The casing for this icon has a keel-shaped top containing an openwork image of the cross in bloom. On the front of the icon, inside a decorative frame, one can see the waist-length image of the Holy Martyr Grand Princess Elizabeth Fyodorovna.
Grand Princess Elizabeth, the elder sister of Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna, was born on 20 October (1 November) 1864 in the Protestant family of Ludwig IV, Grand Duke of Hesse-Darmstadt, and Princess Alice, daughter of Queen Victoria. In 1884 she arrived in Russia and was married to Grand Prince Sergei Alexandrovich, brother of Emperor Alexander III. In 1891 she converted from Protestantism to Orthodoxy and, in the same year, moved with her husband to Moscow, where the Grand Prince was appointed Governor General.
Like her husband, Elizabeth Fyodorovna was deeply religious. She embraced the Orthodox faith with her whole heart, fell in love with the church services, prayed fervently and devoted a lot of effort, time and money to charity. The brutal murder of Grand Prince Sergei Alexandrovich by terrorist Kalyaev, tragic as it was, sealed her resolve to become a Christian ascetic. Once she was left alone, Elizabeth Fyodorovna “rejected herself”, refused to participate in any social events, delved even deeper into prayer and devoted herself to charity and social work with an even greater zeal than before. The Grand Princess divided her jewelry and precious works of art into three parts and handed over the first to the treasury (these were the gifts from the imperial family), gave the second to her relatives, and used the third and largest to carry out her plan and to found a convent whose inhabitants would devote themselves to prayer, work and charity.
Thanks to her selfless activity and asceticism, the Martha and Mary Convent of Mercy was founded in 1909 and Elizabeth Fyodorovna herself became the abbess. In dedicating the holy abode to Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus, Elizabeth Fyodorovna determined its mission. “The community was meant to be akin to the house of Lazarus, which was so frequently visited by Christ. The nuns were to combine both the noble destiny of Mary, who listened to the words of life eternal, and the practical ministry of Martha, for at the convent they would establish Christ as represented by His younger brothers”.
The selfless activity as the abbess of the convent already earned Elizabeth Fyodorovna a reward in heaven. But the Lord had prepared for her an even higher destiny: the crown of martyrdom. When Lenin came to power, he set out to destroy the whole royal family of the Romanovs and anyone who happened to be close to him. Elizaveta Feodorovna did not escape this fate. Twice, she refused the offer to flee to Europe and consciously made the choice to stay in the dying Russia.
Elizabeth Fyodorovna was arrested and brought to the town of Alpayevsk along with the other members of the imperial family and their loved ones. The hellish crime was committed on the night of 18 July, when the Orthodox Church celebrates the memory of St. Sergius of Radonezh, the patron saint of her late husband, Sergei Alexandrovich. The prisoners were taken to an abandoned iron ore mine and thrown down the shaft while still alive. Security officers threw hand-grenades down the mine to fill the shaft up and conceal the crime, but virtually none of the martyrs were killed immediately. They died in terrible suffering from thirst, hunger and injuries.
The Holy Grand Princess Elizabeth Fyodorovna fell onto a ledge 15 meters below. Prince Ioann, his wounded head bandaged with the Grand Duchess’ apostolnik (monastic veil or headscarf), was later found nearby. A peasant witness heard the Cherubic Hymn coming from deep within the mine. It was sung by the martyrs, headed by Elizabeth Fyodorovna. The saint sang prayers and encouraged the others until her soul departed to the Lord and the crown of martyrdom shone over her head.
When the White Army led by Admiral Kolchak occupied the area of Ekaterinburg and Alapaevsk, the mine was excavated and the martyrs’ bodies were discovered. With great difficulty, the coffins of the Holy Martyrs Grand Princess Elizabeth Fyodorovna and her servant nun Varvara were transported to Jerusalem and set in the tomb belonging to the temple of St. Mary Magdalene. In 1888, Elizabeth Fyodorovna herself had been present at the consecration of the temple, which was built at the expense of the Emperor Alexander III and his brothers. She admired the beauty of the church and said: “I would like to be buried here”. Her words came true.
In the iconography of the scapular, we have tried to reflect the stages of the spiritual ascent passed by Grand Princess Elizabeth Fyodorovna. They are marked by three crosses. The first and lowest cross is found on the rosary the Grand Princess is holding in her left hand. Prayer beads accompanied her throughout her whole life, starting from a young age. They are a symbol of prayer, which awakens and nourishes one’s spiritual life. Somewhat higher one can see the second cross, the pendant made of cypress wood that marks her as the Abbess of the Martha and Mary Convent and stands for her monastic ministry. Finally, the third and highest cross is the martyr’s Cross of Calvary one can see in the Holy Martyr’s right hand. This is the cross of victory that opens the gates to the Kingdom of Heaven.
On the reverse of the icon, in an ornamental frame, one can find the prayer to the New Holy Martyr Grand Princess Elizabeth Fyodorovna in Church Slavonic: Ст7а1z прпdбномч7нца вели1каz кнzги1не елісаве1то моли2 за на1с хrта2 бг7а нашего (“Grand Princess Elizabeth, Holy Martyr, pray for us to Christ our God”).
The memory of the Holy Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna is celebrated on the day of her martyrdom, 5 (18) July, and the following Sunday after the 25 January (old style) along with the other New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia.