The following article was written by Paul Gilbert, Founder of Royal Russia
On July 17th 1998, the remains of Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Anastasia, and their four faithful retainers Dr. Eugene Botkin, Ivan Kharitonov, Alexei Trupp and Anna Demidova were interred in the Saint Catherine Chapel of the SS Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg. I was privileged and honoured to have attended this historic event, one in which I, like many others had hoped would bring some closure to what is considered one of the greatest tragedies of 20th century Russian history. Sadly, this was not to be.
The questions raised by the murders of the Russian Imperial family, including the discovery of their remains in the vicinity of Ekaterinburg, as well as the recognition or non-recognition of their authenticity, have been unsettling both Russian and Western society for the last 25 years. Recently, many people have been looking to the Russian Orthodox Church for its verdict on the matter. Many fear that more than 20 years of scientific testing, extensive theological debates, and the enormous public outcry for resolution on the issue has failed to deter the Moscow Patriarchate’s decision to resolve the issue any time soon. But expressing an objective view requires the Church to conduct a thorough examination of the historical records as well as the investigation materials and the results of scientific enquiries.
In September of 2015, I published an article on my Royal Russia blog announcing that the investigation into the Ekaterinburg remains had been reopened. The investigation includes a new series of genetic studies, and a comprehensive review of the evidence accumulated since 1918 into the murders of the last Russian Imperial family. With the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill and at his request to the Investigative Committee a new team of experts was formed. A complex examination would be carried out for the first time – a historical, anthropological and genetic one - one in which the ROC would be involved in all aspects of the investigation.
In early January 2016, Bishop Tikhon of Yegoryevsk noted that the “examination of the Ekaterinburg remains may take several years.” This statement was confirmed the following month during the bishops’ council of the Russian Orthodox Church, when Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia announced at the opening ceremony that “the inquiry will last as long as is necessary in order establish the truth”.
Since the publication of these announcements, I have published more than 30 news stories and articles on the subject, mainly translated from Russian media sources. Over the course of the last six months, I have received a tremendous number of emails and telephone calls from readers frustrated by the ROC's position on the Ekaterinburg remains.
With a lack of reliable information published in the Western media and social forums on the subject, much of what has been written has caused a wave of indignation towards the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Imperial House. Many Westerners felt that the ROC should have taken the findings of the original DNA and forensic tests carried out years prior at face value, simply because a team of "experts" found the remains to be authentic. As Archpriest Oleg Mitrov points out in his recent essay The Investigation Into the Deaths of the Russian Royal Family and Persons of Their Entourage (published in Royal Russia No. 9 Winter 2016, pg. 31-44), in the early 1990s, the Moscow Patriarchate suggested "a temporary burial, then completing the investigation which, once it produced indisputable results, could stop all discord that this question created in society.” Their request fell on deaf ears, "the voice of our church wasn't heard at the time,” added Mitrov.
Non Orthodox Christians must understand the position of the ROC on the matter of both relics and canonization. The Legitimist web site notes: “Any remains of the murdered Imperial Family are ipso facto religious relics, and therefore the internal procedures of the Russian Orthodox Church in completely satisfying itself of their genuineness must be followed. The Russian Orthodox Church wants to address any remaining doubts about the remains, given the fact that, once accepted by the Church as the remains of Emperor Nicholas II and his family, they will become relics venerated by the faithful.”
Given the weight of evidence accumulated by experts in their respective fields since the early 1990s, it is highly unlikely that the Moscow Patriarchate will dispute the remains recovered from the two burial sites in Ekaterinburg between 1979 and 2007 any further. Recent statements made in the Russian media offer some hope that they are moving in that direction:
"The re-examination of the criminal case is not an attempt to reconsider the evidence received earlier and established facts, but rather represents the necessity of additionally investigating the new facts, which was requested by the Russian Orthodox Church," Russian Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin told the TASS News Agency (24 September, 2015).
Markin went on to say, "an interdepartmental working group for the study and burial of the remains of Tsesarevich Alexei and Grand Duchess Maria gave its consent to conducting additional identification studies of the objects previously inaccessible for investigators." To this end, the investigators exhumed the remains of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna in the SS Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg. Blood samples of Emperor Alexander II, Nicholas II’s grandfather who died in a terrorist act in 1881 and whose blood stains are found on his full-dress uniform, kept in the State Hermitage Museum, have also been taken. Additional DNA samples were extracted from Emperor Alexander III in November 2015, in a bid to conclusively answer questions about the fates of Nicholas II and his family.
Markin’s statements would suggest that the Moscow Patriarchate have accepted the Ekaterinburg remains as authentic, although no official statement has yet been issued by the Church.
The Russian Orthodox Church also believe that it is necessary to continue the search for the remains of Nicholas II's children. Presumably, only a small part of the remains of Tsarevich Alexei and Grand Duchess Maria have been found, therefore, the search must be continued, said a spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church. The investigation into the criminal case of the murder of the royal family should also include an examination of the remains found by Nikolai Sokolov in the 1920s and later transferred to St. Job’s Church in Brussels.
In the meantime, as the world awaits the final results of new DNA and forensic studies on the Ekaterinburg remains, and the conclusion of the current investigation headed by the Russian Orthodox Church into the deaths of Emperor Nicholas II and his family, further new questions are sure to arise about the fate of the remains.
Here are some points to further ponder on the fate of the Ekaterinburg remains:
- in the summer of 2000, the Moscow Patriarchate canonized the Holy Royal Martyrs as Royal Passion-Bearers. The ROC’s official recognition of the Ekaterinburg remains would result in their glorification as saints to be venerated by Orthodox Christians. This will result in an elaborate glorification ceremony headed by Kirill Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus'.
- many people are expecting that the remains of the Tsesarevich Alexei and his sister, Grand Duchess Maria will be interred with those of their family in the Saint Catherine Chapel of the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral. The ROC’s recognition of these remains would make this highly unlikely. Both the Saint Catherine Chapel and the SS Peter and Paul Cathedral are museums under the administration of the State Museum of the History of St. Petersburg, in which visitors may pay an admission to gain entry. This is something that the Church would vehemently oppose, and rightly so.
- it seems highly likely that the remains of Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra, Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, Tsesarevich Alexei, and their four faithful retainers would be reinterred to another church. Given the historic significance of such an event, it is likely that a new church would be constructed in their honour, one which would allow Orthodox Christians to enter freely to venerate the Holy relics. During the past few months, there has been some speculation in the Russian media that such a church would be constructed in Ekaterinburg.
- despite the ROC’s earlier statements that the examination and investigation may take years, it seems highly likely that the canonization and veneration of the remains of the Holy Royal Martyrs will take place around the date which will mark the 100th anniversary of the murder of Russia’s last royal family on 17 July 2018.
I am very optimistic that both the examination and investigation will conclude before the 2018 centenary, one which will at long last see the remains of all members of the last Russian Imperial family laid to rest together. Not only will their holy relics be venerated by the faithful, they will receive the honour which they truly deserve. Their glorification will help Russia to heal the wounds of the Bolshevik and Soviet regicide which engulfed the nation for more than 70 years.
To review more than 30 articles on the Ekaterinburg remains and the Holy Royal Martyrs, please click on the link below:
More articles on the Ekaterinburg remains and the Holy Royal Martyrs
© PAUL GILBERT @ ROYAL RUSSIA. 12 March, 2016