Friday, June 02, 2000 Front Page
Church To Make Last Tsar A Saint
By Andrei Zolotov Jr.
Ending years of impassioned discussions that have at times
split the Russian Orthodox Church, officials said this week that the
church will canonize Tsar Nicholas II and his family in August.
The tsar and his family will be canonized at the Jubilee Council of
Bishops scheduled for
the middle of August, said priest Maxim Maximov, secretary of the
Commission on Canonization, in a telephone interview.
"The final decision will be made by the members of the council, but
the commission sees no obstacles to canonization," Maximov said.
The tsar, his wife Alexandra, their four daughters -- Olga, Tatiana,
Marie and Anastasia -- and their son, Alexis, will be canonized
with hundreds of new martyrs and confessors of Russia --
laymen who were killed or died in jail during the Soviet persecution
religion -- in an unprecedented series of canonizations that will help
mark the celebration of 2,000 years since the birth of Christ.
The central event of the Jubilee Council of Bishops will be the
consecration of the massive Christ the Savior Cathedral on the Aug.
19 Transfiguration Day celebration.
The tsar and his family have long been a thorny issue for the church, one
that was given fresh intensity after the collapse of the Soviet Union
brought religion back into the mainstream of society. While the Russian
Orthodox Church has been unable to ignore popular veneration of the
Romanovs, it also has been unwilling to give its blessing to the
political monarchist and straightforward anti-Semitic forces within the
church that have championed the Romanovs' sainthood as "royal martyrs."
After five years of deliberations and delays, the church found some
middle ground in February of 1997. At that time the Council of
Bishops approved the report of the Commission on Canonization, headed by
Metropolitan Yuvenaly. The report stated that, while Nicholas II does not
deserve sainthood for the way he lived and ruled Russia, the humble
Christian way in which the royal family faced imprisonment and death
qualified them as strastoterptsy, or passion bearers.
That decision paved the way for the coming decision to canonize
Nicholas II as a passion bearer.
Passion bearer is a special category of Orthodox sainthood, applied
to those who, strictly speaking, were not martyrs, because martyrdom
requires that the martyr made a choice between rejecting Christ and dying
for him. Passion bearers are instead revered for the humble way in which
they met an imminent death. Saints Boris and Gleb, Russia's first saints,
were canonized as passion bearers in 1015 because they did not fight
their cousins who conspired to kill them over the Kiev throne.
The canonization report described at length how the royal family
discouraged any possible plot to free them from captivity, how
bitterly the tsar repented for his abdication, how they prayed for
Russia and had no enmity toward their jailers.
In an interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta-Religii newspaper this week,
Archpriest Georgy Mitrofanov, a member of the canonization commission,
said that the issue of canonization has been practically decided.
Meanwhile, the claims put forward that the royal family were victims of a
"ritual murder" carried out by the Jews -- a widely held belief among
anti-Semites within the church -- were rejected by the commission.
Countering criticism that Nicholas was to blame for the revolution
and the ensuing persecution of Christians, Mitrofanov said his
hagiography, drafted by the commission, stressed that "it is his
death of a passion bearer and not the state and church policy which
gives ground for raising the issue [of sainthood]."
"Saints are not sinless," Mitrofanov was quoted as saying. "And the
emperor's policy had many faults."
The veneration of Nicholas II has long been strongest among Russian
Emigres. His canonization became a central policy issue for the
Russian Orthodox Church Abroad -- a right-wing, staunchly anti-Soviet
Emigre church group that broke away from the Moscow Patriarchate in 1927
after Metropolitan Sergei declared his loyalty to the Soviet government.
In 1981, at a church council in New York, it canonized all the Romanovs
as "royal martyrs," along with an assembly of New Martyrs of Russia.
When the Iron Curtain dissolved in the late 1980s, the Church Abroad made
the canonization one of its conditions for reunification with the Moscow
Patriarchate. Emigre publications started to circulate in Russia,
attracting supporters in the nationalist wing of the Russian church. In
1992, the Russian Council of Bishops instructed the Commission on
Canonization to start examining Nicholas II and his family.
The Romanovs' story offers much for the mystical Russian mindset.
Nicholas II was born on the day of Job -- the Old Testament righteous man
who bore great suffering but never renounced God.
Three centuries after the Romanov dynasty started in the Ipatyev
Monastery in Kostroma as Russia emerged from the "time of troubles,"
Nicholas II's family was ruthlessly murdered in the basement of the
Ipatyev House in Yekaterinburg as Russia plunged into turmoil again. The
romantic love story of Nicholas and Alexandra, both devout Orthodox
Christians, the agony of a family with a hemophiliac son and the tragedy
of the revolution all combined to turn the lives of the tsar and his
family into hagiography.
Excavations began this week in Yekaterinburg at the site of the
Ipatyev house, where the royal family was shot by the Bolsheviks in
July 1918. The house was demolished in the 1970s when former
President Boris Yeltsin was the city's Communist Party boss.
The goal of the excavations is to find the house's cellar, where the
execution took place. If it is found, the sanctuary of the future
which is planned to be built on the site, will be placed right above it,
news agencies reported.
The remains of two people found during the excavations were
identified as dating back to the 18th century.
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