With the blessing of His Grace Bishop Longin, the Fellowship “The Friends of the Monastery” with the branch of “Saint Helen of Anjou” was established in 2017 and associated with the Monastery.
The idea emerged from the Monastery’s need to obtain help with everyday maintenance and assistance that this sanctuary requires. Along with the requirements of the Monastery and its annual engagements, this Fellowship would be assisting the formation of a girl’s school within the Monastery. The Fellowship seeks to help orphans and sick children in Serbia, Republika Srpska, Kosovo and Metohija, Krajina, and Montenegro. It would also bring the poorest children from Kosovo and Metohija, and other places from the homeland, to Chicago once a year, to give them love, refuge and help. Furthermore, the Fellowship, along with a series of other charitable activities, will have a physicians’ ward which will provide medical assistance to those in need.
Praying to God, within the scope of several Serbian saints who regularly expressed goodwill and took part in charity and were immaculately chaste, St. Helen of Anjou was chosen to be the patron saint of the Fellowship. There are a number of reasons for this choice.
As the first Serbian Queen to become a saint, she was not of our origin and was not born Orthodox. However, St. Helen grew to love the Serbian people as if they were her own, thus converting to Orthodoxy. From her life the following points are worth emphasizing: this exceptionally remarkable woman was of French origin. She founded the first girl’s school and a boarding school for poor girls in Serbia. The girls were taught sewing, literacy and music. Education was encouraged, which in those days took place in the monasteries. After the girls were grown, the dowry required for marriage was provided for them. St. Helen especially cherished the institution of family, having five children of her own. This loving saint was also known for helping widows, the poor, the sick and the elderly by building hospitals and orphanages.
This remarkable woman was of high moral principles, critical in language, while mild in character, remarkably educated, known for listening to the voice of the people and being one of the leading women of her time. She spoke several languages and had a diplomatic flair and knew what stance to take at every moment, corresponding with priests from Mt. Athos, Sinai, Jerusalem as well as with the Roman Catholic Church. She organized the rewriting of holy books and the making of holy objects. Towns and villages devastated by wars or weather were rebuilt. She established both Orthodox and Catholic hermitages and was revered by both churches. Her cooperation with the neighboring countries was also excellent.
After becoming a nun, she ruled the lands from Trebinje to Skadar in her monastic robe. Her reign as a sole ruler lasted for 37 years, while she was Serbian Queen for more than 60 years. She had no army for she did not need it. Due to her chastity and piety, God graced her lands with peace and stability.
As a gesture of love for his wife, King Uros planted fragrant blue lilacs on both banks along the Ibar River canyon towards Ras, so that they might remind her of her native Provence.
The nun, Helen, was later buried in one of her endowments– Gradac Monastery. In return, the Serbian people highly esteemed and loved their Queen, they used to call her “our French woman” and all of Serbia came to her funeral. Her personality, inner beauty and elevated spirit still captivate the Serbian people after 700 years.
In this way, the Fellowship seeks to symbolically open the possibility of all American women, be they Serbian or not, to become members of “St. Helen of Anjou”, and to encourage them to enter the Orthodox path of life. We cordially invite all women who are ready and willing to make sacrifices and to participate with love in helping disadvantaged children by contributing their time and talent to this Monastery, whether they be Orthodox or non-Orthodox, Serbian or not of our origin.
May this Serbian Queen, St. Helen of Anjou, protect all women and all the needy, and be their shield and haven for all eternity. Amen.