The Canonization of Nicholas II

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The canonization of the last Imperial Family of Russia was the elevation to sainthood of Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Tsarina Alexandra, and their five children, the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and the Tsesarevich Alexei – by the Russian Orthodox Church. The family were murdered by the Bolsheviks on 17 July 1918 at the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg; the site of their murders is now beneath the altar of the Church on Blood.

They are variously designated as new martyrs by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCOR) and as passion bearers by the church inside Russia. The family was canonized on 1 November 1981 as new martyrs by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. Their servants, who had been killed along with them, were also canonized. The canonized servants were their court physician, Yevgeny Botkin; their footman Alexei Trupp; their cook, Ivan Kharitonov; and Alexandra’s maid, Anna Demidova. Also canonized were two servants killed in September 1918, lady in waiting Anastasia Hendrikova and tutor Catherine Adolphovna Schneider. All were canonized as victims of oppression by the Bolsheviks. The Russian Orthodox Church did not canonize the servants, two of whom were not Russian Orthodox: Trupp was Roman Catholic, and Schneider was Lutheran.

In 2000 Metropolitan Laurus became the First Hierarch of the ROCOR and expressed interest in the idea of reunification. The sticking point at the time was the ROCOR’s insistence that the Moscow Patriarchate address the slaying of Tsar Nicholas II and his family in 1918 by the Bolsheviks. The ROCOR held that “the Moscow Patriarchy must speak clearly and passionately about the murder of the tsar’s family, the defeat of the anti-Bolshevik movement, and the execution and persecution of priests.”

Some of these concerns were ended with the jubilee Council of Bishops in 2000, which canonized Tsar Nicholas and his family, along with more than 1,000 martyrs and confessors.

On 20 August 2000, the Moscow Patriarchate ultimately canonized the family as passion bearers: people who face death with resignation, in a Christ-like manner, as distinguished from martyrs, the latter killed explicitly for their faith. They noted the piety of the family and reports that the Tsarina and her eldest daughter Olga prayed and attempted to make the sign of the cross immediately before they died. On 3 February 2016, the Bishop’s Council of the Russian Orthodox Church canonized Botkin as a righteous passion bearer.

Despite their official designation as “passion-bearers” by the Moscow Patriarchate, they are nevertheless spoken of as “martyrs” in Church publications, icons, and in popular veneration by the people.

In particular icons of both the Tsar and his family are displayed in a growing number of churches across Russia, where the faithful come to venerate them. Gift shops in Ganina Yama and the Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg sell icons depicting the image of the Holy Royal Passion-Bearer Nicholas II.

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Click HERE to read the Report of the Holy Synod Commission on the Canonization of Saints with Respect to the Martyrdom of the Royal Family / 9-10 October 1996

© Paul Gilbert. 20 March 2019

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