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Historical and theological experience

Elizabethan Charitable Society in Moscow and the Moscow Province (1892-1917)

by L. B. Maksimova

By the end of the 19th century, the Foundling-Hospital in Moscow had to stop admitting legitimate children from poor families, children of depraved parents and orphans because of an overflow of illegitimate children and foundlings. The acute need arose to establish a new, special, charitable institution to admit this kind of children. It was the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna, the wife of the Grand Duke Sergey Alaxandrovich, the Moscow governor-general, who undertook to fulfill this complex social task.

The statute of the new Society was developed and approved by the Emperor Alexander III on January 17, 1892. At the same time, Metropolitan Leontius of Moscow and eleven deans in Moscow gave their blessing upon the involvement of parishes and monasteries in Moscow in cooperation with the Elizabethan Charitable Society.

Organizationally the Society was based on the important concept of interaction between secular and ecclesiastical bodies in the efforts to provide care for children who needed it. It is on this principle that the statute and the organizational structure of the Society were built to unite into a whole the resources of church parishes and the efforts of local authorities, wealthy citizens and public figures.

This concept of building the Society, based on various joint efforts of ecclesiastical and secular organizations, ensured a speedy support for poor families and orphans. In fact, church parishes in pre-Revolutionary Russia followed every person from his or her baptism to death. The clergy, therefore, were well aware of the needs of their parishioners and their families and children.

The Society set up Elizabethan parish charity committees at many church parishes in Moscow and the Moscow Province. They were to take care of legitimate children in distress. Every committee was directed by the rector of a church. It included the warden of the church, parishioners and members of the Society. The committees were to arrange day nurseries and orphanages for needy legitimate children. The needy children were those whose parents were poor and depraved and those who were neglected by their mothers and relatives. Neighboring parish committees were allowed to combine resources to set up children's institutions together.

The Elisabethan Society developed into a branched structure that carried out charitable work on a broad scale. It included 224 parish committees in Moscow and 14 committees in the Moscow Province. It was patronized by the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna. It was directed by a Board made up of the Moscow governor, a physician, a manager, the director of the Foundling Home, the chairman of the merchants, and the secretary to the Grand Duchess.

In addition to orphanages and nurseries attached to parish committees, the Society had it its disposal 107 "Elizabethan vacancies" in other institutions, such as monasteries in the Moscow diocese, Alexander's Crafts School, Alexander's School for the Petty Bourgeoisie and the Moscow Council of Orphanages. Among the members of the Society were also several private orphanages and nurseries as well as Elizabeth's Orphanage for Children.

It is important to mention that the Society did not receive any state subsidies. Throughout its existence, the Society was supported only with charitable funds. The Society's income came from membership contributions, donations, capital interest, and revenues from performances, concerts and lotteries arranged by the Society. Along with monetary donations, the Society benefited from property endowments, free services, construction materials and personal belongings donated. The Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna made the largest private donation of over 60 thousand rubles.

For the 25 years of its work, the Society took care of over 9 thousand children including 3717 in nurseries and 2312 in orphanages, giving allowances to the rest. The Society paid out totally 120 thousand rubles to 13 thousand widowed mothers. In total, it spent over 1 million rubles for running nurseries and orphanages.

The work of the Society was highly appreciated by the Russian public. Describing it in its issues 16 and 17, 1907, Moskovskiye tserkovnye vedomosti (Moscow Church News) called it an "adornment of Moscow" and a "flower of Christian charity and education".

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