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The icon "The Opening of the Fifth Seal"
The icon "The Opening of the Fifth Seal" is a part of the iconostas of the Sretensky monastery. The subject of this icon was taken from the Book of Revelation (The Apocalypse): "When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held" (Revelation 6:9). The icon represents the Royal martyrs (strastoterpets) Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra, Tsarevich Alexy, Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia.


The Bishops' Council of March 31st - April 4th of 1992 designated the Synodal Commission of canonization of Saints to " begin the research of the materials connected with the martyred end to the life of the Tsar family". The Commission saw its main task in the objective examination of all the circumstances of the life of the Royal Family in the context of historical events and in their consideration from an ecclesiastical viewpoint without being influenced by ideological stereotypes, which have been dominating in our country for the past decades.

The Commission was guided by pastoral concern so the canonization of the Tsar Family among New Martyrs wouldn't give cause to political struggle or secular confrontation, but would contribute to the union of the people of God in faith and piety. We also took into account the fact of the canonization of the Tsar Family by the Russian Church Abroad in 1981, which brought a mixed reaction both from Russian emigrants, some of whom hadn't seen enough reason for that, and within Russia, not to mention the decision which doesn't have historical precedent in the Orthodox Church, i.e. canonization of the servant, Roman Catholic Aloisy Trupp and lady in waiting Lutheran Catherine Schneider, who had met their violent death together with the Tsar Family.

At the very first meeting of the Commission we proceeded to the study of religious, moral and state aspects of the reign of the last Emperor of the Romanov dynasty. The following issues were thoroughly considered: "Orthodox view on the State activity of Emperor Nicholas II", "Emperor Nicholas and the events of 1905 in St. Petersburg", "Church politics of Emperor Nicholas II", "The causes of the abdication and Orthodox attitude to this fact", "The Tsar Family and G. Rasputin", "The last days of the Tsar Family" and "The attitude of the Church to strastoterpchestvo". In 1994 and 1997 I introduced the members of the Bishops' Council to the results of the study of the above-listed questions. No new problems have appeared in the studied issue since that time. I will remind you of the approach of the Commission to this key questions, comprehension of which is necessary for the members of the Bishops' Council in order to solve the problem of the canonization of the Tsar Family. The reasoning of the opponents of the canonization of the Tsar Family, which is fairly diverse in terms of scientific competence and religious and moral content, can be reduced to a number of theses, which had been analyzed in the historical notes made by the Commission, and now are at your disposal.

One of the main arguments of the opponents of the canonization of the Tsar Family is the assertion that the death of Emperor Nicholas II and his Family cannot be acknowledged as martyrdom in Christ's name. The Commission, basing on the thorough consideration of the circumstances of the death of the Tsar Family suggests that they should be canonized as Saint strastoterptsy. In the liturgical literature and in Lives of Saints of the Russian Orthodox Church the word 'strastoterpets' is applied to those Russian Saints who, emulating Christ, humbly and with patience endured physical and moral sufferings and death at the hands of their political adversaries. The examples of strastoterptsy in Russian history were Saint Dukes Boris and Gleb (+1015), Igor of Chernigov (+1147), Andrei of Bogolubovo (+1174), Mikhail of Tver (1319) and Tsarevich Dimitry (+1591). All of them by their feat of strastoterpchestvo gave the lofty example of Christian morality and patience.

The opponents of the canonization of Nicholas II try to find obstacles to it in some facts connected with his State and Church policy. The Church policy of the Emperor stayed within traditional synodal system of the Church management. However, it was during the reign of Emperor Nicholas II that the Church hierarchy got the opportunity not only to widely discuss but also actually prepare the convocation of the Local Church Council, while hitherto this issue had not been raised for two centuries.

The Emperor unfailingly attended to the needs of the Orthodox Church, generously donating money for the construction of new churches in Russia and abroad as well. During the years of his reign the number of parishes in Russia rose by more than 10 000, more than 250 new monasteries were opened. The Emperor personally took part in the laying the first stone of new churches and in other Church festivities.

Deep piety singled out the Royal couple among the aristocracy of that time. The upbringing of the children of the Royal dynasty was imbued with religious spirit. All its members lived according to traditions of Orthodox piety. Going to Church on Sundays and every Church feast, fasting was an essential part of their life. The personal religiousness of the Tsar and his wife was not in merely following traditions. The Royal couple visited churches and monasteries during their numerous voyages, worshipped miracle-working icons and Saints' relics, made pilgrimages, as it was in 1903 during the glorification of St.Seraphim of Sarov. Short services in the court churches could not satisfy the Emperor and Empress. They went to the cathedral of St. Theodore in Tsarskoye Selo, where Empress Alexandra prayed before the lectern with liturgical books open and attentively followed the process of the Divine Service.

Devoutness of the Emperor revealed itself in the fact that during the years of his reign there were more saints canonized than during the two preceding centuries, when only 5 Saints had been glorified. At the time of the last reign Theodosius of Chernigov (1896), Venerable Seraphim of Sarov (1903), St. Duchess Anna of Kashino (veneration re-established in 1909), Holy Hierarch Josaph of Belgorod (1911), Holy Hierarch Germogen of Moscow (1913), Holy Hierarch Pitirim of Tambov (1914) and Holy Hierarch John of Tobolsk (1916) were canonized. And the Emperor had to show particular persistence in trying to achieve the decision of canonization of Venerable Seraphim of Sarov, Holy Hierarchs Josaph of Belgorod and John of Tobolsk. Nicholas II highly revered St. Righteous Father John of Kronstadt. After his beatific decease the Tsar ordered nation-wide commemoration of the departed on the day of his death.

As a politician and State figure the Tsar acted on his religious and moral principles. One of the most common arguments against the canonization of Emperor Nicholas II are the events of 9 January 1905 in Saint-Petersburg. In the historical note of the Commission concerning this question it is explained: Having read on January 8th Gapon's petition, which had the character of a revolutionary ultimatum not allowing to start constructive negotiations with the representatives of the workers, the Tsar had ignored this document, illegal in its form and undermining the authority of the State power, which was unstable under war conditions as it was. During the whole day of January 9th the Tsar hadn't taken any decisions directed at the suppression of the mass demonstrations of the workers. It was the Commander-in-Chief of St. Petersburg who gave the order to open fire to the troops. Historical evidence doesn't allow us to suggest that there was conscious evil will in the activity of the Tsar, which was turned against the people and was embodied in concrete sinful actions and decisions.

From the beginning of the First World War the Tsar regularly went to the Headquarters, visits the military units of the front-line forces, aid-posts, military hospitals, munitions, in short, everything that played a role in this war. The Empress devoted herself to the wounded from the very beginning of the war. Having taken a course in hospital nursing, she together with elder daughters, Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana, every day for several hours looked after the wounded in the hospital in Tsarskoye Selo. The Emperor regarded his being the Supreme Commander-in-Chief as performing his moral and State duty before God and the people, at the same time always giving the leading military experts broad initiative in the solution of military-strategic and operational-tactical schemes.

The judgements of Nicholas II as a State figure are extremely contradictory. In discussing this we should never forget, that considering State activity from the Christian point of view we must consider not this or that form of a State order, but the place, which is taken by a concrete person in the State structure. The subject to assessment is how this or that person has managed to embody Christian ideals in their life. We should note that Nicholas II looked upon his monarchic responsibilities as his holy duty.

Some of the opponents of the canonization of Emperor Nicholas II try to present his abdication from the throne as a Church canon-law crime, similar to renunciation of one's Holy order by a clergyman, but it can't be accepted as true. The canonical status of the anointed Orthodox king wasn't defined in Church canon-laws. That is why the attempts to find an aspect of crime in the abdication of Emperor Nicholas II are groundless. The outward factors which can be named as having caused the Abdication Act, are first of all the sharp worsening of the social and political situation in Petrograd in February 1917 and the inability of the Government to control it, having become wide-spread belief that strict constitutional limitations of the monarch's power were necessary, the pressing demand of Chairman of the State Duma M. Rodzyanko to abdicate in the name of the prevention of the internal political chaos under the circumstances of waging a massive war, and almost unanimous support which was given by the Russian generals to the Chairman of the State Duma's demand.

We should also note, that the Abdication Act was taken by Emperor Nicholas II under the pressure of rapidly changing political circumstances during the very short period of time. The Commission expresses an opinion, that the very fact of abdication from the throne of Emperor Nicholas II, which is directly connected with his personal qualities, on the whole was the expression of the historical situation, which had taken shape in Russia by that time. He only took this decision in the hope that those who wanted his dismissal would manage to honourably continue the war and wouldn't ruin the deed of salvation of Russia. He was afraid at that time that his refusal to sign the abdication might lead to a civil war in view of the enemy. The Tsar didn't want even a single drop of Russian blood to be shed because of him.

The Russian Tsar's spiritual motives for abdication from the throne in the name of internal peace in Russia and his unwillingness to shed the blood of his citizens characterizes his deed as genuinely moral. It was no coincidence that when the question of the commemoration of the murdered Tsar was discussed at the meeting of the Local Church Council in July 1918, His Holiness St. Patriarch Tikhon took a decision of commemorating Nicholas II as the Emperor at Church services for the dead.

Very few people directly communicated with the Tsar in an informal atmosphere. Everyone who knew his family life directly marked surprising simplicity, mutual love and agreement of all the members of this united Family. The center of it was Tsarevich Alexey, all affections and hopes concentrated on him. The circumstance that darkened the life of the Royal Family was the incurable illness of the Heir.

The attacks of hemophilia, during which the child terribly suffered, were frequent. In September 1912 in consequence of a careless movement there was an inner bleeding and the condition was so serious that Tsarevich's life was feared for. All over the country services for his healing were held in churches. At the same time the character of his illness was a State secret, and the parents had to conceal their feelings taking part in the regular routine of the Court life. The Empress well understood that medicine was powerless here.

But there is nothing impossible for God. Being deeply religious, she gave all of her soul to zealous prayer in the hope of a miraculous cure. At times, when the child was healthy, it seemed to her that her prayers had been heard, but the attacks repeated again, and it filled her mother's soul with infinite sorrow. She was ready to believe anyone who was able to help her in her grief, at least somehow relieve the sufferings of her son. The illness of the Heir opened the doors of the Palace to peasant Grigory Rasputin, who was doomed to play his own role in the life of Royal Family, and in the life of the entire country as well.

The most significant argument of the opponents of the canonization of the Tsar family is the fact of their interaction with G. Rasputin itself. The relations between the Emperor and Rasputin were complex, respect combined with caution and doubts. "Several times the Emperor tried to get rid of the "elder", but every time retreated under the pressure of the Empress because of the necessity of Rasputin's help for curing the Heir". In the relationship with Rasputin there was an element of human weakness, which was connected with the deep suffering of the Empress from the incurable illness of her son, and the yearning of the Emperor to keep peace in the Family by sympathetic reconciliation to the maternal torments of the Empress.

However, there are no grounds to see the features of spiritual illusion and especially not deep enough Churching in the relations of the Tsar Family with Rasputin. Summing up the study of the State and Church activity of the last Russian Emperor, the Commission has not found enough reason for the canonization for this activity alone.

There were two periods in the life of Emperor Nicholas II - the time of his reign and the time of his confinement. The Commission has attentively studied the last days of the Tsar Family, connected with suffering and martyrdom of its members. Emperor Nicholas often compared his life with the great suffering of Job's, on the day of whose Church commemoration he was born. Having taken his Cross as the Biblical righteous man, he endured all trials steadily, meekly and without a slightest murmur. This very patience was clearly revealed in the last days of the Emperor's life.

From the moment of the abdication it was not the outward events, but rather the inner spiritual state of the Tsar that takes our attention. The Tsar having taken, as it seemed to him, the only right decision, at the same time experienced severe spiritual torment. "If I stand in the way of the happiness of Russia and all the leading social forces ask me to leave the throne and pass it to my brother and son, I'm ready to do this, ready not only the reign, but the whole my life give for my Motherland. I think nobody who knows me can doubt it", - said the Tsar to General D. Dubensky.

"Tsar Emperor Nicholas, having seen so much betrayal around him retained indestructible belief in God, fatherly love for the Russian people, readiness to lay his life for the honour and glory of his Motherland". On March 8th 1917 the commissars of the Provisional Government having arrived in Mogilev, announced through General Alekseyev about the arrest of the Tsar and necessity to go to Tsarskoye Selo. He addresses his troops for the last time, calling for the fidelity to the Provisional Government, the very one which had subjected him to arrest, appealing for performing one's duty before the Motherland to the completion of victory.

In methodical killing of every member of the Royal dynasty that fell in their hands, the Bolsheviks were first of all guided by ideology because the national view of the Emperor was still as of the Anointed Monarch, and the entire Tsar Family symbolized Russia, which was being destroyed. On July 21st 1918 His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon in his sermon at the Divine Liturgy in Moscow Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan as if had answered the questions and doubts which after eight decades the Russian Church tries to comprehend: "We know that he (Emperor Nicholas II - M.J.) abdicated from the throne with a view to the good for Russia and because of his love for it."

The Royal Family spent a lot of time reading edifying books, first of all the Holy Scriptures and regularly, almost unfailingly attended Church services. Kindness and peace of mind hadn't left the Empress in this difficult time. The Emperor, being of reserved disposition, felt calm and placid only in close family circle. The Empress didn't enjoy the life of high society.

Moral dissipation, which reigned at the court, was alien to the strict upbringing of the Empress; her religiousness was regarded as oddity, even as hypocrisy. In the letters of Tsarina Alexandra one can see the whole depth of her religious feelings- there is so much strength of spirit, dolefulness about the fate of Russia, faith and hope for the help of God in them. Whoever she wrote to, she found the words of support and compassion. These letters are the real evidence of Christian faith. The prisoners found solace and strength for enduring sorrows in spiritual reading, prayer, divine service, taking Holy Communion.

In the letters of the Tsarina a lot is said about her spiritual life as well as the other members of her Family. "There is a great comfort in prayer: I feel sorry for those who find it unfashionable, unnecessary to pray" In another letter she writes: "Lord, help to those who can't hold love of God in their embittered hearts, who only see everything bad and don't try to understand that all this will be gone, it can't be other way, Saviour has come and given us a lead. Who follows His way of love and suffering, comprehends all the glory of the Kingdom of Heaven".

The Tsar children meekly and humbly endured all humiliation and sufferings together with the parents. Archpriest Athanasy Belyayev, who confessed the Tsar children, wrote: "The impression [from the confession] was like this: Lord, let every child be so high morally, as the children of the former Tsar. Such gentleness, humbleness, obedience to parental will, full devotedness to God's will, purity in thoughts and total unfamiliarity of the earthly life - passionate and sinful, - wrote he, - amazed me and I was absolutely bewildered: should I, as confessor, remind them of the sins, which were probably not known to them, and how to bring them to repentance in sins which were familiar to them".

In almost complete isolation from the outward world, surrounded by rude and cruel guardians, the prisoners of the Ipatyev's house show remarkable nobleness and lucidity of mind. Their genuine greatness of spirit came not from their monarchical origin, but from extraordinary spiritual height, which they gradually had reached. Together with the Royal Family the servants who followed them in their exile had been shot to death.

In view of the fact that they voluntarily stayed with the Tsar Family and took their death as martyrs, it is reasonable to raise the question of their canonization as well. Among them, besides those shot to death with the Royal - Family Doctor E. Botkin, chambermaid of the Empress A. Demidova, the Court cook I. Kharitonov and footman A. Trupp, also slain in different places and in different months of 1918 were Aide-de-Camp-General I. Tatishev, Hoffmarshal Duke V. Dolgorukov, Heir's servant K. Nagorny, children's footman I. Sednev, lady in waiting of the Empress A. Gendrikova and Hofflektrissa E. Schneider.

The Commission can't definitively solve the problem of the canonization of this group of laymen, who in the performance of their Court duty accompanied the Tsar Family in the period of its confinement and took violent death. The Commission doesn't have evidence about widespread commemoration in prayers of these laymen. Besides this, there is little information of their religious life and personal piety. The Commission has come to the conclusion that the most proper reverence of this Christian feat of the faithful servants of the Tsar Family, who had shared its tragic fate, for today maybe immortalizing this feat in the Life of Royal Martyrs.

The issue of the canonization of Emperor Nicholas II and the members of the Tsar Family was widely discussed in the 90s in a number of publications in Church and secular press. The great majority of the books and articles of religious authors support the idea of the glorification of the Royal Martyrs. A number of publications have a convincing criticism of the opponents' of the canonization arguments. His Holiness Patriarch Aleksy II, the Holy Synod and the Synodal Commission received many statements, which approved the conclusions made by the Commission regarding the glorification of the Royal Martyrs in October 1996.

The Synodal Commission also was addressed by leading bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, on behalf of clerics and laymen expressing support to the Commission's conclusions. In some dioceses the question was discussed at diocesan and parish meetings. The unanimous approval of the idea of the glorification of the Royal Martyrs was expressed. The Commission also received addresses from individual clerics, laymen, and groups of believers from various dioceses supporting the canonization of the Tsar Family.

Some of them were signed by thousands of people. Among the authors of the statements there are Russian emigrants, as well as clerics and laymen of fraternal Orthodox Churches. Many of those who appealed to the Commission declared for the urgent canonization of the Royal Martyrs. The idea of the necessity of the canonization of the Tsar and the Royal Martyrs without delay was voiced by a number of Church and social organizations.

The publications and addresses to the Commission and other Church institutions which contain the evidence of miracles and gracious help due to prayers to the Royal Martyrs, present special value. They speak about healing, uniting of broken families, defence of Church possessions from schismatics and so forth. In particular there is much evidence of the icons of Nicholas II and the Royal Martyrs, which produce myrrh, exhale fragrance and show spots of blood colour on them.

We would like to touch on the question of the remnants of the Tsar Family. The State Commission, which dealt with the "study of the questions connected with research and re-burial of the remnants of Russian Emperor Nicholas II and members of his Family", ended, as it is known, its work on January 30th 1998.

The State Commission approved scientific and historical inferences made by the Republican Center of forensic and medical research and Office of Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, that the remnants found near Yekaterinburg belong to the Tsar Family and its servants. However, doubts have been aroused in connection with the well-known evidence of investigator Sokolov, who in 1918 witnessed that all the bodies of the Royal Family and their servants had been dismembered and eliminated.

At its meeting on February 26th 1998 the Holy Synod considered this question and came to the following resolution: 1. The estimation of the trustworthiness of the scientific and forensic inferences, as well as the testimony of their inconvertibility, is beyond the competence of the Church. It is the Republican Center of forensic and medical research and Office of Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, which are responsible for scientific and historical decisions admitted during the investigation. 2. The decision of the State Commission of identification of the found near Yekaterinburg remnants as belonging to the Family of the Emperor Nicholas II caused serious doubts and even dissolution in the Church and society. As since that time there have been no new results of scientific research in this field, buried on July 17th 1998 in St. Petersburg " Yekaterinburg's remnants" for today cannot be acknowledged as belonging to the Tsar Family.

The reverence of the Tsar Family which started by His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon in his prayer for them and speech at the service for the dead in the cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan in Moscow three days after the murder in Yekaterinburg, has continued - in spite of the reigning ideology -for several decades of the Soviet period of our history. Clergymen and laymen prayed to God for repose of the souls of the slain martyrs, members of the Tsar Family.

One could see the photographs of the Tsar Family in best places in houses, and lately icons depicting Royal martyrs have become widespread. Now one can see such icons in some monasteries and churches of the Russian Orthodox Church. Prayers addressed to them are composed; various cinematography, literature and musical works depicting their sufferings and feat are created. Everywhere services for the dead with prayers for them are celebrated. All this is an evidence of increasing veneration of the Tsar Family all over Russia.

The Commission in its approach to this issue tried to free the glorification of the Royal martyrs from any political or other kinds of ideology. In this connection it is necessary to emphasize, that the canonization of the Monarch shouldn't be associated with monarchial position, and what's more, doesn't indicate the "canonization" of the monarchial regime, which of course may be perceived in different ways. The activity of the Head of the State cannot be isolated from the political context, but this doesn't mean that the canonization of a Tsar or a Duke is guided by political or ideological concern. Glorifying a Saint, the Church doesn't pursue any political aims which it doesn't have by its nature, but testifies before the God's people, who already venerate the Saint, that the glorified zealot really intercedes for us before the Altar of God, irrespective of his position during his earthly life, whether he were a peasant or an Emperor. Many sufferings experienced by the Tsar Family during the last 17 months of their life, which ended with the shooting in the basement of the house of Ipatyev at night of July 17th 1918, show to us the people who sincerely aspired to embody the precepts of the Gospel in their lives.

In the sorrows endured by the Tsar Family in the confinement with meekness, patience and humility, in the martyred end to their life the light of the Christian faith that overcomes evil was revealed, as it has shone in the life and death of millions of Orthodox Christians, who were persecuted for Christ in the XXth century. In the comprehension of this feat of the Tsar Family the Commission unanimously and with the approval of the Holy Synod finds it possible to glorify among New Martyrs and Confessors of faith in Russia Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra, Tsarevich Alexy, Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia as Saint Strastoterptsy.

Full version of the report is located at the Official website of the Russian Orthodox Church:

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