turned towards God for answers and comfort, growing deeper in her Faith. After her parents death, Elizabeth was raised by her grandmother, Queen Victoria of England. The mixed marriages and closeness of European aristocratic families of the age meant that leadership in several countries would generally be blood kin. This policy had a way of keeping open lines of communication and friendship, at least most of the time, between the European aristocracy. Raised for part of her life in England, she was able to experience the breadth of European culture, the most beautiful cities and palaces our folk have ever created.
Elizabeth received countless marriage proposals from the elite of Western Europe, which is why it came as such a shock when she decided to accept the proposal of Grand Duke Sergei, a younger son of Tsar Alexander III and the Governor of the Russian capital, Moscow. Leaving behind the majesty of Western Europe, Elizabeth came to Russia in 1884 and became Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Elizabeth Romanov of Russia.
Duchess Elizabeth became a hero almost instantly to the Russian people. As Russia struggled to modernize and bring education and healthcare to the poor, Elizabeth and her husband Grand Duke Sergei began intensive programs to exemplify the Christian responsibility of the elites. Monarchy fused with a compassionate spirit for the poor won the hearts and spirits of the Russian people, making her and her husband an enemy of the growing Jewish Bolshevik infestation of Russia.
Coming from a German home, Elizabeth was raised to be a Lutheran. While extremely devoted to her Faith, after coming to Russia she was exposed to the utmost beauty and splendor of the Orthodox Church. While both her husband and the Russian royal family had no problem with her remaining a Lutheran, she was so overcome by the depth of the Faith and the Truth of the Orthodox Church, that she converted to the Church in 1891. Although facing strong opposition by her family, Duchess Elizabeth stated that it amounted to “lying to God” to remain a Protestant to the outside world when her soul was bound to the Orthodox Church.
A biographer described Elizabeth’s conversion “The grand duchess, of her own volition decided to unite herself to the Orthodox Church. When she made the announcement to her spouse, according to the account of one of the servants, tears involuntarily poured from his eyes. The Emperor Alexander III himself was deeply touched by her decision. Her husband blessed her after Holy Chrismation with a precious icon of the Savior, ‘Not Made by Hands’ (a copy of the miraculous icon in the Chapel of the Savior), which she treasured greatly throughout the remaining course of her life. Having been joined to the Faith in this manner, and thereby to all that makes up the soul of a Russian, the grand duchess could now with every right say to her spouse in the words of the Moabite Ruth, ‘Your people have become my people, and your God my God’ (Ruth 1:16).”
With a new vigor and devotion to God, Elizabeth devoted herself entirely to her husband, her family, and her subjects. Tragedy struck her family however on February 17th, 1905 when Communist terrorist Ivan Kalyavev threw a bomb into Grand Duke Sergei’s coach as he was returning home. For supposed “crimes against the Revolution”, Ivan decided to take the life of one of the men who represented truly helping the working people of Russia. Working for the Communist SR Combat Organization, which was comprised of nineteen Jews and two Poles, Ivan strove to overthrow the Christian leadership of Russia in order to advance the ideals of Karl Marx and secularism.
After finding out about her husband’s death, Duchess Elizabeth went to the prison cell in which her husband’s murderer was being held. Instead of ordering his immediate death or screaming at him, she decided to share with him the Gospel. With tears in her eyes she told the man who only hours before had brutally murdered her one true love that she forgave him and hoped that he would become a Christian.
Elizabeth presented Ivan with an Orthodox icon and told him of the beauty and majesty of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and how every sin can be forgiven. With more composure, forgiveness, and love then one can rightly imagine, she even told Ivan that she would petition the government to free him, if only he repented for his sins. Ivan declared that he ‘I do not repent. I must die for my deed and I will… My death will be more useful to my cause than Sergei Alexandrovich’s death.” With a sorrowful heart, Elizabeth left the jailhouse and Ivan was soon hanged for his crimes.
With the death of her husband, Duchess Elizabeth decided that she should dedicate the rest of her life to living out her Orthodox Christian Faith. Elizabeth sold off all of her jewelry and almost all of her possessions so she could open the Convent of Sts. Martha and Mary. Driven entirely by Faith, Elizabeth gave up a life of luxury to become a nun and the Abbess of the convent. Surrounded by devout Orthodox women, Elizabeth led the charge to open up services for the neediest of Moscow. Her nuns educated children, gave comfort to the sick and dying, raised money and resources to feed the hungry, sewed clothes to give to the homeless and destitute so they could survive the winter, and fulfilled the true obligation of the Church to help those in need. Her example led to a dramatic increase in women joining religious orders in and around Moscow and was blessed and encouraged by the Orthodox leadership.
The service of Abbess Elizabeth and her nuns came to the attention of all of Russia during the First World War. With medicine and the Gospel, her nuns took care of scores of wounded and dying Russian soldiers. With no fear of death, the nuns worked around the sick and bloodied soldiers from combat and strove to feed and nurture them both physically and spiritually.
As the First World War began to turn against Russia, the Bolsheviks saw their opportunity. With a movement primarily financed by Jewish capitalists abroad, the Bolshevik movement rose up to overthrow the legitimate and Christian government of Russia. When Tsar Nicholas II and his family were arrested by the communists, Elizabeth was encouraged by both her family and Russian citizens to abandon Russia and flee outside the country. Elizabeth stoically refused to abandon her position as Abbess of her convent and continued her work with the poor and the legions of returning soldiers.
The Jewish High Command of the Bolshevik Revolution decided that Abbess Elizabeth was too much of a threat to be allowed to remain helping the people that the “revolution” was supposed to be helping. Originally Lenin decided that Elizabeth should be exiled, but realized that even in exile she was a blinding light for the Truth of the Christian Faith and loyalty to the true leadership of Russia.
Using the Cheka, the almost entirely Jewish secret police of the Soviet Union, Lenin had Elizabeth and other members of the aristocracy of Russia taken to an abandoned mine in the middle of the woods. The Cheka thugs proceeded to beat and humiliate all of the prisoners one by one before throwing them into the depths of the iron mine. A Cheka officer proceeded to toss hand grenades into the enclosed space, but miraculously only one of the prisoners was killed by the massive explosions. The sound that came out of the pit was not one of begging or one of sorrow, but it was a singing of an Orthodox hymn.
The guards recounted after the murder that they heard Abbess Elizabeth leading all of the wounded and bloody prisoners in devotional hymns to Christ, and hymns of forgiveness to the men who were currently working on killing them. Although badly beaten and suffering fatal wounds from the fall into the mine shaft, Elizabeth bandaged the wounds of those around her and continued to praise God in the midst of some of the worst suffering imaginable. The Cheka grew frustrated with the situation and eventually lit a fire at the opening of the mine to suffocate the trapped royals. One by one they died, with hymns continuing until the final voice was silenced, and the communists departed.
Following her death and her body being recovered by the loyal White Russian army, her body was moved to Jerusalem. Elizabeth was finally given rest in the Church of St. Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. From her beginnings as a child to her martyrdom, Elizabeth represented the devotion to folk, Faith, and Fatherland that all should strive for. With selfless dedication and a willingness to give it all for Christ and her adopted people, Elizabeth changed the hearts of countless individuals around the globe. Before Western politicians had the guts to stare down the Soviet Union, Elizabeth fought them in a way more powerful than bombs or nuclear weapons, the power of prayer and of sacrifice. Her willing sacrifice of her body and blood watered the Russian Orthodox Church and helped inspire others to take up the cross and follow Christ. In an age of growing Christian persecution around the globe, especially here in the West, we must all ask ourselves if we are willing to give up our financial security, our comfort, and even our lives to follow Christ’s commandment that Elizabeth did so well.