Patriarch Kirill was welcomed by Abbess Elizabeth (Smelic) of Gethemane; she gave His Holiness a portrait of the wife of Emperor Alexander II, Empress Maria Alexandrovna, noting that she had provided great assistance to the founder of “Russian Palestine,” Archimandrite Antony (Kapustin).
The Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church addressed the monastics and pilgrims with a sermon:
“It is with special emotion that I entered this renovated church today. As we ascended the staircase, I told Vladyka Mark that the last time I was here, this church still bore some sign of external desolation. Yet over recent years, everything has transformed so wonderfully, the golden cupolas of Mary Magdalene Convent shine again over the Holy City of Jerusalem. When we behold this beauty, both manmade and Divinely created, for without a doubt, everything here was done by Divine will, we cannot but remember the podvig of those who lay down the foundation of Russian holiness, of Russian piety here.
“My thoughts flow to the podvig of Fr Antonin (Kapustin). For it was he who planted the idea of building a church and convent here into the hearts of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich and Grand Duke Pavel Alexandrovich, who arrived in Jerusalem together with their cousin, Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich. The brothers then decided that this church should be built in memory of the pious mother, Maria Alexandrovna.
“Empress Maria Alexandrovna was a remarkable woman, about whom not enough has been said. Our people do not know her life, especially her spiritual path. I thank you, Mother Elizabeth, for giving me this portrait. I never had an image of Maria Alexandrovna. Everything I have read about her has endeared me heart to her life’s podvig.
“As we know, with time, Fr Antonin’s work took hold, supported by the grand dukes, and in 1888 this church was consecrated in the presence of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich and his wife Elizaveta Feodorovna, who at the time was not yet Orthodox. There is an opinion that it was actually her visit to the Holy Land and these places especially that turned her heart to adopting Orthodox Christianity. We know that she became Orthodox not only out of necessity, not only out of discipline, which required it of those who married into royal families, but out of conviction. Everything that happened to her from then on bears witness to the depth and strength of her faith, the faith with which she accepted Holy Orthodoxy.
“And when dark clouds covered the Fatherland, Elizaveta Feodorovna did not choose the easy path. Of course, she could have saved herself and fled Russia’s borders, but she remained with her suffering people, who had by then gone mad from deceit and temptation, and swept up in militantly atheist thoughts, rose up not only against each other but against God. We know that Elizaveta Feodorovna herself fell victim to this rebellion, brutally martyred in Alapaevsk. Subsequently, by Divine mercy, her honorable relics were taken on a long voyage through Siberia, the Far East and China to the Holy Land, and are now laid to rest here.
“The Russian Church bore the mark of the terrible divisions which befell our people for a long time. But by God’s mercy, by the prayers of the Royal Passion-Bearers, New Martyrs and Confessors, among whom is Grand Duchess Elizabeth and Nun Barbara, spiritual, canonical and Eucharistic communion between the parts of the Russian Church, once divided by evil human will, has been reestablished.
“We have already felt the great joy and great benefit from this reunification. We are truly one Church, one people of God, gathered around the Divine altar and finding nourishment from one Body and Blood of Christ. I believe that the reunification of the Russian Church is a sign that by Divine mercy, the most terrible tribulations and sorrows in history can be overcome. Many of our people thought that the Revolution and Civil War marked the beginning of the end of the world, that the Antichrist had arrived, the end of history had come. One can only imagine what these people experienced, our pious ancestors, when they witnessed the destruction of churches, the desecration of holy things, the victory of the militantly atheistic state, the mockery of the deepest religious sensibilities of our people, sensibilities which were always inherent in our people. It seemed that there could be no salvation, and even the most mature and wise could not see the light at the end of this tunnel. But then, in a mere matter of days, the chains fell, our Church was granted the opportunity to reunite, and most of all, to bear witness to Divine Providence which we cannot grasp.
“Understanding these Divine paths means we are faithful to the Lord, in glory, in sorrows and in joy, in sadness, in sickness and in health. Today our people, again tempted by new attacks by the godless, with a different ideological bent but with the same goal, stands before the danger of repeating the terrible errors of our past. Here in this place, we recognize with special power how important it is for our people not to make a false step, not to repeat the same mistakes, not to fall into a struggle against God, not desecrate the holy places, not to destroy the work of God, which was built upon in our Fatherland for many generations
“Before these healing relics, we especially ask Holy Grand Duchess Elizabeth and Nun Barbara to pray for our Church, for our people, that the Lord gives all of us wisdom, strength, the ability to discern spirits, to create a peaceful and pious world, in the words of the prayer ‘in all piety and purity.’”
His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia then thanked Archbishop Mark for his labors in overseeing the part of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission which is under the authority of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, and gave him a gift of a panaghia.
Abbess Elizabeth received a pectoral cross from the hands of the Patriarch. “Remember our prayerful meeting and pray here before the holy tombs for the Russian Church and for the Patriarch,” said His Holiness.
His Holiness also gave the convent a gift of an icon of the Mother of God.