19 January 2003

An interview with the Head of the Russian Imperial House, H.I.H. Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, on the subject of philanthropy (published in Radonezh, 2003, no. 10-11)

An interview with the Head of the Russian Imperial House, H.I.H. Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, on the subject of philanthropy (published in Radonezh, 2003, no. 10-11)

Madrid, 19 January 2004
Feast of the Holy Epiphany

Your Imperial Highness, what can You tell us about the traditions of philanthropy in the Imperial Family?

These traditions have a history that spans many centuries. Beginning at least with the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles St. Vladimir, Russian sovereigns have conscientiously and constantly striven to help those in need. For example, it is known that Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich, who gave donations to charity all his life, ordered in the last hours of his life not only the release of prisoners and the commuting of long sentences, but he also even paid out of his own pocket the bills of debtors. Gradually, charity became more and more systematized. It came to depend not just on the goodness of an individual’s soul, but on institutions and organizations that were created specifically for the purpose of doing good works. During the reign of Emperor Paul I, there was created the Chancellery for his wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna, which took on and guided philanthropic projects on behalf of the Imperial House. After the death of Maria Feodorovna, from her Chancellery emerged the Fourth Section of His Imperial Majesty’s Chancellery; and in 1880, during the reign of Alexander II, this Section was absorbed into His Imperial Majesty’s Chancellery while retaining the structure established by Empress Maria. The functions of the institutions in the former Section, despite these changes, remained the same. Included in the administration of the Chancellery of Empress Maria Feodorovna were separate Oversight Committees for orphanages, for the blind, and for the deaf and mute; and an organization for charity, an organization for women’s education, and so on.

Members of the Imperial House, especially female dynasts (the male dynasts being more attracted to matters of State), were actively involved in charity. It is well known how much was done in this regard by the Holy Passion-Bearer Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and her sister, the Holy New Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna. The empress headed numerous charitable committees and social organizations; and her activity was not limited only to these official roles, but she is well known to have also given of her time and energy privately. Elizabeth Feodorovna, even before the death of her husband and her tonsuring as a nun, was involved in the creation and direction of the St. Peter Charitable Society, which was a refuge for ill children in St. Petersburg; and of the Charitable Society of Tsarskoe Selo. In Moscow, she founded the St. Elizabeth Charity Society, the Society for the Care of Blind Children, the Society for the Care of Poor Children, and the Committee for the Collection of Aid for the Hungry. Afterward, having founded the Ss. Mary and Martha Convent, she organized in it a hospital, an orphanage for young girls, a pharmacy and an out-patient care hospital, a facility for women with Tuberculosis, and a soup kitchen.

The charitable activities of my great-grandmother, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlona, also deserve mentioning. During the Russo-Japanese War, she paid for the refitting of a fully-operational medical train for treating the wounded. During the First World War, she organized a fleet of ambulances that went back and forth from the front lines, and in Petrograd, she installed a hospital for soldiers and officers in her own palace; a storehouse for sheets for the beds of the wounded; a committee for supplying the needs of soldiers who had been discharged from hospitals; helped in the search and identification of the names of soldiers who had been captured or interned by the enemy; and worked to identify the names of those who were interred in common graves. My great-grandmother traveled around Russia a great deal during these years, visiting various charitable foundations, making certain for herself that everything was working as it should be. In general, during the Great War, all women of the Imperial House actively worked, some even as nurses, in order to raise the moral of the army.

Males of the Imperial House had, perhaps, fewer opportunities for direct participation in charitable activities, but they nonetheless donated their wealth to these causes and supported charities through State organizations. Besides helping the poor, they gave support to children’s causes, and they contributed to the development of science and the arts. Here I should mention Grand Duke Constantine Konstantinovich, Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, my great-grandfather Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich, and many others as well.

After the Revolution, the Imperial House lost not only its homeland, but practically all its material possessions. Our family, and almost all members of the Dynasty who managed to be saved, barely made ends meet. The family came to know poverty. When reports in the press would appear from time to time about some mythical “Romanov Bank Accounts” abroad, we, who knew this was all fantasy, could only offer a bitter smile in response. But even in these difficult circumstances, the Imperial House tried in various ways to offer aid and assistance to their impoverished countrymen. My grandmother, Empress Viktoria Feodorovna—who, by the way, during the war was in charge of a fleet of ambulances and was awarded the Order of St. George in all its degrees for her actions on the front lines—actively labored to gather materials for the charitable needs of her countrymen. In November, 1924, she visited the USA and was enormously successful in gathering funds, all of which were given over to the Red Cross. Other similar acts of charity come to mind as well. My aunt, Grand Duchess Kira Kirillovna, was the benefactress of the Committee for Aid to Refugees from the Soviet Union. Other members of the Imperial House were active in Charity as well, including: Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna; Grand Duchess Olga Konstantinovna; Princess (and Grand Duchess) Elena Vladimirovna of Greece; Princess of the Imperial Blood Tatiana Konstaninovna, who took monastic orders and the monastic name Sister Tamara; and many others. And the best example of selfless charitable work remains my mother, Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna. In addition to participating in large charitable projects—the success of which wholly depended on the participation of members of our family—there would sometimes come simply those who came to us and were in need; and no matter how difficult it may have been for us, we gave much help out of our own pockets.

In sum, I want to say that the Imperial Family has tried as much as possible to help all those who are in need, and has never tried to draw attention to itself because of it, but has been only grateful for the chance to be useful to our countrymen who are in need.

You have lived for many years in Spain. What charity work do you yourself do there, and how do you participate in the charitable activities of the Spanish Royal House?

One of my most important activities in this area is my participation in the organization of the large annual charitable trade fair called “Rastrillo.” Each year, there is a Russian stand, which allows me the opportunity to make a substantial donation. Then, either through me directly or through my Chancellery or sometimes through another organization, part of these funds make their way to Russia. Recently, I have been able to offer assistance to a facility for children at a girls’ reformatory in the Moscow region, to an orphanage for children with diseases of the central nervous system in Moscow, and to many other similar institutions outside of Moscow which I have visited; and I have offered similar help to private persons in need.

I offer my support and sponsorship to charitable balls in Great Britain and in Belgium, and I myself, when able, attend them. In Belgium this year I accepted an offer to sponsor the Society for the Aid of Russian Children.

In the Spanish Royal House, as in other European royal houses, the situation is similar to that which prevailed in the Russian Imperial Family before the revolution. The king, as head of State, rarely directly participates in activities personally, but his sponsorship is very important from a symbolic and practical point of view. Queen Sophia, their daughters, the Infantas Elena and Christina, and other princesses are the active directors of charitable programs.

How is philanthropy growing in Europe?

In Europe, there are numerous charitable organizations that have spotless reputations, enjoy excellent traditions, and have enormous experience. I can offer the example of the Spanish Foundation “Nuevo Futuro” (“New Future”), which organizes “Rastrillo.” It began as an entirely private, small foundation that concentrated on building orphanages for children who had been abandoned by their parents. As the foundation constructed an entire network of orphanages, people began to see the use and effectiveness of the foundation’s activities, which made it possible to expand further the range of its charitable work. Now, members of the royal family, representatives of foreign dynasties and the aristocracy, famous societal figures, representatives of science and culture and industry all participate with pride in this international charitable foundation. All this was accomplished through enormous efforts, and, what is also important to emphasize, through an effective administration of the foundation.

Organizing a charity is a colossal undertaking. One first has to work out a master plan for the charity, meet all the legal requirements for charities, attract people who can bring different talents and expertise to the project, seek out funds from appropriate sources, establish a competent administration of the funds, and assess how best and where best to begin to offer assistance to those in need. If all this is done correctly, then the charity will have the maximum effect. If not, then, as they say, the road to failure is often paved with good intentions. Unfortunately, in Russia, where the traditions of public charity were eradicated for many years, I often see people who work for charitable foundations who are not capable of systematic work, people who want to do things too fast, to advertise themselves, but do not concern themselves enough with the question of what kind of assistance to offer to which group of needy people. I have been approached many times with worthy ideas for charities in general, but either there are no operating plans to carry out these ideas, or the plans turns out to be empty and ill-conceived. I, of course, could not participate in such plans, and people are sometimes offended or construe that to mean that I do not wish to support charities. But, in fact, I am eager to participate in well-conceived programs that are presented to me. Unless there are serious extenuating circumstances that prevent it, I am always ready to come to Russia to take part in well-planned charitable activities. Moreover, I am able and willing to share my own personal experience with charities and to participate directly in the preparatory work for foundations. In general, it is principally in this area that I see the Imperial House playing a vital role. And the initial stages of my involvement with the Orthodox “Radonezh” Society has left me with a very positive impression of the group. I believe that the program “Education for Poor Children” has an especially bright future. Perhaps, with time, there will be other programs. I have instructed my Chancellery to cooperate fully and in every way with the “Radonezh” Society.

What do You think about current conditions in Russia?

When I was in Russia over the summer for the consecration of the Cathedral-on-the-Blood in Ekaterinburg, and for the 100-th anniversary of the canonization of St. Seraphim of Sarov, I traveled by boat on the Volga and spent several days in Moscow; and I saw that Russia is slowly but surely changing for the better. What is most important is the resurgence of the Orthodox Faith that I saw. People smile more now, and in their conversations there is much more hope expressed about the future. There is still, however, a great deal of disorder, poverty, hunger, neglect of children… It hurts to see elderly people who have worked and made sacrifices all their life, and now have their former ideals collapsed. To find new ideals to live by at their age is very difficult; and all the while they have to live on such meager pensions. Even if these people in former times were mistaken in their former ideals, they do not deserve such a sorrowful fate. Without respect for the elder generation, no nation can achieve anything good. One should likewise consider the younger generation: not only the fact that the younger generation lives as an integral part of the rest of society, but how they will be living, what ideals, values, and interests will they have. In this regard, the program “Education for Poor Children” is especially important.

We must all understand that we live in one world which the Lord has given to us. We must know how to accept both joy and suffering with dignity. People who have fallen on hard times must not lose their spirit, and those to whom much has been given should not forget their obligation to share their blessings with those in need.

One must also recognize that even the best government and even the most competent government officials cannot improve the life of the country if the people themselves only sit and wait for the government to solve their problems. The people have to begin this themselves—from their own homes, from their own blocks, and from their own streets. To know how to fight for one’s own rights without putting society at large at odds with the government; to strive for mutual aid and mutual compassion. I am sure, that God’s help will be there with us in this endeavor, and that we will achieve the rebirth of a Great Russia.

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