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Friday, October 28, 2005

The Royal Passion-bearers of Russia

Most noble and sublime was your life and death, O Sovereigns;
wise Nicholas and blest Alexandra, we praise you,
acclaiming your piety, meekness, faith, and humility,
whereby ye attained to crowns of glory in Christ our God,
with your five renowned and godly children of blest fame.
Martyrs decked in purple, intercede for us!

The sermon that we were given on the 4th of July (New Calendar 17th) this year emphasised the humility and humiliation of the final years of the Passion-bearing Royal family of Russia, and the steadfastness of their faith in light of this. As I have come to understand it, it was for this reason that they are venerated as Saints of the Church. However, in various places, I have seen this veneration come under attack by those who focus on some of the perhaps less savoury aspects of the former years of Ss Nicholas and Alexandra, ignoring the actual reasons for their glorification. The statement from the Patriarchate of Moscow in 2000 included these words:

In the last Orthodox Russian monarch and members of his family we see people who sincerely strove to incarnate in their lives the commands of the Gospel. In the suffering borne by the Royal Family in prison with humility, patience and meekness, and in their martyrs' deaths in Ekaterinburg in the night of 4th/17th July 1918 was revealed the light of the Faith of Christ that conquers evil.

As somebody who struggles to live the humility of Christ, I am increasingly finding a special place for the passion-bearing Royal Family of Russia in my devotions. To be reduced from a position of great elevation to their final state must have been a difficult adjustment to make. To face and embrace that with faith is a mark of true Christianity. The significance of this is heightened for me at the present time because of some issues that are currently affecting me personally. I believe that the Moscow Patriarchate venerates them as Passion-bearers and not Martyrs, because their faith was not the reason for their deaths. I do have some difficulty with the Church Abroad's recognition of them as Martyrs but this isn't an insurmountable issue for me.

What I do find insurmountable is the venomous loathing often expressed towards them. In my (admittedly limited) experience, this has not come from people of Russian descent, but from those who have studied the events of the reign of Tsar St Nicholas and focus only on the bad. I fail to see the Christian charity in this and I find this very upsetting. May the example of the Royal Passion-bearers cause the veil of bitterness to be lifted from their hearts.

St Nicholas, pray for us.
St Alexandra, pray for us.
All Holy Passion-bearers and New Martyrs of Russia, pray for us.


Anonymous said...

Amen, Michael, and many thanks for that beautiful post!

Whether the Royal Family of Russia were Martyrs or Passion-Bearers, I know not, but what I think they truly were, were patrons of the Love that crowns the Christian Family. How many families do we know who could benefit from their intercessions! Families living in terrible conditions, in places where Christians are not welcomed, in places where poverty is a prison in itself; where the poor, though noble in their personal characters as Christian men, women and children, are reduced to wretchedness, working hard but having still to beg in the streets or scavenge in tips for their daily bread?

I think too of the two nuns, Elisaveta and Barbara, who were sorely wounded and yet tore up their petticoats to bind the wounds of other victims who had been thrown with them, wounded but still alive, down that horrible mine shaft...and about how the two nuns sang "Christ is Risen!" loud enough to shame the Bolsheviks until the two nuns died. In my humble opinion, if that was not martyrdom, it was close enough as to make no never-mind.

Yes, perhaps the Romanovs made a few mistakes in governing the vast and (at that time anyhow) really ungovernable territory for which they are held responsible; perhaps the poor Tsarina, grasping at straws to save her dear son Alexei, made a bad choice of spiritual father in Rasputin; but those things could happen, and have happened, to many others responsible for government of other countries.

When people refer to St. Nicholas Romanov as "Bloody Nicholas", well, it just makes my blood boil too.

Best wishes and prayers for their intercession for us all,

Leetle M.

Michael said...

And thank you for a beautiful reply, Leetle M. You are oh so right. My parish church is dedicated in honour of the Holy New-Martyr Elizabeth and we sing of and to her and St Barbara at every Liturgy and I find their story (linked to in an earlier post) so very moving.

M x

Anonymous said...

Yes, Michael, they did die in the proper fashion for martyrs. Remember St. Stephen, the First Martyr? He said, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge..." and when he had said that, he "fell asleep."

We never say one of our martyrs "died". They =fell asleep= in the Lord! And we shall all, one day, be restored to His likeness, for we already bear within us, though it's a bit beclouded at present, His image.

Love and prayers,

Leetle M.


I suppose the problem is this interlinking of nationalistic urges with offices/rites more appropriately reserved for religion. In Eastern Orthodoxy, this is a historical fact, but at least in the Catholic Church, it sits uneasily.

Sure, some political leaders can be saints (even 'insurgents' like St Joan of Arc, etc.) but being a political leader, no matter how squalid your end, doesn't make you a Christian martyr.

I believe the Romanovs (God rest their souls) we murdered because they were the centre of the ancien regime, not primarily because they were Christian.

The Empress was famous for her superstitious semi-apostasy.

This makes them great and sorrowful witnesses to Russia's tragedies (my Grandmother is Ukrainian, we know something of their travails) but it does not comfortably approach the martyrs' witness to the Cross.

This is not hostility, rather clear-thinking. Orthodoxy has much to recommend it, but at junctures like this, its strangest and most wordly motivations throw up unusual and difficult challenges to catholicity (small c intended).

Joe said...

I love the Royal Martyrs! Years ago when I was kinda exploring Byzantine Rite Catholicism, the first ever Icon I bought was of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas. After reading Massey's book, I am utterly convinced he was a saint.

That very same Icon has had a place of honor in my Icon corner ever since. I personally believe that it was Tsar-Martyr Nicholas which led me to Orthodoxy. I know not what even more miserable excuse of a creature I would be, if it were not for the intercessions of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas.

Joe Zollars

Michael said...

Joe, how wonderful that you have found such inspiration in them! I'm so pleased. And what an influence it was, if they are partly what drew you to Orthodoxy. Any further developments on your catechumenate?

John, great to see you! I'm honoured to have you posting here. I do read and link to your blog, even though I don't post.

Yes, I do see what you mean, and you didn't come across as hostile at all. Part of what you have said is the reason why I struggle a little with my jurisdiction's recognition of them as Martyrs, in that it doesn't seem quite to be for reasons of faith that they were killed, (and that from me, who, despite the protests of some others, wholeheartedly hails the Holy Innocents as Martyrs - they died so Herod could be assured of Christ's death, enabling him to live and God's plan of salvation to be wrought).

However, at the end, they did suffer, and they faced that with humility, Christian faith and courage and, martyrdom or not, I am satisfied that this is reason enough for them to be glorified as Saints.

I suppose that this is all new to me, coming from an Anglican background, where, in the Kalendar, Saints were entered in much the same way as Anglican worthies such as Mary Sumner who (for good or bad), founded the Mothers' Union, and other perhaps less worthies such as Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer, (May they + rest in peace), who were brutally tortured and murdered for denying rather than defending aspects of the Faith.

I was constantly playing a game of which entries in the Kalendar were Saints and which were not, which itself was silly, and I found that there were comparatively few modern entries that I could venerate. I always had to look back through the centuries. Now, all of a sudden, I have all of these Saints of more recent days, some of them still within living memory of people at my own parish. For me, it highlights a continuity of the Faith and I love it.


Universal acclaim helps, like the chants of 'santo subito' at John Paul the Great's funeral. Otherwise, we have no idea. Hence, the Catholic feast of All Souls.

Joe said...

Michael--no developments yet.

Joe Zollars

Fr. Michael said...

I am afraid that I see the Tsar and his Tsarina as at best passion-bearers. I have great difficulty seeing them as Martyrs for the Faith.
There is considerable testimony from at least one senior British Consular official who both spoke Russian and had lived there for some years and was on close terms at all levels of society, to the effect that the Tsar was an incompetent ruler, that against some very good advice, he persisted in political actions which all but ensured the otherwise less than likely successful bolshevik revolution.
The Tsarina did seriously involve herself in spiritualism to the point if not of actual apostasy, then perilously close to it.
Nevertheless, the decision was made by the Patriarchate to commemorate the Royal family as passion-bearers and I can see good reasons for that having been done.

Fr. Michael

Michael said...

Indeed, Father. (Good to see you here).

Incompetent leadership does not a bad Christian make, and the contrast between his lack of humility in not accepting advice during his reign and his great humility at the end of his life shows Saintly qualities.

As for the Tsarina, I know little about her earlier life. I must find out more.

Anonymous said...

If I read Massie's book aright, the Tsarina, a German princess, would have been a Lutheran before becoming Orthodox.

Leetle M.
who excuses the Tsarina on the grounds that she was desperate to save her son's life.... but perhaps making mistakes in one's spiritual guidance choices can't be allowed to a true martyr.

Joe said...

Whether or not they actually are martyrs matters not a fig to me--but I am utterly convinced they were saints.

Joe Zollars

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