The Guardian Angel of Moscow

Her life was the stuff that great novels are made of: born on November 1, 1864, Elizabeth, or “Ella” as she was known to her loved ones, was described as “the most beautiful woman in Europe.” She was a Princess of Germany, her parents were the Princess Alice of England and Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and by the Rhine; her maternal grandmother was Queen Victoria. She was brought up by Queen Victoria after being orphaned at the age of fourteen. “Ella” had many suitors, but rejected them all, choosing in the end, to marry for love, her childhood friend Sergei, who also happened to be the Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich of Russia, the fifth son of Emperor Alexander II of Russia and Princess Marie of Hesse and by the Rhine. “Everyone fell in love with her from the moment she came to Russia from her beloved Darmstadt” wrote one of Sergei’s cousins. This princess story was not the fluff of fairy tales, however. Elizabeth’s true beauty was hidden with Christ in the depth of her soul.

Elizabeth Feodorovna Romanova, Grand Duchess, Saint, Martyr

Elizabeth and Sergei were married at the Chapel of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg in 1884. Before her marriage, Elizabeth was a Protestant, but after a trip to the Holy Land, she converted to the Orthodox Church in 1891. She took the name “Feodorovna,” in honor of the Feodorovskaya Icon of the Mother of God, patroness of the Romanov house.

The couple never had children of their own; they frequently organized parties for children, and eventually became foster parents of Sergei’s niece and nephew. Elizabeth had encouraged her youngest sister Alix to also convert to Orthodoxy after Alix had refused the first proposal of Sergei’s nephew, Tsar Nicholas II, on the basis of the difference of religion.

Feodorovskaya Icon which hung in Alesandra’s bedroom

The Duchess Elizabeth and her husband were deeply religious, and so she was greatly distressed when the Grand Duke made the decision to send soldiers to surround the homes of 20,000 Jews, who, with no notice, were suddenly expelled from Moscow. At the time she was heard to make a dark prophesy: “God will punish us severely.”

On February 17, 1905, Elizabeth felt the concussion of a bomb blast. Her beloved husband had been assassinated by a bomb thrown by the Socialist Revolutionary, Ivan Kalyayev.

Elizabeth and her husband Sergei

Grand Duchess Elisabeth heard the explosion and felt the shock; she rushed outside and saw the dismembered body of her husband strewn around the square. She knelt in the snow and helped collect the remains and, almost incredibly found the strength to arrange for the transportation to a hospital of the grand duke’s coachman, who had been severely wounded. Visiting the dying man later, she told him that the grand duke was well and safe, and had in fact sent her, enabling the man to die peacefully.

The lofty spirit with which she took the tragedy astounded everyone: she had the moral strength even to visit in prison her husband’s assassin, Kaliaev, hoping to soften his heart, with her Christian forgiveness. ‘Who are you?’ he asked upon meeting her. ‘I am his widow,’ she replied, ‘why did you kill him?’ ‘I did not want to kill you,’ he said. ‘I saw him several times before when I had the bomb with me, but you were with him and I could not bring myself to touch him.’ ‘You did not understand that by killing him you were killing me,’ she said. Then she began to talk of the horror of his crime before God. The Gospel was in her hands and she begged the criminal to read it and left it in his cell. Leaving the prison, the Grand Duchess said: ‘My attempt was unsuccessful, but, who knows, perhaps at the last minute he will understand his sin and repent.

 — Ludmila Koehler, Saint Elisabeth the New Martyr
Grand Duchess Elizabeth as a nun

This was a turning point in Elizabeth’s life. Our Lord transformed her grief into a desire to serve God. From that point on, the only crown she would wear would be one of thorns — in imitation of her suffering Lord. She sold her possessions and jewels — even her wedding ring — and with the proceeds she opened the convent of Saints Martha and Mary, and other women joined her. Soon after, on the grounds, she opened a hospital, a chapel, pharmacy, and orphanage. Elizabeth and her nuns visited the worst slums in Moscow, working tirelessly to help the orphaned and the poor. Her convent handed out 300 meals to the poor each day, who called her “the Guardian Angel of Moscow.”

The last meeting she had with her sister Alix, now the Tsarina Alexandra, was in St. Petersburg, 1916. Elizabeth expressed to the Tsarina her deep concern about the influence the wicked Rasputin had over her sister. Alexandra didn’t heed her sister’s advice. In 1917, the Bolsheviks seized power. Elizabeth chose to remain in Russia to serve the poor.

Three days after Easter, in 1918, Vladimir Lenin ordered the Soviet Secret Police to arrest Elizabeth, together with another nun of her order and other members of the Royal family. Lenin was quoted as saying “virtue with the crown on it is a greater enemy to the revolution than a hundred tyrant tsars.” They were taken to an abandoned mine, beaten and thrown into a pit 66 feet (20 meters) deep, landing on an outcropping. Though injured in the fall, the sound of prayers and hymns rose from the pit for a long time, only resulting in rage from their captors, who threw down two grenades to silence them. One member died, but the singing continued, resulting in the Bolshevik leader ordering brushwood be thrown into the pit and set on fire.

“It is easier for a scrawny shrub,

to withstand a mighty fire

than for the nature of sin to [withstand]

the power of love.”

— St. Elizaveta

Three months later, the White Army discovered the bodies of Elizabeth and the others in the pit. Most had died of either injuries or starvation. As a last act of compassion, Sr. Elizabeth had used her own religious veil, or wimple, to bandage the head wound of the dying Prince Ioann — which calls to mind the compassion shown to Jesus by the holy woman known as “Veronica,” who, as legends of the middle ages told, wiped the bleeding Face of Jesus on the way to Calvary. Elizabeth’s body was first transferred in secret to Beijing, China, where she was buried in a Russian Orthodox cemetery. Later, her remains were taken to Jerusalem to the Church of St. Mary Magdalene at Gethsemane in Jerusalem, a church that she and her husband helped to build. She is venerated in the Russian Orthodox Church as a Saint and Martyr.

Icon of the Holy Face, embroidered in gold by Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna — Косино

“… there are times, there are ages, when nothing is more desirable, nothing more beautiful than the crown of thorns.”

— Russian Poet, Nekrasov

“He is our head, crowned, not with glory, but with the thorns of our sins. As members of that head, crowned with thorns, we should be ashamed to live in luxury; His purple robes are a mockery rather than an honor. When Christ comes again, His death shall no longer be proclaimed, and we shall know that we also have died, and that our life is hidden with Him.”

— St. Bernard, Abbott
Many thanks to Paul Badde, who first told me about the extraordinary and holy Princess Elizabeth from his native land! This is a photo taken by Paul of “most beautiful church in Jerusalem, where she is buried, here seen from the temple-mount.”

Advice on Prayer by St. Teresa of Avila

“Never set aside the Sacred Humanity of Christ”

~ St. Teresa of Avila
c. 1510, Dirk Bouts, Carmel of Toledo. It is believed that this is the image of Christ the St. Teresa was praying before when her dramatic conversion occurred.

Why is devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus so important for contemplative prayer? Because it is that by contemplating Jesus’s Face that His whole humanity is brought before us. St. Teresa of Jesus, the foundress of the Discalced Carmelites, and Doctor of the Church suffered many years as a religious from an inability to pray, so she gives some solid advice to those who struggle as they seek the Face of God in prayer: “when we pray we must be very careful never to set aside the sacred humanity of Jesus Christ.

St. Teresa’s statue of Jesus scourged

We cannot come to the Father except through Him.  Intimacy with Jesus draws us into the life of the Trinity. “If we can, we should occupy ourselves in looking at Him Who is looking at us; keep Him company; talk with Him; pray to Him; humble ourselves before Him; have our delight in Him.”  St. Teresa complained that she didn’t have much of an imagination, so she found it helpful to have an image of Christ to look at as she prayed, especially an image of Jesus in His Passion. “Speak with Him as with a Father, a Brother, a Lord and a Spouse–and, sometimes in one way and sometimes in another.  He will teach you what you must do to please Him… Remember how important it is for you to have understood this truth–that the Lord is within us and that we should be there with Him.”

St. Teresa of Jesus, Doctor of the Church

Whoever lives in the presence of so good a friend and excellent a leader as is Jesus Christ can endure all things. Christ helps us and strengthens us and never fails; he is a true friend. And I see clearly that God desires that if we are going to please him and receive his great favors this must come about through the most sacred humanity of Christ, in whom he takes his delight.

Many, many times have I perceived this through experience. The Lord told it to me.  I have definitely seen that we must enter by this gate if we desire his sovereign Majesty to show his great secrets. A person should desire no other path, even if he be at the summit of contemplation; on this road he walks safely. This Lord of ours is the one through whom all blessings come to us. He will teach us these things. In beholding his life we find that he is the best example.

What more do we desire from such a good friend at our side, who will not abandon us in our labors and tribulations, as friends in the world do? Blessed is the one who truly loves Him and always keeps im near. Let us consider the glorious St. Paul: it doesn’t seem that any other name fell from his lips than that of Jesus, as coming from one who kept the Lord close to his heart. Once I had come to understand this truth, I carefully considered the lives of some of the saints, the great contemplatives, and found that they hadn’t taken any other path: Francis, Anthony of Padua, Bernard, Catherine of Sienna. A person must alk along this path in freedom, placing himself in God’s hands. If His Majesty should desire to raise us to the position of one who is an intimate and shares His secrets, we ought to accept gladly.

Blessed is the one who truly loves him and always keeps him near…As often as we think of Christ we should recall the love with which he bestowed on us so many favors, and the great things God showed in giving us a pledge like this of his love; for love begets love. Let us strive to keep this always before our eyes and to waken ourselves to love. For if at some time the Lord should grant us the favor of impressing this love on our hearts, all will become easy for us and we shall carry out our tasks quickly and without much effort.” ~St. Teresa of Avila 

Holy Face Veil of Manoppello (photo: Paul Badde/EWTN)
My beloved passing fair,
Love has drawn thy likeness, see,
In my inmost Heart, and there--
Lost or straying unaware--
Thou must seek thyself in me.

Well I know that thou shalt find
This thine image in my Heart 
Pictured to the life, with art
So amazing, that thy mind 
Sees thy very counterpart.

If by chance thou e'er shalt doubt
Where to turn in search of me,
Seek not all the world about;
Only this can find me out--
Thou must seek myself in thee.

In the mansion of thy mind
Is my dwelling place; and more''
There I wander, unconfined,
Knocking loud if e'er I find 
In thy thought a closed door. 

Search for me without ere vain, 
Since, when thou hast need of me,
Only call me, and again
To thy side I haste amain;
Thou must seek myself in thee. 

~ St. Teresa of Jesus

The Majesty! How victorious! How joyful! Indeed, like one coming forth from a battle where He has gained a great kingdom! And all of that, plus Himself, He desires for you. Well, is it such a big thing that from time to time you turn your eyes to look upon one who gives you so much?”  ~St. Teresa of Jesus

Contemplate the Face of Christ with Mary

Contemplating the Face of Christ with Mary

Joyful Mysteries

When he placed the New Millennium under “the Radiant sign of the Face of Christ” Pope St. John Paul II wrote:

“To contemplate the Face of Christ, and to contemplate it with Mary, is the ‘program’ which I have set before the Church at the dawn of the third millennium…It is the Church’s task to reflect the light of Christ in every historical period, to make His Face shine also before new generations of the new millennium. Our witness, however, would be hopelessly inadequate if we ourselves had not first contemplated His Face.” 

The Rosary is a traditional Christian prayer directed to the contemplation of Christ’s Face. “Without contemplation, the Rosary is a body without a soul,” says Pope St. John Paul II, “and runs the risk of becoming a mechanical repetition of formulas, in violation of the admonition of Christ.” Contemplation is a gift, a grace, from God. It is a communion in which God transforms a soul into His likeness. To put it more simply, as St. Teresa of Jesus says, contemplation is “a close sharing between friends…taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.”  Contemplation is not something beyond our reach however–we have an incomparable model in Mary; the eyes of her heart were always turned toward His Face. To dispose our souls to receive this great gift of God we need only reach for a Rosary and pray it with humility, listening attentively in the Spirit together with Mary, in silent love–that veil of mystery–to the Father’s voice.

The Luminous Mysteries – Transfiguration by Carl Bloch 1872
Sorrowful Mysteries

When we contemplate the scenes or mysteries of the Rosary in union with Mary, the Rosary becomes an unceasing praise of God; a way to learn from her about her son, Jesus, to discover His secrets and understand His message for us. To recite the Rosary, which can be called a compendium of the Gospel, Pope St. John Paul II says, “is to contemplate the Face of Christ in union with, and at the school of, His Most Holy Mother…Against the background of the words of the Ave Maria the principal events of the life of Jesus Christ pass before the eyes of the soul. They take shape in the complete series of the joyful, [luminous,] sorrowful and glorious mysteries, and they put us in living communion with Jesus through–we might say through the heart of his Mother…The Rosary belongs among the finest and most praiseworthy traditions of Christian contemplation…To look upon the Face of Christ, to recognize its mystery amid the daily events and sufferings of His human life, and then to grasp the divine splendor definitively revealed in the Risen Lord, seated in glory at the right hand of the Father; this is the task of every follower of Christ and therefore the task of each one of us. In contemplating Christ’s Face we become open to receiving the mystery of Trinitarian life, experiencing ever anew the love of the Father and delighting in the joy of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul’s words can then be applied to us ‘Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being changed into His likeness, from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.’” (Rosarium Virginus Mariae) 

"The contemplation of Christ's Face cannot stop at the image of the Crucified One. He is the Risen One!"~St. Pope John Paul II
The Glorious Mysteries — “The contemplation of Christ’s Face cannot stop at the image of the Crucified One. He is the Risen One!”~ Pope St. John Paul II (Holy Face of Manoppello (Photo: Patricia Enk)

The entire month of October is dedicated to the Holy Rosary and October 7th is celebrated as the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. The feast, originally named for Our Lady of Victory, commemorated the stunning victory, against all odds, obtained by Our Lady in the Battle of Lepanto through the prayer of the Rosary–which saved Christendom on October 7th, in 1571. By keeping our eyes fixed on the Face of Jesus as we pray the Rosary, together with Mary, through her maternal intercession, we too may obtain great victories through the heart of her Son Jesus, who obtained for all mankind the greatest victory over sin and death by His Resurrection.


“I dare to summon the whole Church bravely to cross this new threshold, to put into the deep…so that now as in the past the great engagement of the Gospel and culture may show to the world ‘the glory of God on the Face of Christ’ (2 Cor 4:6). May the Lord bless all those who work for this aim.”  

~ Pope St. John Paul II
Pope St. John Paul II

“The Joy of Heaven”

Venice, Illustration for the Divine Comedy of Dante, 13th Century”

“During meditation, the Lord gave me knowledge of the joy of Heaven and of the Saints on our arrival there; they love God as the sole object of their love, but they also have a tender and heartfelt love for us.   It is from the Face of God that this joy flows out upon all, because we see Him face to Face.  His Face is so sweet that the soul falls anew into ecstasy” (1592, “Divine Mercy in My Soul”). 

St. Faustina “Apostle of Mercy”
Feast Day: October 5th

St. Faustina Kowalska, “The Apostle of Mercy,” was known as a mystic and visionary.  Our Lord granted her a deep understanding of the love and mercy of God which she was to share with the world through her diary, “Divine Mercy in My Soul.” The Face of Christ had a prominent place in her spiritual journey: 

“I have ever before my eyes His sorrowful Face, abused and disfigured.  His Divine Heart pierced by our sins and especially by the ingratitude of chosen souls.”   (Divine Mercy in my Soul, #487)

St.Faustina’s message of mercy was also intensely Eucharistic, recognizing the True Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. She offered Him continually to the Father to implore His Mercy for the salvation of the world: 

Host viewed through the Face of Jesus on the Veil of Manoppello in Italy. (Photo: Paul Badde/EWTN)

“Eternal Father, I offer You the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins, and those of the whole world. For the sake of His sorrowful Passion have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

The greatest sign of God’s continuing mercy for the people of the world is His hidden Presence in the Eucharist. By turning to His Eucharistic Face in prayer, St. Faustina says, “a change takes place” in our souls, because Jesus is also gazing at us.

“The Face of Christ is the supreme revelation of Christ’s Mercy.”–Pope Benedict XVI (photo:Paul Badde/EWTN)

“O Living Host, O hidden Jesus.  You see the condition of my soul.  Of myself, I am unable to utter Your Holy Name. I cannot bring forth from my heart the fire of love, but kneeling at Your feet, I cast upon the Tabernacle the gaze of my soul, a gaze of faithfulness.  As for You, You are ever the same, while within my soul a change takes place.  I trust that the time will come when You will unveil Your Countenance, and Your child will again see Your sweet Face.  I am astonished, Jesus, that You can hide Your self from me for so long and that You can restrain the enormous love You have for me.  In the dwelling of my heart, I am listening and waiting for Your coming, O only Treasure of my heart! (Divine Mercy in My Soul, #1146)

Holy Face Veil of Manoppello
(photo: Paul Badde)

By contemplating His Holy Face, and making Him the “Treasure” of our hearts, we are transformed by the Holy Spirit, who restores God’s image and likeness in our souls.  As St. Paul has written:

 “but whenever a person turns to the Lord the veil is removed…All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:16, 18)

St. Faustina’s message of God’s Mercy is needed more with each passing day.  Let us continue to pray for God’s Mercy, and pray as well for all the people of the world to turn back to the Merciful Face of God, so all may share in the joy of Heaven one day–to see Him face to Face.

“Write this: before I come as the Just Judge, I am coming first as the King of Mercy.” –Our Lord to St. Faustina

St. Faustina’s Prayer for Divine Mercy

O Greatly Merciful God, Infinite Goodness, today all mankind calls out from the abyss of its misery to Your mercy — to Your compassion, O God, and it is with its mighty voice of misery that it cries out:  Gracious God, do not reject the prayer of this earth’s exiles!  O Lord, Goodness beyond our understanding, Who are acquainted with our misery through and through and know that by our own power we cannot ascend to You, we implore You, anticipate us with Your grace and keep on increasing Your mercy in us, that we may faithfully do Your holy will all through our life and at death’s hour.  Let the omnipotence of Your mercy shield us from the darts of our salvation’s enemies, that we may with confidence, as Your children, await Your final coming — that day known to You alone.  And we expect to obtain everything promised us by Jesus in spite of all our wretchedness. For Jesus is our Hope: Through His merciful Heart as through an open gate we pass through to heaven.” (Divine Mercy in My Soul, #1570)

“Jesus Christ is the Face of the Father’s Mercy!”

~ Pope Francis

“May the Lord Bless and Keep You”

Blessing of St. Francis to Brother Leo

Within the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi is a precious relic: a small, crumpled piece of yellowed parchment with the writing of St. Francis, now displayed in a silver reliquary. It was written on Mount La Verna after St. Francis had received the stigmata. The first biographer of St. Francis, Bl. Thomas of Celano wrote that for a long time St. Francis’s friend, Brother Leo, had greatly desired to have some memorial from the words of Our Lord written by St. Francis:

St. Francis of Assisi
St. Francis of Assisi

“One day Blessed Francis called him, saying, ‘Bring me paper and ink, for I wish to write the words of God and His praises which I have been meditating in my heart.’ What he asked for being straightway brought, he writes with his own hand the praises of God and the words which he [his companion] wished, and lastly a blessing of the brother, saying: ‘Take this sheet for thyself and until the day of thy death guard it carefully.’ All temptation was at once driven away; the letter is kept and worked wonders for the time to come.” Brother Leo kept it faithfully; folding it in four, he carried it in his pocket and guarded it jealously for a good forty-six years.  The text in the middle, written in black, and marked with a large “Tau” cross is in Francis’s own handwriting, he writes the praises of God* and grants to Brother Leo the blessing from the Book of Numbers 6: 22-27 which later became known as “the Blessing of St. Francis.”

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in his homily for the World Day of Peace, 2013, spoke of this blessing from the Book of Numbers which was for the priests and the people of Israel. “The blessing repeats the three times Holy Name of God, a Name not to be spoken, and each time linked to two words indicating an action in favor of man. Peace is the summit of these six actions of God in our favor, His most sublime gift, in which He turns toward us the splendor of His Face.”

The Shroud of Turin
The Shroud of Turin

This is the great blessing that St. Francis desired to impart to his friend, Brother Leo:

“May the Lord bless and keep you; may He make His Face shine upon you and be merciful to you; may He turn His Countenance toward you and give you His Peace!”  (Num. 6:22-27)


*(St. Francis’s “Praises of God” are now now quite faded, but, this much can be still read: “Thou art holy, Lord God, who alone workest wonders. Thou art strong. Thou art great. Thou art most high. Thou art the Almighty King, Thou, holy Father, King of heaven and earth. Thou art the Lord God Triune and One; all good. Thou art good, all good, highest good, Lord God living and true. Thou art charity, love. Thou art wisdom. Thou art humility. Thou art patience. Thou art security. Thou art quietude. Thou art joy and gladness. Thou…”)

The Ecstacy of St. Francis before the Holy Face 17th century (photo: Paul Badde/EWTN)
Photo taken in Subiaco by Paul Badde

( If you would like to read little more… Like Christ, St. Francis also had a “Veronica” – Lady Settisoli also known as “Brother Jacoba.” Also, related to Assissi: Among the Lions of Assissi.)

Portrait of St. Francis, said to have been painted in his lifetime. photo: Paul Badde