An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
Dawn provided me with a book on her life recently and I have been devouring it. It is a fascinating account of this saint's life - our new parish's patroness. I think that one of the things that most intrigues me about this book is that it is written from an entirely historic perspective, by which I mean to say that the author is not Orthodox and is in no way intending to write a formal hagiography.
In parts it almost seems to read like a romance novel, while at other times it has all the feel of an in depth history text. But always the author has a very distinct admiration for Saint Elizabeth.
Modern saints, such as Elizabeth, can often grant to us a very unique perspective. A perspective that reveals the humanity of the person. For most Saints, really, all we know about them usually can only be found in their hagiographies. We typically do not have their personal correspondences written to their wives or husbands or parents (including grammatical errors that I myself am well familiar with...truly encouraging!) We do not see evidences of their day to day struggles, their doubts and fears, or - as in the case of St. Elizabeth - their slow and difficult conversion to Orthodoxy.
Elizabeth was a Lutheran, a Granddaughter of Queen Victoria, but born a Grand Duchess of Hesse. After she married Grand Duke Serge of Russia (who the author of the book is convinced is a closeted homosexual...but I think it is a conviction based on scant real evidence and ultimately doesn't matter anyway) she retains her Lutheran faith for a while, and the book presents a fascinating letter she writes, describing how she is dealing with the oddities of Orthodoxy - and as a Russian Duchess she certainly would have to "deal with it."
It is an account familiar to many of us converts, St. Elizabeth writes to her Grandmother Queen Victoria:
Of course there were holy pictures, but where Serge knelt and kissed them I made a very low curtsy, in that way it does not shock the people so much and yet I do not think that I go too far. I only kiss the cross when held out to me and as is the custom to kiss the priest's hand when he kisses one's own I do it too - it is a mark of politeness.
Some years later, after a powerful and life-changing experience in the Holy Land, and after coming to love and appreciate the Russian people and their faith, St. Elizabeth would write the following to her father:
now dearest Papa there is something I want to tell you, beg you for your blessings - you must have remarked what deep reverance I have for the religion here when you came last - since over a year and a half I have been thinking and praying to God to show the right way and have come to the conclusion that only in their religion I can find all the true and strong faith one must have in God to be a good Christian...I would have done it so even before, only it hurts me to give you pain and that many of my dear relations will not understand me, you do, don't you?
Sadly, her father apparently did not understand and returned to his daughter what must have been a crushing blow in the form of a most bitter letter. And while she did get some support for her decision (even from her Grandmother Queen Victoria), she still received a good deal of criticism from others. Her experiences make me wonder if we should not encourage converts today who are struggling with misunderstanding or critical family members to seek her intercessions?
It is encouraging to me to see a real person in St. Elizabeth. As an infant she apparently did not fast from the breast during Lent and she apparently did not (as far as we know) teleport herself. Rather she voluntarily (and involuntarily) suffered and gave up all for her faith. She was exceptionally charitable and even before her husband had been murdered and she took up the monastic habit she strove to help the poor and suffering whoever they might be, whether returning wounded soldiers, poverty or disease stricken villagers, or even the family of the Tsar themselves (which of course included her sister.)
James, very nice post. I love that she's our patroness here in Poulsbo, partly because of the strong Lutheran presence here in a town founded by Norwegian immigrants, and also for me working as a nurse working at a nursing home named Martha and Mary. Her convent was named after Martha and Mary and had a hospital.