Icon of the Assembly of the New Martyrs of Russia
This year is the 90th anniversary of the death of the Royal Passionbearers. Archbishop Vikenty of Yekaterinburg and Verkhoturye gave an interview to Yekaterinburg Initiative about the proper understanding of the legacy and heritage of Nikolai II in the church and society.
Your Eminence, what can you say about Nikolai II as a Christian politician?
Tsar Nikolai II was a model for the politicians of his time, and, in my view, he can serve as a model for contemporary politicians. He had the desire to influence the world in such a way so that there would be peace on earth and harmony, so that arms could be cut back to a reasonable level… Brought up in the Orthodox faith, his soul exemplified such moral values as conscientiousness, love for neighbour, and a tendency towards accord. He hoped that he could influence others to realise the ideals of unity, brotherhood, and mutual respect, including respect between politicians, between statesmen, between peoples, and between states. When we study his activity as a ruler, we see him as a man who based his rule upon the Christian values that his parents taught him. He tried to spread these values amongst all the heads of state with whom he associated.
The tsar’s intent in organising the Hague International Court of Justice was to prevent conflicts between states and between peoples, and it became a shining legacy of his spirit. He wished that people would not come to blows, but, rather, solve their disputes and problems peacefully. Many countries of the world now follow his wise counsels, and, in later years, many other international institutions arose on the basis of his ideas, such as the United Nations. It is evident from this that Tsar Nikolai II had enormous stature as a political figure in the world, especially in his role as a theorist of world peace.
For many years, there were those who called pre-revolutionary Russia “the prison-house of the nations”… At that time, what was Russian policy towards resident foreigners and the heterodox in faith?
As far as relations with other religious confessions were concerned, Tsar Nikolai II treated them all with respect. When he went to the parts of his empire that were predominately Muslim, he went to the mosque to show his respect of their faith, he read books about Islam to learn more about it, and he greeted his Muslim subjects on their religious holidays. On the whole, his interaction with them was very good, and his Muslim subjects repaid him with love, respect, esteem, and honour. This is an example of the atmosphere of the brotherhood and good relations that existed between the religious confessions in Russia. We did not have religious conflicts.
Did the tsar do well as head of the Church?
During his reign, approximately 7,000 churches and about 19 monasteries were built. Churches abroad were built using money from his privy purse. The tsar loved to go on pilgrimages to holy places very much, and he tried to instil in the people a similar love for doing such. In fact, whenever and wherever the tsar went on pilgrimage, a great host of people would follow. As a whole, the influence of Tsar Nikolai on church life was enormous. He approved the canonisation of many holy righteous men of God. Indeed, he canonised more saints in his reign than were glorified in previous centuries. Of course, we know that he added to the Menaion those such as St Seraphim of Sarov, St John of Tobolsk (a distant relative of St John Maksimovich), and a great many others of the righteous, as well.
Vladyki, many people today believe that the imperial family is an excellent role model. What do you think of that?
Oh, yes, I quite agree. At the time, and today as well, the imperial family was an example of high morals and spirituality, it was an exemplar of a real Christian family. Firstly, the mutual love of the spouses shone forth, and, secondly, it was a large and harmonious family, where the children were very well brought up. Despite the fact that the tsar ruled a vast empire and had many governmental responsibilities, he did not forget his family, and he took an active role in the raising of his children. Since he valued it very much, he found the time to sit with them, to read to them edifying spiritual literature, and he told them stories from the lives of the Orthodox saints. Together, they walked to the church to attend liturgy, the tsar would help his children with their devotions, they had a living connection with God, and they received solace and comfort from God through their prayers. All too frequently, Tsarevich Aleksei was ill [with excessive bleeding caused by his haemophilia], and, of course, the entire family fervently entreated God on his behalf, they felt that the Lord heard their prayers, that he helped and eased the sufferings of their brother and son.
In another instance, it would be instructive to note the depth of their prayer whilst they were imprisoned in Yekaterinburg and Tobolsk. In their letters we feel their coming before God in prayer, their hope in the Lord, and their profound faith. Undoubtedly, all these things were the fruits of their upbringing, which the parents instilled in their children from infancy onwards. Of course, the tsar’s great patience and generous humility were the evidence of a patient Christian soul, and although he evidenced such over the entire course of his life, they particularly manifested themselves precisely during the months of the family’s imprisonment.
Another testimony to the authentic faith of the tsar was the genuine conversion to Orthodoxy of his wife, the Tsaritsa Aleksandra. In order to convince such a person as Aleksandra, a woman who already had very deep beliefs, with roots in another religion and in another faith, it was necessary [for Nikolai] to know Orthodoxy very well, to know [how to express] the difference between Orthodoxy and Protestantism. He could show the beauty of Orthodoxy in his words and in his behaviour. The Tsaritsa saw his genuine love, because she was an honest and straightforward person who hated falsehood. Therefore, when she saw that Nikolai not only said good words about Orthodoxy, but, when she also saw his deep faith, then, she saw in her heart the beauty of Orthodoxy and she entirely fell in love with it, with all her heart and all her soul. Of course, she tried to pass on to her children the spiritual fruit that she gained from her husband, Tsar Nikolai.
At that time, it is not surprising that Russia was not only very well ruled, but, the population was growing by leaps and bounds. This generation of children was very large, many families had 10, 15, or even 18 children, and such numbers were not considered remarkable. Now, in looking for solutions to our demographic problem, we, unfortunately, look at a family’s income and their living conditions. However, in those days, they did not take such things into consideration, and they lived a simple and natural life that they saw as God’s divine gift to mankind, and they carried out the Will of God expressed in the commandment, Increase, and multiply, and fill the earth. The population increase during the reign of Tsar Nikolai was more than 3 million per year. This was how the power of Russia increased steadily. If we had continued this rate of growth up to the present, there would be over 600 million people living in Russia today.
What meaning does the glorification of the Holy Royal Martyrs bear for Russia?
Church of the Saviour on-the-Spilled-Blood (Khram Spas na Krovi), Yekaterinburg
For Russia, the glorification of the Holy Royal Martyrs has very great significance, not least because Tsar Nikolai was accused of every sort of grave error that could be done and he was blamed for everything wrong in the country. For a long time, it was said that the revolution came about due to his misrule, because he was a pathetic and incompetent man. In fact, there are many other reasons for the fact that this catastrophe came upon us.
Because of the canonisation, we know more about him because we have more attentively studied the period of Russian history when he reigned and we have been able to clear away many accumulated lies. Increasingly, we better understand his ability in governing the country and his achievements, that he made our Russian motherland majestic and powerful. We see what enormous labour he put into the development of our state so that it would be not only be rich materially, but, also rich spiritually, so that all would possess a deep and conscious faith, and just as the coat of arms of Russia has two wings, our Russian motherland would have two matched curved wings, i.e., it would have a strong and powerful material prosperity and it would also have a vigorous spirit. Now, it is very important for us to study the life and endeavours of Tsar Nikolai II so that our statesmen today can use this accumulated experience.
Has the attitude of the people changed in regards to the memory of the tsar in recent years? If so, what are its dynamics?
The Church of the Saviour on-the-Spilled-Blood (Khram Spas na Krovi) in Yekaterinburg
At present, in Yekaterinburg and in the surrounding oblast, I note that the attitude of the people to Tsar Nikolai II has changed greatly, for the better. If in previous years, especially in the Soviet period, people were at times proud of the fact that here, in Yekaterinburg, in the Ipatiev House, “we killed the tsar”, now, on the contrary, people realise that this was an appalling tragedy. In the past, we considered that this was not a crime, but, a good deed, a deliverance from an oppressor and tyrant. However, now, we realise that this was a tragedy, a crime, and an unspeakable barbarity.
This is how everyone now speaks, who come to the Church of the Saviour on-the-Spilled-Blood and to [the monastery] at Ganina Yama, they look about these places and realise the full import of what was done here. Coming here, they pray and feel the blessings of God, and they feel aid from the Royal Martyrs. The Royal Martyrs have given much help to the families of believers; their intercessions have helped to rid many of the habits of smoking and alcoholism.
Those myths about the tsar that are rooted deeply in the consciousness of our society, those constantly-repeated deceitful and incorrect historical fables about his epoch still hold many of our people captive. So, it is necessary to greatly increase our efforts to describe and to document these events so that the people would correctly understand the situation. Now, we hold many conferences and exhibitions in order to show the achievements of the tsar it all of its variety. Thus far, unfortunately, our society does not properly esteem Tsar Nikolai as a moral, highly spiritual, and religious man and as an effective politician. These exhibitions and conferences assist people to realise the importance of the last tsar for Russia. Last year, when we prepared an exhibition in St Petersburg, the staff at the Public Archives said that there are about 23,000 documents concerning the imperial family. In proportion to which they became acquainted with these documents, they completely changed their attitude to the tsar. Thus far, they understood it in the manner that they were taught in the Soviet years, i.e., he was a pathetic and weak-willed person. But, now, after having acquaintance with archival documents, these specialists saw a mighty, strong, and moral politician.
We should deepen our study of the historical evidence and present it to society so that the truth about the reign of Nikolai II would reach as many people as possible. Then, of course, our mission, our task, shall be completed.
17 June 2008
Yekaterinburgskaya Initiativa (Yekaterinburg Initiative)
Quoted in Interfax-Religion