Orthodox America

  In Memoriam - Abbess Elizabeth

Convent of the Annunciation, London

+ January 21/February 3, 1999

In marking the first anniversary of the repose of Abbess Elizabeth, one could not help but note how events in her life relate to current events in Jericho.

Abbess Elizabeth (Galina Ampenoff in the world) was born in Russia in 1908. As a young girl she often attended services at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, where she had the honor of being anointed by Patriarch Tikhon. Some years later, when the family had moved to England, another worthy hierarch, Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), blessed her desire to become a nun.

In February 1940, at the invitation of Abbess Mary (Robinson), the superior of the Russian Orthodox convent in Gethsemane, Galina went to the Holy Land, where for five years she taught at the school that Abbess Mary had established in Bethany. She was tonsured on 1/14 November 1945 by Archimandrite Anthony (Sinkevich, later Archbishop of Los Angeles). At the same time, Metropolitan Anastassy assigned her as superior of the Ein Karim Convent near Jerusalem.

1948 began a time of great difficulty in the Holy Land for members of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. Subsequent to the appearance in Israel of the Ecclesiastical Mission of the Moscow Patriarchate, there was a split in the Ein Karim Convent. Following an attempt on Mother Elizabeth's life, Metropolitan Anastassy blessed her to leave the convent together with any sisters that desired to remain with her. The convent was threatened with seizure, and the nuns fled on foot. In Palestine a slaughter began. The Jewish settlers massacred the inhabitants of the Arab town of Dar Jasne, and it became dangerous for "white" Russians to remain in Ein Karim, on territory belonging to the Soviet-friendly Israelis. The nuns found refuge in Amman, Jordan, where they lived for the next four years as refugees in extreme poverty.

At last Metropolitan Anastassy was able to arrange for Mother Elizabeth and her six sisters to move to France, where they lived for two years at the Lesna Convent before Archbishop John (Maximovitch) decided to settle them in England. The nuns had received an English education, they were trained teachers, and he wanted them to open a Sunday school for children in London. By his prayers, they relocated to England in 1954.

The Annunciation Convent in Brondesbury Park, a London suburb, was the first women's Orthodox monastic community in England. Archbishop John always stayed at the convent whenever he was in London. There the nuns opened a school, where they gave lessons in the Law of God, catechism, Russian and Slavonic, and church singing.

Through the course of nearly sixty years, Abbess Elizabeth devoted herself wholeheartedly to the Church. With uncompromising firmness she defended the true teaching of the Russian Orthodox Church. Her compassion and heartfelt concern for people of all ages and nationalities left an indelible radiance in the memory of all those who had the privilege of knowing her. Until her dying day, she maintained an astonishing volume of correspondence with many people scattered across the globe, offering them help, encouragement and counsel, continuing that ministry that had been manifest in her life from her early years. For younger generations, her years of spiritual struggle provided a clear and living link with the spiritual legacy of Holy Russia. "It is sorrowful and painful to observe the decline in piety: the new generation has different values, a different spirit..."

On Wednesday 21 January/3 February, 1999, at 6:30 in the morning, Abbess Elizabeth came downstairs into the church as usual for morning prayers. Towards evening she felt unwell, a priest was called, she received the Holy Mysteries in full consciousness, and shortly thereafter she quietly and peacefully reposed.

May her memory be eternal!

Translated and condensed from Pravoslavnaya Rus', No 4, 1999. 

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