Saturday, April 25, 2020

An Interview with Grand Duchess Maria of Russia

Do you know how you got the coronavirus? And can you tell me how it felt to have it?

 First of all, let me say how kind it was of you to think of me in a period when everyone is dealing with the crisis of this pandemic. As to the coronavirus itself, I haven't got a clue really as to how I might have gotten it. When one is quite active and out and about, as I was, travelling, seeing people, sometimes in groups, and the like, one would, I suppose, have multiple opportunities to be exposed to the virus. I think especially of the early days because there were no face masks and gloves available. For me, the first symptoms were similar to what one experiences at the beginning of a common cold.

I started to have headaches too. I thought at first in fact it might have been a seasonal dose of hay fever. Then my temperature became elevated, and there was a general feeling of aching everywhere, such as one has with flu. I had actually been doing some new physical exercises shortly before this, as was suggested during confinement, and it occurred to me for a little while that these aches might be my body saying to my brain, ‘What on earth are you playing at, Maria, after so many years of dolce far niente?' At a certain point, one lost the sense of smell and of taste too, and that is when my doctor told me that it was sounding more and more like a case of coronavirus and that I should take the appropriate medication to avoid any complications and should be tested for Covid-19 when this would be possible.

 But this was more easily said than done because there was a shortage of tests in Spain. It was not until last week that I was able to take the test. And, as you know, the result, which I received on our Good Friday, was positive for coronavirus. One of the reasons I was keen to have the test and to understand what the status of my illness is was to receive some understanding of when one was and was not still contagious, especially with regard to those most at risk, like elderly people. It is at times like these that one's paramount duty is to conduct oneself so as not to cause any harm to others. It is not just a question of one trying to get well.

 I presume you were resting at home during all this. I hear your son, Grand Duke George, was in Moscow for this. How is he doing?

 Yes, when the ‘lockdown', as it were, took effect, I was at my home in Madrid, and there I have remained. I have been staying home for the duration, surrounded by kind help. I do feel much better now, and my doctor tells me that according to the test I have apparently built up sufficient ‘antibodies' to have confidence that I have developed a good degree of immunity now to this disastrous contagion. I thank the Lord that he has spared my life and allowed me to recover so quickly, without the need to go into hospital, which for people my age involves considerable risk. There simply were not enough ventilators in the Spanish hospitals, and for patients over 65 the doctors in effect had to decide who would live and who would not.

 As to my son, George found himself in Moscow when the crisis began, and he remains there in confinement. I am happy to report that he is well thus far and taking all the specified precautions.

 Although I regret that there is such a long distance between my son and me, I must say that I am proud that he is in Russia at this difficult time - that the heir of our House is there and sharing with his fellow Russians what they are going through in this time of the pandemic. George, of course, keeps in touch via Skype and Facetime and other technology not only with me but with his own staff in Russia and various contacts throughout the world and with the various charities we are involved in or of which we are patrons.

 I know he has also had many group Zoom chats, including with groups of young people, in the evening. The same goes for me too, as to charities and foundations in Russia. They are of course very busy now during the crisis and they will remain extremely busy afterwards too, when one thinks of the toll that illness, confinement, stress, and financial reverses have taken on people in Russia.

We must be very grateful for this modern communications technology which has been such a useful work tool for governments, doctors, families, students and everyone else.

 What have you been doing during the quarantine? Have you been able to have supplies and food delivered? 

I have not had any problems with having food and necessities delivered. Food shops and chemists have been allowed to remain open. As for what I have been doing, I am usually an avid reader. Unfortunately, however, among the side effects of the coronavirus was an irritation to my eyes, so that it was hard to focus. This, with the headaches, made it difficult to concentrate on what I was reading, especially small print. Now that these symptoms are slowly subsiding, I will resume reading without straining my eyes. During Holy Week, I like to read at least one of the Gospels, and this I still managed to do.

 But in the meantime, like all the friends and relations in quarantine, I have been in contact with, I have found myself inevitably watching quite a bit of television. I have been watching documentaries, which can be very interesting. I also have been able to watch some operas and ballets, which I enjoy. Among the TV series I have been viewing are ‘Versailles', the old ‘Poirot', and ‘Outlander.' As to the latter, the concept of time travel has always interested me, and this series does it very well. But for some reason, I have found the episodes that take place in Scotland in the time of Bonnie Prince Charlie more compelling than those in colonial America. I also have been enjoying old films, what one calls films ‘d'époque.' You might call them period pieces. I am perhaps old-fashioned in this regard. I think of Barbara Cartland, who once said something to the effect that her novels could only take place before the 1920s when the magic and mystique and romance had not yet been lost.

On the subject of films, there were certain old movies I watched in my childhood and I associate them now with the Easter season. ‘Ben Hur', ‘The Ten Commandments', ‘Barrabas', ‘The Lord of Lords', and ‘Cleopatra' come to mind. With the enforced solitude of quarantine, I managed to watch a couple of these during the Easter season. They are always a joy to see again. I also follow the news quite closely.

 The internet and TV allow one to see and hear news programmes in various countries and languages, especially Russian news. It is useful to get perspectives and information straight from the horse's mouth, as the saying goes, rather than having it filtered and reported by a different country's media.

 For Holy Week and Easter services, how did you worship? On-line with Zoom? Have you been able to keep in touch with religious leaders during the past week or so?

 Easter is the most important day in the Christian faith, and this was a very unusual Easter. Of course, there was no possibility of confession or communion. But I have to say that Easter 2020 was very memorable for me. Again, thanks to the internet, I was able to watch the Holy Week services and of course the Easter service and liturgy in Russia – not once but twice. I had planned to watch the Easter service and liturgy celebrated in Moscow.

 The time zone in Madrid is earlier than in Russia. I started watching on Saturday evening, but it was too early for Moscow. The service at Christ the Saviour Cathedral there had not yet begun, but I saw that the service in Ekaterinburg was beginning. Ekaterinburg is in yet a later time zone than Moscow. This was very fitting, when one thinks that Emperor Nicholas II and his family are venerated as Passion Bearers in our Church. In a way it was as if the Holy Passion Bearers were calling on one to celebrate Easter in Ekaterinburg.

 It was jarring at first to see all the worshipers wearing face masks. Metropolitan Kyrill of Ekaterinburg, whom I know quite well, was presiding, and he cited the words of Jesus in the Gospel, ‘Be not afraid, for I have overcome the world', which was also such a fitting message for our times. I have visited Ekaterinburg several times. It was very moving for me in July 2018 to attend the liturgy for the 100th anniversary of the deaths of the Emperor and his family there, sung in the church built over the site where the tragedy occurred. Then as the liturgy in Ekaterinburg was ending, the liturgy in Moscow presided over by our beloved Patriarch, His Holiness Kyrill I, appeared on my screen.

 The placement of the various recording cameras at different locations in the cathedral, including from directly above the altar, produced absolutely beautiful visual images from multiple vantage points, in a way one would never experience standing in the church. There is nothing quite like a Russian Orthodox choir on Easter Sunday to communicate in a very emotional way our joy at the Risen Saviour. The Easter liturgy brought me great comfort and relief during this period of crisis. One truly felt the presence of the Divine.

 On an amusing note, I was a bit miffed at the thought of not having the Easter cakes or bread that I associate so much with Easter. This is our traditional Kulitch and Paska. They simply were not available this year. To my surprise, rummaging in the freezer, I suddenly beheld Easter cakes from last year that I had frozen. I had completely forgotten about them. I am not sure why I did not eat them last year, perhaps due to being on a diet then. In any event, they were de-frosted and ready by Easter. And after attending to all this, all I really had left to do was to paint some Easter eggs.

 Yes, I have remained in touch during this quarantine with a number of hierarchs and priests of the Church, via phone, WhatsApp, and other means, mainly to make sure they are well and to send them Easter greetings.

 I know you were planning a trip to Russia next month and that this trip has been put on hold.   What is the first thing you want to do when the quarantine is lifted?

 When the quarantine is lifted, I will of course still be in Madrid. I cannot really think of a first thing I would like to do, other than to be able to gather with old friends again as we used to do, rather than via the internet or phone. And to go freely outside and hopefully to see people healthy, happy and working again. As to Russia, my trip in May has been postponed indefinitely. But I look forward to returning there as soon as possible.

 Do you have any message for my readers as well as the Russian people? 

Just my hope that the death of thousands and the suffering of so many will not be in vain. May world leaders, politicians and all of us draw the right lessons from the mistakes we made during this pandemic, either because of lack of foresight, equipment, courage in taking unpleasant but essential measures on time, or selfishness or carelessness in our deeds and actions by not complying with the rules for confinement and safety, which will make us responsible for inflicting so much pain. Let no one have to live the rest of his life with the remorse that one has caused the death of a parent, a loved one, a friend, or even a stranger.

 Having said all that, I would appeal to all your readers as well as my fellow countrymen to help to alleviate the suffering of those in need as a result of this pandemic, either directly or through donations to charities. So many are already in desperate need and others will inevitably be so at the end of this devastating quarantine.

 Finally, knowing that this virus makes no distinctions between genders, races, social classes, or religions and that it respects no borders and travels at ease from country to country hitting us all, I pray that all countries will generously join forces to help each other get back on our feet by providing the means to facilitate the revival of our economies – thus assuring people a dignified life which is everybody's human right. With goodwill, faith, hope, love, and care, we can make it. God bless you all.

I want to thank Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Maria of Russia for agreeing to this interview, especially as she is recently recovered from COVID-19.   

The Grand Duchess also provided all the photographs.

I have had the pleasure of corresponding with the Grand Duchess for many years and had the opportunity to meet her and Grand Duke George in Bucharest when we were guests at King Michael of Romania's 90th birthday celebrations.

The Grand Duchess is the head of the Imperial House of Russia, the de jure Empress.  She was born in Madrid on December 23, 1953, as the only child of Grand Duke Wladimir Kirillovitch of Russia and Princess Leonida
Bagration-Mukhraneli.     She married HRH Prince Franz Wilhelm of Prussia in 1976.   The couple had one son, Grand Duke George, in 1981, before the marriage was dissolved by divorce in 1985.

The Grand Duchess is a descendant of Queen Victoria, as is her former husband.

Victoria - Alfred - Victoria Melita - Vladimir - Maria


LastOfTheTimeLords said...

What a very lovely lady! I don't think I've ever read an interview with her before and was touched by her humility. Thank you for posting this.
Andy - Manchester, UK

George Campbell said...

A moving account of her "passion" as she was celebrating the Resurrection of the Crucified. Thank yo for this lovely article and its photographs !

Igor Babailov said...

This is a wonderful interview. Thank you, and many thanks to Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess María Vladimirovna with best wishes for good health!
Igor Babailov - USA

Cornelius Krissilas said...

Yes! It was wonderful to read the Interview.And to see all the beautiful pics. She is a very good and kind Lady and very active in supporting Russia and the Russian people. We are glad and Thank God that she is doing well now and better all the time. Very interesting to know how she spends her time in confinement. God bless Her Imperial Highness and His Imperial Highness Grand Duke George her beloved son. I have been following the developments in Russia since the fall of Communism and I pray and trust that some day by God's Will the Monarchy with the Romanovs will be restored again. ХРИСТОС ВОСКРЕСЕ!

Carlos Mundy said...

I was at the same school of Her Imperial Highness and attended the baptism of the Tsarevich. I have great admiration for the work she is doing on behalf of the Russian people and the Monarchy!