(Featured image:St. Elizabeth the New Martyr)
Look and see what arrived today from St. George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral.
While traveling this summer, we attended a beautiful liturgy at the St. George Cathedral in Worcester, Massachusetts. Afterward we found these icons in their bookstore, but the card reader was down and neither of us had cash on hand. Even though the St. George Women’s Club runs the shop on a volunteer basis and does not take mail orders, they were kind enough to take our check by mail after our trip (plus a little extra for the trouble, obviously), then package and mail the icons to us! They very generously shipped the icons, plus a bonus: the Syrian Lebanese cookbook put together by the Women’s Club itself. Thank you very much to the St. George Cathedral, and to the Women’s Club in particular.
Now, onto those icons:
The icon pictured above (as the featured image) is St. Elizabeth the New Martyr.
From the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese website:
St. Elizabeth was an older sister of the Empress Alexandra of Russia, and was married to the Grand Duke Serge, a younger son of Tsar Alexander III and the Governor of Moscow. She converted from the Protestant faith to Orthodoxy several years after her marriage of her own free will, and organized women from all levels of society to help the sick and needy.
Grand Duke Serge was killed by an assassin’s bomb on February 4, 1905, just as St Elizabeth was leaving for her workshops. She visited her husband’s killer in prison and urged him to repent, giving him an icon. She eventually built a shrine over the site of her husband’s martyrdom (which was said to have been destroyed by Vladimir Lenin himself in 1917).
After her husband’s murder, she began to withdraw from her former social life. She founded the Convent of Sts. Martha and Mary in Moscow, a community of nuns which focused on worshiping God and helping the poor. She sold all her fine clothes and jewels, and moved out of her palace into the buildings that she had purchased on behalf of the convent.
St. Elizabeth and her sisters continued to visit the poor and hungry in Moscow. During the First World War, she nursed sick and wounded soldiers in the hospitals and on the battle front. She was respected and admired throughout Russia and people came to her for spiritual direction.
After her brother-in-law, Tsar Nicholas II, abdicated the throne and he and his family were placed under house arrest, St. Elizabeth was urged to abandon her convent and seek shelter with her remaining family in Western Europe. She refused all offers of help, saying she would not leave the other sisters and would die in Russia if that was His Will.
On Pascha 1918, Soviet soldiers came to the convent and ordered her to leave Moscow to join the royal family near Ekaterinburg. She was allowed to leave with a novice, Sister Barbara, but was not permitted to say goodbye to the other sisters.
After arriving in Ekaterinburg, St. Elizabeth was denied access to the Tsar’s family. She and Sister Barbara were placed in a convent, where she was warmly received by the sisters.
At the end of May St. Elizabeth and St. Barbara were moved to the nearby village of Alopaevsk with the Grand Dukes Sergius, John, and Constantine, and the young Count Vladimir Paley. They were all housed in a schoolhouse on the edge of town. St. Elizabeth was placed under guard, but was permitted to go to church and work in the garden.
On the night of July 5, they were all taken to a place in the woods, twelve miles from Alopaevsk, and executed. Grand Duke Sergius was shot, but the others were thrown down a mineshaft, with grenades being tossed in after them. St. Elizabeth lived for several hours, and could be heard singing hymns by local villagers who came up to the mineshaft after the murderers had left.
A few days later, the bodies of St. Elizabeth and St. Barbara were recovered from the mineshaft after the pro-Tsarist armies took Alopaevsk. They were ultimately taken to Jerusalem in 1920, and buried in the church of St. Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives.
Troparion (Tone 4) –
Emulating the Lord’s self-abasement on the earth,
You gave up royal mansions to serve the poor and disdained,
Overflowing with compassion for the suffering.
And taking up a martyr’s cross,
In your meekness
You perfected the Saviour’s image within yourself,
Therefore, with Barbara, entreat Him to save us all, O wise Elizabeth.
Kontakion (Tone 3) –
In the midst of worldliness,
thy mournful heart dwelt in Heaven;
in barbaric godlessness,
Your valiant soul was not troubled;
You longed to meet your Bridegroom as a confessor,
and He found you worthy of your martyric purpose.
O Elizabeth, with Barbara,
Your brave companion,
Pray to your Bridegroom for us.
It seemed appropriate to bring a St. George icon home from a cathedral of the same name. For an explanation of the icon of the more commonly known Saint George, I refer the reader to the always excellent A Reader’s Guide to Orthodox Icons.
The Women’s Club also sent us a card featuring Saint Tikhon, Enlightener of North America, as well as Saint Raphael, Bishop of Brooklyn. When the package arrived, we had just been to the Russian Orthodox monastery at Jordanville and had seen St. Tikhon’s crypt.
What can one say of St. Tikhon? I will relay some of the information from the Orthodox Church in America site, but it is only a fraction of his story and the scope of his influence:
Saint Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow and Apostle to America was born as Vasily Ivanovich Belavin on January 19, 1865 into the family of Ioann Belavin, a rural priest of the Toropetz district of the Pskov diocese. His childhood and adolescence were spent in the village in direct contact with peasants and their labor. From his early years he displayed a particular religious disposition, love for the Church as well as rare meekness and humility.
From 1878 to 1883, Vasily studied at the Pskov Theological Seminary. The modest seminarian was tender and affectionate by nature…His fellow students liked and respected him for his piety, brilliant progress in studies, and constant readiness to help comrades, who often turned to him for explanations of lessons, especially for help in drawing up and correcting numerous compositions. Vasily was called “bishop” and “patriarch” by his classmates.
In 1888, at the age of 23, Vasily Belavin graduated from the Saint Petersburg Theological Academy as a layman, and returned to the Pskov Seminary as an instructor of Moral and Dogmatic Theology. The whole seminary and the town of Pskov became very fond of him. He led an austere and chaste life, and in 1891, when he turned 26, he took monastic vows. Nearly the whole town gathered for the ceremony. He embarked on this new way of life consciously and deliberately, desiring to dedicate himself entirely to the service of the Church. The meek and humble young man was given the name Tikhon in honor of Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk.
(There is a great deal of information at this point listing the travels, deeds, achievements and efforts of this holy man. I encourage those curious about Russian Orthodoxy in North America to read the entire piece. However, for the purposes of this blog, I will pick up at the end of the story):
…The summer of 1921 brought a severe famine to the Volga region. In August, Patriarch Tikhon issued a message to the Russian people and to the people of the world, calling them to help famine victims. He gave his blessing for voluntary donations of church valuables, which were not directly used in liturgical services. However, on February 23, 1922, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee published a decree making all valuables subject to confiscation.
According to the 73rd Apostolic Canon, such actions were regarded as sacrilege, and the Patriarch could not approve such total confiscation, especially since many doubted that the valuables would be used to combat famine. This forcible confiscation aroused popular indignation everywhere. Nearly two thousand trials were staged all over Russia, and more than ten thousand believers were shot. The Patriarch’s message was viewed as sabotage, for which he was imprisoned from April 1922 until June 1923.
His Holiness, Patriarch Tikhon did much on behalf of the Russian Orthodox Church during the crucial time of the so-called Renovationist schism. He showed himself to be a faithful servant and custodian of the undistorted precepts of the true Orthodox Church. He was the living embodiment of Orthodoxy, which was unconsciously recognized even by enemies of the church, who called its members “Tikhonites.”
When Renovationist priests and hierarchs repented and returned to the church, they were met with tenderness and love by Saint Tikhon. This, however, did not represent any deviation from his strictly Orthodox policy. “I ask you to believe me that I will not come to agreement or make concessions which could lead to the loss of the purity and strength of Orthodoxy,” the Patriarch said in 1924.
Being a good pastor, who devoted himself entirely to the church’s cause, he called upon the clergy to do the same: “Devote all your energy to preaching the word of God and the truth of Christ, especially today, when unbelief and atheism are audaciously attacking the Church of Christ. May the God of peace and love be with all of you!”
It was extremely painful and hard for the Patriarch’s loving, responsive heart to endure all the Church’s misfortunes. Upheavals in and outside the church, the Renovationist schism, his primatial labors, his concern for the organization and tranquility of Church life, sleepless nights and heavy thoughts, his confinement that lasted more than a year, the spiteful and wicked baiting of his enemies, and the unrelenting criticism sometimes even from the Orthodox, combined to undermine his strength and health.
In 1924, Patriarch Tikhon began to feel unwell. He checked into a hospital, but would leave it on Sundays and Feast Days in order to conduct services. On Sunday, April 5, 1925, he served his last Liturgy, and died two days later. On March 25/April 7, 1925 the Patriarch received Metropolitan Peter and had a long talk with him. In the evening, the Patriarch slept a little, then he woke up and asked what time it was. When he was told it was 11:45 P.M., he made the Sign of the Cross twice and said, “Glory to Thee, O Lord, glory to Thee.” He did not have time to cross himself a third time.
Almost a million people came to say farewell to the Patriarch. The large cathedral of the Donskoy Monastery in Moscow could not contain the crowd, which overflowed the monastery property into the square and adjacent streets. Saint Tikhon, the eleventh Patriarch of Moscow, was primate of the Russian Church for seven and a half years.
On September 26/October 9, 1989, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church glorified Patriarch Tikhon and numbered him among the saints. For nearly seventy years, Saint Tikhon’s relics were believed lost, but in February 1992, they were discovered in a concealed place in the Donskoy Monastery.
It would be difficult to imagine the Russian Orthodox Church without Patriarch Tikhon during those years. He did so much for the Church and for the strengthening of the Faith itself during those difficult years of trial. Perhaps the saint’s own words can best sum up his life: “May God teach every one of us to strive for His truth, and for the good of the Holy Church, rather than something for our own sake.”
St. Raphael, Bishop of Brooklyn is a fitting companion in the icon, as he was the first Orthodox Bishop to be consecrated in North America- by St. Tikhon himself. He also helped to found the St. Tikhon monastery, and served as Bishop in Brooklyn until his death in 1915.
Finally, the cookbook! For the curious, the Antiochian Orthodox church is in communion with other Eastern Orthodox churches, which is why we (Russian Orthodox) can attend. Antiochian Orthodox parishes typically have a greater Lebanese/Syrian population in general, relative to other Orthodox churches. (For a lighthearted perpspective on ethnicity and Orthodoxy, see “House Blend” by Father Jon E. Braun.) I am interested in trying some of these recipes and comparing them to our own parish cookbook. Thanks again to the lovely Women’s Club aka Antiochian Women, and to the St. George Cathedral. And PS: If you are looking for a place that will regularly ship small, affordable icons, start at the Holy Trinity Icon Studio. For more, see my larger resource page.
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of America: St. George Orthodox Cathedral
Braun, Jon E. “House Blend.”Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese.
Holy Trinity Icon Studio
“St. Elizabeth the New Martyr of Russia.” Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.
“St. Tikhon the Patriarch of Moscow, and Enlightener of North America.” OCA.
Citing this page:
Solomon, Alana. “Gems via Post from St. George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral.” Ortolana Studio & Press. Ortolana Studio & Press, 8 August 2018.