PRINCESS ILEANA OF ROMANIA
AND THE SPIRIT OF ORTHODOXY
Born in 1909, Princess Ileana of Romania was a daughter of King Ferdinand of Romania. Interestingly enough, she was also the great-granddaughter of both Queen Victoria and of Czar Alexander II (Emperor of Russia from 1855 to 1881, when he was assassinated). Princess Ileana founded the Asociaţia Ghidelor şi Ghizilor din România (AGGR), which became part of the World Associate of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts in 1993. She also helped form the Girl Reserves of the Red Cross in Romania.
After their family abdicated the throne to the Communists in the middle of the 20th century, Princess Ileana was exiled to Switzerland, then Argentina, and finally the United States. Her nephew, Michael I of Romania, was the final monarch of the state. He has since returned to a residence in Romania, where he is one of the most popular and trusted public figures alive today.
In 1961, Princess Ileana left America (and her failed marriages) behind, and entered into the monastic lifestyle at the Protection of the Theotokos Monastery in Bussy-en-Othe, France. She was tonsured in 1967, being given the name Mother Alexandra. She then founded the first English-language monastery in America (Monastery of the Transfiguration) in Ellwood City, PA. There she was abbess until 1981, and remained at the monastery until her repose.
Writings on Orthodoxy
Princess Ileana wrote several works on Orthodox Spirituality and Theology, including a short reflection on the Jesus Prayer. An excerpt:
In fear and joy, in loneliness and companionship, it is ever with me. Not only in the silence of daily devotions, but at all times and in all places. It transforms, for me, frowns into smiles; it beautifies, as if a film had been washed off an old picture so that the colors appear clear and bright, like nature on a warm spring day after a shower. Even despair has become attenuated and repentance has achieved its purpose.
When I arise in the morning, it starts me joyfully upon a new day. When I travel by air, land, or sea, it sings within my breast. When I stand upon a platform and face my listeners, it beats encouragement. When I gather my children around me, it murmurs a blessing. And at the end of a weary day, when I lay me down to rest, I give my heart over to Jesus: “(Lord) into thy hands I commend my spirit”. I sleep-but my heart as it beats prays on: “Jesus.”
Mother Alexandra, Introduction to the Jesus Prayer
She also wrote a beautiful treatise on the Orthodox Church and its relationship with the estranged communions of both Anglicanism and Old Rome. It serves as a personal reflection on what Orthodoxy really means, as she begins: “Having been baptized into and brought up in the Eastern Orthodox Church, I have taken it for granted all my life. It is only lately that I was confronted with the question: ‘What is Orthodoxy? What do the Orthodox believe?’” (The Spirit of Orthodoxy).
The Orthodox Church goes back to the very beginning of Christianity; evolving according to the needs and mentality of the peoples it united within its fold. At first, there was no Eastern or Western Church, but only one Catholic (universal and complete) and Orthodox (right-thinking) Church, which, as a body, kept the faith pure, and defended Christendom as a whole from heresies…
We are now living in a time when cultures are being brought close together, meeting and interchanging thoughts and ideas. By the migration of people, through wars and oppression, the Eastern Church has moved westward and is mingling with churches of all denominations. No more are Orthodox Churches in America and Europe just chapels serving small groups of Russians, Serbs, Greeks, Romanians, and others; they have become a part of American life. Nearly five million Americans now belong to this confession, which has its own churches, schools and seminaries. Orthodoxy is no longer a vague and distant faith of Oriental peoples, but is an integral part of American life today. What, then, does it stand for?
It stands for Christianity unimpaired, and transmitted unchanged to us through the Church’s Holy Tradition. It teaches that there is only one church, and that that church is Orthodox and Catholic. It is believed to be firmly based upon the teachings of our Lord as transmitted by the first Apostles and through the Gospel. Because the creeds and even the Holy Scriptures came into being after the founding of the Church by Christ and the Apostles, “Holy Tradition” is venerated in the Church. Notwithstanding the fact that after the destruction of the Byzantine Empire, the Eastern Church fell into various national groups, the Tradition has remained unimpaired. Through hundreds of years of Ottoman and other persecution, the heads of the churches could meet but seldom to discuss points of dogma, yet all have kept the same exact faith and, although each group necessarily reads the Liturgy in its own tongue, the ceremony varies only slightly if at all.
She goes on to discuss the importance of Liturgy in the unity and life of the Orthodox-Catholic Church, the Holy Mysteries of our Faith, the rise of nationalism as a result of Ottoman occupation and persecution (where the Faith became practically indiscernible from one’s pride in their nation), the centrality of the Holy Scriptures, and the paradox of both timelessness and adaptability within the Church. Of the latter, she writes:
The Orthodox Church has been less eager than the Western churches to move with the times, for it feels that it holds the eternal verities. At the same time, it has remarkable adaptability and independence of movement with which to break with any custom when circumstances demand. For example, when Communist Serbia declared Christmas Day a working day so that church services could not be attended, Liturgies were read from midnight on, every two hours until morning, despite the fact that tradition long has ruled that only one Mass in twenty-four hours was to be said at the same altar.
Princess Ileana further discusses the importance of ascetic discipline, the burden on both clergy and laity to preserve the Faith, and the influence of St John’s Gospel on the Eastern churches (e.g. the concept of “Mystery”). With a bevy of quotes from the Church Fathers, she describes at length the seven primary Mysteries, detailing each one with great care.
She describes the doctrine of Deification, the importance of regular Confession, our rejection of the doctrine of Purgatory, and the differences between Western and Eastern monasticism. And once more, she emphasizes the importance of the entire Church in preserving the Faith:
Every Christian receiving Baptism becomes part of the Church and is responsible as a member for guarding the faith and also spreading it abroad. When the Church is spoken of, the entire Church is meant — the hierarchy, the laity — the living and the departed.
She concludes with a discussion on the Orthodox veneration of the Saints, Angels, and the Ever-Virgin Mary, the spiritual nature of music in the Orthodox Church, and a hope for reconciliation with the Anglican communion of her day:
The Orthodox has all the dogmatic and liturgical riches that the Anglican needs today. By entering into communion with the whole Orthodox Church, the Anglicans would strengthen their own Apostolic tradition. Their orders, recognized by all Orthodox Churches, would give them an unassailable position towards Rome, and at the same time they would be a bridgehead towards the Protestant Churches, by virtue of being both Catholic and Protestant.
She ends her exposition on the Orthodox Faith with humility and prayer:
Until the whole person, mind, soul and body can lose itself and at the same time comprehend the allness of God in one word, let us learn in all honesty to say: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.”