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on the Canonization of Saints
With Respect to the Martyrdom of the Imperial Family
The Report presented by the Chairman of the Commission,
During a period of more than four years the Synod Commission on the canonization of saints headed by myself was primarily occupied with the resolution of the Council of Bishops of 31 March - 4 April 1992: "to charge the Synodal Commission on the canonization of saints in the course of investigating the holy feats of Russian neomartyrs to begin the examination of data in connection with the martyrdom of the Royal Family."
The members of the Commission began investigating the historical, moral and religious aspects of the reign of the Romanov dynasty's last Emperor at its first session following the Council. We made a thorough investigation of those aspects which were in need of detailed interpretation. At its last meeting held on 25 September of the current year the Commission completed its investigation of this subject and I have the duty to report today on the results of our efforts.
I informed the members of the Council of Bishops in session from 29 November to 2 December 1994 of the first stage of the Commission's investigation of the subject. At that time I presented the basic principles and criteria of the Commission's efforts in investigating the life and the tragic fate of the Royal Family. The report pointed out that the basic task "on the question of the canonization of the Royal Family the Commission finds the need for an objective examination of all circumstances of the lives of the members of the Royal Family in the context of the historical events and in their ecclesiastical interpretation aside from ideological stereotypes which prevailed in our country for the duration of past decades". The report also pointed out that the Commission was guided by pastoral concerns, in that the canonization of the Royal Family within the assembly of Russian neomartyrs would not serve as an argument in the political struggle and would not contribute to the nation's discord but would serve for the unity of the people of God in faith and piety. We strived to take into account the act of canonization of the Royal Family by the Russian Church Abroad in 1981. As it is known, this act generated a far from a positive reaction among the Russian emigration as well as in Russia itself. A number of representatives did not find sufficient grounds for it (we will note the comments of Archbishop John Shahovskoy, Professor D. V. Pospielovsky, and Professor N. A. Struve). And what could be said of the unprecedented historical analogy, from the Orthodox point of view, of the decision of the Synod Abroad to include among those canonized with the Royal Family, the martyred czar's servant the Roman Catholic Alois Yegorovich Trupp and court-tutor the Lutheran Yekaterina Adol'fovna Schneider.
The Commission could not ignore the conflicting and the contradictory views concerning the canonization of the Royal Family which were published both in the secular and ecclesiastical media, as well as the correspondence received from representatives of the hierarchy, the clergy and laity of the Russian Orthodox Church.
In my report to the Council of Bishops in 1994, I presented findings which were accepted by the Commission up to that time on the matter at hand. I will review their basic content.
In the finding "The reason for Emperor Nicholas II's abdication from the Throne and the Orthodox reaction to that act" it was stated, "that the opportunity for abdication of the Russian Autocrat from the Throne for any cause was not foreseen by the Act of Royal Succession and in this connection the abdication of Emperor Nicholas II from power was an unprecedented act in the political life of Russia from the time of the promulgation of the Act of Royal Succession". According to the Act of Royal Succession the power could not be transferred just to anyone except to a successor to the throne so designated by the Act. From the Church's point of view the fact of Emperor Nicholas II's abdication cannot be considered as a violation of the teachings of faith or of canons inasmuch as there are no Conciliar decrees accepted by the Orthodox Church which would define the possibility of abdication from the Throne by an anointed Orthodox monarch. The Commission expressed an opinion "that the very fact of abdication from the Throne by Emperor Nicholas II, is directly related to his personal qualities, and, on the whole, reflects the expression of the consequences of the existing historical circumstances in Russia."
In another of the Commission's finding, "On the ecclesiastical policy of Emperor Nicholas II," it was pointed out that on the one hand, the whole Imperial Family was distinguished in personal piety. The reign of the last Romanov czar was notable for extensive church construction and new canonizations of saints. During his reign, the following glorifications took place: St. Theodosius of Chernigov (1896), the Venerable Seraphim of Sarov (1903), the Holy Princess Anna of Kashin (veneration re-established in 1909), St. Joasaph of Belgorod (1911), St. Germogen of Moscow (1913), St. Pitirim of Tambov (1914) and St. John of Tobolsk (1916). On the other hand, the ecclesiastical policy of the Emperor did not depart from the framework of the traditional Synodal system of governing the Church. It was pointed out to the Council that "Nicholas II, being convinced that promulgation of Church reforms was not timely, did not take advantage of the initiative for calling a Local Council which was strongly advocated within ecclesiastical circles, and the restoration of the Patriarchate," even though he consented to the calling of a Preconciliar convocation.
Finally, a special study from a historical and theological perspective was presented to the Council on the subject "On the Relation of the Church to Passionbearers," which invited the comparison of the final days of the life of the Imperial Family in relation to the teaching of the significance of suffering for Christians.
The Council of Bishops made the following Resolution with respect to my report:
"1. To approve the work of the Holy Synod's Commission on canonization.
It was pointed out in the historical-analytical investigation "The Orthodox View on the Governing Activity of Emperor Nicholas II" that as a politician and statesman the Sovereign acted on the basis of his religio-ethical principles. The failure which overtook the Sovereign along the way, was not only and not so much his own personal tragedy, but as much as it served as a prologue for the monumental historical drama of Russia. Being anointed for the Royal office, vested with the plenitude of power, Emperor Nicholas II was accountable for all events which took place during his reign, both to his subjects as well as to God. Therefore, the inescapable portion of personal responsibility for historical errors, such as the events of 9 January 1905, - a subject to which a special report was dedicated and accepted by the Commission, - rests on the Emperor himself, although it does not gauge the degree of his activity, but more accurately, his inactivity in these events.
Another example of the emperor's conduct which had a destructive consequence for the fate of Russia and for the Royal Family itself, was his relationship with Rasputin - and this was demonstrated in the analysis "The Royal Family and G. E. Rasputin". Really, how was it possible that such a figure as Rasputin could have such an influence over the Royal Family and upon Russia's political and governing life of his time? The reason for the Rasputin phenomenon lies in the illness of Czarevich Alexei. Although it is evident that the Sovereign repeatedly attempted to get rid of Rasputin, he stepped back each time under the influence of the Empress who found it necessary to resort to Rasputin for the healing of the Heir. It can be said that the Emperor found it impossible to go against Alexandra Feodorovna who was tortured by grief over the Heir's illness and who was under Rasputin's influence in this respect.
Considering the sum total of the review of the governing and ecclesiastical activity of Russia's last Emperor, the Commission did not find sufficient grounds for his canonization.
However, the Orthodox Church has examples of even those Christians who led a sinful life following Baptism but who were added to the ranks of saints. Their canonization took place precisely because they atoned for their sins not only by repentance but by special feats, through martyrdom or asceticism. We would like to recall here the voluntary martyrdom for Christ of the holy martyr Boniface (comm. 19 December/ 1 January), the Greek martyrs of XVII-XVIII centuries who suffered for rejecting Islam which they adopted after their Baptism. Along the same lines we can recall the severe ascetic achievements of such saints as Mary of Egypt (comm. 1/14 April); such feats could also result in violent death (Martyr Barbarus - 6/19 May, Venerable Nikita Stylite of Pereyaslavl' - 23 May/5 June). Finding a definite correlation between the lives of the above mentioned saints with the fact that the life of Emperor Nicholas II also had two uneven periods, in duration and in spiritual significance namely, the period of his reign and the period of his confinement following his abdication, the Commission turned to a detailed analysis of the Royal Family's last days, which were burdened with severe suffering and the martyrs' death of its members.
The Commission examined the circumstances of the last period of the Imperial Family's life from the historical perspective of those witnesses to the Faith which the Church designates as passionbearers. The word "passionbearer" ["sufferer"] goes back to the Letters of the Apostle Paul (II Tim. 2:3, 5; Hebrews 10:32), and the Letter to Hebrews speaks of "enduring" ["a hard struggle"]. The liturgical and hagiographic literature of the Orthodox Church applied the term "passionbearer" to those Russian saints who in the strict sense were not martyrs for Christ, but who ended their lives at the hands of persecutors and killers. In the history of the Russian Church such passionbearers were the holy Orthodox Princes Boris and Gleb (1015), Igor of Chernigov (1147), Andrey Bogolyubsky (1174), Mikhail of Tver' (1319). All of them demonstrated a superior example of Christian morality, endurance and personal bravery through their suffering.
In connection with this, in giving an assessment of the tragic end of the Royal Family I would like to return again to the text of my report at the 1994 Council: "During the politicized epoch of recent times, when it was difficult to separate the persecution of the Church and of Christians from political persecution, the victims of political murders could have been holy passionbearers, since they were killed as symbols of Orthodox Russia" (see: "Toward the Canonization of Russian Neomartyrs". The Russian Orthodox Church Holy Synod's Commission on the Canonization of Saints. M., 1991, p. 34). However, not every political murder, especially during the time of instability, can be looked upon as a feat of martyrdom. The Church makes an assessment of every political event within the framework of moral judgment. The Bolsheviks, in their systematic and methodical murder of all Romanovs who fell into their hands, were first of all motivated by an ideology and then by politics, since in the people's consciousness the Emperor continued to be God's Anointed and the whole Royal Family symbolized Russia of the past and Russia to be destroyed. On 21 July 1918 His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon, in his sermon at the Divine Liturgy in Moscow's Our Lady of Kazan' Cathedral somehow clarified those questions and doubts to which the Russian Church is trying to give meaning after eight decades: "We know, that he (Emperor Nicholas II - M. Yu.), in abdicating from the throne, did this for the benefit of Russia and his love for it. Following his abdication he could have chosen a safe and a comparatively peaceful life abroad, but he did not do this, desiring to suffer along with Russia. He did nothing to improve his situation, submissively resigning himself to fate..."
In its historical analysis of the Ekaterinburg tragedy, the Commission could not have overlooked the question of the so-called ritual murder of the Royal Family, a subject which is still receiving attention in the press to this day. On 28 December 1993 and 21 August 1995 I approached the rectors of the Moscow Theological Academy and the Seminary with a request to provide the Commission with scholarly consultative assistance by the academic faculties of their respective institutions in the preparation of a historical and theological document "The Orthodox view on the existence of Īritual murder' in connection with the tragic end of the Royal Family", and on 9 November 1995 I received an answer. In the document presented by the Moscow Theological Academy the following is noted: "Not having the means for an independent analysis of all aspects of the Royal Family's murder, and preceding from a presumption of innocence, there is no basis for assuming as proven the version of a ritual murder of what happened at the Ipatiev House, since:
1.in the widely publicized and scrupulously investigated case of accusation in the ritual murder, the Beilis' case, the court could not prove the existence of such ritual killing among the Hebrews;
2.the typical ritual murder which is described by authors who assume the existence of such murders, had very little in common with the murders at the Ipatiev House;
3.nothing is known about the religious affiliation of those persons of a Hebrew background connected with the murder of the Royal Family..."
Thus, the contemporary expert theological analysis of the question of the so-called "ritual murder" confirms a negative expert opinion on the part of a group of Russian Orthodox theologians (professor of the St. Petersburg Theological Academy I. G. Troitsky and Archpriest professor A. A. Glagolev of the Kiev Theological Academy) who testified in 1913 in the Beilis case. An analysis of the circumstances of how the murder of the Royal Family took place does not lead to the conclusion that it had a ritual character.
The majority of witnesses of the last days of the Romanovs speak of the prisoners of the Tobolsk governor's and the Ekaterinburg Ipatiev's houses as people who suffered and, in spite of all the insults and abuse, led a devout life. In the confined Royal Family, we see people, who sincerely strived to bring out the message of the Gospel in their lives.
The Imperial Family devoted a lot of time for spiritually beneficial reading, primarily the Holy Scripture, and in regular - practically continuous - attendance at Divine services. This is how Archpriest Afanasy Beliaev describes the prayerful attitude of the Royal Family: "One had to see and be close to be able to understand and be convinced how the former Royal Family zealously prayed to God in an Orthodox manner, frequently on their knees. With what sincerity, meekness and humility, fully giving themselves over to the will of God, did they stand at the Divine Services." Father Afanasy's testimony about the Emperor's confession is very moving: "Next to me stood one who had no peer among those living on earth. Up to this moment he was our God-sent Anointed one who, according to the Law of Succession, for 23 years reigned as the Russian Orthodox Czar. And now, the humble servant of God Nicholas, as a meek lamb, benevolent towards all his enemies, forgetting all abuses, is fervently praying for the well-being of Russia, deeply believing in its glorious future, kneeling and looking at the cross and the book of the Gospels, is confessing to the Heavenly Father, with me, an unworthy one, as a witness, the innermost secrets of his long-suffering life, reducing himself to dust before the greatness of the King of Heaven, tearfully asking to be forgiven for his voluntary and involuntary transgressions." The suffering of the Sovereign brings to mind the long-suffering Righteous Job, on whose feast day Nicholas II was born. The Emperor's life was comparable to the suffering of Job - he accepted his cross just as the Biblical righteous one accepted the misfortune which was sent to him - firmly, patiently, meekly, and without a shadow of grumbling.
How the Family carried out the severe ordeals which they bore in their confinement can be seen in the diaries and correspondence of members of the Royal Family.
The Emperor, watching with alarm the development of events in Russia, suffered deeply and repented of his abdication. According to the memoirs of the Heir Aleksei Nikolaevich's tutor Pierre Gilliard, the Sovereign accepted the decision to abdicate "in the hope that those who desired his removal, would be capable of bringing the war to a successful end and save Russia. He feared that his resistance would lead to a civil war in the presence of the enemy and did not want that the blood of a single Russian to be spilled for him. He suffered now seeing that his voluntary abdication was not beneficial. This thought began to haunt him more and more and later became for him the reason for great moral torment."
"How long will our unfortunate Russia be tormented and divided by external and internal enemies? - wrote Nicholas II in his diary. - It seems at times that there is no strength to bear it any more, not knowing what to hope for, what to wish for? And yet there is none but God! May His Holy will be done!" In spite of all his suffering which the Emperor bore, his heart was filled with the light of Christ's love and forgiveness, which we see in one of the letters of Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna: "Father asks to tell those, who are loyal to him, and to those upon whom they may have an influence, that they take no revenge in his behalf, since he forgave everyone and prays for everyone, and that they not take revenge for themselves and that they remember that the evil which is in the world today will even be greater, but that evil will not triumph over evil, but only love."
Kindness and spiritual serenity did not desert the Empress during these difficult times. The depth of Alexandra Feodorovna's religious feelings are evident in her letters - there is much spiritual strength, sorrow over the fate of Russia, faith and hope on God's providence. No matter to whom she wrote, she found words of encouragement and consolation. These letters are a real witness to Christian faith. Here are just a few extracts from them: "The Lord will hear our prayers and will help you, calm you and strengthen you... It is hard and difficult to live but there is Light and joy before us, peace and a reward for all the sufferings. Go straight on your way, don't look to the right or left and if you stumble and fall over a stone, don't despair and do not fall spiritually. Rise up and go forward again. It hurts sometimes, the soul is heavy but misfortune cleanses us. Remember the life and suffering of the Savior, and your life will not seem as dark as you imagine. We have one aim, we all go towards it, so let us help each other to find the road to it. Christ is with you, do not be frightened."
How much supplication, hope and faith in Christ's love is expressed in another of the Empresses letter: "Lord, help those who do not have room for God's love in their hardened hearts, who see only what is bad and do not try to understand that all this will pass; it cannot be otherwise; the Savior came and showed us an example. He who follows Him on the way of love and suffering, understands all the majesty of the Kingdom of Heaven."
In her compassion for the suffering of other people, expressed in Alexandra Feodorovna's letters, one sees again and again the work of Divine grace raising the human spirit - truly, according to the words of Apostle Paul, God's power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). "One can endure anything if one feels His (God's) nearness and love, and in all circumstances firmly trusts Him. Strong ordeals are beneficial, they prepare us for another life, for a distant journey. It is easier to bear personal suffering than to see the travails of others when one can't be of help... One must thank God constantly for everything which He gives; and if He takes something away, then if we bear this without grumbling, there will be even more light in our life. We must always hope. The Lord is so great, and we must pray without ceasing asking Him to save our beloved Motherland. She started to fall apart so frighteningly quickly, in such a short time. But even then when everything seems so bad, that it can't get any worse, He will show His mercy and save everything. How and what, -- it is known only to Him... Even though it is dark and gloomy now, the sun shines brightly in nature and gives hope for something better. You see, we have not lost our faith and hope never to lose it; it alone gives strength, firmness of spirit, that we may bear everything. We must be thankful for everything... Isn't this true? While we are alive and together - a small closely knit family. And what did they want?... See how great the Lord is. We can go into the garden (i.e. at liberty). Remember those others; O God, how we suffer for them that they must suffer being innocent... Their crowns will come from the Lord. One wants to kneel before them, because they suffer for us and we can't help even with a word. This is most difficult. It hurts for them but for them, too, I strongly believe, there will be something good (for great is their reward in heaven) and still here."
Along with their parents, the Royal children bore all the indignities and suffering with meekness and humility. Their thoughts and feelings are best expressed in the poem "Prayer" copied by Olga Nikolaevna:
In these our woeful days,
The mob's wrath to endure,
The torturers' ire;
Thy unction to forgive
Our neighbors' persecution,
And mild, like Thee, to bear
A bloodstained Cross.
And when the mob prevails,
And when the hour comes
The murder of the Royal Family on the night of 17 July, 1918 repeats the central event of the primary spiritual history of Russia - the murder of the passionbearers princes Boris and Gleb in the year 1015. Their death established the heroic deed of non-resistance to violence - and this same feat was providentially repeated 900 years later by the last of the Romanovs.
Along with the Imperial Family their loyal servants who followed their masters to exile, were shot. They understood perfectly the tragic end which awaited them, as can be seen from the letters of the Royal physician E. C. Botkin, but they did not leave the Royal Family. Botkin writes to a friend: "My voluntary confinement here is not so much limited by time as it limits my earthly existence. In principle I died - died for my children, for my friends and for the cause... I did not hesitate to leave my children orphans, in order to carry out my physician's duty to the end, as Abraham did not hesitate before God's demand to offer as sacrifice his only son. And I firmly believe that just as God then saved Isaac, He will now save my children and will be a Father to them Himself... God blessed my work and I will treasure to the end of days this bright memory about my swan-song." Inasmuch as these servants volunteered to remain with the Royal Family and suffered a violent death, it would be proper to raise the question about their canonization; in addition to those executed with the Royal Family, Dr. E. C. Botkin, the Empresses chambermaid A. S. Demidova, the court cook I. M. Kharitonov and the man-servant A. E. Trupp, the following met their fate in different places and at various times in 1918: Adjutant-General Tatischev, Royal marshal Prince V. A. Dolgorukov, the Heir's attendant K. G. Nagorny, the children's footman I. D. Snedov, the Empress' lady-in-waiting A. V. Gendrikova and court tutor K. A. Schneider. The Commission does not think it is possible at the present time to make a final judgment if there is a basis for the canonization of this group of laymen whose duty it was to accompany the Royal Family during the period of their confinement and who suffered violent death. The Commission does not have any evidence of broad prayerful veneration of these laymen as well as of miracles connected with them. Furthermore, there is at present a lack of any substantial evidence about the religious life and personal piety of all these laymen with the exception of some fragmentary witness about the spiritual life of E. S. Botkin; at the same time it is known that two of them - the Roman Catholic A. E. Trupp and the Lutheran K. A. Schneider - were not laymen of the Orthodox confession. The Commission came to the conclusion that a very appropriate way of honoring the Christian feats of the Royal Family's loyal servants who shared in their tragic fate, would be to immortalize this feat in the written lives of the Royal martyrs. Thus, at the present time the violent death suffered by these laymen as a result of their carrying out of their moral duty to the Royal Family cannot be presumed to be a martyr's death for confessing the Christian faith.
The veneration of the Royal Family, began by the Most-holy Patriarch Tikhon in his prayer for the repose of souls and his homily at the Panichida for the murdered Emperor three days after the Ekaterinburg slaughter continued, in spite of the prevailing ideology, for a period of several decades of the Soviet period of our history. Sacred ministers and laymen addressed God with prayers for the repose of the innocently suffering victims, the members of the Royal Family. In homes photographs of the Royal Family could be found in a place of honor and in recent times icons began to appear depicting the Royal martyrs. Today such icons can be found occasionally in churches in a number of dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church. Panikhidi for the repose of the Royal Family are served more frequently in many places. All this bears witness to the growing veneration of the murdered Royal Family throughout Russia. For example, on 3 September of this year His Grace Nikon, Bishop of Ekaterinburg and Verkhotursk reported to the Commission on canonization about the broad public veneration of the Royal Family in the Ekaterinburg diocese, where the tragedy took place. Already for decades, the veneration of the Royal Family has been observed in Serbia as well as in the Russian diaspora. Having examined the found in literature information about miraculous events in connection with the veneration of the Royal Family, the Commission considered several of them to be trustworthy (see for example the book "Letters from the Royal Family in Confinement", Jordanville, 1974, pp. 491-499).
In the many sufferings borne by the Royal Family during their last days we see the light of Christ's truth ever-conquering evil, the light which was manifest in their tragic death, just as it shone in the lives and deaths of millions of Orthodox Christians who suffered persecutions, tortures and a martyr's end in the period of Russia's new time of troubles.
"The Sovereigns believed that they will die as martyrs for their motherland, - writes one of the witnesses of their life in confinement, the Heir's tutor P. Gilliard, - they died as martyrs for mankind. Their true magnitude did not come from their royal status but from that a remarkable moral magnitude, which they gradually attained. They themselves became a forth of an idea. And in their humiliation they were a striking manifestation of that remarkable clarity of the soul, against which all violence and all fury were powerless, and which triumphs in death itself."
It is precisely in the interpretation of this feat of the Royal Family, that the Commission unanimously finds it possible to present the question of adding the names of Emperor Nicholas Alexandrovich, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, the Czarevich Alexei, the Grand Duchesses Anastasia, Maria, Olga and Tatiana, to the ranks of Holy Passionbearers.
With this I present to Your Holiness, Your Eminencies and Your Excellencies documents which were prepared and adopted by the Commission for the canonization of saints in the process of investigating of the question of the martyr's death of the Royal Family: "On the Relation of the Church to Passionbearers," "The Orthodox View on the Governing Activity of Emperor Nicholas II," "Emperor Nicholas II and the Events of 9 January 1905 in St. Petersburg," "On the Ecclesiastical Policy of Emperor Nicholas II," " The Reasons Behind the Abdication of Emperor Nicholas II from the Throne and the Orthodox View of This Act," "The Royal Family and Rasputin," "The Last Days of the Royal Family," and "The Life and Suffering of the Righteous Czar Nicholas Alexandrovich and His Family," as well as the draft of the Act of the Canonization of the Royal Family.
Your Holiness' and the Holy Synod's unworthy servant
10 October 1996