The story of a beautiful granddaughter of Queen Victoria who suffers and dies a martyr for the Orthodox faithhas some built-in fascination. But that doesn’t make her story easy to write. In Ella’s Story, author Maria Tobias succeeds admirably in making this recently-canonized saint’s life accessible and appealing to the “young adults” for whom the book is written.
Elizabeth (called Ella by her family) was a wealthy German princess renowned for her beauty and charm, assiduously courted by no less a personage than Kaiser Wilhelm, and completely unfamiliar with Orthodoxy in her early years. Mrs. Tobias does a fine job of showing the evolution of this privileged girl into a woman who survived the violent death of her beloved husband and took on the self-denying life of an Orthodox nun and abbess.
Mrs. Tobias portrays Ella vividly through all the stages of her life. We see her as a young girl, tired and a bit put out at having to visit the wounded in hospitals with her mother in the busy days just before Christmas. We see her dealing with the unwelcome attentions of the future Kaiser, and at first being unimpressed with the coldness of the man who would one day be her husband, the Grand Duke Serge. In only 78 pages, the author paints a full, rich picture of her spiritual growth into the woman who went into the worst slums of Moscow to deliver aid, and who rebuffed the Kaiser again when he offered to get her out of Russia as the revolution came closer. He and she both knew that she faced almost certain death at the hands of the fanatical Bolsheviks whose hatred was focused on the royal family. But she would not run away from what faced her in her adopted homeland.
Along the way in her story, the author neatly and unobtrusively inserts a good bit of history of the time, and also some Biblical teachings. For example, we read that the convent founded by Saint Elizabeth “was to be named after Saints Mary and Martha, because Elizabeth wanted her nuns to be both prayerful and practical, like the sisters from the Bible.” What a succinct and effective way of expressing the Church’s reasons for honoring these two very different Biblical sisters.
The illustrations by Bonnie Gillis are charming and appropriate, though those depicting faces are less successful than the ones showing objects and places. Overall, the illustrations add even more warmth and interest to the story.
This book is heartily recommended for “young adults” and for anyone interested in the life of one of our newest saints. It’s available from Conciliar Press.
Reviewed By: Valerie G Zahirsky