Faithful to the End: Countess Anastasia Vasilyevna Hendrikova (1887-1918)

PHOTO: Countess Anastasia Vasilyevna Hendrikova (1887-1918)

A conference held last week in the Ural capital of Ekaterinburg, was attended by historians, ethnographers, researchers, archivists, tourism specialists, as well as representatives of public and church organizations. The conference was just one of a series of events marking the memory of members of the Russian Imperial House, who were martyred in the Urals in 1918-1919.

Among the participants was the abbess of the Alexander Nevsky Novo-Tikhvin Convent in Ekaterinburg, Abbess Domnika (Korobeinikova), who presented her paper on the life of Countess Anastasia Hendrikova, a loyal subject of Tsar Nicholas II and his family, who followed them into exile and shared their fate on 17th July 1918.

I am honoured to present Mother Domnika’s paper on Countess Anastasia Hendrikova:

I would like to start with a precise description given to Countess Hendrikova by one of her contemporaries: “This gentle, fragile girl with a childish face, who seemed so weak, possessed the soul of a heroine.” Many believe that the only feat of Countess Hendrikova was the fact that she voluntarily followed the Imperial family into exile. But in reality her whole life was a feat. During her short life she tried to bring joy and comfort to those around her, despite the fact that she herself had to endure many sorrows. She wrote about it this way: “A thought shared with me by the [Empress] today touched my soul deeply: “that I may use the experience of suffering that the Lord has sent me for the joy and comfort of others.” Perhaps this is the purpose assigned to me by God?”

Countess Hendrikova began to perform this feat in childhood, when her mother, Sofya Petrovna, after a complex operation, was left bedridden. Anastasia cared for her invalid mother for the next 20 years, selflessly devoting all her free time. Not only did she look after her, but constantly tried to raise her spirits, forgetting about her own needs. Countess Anastasia adhered to the words spoken to her by the Empress: “Be merry with [her] and give her all the warmth of your love. Bright face – despite the suffering of your poor soul.” At a time when many of Anastasia’s peers led the carefree life of aristocratic women in the capital, year after year she followed the narrow path of selfless service to her mother. The grief of many years gradually nurtured her faith, strengthened her prayers, and made her able to live for others. Although Anastasia belonged to high society, she led the simplest way of life, one that was distinguished by modesty. Raised under the strict rules of her mother, she maintained her purity. According to the memoirs of Sergei Smirnov, secretary of the Serbian princess Elena Petrovna, Countess Hendrikova often visited the church in the name of the Twelve Apostles, located not far from her home. Two zealous priests served in this church, first Archpriest Mikhail Gorchakov, then Archpriest Arkady Vinogradov, talented preachers and wise pastors. They spiritually nourished young Anastasia, provided her with good advice, helping her in her faith and patience to bear the ordeal in her home. 

In 1910 she became a maid of honour to the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. All the members of the Imperial family fell in love with her openness of soul, kindness and sincere desire to bring joy to others. She became a beloved member of the family’s inner circel, everyone affectionately called her Nastenka. Captain Nikolai Sablin recalled how on one trip on the Imperial Yacht Standart the Empress was sad due to Alexei’s illness [haemophilia], and Countess Hendrikova did her best to console her. Anastasia Vasilievna herself only just recently had experienced her own grief: her father, Count Vasily Alexandrovich, died of a heart attack. But despite this, Countess Hendrikova, as Nikolai Sablin wrote, brought “a stream of liveliness and vigor into the life” of those around her. The Empress told her: “You are the sun for all your darlings.”

PHOTO: Hendrikova (left) with Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana Nikolaevna

In the tragic days following the February Revolution of 1917, Countess Hendrikova remained true to her vocation – to be a consolation for those around her, particularly the Imperial family. In March 1917, the Emperor and his family were placed under house arrest in the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo. While many courtiers were in a hurry to leave the Tsar’s family, Countess Hendrikova, on the contrary, hastened to return from Kislovodsk, where she had gone to visit her sister. Despite the fact that her beloved sister Alexandra was ill at that time, she immediately set off on the return journey, realizing that the Tsar’s family needed her more. Upon her returnt to the Alexander Palace, she too was placed under arrest, that evening, she wrote in her diary: “Thank God, I managed to arrive in time to be with them.”

Some believe that Countess Hendrikova did this only out of duty or from her sense of devotion to the Imperial family. But a close acquaintance of the family, helps us to understand the true reasons for her feat. “Countess Hendrikova was a person of deep, not superficial, faith. From early childhood before her eyes were living examples of piety. Faith was the basis of her life and that of her family. Anastasia followed the Imperial family quite consciously, for the sake of God’s commandments, realizing that suffering and death awaited her.” This is evidenced by the entry in her diary, made before leaving for Tobolsk: “I surrender myself entirely into the hands of God with trust and love and I know that [the Lord] will support me during trials and in the moment of death.”

Anastasia Vasilievna Hendrikova also grew up in an atmosphere of reverent reverence for Father John of Kronstadt. It is known that the Hendrikovs turned to him with a request for prayer. In response, the pastor wrote them a letter, which Anastasia carefully kept until the end of her days.

Raised by examples of living faith, Countess Hendrikova found her support in God throughout her life. Her faith and love for the Lord were manifested in the days of the trials that awaited her. In 1917, before leaving with the Tsar’s family to Tobolsk, she wrote in her diary: “I cannot leave here without thanking God for this wonderful world and the power that He sent me and supported me during these five months of house arrest. The harder and harder my life becomes, I feel a greater spiritual peace. I realize now that this is the best, the greatest happiness, and that everything can be endured, and I bless God. I have experienced for myself that as the sufferings of Christ manifests within us, Christ will strengthen our consolation.” It is truly remarkable that this was written by a woman who was preparing to go into exile, into complete obscurity! There is no fear in her words no despondency, but only peace and gratitude to God. At the same time, the Countess was well aware that she would be facing even greater trials. But she accepted them with trust in God and humility. She wrote: “If [God] sends me more trials and difficulties, then he will give me more strength accordingly. You just need to ask Him for the Holy Spirit and strength for the day ahead.”

Countess Hendrikova’s notes testify to the depth of her spiritual experience. Her diary is filled with reflections like the following: “I see your palace, my Savior, adorned”. I do not yet have clothes to enter into it; much has to be [changed] in myself in order to enlighten the garment of my soul. But may the Lord do this, and I will accept from Him, with gratitude, all the trials that He will send to me, firmly believing that they will enlighten the garment of my soul.” She realized that not by her own strength, but only by the grace of God, a person can perform virtues. And she constantly turned to God with faith and hope for His help. She wrote: “I know that I am nothing without the help of God: despondency, fear, cowardice take possession of me as soon as God’s grace leaves me, but I know that it must be so at times, that this is a necessary test, which you must try to humbly and patiently endure, and then again bright moments appear, and I wait for them and so I believe that they will come. I had so many of them that I know that this is only God’s mercy, not according to my merits.”

PHOTO: Hendrikova (right) under house arrest with the Tsar and his family in 1917

As can be seen from the countess’s diary, in Tobolsk she did not miss a single opportunity to go to church, prayed with the Tsar’s family and faithfully attended all services held in the Governor’s House. During the Great Lent of 1918, she received Communion twice: during the first week, together with the Imperial family, and on Great Thursday, after the departure of the Tsar and Empress to Ekaterinburg.

In May 1918, Countess Hendrikova travelled with the rest of the Tsar’s family Ekaterinburg, but she was not allowed into the Ipatiev House, instead she was imprisoned. In July, after the murder of the Tsar’s family, the Countess was transported to the Perm prison, located on the outskirts of the city. In prison, Anastasia still tried to comfort others: sometimes she even sang to support Princess Elena who was imprisoned in the same cell with her. Elena was the wife of Prince of the Imperial Blood Ioann Konstantinovich, who had been murdered in Alapaevsk along with Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna and other members of the Imperial family. Sergei Smirnov, the secretary of the princess, recalled: “Nastenka with her joyful smile supported the good state of mind of Elena Petrovna, a very nervous nature and experienced so many difficult hours. All the time I remember Anastasia’s charming smile, her friendliness.” 

Countess Hendrikova remained courageous until the final minutes of her life. On 4th September 1918, she was taken from prison, ostensibly to be transferred to another place. She realized that she was being led to her death, but remained calm and warmly said goodbye to Elena Petrovna. Like the Holy Royal Martyrs, she was not afraid of death, because the premonition of a future blissful eternity comforted her soul. In her diary she wrote the following prophetic words: “If death awaits me, I am not afraid. I have much more there than here. I will finally be at home, in eternal bliss and peace. [Earlier] the doors [to eternal life] were closed to me, they are terrible, but now I feel them closer, open, just as clearly as you see the Royal Doors in the church open on Holy [Easter] week.”

Countess Hendrikova was murdered outside the city. She died from blows to the head with a rifle butt, which severed her parietal and temporal bones, her body was thrown into a ditch, where it was later discovered by the Whites.

Anastasia Hendrikova was only 30 years of age when her life was cut brutally cut short by the Bolsheviks, but during this short time she managed to bring joy and consolation to many others, and for herself to find a crown in the Kingdom of Heaven, to which she always aspired. As General Dieterichs wrote: “Anastasia Vasilievna was not afraid of death and prepared herself for it. She confidently believed in a bright afterlife and in the Resurrection on the last day, and through this power of faith she drew vitality and peace of mind.”

Today we believe that now she, together with the Holy Royal Family, stands before God and prays for us.

Holy Royal Martyrs, pray to God for us!
Святы Царственные мученики, молите Бога о нас!

PHOTO: Countess Anastasia Vasilyevna Hendrikova (1887-1918)

Click HERE to read my article The fate of the royal servants Anastasia Hendrikova and Ekaterina Schneider, published on 4th September 2020

© Paul Gilbert. 15 October 2020

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