JERUSALEM: August 22, 2009
Statement From the Nuns of Gethsemane
Since 1921, the relics of Holy Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth and Nun Barbara have been preserved at Gethsemane Garden, in the Church of St Mary Magdalene.
As founder and abbess of SS Mary and Martha Convent in Moscow, the Grand Duchess prepared a crypt for herself under Pokrovsky Church. Who could have imagined that a revolution would shake the nation, that the centuries-old pillars of faith would be trampled underfoot by godlessness, that the relics of martyred saints would have to be saved from desecration, and that after a long journey, they would finally arrive in the place where the young Duchess uttered the fateful words: “How I would like to be buried here!”
It is here, the Russian Gethsemane, the holy garden of Christ, that the Lord allowed the holy relics of the two Martyrs to come to rest, planted here like aromatic lilies. Soon, through their prayerful intercession, a new convent appeared here. The Holy Duchess thereby established two convents—one in Moscow, during her lifetime, and another in the Holy City of Jerusalem, from on high. She became the protectress of Holy Gethsemane, together with St Mary Magdalene and Empress Maria Alexandrovna, in whose memory this church was built. In the terrible years of Soviet godlessness and persecution, here, in the Holy Land, Gethsemane Convent grew and established itself, preserving within itself the great gift of the miraculously-healing relics of the Martyrs.
With the fall of the Soviet state, a spiritual renewal began in Russia, and the Convent of SS Mary and Martha began to awaken from its deep “slumber.” Naturally, its nuns wished to have relics of its founder. Discussions were held on the highest levels regarding this matter. His Holiness Patriarch Alexy and His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus reached an agreement right after the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion which joined the two parts of the Russian Church. During a meeting of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, the decision was made to give a portion of the holy relics of SS Elizabeth and Barbara to the “Marfo-Mariinsky” Convent.
Two years passed before this was done.
His Eminence Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany arrived for the celebration of the Ascension of the Lord, and on May 29, after all-night vigil served together with the Chief of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem, Archimandrite Joasaph, in the presence of Abbess Elizabeth and a few nuns, and also Mrs. NA Moliboga, the head of Marfo-Mariinsky Convent, the reliquaries of the saints were opened, and, in prayer, as is customary, two parts of the shoulder bones were removed and placed into special cypress-wood reliquaries prepared for this purpose. The reliquaries were brought into the altar and placed on the altar table. The relics were to be taken to Moscow. On June 12, with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, emissaries were sent to Jerusalem to receive the relics: His Grace Bishop Michael of Geneva representing the Russian Church Abroad and Mrs EV Anisimova, Steward of Marfo-Mariinsky Convent, representing the Moscow Patriarchate. A moleben was served, attended by all the Convent’s nuns.
Vladyk Michael took the reliquaries, and everyone accompanied them out of the church with the singing of prayers. Fr Joasaph was also in attendance, as well as Archimandrite Isidor of the Moscow Mission to Jerusalem.
Thus the relics were transferred, which will find their home in a special place set up for them in Moscow in the style of the crypt of St Daniel of Moscow. The relics of the holy prince have long disappeared except for a small portion of them. A crypt was created with a full-length icon of the saint, upon whose chest was a small reliquary. It was decided to do the same for the relics of SS Elizabeth and Barbara. This is an historic event. The Grand Duchess must indeed abide in both convents. We must strive to find the path to preserve and strengthen peace among Orthodox Christians throughout the world, and this will help, as these relics are our common legacy.
It is sad to have seen the criticism spread through the internet immediately following this event. Let us not forget that God and His Divine Providence stands above us all. Wondrous is God in His Saints! The saints gave us examples to emulate—love and prayer for all. Let us follow their lead, and not lose the Kingdom of Heaven for ourselves.
August 5/18, 2009