St. Elizabeth the New Martyr—once Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna, of Russia—died in 1918 at the hands of the Soviet Government. Throughout her life, despite her royal blood and wealthy upbringing, she demonstrated a dedication to humility and service.
Elizabeth was raised in part by her grandmother, Queen Victoria of Britain, after the age of 14, once she had been orphaned. In time, she married the Grand Duke Sergei of Russia in June of 1884. After a number of years, as she fell in love with the Church and the people of Russia, Elizabeth converted to Orthodoxy of her own volition in 1891.
When her Lutheran family initially expressed grief at her decision to convert, Elizabeth wrote to them, “I am sure God’s blessing will accompany my act which I do with such fervent belief, with the feeling that I may become a better Christian and be one step nearer to God.”
She later encouraged her younger sister, Alexandra Fyodorovna, to convert to Orthodoxy and marry the Grand Duke Nicholas, heir to the Russian throne, which she did in 1894. Alexandra and Nicholas later died in 1918 as the last Tsar and Tsarina of Russia.
Elizabeth’s husband was assassinated by means of an explosive bomb by social revolutionaries in 1905. Elizabeth had been within earshot of the explosion, and ran to the scene where she helped gather the pieces of her dead husband’s body. Despite the horror of her loss, she visited the killer in prison, gave him a Bible, and urged him to repent—assuring him that she had already forgiven him herself.
After the death of her husband, she sold most of her possessions, became a nun, and started the Convent of Sts. Mary and Martha, dedicating the rest of her life to prayer and service to the poor. Her and the rest of the nuns of her convent started a hospital for the poor, and served many sick and needy throughout Moscow.
During Soviet rule, St. Elizabeth was beaten and thrown into a mine shaft along with other Russian royalty, despite having forsaken all claims to wealth. Sister Barbara, a nun from her convent, was martyred along with her. Witnesses said that hymns of praise could be heard coming from the mine shaft for some time afterwards.
St. Elizabeth the New Martyr lived an incredible life, yet retained humility throughout. Her dedication to service was clear, and she still inspires many who remember her story. May we all pray with each act, like her, that we “become a better Christian and be one step nearer to God.”