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Metropolitan Alexander of Astanai and Kazakhstan: “Prayerful Communion with the Saints is Needed by Every Believing Heart”

 

On January 10, 2012, with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, the relics of Holy Martyrs Grand Duchess Elizabeth and Nun Barbara were brought to Kazakhstan. On the eve of their arrival, His Eminence Metropolitan Alexander of Astanai and Kazakhstan, Primate of the Metropoliate of Kazakhstan, granted an interview to the Metropoliate’s official website.

— Your Eminence, with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, Kazakhstan is once again being visited by one of the great holy relics of Orthodoxy…

— In early 2012, during Christmastide, it was decided, with the blessing of the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, and with the consent of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America and New York, that the holy relics of Martyrs Grand Duchess Elizabeth and Nun Barbara would visit Kazakhstan.

— Various discussions and controversies have been sparked by the practice of bringing holy items to different countries, and whether it is beneficial.

— People are talking about it, but as a rule these are people who are remote from Orthodox Christianity, who don’t understand and don’t like the life of the Church. They are irritated by the actions of clergymen and believers, their clear expression of religious sentiment, the triumph of their spirit. His Holiness Patriarch Kirill very accurately described the state of such people: “They simply spew out their own ailments, their own inner disorder… When people resist God, when they are enslaved by the devil, then some are repulsed by a Divine miracle, others are incensed, others are provoked to slander.”

Contact with the holy, communion with Divine grace, suffused with earnest faith, armed with fervent prayer, repentance, is serious, palpable aid to a human being in his life.

Very recently we witnessed the visit to Kazakhstan of the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God “of the Sign,” and the Belt of the Most-Holy Mother of God to Moscow. It is apparent that the visit of these sacred items to the cities and towns of various countries, the travel of miracle-working icons and relics from where they are kept to new places brings people enormous spiritual benefit.

Both in Kazakhstan and in Russia, I often came to talk to pilgrims who stood in long lines to venerate holy items. Of course, sometimes there is physical exhaustion, weakness, but what joy there is, what desire for Divine help, what genuine faith shines in their eyes. As they wait to come face-to-face with a source of grace, a person thinks about his life, thinks about the eternal, repents and prays. And no one, as the prayer says, “comes away hungry or un-consoled” from the sacred item.

— Vladyka, relics of these saints have already visited our nation…

— Yes, in 2005, and also during Christmastide. Under my predecessor, Metropolitan Mefody of Astanai and Almaty, now Metropolitan of Perm and Solikamsk, the relics of SS Elizabeth and Barbara came to Kazakhstan for the first time. From January 11-13, the reliquary was brought to Voznesensky Cathedral in Almaty. Tens of thousands of believers came from all over to the southern capital, and, despite the bitter January cold, stood for many hours to venerate the healing relics of the martyrs of Alapaevsk. The clergymen performed molebens and akathists, the human stream flowed to the sacred relics endlessly, night and day, many with their families, with children. Diocesan employees and cathedral clerics still recall the inspiration and true joy of the multitude of pilgrims who filled not only the cathedral courtyard but the whole street.

— Why did you decide to bring these holy relics back?

— In 2005, the reliquary came to Kazakhstan for only three days, and to only one city, Almaty. There was limited opportunity to prayerfully venerate it because of the brief time span and great distances one needed to travel. This year, the program was set up so that believers from all the dioceses of the Metropoliate District could find consolation and support from the miraculous relics of God’s saints.

One of the decrees of the Seventh Ecumenical Council states: “Our Lord Jesus Christ granted to us the relics of Saints as a salvation-bearing source which pours forth varied benefits to the infirm.” We need help to make our spiritual journey, the prayerful intercession of the saints. Communing with them, we beseech their blessing, healing of spiritual and physical ailments, strength in carrying our cross. Those who had obtained in life the grace of the Holy Spirit will pour this mercy upon us, too, drawing us nearer to God. Prayerful communion with the saints is a necessity for the believing heart.

— Where can we find the schedule of where the holy relics will be?

— The official website of the Metropoliate District of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Further information will be on other diocesan websites and in churches.

— Your Eminence, have you ever personally had any connection with the martyrs of Alapaevsk?

— Over the course of twenty years, I served as archpastor in the Kostroma Diocese, the main holy item of which is the miracle-working Feodorovsky Icon of the Mother of God. In 1613, within the walls of Holy Trinity-Ipatiev Monastery, this icon blessed the reign of the young boyar Mikhail Feodorovich Romanov. According to tradition, German princesses who married dukes of the Romanov House and converting to Orthodox Christianity received not only a new name, but a new patronymic—Feodorovna, in honor of this icon. On April 13, 1891, on Lazarus Saturday, the Grand Duchess converted to Orthodoxy and took the name Elizaveta Feodorovna.

Holy Martyr Elizabeth twice visited Kostroma, from May 18-20, 1913, the celebration of the 300th anniversary of the Romanov Dynasty, and July 8-9, 1916. She had a life-long friendship with Abbess Susanna (Melnikova) of Bogoyavlensky-Anastasia Convent of Kostroma. The “Abbess’,” or Eastern building of the restored convent housed the Kostroma Diocese administration. My office was in the same residence, where Elizaveta Feodorovna would stay during her visits. In memory of her visits to the convent, a memorial plaque was put up on the Eastern building. With the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, the name of St Elizabeth is included in the list of heavenly patrons of the Kostroma region.

With the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill and His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, the relics of Grand Duchess Elizaveta Feodorovna and Nun Barbara were brought to Kostroma on February 7-8, 2005, as part of its tour throughout Russia.

I personally have a small portion of the coffin of St Elizabeth and a portion of her monastic garb, given to me in 1992 by Protopriest Victor Potapov, a renowned clergyman of the Eastern American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

— Vladyka, there is a tradition of piety within the Church based on the lives of the saints which ascribe to them the ability to actively help in various needs. What to people pray to SS Elizabeth and Barbara?

— In order to respond, I should briefly outline the life of these saints, to see the fruits of their labors, to recall their podvigi and sufferings.

The life of St Elizabeth is one of the brightest and most impressive examples of selfless service to God and neighbor. Granted a noble birth and great wealth, highly educated and possessing great beauty, Grand Duchess Elizaveta came to reject the world, preferring heavenly glory to earthly blessings. In the words of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II, she “combined the holiness of a righteous princess with that of a martyr for Christ.”

Her sacrificial service to the poor, the sick and orphans, her genuine love for God and Orthodoxy can even today inspire many of our compatriots to leave behind sinful abandon, reminding the wealthy of the need to serve the poor.

Elizaveta Feodorovna founded Marfo-Mariinsky Convent of Mercy in Moscow. The first lines of the convent’s by-laws, written by Archimandrite Sergii (Srebryansky) indicate that the convent “must have as its goal to help the sick and needy to the extent possible, and to help and console the suffering, the sorrowful and those in despair.” “The righteous shall live for evermore” (Wisdom of Solomon 5:15), Holy Scripture tells us. SS Elizabeth and Barbara, having given away their lives, their abilities and talents for the needy, widows, orphans, the homeless, even now by interceding before the Lord bring healing, consolation, support, staunchness in faith and piety to mortals.

St Elizabeth is the heavenly protector of spouses, people pray to her to grant them familial joy and strengthening of love. “Rejoice, protector of pious spouses,” as the akathist says. Prayer for the increase of love and rooting out of all hatred and wrath, especially within families, is crucial in today’s world, when the prophetic words of the Savior are coming to pass: “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matthew 24:12).

— Your Eminence, what do you wish for the Orthodox Christians of Kazakhstan on the eve of the arrival of the holy relics of SS Elizabeth and Barbara?

— Nothing so powerfully influences our hearts and wills as the example of others, whether good or evil. The example shown by people who are filled with fervent love for God feeds our own hearts with Christian virtue. “Commune with the righteous, through them you will approach God… For if it is helpful to behold them, it is more beneficial to learn from them,” wrote St Isaac the Syrian. The lives of the saints show us how to fulfill the commandments of the Lord. The holy martyrs of Alapaevsk can teach us a great deal, much can be drawn from them to aid our eternal souls.

I would like to wish all those who come to venerate this reliquary to receive the Lord’s grace—filled gifts: “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Galatians 5:22-23).

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