Saturday, July 17, 2004

Today’s saints from the Russian Orthodox tradition
Tsar Nicholas II, his family and those with them (+1918)

Святые царственные новомученики и мученицы россiйскые, молите Бога о насъ.

Lovely people, but an incompetent emperor, not particularly bright, getting the country mired in an immoral war, World War I, owing to nationalism and misplaced loyalties, causing (as Rasputin predicted) his own downfall - and death. The war destroyed so much of Catholic Europe, east (in this case) and west (the soon-to-be beatified Emperor Charles of Austria-Hungary abdicated and his empire was carved up).

Besides a basic monarchist inclination - a sacramentally crowned king is profoundly Catholic - what turned me in favour of the Russian royals was reading Robert Massie's Nicholas and Alexandra back in 1996. This American historian (writing about 40 years ago) with no bias either way (royalist or Communist) convinced me that personally they are saints. (As for politics, saints are fallible in their prudential judgement.) In a society littered with loveless dynastic marriages (like the late Diana in recent years) the tsar was a country gentleman who truly loved his wife.

•The tsar's real title - I think since the Western-emulating Peter the Great - was Iмператоръ, Imperator, Latin for 'emperor', not 'tsar'! But the slavophilic Nicholas informally brought the title tsar back.
•Rasputin? He wasn't a monk. Didn't claim he was. The emperor and empress saw what he wanted them to see, the 'holy peasant' who could save their hæmophiliac son from bleeding to death.
•Princess Alix, the empress, was a German (born Lutheran) related to Queen Victoria (as most royals were) and lived in England most of her life. She was Lord Mountbatten's aunt by blood. In the tsar's palaces, the language of the house was... English! Which the tsar spoke with a perfect upper-class English accent, not a Russian one.
•Sydney Gibbes, the children's English tutor, got out of Russia before the family were murdered and was so moved by his experience with them that when he returned to England he ended up a Russian Orthodox priest and monk.
•The house where the royals were martyred in the basement, the Ipatiev house in Yekaterinburg (Communist name Sverdlovsk after the man who ordered the murders) was torn down by the Soviets to keep it from becoming a place of pilgrimage (Russian Orthodox are big on паломничество). The local Soviet boss who ordered the demolition was... Boris Yeltsin.
•Went to an exhibit of royal artefacts a few years ago. Moving. Among the items were the emperor's and empress's writings in both Russian (fun to try to read) and English, some icons and church vestments (reassuringly the same in the Russian Orthodox Church today), the coronation coach (the British one is a later imitation) and a bayonet used to kill the family and their servants, a second-class relic. Church people should have come in during the off-hours and done a молебен service.

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