RUSSIAN ECCLESIASTICAL MISSION IN JERUSALEM: July 19, 2007
The Feast Day of SS Elizabeth and Barbara at St Mary Magdalene Convent in Gethsemane
On July 5/18, 2007, the Russian Church celebrates two great feast days: the memory of Hegumen of the Russian Land, St Sergius of Radonezh, and Holy New Martyrs Grand Duchess Elizabeth and her faithful cell-attendant, Nun Barbara. In Russia, the main celebration is held in Holy Trinity-St Sergius Lavra, the heart of Russia, while in the Holy Land, this day draws all the pilgrims and the area's monastics to St Mary Magdalene Church, for here there is a Divine treasure; the aromatic relics of Holy New Martyrs Elizabeth (Elizaveta Feodorovna) and Nun Barbara (Varvara).
This year, arriving from Germany, the homeland of St Elizaveta, was His Eminence Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany, Overseer of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem. Several years ago, His Eminence composed a service to St Elizabeth, and since then the service to St Sergius is only performed in Gethsemane in October.
Only two days ago, a youth pilgrimage, having gathered from throughout the world, departed from the Holy Land, having completed the tour entitled “In the Footsteps of Moses.” Fortunately, a few participants were able to remain behind and share this holiday with us. Among these were Deacon Nicholas Olhovsky and his matushka, Elizabeth, Michael Perekrestov, the son of Protopriest Peter Perekrestov, Nicholas and Alexander Kotar, the children of Protopriest Sergei, also from San Francisco, CA, and another six members. They all took active participation in divine services, singing and reading in church. Fr Nicholas adorned the service by serving as deacon.
The holiday was celebrated with unusual fervor, since the Chief of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission of the Moscow Patriarchate, Archimandrite Tikhon, was invited, along with Abbess Georgia, head of Gorny Convent, and her nuns. This was a reciprocal invitation after the first Divine Liturgy was served together on the feast day of All Russian Saints held in the Gorny's new cathedral. Thus it was our turn to receive the high guests, among whom was the Russian Consul to Israel, Petr Stegny, and his wife. The first joint Divine Liturgy was thus served in Gethsemane.
Many pilgrims from Russia were in attendance. The church was full. Two choirs sang—ours and Gorny's. Before the Divine Liturgy of the catechumens the singing was antiphonal, and for the Cherubic hymn, the choirs merged in the middle of the church, and it became a real celebration. For the first time I saw the singers crying, fervent prayers were lifted, our hearts were overfilled with joy and gratitude to God for our unity. We sensed the fullness and living presence of God and of His saints, who were thrown alive into the mineshaft in Alapaevsk, and, mortally wounded, sang the Cherubic hymn. Pious quietude reigned in the church; one might think that everyone left, it was so quiet and prayerful. During the pre-Eucharist prayers we sang the joyous stichera “Russian Land” by Bishop Afanassy (Sakharov) the Confessor. The last words of this prayer, “Holy Rus, preserve the Orthodox faith, for in it is your strength,” resounded so grandly that they brought tears to our eyes. It is in the Orthodox faith that all our wealth and legacy lie, and the podvig of the Holy New Martyrs of Russia in the years of the brutal godless years that moves each one of us to appeal to them in prayer to strengthen our faith.
The Holy Gifts were administered from two chalices. Archbishop Mark gave a wonderful sermon about the Holy New Martyrs, stressing that the way of the cross of Grand Duchess Elizabeth and Nun Barbara, two people of vastly different backgrounds and social status, whose fates merged.
After Divine Liturgy, a moleben was served to Holy New Martyrs Elizabeth and Barbara, and a solemn Many Years was sung to those celebrating their namesday: Abbess Elizabeth, and the Gethsemane nuns Elizabeth and Barbara. Archimandrite Tikhon offered the cross for veneration and anointed everyone with oil from the lampada of the holy relics. Mother Abbess distributed icons in memory of this historic event.
How good it is that nothing separates us any longer, and with one mouth and one heart we praise and glorify Christ our God. The trapeza was laid out under tents in the churchyard. Everyone enjoyed the relaxed and friendly atmosphere. The Lord blessed us with good weather: it wasn't hot, and a pleasant breeze refreshed us. No one wanted to leave. We exchanged invitations to visit again and again—soon it will be Gorny's feast day, the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, and two weeks later the feast day of St Mary Magdalene in Gethsemane. Although that increased our workload, that does not compare with what the Lord granted us in these days—blessedness and joy in the Holy Spirit.