BOOK REVIEW: ROYAL MONASTIC: PRINCESS ILEANA OF ROMANIA by Bev Cooke
Updated: Apr 12, 2020
When one thinks of royalty, notions of scandalous and riotous behaviour come to mind. While many may be following the latest developments of the Harry and Meghan saga, one can easily forget the true nature of a royal. Bev Cooke’s richly-written biography about Princess Ileana of Romania – later Mother Alexandra – is a standard rarely seen in modern monarchs. Royals may get to enjoy the finer things in life, but Ileana was very different.
“To be honest, I was skeptical” said Bev, “I had visions of a worldly socialite who had never done a day’s work in her life, [but] all I can say is, was I so off base.” Born in 1909, Ileana’s family were not of Romania ancestry, but German, Russian and English. Her family was selected to rule over Romania, which had just gained its own national identity. Though not Romanian, the whole family became Orthodox Christians and practiced the Faith. Despite being raised into a royal family, Ileana very quickly learned much was expected from her. She was to be loyal to her newly adopted homeland and faithfully serve her people. This was perfectly demonstrated than by her mother, Queen Marie.
Both Ileana and her parents were dedicated Orthodox. From a very early age her mother taught Ileana the importance of serving others less fortunate. Ileana would go with her mother to visit the sick and neglected soldiers during wartime in all its ugliness and unpleasantness. However, it was these experiences which forged within her a strong spirit of Christian charity. As Ileana developed during her adolescence she was instrumental in tending to soldiers during WWII, fighting for better health conditions and established many social organisations designed to improve the lives of ordinary Romanians. “She…taught me about dedication, about following God and about doing your duty, no matter how hard or where it leads. And if you trust God and do your duty, you end up in good places, even if your life is hard and painful” said Bev. And this was very true indeed for the princess.
During much of Ileana’s youth, she experienced many heartaches: the death of her younger brother Mircea, bullying at English boarding school, but it was her older brother, Prince Carol, who took the cake. Calculating and conniving, Carol took over the throne, exiled Ileana because she was more popular amongst the people and, finally, he was also an adulator. Beside all these family troubles, Ileana faced many challenges by the Third Reich and invading Nazis. However, through all this, she remained diligent and faithful to her country and God. But her story become even more extraordinary when she later become Mother Alexandra and built the first English-language Orthodox monastery in the United States of America, the Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania.
The life story of Ileana will inspire every reader, especially young women. Ileana underwent many challenges yet maintained her dignity, good humour and Christian virtues. Readers will find Bev’s lively retelling of Ileana’s life both endearing and relatable. Bev has meticulously researched every aspect of Ileana’s life, including interviewing people who knew her best. Bev gives much detail about the social and political dynamics of those times, threading it in flawlessly into the story. But, the life of Bev is also just as interesting as the stories she writes.
Bev Cooke is an experienced writer living in Victoria, Canada. Her Christian experience was patchy at best, but it was during the 90s she began to learn and journey towards Orthodoxy. During her time after university, Bev became a published periodical writer. After her conversion to Orthodoxy, she noticed there was not a huge selection of books catering for Orthodox youth, so she toyed with the idea of changing that. Since then, she has written three books, including Keeper of the Light and Feral, as well as several Akathists. Her inspiration for writing her first Akathist was inspired by real events.
“I began hearing about a number of women – drug addicts and prostitutes – who had disappeared from a very poor section of Vancouver, a neighbouring city. Something about them went straight into my heart and nestled there. I started digging and found out about each of them and followed the story as it developed. They were the victims of a serial killer and an arrest was made the year we entered the Orthodox Church. I prayed for them, but it wasn’t enough, and I finally decided I needed to pray an Akathist – and who better than St. Mary of Egypt? But I couldn’t find one to her, and my bishop gave me a blessing to write one.”
However, just like many writers, Bev’s inspiration for writing has had its ups and downs. After she wrote her Akathist to St Mary her inspiration dried up. “I’d lost my focus, my sense of where I was going with my writing, what I was supposed to be doing with it, and even what I was supposed to be writing. And I felt that, who cared about what I wrote anyway? My words
were so trite, so banal and so shallow, was there any point to keeping on?” However, this all changed on a trip to an Orthodox writers’ conference.
What was a series of chance encounters with other writers and fans, Bev began to feel something change inside her. “I entered the Orthodox twilight zone…amazing things kept happening. I was told and shown that my words did matter, and that I did have things that God wanted me to write”. Bev is currently working on her fourth Akathist.
It is so moving to read from an author who writes after having faced so many challenges, just like her subjects. “Where am I going, and where will I end up? I have no idea, because I’m not in charge anymore, and it’s the most peaceful time I’ve ever experienced.” It is rare to find a writer who, like their characters, hand their sorrow and pain over to God and create something awe-inspiring for the world.
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To purchase Bev’s books, go to: www.transfiguremedia.com/bev-cooke