The Marfo-Mariinsky ConventRussian: Marfo-Mariinskaya obitel or Марфо-Мариинская обитель is a monastery for females (falling directly under the omophorion of the Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’). It is one of the most visited in Moscow. People come here to pray, but also in search of help, as the sisters here are very much involved in charity and social work. Their aim is to carry on the good work of Holy Martyr Elizabeth Feodorova, the founder of the convent. Located in the heart of the tourist quarter of Moscow, ZamoskvorechyeRussian: Замоскворечье, this breathtakingly beautiful convent has a unique look, being an incredibly unique example of Art Modern church architecture.
THE ORIGINS OF THE CONVENT
The convent has a unique history which parallels the often-tumultuous events of 20th-century Russia. The Marfo-Mariinsky Convent was founded in 1909 by Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, sister of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia, princess of the House of Hesse-Darmstadt and granddaughter of Queen Victoria. She married Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich of Russia, became fluent in Russian and subsequently converted to Orthodox Christianity. The Grand Duchess was actively engaged in fund-raising and in charity work, opening hospitals and shelters.
After a revolutionary terrorist assassinated her husband in 1905, she sold her jewels and, with the proceeds, founded the convent on Bolshaya Ordynka StreetRussian: ulitsa Bolshaya Ordynka or улица Большая Ордынка. The lay sisters at the convent were not nuns, as they took monastic vows and obeyed the monastic rule, but they could return at any time to the secular world if they so wished. The lay sisters were mostly engaged in charity, working at the convent’s hospital, pharmacy, orphanage and dining-hall. The Marfo-Mariinsky Convent never charged any money for food and medicine. At the same time, Elizabeth Feodorovna insisted on helping the poor not so much financially as spiritually, keeping their faith alive, encouraging them to work and helping them find work. Special attention was paid to childrearing, and the Duchess herself would visit the slums and bring the abandoned orphans to the shelter. Female education was also a matter of importance, and illiterate female workers could attend the Sunday school to learn basic reading and writing.
On 10 February, 1909, the Grand Duchess assembled all the lay sisters at the convent, took off her mourning clothes and put on a monastic habit, saying: “I’m leaving the glorious world, in which I held a glorious position, but now I’m entering a greater world, that of the poor and the distressed.”
THE DRAMATIC STORY OF THE CONVENT AND OF ST. ARCHIMARTYR ELIZABETH
The convent expanded and developed over years. The main Intercession CathedralRussian: Pokrovskiy sobor or Покровский собор was built by Aleksey Shchusevan acclaimed Russian and Soviet architect in 1912. Ironically, the same architect who carried out one of the greatest church projects of the time built, a few years later, Lenin’s Mausoleum, the resting place of Vladimir I. Lenin was an ideological opponent of Orthodox Christianity, who spent years struggling against the Church and contributed greatly to the extermination of the Romanovsthe second dynasty to rule Russia, after the House of Rurik, reigning from 1613 until the February Revolution of 1917. The plain, laconic design of this neo-Russian cathedral represents the return to the Old Russian religious architecture of the 12th to 15thcenturies, in the style of severe and impressive churches of Novgorodat its peak during the 14th century, the city was the capital of the Novgorod Republic and one of Europe's largest cities and Pskova city located about 20 kilometers east from the Estonian border, on the Velikaya River. The cathedral’s interior and its underground areas were frescoed by M. Nesterovone of the first exponents of Symbolist art in Russia and P. Korin, respectively. Sculptor S. Konenkovoften called "the Russian Rodin" executed the façade’s reliefs. These three names were among the leading artists of their time.
Elizabeth Feodorovna refused to leave Russia after the October Revolution of 1917a revolution in Russia led by the Bolsheviks with Vladimir Lenin as a leader that was instrumental in the larger Russian Revolution of 1917, despite her family’s insistence that she do so. In 1918, the Bolsheviksmembers of a wing of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party, which, led by Lenin, seized control of the government in Russia (October 1917) and became the dominant political power arrested her. After her detention in custody, the Grand Duchess was thrown into a mine not far from the town of AlapayevskRussian: Алапаевск, where she died. White Armya loose confederation of Anti-Communist forces that fought the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War soldiers took the remains of St. Arch Martyr Elizabeth to Jerusalem, where they remain to this day. Recently, some of her remains have been transferred to the Marfo-Mariinsky Convent and are now its main Orthodox Christian relic.
The convent was closed by the Bolsheviks and used for civilian purposes as a vegetable farm, a cinema, a clinic and, later, a restoration studio. It was handed over to the Russian Orthodox Church as late as 1992. The same year, the Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox ChurchRussian: Russkaya Pravoslavnaya Tserkov or Русская Православная Церковь canonized the Grand Duchess Elizabeth as Holy Martyr, along with one of her loyal nuns, Barbara.
If the Russian history is a subject of your interest and you want to know, for example, what is the oldest church in Moscow, what are the famous monasteries around Moscow, which style of Moscow architecture you can see only in this town, you can read on our website pages about the Kremlin and “History and Architecture”.
THE PAST AND PRESENT
The sisterhood has been re-established in the convent, which houses the Charity Centre for Children with Cerebral PalsyRussian: tsentr reabilitatsii detey s DTsP «Miloserdie» or центр реабилитации детей с ДЦП «Милосердие», an orphanage, a social welfare centre and a charity food bank. The legacy of Elizabeth Feodorovna is still very much alive. The house of the Grand Duchess now houses a museum, where visitors can see her personal effects, an icon that she embroidered, her photographs and portraits. During the tour, museum employees will tell you all about the convent and its founder.
The Marfo-Mariinsky Convent has no medieval relics or icons. Despite this, it is one of the most venerated convents in Moscow. Jesus Christ’s main commandment has always been followed here: Love your neighbour, as you love yourself. The nuns continue to perform charitable and selfless acts and teach others to do likewise.
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