Sunday, February 27, 2011

Dining with the Duchess

I gaze in awe at the fine china tea cup, trimmed with thin gold, engraved with the initials of her and her beloved; the delicate rim tips slowly, carefully to each ladies' lips, cool liquid pouring down throats, flowing with holy heat.  Her fragrant scent spreads throughout the room, the perfume of royalty now exchanged for the sweet scent of holiness.  Her image, embossed in silver, hangs from my neck, swinging forward as I bow neck to kiss her hand.  She is clothed in royal robes.  Not those handed down from her grandmother, the ornate finery of Queen Victoria; nor are they the court clothes of a member of the Russian Imperial Court.  These are robes of pearl gray cotton, beautiful in their simplicity.  These are the robes of martyrdom.  We sing with her, we pray with her, we serve with her, and we listen.  We listen to what she has to teach us.  Charitable works, patience and love.  Those are her words to each of us.  Which is the most difficult?  To love as Christ loved?  To bear without reproach the little annoyances of the day?  To give of ourselves in helping others?  Can they even be separated?  For without love, there is no patience.  Without love there are no charitable actions.  Without patience and charitable works, there is no love.   She stands before us, a witness to all three.  A woman who had everything, bore the deepest of sorrows, and gave all that she had in mercy and love for Christ and those around her.  In her story, and in her words, there is much to contemplate.  Above all, her actions: she embodied Mary and Martha.  She was a pioneer, creating an Orthodox monastic community like no other, one that united the one thing needful with the service of Martha, caring for each person she came in contact with as an icon of Christ.  She stood firm against those who would protect her, those who would keep her safe within her white walls, those who would deliver her from the terrible red darkness that was washing over her beloved adopted homeland.  As Lent approaches, her example reminds me that I cannot consume myself with the services and prayers of the church, without partnering them with the willingness to serve each time the opportunity is presented, and the love and patience I so rarely find myself capable of having for those around me.

  O Holy Martyr Elizabeth, pray for us.

Concealing the rank of a princess with humility, O divinely-wise Elizabeth, 
thou didst honour Christ with the two-fold service of Martha and Mary.
Having purified thyself with charitable works, patience and love, 
thou wast brought to God as an offering of righteousness. 
As we venerate thy virtuous way of life and thy sufferings,
we earnestly ask thee, as our true teacher: 
O holy martyr and Grand Duchess Elizabeth, 
entreat Christ our God to save our souls.


Maria said...

Forgive me for being dense, but I'm mystified. Is this a teacup that once belonged to the New Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth? (What a treasure that would be!) Or a commemorative cup in her honor? (Also something special...) A gathering of a women's group in honor of St. Elizabeth? (If yes, please tell more.) Or a visit to a special place honoring her? (Someplace we can go, too?) Perhaps with relics? I really am intrigued, but I can't quite put the picture together. A very tantalizing and mysterious beginning to your heartfelt post....

Anna said...

Maria - I apologize for sounding so mysterious. Last week I was blessed to attend a women's retreat where the topic was the example set by the life of St. Elizabeth. I would love to share some of the wonderful things we learned, but have not found the time to put it in words. These few words were the impressions that arose in my mind throughout the day, and when it was over what kept running through my mind was that I had dined with the duchess :) I hope to share more soon. And yes, the teacup belonged to St. Elizabeth.