Saint Elizabeth was was the second child and daughter of Grand Duke Louis IV of Hesse and Princess Alice of the United Kingdom, a daughter of Queen Victoria. She was the older sister of Tsarina Alexandra, the last empress of Russia. Elizabeth was married to the Grand Duke Sergius, the governor of Moscow. She converted to Orthodoxy from Protestantism of her own free will, and organized women from all levels of society to help the soldiers at the front and in the hospitals.
Grand Duke Sergius was killed by an assassin’s bomb on February 4, 1905, just as Elizabeth was leaving for her workshops. Remarkably, she visited her husband’s killer in prison and urged him to repent.
After this, she began to withdraw from her former social life. She devoted herself to the Convent of Saints Martha and Mary, a community of nuns which focused on worshiping God and helping the poor. She moved out of the palace into a building she purchased on Ordinka. Women from the nobility, and also from the common people, were attracted to the convent.
Elizabeth nursed sick and wounded soldiers in the hospitals and on the battle front. On Pascha of 1918, the Communists ordered her to leave Moscow, and join the royal family near Ekaterinburg. She left with a novice, Sister Barbara, and an escort of Latvian guards.
After arriving in Ekaterinburg, Elizabeth was denied access to the Tsar’s family. She was placed in a convent, where she was warmly received by the sisters.
At the end of May, Elizabeth was moved to nearby Alopaevsk with the Grand Dukes Sergius, John, and Constantine, and the young Count Vladimir Paley. They were all housed in a schoolhouse on the edge of town. Elizabeth was under guard, but was permitted to go to church and work in the garden.
On the night of July 5, they were all taken to a place twelve miles from Alopaevsk, and executed. The Grand Duke Sergius was shot, but the others were thrown down a mineshaft, then grenades were tossed after them. Elizabeth lived for several hours, and could be heard singing Church hymns.
The bodies of Saint Elizabeth and Saint Barbara were taken to Jerusalem in 1920, and buried in the church of Saint Mary Magdalene.
Emulating the Lord’s self-abasement on the earth,
you gave up royal mansions to serve the poor and disdained,
overflowing with compassion for the suffering people.
And taking up a martyr’s cross,
in your meekness you perfected the Savior’s image within yourself,
therefore, with Barbara, entreat Him to save us all, O wise Elizabeth.
In the midst of worldliness,
your mournful heart dwelt in Heaven.
In barbaric godlessness, your valiant soul was not troubled.
You longed to meet your Bridegroom as a confessor,
and He found you worthy of your martyric purpose.
O Elizabeth, with Barbara, your brave companion,
pray to your Bridegroom for us.