15 May 2018

April 28 – May 7, 2018. The Grand Duchess Maria is the Guest of Honour at the Annual Dinner of The Versailles Foundation in New York City

Grand Duchess Maria of Russia, accompanied by her son and heir, the Grand Duke George of Russia, was the guest of honour at the annual dinner of The Versailles Foundation on Thursday, May 3, 2018. Their Imperial Highnesses spent the week in New York City, attending events connected with The Versailles Foundation, touring the city, meeting with relatives and friends, and attending church services.

Their Imperial Highnesses arrived in New York City on Saturday, April 28, and on the following day, they toured some of the local sites in the city and had lunch with their friend, Brien Purcell Horan.

On Monday, April 30, Their Imperial Highnesses, accompanied by Mr. Horan, traveled to New Jersey to visit their cousins, H.R.H Princess Maria Luisa of Bulgaria and her husband, Mr. Bronislaw Chrobok.

On Tuesday morning, May 1, the Grand Duchess and Grand Duke were met at the University Club by Nicholas Nicholson for a half day of visits to notable New York City monuments. Their Imperial Highnesses first traveled to the southernmost part of Manhattan to board a ferry for a short tour of the Harbor, noting the skyline, the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island.

The time on the water was shortly followed by a visit to “One World Observatory” at the new 1 World Trade Center. Their Imperial Highnesses admired the views of the city from the 102nd floor of the 1,776 foot building (541 meters, and currently the tallest building in the Western hemisphere). Their Imperial Highnesses afterwards made a visit to the memorial to those who perished in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The Grand Duchess and Grand Duke admired the twin cascades and pools which bear the names of all those who lost their lives that day, and which were constructed on the actual site of the lost buildings. Their Imperial Highnesses paused for a moment of prayer and reflection, and noted with interest the continuing construction of the Orthodox temple of St. Nicholas, a replacement for the only house of worship destroyed on September 11. The Grand Duchess was pleased to note that St Nicholas is the patron saint of both Russia and New York City, and hoped that the soon-to-be-finished church would provide solace and inspiration to all those who visit.

On Wednesday, May 2, Their Imperial Highnesses attended a luncheon hosted by The Versailles Foundation at the apartment of Gillian Spreckels Fuller, a Foundation director. Later that evening, Their Imperial Highnesses had dinner with their friend Jean-Marie Musy, Ambassador of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta to Spain, and Brien Purcell Horan.

On Thursday evening, May 3, Her Imperial Highness the Grand Duchess Maria of Russia was the guest of honour at the annual dinner of The Versailles Foundation.

The Foundation was started in 1970 by Gerald Van der Kemp, Conservateur en Chef of the Château and Domaine de Versailles, and his wife Florence Van der Kemp. The organization is dedicated to assisting with the restoration of the Château, fountains, and gardens of the famous residence of the French kings. The Grand Duchess and her son the Grand Duke greeted guests in the receiving line together with the chairwomen of the dinner. After the guests had arrived, The One Hundred Cadets of the Valley Forge Military Academy & College drummed and trumpeted in the Grand Duchess, and the honoured guests, which included Their Imperial Highnesses’ august relatives, her cousin, H.R.H. Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia, and her niece and nephew, T.R.H. Prince and Princess Karl Friedrich of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen.

In her speech, the Grand Duchess spoke of relations between France and Imperial Russia, and between the United States and Imperial Russia; of the visit of Peter the Great to Versailles in 1717; and of her personal memories of how vast and depressing the unrestored Versailles was when she first visited it as a young girl. She thanked The Versailles Foundation and its very able and accomplished president, Barbara de Portago, for their work in contributing to the restoration of the splendour of the palace, and noted that the organization is a model to groups in any country who seek to preserve and restore their patrimony through private philanthropic effort.

The full text of the Grand Duchess’s speech follows:

It is certainly a great pleasure to be with you on this lovely spring evening in New York. I was delighted when your president, Barbara de Portago, invited me to say a few words at our dinner this evening.

The Versailles Foundation has done an enormous amount of good, on many important projects over the years.

From a very early age, I lived part of the year in France. The palace of Versailles can make quite an impression on a young child, as it did on me when I first saw it.

It is unforgettable — one of the very highest examples of European architecture.

As you can imagine, there were many historical links between my house, the House of Romanoff, and the royal court at Versailles. Too many to describe in a short talk like this.

But I think with some amusement of Peter the Great’s famous comment about Versailles. He made a state visit to France early in the reign of Louis XV. When asked by the French nobles what his reaction to Versailles was, he replied that the palace was “a pigeon with the wings of an eagle.”

They were astonished by his comment. But what he meant was that he found the proportions unusual. Louis XIV had enlarged what was originally a kind of hunting lodge by adding two vast extensions, or “wings.”

But what actually impressed Peter the Great most were the fountains and the gardens at Versailles. His visit to Versailles inspired him to import French architects to Russia to design our magnificent Peterhof.

The French royal house and the Russian imperial house have this thing in common: they both lost their thrones as a result of revolutions that caused significant repercussions throughout the world.

Most of you know what happened to our dynasty during the Russian Revolution.

What many people do not know, however, are the details of how we were allowed to return to Russia 75 years later.

I say 75 years, because those were the years of the duration of the Soviet Union: 1917 to 1992.

Those were also the exact years of my father’s life. My father, Grand Duke Wladimir, was born in Finland in 1917, two months before the Bolsheviks seized power. He passed away in 1992, three and a half months after the end of the Soviet Union.

Because my father’s years on earth coincided precisely with the existence of the Soviet Union, he was not able to travel to his homeland, until the very end of his life.

My grandfather Grand Duke Kirill of Russia had made arrangements to bring my pregnant grandmother, born Princess Victoria Melita of Great Britain and Ireland, out of the revolutionary turmoil in St. Petersburg and to safety in Finland a few months before the Bolshevik coup. That is why my father was born there, when Finland was still part of the Russian Empire.

They had some close calls. There was not enough food. But they survived and eventually made their way to the West.

It was when my father was 11 months old and hiding with his parents in Finland that the Bolshevik regime murdered Emperor Nicholas II and his 14 year old son, Tsesarevich Alexei. In addition, they murdered the Emperor’s only brother, Grand Duke Michael. As a result of these tragedies, my grandfather, the next in line of succession to the throne, became the head of the dynasty, and my father became his heir.

Following the death of my grandfather, my father served as head of the Russian Imperial House for 53 years, from 1938 until 1992.

As to me, I was born in Madrid. In 1953, after having tried to have a child for quite awhile, my parents travelled to the shrine of St. Nicholas of Bari in Italy to pray for the arrival of a child. And then suddenly a little baby was on its way. My parents probably expected a little Nicholas, but it turned out to be a little Maria — so St. Nicholas of Bari played a bit of a trick on them.

Through most of the Soviet period, the very existence of my father remained relatively unknown in Russia. The common belief was that nobody from the dynasty had survived the Revolution.

In the late 1980s, however, during the period of openness called Glasnost, a popular Russian magazine named Ogonyok published a major article about my father, with lots of photos. It caused a sensation in Russia.

Suddenly, it was known that the heir of the tsars was alive and living in France. My poor father was suddenly hit by an avalanche of mail from Russia. And then the visitors began. Priests, military officers, and ordinary citizens at first. Then various political figures.

One visitor was Anatoly Sobchak, a law professor from St. Petersburg who was very interested in the idea of monarchy.

In 1991, the citizens of Leningrad voted to elect Sobchak as mayor. And they also voted to change the name of the city back to St. Petersburg.

Soon afterwards, Mayor Sobchak invited my father to the ceremony of the re-naming of St. Petersburg. My father was ecstatic. At age 74, he was about to achieve his lifelong dream of setting foot on the soil of his beloved fatherland.

And so it happened in November 1991 that he and my mother arrived in St. Petersburg and he was able to spend a week there at the end of his life. He was treated royally and had one of the most extraordinary and joyful weeks of his life.

I too had always dreamed of visiting Russia. Six months after my parents’ visit, I made my own first trip there. This turned out to be rather a bittersweet experience. On the one hand, it was my father who was opening the door for me to go to Russia. And on the other hand, unfortunately, I was there, as the new head of the dynasty, to walk behind my father’s coffin.

My father’s funeral liturgy was presided over by the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church and was attended by thousands of mourners — for a man whose existence was not even known in Russia just a few short years earlier, this was an extraordinary event.

My father was the first person to be buried in the mausoleum of the Imperial Family since before the Revolution.

This is how the 75-year long exile of our dynasty came to an end. Shortly afterwards, Russian citizenship was restored to my mother Grand Duchess Leonida, my son Grand Duke Gueorgui, and myself.

In the last 25 years, I have made more than 70 trips to Russia and to other countries that were once part of the Russian Empire. As to these other countries, my goal has been to stress our shared history and traditions as brother countries that spilled their blood for the same empire during many periods of history.

As the head of the Imperial Family, considered nowadays as a historical institution removed completely from politics, I have worked very closely on a number of projects that are religious, charitable, cultural and social in nature.

For example, in 2013, together with my son, we established the Imperial Foundation for Cancer Research.

On my first trip to Russia, many people and places looked rather sad and downtrodden. Over the years, thank goodness, little by little, the situation began to improve. Smiles appeared, and colors burst forth. Now things have improved dramatically.

One thing I am very pleased about is to have obtained from the Russian courts the rehabilitation of the Emperor Nicholas II and his family. Like any other victims of Communist repression, my relatives had the right, under the present Constitution and the rule of law, to have their names cleared of being considered enemies of the state. Before the rehabilitation, it was a bit strange that on the one hand they were saints but on the other hand they were considered enemies of the state from the Soviet era.

As a Russian, let me close by expressing my hope that our two countries will get past the current period of tension. The image of Russia should not be that of a dangerous and aggressive bear. If one knows Russian literature and poetry and music, one also knows that the Russian soul is a gentle and pious soul who only wants peace.

As a matter of fact, one of the extraordinary things about 21st century Russia is the re-birth of religious faith there— on the part of people of all ages, backgrounds and religious traditions — living in harmony now as in the past and protected by the government.

My father cherished his visits to the United States. When he spoke to American audiences, he always pointed out that Imperial Russia, that is, Russia under the monarchy, was perhaps the only major country with which the United States was always on quite friendly terms and never had a serious disagreement.

Let us recall that Catherine the Great helped the cause of American independence enormously when she declared the League of Armed Neutrality. This in effect put a stop to British plans to have the Royal Navy blockade the 13 colonies and prevent the delivery of necessary supplies.

Let us remember too that Tsar Alexander II wanted to help President Lincoln at a tense period of the Civil War. He sent the Russian Fleet to New York and San Francisco as a sign of solidarity, which Abraham Lincoln greatly appreciated.

Let us hope that, as my father wished, our two countries will be able to work together as in the past. We should get to know each other’s great values and to share them. We should try to understand those things that unite us rather than what divides us. This will be to the great benefit of humanity.

I would like to end with the words of Emperor Nicholas II, which I find very moving: “Evil will not defeat evil, only love will defeat evil.”

The next day, Friday, May 4, Their Imperial Highnesses, Ambassador Musy, and Mr. Horan had lunch together, and that evening the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess attended a dinner in her honour at the home of the highly respected designer and philanthropist Vanessa Noel.

On Saturday, May 5, Their Imperial Highnesses had a further tour of the city and that evening had dinner with Dr. Russell Martin, a member of her Chancellery and advisor on foreign media and communications.

On Sunday morning, May 6, the Feast Day of Holy Glorious Great-martyr, Victory-bearer and Wonderworker George, and name day of His Imperial Highness the Grand Duke George of Russia, Their Imperial Highnesses were met at the University Club by Dr. Russell Martin, who escorted them to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign, seat of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, on Park Avenue at 93rd Street.

At Synod, Their Imperial Highnesses were received by the Starosta of the Cathedral, Dr. Sergei Yakushin, and escorted to the church, where they were shown to the place of honour near the Ambo, and next to the shrine of the Miraculous Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God.

The service was celebrated by His Eminence Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco and Western America and other clergy. Their Imperial Highnesses were commemorated during the Great Entrance, during the Litanies of the Divine Liturgy, and at the Dismissal. At the close of the service, the Grand Duke was honoured to be awarded the Order of St Raphael of Brooklyn, First Class, by the First Hierarch of the Antiochian Church, Metropolitan Joseph of the Antiochian Christian Orthodox Church of North America. The Certificate presented to the Grand Duke along with the insignia of the Order was also signed by Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. At the service’s conclusion, the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess exchanged Easter greetings with the entire congregation.

After liturgy, Their Imperial Highnesses remained for trapeza with Archbishop Kyrill, before returning to the University Club for a brief rest.

That afternoon, there was a small private reception at the University Club, during which Their Imperial Highnesses, accompanied by His Eminence Archbishop Kyrill, had an opportunity to meet and speak with each guest. Among the attendees were several Russian Orthodox priests and members of the Russian-American communities of New York City and Washington, D.C.

On Monday, May 7, after a luncheon with friends, the Grand Duchess and the Grand Duke left New York and flew to Madrid.







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