Extracts from Letters of Grand Duchess
Elizabeth Feodorovna to Emperor Nicholas II

Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna with Emperor Nicholas II, 1902

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Emperor Nicholas II, and two of his daughters having tea with Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna at the Martha and Mary Convent in Moscow

There survive some 100 letters and cards written by the Grand Duchess Elizabeth to Nicholas II. They were all written in English, although the Grand Duchess sometimes uses expressions in Russian, French or German. In the extracts selected below, originally published in the Russian journal Istochnik No 4, 1994, all Russian words have been translated into English and here appear in italics. Expressions in other languages are translated in brackets after them.

5 January 1891

…It was an eventful day also for me as Serge afterwards spoke about his religion to me and I said then I should like to know it more thoroughly. Well a year and a half have passed and that summer I read lots with him but then came again many months of doubts and worries. I always wished to put off although au fond de mon coeur (at the bottom of my heart) I already belonged to your religion. Alas I am very bad and did not have enough strength, enough faith. I felt at last how wicked it was so as to keep off worries and painful conversations with my old friends that I continued in outward forms and before the world to be a protestant when my soul already belonged to the Orthodox belief – it was lying before God and man and a very great sin, and I do so heartily repent…

18 April 1909

…You mention the spirit of delusion into which alas one can fall and of which often with Serge we have talked about. He with his large heart and tact whilst I was protestant never forced his religion upon me and found strength to bear up in this great grief of not seeing me in his faith, thanks to Fr John, who told him ‘Leave her alone, don’t speak about our faith, she will come to it of herself’ and thank God it was so. Well, Serge, who knew his faith and lived in it as perfectly as a true Orthodox Christian can, brought me up and thank God warned me against this spirit of delusion you talk of. My nature is too calm to be carried away in that direction, but yet one must always be on one’s guard as the devil slips in when we least expect…

…I took up the life I am now leading not as a cross – but as a road full of light God showed me after Serge’s death and which years and years before had begun in my soul. I can’t tell you when – it seems to me often that already as a child there was a longing to help those that suffer. Above all those who have moral sufferings…In my life I had so much joy – in my sorrows so much boundless comfort, that I long to give a little of that to others. I could write pages and pages, and yet it is difficult to put on paper all I feel. I long to thank and thank every minute for all God gave me and long to bring Him my feeble gratitude by serving Him and His suffering children. Oh, this is not a new feeling, this is an old one which always was in me. God has been so kind to me…

…I – good gracious – what am I, no better and probably worse than others. If people may have said foolish exaggerated things it is my fault, but they don’t say it to my face, they know I hate flattery as a dangerous poison. I can’t help people loving me, but then you see I love them and they feel it. I try to do my best for them and people can be grateful although one must never expect it. I don’t one minute think I have taken up a spiritual feat, it is a joy, I don’t see my crosses nor feel them because of the boundless kindness of God I have always felt – I long to thank Him…

April 1909

…Our lectures with the priest are most interesting – quite exceptionally so as he not only has his deep faith but has read immensely. He begins from the Bible and will end by church history and all showing the way how the sisters can after speak and help those in moral suffering. You know the Fr Mitrophan and had a good impression at Sarov, at Orel he was adored and here many come from far to our little church and find strength in his beautiful simple sermons and confession. He is large, nothing of the narrow-minded bigot, all founded on God’s boundless love and forgiveness – a true Orthodox priest keeping strictly to our Church – for our work God’s blessing, as he has laid the foundation as it ought to be – so many he has brought back to faith, put on the right road, so many thank me for the great blessing they have received being able to come to him. No exaltation – but you know me well enough that I love calm deep religion and would not choose a fanatic as priest in one way or the other…

…My darling Serge rests in God with so many he loved who have gone to join him and God has given me on this earth a beautiful work to fulfil. Will I do it well or badly He only knows but I will try my best and I put my hand in His and go with no fear whatever the crosses and criticism this world may have in store – little by little my life has turned onto this way. It is not a fantasy of the moment and no disappointment ever can come – I can be disappointed in myself but then I also have no illusion and don’t imagine I am different to others. I want to work for God and in God for suffering mankind and in my old age when my body can’t anymore work I hope God will let me then rest and pray for the work I began and then I will go out of the busy life and prepare for that great home – but I have health and energy and there is so, so much misery and Christ’s steps as guide are amongst the suffering in whom we help Him…

…If you find a minute’s time to answer me, please do and say if you understand all and perhaps a kind little word add in your English letter in Russian that I can read it to the priest where you say you believe in him and are sure he will know how to help me if God wills difficult moments to come…He confesses me, guides me in the church and gives me an immense help and example through his pure simple life, so modest and high in its boundless love for God and the Orthodox Church. Only to speak to him for a few minutes one sees he is modest, pure and a man of God, and God’s servant in our church…

26 March 1910

…’Patience is the home of the soul, humility is the food of the soul‘ – one must not look from above down, one must feel oneself the worst of the worse, It seemed to me often like false to try and acknowledge one is the worst of the worse but that is to what we must come – with God’s help all is possible. Don’t look on my letter as a long epistle of preaching – I call it my confession to you. In two weeks my new life blessed I the church begins. I am as if bidding goodbye to the past its faults and sins and with the hope of a higher goal and a purer existence. Pray for me deary. Oh, if you came and then spent the week of Lent and Easter – my taking of vows is even more serious than if a young girl marries. I am espousing Christ and His cause, I am giving all I can to him and our neighbours, I am going deeper into our Orthodox Church and becoming a missionary of Christian faith and charity work and Oh dear I am so unworthy of it all and I do so want blessings and prayers…

7 April 1910

Dearest brother dear,

I ask your blessing, prayers and forgiveness before the solemn day I am approaching. May God help me to be worthy of this task which is one of deep joy and soul’s peace for me. May my humble trials find acceptance in His sight and may you deary as my earthly Sovereign get a little help in your work which I will try to do with God’s help by bringing comfort to your children. Please please be convinced – that however awkward or sinful my poor earthly life may go – I am a true subject of yours – the will is always full of good intentions and religious wishes even if on the way I stumble and make endless mistakes. Serge died with joy for you and his country. It was two days before that he said how willingly he would give his blood if thereby he could be of help. I hope God may give me strength that never one can say I was unworthy of having been in olden times guided by such a true noble husband and true Christian.

With all my heart I kiss you and send my humble blessings and prayers.
Your true old friend and Sister,
Ella

13 April 1916

…Today is 25 years I entered our beloved church and we had mass and a big Te Deum with the clergy who gave me images, also the Palestine Society. In soul I was with Papa, Mama who was my God-mother and Serge reliving these years which in a month will be 25 in Moscow. All melts into intense gratitude to God, our Church and the noble examples I could see of true Orthodox people and I only feel so small and unworthy of God’s boundless love and of the love I received in Russia – even the moments of sorrow were lit up with such comfort from above, the little human misunderstandings were so lovingly smoothed down that I can say ‘thank God for all’.

Pray for me deary and bless me.
Your loving old Sister and humble subject and friend
Ella.

Source & Copyright: Orthodox England
27 January, 2014