On the day after the murder of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas and his family, the Orthodox Church commemorates the martyrdom of Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna and those with her.
Grand Duchess Elizabeth was the older sister of Tsaritsa Alexandra and was married in 1884 to Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, the governor general of Moscow and uncle of Nicholas II. Upon marriage, Grand Duchess Elizabeth voluntarily converted to the Orthodox Church. The marriage between Grand Duchess Elizabeth and Grand Duke Sergei was happy and quiet. Although they did not have children of their own, Grand Duchess Elizabeth and Grand Duke Sergei willed their large estate Ilyinskoye to Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich and his sister, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna whose foster parents they were.
In 1905, Grand Duke Sergei was assassinated by the Socialist Revolutionary Ivan Kalyayev. Although Kalyayev had tried once before to kill the Grand Duke, he wasn’t able because of the presence of the Grand Duchess’ coach. On the second attempt, however, he was successful.
The murder of her husband shocked Elizabeth deeply. However, she relied on her Orthodox faith a great deal during this dark period of her life. During the days following the assassination, she also visited Kalyayev numerous times in jail and asked Tsar Nicholas II to mitigate the man’s sentence to life in prison. However, the Tsar refused to grant his sister-in-law’s petition and Kalyayev was executed all the same.
In 1909, four years after the assassination of Grand Duke Sergei, Grand Duchess Elizabeth founded the Convent of Sts. Martha and Mary in Moscow. The convent was founded to serve those who otherwise could not help themselves. The sisters extended help to the poor, orphaned, and ill. The community consisted of sisters from every walk of life and included aristocrats as well as simple peasant girls. Grand Duchess Elizabeth’s jewels and other accoutrements as well as her money paid for the land on which the convent was eventually built.
In 1918, Vladimir Lenin ordered his Cheka to arrest Grand Duchess Elizabeth. She was exiled to Yekaterinburg, Perm, and, finally, to Alapaevsk. At this last location, she was joined by several other members of the Imperial family and Sister Barbara, a sister from her convent.
On July 5/18, Grand Duchess Elizabeth and her companions were thrown head first into a mine shaft. All except one, Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich, survived the fall. A grenade was tossed after them, but the martyrs continued to sing hymns. A second grenade was thrown in and nothing happened once again. Finally, a brush wood fire was lit to choke the martyrs. One by one, they lost consciousness and died. The last was Grand Duchess Elizabeth who had managed to bandage the head of Grand Duke Ioann Konstantinovich.
Shortly after the White Army liberated Alapaevsk, the relics of Grand Duchess Elizabeth and Sister Barbara were recovered. They were sent first to a cemetery in China and then found their way to Jerusalem where they rest today in the Church of St. Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives.
Grand Duchess Elizabeth was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in 1981 and the Moscow Patriarchate in 1992.
Our Lady of Vladimir, pray for us!
Holy Grand Duchess Elizabeth, pray for us!