A Portrait of Tsar St Nikolai Aleksandrovich
Usually, all slanderers commit one and the same error. They exaggerate their lies, they lose all grounding in reality, and they find themselves unable to stop. As a justification for the spreading of untruth, most repeat a saying ascribed to Adolf Hitler or Joseph Göbbels that the more monstrous a lie is, the more easily it is believed. However, in comparison to small fibs, the large lie usually carries within itself its own refutation. Simply, there comes a moment when one’s head begins to spin and one cries out, “It’s a lie, Varenukha, nothing but a lie”. Strictly speaking, no other proof of untruth is needed.
This is the way of it concerning the life and posthumous reputation of Nikolai II, the 140th anniversary of whose birth we marked on 19 May, and on 17 July we shall remember the 90th anniversary of the tragic murder of the tsar and his family. The hysterical disordered hatred and the rage that filthy sorts spewed out concerning the last Russian sovereign shall be proven to be nothing but, “It’s a lie, Varenukha, nothing but a lie”.
However, there are other more reasoned claims against the rule of Nikolai II. Some cite the facts of an unsuccessful war against Japan, his dependence in foreign affairs upon the advice of his allies, the dismal beginning of World War I, the two revolutions of 1905 and 1917, his fluctuation between a liberal and a conservative policy, and, finally, his abdication, which was seen by many monarchists as treachery against the spirit and ideals of Russian autocracy and monarchy. Even many leading monarchists of the era, such as Lev Tikhomirov or Metropolitan Antony Khrapovitsky were, in the final analysis, disappointed in the tsar, and they did not spare him from caustic censure.
However, such people did not voice their disapproval in the unbridled and rabid tone used in all too many public discussions of the life and death of the tsar. Without a doubt, a Christian of even the most minimal spiritual experience sees that most criticism directed at the tsar-martyr is not simple human stupidity or spite. Namely, it is a beyond-the-pale hatred of what the tsar stood for, and an approval of the occultist crime approved by Sverdlov, who wished to spill the tsar’s blood in a manner similar to that found in a ritual murder. Only a fool or a scoundrel doubts this concerning the tragedy in Yekaterinburg. They wish to besmirch the memory of one who is now surrounded by the halo of the glorification of the Church. Everything that we know concerning the demons and the saints who are persecuted by them brings forward a question of the utmost importance. It is obvious that our discussion deals with a man who was a consummate danger to these spirits, and one who by his actions greatly displeased them.
However, we shall not find an explanation for this fact in the writings of either the detractors of Nikolai II or in the apologias of the monarchists. The monarchist thesis is usually reduced to several points. Tsar Nikolai was not a weak man, as the slanderers said, but, he was of strong character. He was not a poor ruler, rather, he was a good one, he did what he could, but, he was betrayed by traitors. As anyone can see, this is a pathetic apologia. If you are considered weak, you are weak. If you are a good ruler, you cannot be betrayed and thrown down. This position does not hold water.
Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin (1869-1916), controversial Siberian “healer”
Some Orthodox authors are misled into a pseudo-mysticism, they assign an almost prophetic status to the “holy starets Grigory” (Rasputin: editor’s note), a rather absurd supposition. The sovereign himself appears as a sacrifice for the Russian people, and their concept of a “Russian Golgotha” seems to be a dogma for them. On the other hand, more traditional concepts, such as understanding the role of the Russian tsar as “He who restrains”, also do not give us a key to the understanding of the personality of Nikolai II. His great-grandfather, his grandfather, and his father were also “He who restrains”, but, the hatred of the infernal forces was not kindled against them. They all seemed to be better rulers, for not one of them was forced out of office.
Precisely why did Nikolai II prove to be the last “He who restrains” and why has so much hatred and slander been heaped upon his name? I believe that these two facts must be compared one to the other. It is obvious that Nikolai II did not carry out his mission of autocracy worse than his predecessors, but, rather better than his ancestors did. Moreover, there is something essential in all of this that aroused the anger of “the prince of this world”. Did not the tsar almost thwart his infernal plans? Here we can approach an understanding of the sense of the podvig (almost untranslatable, “exploit” or “feat” are very weak analogues: editor’s note) of the tsar-martyr. In this, we begin to comprehend the mystery and enigma of his reign.
At the time of the ascension of Tsar Nikolai II to the throne, there were clever people, European-educated, who saw the historical currents of the epoch and believed that his reign would be one of the last in the Russian Empire. Most literate people believed in the inevitability of revolution, the pushing forward of the “common man”, and a belief in “the future” was commonplace. The tutor of Nikolai, Konstantin Pobedenostsev (the Oberprokurator of the Holy Synod), also believed in the inevitability of revolution and only hoped to hold Russia back from the abyss as long as possible. Sovereign Nikolai Aleksandrovich, although he was young when he ascended the throne, should have realised that his chances of transmitting his throne to his descendants were not that great, that, at best, he could preserve his dynasty only by restricting his powers in the same manner as his English relatives had done. However, he thought nothing of the kind. His was a deeply Russian and autocratic self-consciousness.
If the judgement of Nikolai II did not lead him to understanding that his reign might be the last in the Romanov line, then, signs from heaven for the entire 23 years of his rule opened his eyes starting with the tragedy of the Khodynka Field. He and his family read the prophecy of the Monk Abel left to Tsar Pavel I. His son Aleksei was born with an incurable illness rendering him incapable of independent rule as an adult, virtually fating him to be a child-martyr. Nikolai was not only the tsar, he possessed a special sense of blessing and reason, and it was not hard for him to comprehend the meaning of all of these signs. “I am aware that I am fated to undergo terrible tests and shall not obtain a reward here on earth. It is God’s Will. I was born on 6 May, on the feast-day of St Job the Long-suffering. I am ready to accept my fate”. After reading the signs of fate, Nikolai II made a specific decision. His solution was truly royal.
Neither you nor I are of royal blood, however, let us imagine that from our earliest years we grew up with the knowledge that in our hands, and only in our hands, would be the authority over an enormous country stretching over half the globe with tens of millions of Christian and heathen subjects. For the fate of each of these subjects, we would answer before God. This is what was in the consciousness of Nikolai II. “I have solid and absolute confidence that the fate of Russia, my fate, and the fate of my family, is in the hands of God, who placed me where I am now. I shall follow His Will, being conscious of the fact that I have no other thought than of how I can serve this country that He entrusted to me”.
What would we do if we learned that we were fated to die, not only our own death, and the end of the Russian Empire, but, the end of the German, Austrian, and Ottoman Empires as well? This sentence was signed by the dark forces that gathered at the beginning of the century. A way to understand this would be if we were informed that we had a terminal illness, and that we would die of it in 20 years time.
Facing such a situation, the prospect of unavoidable death, it is possible to react in three very different ways. One can try to ignore the signs of death. For example, Kaiser Wilhelm of the Hohenzollern dynasty of Germany did so, “he feasted in the plague years”, so, this predetermined the German catastrophe of the 20th century, which the Germans have only recovered from in the last 20 years, and the final details of it are still not wrapped up. Or, one can understand it in a purely materialist sense, that death is unavoidable, but, there is enough time remaining to accumulate an inheritance and attempt to pass it on to one’s children, perhaps, then, all would be useful. Partly, the tsar did this, for the “inheritance” left by the empire and the emperor was so large that it was sufficient to sustain the revolution, the Civil War, and even the Great Patriotic War, when battleships constructed 30 years previously in the tsarist period protected Leningrad with the gunfire of their heavy artillery.
The Coronation of Tsar St Nikolai Aleksandrovich
However, Nikolai II was not a materialist; rather, he was a deeply pious and serious Orthodox believer. Indeed, it is possible that he was the most religious of the Romanov tsars, even if one includes the rulers of the 17th century. He approached the question of his own death and the death of the empire in spiritual and Christian terms. Of course, as we all know, the task of a Christian is to accumulate spiritual treasure in heaven. Christians do not fear sudden death nor do they love it… death must be met with dignity and acceptance, and it is good to meditate on it often. This is so that we can present “a good defence before the dread judgement-seat of Christ”.
Therefore, the programme of his 23-year reign was, first of all, to “accumulate treasure that neither tarnishes nor rusts”. This is the precise stumbling-block that caused the fury of the enemies of mankind. What precisely did Nikolai II do that was characteristic of his reign as compared with those of his predecessors? From the very beginning of his reign, there was a continuous flow of canonisations of new saints. Not for a second did Nikolai lose sight of the fact that if Russia was to be great again it must be as Holy Russia. Moreover, his faith affected even former Marxists such as Pyotr Struve. Let us give some of the basic landmarks of his restoration of the consciousness of Holy Russia.
- 1896: Canonisation of St Feodosy of Chernigov
- 1897: Canonisation of Hieromartyr St Isidor and 72 with him
- 1903: Canonisation of the Righteous St Seraphim of Sarov
- 1909: Revival of the veneration of Blessed Princess St Anna of Kashin. This had been abolished earlier due to hostility against the Old Ritualists.
- 1910: Transfer of the holy relics of St Evrosiny from Kiev to Polotsk
- 1911: Canonisation of Bishop St Joseph of Belgorod
- 1913: Canonisation of Patriarch St Germogen of Moscow
- 1914: Canonisation of Bishop St Pitirim of Tambov
- 1916: Canonisation of Metropolitan St Ioann of Tobolsk (an ancestor of St Ioann of San Francisco (+1966): editor’s note)
Church of St John of Kronshtadt in contemporary St Petersburg
In connection with all the above canonisations, after the death of the Holy Righteous Ioann of Kronshtadt in 1909, the emperor immediately remarked that he was a saint. Many of these canonisations, in particular, the glorification of Righteous Seraphim, were accomplished in the teeth of harsh conflict with the liberal and bureaucratic factions in the church hierarchy; they succeeded only through the personal influence of the tsar. Moreover, let us note that the nearer the date was to the revolution, the more intense was the spiritual activity of the emperor, which, undoubtedly, he considered his most important task.
All impartial researchers into Russian history shall have to recognise that there was a large religious upsurge in the reign of Nikolai II. This upsurge did not take place in the other countries of Europe. It took various and myriad forms, ranging from the Theosophy of the Merezhkovskys and Vyacheslav Ivanov to the popular veneration of the holy elders of the Optina Pustyn. There was the movement of “glory to the name” (imyaslavtsev) and the Union of Russian People. In the Church, both arid theological disputes and discussions on the restoration of the patriarchate were held. Finally, after the overthrow of the emperor, during the Local Council of 1917-18, a proposition advocated by the former emperor was adopted. The Church officially established the Day of All Saints Who Shone Forth in the Russian Land, which was a canonisation of the tsar’s idea and sense of Holy Russia.
In order to truly understand the intensity and depth of this fight, we should define what “Holy Russia” is. “Holy Russia” is not a divinisation of the Russian people, nor is it an ideal of national messianic pride, as some assume. This idea is expansionistic, but, in the vertical, heavenly, sense, not a horizontal, earthly, sense. It is directed to “the life in the next world”. There shall be a “new heaven and a new earth”, which is to be set aside exclusively for Christ’s servants. From all sides, all those in Christ and each saint shall have the confidence and boldness to intercede and implore for others before God, and all those who are not saints shall sincerely pray for intercession.
Through many centuries, Russia, without stinting on the earthly things needful for the state, built its advance posts before heaven, it glorified the saints, and it prayed to them. The vertical lines of its tent-roof belfries grasped for heaven and the life of paradise was reflected in the mirror of its icons. On this base, on this most lasting of bases, the structure of the Russian state was built for many long years. It was an earthly realm anchored in the heavens. Russia was rare even in the world of that day; it was a state with a strong sacred centre. This centre was not tied only to the personality of the monarch and the institution of the monarchy; it was profoundly immersed in the deeply sacral order of life of the people and the state, blessed by the lives of countless holy ones, and looked after by the posthumous intercessions of its saints. Nikolai II intended to restore this holy centre of Russian statehood, its sacred tie to heaven, for it had fallen into decay over the 200 years since the advent of Tsar Pyotr and his founding of the cosmopolitan city of St Petersburg. It was ridden with the free-thinking of Voltaire, freemasonry, and plain liberal indifference. Yet, the old Faith was never completely abandoned.
If we compare the reign of Nikolai II with other autocratic monarchs of his day, one is surprised to find out how much more fruitful it was compared to the rule of Wilhelm II, Franz Joseph, or Abdul Hamid. The Russia that was left to us by Nikolai II, after enduring the terrible holocausts of the revolution and Civil War, was restored to the status of a major power, and four decades later, it was a superpower. The empires of the Ottomans and Hapsburgs simply ceased to exist; they exited the stage of history permanently. Germany committed national and geopolitical suicide after passing through its defeat in World War I, the excesses of the Weimar period, and the insanity of Hitler. Of course, many say that the rise of Russia was in spite of, not because of, the tsarist heritage. The regicides deluded themselves with cunning fables, but, history judges otherwise. It is not possible to build such a castle on the shifting sand. You cannot build a castle in that short a time period. If the USSR of 1945 proved to be a strong castle, it was precisely because the new battlements and guns were set upon the durable and lasting old foundations.
We shall arrive at an objective understanding of Nikolai II as a secular ruler only if we realise his role as a spiritual leader. He was the head of a great spiritual, some would call it theocratic, movement in Russia in the period between the 19th and 20th centuries. He was ready to transfer this movement onto a practical plane, to institute a theocracy, but the clergy did not understand the full meaning of the emperor’s proposal to abdicate in favour of his son and take a role similar to that of Patriarch Philaret Romanov. This was because Patriarch Philaret laid a foundation in the 17th century for Russian sovereignty and spiritual power.
However, even the betrayal of the Russian intelligentsia, both those in the church and those outside of her, those who, in fact, applauded the overthrow of the tsar and called this perjury “an act of God”, did not daunt him and the people summoned up the Christian courage to defy the theomachistic policy of the Bolsheviks. Without the spiritual revival of the time of Nikolai, without the intensification of the spiritual life of the Russian people at the beginning of the 20th century, we would not have had the number of New Martyrs that we did, which quenched the spirit of the godless revolutionaries in their blood, and which preserved the idea of the Russian state and sovereign even in the face of Satanic persecution.
The hysterical disruption and rage directed against Nikolai II was connected precisely with the fact that he was a fighter against the enemy. He was outflanked, he suffered a tactical defeat, but, it ended in a strategic victory for Russia. It was possible to destroy a system, it was possible to murder the tsar together with his family, it was possible to destroy countless cities and villages, it was possible to kill many innocent civilians, it was possible to crucify priests head-downwards on the Royal Gates, and it was possible to establish a severe régime of repression. However, the enemy lost the war in the end because of the wisdom and spiritual sublimity of Tsar Nikolai II.
Icon of the Mother of God “the Sovereign”
The tsar-martyr did not deviate from his responsibility by his abdication, for a great miracle occurred. The icon of the “Ruling Mother of God” was found in Kolomna, in the church built to honour the birth of the first Russian tsar, Ivan Grozny. This miracle was evidence that the theocratic breakthrough proposed by the emperor would be crowned with success, for, from now on, the “Unconquered Leader” put Russia under her holy hand and protected it with her holy veil. Instead of a massive apostasy and self-destruction, Russia saw something else. By the most terrible tests, it embraced the truth of God; it was protected through the intercessions of all the Russian saints, including the keeper of the last secrets, St Seraphim. These intercessions were strengthened by the arrival in heaven of the assembly of the New Martyrs, and they ground down and broke in two the theomachistic Soviets, and resurrected an eternal and great Russia.
Today, our glorified Holy Tsar-Martyr prays for Russia not as one conquered, but, as a conqueror. The 20th century was a period of lies and deceit, it corroded as with acid everything truly alive, everything truly holy and sacred, and everything on the earth that reminded us of heaven, but, it could not dissolve or rape Russia. Even the Soviet system, which was created to kill all faith, only made it stronger. What degeneration had set in under the rule of the communists was nullified by the glorification of the royal martyrs in 2000.
Today, true and eternal Russia, great Russia, is connected as if by an umbilical cord with Holy Russia, its true home and real meaning, a place we expected not to see amongst us. At its head is the triumphant tsar-martyr, he is no longer the victim of slander, he is a true conqueror, he sees the results of his labours. His podvig was perfected amongst a proliferation of untruths and temptations, but, in the end, it served for the salvation of us all.
20 May 2008
Novye Khroniki (The New Chronicles)
If you wish to find out quickly how solid an Orthodox priest is, ask him where he stands concerning Tsar-Martyr St Nikolai the Passionbearer. Many, if not most, shall say, “He is a saint! One of the greatest!” You can trust such fellows. Unfortunately, there are those who minimise his role, and these are men to be avoided. Such are found in Syosset, St Vladimir Seminary (a pesthole of Modernism), New Skete, and OCA true-believers in general. None of the OCA stalwarts has apologised for their false and denigrating statements concerning the Tsar-Martyr and his family made in the Soviet days. All I ask for is a simple, “Forgive me. What I said was false, and I am sorry for it”.
What they say instead is that it is “time to move on”. This is not Orthodox. It is American Therapeutic Positivism in its most rancid form. That is, they believe in psychology and its nostrums, not in Christ and His Church. If you hear one of them saying such, say nothing, but, discount everything that comes out of their mouth, for it is certainly tainted with Modernism and Renovationism.
We can follow the path of the Tsar-Martyr or we can follow the path of pseudo-intellectuals who shed no blood for Christ. I prefer the former, what about you?