Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem: August 28, 2006
The Dormition of the Most-Holy Mother of God in the Holy Land
On August 27, 2006, the 11 th Sunday after Pentecost, His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus officiated at Divine Liturgy at Ascension Convent on the Mount of Olives along with Hegumen Andronik (Kotliaroff), Deputy Chief of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem; Hieromonk Savva; Hieromonk Nicholas (Perekrestov), Secretary of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem; and Hieromonk John; along with Deacon Nicholas Olhovsky and Hierodeacon Cyprian (Alexandrou); while His Eminence Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany conducted services at Church of St Mary Magdalene at Gethsemane Convent along with Priest Serafim Gan; Priest Peter Sturm; and Protodeacon Victor Lochmatov. The Holy Gifts were administered from two chalices at Gethsemane.
Later that day, on the eve of the Dormition of the Most-Holy Mother of God, the President of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia headed all-night vigil at Gethsemane Convent, which is in close proximity to the Tomb of the Theotokos. St Mary Magdalene Church was built here by Emperor Alexander III in 1888 in honor of his mother, Empress Maria Alexandrovna. The church is an example of Muscovite church architecture, with seven onion cupolas.
The interior contains an ornately-carved white marble iconostasis with dark bronze details and similar bronze royal doors; the icons were painted by the artist Vereshchagin; the floor is made of rare multi-colored marble. In 1920, the remains of Grand Duchess Elizaveta Feodorovna, the sister of the last Russian Empress, along with those of here devoted cell-attendant, Nun Varvara, were laid to rest under the lower vaults of this church, called the Tsar's Church among the local Russian population. The Grand Duchess, who had attended the consecration of this church with her husband, Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, the founder of the Orthodox Palestine Society, fell in love with this site and through Divine Providence, her martyric remains found themselves here for their eternal repose. Until the 1980's, two coffins were held in a special crypt under a sealed door, where memorial services were held during the years. After the Church glorified these new martyrs, their relics were solemnly brought into the Church of St Mary Magdalene with the participation of then-Archbishop Laurus of Syracuse and Holy Trinity, the future First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
In the lower section of the Garden, not far from the gates, a small two-storey house was built concurrently with the church "in memory of Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevich and his granddaughter Grand Duchess Alexandra Georgievna," as a plaque over the entrance reads. Shown at a nearby wall is a site which, according to tradition, was where the Mother of God, after Her Dormition, dropped her belt to the inconsolable Apostle Thomas, who had missed Her funeral, as She blessed all the Apostles. The rock where this occurred is surrounded by a fence, over which is a framed icon of the Dormition of the Mother of God.
A small convent grew around the church in Gethsemane Garden. It was founded in 1934 with the blessing of Blessed Metropolitan Anastassy by a Scottish convert to Orthodoxy, Barbara Robinson, who later became Abbess Mary. In 1932, two Englishwomen: Barbara-Stella Robinson and Alix Sprot, became zealous devotees of the Faith of Christ and finally converted and were tonsured. The former, given the monastic name of Mary, came to know the fullness of the Faith just like her namesake—at the feet of her teacher; Nun Mary learned from a lantern of the Church of Christ, Metropolitan Anastassy. The other, taking the name Martha, dedicated herself totally to the monastic service of the younger sisters and to children. The two of them, through their resources and labors, enabled the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem to create a new community in Bethany, and a school for Arab girls (now there are some 350 students enrolled). Mother Mary was appointed by the Synod of Bishops as the Abbess of this community and was elevated to the rank of hegumenia.
She settled with some of the sisters in the Russian part of Gethsemane Garden at the Church of St Mary Magdalene, where the system of daily services gradually took hold and monastic life was established. Nun Martha remained in Bethany.
Since then, the Russian establishments in Gethsemane and Bethany draw a multitude of pilgrims every year.
Today, Gethsemane Convent is comprised of some 40 nuns, headed by Abbess Elizabeth (Smelic). Hieromonk Nicholas (Perekrestov), Secretary of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem, conducts daily services according to the monastic rule.
After the services on the Dormition of the Mother of God, the rite of the Panaghia was held, along with a procession of the cross to the site where the Mother of God left Her belt to Apostle Thomas. The participants of the celebrations then received blessings from His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus and Archbishop Mark.