As part of the events that mark the 100th anniversary of the martyrdom of the Romanov Family and the Holy Martyr Grand Princess Elisabeth (Romanova), there will be several concerts of the Monastic Choir of St Elisabeth Convent on the Isle of Wight south of England on July 6-8, 2018.
The last Russian Emperor Nicholas II and his family were shot by Bolsheviks in the basement of Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg on July 16/17, 1918. The next day, July 18, 1918, Elisabeth Feodorovna with her cell attendant Nun Barbara and several other martyrs were thrown alive into a deserted mineshaft near Alapayevsk, Sverdlovsk Oblast.
These dates are remembered not only in Russia but also in Grand Princess Elisabeth’s native land of Great Britain.
St Elisabeth was born Princess of Hesse and Darmstadt. She was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria of the British Empire. She converted to Orthodoxy and fell in love with Russia, spent the rest of her life doing deeds of mercy, and finally suffered martyrdom. People from various countries will come together to honour this remarkable woman with their prayers.
The diverse programme includes joint worship services and lectures, along with exhibitions and presentations based on rare photos and cinema footage about the life of the Royal Family of Romanovs, and about the visits of the Russian Royal Family to the United Kingdom. Emperor Nicholas II visited the Isle of Wight in 1908-1909.
Princess Victoria Alberta Elisabeth Matilda Maria of Hesse and Darmstadt, who was Grand Princess Elisabeth Feodorovna’s sister and another granddaughter of Queen Victoria, is buried on that island, too.
The Monastic Choir of St Elisabeth Convent, which is one of the most famous church choirs in the post-Soviet countries, will also take part in the anniversary programme. The Choir toured several towns of Britain and Ireland in the spring of 2017 within the frameworks of the Heart To Heart Festival.
The audience will get to listen to Orthodox church singing, which has unity of life, prayer, and worship at its heart. The Choir will have a concert of two parts in East Cowes, a town at the north coast of the Isle of Wight. The first part of the concert will feature worship chants. They are based on ancient chants of the Russian singing tradition, e.g., znamenny, Valamo, Bulgarian chants, as well as Macedonian and Byzantine chants.
Chants are the summit of Russian church singing; they are like an audio icon. They were shaped by anonymous singers in the course of many centuries. That’s why it isn’t an exaggeration to call them the national heritage. Some of the chants will be performed “as they are”, without any alterations, while other chants will be sung in a later harmonisation, or treatment, which makes them easier to understand for the contemporary listener. The second part of the concert will contain spiritual songs, canticles, folk songs, and Christmas carols.
Nun Juliania (Denisova), the choir’s precentor, is the author of many chants. Currently, Nun Juliania is also the precentor of the Festive Choir of St Elisabeth Convent. The former graduate of the School of Music Theory and Composition of Leningrad State Academy of Music, she is the author of more than 150 church chants, harmonisations, and treatments.
Almost all participants of the choir have music education. Aside from singing, the nuns have many duties in the Convent: Some are in charge of various workgroups, some work in shelters or in rehabilitation centres. Some organise trips and exhibitions or edit and proofread books. However, they are united by prayerful singing during worship services in the Convent, which is the main goal of the Choir. The Choir pays a lot of attention to educational and missionary activity. The nuns sing in hospitals and universities, sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with their audiences with the help of church singing. After their concerts, people get closer to the Orthodox culture. Orthodoxy is not merely a set of rituals. It is living beauty.
The events in honour of the Russian Royal Family on the Isle of Wight are organised by Grand Duchess Elizabeth Romanov (GDER) Society, established in 2015 by several historians and activists. GDER purports to make this amazing woman, who was a Russian Orthodox saint, a German princess, and an ethnic Briton, and whose statue stands at the entrance of Westminster Abbey, better known to the general public.
The residents of the Isle of Wight will also witness a spectacular opening of a memorial dedicated to the Royal Family of the Romanovs, created by Helena Bezborodova, a renowned Russian sculptor.