Holy New Martyr Elizabeth of Russia (1864-1918) was a German princess raised in the Protestant faith but who later, after marrying into the Russian royal family and encountering the faith of her new land, converted to Orthodox Christianity. Related through dynastic ties directly to Queen Victoria of England, she was the sister of Empress Alexandra, the wife of the last tsar of Russia Nicholas II. Deeply pious in her Christian faith and engaged in a wide range of charitable activities among the poor, Elizabeth was also considered one of the most beautiful women of her time.
In 1905, her husband the Grand Duke Sergey was brutally assassinated by a revolutionary in front of their home. Elizabeth’s response was to visit the murderer in prison and to offer him her forgiveness, an act of Christ-like love that was solemnized when she ordered the placement of a commemorative cross on the site of the assassination with an inscription over it reading “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”
The princess who had known vast wealth now gave her possessions away to the poor and founded the Martha-Mary Convent in Moscow where she became the abbess, eating simple food instead of the fine dinners of the imperial court and, rather than pass her evenings in vain entertainments, keeping vigil at the bedside of the poor who were brought to the Convent for medical assistance.
In 1918, following the overthrow of Nicholas II, the new atheistic government ordered her death. As she and other martyrs were thrown down an abandoned mine shaft, one of the Communist executioners reported hearing an Orthodox hymn about the cross of Christ (“O Lord Save Thy People”) rising out of the darkness below.
Saint Elizabeth was canonized by the Moscow Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church in 1992, following the collapse of Communism in Russia. Here story is remembered by many Christians throughout the world. In 1998 the Church of England placed a statue of her above the western entrance of Westminster Abbey in London, and her icon is widely used for veneration by other non-Orthodox communities to this day.