Father Nektarios Serfes - Royal Martyrs Of Russia
navigation bar


Martyrdom Of Sister Barbara,

The New Martyr Of Russia

by

Father Nektarios Serfes

21 November, 1999
 

St. Barbara The New Martyr
St. Barbara The New Martyr


Dismissal Hymn (Tropar) Of The New Martyrs
Grand Duchess Elizabeth And Sister Barbara
Plagal of the First Tone

Emulating the Lord's self-abasement on the eath, thou didst forsake royal
mansions to serve the poor and disdained, overflowing with compassion
for the suffering.  And taking up a martyr's cross, thou in meekness didst
perfect the Saviour's image within thee.  Wherefore, with Barbara,
entreat Him to save us all.  O wise Elizabeth.
 
In describing the precious Christian devotion of Sister Barbara and her martyrdom, I am also presenting you brief accounts of the lives of the martyrs for their great Christian faith and duty, with her:  HRH. Grand Duchess Elizabeth (Abbess of Ss. Martha and Mary Convent of Love and Mercy), Princes John, Igor, Constantine, Vladimir and Sergius, who were all martyred in Alapaevsk, Russia, on July 5/18, (new calendar followed by old calendar, as in Russia they follow the old calendar in the Liturgical life of the Russian Orthodox Church) the day after the holy martyrdom of the Holy Imperial Royal Martyrs Tsar Nicholas, Tsarina Alexandra, Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Marie, Anastasia, and the Grand Duke Tsarevich Alexis, along with their friends.
 

From the teachings of the Orthodox Christian faith we learn to lay down one's life for the promotion and aid of another is the pinnacle of what is means to follow Jesus Christ, to be a child of Light and lover of mankind.  The Christian witness of laying down one's own life -martyrdom, for the Greek word "martyria" literally means "witness" - is what our Savior accomplished for the life of the world (St. John 6:51).  Jesus Christ was no mere mortal, since His death on the Cross was greater than any other sacrificial death in the history of the world. Jesus was the God-Man, truly God in human form, and thus His sacrifice on the Cross exhibited and demonstrated the superabundant love of God Himself for His entire creation: "For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (St. John 3:16). Accordingly, as every Orthodox Christian believes, it is the emulators of this sacrifice of Jesus - the glorious Martyrs - who have always been considered to be the Protectors of the Faith, as they have throughout the ages preserved our Faith whole and pure from all defilement of the devil. Every local Orthodox Church which has in her history the record of martyrdom can rightfully be considered blessed by God and even justified in His eyes.
Royal Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth (Last known photograph 1918)
Royal Martyr
Grand Duchess Elizabeth
(Last known photograph 1918)

Concerning this test and witness, we have such a devoted God-loving handmaiden of our Lord Jesus Christ named Sister Barbara, a Russian Orthodox nun, who was the cell keeper of the Holy Royal Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth, who was the Abbess of Ss. Martha and Mary Convent of Love and Mercy in Moscow, Russia.

Two nuns from the convent, named Sister Barbara, and Sister Catherine, were with Grand Duchess while under arrest by the local Red Guards on Bright Tuesday of the Paschal season in April of 1918.  Carried off into exile, no one knew where they were taken, although the Grand Duchess Elizabeth was under the impression that she was going towards Siberia to help with her nursing skills, and that both Sisters Barbara and Catherine where going to help with the same cause. Then again the thought was that it was their road to Golgotha!

By train on the way they stopped in Ykaterinburg, where the captives spent several days under strict surveillance, (the Royal Martyrs Tsar Nicholas II and his Royal Family members, and friends had not yet arrive in Ykaterinburg), and then from Ykaterinburg the three nuns where transported to Alapaevsk, where they imprisoned the the Grand Duchess Elizabeth with the nuns in a school building prepared for the purpose.  There authorities had also imprisoned the others whom they had arrested: the Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich, Prince John Konstantinovich and his wife, Helena Petrovna, and their children, Vsevolod and Catherine, Prince Konstantine Konstantinovich, Prince Igor Konstantinovich, Count Vladimir Palovich Paley, and the steward of the estates of the Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich - Theodore Semyonovich Remez.

At first the captives were under the strict guard of the Red Army soldiers, but they were allowed to go to church on feasts days and to work in the school garden, which during the course of a month, they had cultivated in such a way that even their enemies were amazed.

At times they were able to take walks, under guard, and even to talk to outsiders, with whom they spoke only a little, simply answering questions with a noble reserve, behaving bravely and not showing the deep pain of their hearts.

They lived in a spirit of struggle and prayer.  Mornings and evenings they prayed for a long time, and the Grand Duchess spent much of the night in prayer.  At midnight she could always be found in prayer.

The Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich, the youngest son of the Grand Duke Michale Nikolaevich (the brother of the Tsar Liberator, Alexander Nikovaevich) was born on 25 Septermber 1869.  He was named after St. Sergius of Radonezh, who cared and prayed for the Russian land.

From childhood the Grand Duke loved work and studies and while he was traveling through Russia with his father he became acquainted with the needs of the common people and came to love them with his whole soul.  While serving in the post of General Inspector or the Artillery with the rank of Adjutant General, he always received those who came to him, doing everything possible for the petitioners.  He was particularly distinguished among leaders by his simplicity and his sincere, affectionate manner.  The Grand Duke was accessible to everyone, from the simplest peasant to the highest dignitary.  He was faithful, sincere and devoted servant of the Emperor and his homeland to the end.

The three brothers, Princes John, Konstantine and Igor, were the sons of Grand Duke Konstantine Konstantinovich, who was the son of the Grand Duke Konstantine Nikolaevich (the ardent champion of the liberation of the peasants from serfdom), and his wife, the former Princess of Saxony-Alterburg, now the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Mavreikievna.  These were the children of an august poet, renowned in the academic world, president of the Imperial Academy of Sciences, and general inspector of the military academies.  These were the children of a great man of government, whose lofty and diverse gifts marked his activities, enabling him to serve in various aspects of governmental and social life.  These were the brothers of an august, great, modern hero, who fell on the field of battle, a valiant young champion, Prince Oleg Konstantinovich, who was mourned by the army and all Russia.

The right believing Prince John Konstantinovich, who was born on June 23, 1886, and named after St. John the Baptist, who suffered for the truth of God and whose life ended in a dungeon and martyrdom.  Prince John was married to Helen Petrovna, the daughter of the King of Serbia. They had two children: Vsevolod Ioannovich, born on January 1, 1914, and Catherine Koannovna, born on July 12, 1915.  The Prince was distinguished by a rare inclination for spiritual and religious matters and by his compassion for the unfortunate.  He was sensitive and unpretentious to soldiers and to those people who were victims of cruel fate.  He remembered the testament of his father: "Do not betray your high calling and stay in your homeland."  During the hours of his grievous exile, he comforted himself with the words of his poet father: "Blessed is he who smiles, who with a joyful countenance bears his cross without complaint..."

At all historical religious festivals, Prince John Konstantinovich served as the representative of His Majesty the Emperor.  In the spirit of his religious life, he was close to the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, with whom he many hours discussing moral and religious questions.  Although he was a family man, he was nonetheless a great man of prayer, of love and of pure devotion; he lived not for the dark, fleeting moments of life, but rather for holy eternity, leaving his kin with a legacy of truth, good, love and humanity.

Prince Constantine Konstantinovich was born on December 20, 1890; his names day was the trwenty-first of May.  He was an extremely modest officer of the Guard of the Izmailovsky Regiment, much beloved by officers and soldiers alike; along with them he was a brave soldier who distinguished himself in the past war, he was often seen in the trenches among the soldiers, risking his life.

Prince Igor Konstantinovich was born on Mary 29, 1894; his names day was the fifth of June.  This martyr of duty was a worthy son of his great father.  In general, all three departed brothers in that they were faithful to their civil duty, were also faithful to their Christian duty.

Count Vladimir Pavlovich Paley was the son of the Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich from his second marriage to Countess Paley, though morganatic had been performed in accordance with the church's law of matrimony.

Barbara Yakovleva, the nun from the Martha and Mary Convent of Love and Mercy, had been one of the first inhabitants of the holy convent and had always been faithful to all the traditions of the convent.  Although she had been the closest person to the Grand Duchess (Elizabeth), she never took pride in this and always behaved like an ordinary nun accessible, kind, and pleasant to everyone.  Everyone thought kindly of her.  She was faithful to her great Matushka to very end, and voluntarily went to her suffering and death, fulfilling the command of Christ: "Greater love hath no man that this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (St. John 15:13).

The noble Theodore Semenovich Remez, the steward of the Grand Duke Sergei Michailovich's estate, remained faithful to his master up to their martyrdom.  By his example, he showed how one must serve and be faithful to one's benefactors to the grave.  It is not in vain that people say you find out who your friends are in times of sorrow.

There you have a short biography of the departed ones.

The imperial prisoners spent the month of May tolerably well, although they were often subjected to insults and humiliations by their treacherous persecutors.  In June, the regime became stricker.  Apart from being deprived of complete freedom, all money, gold and silver in their possession, in general, everything of quality was taken away from them, and they were left with their poorest clothes and a change of linen.  They were given the poorest food in limited quantities.  God alone knows what the poor suffering ones bore, endured, and thought during these fatal days in bloodstained Alapaevsk.

During the last days of June (Old Style), sisters Barbara and Catherine were taken away from the Grand Duchess Elizabeth the Abbess, and sent to Ykaterinburg.  Their parting with her was moving; all three cried like small children.  They begged to be allowed to remain with the Grand Duchess to the end, but neither tears nor entreaties had any effect on the cruel hearts of their captors.  The Grand Duchess was left alone, without her devoted cell attendants.  However much she strove to be strong, there were times when she could not restrain her tears, and wept like a little child before the icon of the Mother of God.  She clearly saw what this was all leading up to.  Though she was strong in spirit, she was also human; though she had a cheerful spirit, her flesh was weak.  Only divine grace supported her invisibly and strengthened her in the difficult moments of suffering, both of body and soul.

When sisters Barbara and Catherine arrived in Ykaterinburg, they were hauled before the regional soviet, where they tearfully entreated the temporal authorities to return them to the Grand Duchess, assuring them that they did not want to be set free, leaving their spiritual mother alone in her difficult imprisonment.

Their request was cruelty refused.  The nuns, kneeling, begged to honor their request.  At last, wanting to shock them by their cruel answer and to cool their ardent desire, the authorities replied: the elder of the two could return to Alapaevsk on the condition that she attest in writing that she would be willing to be tortured and die with the abbess; they predicted that the suffering and torture would be unprecedented in cruelty.  Barbara, as the elder and closest cell attendant to the Grand Duchess, did not hesitate to answer bravely: "I agree to give you the requested signature, not only in ink, but, if necessary, in my own blood."  Such an answer threw the vile people into confusion, but their pride forced them to live up to what they had said.  They had never imagined that this delicate girl would voluntarily exchange freedom for suffering and death.

This heroine of spirit, Sister Barbara, was ordered to return to Alapaevsk to be imprisoned.  sister Catherine was released despite her tearful pleading to exchange her freedom for imprisonment together with Barbara, (no one really knows what happen to Sister Catherine, but perhaps martyred).

How great was the joy of the Grand Duchess when she saw her faithful spiritual daughter returned to her in Alapaevsk.  The captives hardly had time to rejoice when a new blow of inexorable fate struck.  On the first of July, the wife of Prince John Konstantinovich, Princess Helena Petrovna, and the children, were taken away.

Neither the tears of the mother nor the tears of the children could move the heartless captors to halt the separation of a husband from his wife, of a father from his children.  They were taken to Perm where they spent some time in prison; then they were sent to Moscow, and then on to Serbia because of the demands of foreign governments.

After this heavy blow of fate, the august prisoners immediately understood what awaited them in the very near future.  They consciously prepared for death, prayed fervently and asked God to strengthen them in their sufferings.  Now they thought of nothing earthly except their families, reflecting upon death, the spiritual preparations of the dread Judgment, eternal torment and eternal joy in the mansions of heaven.  They repeatedly expressed the wish that God might preserve their sinful bones from being desecrated, for the sake of the joy and comfort of their kin and the people dear to their hearts, who would commemorate them.  They asked one another to pray to God concerning this, because they felt that they would be treated cruelly and that there would be an attempt to hide the traces of this crime.

They wrote letters and notes containing their last testaments, put them in pouches or lockets and hung them around their necks with their crosses, in the hope that their relatives would find out their last behest's in this manner.

With tears streaming from his eyes Prince John Konstantinovich wrote a letter to his beloved wife and his little children.

They mourned for Russia, torn apart by turmoil, civil strife, by traitors and by foreigners, perishing without a sovereign and without a government which believed in principles centuries old and was devoted to the Holy Faith of their ancestors.  They felt only the eye from the throne on high could see through the covert behavior of a two-faced judge, over the arbitrariness of a ruler, over the depravity of a prodigal, over the cruelty of brutish people.  Their souls felt and perceived the signs of the last times, everything on earth was impoverished, oath breaking was accepted, and the living proclamation of heaven was not recognized.

For a further account of these suffering ones and their holy martyrdom please visit Murder of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth

The mysteries of God's judgment are hidden from us, but the temporary sojourn of the Imperial Martyrs will doubtless in itself have blessed traces, on which flowers of Christ's love and mercy will blossom towards a poor people who lovingly gave them refuge.

I would like to humbly thank John Wilson Smith for his kind assistance with this web site, and for the thoughtful help of my internet assistant Raymon David.  Thank you kindly and God Bless you both!


Holy St. Barbara,

New Martyrs of Russia,

Pray Unto God For Us!

Glory Be To God For All Things!


b a c k - t o p e-mail : father@serfes.org. 11-21-1998