October 14, 2018
MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey
The Story of Two Saints—One, a Symbol of the Triumph of the Rough Beast of Paganism—the Other, A True Martyr Against Evil Incarnate
Today I relate to you two accounts—two stories—of canonizations of saints. Well, actually, it would be incorrect to call them both “canonizations,” as one of them is simply a paganized and symbolic acknowledgement, a memorialization by a major Protestant denomination honoring a victim of what our society calls “anti-gay” violence (but what in fact was a drug deal gone bad, ending in murder). And the other is completely opposite—about as different as one can get: the recognition of the holiness and merits of a real martyr who in 1918 suffered meekly for her faith at the bottom of a cold mineshaft into which Bolsheviks had thrown her and then tossed in hand grenades, and then, hearing religious chants coming from out of the mine, threw brush into it and lit it afire so the persons trapped therein would be incinerated.
Back in 1998 Matthew Sheppard, a young homosexual from Casper, Wyoming, went with two friends he met at a bar to a secluded location to complete a drug deal. There he was brutally murdered. And then followed a national outcry for legislation against anti-homosexual violence.
Just recently the American Episcopal Church agreed to entomb him with honor in Washington’s National Cathedral, his remains to reside there with various American heroes. And, in a very real sense, to quote the Episcopal bishop of Washington, he is to be honored as a kind of “patron saint” to not only what remains of that paganized and utterly castrated church, but to mainstream Christianity as it now parades in our modern culture, stripped naked of its traditional belief, its liturgy defiled, its sacraments despoiled, its congregants fleeing its mostly empty buildings, and become now a stalking horse for sheer Demonic evil intent on destroying the faith of millions.
Here is a portion of The New York Times coverage of this event:
Oct. 11, 2018
For 20 years, the ashes of Matthew Shepard have not been laid to rest. , when he was a 21-year-old college student, led to national outrage and, almost overnight, turned him into a symbol of deadly violence against gay people. [….] Now they have found a safe place. On Oct. 26, Mr. Shepard will be interred with honor at the Washington National Cathedral, the neo-Gothic, Episcopal house of worship that is a fixture of American politics and religion. “I think it’s the perfect, appropriate place,” Dennis Shepard, Matthew’s father, said in an interview on Thursday. “We are, as a family, happy and relieved that we now have a final home for Matthew, a place that he himself would love.”
Two decades ago, Matthew Shepard was robbed by two men, pistol-whipped and tied to a fence in Laramie. He later died in a hospital. “His death was a wound on our nation,” Mariann Edgar Budde, the “bishop” [my quotation marks] of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, said in an interview on Wednesday. “We are doing our part to bring light out of that darkness and healing to those who have been so often hurt, and sometimes hurt in the name of the church.” [….]
Mr. Shepard’s friend Jason Marsden remembers him as a young man who was passionate about global politics and human rights. He remembers the funeral in 1998 — how the attendees overflowed into nearby churches, and how some people came to protest with their signs.
Now Mr. Marsden, who works to promote his friend’s legacy as the executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, plans to be there in Washington this month when Mr. Shepard’s ashes are interred in the crypt. “It is a noteworthy place to be at rest, and it invites conversations about the importance of this person and what this person represents in American history,” he said. [….]
The cathedral regularly hosts prayer services and memorials for politicians and presidents. It recently hosted Senator John McCain’s funeral. The ceremony on Oct. 26 will begin with a public service in the morning, and the ashes will be interred privately.
Bishop Budde will preside over the event alongside the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, who became the in the Episcopal Church in 2003. Bishop Robinson said he had been working with Mr. Shepard’s parents on issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people for years. [….] Bishop Robinson said the country had made good progress on civil rights for L.G.B.T. people since Mr. Shepard’s killing, such as the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Mr. Shepard’s name was on a bill, , that expanded the definition of violent federal hate crimes to include those committed because of a victim’s sexual orientation. And the Washington National Cathedral has honored Mr. Shepard before; in 2013, it of “Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine,” a documentary about his life and death.
But the work is far from over, Bishop Robinson said, adding that Mr. Shepard’s death “became a symbol of the kind of mindless, pointless violence against us for no other reason than being who we are,” Bishop Robinson said. “It is important for us to remind ourselves that we are still trying to come out from under that shadow.”
About 200 people have been interred at the cathedral in Washington, including President Woodrow Wilson, Adm. George Dewey of the United States Navy, Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan. Mr. Shepard will be a quite welcome addition, Bishop Budde said. “A lot has changed in the 20 years since Matthew was abducted, tied to a fence and left to die,” Bishop Budde said.
Now, let us turn to a real saint, a martyr for and to the Faith and a true symbol of what the traditional Christian faith is all about, who was cruelly and mercilessly murdered in 1918 at the height of the Bolshevik Revolution: the Grand Duchess Elizabeth, proclaimed by the Russian Orthodox Church as a “new Martyr” Saint Elizabeth. And whose life, merits, and final encounter with an unspeakably brutal death illustrated the abundant virtues of her humble sainthood and her deep comprehension of the faith she possessed.
Here are some brief biographical notes:
Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine, later Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna of Russia (Russian: Елизавета Фëдоровна Романова, Elizabeth Feodorovna Romanova; canonized as Holy Martyr Elizabeth Feodorovna; was born on 1 November 1864 as the second child of Ludwig IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine, and Princess Alice, daughter of Queen Victoria. She was given the names Elisabeth Alexandra Luise Alix: "Elisabeth" after both St. Elizabeth of Hungary (the ancestress of the House of Hesse) and her paternal grandmother, Princess Elisabeth of Prussia, and "Luise" and "Alix" after her parents. Elisabeth was known as "Ella" within her family.
Though she came from one of the oldest and noblest houses in Germany, Elisabeth and her family lived a rather modest life by royal standards. The children swept the floors and cleaned their own rooms, while their mother sewed dresses herself for the children. During the Austro-Prussian War, Princess Alice often took Elisabeth with her while visiting wounded soldiers in a nearby hospital. In this relatively happy and secure environment, Elisabeth grew up surrounded by English domestic habits, and English became her first language. Later in life, she would tell a friend that, within her family, she and her siblings spoke English to their mother and German to their father….
Charming and with a very accommodating personality, Elisabeth was considered by many historians and contemporaries to be one of the most beautiful women in Europe at that time….
Ultimately, it was a Grand Duke of Russia who would win Elisabeth's heart….. Sergei, especially, was a very serious young man, intensely religious, and he found himself attracted to Elisabeth after seeing her as a young woman for the first time in several years….
Sergei and Elisabeth married on 15 (3) June 1884, at the Chapel of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg; upon her conversion to Russian Orthodoxy, she took the name Elizabeth Feodorovna. …. The new Grand Duchess made a good first impression on her husband's family and the Russian people. "Everyone fell in love with her from the moment she came to Russia from her beloved Darmstadt", wrote one of Sergei's cousins….
The couple never had children of their own…. They eventually became the foster parents of Grand Duke Dmitry Pavlovich and Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, Sergei's niece and nephew.
Although Elisabeth was not legally required to convert to Russian Orthodoxy from her native Lutheran religion, she voluntarily chose to do so in 1891…. Elisabeth was somewhat instrumental in the marriage of her nephew-by-marriage, Tsar Nicholas II, to her youngest sister Alix.
On 18 February 1905, her husband the Grand Duke Sergei was assassinated in the Kremlin by the Socialist-Revolutionary, Ivan Kalyayev. The event came as a terrible shock to Elisabeth….According to Edvard Radzinsky:
Elizabeth spent all the days before the burial in ceaseless prayer. On her husband's tombstone she wrote: 'Father, release them, they know not what they do.' She understood the words of the Gospels heart and soul, and on the eve of the funeral she demanded to be taken to the prison where Kalyayev was being held. Brought into his cell, she asked, 'Why did you kill my husband?' 'I killed Sergei Alexandrovich because he was a weapon of tyranny. I was taking revenge for the people.' 'Do not listen to your pride. Repent... and I will beg the Sovereign to give you your life. I will ask him for you. I myself have already forgiven you.' On the eve of revolution, she had already found a way out; forgiveness! Forgive through the impossible pain and blood -- and thereby stop it then, at the beginning, this bloody wheel. By her example, poor Ella appealed to society, calling upon the people to live in Christian faith. 'No!" replied Kalyayev. '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.' Kalyayev was sentenced to death. 'I am pleased with your sentence,' he told the judges. 'I hope that you will carry it out just as openly and publicly as I carried out the sentence of the Socialist Revolutionary Party. Learn to look the advancing revolution right in the face.'
Kalyayev was hanged on 23 May 1905.
In 1915 the All-Russian Zemstvo Union was organised under her auspices to provide support for sick and injured soldiers during the First World War.
After Sergei's death, Elisabeth wore mourning clothes. In 1909, she sold off her magnificent collection of jewels and sold her other luxurious possessions; even her wedding ring was not spared. With the proceeds she opened the Convent of Saints Martha and Mary and became its abbess.
She soon opened a hospital, a chapel, a pharmacy and an orphanage on its grounds. Elisabeth and her nuns worked tirelessly among the poor and the sick of Moscow. She often visited Moscow's worst slums and did all she could to help alleviate the suffering of the poor.
For many years, Elisabeth's institution helped the poor and the orphans in Moscow by fostering the prayer and charity of devout women. Here, there arose a vision of a renewed diaconate for women, one that combined intercession and action in the heart of a disordered world.
In 1916, Elisabeth had what was to be her final meeting with sister Alexandra, the tsarina, at Tsarskoye Selo. While the meeting took place in private, the tutor to the tsar's children apparently recalled that the discussion included Elisabeth expressing her concerns over the influence that Grigori Rasputin had over Alexandra and the imperial court, and begging her to heed the warnings of both herself and other members of the imperial family….
In 1918, Vladimir Lenin ordered the Cheka secret police to arrest Elisabeth. They then exiled her first to Perm, then to Yekaterinburg, where she spent a few days and was joined by others: the Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich Romanov; Princes Ioann Konstantinovich, Konstantin Konstantinovich, Igor Konstantinovich and Vladimir Pavlovich Paley; Grand Duke Sergei's secretary, Fyodor Remez; and Varvara Yakovleva, a sister from the Grand Duchess's convent. They were all taken to Alapayevsk on 20 May 1918, where they were housed in the Napolnaya School on the outskirts of the town.
At noon on 17 July, Cheka officer Pyotr Startsev and a few Bolshevik workers came to the school. They took from the prisoners whatever money they had left and announced that they would be transferred that night to the Upper Siniachikhensky factory compound. The Red Army guards were told to leave and Cheka men replaced them. That night the prisoners were awakened and driven in carts on a road leading to the village of Siniachikha, some 18 kilometres (11 miles) from Alapayevsk where there was an abandoned iron mine with a pit 20 metres (66 feet) deep. Here they halted. The Cheka beat all the prisoners brutally before throwing their victims into this mine pit, Elisabeth being the first. Hand grenades were then hurled down the shaft, but only one victim, Fyodor Remez, died as a result of the grenades.
According to the personal account of Vasily Ryabov, one of the killers, Elisabeth and the others survived the initial fall into the mine, prompting Ryabov to toss in a grenade after them. Following the explosion, he claimed to have heard Elisabeth and the others singing an Orthodox hymn from the bottom of the shaft. Unnerved, Ryabov threw down a second grenade, but the singing continued. Finally a large quantity of brushwood was shoved into the opening and set alight, upon which Ryabov posted a guard over the site and departed.
Early on 18 July 1918, the leader of the Alapayevsk Cheka, Abramov, and the head of the Yekaterinburg Regional Soviet, Beloborodov, who had been involved in the execution of the Imperial Family, exchanged a number of telegrams in a pre-arranged plan saying that the school had been attacked by an "unidentified gang". A month later, Alapayevsk fell to the White Army of Admiral Alexander Kolchak. Lenin rejoiced at Elisabeth's death, remarking that "virtue with the crown on it is a greater enemy to the world revolution than a hundred tyrant tsars".
On 8 October 1918, White Army soldiers discovered the remains of Elisabeth and her companions, still within the shaft where they had been murdered. Despite having lain there for almost three months, the bodies were in very good condition. Most were thought to have died slowly from injuries or starvation, rather than the subsequent fire. Elisabeth had died of wounds sustained in her fall into the mine, but before her death had still found strength to bandage the head of the dying Prince Ioann with her wimple. With the Red Army approaching, their remains were removed further east and buried in the cemetery of the Russian Orthodox Mission in Peking (now Beijing), China. Elisabeth was ultimately taken to Jerusalem, where her body was laid to rest in the Church of Maria Magdalene at Gethsemane. The Russian Orthodox Mission in Beijing was demolished in 1957 and its cemetery paved over as a parking lot in 1986.
Elisabeth was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in 1981, and in 1992 by the Moscow Patriarchate as Holy Martyr Elizabeth Feodorovna. Her principal shrines are the Marfo-Mariinsky Convent she founded in Moscow, and the Saint Mary Magdalene Convent on the Mount of Olives, which she and her husband helped build, and where her relics (along with those of Nun Barbara, her former maid) are enshrined. She is one of the ten 20th-century martyrs from across the world who are depicted in statues above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey, London, England, and she is also represented in the restored nave screen installed at St Albans Cathedral in April 2015.
A statue of Elisabeth was erected in the garden of her convent after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Its inscription reads: "To the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna: With Repentance."
On 8 June 2009, the Prosecutor General of Russia officially posthumously rehabilitated Elizabeth Feodorovna, along with other Romanovs: Mikhail Alexandrovich, Sergei Mikhailovich, Ioann Konstantinovich, Konstantin Konstantinovich and Igor Konstantinovich. "All of these people were subjected to repression in the form of arrest, deportation and being held by the Cheka without charge," said a representative of the office.
And, lastly, I pass along excerpts from some of the grand duchess’s writings:
LIFE PRINCIPLES OF GRAND DUCHESS ELIZABETH
Deeds and letters are those things that in the best possible way show what kind of person someone is. The letters of reveal the principles which laid the foundation of her life and relationships with people around her. These letters help us understand the reasons why the high-society beauty became a saint in her lifetime. In Russia, Elizabeth Feodorovna was renowned not only as “Europe’s most beautiful princess”, a sister of the empress and wife of the tsar’s uncle. The country knew her as founder of the Martha and Mary Convent, a convent of a new type. In 1918 Elizabeth Fyodorovna was on Lenin’s order thrown to an abandoned mine, hidden in an impenetrable forest, so that no one could ever find her.
“I have come to this decision [to convert to the Orthodoxy] only due to my deep faith. I feel that I should stand before God with a pure and faithful heart…. After I’ve spent six years in this country and already “found” religion, I’ve been thinking, thinking long and hard, about everything.
“To my surprise, I almost fully understand texts and services in Slavonic, despite never learning the language. You say that I’m enchanted by the splendor of the churches. But I don’t think you’re right. I’m impressed neither by anything visual nor by the service itself, but the foundation of faith. Visual attributes remind me of the inner part of it.”
“The can’t finish soon, it may only sharply deteriorate and become something chronic, which is bound to happen. It is my duty to help poor victims of the rebellion. I would rather be killed by a first accidental shot, than stay here doing nothing.”
“Huge waves are going to crash down upon us soon <…> All the classes, both lower and higher ones, even those who are now at the war, are at the end of their rope! <…> What other tragedies can strike us? What other miseries are in store for us?”
In 1905 St. Elizabeth’s husband, the Moscow governor-general Grand Duke was assassinated with a bomb by Social-Revolutionary terrorist Ivan Kaliaev. When Elizabeth Feodorovna heard the explosion, detonated not far from their house, she rushed outside to collect the dismembered remains. Then she spent hours in prayer. Some time later she petitioned the emperor to have mercy on the assassin. She visited Kaliaev in prison. Leaving the Gospel, she said she had forgiven him.
“…the Grand Duchess met the assassin in the office of Pyatnitsky unit at 8 o’clock in the evening February 7. To the question of who she was, the Grand Duchess said, “I’m the wife of the man you have killed. Tell me, why did you do this?” The defendant rose to answer, “I did what I had been charged with. It’s the fault of the existing regime.” Full of mercy, the Grand Duchess said, “Knowing the generous heart of my late husband, I forgive you”, and blessed the assassin. Then she stayed alone with the criminal for about twenty minutes. When the meeting was over, he said to the officer, “The Grand Duchess is kind, and you all are cruel.”
“Praying by the relics of St. Alexey of Moscow made me quiet and peaceful both in heart and soul. I wish you had a chance to come to the relics, venerate them and pray, so that peace could embrace you, and remain in you. Hardly did I pray… Alas, I don’t know how to pray well. I fell down, literally fell down before them, like a child to her mother’s breast. I prayed for nothing as my heart was full of peace, I realized that I was standing close to the saint, on whom I could rely, and with whom I am not alone.”
Four years after her husband’s death, Elizabeth Feodorovna sold all her jewelry and possessions, and the part, belonging to the Romanovs, she gave back to them. With the proceeds she opened the Martha and Mary Convent.
“My new life starts in two weeks, life blessed in the church. It seems I’m leaving my past behind, with its sins and mistakes, hoping for loftier goals and purer existence. <…> For me, taking monastic vows is something more serious than marriage is for a young woman. I’m becoming engaged to Christ and his service. I give everything I have to him and my neighbor.”
“Some people doubt whether I decided to make this decision by myself, without anyone’s influence. Many think that I have taken an unbearable cross upon myself, and I shall either abandon it or fall under the weight of it. However, I don’t take it as a cross, but as a path full of light, pointed by God after Sergei’s death; I have seen the flashes of this light in my soul for a long time. It’s not a transition; it’s something that has been arising inside of me, taking shape.”
“You may like many others say to me: “Stay in your palace as a widow and do your good works ‘from-above’.” If I want others to follow my principles I have to do things as they do, go through the same troubles. I have to be strong enough to comfort them and inspire by my own example. I’m neither intelligent nor gifted, I have nothing but love for Christ, but I’m weak. We can only express our love for him and our faithfulness by comforting people around us. Doing this we can dedicate our life to him.”
“The higher we try to reach, the more strict we are with ourselves, the more shrewdly the devil acts to make us blind to the light of truth. <…> We should move forward slowly enough to think we’re standing still. We must not look down on anyone… this is what we should strive for; everything is possible with the help of God.”
“I’m not thrilled, my friend. I’m just sure that God who punishes us is the same God who loves us. Lately, I’ve often been reading the Gospel; if we try to recognize the great sacrifice of God the Father, Who gave his own Son to death and resurrected him, then we shall feel the presence of the Holy Spirit, lightening our life. Then joy seems eternal even at times when our poor human hearts, our tiny mind goes through troubles that seem tremendous.”
“Death is a separation after all. I don’t like this word; I think that those who pass away make a way for us, and our prayers help them clear the path will have to go.”
To the question of what virtue Elizabeth Feodorovna appreciated most, Mother Nadezhda said, “It was mercy, and she appreciated any manifestation of it. She was merciful till the very last minute of her life.”
The results of excavations carried out later show that till the last minute she [Elizabeth Feodorovna] was trying to help the Grand Dukes, wounded when falling into the mine (she bandaged their wounds) And the local peasants, who watched the execution from a distance, could for a long time hear the mysterious singing of Orthodox chants, which wafted from out of the mine shaft.
These, then, are the two completely opposite ideals of holiness and martyrdom that take the name of “Christian” in the modern world. But only one stands in the tradition and as inheritor of the faith handed down and revealed two-thousand years ago. Only one of these canonizations—only one of these celebrations of martyrdom—only one of these God-created human beings--demonstrated in life…and in death…the Christian faith of the martyrs and saints.
The other for all the pain and brutalization he suffered is a symbol, yes, but not of the faith and the church founded by Christ, nor he is a martyr, except as seized upon and used by those who seek to destroy that same church.