Orthodox America

  Why We Pray for the Tsar

Translator's Preface

       At the Proskomedia before the Divine Liturgy the celebrating priest commemorates the most Holy patriarchs, the pious Orthodox kings and queens and the blessed founders of the holy temple. Later during the Liturgy, at the augmented litany, we again pray for "the blessed and ever-memorable Orthodox pious kings and right-believing queens" and the founders of the holy temple. Who are these "pious Orthodox kings and queens" for whom we pray, and why are they immediately followed by the founders of the temple?

      We pray for those Orthodox sovereigns who are presently living and especially for those who have reposed, who, during their lives, supported and defended the Orthodox Church and encouraged her work. Here in America we are especially indebted to those "pious kings and queens" who founded, supported and financed Orthodox missions in this land and later built holy temples here. We must not forget their memory.

       Among these "pious kings" is the martyred Tsar Nicholas II. In the sermon below Archbishop John gives us some insight into the Tsar's character from an Orthodox-rather than political-viewpoint, which should stimulate our veneration for this Royal Martyr and Confessor. It is a great joy t ohave lived to see the Royal Martyrs glorified and iconographically depicted by the Church to which Archbishop John belonged, some fifty years after this sermon was delivered, and for which he expressed such fervent hope.


In Memory of the Martyrs

A sermon delivered by Blessed Archbishop John Maximovich (then Bishop of Shanghai) on July 4/17, 1934, before a memorial service for the repose of the souls of Tsar Nicholas II and those killed with him 

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

       Tomorrow the Holy Church celebrates the memory of St. Andrew, Bishop of Crete, the author of the Great Penitential Canon, and we have gathered here to pray for the repose of the souls of the Tsar Martyr and those killed with him. In Russia, the Russian people likewise gathered yearly in church on the day of St. Andrew of Crete, not, however, the one whose memory is celebrated tomorrow, but the monk-martyr Andrew who was martyred for confessing Christ and Christ's truth. On this day of Monk-martyr Andrew (Oct. 17), people in Russia joyfully gathered to thank the Lord for having miraculously saved the life of Emperor Alexander III at Borky on October 17/30, 1888. As he was traveling there Was a terrible train crash which demolished all the cars except the one carrying the Tsar and his Family.

       And so, on the day commemorating Monk Andrew of Crete, martyred by the enemies of Christ and His Church, the Heir and future Emperor Nicholas Alexandrovich was saved, while on the day of St. Andrew at Crete, the one whose days on earth ended peacefully, the Emperor was killed by godless traitors. On the feast of Monk-martyr Andrew, Russia also honored the memory of the prophet Hosea --commemorated that same day--who prophesied the Resurrection. Churches were built in honor of these saints and there the Russian people thanked God for saving their Emperor. Thirty years later, on the day of St. Andrew teacher of repentance, the Emperor was murdered before the eyes of the entire nation which did not even attempt to save him. This is all the more frightening and incomprehensible as the Emperor Nicholas Alexandrovich embodied the finest qualities of all the Tsars who were known, loved and revered by the Russian people.

       The Tsar-Martyr most resembled Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, the Gentle One, but surpassed him in his unflagging meekness. Russia knew Alexander II, the Liberator, but Tsar Nicholas II freed even more people-our Slavic brothers. Russia knew Alexander III, the Peacemaker, but Emperor Nicholas II did not confine himself to working for peace during his own time, but took great strides to ensure that the peoples of Europe and the entire world would live peaceably an d resolve their misunderstandings in a peaceful manner. With this goal in mind, at his unselfish and noble personal initiative, the Hague Conference was convened.

    Russia was enraptured by Alexander I and called him "blessed" because he freed Europe from the alien power of one man. Emperor Nicholas I I, in conditions far more difficult, rose against the same attempt by another man to extend his power over a Slavic people whose blood and faith were foreign to him. In their defense Emperor Nicholas displayed a steadfastness which knew no compromise, Russia had the great reformer Peter I, but if one recalls all the reforms undertaken by Nicholas II, then we do not know to whom is due greater honor, acknowledging furthermore that the latter carried out his reforms more carefully, more considerately and without harshness. Russia knew Ivan III and Ivan Kalita as the gatherers of Russia, but it was Tsar Nicholas II who brought their work to completion when in 1915 he returned to Russia, albeit for a brief time, all her sons. The Emperor of All-Russia, he was the first and only All-Russian Tsar, His inner spiritual and moral countenance was so exceptional that even the Bolsheviks, who attempted to defame him, could only reproach him for one thing--his devotion and piety.

       It is known for certain that he always began and ended his day with prayer. On great Church feasts he always partook of the Sacraments, mingling with the faithful who were approaching the Great Mystery, as he did at the uncovering of St. Seraphim's relics. He was an example of purity and the head of an exemplary Orthodox family. He brought up his children so that they would be ready to serve the Russian people, strictly preparing them for impending toil and podvig. He was deeply attentive to the needs of his subjects and wanted clearly and intimately to understand their labors and service. All are aware of the incident when he walked alone for several miles in full soldier's accoutrement in order to better understand the conditions of military service. He walked alone, --which clearly refutes those slanderers who say that he feared for his life. If Peter I said: "Know of Peter that his life isn't dear as long as Russia lives," then one can truly say that Emperor Nicholas Alexandrovich fulfilled these words. They say he was trustful. The great Father of the Church, St. Gregory the Great, said that the purer the heart, the more trustful it is.

       What did Russia render her pure hearted Emperor, who loved her more than his life?

       She repaid him with slander. He was highly moral--they began speaking of his "vices." He loved Russia--they began speaking of betrayal. Even people close to the Emperor repeated this slander, spreading rumors and gossip. Under the influence of both malicious and dissolute people these rumors spread, and love for the Tsar began to cool. Later they began speaking of the "danger" to Russia and discussed methods of getting rid of this nonexistent danger. In the name of so-called "saving" Russia they began to say that the Emperor must be removed. This calculated evil achieved its goal--it separated Russia from her Tsar. In a dreadful minute in Pskov he was left alone. His close ones were not near. There were loyal, dedicated people, but they were not permitted access to him. The frightful abandonment of the Tsar... But it was not he who abandoned Russia; Russia abandoned the one who loved her more than his own life. Seeing all this and in the hope that his self-abasement would restrain and subdue the raring passions of the people, the Tsar abdicated the throne. But passions never temper after attaining their desires--they burn even more intensely. The time of rejoicing had come for those who wanted the overthrow of the Tsar. The rest remained silent. The Tsar was arrested and the events which followed were inevitable. If a man is left in a cage with animals, sooner or later they will devour him. The Tsar was killed, and Russia remained silent, This terrible deed met with no indignation; no sound of protest was to be heard. And this silence is a great sin of the Russian people, committed on the day of St. Andrew of Crete, the author of the Great Penitential Canon which is read during Great Lent...

       The Sovereign of Russia was killed under the vaults of the Ekaterinburg cellar, deprived of the royal crown by human insidiousness, but not--by God' s justice--deprived of holy anointing. All the regicides in Russia's history were committed by some clique, not by the people. When Paul I was murdered, the people were not even aware of it, and when they found out, they brought their condolences and prayers to his grave for many years afterward. Alexander II's murder unleashed a storm of indignation in Russia, which helped strengthen the moral fibre of the people, as became evident during the reign of Alexander III. The people were innocent of the Tsar-Liberator's blood. But here, the people, the entire Russian nation, is guilty of the spilled blood of their Tsar. Some partook in the murder, others, just as blame nothing to interfere. All are guilty and truly we must say: "His blood be on us, and on our children" (Matt. 27:25). Betrayal, treachery, the breaking of an oath of faithfulness to Tsar Mikhail Feodorovich and all his successors, passivity and cold-heartedness, insensitivity--these are the elements of which the Russian people wove the wreath with which they crowned their Tsar.

       Today is a day of sorrow and penitence. Why, may we ask, did the Lord--Who saved that same Tsar on St. Andrew the Martyr's day--not save him on the day of the other St. Andrew, the one who taught penitence? We answer with great sorrow--yes, the Lord could have saved him this time as well, but the Russian people were not worthy of this.

       Now the Emperor has received a martyr's crown. But this does not justify us, it does not lessen our guilt. In the same way Judas, Pilate, Caiapha, and those who demanded Christ's death were not justified but even more severely indicted by Christ's Resurrection.

       It is a great sin to lift one's hand against God's anointed. When news of Saul's murder was brought to King David, he ordered the messenger to be killed, although the messenger did not take any part in the murder but only rushed to bring this news, thereby implicating himself in the king's death. The least involvement in such a sin is not left unpunished.

 Translated by priest Peter Perekrestov

What Relevance?

        Many of our American readers may be left wondering how they are to relate to this sermon which Blessed Vladika John quite obviously directed towards a Russian audience. Those who tend to regard the Tsar and his family as belonging exclusively to an ethnic enclave are urged to consider the following (excerpted from "Orthodox Life," July-August, 1966):

       "Is the Martyred Royal Family of significance only to Russians? While they do indeed possess a special significance for Russian believers and serve as a constant reminder of the irreconcilable and undying opposition between Orthodox Russia and the communist US SR, their significance as Martyrs and innocent Sufferers in Christ transcends any particular national context, and in many ways they provide worthy examples of Orthodox life and piety which can be emulated by all. And their innocent suffering, deep humiliation, and cruel death should indeed evoke the sympathy of everyone of Christian conscience everywhere in the world.

       "Also, we may recall that the language they used was English and their blood predominantly non-Russian!...[Since both the Empress Alexandra and her mother-in-law were conscious converts] this placed the Martyred Royal Family in a particularly close relationship to converts and to English speaking Orthodox, revealing the universal nature of Holy Orthodoxy and showing that (Orthodox piety and conviction, even unto martyrdom, are gifts of the Holy Spirit which transcend 'blood,' language, and other inherited characteristics... 

For in Christ there it neither Greek nor Jew bond nor free

 Dispelling Doubts

        During the preparations for the formal glorification of Russia's New Martyrs, criticism was voiced over the inclusion of the Royal Family in their midst, as though this stemmed from some romantic nationalist or monarchist sentiment. Perhaps this doubt echoes even now in the minds of some readers of this article. We are therefore appending the words of a contemporary "martyr" in the Soviet Union, Fr. Dimitri Dudko, who gives reason for us all--Russian and non-Russian alike--to venerate the Tsar.

        "When in reply to the slanderous fabrications of the Literarny Gazette, I turned immediately to the radiant and fearless memory of the martyred Russian peasants and nobility, who were shot, strangled, and when I placed at their head the Russian Tsar who was gunned down with all his family and servants, and called him one of the greatest saints of the Russian land, voices of accusation rained down upon me from abroad--from the free world 'What are you doing? It will be difficult to defend you. Why have you found it necessary to include these monarchist passages?'...

        "The Russian Tsar Nicholas II is in the first ranks of the Russian martyrs. But when you mention him, everyone for some reason remembers him as a ruler. I do not want to talk about his reign right now, although, in comparison with others, one might speak of it. But I speak of him now as a Christian, as a martyr for Christ, as a Commander [in the Army] of Christ. Let us put it that way, finally.

        "We still have a great many political and selfish passions .... Read the book by Gilliard [1]--a man who is not of Russian origin. He cannot be accused of prejudice. Yet he wrote as if he were writing the life of a saint, and there is no fiction in it, I know people who out of prejudice had one opinion concerning the Emperor, but after reading this book began to regard him as a saint. And I myself cannot personally look upon him otherwise. For me, he is a saint and, moreover, the greatest of saints.

       "When you read Gilllard's book, consider how he prayed, and compare that with how we pray. Consider how he entrusted himself and all his loved ones to the will of God, how he exerted such a beneficial influence on those who guarded him that it was necessary to constantly change them. And consider how he suffered when he looked down the barrels of the weapons pointed at him. His suffering would have been easier if he had stood before those barrels alone, but with him we re his wife, the ailing Tsarerich his daughters, his servants... Yes, and the entire Russian people, too. The barrels of the Chekist rifles were aimed at the entire Russian people, not only at him . I think that at that moment he was alarmed for the entire Russian people, and perhaps for the whole world, for these guns of the godless now threaten the whole world. And after that are we not to call him a saint?!

(Excerpt from "Orthodox Life," Sept.-Oct., 1978)

[1] Pierre Gilllard, French tutor to the Grand Duchesses, wrote his memoires in Thirteen

Years at the Russian Court; Doran, 1921.