Is it still possible to visit Russia?

NOTE: The purpose of this article is to address the many queries which I have received over the past few months, with regards to whether it is (a) still possible to visit Russia, and (b) if it is safe to visit Russia during these troubled times. The answer is “YES!”, you can still visit Russia, however, making arrangements are now much more challenging.

If you are even considering visiting Russia in the near future, I urge you to read the following. It is important to take into account, that things in Russia can change overnightPaul Gilbert

When the Alexander Palace reopened to the public on 14th August 2021, many Romanovphiles – myself included – began making plans to return to St. Petersburg, in order to visit the reconstructed interiors of the private apartments of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna in the Alexander Palace. Sadly, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the hopes and plans of many were dashed.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit Russia very hard. Since April 2020, more than 18 million cases and more than 372 thousand deaths have been reported. As a result, Russia closed its land borders to foreigners as a precautionary measure to try to stop the spread of coronavirus. While it was still possible to visit via air, Russia imposed very strict measures regarding vaccines, etc.

I myself, was scheduled to visit Russia in September 2020, however, Aeroflot were forced to cancel my flights to St. Petersburg and Ekaterinburg due to COVID.

On 15th July 2022, the Russian government lifted COVID-19 related entry restrictions. You may enter Russia by air, sea or land via any country, but non-Russian nationals must still produce a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours before their arrival in Russia.

On 24th February 2022, Russia began a military invasion of Ukraine. The world responded with swift sanctions, which have now made it near impossible to visit Russia. This latest move has had a very negative effect on foreign travel to Russia, impacting plans for many of us, who were hoping to return to rediscover the Romanov legacy, a subject which is so near and dear to many of us.

Prior to the outbreak of hostilities, I was already making plans to visit Russia in July 2023. My itinerary included St. Petersburg, Ekaterinburg and Tobolsk. On the agenda for this journey was the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo; the Museum of Emperor Nicholas II in Tobolsk; and the ceremonies marking the 300th anniversary of the founding of Ekaterinburg.

Warnings against visiting Russia

The governments of the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia and the European Union, have all issued warnings to nationals about visiting Russia, urging them to “avoid all travel to Russia due to the impacts of the armed conflict with Ukraine, including limited flight options and restrictions on financial transactions”.

While popular tourist destinations such as Moscow, St. Petersburg and Ekaterinburg are far removed from the current Russian-Ukranian conflict, there still remain risks, which must be taken into consideration before planning a visit. Please consult your respective government advisories for the latest updates.

Many of the countries which imposed sanctions, have restricted financial transactions and air connections with Russia. Russia has retaliated with similar measures.

The sanctions, the suspensions and the Russian retaliation may have an important impact on the availability and the provision of essential services.

The value of the Russian ruble is currently volatile and the value of holdings of Rubles may fluctuate considerably.

If you decide to visit Russia despite government advisories, it is a good idea to register and update them with your contact information through your respective embassy. Please be aware that in the case of an emergency, you should not depend on your government to help you leave the country.

The U.S. Department of State has advised Americans of the potential for the singling out and harassment of U.S. citizens by local police and government security officials . . . and the possibility of violence against U.S. citizens by right-wing nationalists.

Some embassies are reporting an increased police presence and ID checks. As a result, you should keep your passport and Russian visa with you at all times. It is important to make copies of both, and keep them separate, such as a hotel safe.

So, is it still possible to visit Russia?

Despite the sanctions imposed on Russia earlier this year by the United States, Canada, UK and EU, Russia has not closed its borders to foreign visitors. For the palaces, museums, art galleries and theatres, it is still business as usual. As far as shopping and dining goes, most of the major Western-owned hotel chains, retailers and restaurants have closed their doors.

The cost of transportation and transit time have increased significantly and remain very volatile due to high demand, limited flight availability and rerouting. Contact your travel agent or tour operator to determine if the situation will disrupt travel arrangements.

In May 2022, the UK government designated Aeroflot, Rossiya Airlines, Ural Airlines and Russian Railways for the purposes of UK sanctions. This means that British nationals and others who are bound by UK sanctions are prohibited from entering into transactions which result in making funds directly or indirectly available to these companies, such as purchasing tickets from them. On 23 May 2022, the Office for Financial Sanctions Implementation issued a general licence which means that for journeys originating in, or within, Russia, British nationals may purchase tickets from these companies without breaching UK sanctions.

The Russian aviation sector has been severely impacted by Western sanctions in the wake of the war in Ukraine. Aeroflot, in particular, landed in deep water with the grounding of planes and canceling flights to many international destinations.

It is still possible, however, to book flights on 3 foreign carriers – see below – to Moscow, St. Petersburg and Ekaterinburg.

Flights from North America, UK and EU

Following the outbreak of hostilities on the territory of Ukraine, Russian carriers are prohibited from flying to the EU countries, the UK, the USA, and Canada. At the same time, 11 airports in the south and central part of Russia have been closed since 24th February. In addition, Western countries have stopped deliveries of civil aircraft and spare parts and have obliged their lessors to return liners already leased from Russia.

For Americans and Canadians, there are currently only 2 airlines offering flights to Russia: Air Serbia from New York (Daily) and Chicago (2 x a week beginning April 2023) via Belgrade to Moscow and St. Petersburg; Turkish Airlines (via Istanbul) to Moscow, St. Petersburg and Ekaterinburg.

Both Air Serbia and Turkish Airlines offer flights from numerous cities in the UK and EU.

For Australians, Emirates offer flights from Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth (among other cities) to Moscow, St. Petersburg and Ekaterinburg – the latter via partner Fly Dubai.

By coach and train from Helsinki and Tallinn

In addition, it is still possible to reach St. Petersburg by coach from Helsinki and Tallinn. International bus carriers Lux Express and Ecolines. Currently, Lux Express offers 4 daily buses from Helsinki St. Petersburg, while Ecolines offers 2 daily buses. Please note that seats sell out quickly, due to the high demand. 

You can also travel by coach from Tallinn (Estonia) to St. Petersburg. Ecolines also offer 2 daily buses, while Lux Empress offer 4 weekly buses on the route.

Finnish Rail has currently suspended all trains from Helsinki to St. Petersburg and Moscow. 

Accomodations

I recommend booking accomodations directly through the hotel web sites. Not only will you get the best rate, you can also book a room and prepay the full amount using a credit card. The hotel can also supply the necessary documents in which you will need to apply for a Russian visa. In addition, they can also arrange transfer from the airport upon your arrival.

Russian Visas

The Russian Federation still maintain diplomatic relations with the United States, Canada, UK and EU, and have not restricted travel by nationals of these countries to Russia. Please consult the web site of the Russian Federation in your country to download and print Russian visa applications.

Currency exchange

Unless you have a suitcase filled with Russian rubles stashed under your bed, changing money is going to be your biggest obstacle when visiting Russia during the current climate.

MasterCard and Visa have suspended operations in Russia. This means that MasterCard and Visa cards issued outside of Russia will not work at Russian merchants or ATMs. You should be aware that it may not be possible for you to access your funds through Russian banks or to make payments to Russian businesses with non-Russian credit/debit cards.

The country’s central bank said in a statement on 1st August that the restrictions introduced following unprecedented sanctions imposed on Russia by the West in early March over its war in Ukraine, will remain in place until at least March 9, 2023.

In the West, foreign currency vendors are not permitted to buy or sell Russian rubles at this time. Non-residents of Russia are barred completely from withdrawing dollars and euros.

Disclaimer: the information contained in this article is for information purposes only. It is based on information from sources believed to be reliable. Should you embark on a visit to Russia during these troubled time, please note that I will not be held responsible for any problems which you may encounter in the planning of your visit, or during your stay in Russia. I will endeavour to update this page as new details are made available to me – PG

© Paul Gilbert. 6 July 2022

Monument to Nicholas II consecrated in Ivanovo region

The unveiling and consecration of a new bust-monument to Emperor Nicholas II took place on 5th August, on the grounds of St. George’s Church, situated in the Kineshma district of the Ivanovo region.

The bust-monument was installed in memory of an unplanned stop here by Emperor Nicholas II, during his journey from Nizhny Novgorod to Kostroma in 1913. He was so taken by the beauty of the place, that he left an icon of the Mother of God “Joy of All Who Sorrow” as a gift to the church.

PHOTO: final touches were made on the installation of the bust-monument last week

The bust was made by craftsmen from the Kursk region with funds raised by parishioners and sponsors. St. George’s Church was built at the beginning of the 19th century on the left bank of the Volga River. During the Soviet era, the church was not closed, nor was it subjected to desecration. To this day, the church has maintained its original decoration intact.

PHOTO: the consecration of the bust-monument to Nicholas II was performed on 5th August, on the grounds of of St. George’s Church, situated in the Kineshma district of the Ivanovo region

© Paul Gilbert. 6 August 2022

Ekaterinburg celebrates 300th anniversary in 2023

In 2023, Ekaterinburg will celebrate the 300th anniversary of its founding in 1723. This historic anniversary will be marked by a series of events and celebrations, plus the implementation of a number of significant construction projects dedicated to the founding of the Ural city, the center of the Sverdlovsk region and the Urals Federal District, the unofficial “capital of the Urals” and the fourth-largest city in Russia.

Preparations for the celebration began in 2017. It is estimated that the total amount of public and private funding for the celebrations and projects is 244 billion rubles [$4.4 billion USD].

Among the hundreds of events planned are the following:

  • reconstruction of St. Catherine’s Cathedral (destroyed in 1930), according to a new design and a new location
  • expansion of the Hermitage-Ural Cultural and Educational Center, branch of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg
  • Tsar’s Days, marking the 105th anniversary of the death and martyrdom of Emperor Nicholas II and his family, with the participation of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, who will perform a Patriarch Liturgy at the Church on the Blood, and then lead the 21-km (13 miles) Cross Procession to the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs at Ganina Yama

PHOTO: St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Novo-Tikhvinsky Convent, Ekaterinburg

“Ekaterinburg: my favourite Russian city”

People often ask me “Why Ekaterinburg?” as opposed to the former Imperial capital of St. Petersburg, especially given that “Ekaterinburg has such a dark history.”

Once a bastion of Bolshevism, Ekaterinburg has slowly shed its status as the “capital of atheism”. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Urals has experienced a revival of faith, with Ekaterinburg as the center of Orthodox Russia in the region. It is important to add, that Ekaterinburg has done more to honour Nicholas II and his family than any other city in Russia. Thanks to my visits to Ekaterinburg in 2012, 2016 and 2018, it is a city which I have grown to admire and love.

Articles about Paul Gilbert and his admiration for Ekaterinburg, published in Russian media:

“Пол Гилберт: «Екатеринбург – мой любимый российский город»”
Ольга Кошкина. ‘Областная газета’ 22 октября 2019

“«Интерес мира к жизни и царствованию Николая II сохраняется по сей день»:
британский историк о Царской семье”

Ольга Кошкина. Екатеринбургская Епархия. 26 октября 2019

“The last capital of the Russian Empire”

“On a spiritual level, Ekaterinburg is the last capital of the Russian Empire, because the residence of the Sovereign was always considered the capital in Russia. Peter the Great never officially transferred the capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg, but since he lived there, it was the capital,” says Russian historian Peter Multatuli.

He noted that in 1918, for 78 days, Emperor Nicholas II and his family lived in Ekaterinburg, and that is why the Ural capital can be considered the last capital of the Russian Empire. [It is important to note that many historians – myself included – firmly believe that the Tsar’s signing of the instrument of abdication, his status as Tsar remained inviolate and unassailable – PG]

“Petrograd and Moscow to one degree or another welcomed his overthrow, and they bear a greater responsibility in this than any other Russian city. No matter what anyone says, it was Ekaterinburg that served as the last Imperial residence, which, according to God’s special plan, became the Royal Golgotha,” added Multatuli.

According to him, in the near future, Ekaterinburg will play a great role in the history of Russia, because “the city named after St. Catherine and becoming the Royal Golgotha ​​will be the city of Russian resurrection.”

© Paul Gilbert. 5 July 2022

What kind of ice cream was served to Nicholas II?

Ice cream in its modern version first appeared in Russia, in the 18th century, its recipe, published in Новейшая и полная поваренная книга / The Newest and Complete Cookbook (1791) by Nikolai Maksimovich Yatsenkov.

Mention of ice cream was not only recorded in the memoirs of members of the Imperial Court, but also in the works of poets and writers. The great Russian Romantic writer, poet and painter Mikhail Lermontov (1814-1841), obliged his home cook to serve ice cream daily. Another Russian writer Thaddeus Bulgarin (1789-1859) writes about Venetian ice cream in his novel Ivan Vyzhigin (1829). The poet Gavriil Derzhavin (1743-1816), in honor of his name day, every year arranged a gala dinner, at the end of which ice cream was served in the form of an ancient temple or castle.

One of the scenes that struck the French aristocrat and writer Marquis de Custine (1790-1857) in the summer of 1839, was Muscovites eating ice cream in the Alexander Garden.

“Muscovites: shaved, curled, in tailcoats and white pantaloons, in yellow gloves, sit at ease in front of brightly lit cafes, eat sweet ice cream and listen to music? In the summer this can now be observed in Moscow every evening,” he wrote.

PHOTO: early 20th century Russian ice cream vendor

Expensive pleasure

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Russian people were content with traaditional folk dishes: cheesecakes and pancakes, syrniki [sweet cheese pancakes], topped with delicious sour cream and jam. Meanwhile, ice cream had acquired the status of a popular, fashionable and incredibly expensive dessert among Russia’s nobility. The new-fashioned cold treat was present at every social event, ball, and lavish feast.

At the time, sugar was in very short supply and was very expensive, which is why the old ice cream recipes, were considered an expensive pleasure, one which was only available to the very rich. Nevertheless, ice cream was already gaining popularity at Russian tables. By the end of the 18th century, they began to complete dinner with this cold treat more and more often.

The Court cooks slowly and masterfully coped with the whimsical melting product, creating new cold desserts, which included “Vesuvius on the Mont Blanc” – ice cream set on a platter, doused with rum or cognac and set aflame.

The production of ice cream by hand was a time-consuming and small-volume business. The amount of product directly depended on refrigeration equipment, which helped with the process of creating and preserving these cold delicacies.

The full-fledged and well-established production of ice cream in Russia began in the 1830s, when a shop was opened at a Moscow dairy plant, equipped with all the necessary equipment.

By the beginning of the 19th century, ice cream continued to gain popularity and more widely available, including fairs. Writer Pavel Efebovsky wrote in his essay Petersburg Peddlers: “Ice cream is sold by a Russian peasant in a huge tub filled with ice. This tub alone weighs at least three pounds . . . Only it’s expensive: a glass in three sips costs as much as two silver kopecks”.

Up until the middle of the 19th century, ice cream in Russia was prepared exclusively by hand. It was only in 1845, the Swiss-born restaurateur and confectioner Johann-Lucius Isler (1810-1877) patented a machine that made it possible to produce this delicacy mechanically. Isler opened one of the most popular St. Petersburg cafes on Nevsky Prospekt, where they served ice cream with unusual ingredients for that time: fruit liqueur, ground coffee, infusion of orange flowers, pistachios, walnuts. At the same time, three main varieties of cold desserts appeared: sorbetto (or sherbet) – a heavily chilled fruit drink; granito made from frozen fruit juice and ice cream – a dense mass of milk or cream with sugar and various ingredients, similar to modern ice cream.

PHOTO: this richly decorated Coronation menu indicates that ice cream was served at the Gala dinner in the Alexander Hall of the Great Kremlin Palace, Moscow, dated 23rd May 1896

Ice cream at the Imperial Court

During the reign of Empress Catherine II, when various overseas amusements and dishes were very fashionable in Russia, recipes for ice cream made from cream and egg whites, included such ingredients as chocolate, lemon, currants, cranberries, raspberries, cherries and oranges.

During the reigns of her successors, ice cream continued to be popular at the Imperial Court. Emperor Alexander I had a French chef named Carem, who invented new types of this dessert to surprise the monarch. Emperor Nicholas I, on the other hand, refused ice cream: based on his solidarity with his brother Michael, who was on a strict diet on the advice of doctors. But the emperor’s wife Empress Alexandra Fedorovna ordered two portions of ice cream from the pastry shop every day for the amount of 1 ruble 72 kopecks.

Richly decorated menus confirm that Мороженое [ice cream] was served to guests at elaborate State Banquets. In particular, ice cream was served to members of the Imperial Family, Russian nobles and visiting foreign delegations, at the Gala dinners held over a three-week period in the Great Kremlin Palace in Moscow, during the festivities marking the Coronation of Emperor Nicholas II in May 1896.

Ice cream was especially popular at table of the last Emperor and his family. The recipe for “Romanov ice cream”, which was invented specifically for Nicholas II, has been preserved to this day. It included sugar, 10 egg yolks, heavy cream, whipping cream and vanilla. “I remember ice cream, the like of which I have never eaten anywhere else,” wrote the daughter of Grigorii Rasputin, Maria (1898-1977).

© Paul Gilbert. 2 August 2022

Honouring Imperial Russia’s WWI soldiers

Никто не забыт, ничто не забыто!
No one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten!

Russia’s entry into World War One in August 1914, was based on Russia’s commitment to defending Orthodox Serbia, its pan-Slavic roles, its treaty obligations with France, its concerns over German or Austro-Hungarian dominance in the Balkan region, and its concern for protecting its status as a great power.

1st August – marks the official Day of Remembrance of Imperial Russian soldiers who died in the First World War of 1914-1918. The commemoration day was officially introduced by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2012. It is on this day, which officials lay wreaths to World War I memorials, Russian cities organize exhibitions dedicated to the war and military units hold solemn assemblies.

During the Soviet years, the First World War and those brave Russian soldiers who gave their lives for the Fatherland, was virtually ignored and forgotten. Soviet dogma dictated that the Great War was a clash of imperialist powers.

How many Russian soldiers laid down their lives “For Faith, Tsar and Fatherland!”? How many fathers, husbands, sons never returned home? According to some estimates, the number exceeds 1,600,000 people, the largest number of casualties among the soldiers and officers of the countries participating in the First World War. The estimate does not include civilian casualties.

Dozens of monuments to soldiers of the Russian Imperial Army, who fought and died during World War One, have since been erected in major cities across Russia. Below, are just three of the finest:

On 16th December 2014, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu opened a sculptural composition dedicated to the heroes of World Wars I and II on the grounds of the Ministry of Defence on the Frunze Embankment in Moscow.

The WWI monument features Emperor Nicholas II on horseback, recognizing and honouring his efforts during the Great War.

Monument to the Heroes of the First World War on Poklonnaya Hill in Moscow, opened on 1st August 2014. Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna is depicted in this monument, providing aid to a wounded soldier.

Monument to the Heroes of the First World War in St. Petersburg, installed at the Vitebsk Railway Station on 1st August 2014. It was from this station, that Emperor Nicholas II travelled on the Imperial Train along a specially built line to Tsarskoye Selo.

Никто не забыт, ничто не забыто!
No one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten!

© Paul Gilbert. 1 August 2022

The abbess who came to the aid of the Imperial Family in the Ipatiev House

On this day – 29th July 1934 – Schema Magdalena (Dosmanova), the last abbess of the Novo-Tikhvinsky Convent[1] in Ekaterinburg before the 1917 Revolution, reposed to the Lord.

An early calling

Pelagia Stefanovna Dosmanova (future mother Magdalena) was born in 1847 into a merchant family in the city of Irbit, Perm province. In 1859, her pious parents brought their twelve-year-old daughter to the Novo-Tikhvinsky Monastery[2] in Ekaterinburg.

For her first obedience, the young novice helped in the convent candle factory, then in the rector’s cells. Over the years, she was entrusted with more and more complex and responsible obediences, and Sister Pelagia performed every task with zeal. All the sisters loved her, sensing in her a special spiritual strength, which was combined with a soft, loving attitude towards every person.

In 1893, Pelagia Dosmanova was tonsured and became the nun Magdalena, and just two years later the sisters unanimously elected her abbess “in the conviction that she was of a pious life, of a meek disposition,” as they wrote in the act of election.

PHOTO: the Novo-Tikhvinsky Convent [Monastery] [2] in Ekaterinburg

Mother Magdalena

Having become abbess, Mother Magdalena worked tirelessly: she decorated the churches, equipped the cells of the sisters, ensuring that the monastery was in perfect order – she wanted the monastery to look like paradise.

Matushka taught the sisters to pray, and introduced them to reading books on which many generations of monastics were brought up from ancient times. She also took care of the spiritual needs of the faithful who lived near the monastery. Parents often came to visit the monastery, on one occasion a novice took them to the icon-painting workshop, Suddenly, unexpectedly for the parents, all the sisters who were there, as one, stood up and bowed low, with deep reverence. The parents were moved to tears.

Many girls came to the monastery to lead a monastic life under the wise guidance of Mother Magdalena. By 1917, the number of sisters had increased to almost a thousand.

During the First World War, Mother Magdalena, according to the commandment of the Lord, tried to ease the sorrows of her countrymen, the monastery donated money and valuables for the needs of Russia’s soldiers at the front; while an infirmary for wounded soldiers was arranged at the monastery.

Comes to the aid of the Imperial Family in the Ipatiev House

In 1918, Ekaterinburg became a place of exile for many people who were deemed objectionable to the new Bolshevik order, which included bishops, priests and members of the Imperial Family. Mother Magdalena’s heart ached for every innocent prisoner.

From April to July, when Nicholas II and his family were kept under arrest in the Ipatiev House, the nuns of the Novo-Tikhvinsky Convent were praying for them, asking God to relieve their sufferings, and to give them the strength to bear everything with Christian humility.

The sisters’ help came not only through prayer but also through deeds. Often disregarding their own safety, they supported the Tsar and his family, by bringing various foods to them through the guards.

Matushka gave her blessing to the sisters to carry food to the Ipatiev House for the imprisoned Emperor and his family: milk for Tsesarevich Alexei, cream, eggs, butter, bread, pastries, vegetables, and meat.

On 18th June 1918, a month before their murder, Empress Alexandra Feodorvna acknowledged the kindness shown them by the nuns, and made the following entry in her diary: “The kind nuns are now sending milk and eggs for Alexei and for us, as well as cream.”

The sisters carried food every day until the last day – 16th July – the eve of which the Imperial Family and their four faithful retainers were all shot to death in the basement of the Ipatiev House.

PHOTO: Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna

In May 1918, when the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna arrived in Ekaterinburg, she was placed under house arrest [along with other members of the Romanov family], and placed in the Atamanovskie Rooms Hotel.

The sisters petitioned the Bolsheviks for the Grand Duchess to be allowed to live in the monastery. However, their request was rejected. Two months later, they were sent to the city of Alapaevsk, where they too were murdered.

The sisters also came to the aid of Bishop Germogen (Dolganev) of Tobolsk, also imprisoned in a local jail. The nuns delivered dinner to Vladyka from the monastery, Mother Magdalena visited him, and one day, at her request, Vladyka was allowed to serve a mass in prison, at which many prisoners took communion.

Matushka and the sisters of the the Novo-Tikhvinsky Convent performed a confessional feat, by openly helping the Imperial Family and other prisoners. Indeed, at that time people were afraid not only to help political prisoners, but even simply to express sympathy for them, knowing that their punishment could lead to imprisonment or execution.

PHOTO: Bolsheviks seize and confiscate valuables from the Novo-Tikhvinsky Monastery, 1920s

“Monastery” on the Third Zagorodnaya

Sadly, the Novo-Tikhvinsky Monastery did not escape the fate suffered by most Orthodox churches and monasteries. In 1920, the monastery was closed, all the sisters were evicted. Over the gates of the monastery, the Bolsheviks hung a large banner: “Long live the World Communist Revolution!“. Mother Magdalene and the sisters looked at this slogan with heartache, often coming to pray at the walls of their native monastery. The monastery, which they had been landscaping for years, was now a pitiful sight, ravaged and defaced with communist inscriptions.

Mother Magdalena settled not far from the monastery, in a private house on Tretya Zagorodnaya Street (now Schmidt Street). Eighteen sisters came to live with her, while the others often came to her for prayer, advice and spiritual edification. During this mournful period, the virtues of Mother Magdalena and her spiritual experience acquired over many years were fully manifested. Having lost her pastoral position and her native monastery, she did not lose heart nor faith. Despite the hardships and persecutions under the Soviet regime, Matushka remained true to her Orthodox faith.

In the house on Tretya Zagorodnaya, the sisters lived as they did in the monastery – every night they read the akathist in front of the Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God; during the day they worked, read the scriptures, and went church together. Mother Magdalena combined prudent indulgence with moderate severity. She instructed the sisters to begin and end each day with the Jesus Prayer.

PORTRAIT: portrait of Schema Magdalena (Dosmanova). Artist unknown

Blessed Old Woman

The monastery had been closed for many years, yet despite this, new sisters still came to Mother Magdalena, who wanted to devote themselves to God.

In the 1920s, the Bolsheviks ordered the closure of churches and monasteries, and the arrest of priests, clergy, nuns and monks. The arrests carried out by the atheistic authorities did not bypass Mother Magdalena, but during interrogations she acted as a fool, which led the Chekists astray. She was arrested 8 times, and imprisoned for three months.

Three days before her death, predicted that she would die in three days. During the remaining three days of her life, she received daily communion of the Holy Mysteries of Christ. As Matushka lay on her deathbed, many believers came to say goodbye to her. She blessed each of them with the icon of Christ the Redeemer, and the icon of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker.

On 29th (O.S. 16th) July 1934, surrounded by her children, Mother Magdalena calmly surrendered her spirit to the Lord. Just before her death, she overshadowed everyone with the Tikhvin Icon and said: “I hand you over to the Mother of God …”.

PHOTO: Mother Magdalena’s final resting place, on the grounds of the Novo-Tikhvinsky Convent in Ekaterinburg

Mother Magdalena was buried at the Ivanovo Cemetery in Ekaterinburg. A wooden cross was placed on the grave, and on the tablet the spiritual daughters wrote with reverence and love: “Pray to God for us, dear matushka!”.

On 5th February 2021, Mother Magdalena’s earthly remains were exhumed from her grave in the Ivanovo Cemetery, and reburied in a new resting place at the Novo-Tikhvinsky Convent.

Memory Eternal! Вечная Память!

© Paul Gilbert. 29 July 2022

NOTES:

[1] The Novo-Tikhvinsy Convent is a community of female monastics. It was founded in the late 18th century, growing out of an alms-house at the cemetery church in Ekaterinburg. It is the home of the icon of the Tikhvin Mother of God. During the Tsarist period, the convent grew to consist of six churches, numerous cells, a hospital, and an almshouse. The dominant building on the monastery grounds is the cathedral dedicated to St. Alexander Nevsky.

[2] In English usage since about the 19th century the term “convent” almost invariably refers to a community of women, while “monastery” refers to a community of men. In historical usage they are often interchangeable.

The latest from “MASHA” and “GOSHA”

PHOTO: Maria “MASHA” Vladimirovna and her son George “GOSHA” Mikhailovich

The ongoing antics of the Spanish born Princess Maria “Masha” Vladimirovna and her son Prince George “Gosha” Mikhailovich (Hohenzollern), the self-proclaimed “Empress” and “Tsesarevich” to the non-existent Russian throne, continue to pop up in the Russian media.

A son for Gosha!

In May of this year, Gosha and his Italian born wife Rebecca Bettarini announced to the world that they were now breeding, and that their first child is due in October. On 21st July, the couple announced that they were expecting a boy.

Their adherants – a small group of Legitimist zealots, most of whom are American – wasted little time in taking to social media to coo and gush over the news.

Victoria stated in an interview with the French magazine Paris Match, “this baby will be the first Romanov born in Russia after my husband’s grandfather, Prince Vladimir Kirillovich, in 1917” – who was born in the city of Porvoo in the Grand Duchy of Finland in August 1917.

The Russian language site Legitimist.ru noted that the newborn son would be “recognized as a morganatic descendant only, having no right to inherit the Russian Throne”.

Despite this, in an effort to solidify the non-existent claims of both herself and that of her son, it is not a question of “if” but “when” Princess Maria Vladimirovna will elevate her grandson’s status to “grand duke”.

Rebecca Bettarini was received into the Russian Orthodox Church on 12th July 2020, in the SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg. Princess Maria Vladimirovna conferred on Madame Bettarini the title of “Her Serene Highness the Most Serene Princess,” taking the name Victoria Romanovna.

It is very important to note, that Maria Vladimirovna never had or has any authority to hand out titles or awards as she is not and never has been a ruling monarch. Despite this, Maria actively, and completely illegally distributes orders, medals and even titles of the Russian Empire. While many orders and awards of the Russian Empire have been officially restored in the modern Russian Federation, an ordinary civilian, and not a representative of the state, distributes the same order in appearance and name to her supporters on behalf of the “Imperial House”.

In addition, despite her insistence that she has no aspirations of being Empress of Russia, she does nothing to dissuade the Russian language sites, from identifying her as “Head of the Russian Imperial House H.I.H. The Empress Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna.” This of course is nonsense, she is a princess, nothing more!

“No shows” at this years’ Tsar’s Days events in the Urals

Much to this writer’s surprise, not a single descendant of the Romanov family attended the Divine Liturgy held in Ekaterinburg on the night of 16/17 July. The anniversary of the regicide is very important to both Orthodox Christians and monarchists.

Neither Princess Maria Vladimirovna and her son Prince George Mikhailovich (Hohenzollern), the self-acclaimed “heads” of the “Russian Imperial Family” failed to attend the 104th anniversary marking the death and martyrdom of Emperor Nicholas II and his family.

Western sanctions and the war in Ukraine cannot be used as excuses by either one of them. Despite the fact that most foreign airlines have ceased flying into Russia, it is still possible to reach St. Petersburg, Moscow and even Ekaterinburg from Europe via 3 foreign carriers.

Gosha who resides in Moscow, is the only Romanov descendant currently living in Russia, so one can only speculate his absence this year?

Let us not forget that it was Masha’s great-grandmother Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, who was openly hostile towards both the last Emperor and Empress. In addition, Masha’s grandfather and Gosha’s great-grandfather Grand Duke Kirill was a traitor to Russia’s last Tsar.

GOSHA stops short of condoning Putin’s “special operation”

“The Russian Imperial House does not make statements of a political nature . . . ”, claims Maria Vladimirovna, words of wisdom her son may want to take into consideration . . .

In recent weeks, Gosha has weighed in on the Russia/Ukraine situation. He has been quoted on Russian social media [Вера и Верность], stopping short of condoning Putin’s “special operation”:

“Ukraine for me has been and remains a part of the Fatherland in the highest sense of the word.” 15th July 2022

“Unfortunately, Western partners have chosen the path of an ultimatum against Russia, which, as we see, does not entail a solution to the Ukrainian issue, but, on the contrary, aggravates not only it, but, as a result, other world problems,” 27th June 2022.

Click HERE to read my article ‘The unholy alliance of Maria and Vlad‘, published on 5th March 2022

© Paul Gilbert. 28 July 2022

Livadia Palace marks 100th anniversary as a museum

PHOTO: facade, main entrance and garden of Livadia Palace

July marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of Livadia Palace Museum. The former residence of Emperor Nicholas II and his family in Crimea, was opened to the public as a museum in 1922, however, it closed 5 years later due to a lack of visitors.

Today, the “White Pearl of Crimea”, is framed by gardens filled with the aroma of roses… classical melodies unobtrusively pour from the speakers… a queue of visitors wait patiently at the ticket booth to purchase tickets, all eager to see how the last Russian emperor and his family lived, with their own eyes. According to staff estimates, the palace today receives an average of 500 guests daily.

A similar scenario played out 100 years ago, only instead of tourists, it was students and Red Guards who roamed the halls and rooms of the palace. Thanks to archival documents, we know that in 1923 the Livadia Palace was visited by 30 thousand people, while nearby Alupka Palace, for example, received only half that number.

A hundred years ago, there were actually two Livadia palaces available for visiting – the Maly or Small wooden palace, which belonged to Alexander III (it was demolished after the Great Patriotic War), and the new Grand White Palace (built on the site of the Bolshoi or Large wooden palace). In the Small Livadia Palace only 3 rooms were open to visitors, while in the new Grand White Palace 10 rooms were open to visitors: 2 downstairs and 8 upstairs. It should be noted, that at this time, the palace-museum would have still been left intact, although it is known that some items were stolen during the Revolution and Civil War.

The museum then was only open to receive visitors four times a week, from 3 pm to 6 pm. And although visitors paid an entrance fee, sometimes the money received was not even enough to cover the salaries of the museum’s few employees.

On 30th April 1918, German troops entered Livadia, and immediately proceeded to plunder the palace.

In 1922, the Museum of the Life of the Romanov Royal Family, opened in Livadia Palace. During the 1920s, the Soviets used Livadia Palace solely for propaganda purposes: the people could see what luxurious interiors the Imperial family lived in, the expensive materials the furniture were made of, thus causing indignation among many.

On 21st December, 1920, Lenin signed a decree according to which “the palaces of the former tsars and grand dukes should be used as sanatoriums and health resorts for workers and peasants.” In 1925, the first sanatorium was opened in Livadia Palace, offering free treatment of peasants.

The Soviet poet Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky (1893-1930), who visited here in 1927, wrote the poem “Miracles”, in which a key line reads: “In the royal palace, now live sanatorium men.”

It was in the same year, that the museum was closed with a sign on the main entrance “closed due to lack of interest among visitors”.

After that, the question arose about the distribution of the contents ​​of the Livadia Palace: they were simply transferred to other Crimean museums. For example, a number of carpets were given to the Palace of the Emir of Bukhara (1880-1914) in Yalta, while other items of decorative, applied and fine arts – to the Alupka Palace and the Kroshitsky Art Museum in Sevastopol. The dolls and toys of the Imperial children were given to orphans, while the curtains which adorned the imperial bedchambers and other rooms of the palace were made into clothes for the poor. Sadly, most of the historical furnishings have been lost, and it was only in the 1990s, that some pieces of the furniture were returned to the palace, and are now part of the museum.

During the Second World War, a ceremony marking the successful completion of the German Crimean Campaign (1941–1942), with the capture of Sevastopol by the German 11th Army under the command of General Erich von Manstein, and Manstein’s promotion to the rank of Generalfeldmarschall (field marshal), was held in the garden of Livadia Palace on 6th July 1942. Participants included officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers who were awarded the German “Ritterkreuz” (Knight’s Cross) and the “Deutsches Kreuz in Gold” (German Cross in Gold).

Some 70 years later, Livadia Palace underwent an extensive restoration and received the status of a state museum. In November 1993, Livadia Palace received the status of a museum. On 16th July 1994, the exposition The Romanovs in Livadia was opened in the former private rooms of the Imperial family on the second floor of the palace.

Today, Livadia Palace is the most popular museum in Crimea. The first floor of the palace-museum is dedicated to the famous Yalta Conference, attended by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, on 4th–11th February 1945.

The permanent exposition dedicated to Nicholas II and his family in Livadia is located on the 2nd floor of the palace, in 16 rooms, each of them featuring original elements and details.

PHOTO: the Emperor’s favourite room – his study

PHOTO: handmade wall carpet gifted to Nicholas II by the Shah of Persia in 1913

PHOTO: very few items from the Tsar’s Study have survived to the present

Visitors can now see the Emperor’s favourite room – his study, the main highlight of which is a handmade wall carpet depicting Nicholas II, Alexandra Feodorovna and Tsesarevich Alexei, a gift to the family in 1913 by Ahmad Shah Qajar of Persia (1898-1930) – in honour of the 300th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty. After the 1917 Revolution, many items from the palace were stolen, including this carpet, which ended up abroad. In 1983, a collector bought it at an auction in Germany and donated it to the palace 10 years later.

PHOTO: Empress Alexandra Feodorovna’s study

Visitors to the study of the Empress, will find a cozy, homely atmosphere as opposed to a work place: for example, family photographs are displayed on the table in frames, a sewing machine is silent in the corner, and Easter decorations with imperial engraving are hung behind the glass of the sideboard.

PHOTO: music room in Livadia Palace

In the music room there is a Becker grand piano, in which the Empress often played with her daughters. Today, performances of the Tauride Blagovest Chamber Choir are held in this room.

In addition, is a small family dining room with authentic dishes and utensils of the Imperial family, a classroom for the grand duchesses, the imperial bedroom, the children’s rooms, a library, among others.

PHOTO: Small Family Dining Room

PHOTO: the former bedroom of the grand duchesses

Museum staff like to draw the attention of visitors to the original pieces which have been preserved to this day, emphasizing their own disbelief at how some of the exhibits managed to survive to this day. For example, the Murano glass chandelier in the waiting room on the 1st floor, which has been hanging there since 1912. Just like the chandelier in the reception room, made of bronze and glass. And also fireplaces, mirrors and pieces of furniture.

PHOTO: an original Murano glass chandelier, 1912

The palace also features a solarium on the roof, where the Imperial family enjoyed the sun and breathtaking views of the Black Sea. A narrow staircase leads to the roof, and in the time of Nicholas II it was possible to reach it by a tiny lift (elevator), which was restored several years ago.

PHOTO: the solarium on the roof of the palace offers views of the Black Sea

Interesting facts about Livadia Palace

It is known that the Imperial family arrived in Livadia with their children on 5th September 1909. It was during this visit, starting from 27th October, that Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna met with the architect Nikolai Petrovich Krasnov (1864-1939), Yalta’s most fashionable architect, on numerous occasions, to discuss in detail the design of their new white palace, and the decoration of its halls and other rooms. The August couple approved the design on 12th December, just 4 days before leaving Livadia for St. Petersburg.

The old wooden Bolshoi or Grand Palace, the residence built in the 1860s for Emperor Alexander II, was demolished in 1910, to make way for a new stone palace, which would serve as the residence of Russia’s last emperor and his family during their visits to Crimea.

The palace was built in a remarkably short time span of 17 months, at a cost of about 4 million gold rubles, paid for by Nicholas II. The palace was inaugurated on 11th September 1911. Some 2,500 workers worked around the clock. At night, the large-scale construction site was illuminated by many torches. After the construction was completed, the walls of the palace were covered with a special chemical composition that protected the stone from weathering and pollution.

A power station was built nearby, generating electricity for the entire estate. The palace also featured two types of heating: fireplaces and central water heating. The palace was also equipped with telephones and a lift for the Empress. It is interesting to note, that it was thanks to a modern system of reinforced concrete ceilings, which prevented the destruction of the palace from a strong earthquake in 1927.

PHOTO: Italian Courtyard

PHOTO: Arab Courtyard

Krasnov had constructed a comfortable, spacious palace. The palace was built in the Italian Renaissance style – the style was personally chosen by Nicholas II. None of the four façades of the palace resembles the other. The new Imperial residence featured 116 rooms, one large courtyard [the Italian Courtyard, where Nicholas II and his family were often photographed] and three small courtyards, as well as a number of outbuildings.

While the palace was built as a summer residence for Nicholas II and his family, they only stayed here four times: twice in the fall – in 1911 and 1913, and twice in the spring – in 1912 and 1914, each time staying for several months at a time. On 12th June 1914, the Imperial family left Livadia, not suspecting that they were saying goodbye to her forever. On 1st August, Germany declared war on Russia.

The Imperial family would arrive on the Imperial Train at Sevastopol, where they boarded the Imperial Yacht Shtandart/Standart, and sailed along the southern coast of Crimea to Yalta, and from there by *motorcar to Livadia. [*The Emperor maintained His Imperial Majesty’s Own Garage at Livadia, one of four in Russia, which housed his collection of motorcars].

Click HERE to VIEW 2 vintage newsreels The Holy Tsar in Russia. Livadia, 1902-1914 – duration: 18 minutes each.

Today, the Livadia Palace and Park ensemble occupies more than 36 hectares, in addition to the Grand White Palace, it includes the Svitsky building, the house of the Minister of the Imperial Court Count Vladimir Frederiks (1838-1927), the Church of the Exaltation of the Cross, and a picturesque park with preserved structures (arbors, fountains) from the tsarist period.

PHOTO: view of the Church of the Exaltation of the Cross (left)

On 2nd November [O.S. 20 October] 1894 – Emperor Alexander III died in the Small Palace. His early death at the age of 49, was the result of terminal kidney disease (nephritis). A requiem was held for the Emperor in the Church of the Exaltation of the Cross.

It was also on this day, that Tsesarevich Nicholas Alexandraovich Romanov ascended the throne as Russia’s last emperor and tsar, pledging his oath of allegiance to Russia in the palace church. In addition, the holy righteous John of Kronstadt anointed Princess Alice of Hesse in this church, and thus became the Orthodox faithful Grand Duchess and future Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.

During his stay in Livadia, in the autumn of 1900, Nicholas II became gravely ill, with what proved to be a rather serious form of typhoid. Despite being pregnant for the fourth time and in a lot of pain, Alexandra nursed him back to health, six months later, in the Spring of 1901.

PHOTO: view of the garden, main facade and entrance to Livadia Palace

The entrance to the summer imperial residence is guarded by two marble lions – although they do not have the traditional lush mane and look more like Egyptian sphinxes. At the main entrance to the palace and in the famous Italian Courtyard, there are white marble benches with winged lions on the armrests. These benches were brought here from Venice. Also, the Istria fireplace was brought from Venice, which is located in the Main lobby of the palace.

Two original sculptures can also be seen in the White Hall. The first is Penelope, the symbol of marital fidelity, the wife of Odysseus. Penelope was purchased by the inhabitants of Odessa as a gift to Empress Maria Alexandrovna (grandmother of Nicholas II), on her first visit to the Livadia estate in 1863. The second figure is a chimera, or satyr, a collective image from antiquity.

The historical park has preserved trees planted more than a century ago. It is decorated with Turkish gazebo, Ruschuk column, marble fountains and benches.

PHOTO: bust-monument of Emperor Nicholas II

PHOTO: monument to Emperor Alexander III, installed on the site of the old Bolshoi Palace

On 19th May 2015, a bust-monument of Emperor Nicholas II was installed at the main entrance to the Livadia Palace. It is made according to the model of the sculptor A. A. Appolonov from artificial stone and bronzed. The pedestal is made of marble.

On 18th November 2017, in the presence of the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, a monument to Emperor Alexander III was unveiled in the park of the Livadia Palace – on the site where the Bolshoi or Large wooden palace once stood.

PHOTO: Chapel of the Holy Royal Martyrs

On 22nd September 2013, as part of the celebrations marking the 400th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty, the Chapel of the Holy Royal Martyrs was consecrated. The chapel which is situated at the entrance to Livadia Palace was erected in honour of the 150th anniversary of the Exaltation of the Cross Church of the Imperial family at Livadia and in memory of the Holy Royal Martyrs. A magnificent mosaic tile icon depicting the Holy Royal Martyrs dominates the tiny chapel interior. The chapel is open to all comers, liturgies are held on major Orthodox holidays.

PHOTO: Nicholas II Conference in the White Hall at Livadia Palace, 20-22 October 2019

Between 20-22 October 2019, the international conferenceCrimea and the Fate of the Romanov Dynasty. The Beginning and End of the Reign of Emperor Nicholas II,’ opened in the White Hall of Livadia Palace. The conference was attended by leading Russian historians, publicists, archivists and writers. The objective of the conference was to discuss the truth about the Tsar’s family and the and the achievements that Russia made during the reign of Nicholas II. The international conference was timed to the 125th anniversary of the accession to Orthodoxy of Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt – the future Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and the 100th anniversary of the escape of members of the Russian Imperial House from Crimea. In addition, this year marks 125 years since the death of Emperor Alexander III in Livadia. Crimea played a crucial role in the fate of the Romanovs, who played an important role in the development of the peninsula.

© 25 July 2022. Paul Gilbert

Myrrh-streaming icon of Tsar Nicholas II brought to Ekaterinburg for Tsar’s Days

PHOTO: Alexander Chernavsky carries the miraculous Myrrh-Streaming Icon of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II, during the 21-km Cross Procession from the Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg to the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs at Ganina Yama

The annual Cross Procession held during Tsar’s Days in Ekaterinburg on 17th July is known for many miraculous events. It was during this year’s procession, that the miraculous Myrrh-Streaming Icon of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II, once again began to stream myrrh. The icon was brought from Moscow, by the head of the Military Orthodox Mission, Alexander Chernavsky, and this miracle was witnessed by the film crew of the Orthodox Soyuz TV channel, headed by correspondent Svetlana Ladina.

“This is the 30th annual Cross Procession in which we are taking part. The icon of the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II has been streaming myrrh since 1998, and today, look, droplets of myrrh on the icon itself and along the frame have appeared like “diamonds”. I think the Sovereign is happy that we are here, and these “diamonds” bless all the participants in the procession. Kiss and pray for the sovereign to open our eyes and heart,” – said Alexander Chernavsky.

The icon of the Russian Emperor Nicholas II was painted in the United States of America even before the sovereign was glorified in Russia by the Moscow Patriarchate. And this event has an amazing story . . .

VIDEO: interview with Alexander Chernavsky, and coverage of the Cross Procession from the Church on the Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg to the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs at Ganina Yama

The miraculous Myrrh-Streaming Icon of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II

The Icon of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas was commissioned by Ija Schmit (1936-2018), a Russian émigré in the United States, who used money inherited from her mother to have the icon painted in 1996.

Paul Gilbert first met Ija in 1998, when she joined his annual Romanov Tour to Russia, which that year included Moscow and Crimea. Ija was accompanied by her husband Harvey and their daughter Nina. It was during this visit that she told me about this icon, a copy of which she later gifted me.

The icon would be dedicated to the future canonization of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas in Russia[1], and in memory of her mother. After Ija’s initial inspiration to have the icon painted, she contacted iconographer Paul Tikhomirov, himself a Russian immigrant, to see if he was interested in her project. Tikhomirov’s response was, “I will make the icon shine!” They decided to depict Nicholas II in coronation robes [1996 was the 100th anniversary of his coronation in Moscow], with St. Nicholas, his patron saint, and St. Job, on whose feast day Nicholas was born, in the upper right and left hand corners. Below the figures would be printed in Russian, “This Holy Icon is for the Canonization of the Tsar-Martyr in Russia.”

Ija received the finished icon on 12th May 1996 and then traveled to Texas, where it was blessed by Bishop Constantine (Yesensky), an old family friend, who had served as Bishop of Great Britain. The icon, however, was not intended solely for family veneration. Ija and her husband, Harvey Schmit, had already arranged to have paper copies of the icon printed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II on 27th May (O.S. 14th) 1996.

Forty-four thousand copies of the icon were printed. The distribution of the icons [printed in three sizes], was handled by Ija’s own non-profit organization, the Society Honoring Russian Nobility, and income from the icons sold in the West purchased food and medicine for needy pensioners and orphans in Russia. A fourth, smaller version of the icon was printed by the thousands and given away in Russia without charge.

As word of the icon spread, Christians from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and even Serbia, began writing and requesting copies. The Society has met all these requests and distributed more than twenty thousand icons in Russia alone.

PHOTO: Alexander Chernavsky holding the miraculous Myrrh-Streaming Icon of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II, at the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs at Ganina Yama

On a visit to Russia in late 1996, Father Herman [Ija Schmit’s brother] presented a number of prints to Fr. Juvenaly, the priest at the St. Nicholas Almshouse in Ryazan. On 16th (O.S. 2nd) March 1998 (the anniversary of Tsar Nicholas II’ abdication and the miraculous appearance of the Reigning Icon of the Mother of God. Fr. Juvenaly blessed Dr. Oleg Belchenko with one of the prints, which the doctor took with him back to Moscow. The paper icon had been given to him in a glassfronted, three-dimensional wooden icon-case (a kiot) and Dr. Belchenko set it in a prominent place in his Moscow apartment. On 5th September, Dr. Belchenko noticed that a red spot had appeared over the right eyelid of the Tsar. The following day a second red spot appeared over the left eye. Dr. Belchenko first compared the icon with a smaller print to be sure that he had simply overlooked the distinctive marks. The smaller icon did not match. Dr. Belchenko then called Sretensky Monastery of the Meeting of the Lord to ask what he should do. The monks asked him to bring the icon of Tsar Nicholas to the monastery the following morning. Dr.Belchenko arrived early and stood through the liturgy holding the icon in a plastic bag at his side. At the end of the liturgy a moleben and blessing of the waters was held. The officiating priest recognized Dr. Belchenko, and knowing that he had come with the icon, had the choir sing a troparion for Tsar-Martyr Nicholas. Following the troparion, Dr. Belchenko noticed one of the parishioners staring at him. Finally, the man approached and asked, “What is that fragrance?” Dr. Belchenko replied: “You are probably smelling incense – I am sorry, I can’t smell anything myself because I have a cold.” The man persisted: “No. I tell you, the fragrance is coming from somewhere around you… the smell is much more refined than incense.” Dr. Belchenko replied impatiently, “You should be ashamed of talking such nonsense while the service is going on!” The man moved away embarrassed, but within a few moments other worshippers filtered over, curious about the fragrance and asking what was in the package. “Nothing, only an icon,” he replied. “Show it to us.” As Dr. Belchenko opened the package and took out the icon, the remarkable scent filled the church.

The icon of Tsar Nicholas II was displayed for veneration in the monastery church for three weeks. After Dr. Belchenko took it home, the fragrance continued to a lesser degree, and as word began to spread, Muscovites increasingly asked to come to his apartment to venerate the icon. Dr. Belchenko felt that his home was too small to accommodate many visitors, so he asked an Orthodox friend, Alla Dyakova, to keep the icon in her flat, where those who wished could venerate it. When asked how he was able relinquish such a treasure, Dr. Belchenko answered, “The icon is not mine. It belongs to all Russians.”

On 19th October, Alla Dyakova and Fr. Peter Vlashchenko, a married priest from the Ivanovo region, took the icon to Elder Kyril of St. Sergius Lavra, who was in Peredelkino, outside Moscow. Elder Kyril venerated the icon and blessed Fr. Peter and Alla with the words, “Go. Take the icon to whomever asks for it.”

On 1st November, the icon was brought to the Martha-Mary Convent in Moscow, founded by Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, the sister- in-law of Tsar Nicholas II and herself a new-martyr. The day not only marked the birthday of Elizabeth, but the anniversary of Tsar Nicholas’ assuming the throne at his father’s death in 1894. The icon of Tsar Nicholas was placed on the analogion next to an icon of Grand Duchess Elizabeth. Throughout the Divine Liturgy the icon of the Tsar poured forth waves of fragrance, filling the chapel.

It is worth mentioning that the popular veneration of the Tsar-Martyr played an important role in the canonization of the Imperial Family at the Jubilee Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2000 among the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia.

In August 2000, the Russian Church met at a synod in the Christ the Saviour Cathedral, Moscow. Amongst the things discussed was the issue of canonization. The eagerly-awaited news finally escaped the cathedral’s walls to the faithful gathered outside: Tsar Nicholas II and his family were now recognized as Saints! The date of their martyrdom was now recorded in Orthodox calendars around the world as their feast day. It is certain that influential in this decision were two paper icons of the martyrs, both of which exuded sweet-smelling myrrh and so revealed those Saints to be themselves “a sweet aroma of Christ unto God” (2 Cor 2:15).

The keeper of the miraculous image, the Moscow surgeon Oleg Ivanovich Belchenko, has travelled around Russia for many years, bringing the icon to to churches and monasteries arousing veneration of the Holy Royal Martyrs wherever it went through its aromatic myrrh. Many Orthodox Christians believe that their prayers have been answered by God through the intercession of the Tsar and his family.

Lately, due to his age, Oleg has handed over this honourary mission to Alexander Fedorovich Chernavsky, a publicist, head of the Orthodox Mission for the Revival of the Spiritual Values of the Russian People. The Myrrh-Streaming Icon of Tsar Nicholas II, appears with the same unpretentious simplicity with which the late Tsar laid down his throne and bore his final months of house arrest before his death and martyrdom.

Holy Tsar Martyr Nicholas II, Pray to God for Us! 

NOTES:

[1] The desire of many Russian Orthodox Christians for the canonization of Tsar Nicholas and his family does not stem from a belief that their personal lives were blameless, although from historical accounts and the family’s own letters it is obvious that they were Christians of great integrity. The widespread desire for the family’s canonization is based on the fact that Tsar Nicholas and his family were murdered as a result of his position as the sacramentally anointed Orthodox monarch of Russia.

© Paul Gilbert. 21 July 2022

Night Liturgy at Tsarskoye Selo, 16/17 July 2022

PHOTO: the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral at Tsarskoye Selo

On the night of 16/17 July, a solemn Divine Liturgy was held in the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral at Tsarskoye Selo, in memory of the Holy Royal Martyrs who were murdered that same date in 1918, in the Ural city of Ekaterinburg.

A large number of worshipers gathered for the Divine Litury, led by the rector of the cathedral, Father Herman Ranne, co-served by the clergy of the cathedral.

Every year on this day, people from Pushkin [Tsarskoye Selo], St. Petersburg and other towns, come to the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral to prayerfully honour the memory of the last Russian emperor and his family.

Following the Divine Liturgy, a Cross Procession was held around the cathedral.

A brief history of the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral

On 2nd September (O.S. 20th August) 1909, Sovereign Emperor Nicholas II laid the first foundation stone for the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral in Tsarskoye Selo, which became the house church of the Imperial Family, while they were in residence in the nearby Alexander Palace.

A solemn Divine Liturgy was performed by His Grace Theophan, Bishop of Yamburg (1872-1940), attended by the Emperor and members of his family. The cathedral was built in the old Russian style. Three years later, on the same day in 1912, the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral was consecrated.

The Cave Church, situated in the Lower Church, where the Imperial Family came to pray, was consecrated in memory of St. Seraphim of Sarov (there was a special “royal room” in the church), and the upper church was consecrated in memory of the Feodorovskaya Icon of the Mother of God, the patron icon of the Romanov family. During the days of Great Lent, the Emperor remained to pray in the church until late at night.

After the revolution, the cathedral was closed, it was badly damaged during the Great Patriotic War. In 1991 the cathedral was transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church, restoration of the Cathedral lasted nearly 20 years.. Russia’s first monument to Nicholas II was established on the grounds of the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral in 1993.

Click HERE to view more colour photos of the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral, during a visit by a modern-day group of Cossacks in January 2020

PHOTO: worshipers gather at the monument to Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II, located in the garden behind the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral

First monument to Nicholas II in Post-Soviet Russia

Situated in the garden behind the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral at Tsarskoye Selo, is the monument to Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II, created by the St. Petersburg sculptor Victor Vladimirovich Zaiko (born 1944).

Erected and consecrated on 17th July 1993, it was the first monument to Nicholas II to be erected in Post-Soviet Russia.

The monument stands in front of a small group of oak trees, seen in the background, which were planted by Nicholas II and his family on 4 May (O.S. 21 April) 1913. Of the seven trees planted, only four have survived to the present day.

© Paul Gilbert. 21 July 2022