The Holy Royal Martyrs, their feastday is 17 July, the day of their murder in 1918 by the Reds.
Still known to many by its Soviet-era name of Sverdlovsk, Yekaterinburg enjoys a well-deserved status as the capital of one of Russia’s biggest industrial work-shops. The city’s capital status is immediately visible in its grand architecture, wide and straight avenues, and, above all, in the very atmosphere of industrial, intellectual, and cultural capacity concentrated in a relatively-small space. This concentration has made Yekaterinburg one of this country’s industrial and cultural hubs. One can add to this the city’s recently acquired status of the region’s spiritual centre, largely due to the presence here of such major shrines as the Cathedral of the Saviour on-the-Spilled-Blood in honour of the All Saints Who Shone Forth in the Russian Land, and the monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs on Ganina Yama. Both were built in memory of Russia’s last Tsar Nikolai II, executed by the Bolsheviks in 1918 and canonised by the Orthodox Church.
“Since this heinous act was perpetrated here, we should be the first to repent of the deadly sin of regicide, which has such terrible repercussions for the history of this country”, said oblast governor Eduard Rossel. Joining hands with the local Orthodox diocese, Governor Rossel took just three short years to erect the memorial Cathedral of the Saviour on-the-Spilled-Blood of the Blood on the very spot where the Martyred Emperor and his family were executed in 1918. The Cathedral on Voznesensky Avenue stands on the site of the Ipatiev House, where the Imperial family was confined and eventually shot. Shortly after the city fell into Bolshevik hands in 1918, the house’s then-owner, the engineer Ipatiev was ordered to move out, living behind just the most indispensable furniture and taking the rest into the basement. The house was then quickly fenced off and solders installed to guard the perimeter. On 30 April 1918, Tsar Nikolai II, Tsaritsa Aleksandra and Grand Princess Maria were brought in under tight security. The Tsar’s other three daughters and Tsarevich Aleksei joined the family on 23 May.
There, holed up behind the thick walls, they spent 53 days and nights in complete isolation and hopeless desperation, harassed and otherwise insulted by their captors. Hell-bent on destroying everything that could remind one of Russia’s glorious past, above all the royal family as the guarantors of Russian unity, the Bolshevik leaders decided to execute the Romanovs. Nikolai and Aleksandra knew they were going to die and were prepared to meet death as becomes good Christians. Three days before the execution, the Tsar and the Tsaritsa ordered a liturgy right inside their improvised prison. The family prayed in complete silence. Suddenly, instead of just pronouncing a funeral prayer, the deacon and priest started chanting it out loud… At this very moment, the Romanovs, who were standing behind, went down on their knees as if prepared to die…
The “Execution Room” in the Cathedral of the Saviour on-the-Spilled-Blood
In the wee hours of 17 July 1918, the Romanovs, along with their servants, were executed in the basement of the Ipatiev House that became their last earthly abode… Blood stains on the floor and bullet marks on the walls of the tiny cellar where the grisly execution took place remained long after it all happened, along with terrible imprints of bloodstained hands on the walls… Soon after the execution, the Bolsheviks turned the whole place into a museum where visitors could see the rooms the royals lived in and the cellar where they died. According to eyewitness accounts, there were bloodstains regularly seen cropping out on the walls. Dismissing the unnerving incidence as just stupid pranks by ill-intentioned visitors, the authorities installed round-the-clock police surveillance, painted the wall over, and illuminated it with searchlights only to see the horrible bloodstains appearing over and over again… In 1945, the museum was closed down…
The upper church at the Cathedral of the Saviour on-the-Spilled-Blood
The public veneration of the martyred royal family began almost immediately after the 17 July execution, first, in a hushed form, and, then, almost openly during the Soviet Union’s ebbing years in the 1970s. According to Boris Yeltsin, who was the region’s Communist boss at the time and who ordered the demolition of the Ipatiev House in 1977, “People always used to come to the house where the shooting took place, even though it didn’t differ much from the other old houses nearby… The terrible tragedy that happened here in 1918 somehow prompted people to go there, peek into the windows, and just hang around looking at the grey structure. People from other cities would also come in to take a look…”
Apparently bothered by the lingering public respect for the martyred Romanovs, Boris Yeltsin, on 18 October 1977, ordered the Ipatiev House to be blown up and the hillock it stood on to be levelled and covered with crushed stones. Old-timers said it was done to change the whole place beyond recognition and erase the 1918 tragedy from the people’s memory. That didn’t help though, and in 1989 people were already praying openly where the Ipatiev House had once stood… In 1991, a nephew of Tsar Nikolai, Tikhon Kulikovsky-Romanov, who then lived in Canada, wrote an open letter to his fellow Russians back home where, among other things he said. “The place where the blood of an anointed sovereign was spilled is sacred and can only serve as the site of a grand memorial church… I have an icon of the Holy Virgin of the Three Hands the royal martyrs prayed to during their confinement in the Ipatiev House. Their heinous act complete, the bloody criminals then threw it out. Its case damaged, the icon was then picked up by a Guards officer who personally knew my parents and brought during the 1920s to Nicholas’ mother the Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna. May this silent witness to the royal martyrs’ pain and suffering return to Russia to find peace in a memorial church, the only place worthy of its grand status, a basilica to be built as a sign of our heartfelt repentance for the mortal sin we allowed to happen in this country for which Russia and all of us, no matter where we may be in the world, are still paying a heavy price…”
The Memorial Cathedral of the Saviour on-the-Spilled-Blood in Yekaterinburg
These words proved prophetic. Nine years later, the 2000 Jubilee Archpastoral Council finally canonised Nikolai II and his martyred family. Three years later, the Cathedral of the Saviour on-the-Spilled-Blood was solemnly dedicated in Yekaterinburg. Tikhon Kulikovsky-Romanov’s widow, Olga Kulikovskaya-Romanova, attended the ceremony, presenting the newly-built church with the icon of the Holy Virgin of the Three Hands her late husband once promised… The Cathedral of the Saviour on-the-Spilled-Blood, a magnificent monument commemorating the royal martyrs, is 60 meters high with its snow-white walls adorned with red granite columns and bas-relief of 48 Russian Saints.
The lower chapel in the Cathedral of the Saviour on-the-Spilled-Blood
The Cathedral’s lower side-chapel was then consecrated in the memory of the Royal Martyr Saints. Inset in a porcelain iconostas are the images of all the canonised members of the Romanov dynasty. To the right of the main altar, there stands on a slight elevation the so-called “Execution Room” where Nikolai II, his wife Aleksandra, and their five children were executed and which found itself inside the newly-built cathedral. There is an altar there, a holy cross, and an icon featuring the martyred royal family in the background. The Execution Room is the site of Sunday morning services and prayers. It’s hard to describe the feelings you have standing at this Royal Calvary and sharing the pain and anguish of the innocents murdered here. Really, this temple stands on blood; it’s a holy place everyone should bow low to… The upper chapel, by contrast, is huge, bright, and awash in light. Its white marble iconostas looks so airy, as if floating in the air. This chapel was consecrated of honour of All Saints Who Shone Forth in the Russian Land. Right in front of the altar there is a shrine where relics of St Seraphim of Sarov lay for 12 years.
When the Cathedral of the Blood was completed, it was decided to call the area immediately adjacent to it The Holy Block. The Holy Block is a complex of buildings including the Cathedral and the Residence of the Archbishop of Yekaterinburg (today, Archbishop Vikenty, a very saintly archpastor: editor’s note). There will also be a branch of the Theological Institute, an Orthodox library, a church museum, and a small podvorie of the Ganina Yama Monastery where prayers shall be sent up to Almighty God.
16 July 2008
This is Russia
Voice of Russia World Service
Tsarevich St Aleksei Nikolaevich (1904-1918), an innocent murdered by the Reds and the forces of “democracy”
Russia is facing its past and drawing the proper lessons, we are not blaming others for what we did ourselves (least of all, are we blaming Jews for what we have done of our own accord). In contrast, one has to notice the antics of “Ukrainian” and Baltic nationalists. Like spoilt children, they blame others for events that they themselves had a hand in and were willing participants. Frankly, they are wilful toddlers in soiled nappies throwing tantrums whenever they are crossed. It is not simplistic to note that such people aided the Nazis willingly, helped to murder Jews with gusto, and that they honour those who wore the uniform of the SS. It makes all their current talk of “democracy” nothing but worthless verbiage and wind.
Unlike such adolescents, we know we have the blood of the holy tsar on our hands. It is a crime that cries out to heaven. We must not explain it away with politics or psychology. We must not do as the Paris EP Russians do and glorify the Provisional Government that arrested the tsar and made his murder possible. Oddly, they (and their OCA allies) are the last group of Russians to deny the sanctity of the tsar. Therefore, if a Russian honours the martyric podvig of the Royal Martyrs, one finds them solid and trustworthy. Those who do not are untrustworthy, modernists, and Westernisers (a la SVS and their minions, “liturgical fundamentalists”, indeed!).
I bow in respect to the martyrs. That is why we must fight without quarter all those who wish to bring modernism and “democracy” into the Church. It would be spitting on the graves of all the New Martyrs, and I, for one, shall not stand for it (Please, no condescending comments by pseudo-intellectuals about this or that scholar. They are nothing but academic windbags.).
We may have the life-giving lived Orthodoxy of the martyrs or the life-denying scholastic Orthodoxy of the pseudo-scholars. Is that truly a choice?