According to determination of the Sanctified Bishop Cathedral in 2000, the Tsar and his family were glorified as the “passions-bearers in row of new martyrs and confessors of Russia”.
The purpose of the ancient tradition of orthodox icon-painting was to worship and honor the saints, and not to capture their likeness in a portrait. In this case, an icon is inscribed as the “Holy Royal martyrs”. According to determination of the Sanctified Bishop Cathedral in 2000, the Tsar and his family were glorified as the “passions-bearers in row of new martyrs and confessors of Russia”.
July 17 is a day for remembering the martyrs Emperor Nikolay II, Empress Alexandra, Zarevic Alexis, great princesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia. In 2000 the last Russian emperor Nikolay II and his family were canonized by the Russian Church as holy martyrs. Their canonization in the west in Russian Orthodoxy Church by foreign Country happened earlier, in 1981. And while saint princes in the Orthodox tradition is not rare, this canonization until now has caused controversy. Why was the last Russian monarch and his family glorified as saints? Does his life and the lives of his family merit canonization, and what are the reasons against it? Is honoring Nikolay II as the redeemer too extreme ?
Canonization in general is accomplished in the most obvious and edifying cases. Not all members of the Zar’s family show characteristics worthy of holiness to us, and furthermore, a greater part of these murders was accomplished with a political aim during a struggle for power. Thus, it can be said that the victims of this political struggle cannot be considered victims for their religion. Contemporaries and the soviet regime greatly slandered Nikolay II and his family, so it was necessary to recover the truth. Their murder was full of satanic hatred and cruelty, and leaves the feeling of a mystic event full of evil that goes against the Divine order of life of the Orthodox people.
The commission on canonization worked very long on this question, and very pedantically analyzed the reasons “pros and cons”. There were many opponents of the zar’s canonization. Some said that it could not be done because Nikolay II was “bloody” and ruthless, and was guilty of the events of January, 9th, 1905 – when a peaceful demonstration of workers was shot. In a special commission, work was conducted on finding out the circumstances of the Bloody Sunday. And as a result of research using archived materials, it was found that Nikolay II was not in Petersburg at this time, and did not participate in the shooting in any way. He did not have knowledge of these events and could not have given this order. Thus, this argument against the canonization was abandoned. In a similar manner, all other arguments against canonization were examined, and eventually all counter arguments were eliminated.
The Tsar’s family was canonized not only because they were killed, but because they accepted their fate with humility and without resistance. While the tzar and his family were advised in advanced to escape across the border, they consciously did not do this. The Zar’s family personified the idea of the Orthodox reign. The bolsheviks did not only want to destroy possible succesors of the throne, they also wanted to destroy the symbol of the Orthodox Zar, which was hateful to them. Killing the tsar’s family, they destroyed the idea of the Orthodox state that was the main defender of the Orthodox world. The tsar’s role becomes clear through the Byzantine description of the tzar’s power , and he is called the “external bishop to the church”. And in the synod period, in the “Basic laws of Empire” (articles 43 and 44) published in 1832 said: “The Emperor, as the Christian Sovereign, is a supreme defender and protector of dogmas of the dominating faith and order of the church. And from this day (April, 5th, 1797) an emperor, in an act of Succession, is named Head of Church.
It is evident that Nikolay II and his family were ready to suffer for Orthodox Russia and for their religion. While he could have fled to a safe place, organized a reliable guard, and protected his family, Nikolay II undertook no such measures. In 1906, during the Kronshtadt revolt , Nikolay II said the following after a lecture from the minister of foreign affairs: “If you see me so calm, then it is because I have a steadfast belief in the fate of Russia, my own fate and the fate of my family – is in the hands of the Lord. Whatever happens, I surrender before His will”. Already shortly before, the sovereign said: “I would not like to depart from Russia. Too much I love her, I would rather go to the farthest end of Siberia”.
At the end of April, 1918, already in Yekaterinburg, the sovereign wrote : “Perchance, sacrifice is needed for the rescue of Russia: I will be this sacrifice in the name of God”. It is known that the sovereign Nikolay II built a great number of temples and monasteries. Nikolay also wrote: “I believe firmly, that the lord will have compassion for Russia and ultimately passions die. And it will be God’s will”. The great princess Olga wrote from her imprisonment in the Ipatiev house in Yekaterinburg: “Father asks to pass to all those who remained to him devoted, and those who they can have an influence on, that they do not avenge him – he forgives all and for all he prays, and he asks for it to be remembered that the current evil in the world will only grow stronger, but an evil will not win over an evil, only love”.
Therefore the tsar’s family is canonized not for their very high and honorable lives, but foremost for their yet more honorable deaths. On July, 8th (21), 1918 during a divine service in the Kazan cathedral in Moscow, patriarch Tikhon said: former Sovereign Nikolay Aleksandrovich was shot. We know that he, renounced the throne due to his love for Russia and meant it as a blessing to her. With a complete understanding of this last exploit of the Tsar’s Family, the Commission, with approval from the Sacred Synod, found it possible to glorify in the Cathedral the new Russian martyrs Emperor Nikolay II, empress Alexandra, Tsarevich Alexei, Great princesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia.
Author: Natalia Parenko, Director of St. Petersburg Art Academy in Florence
Museums and Cinema Workshop
Film Screening and Discussion Russian Ark
directed by Alexandr Sokurov 2002
Museo Novecento, Piazza Santa Maria Novella 10, Firenze
5 December 2018