NEW Romanov Books to be Published in 2020

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Independent researcher and publisher Paul Gilbert

March 25th marked the 1st anniversary of the publication of my book Nicholas II. Portraits. Aside from the Nicholas II 2020 Calendar, I have been unable to publish any additional books since.

Shortly after I returned from England last May, I began to develop complications of diabetes (which I have lived with for more than 30 years). These included neuropathy in my legs and feet, making if very difficult for me to walk, however, the worst of the complications affected my vision. As a result of the latter, it became increasingly difficult for me to read and write. While I was still able to create posts for my Nicholas II blog and my Facebook page, I was unable to work on any new publications without the aid of both computer glasses and a magnifying glass.

While I am happy to say that medication has helped relive the neuropathy in my legs and feet somewhat, the restoration of my vision has only slightly improved. I pray that over time, that this can be fully restored under the care of an ophthalmologist.

As a result of my personal health issues, all of my publishing projects have been delayed or put on hold by a year. It has also made it very difficult for me to stay on top of all the emails and messages I receive on a daily basis.

This year, I plan to only publish 5 new titles, while many others will be put on the back burner. I will continue to publish both Royal Russia and Sovereign, however, there will no longer be any set schedule to their publication. 

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Here is a list of the 5 titles planned for publication in 2020 – see my Note below for availability:

[1] Bones of Contention: The Russian Orthodox Church and the Ekaterinburg Remains by Paul Gilbert

[2] Royal Russia No. 15

[3] Sovereign No. 12

[4] Nicholas II. Emperor. Tsar. Saint. 2021 Calendar

[5] Nicholas II. Monuments by Paul Gilbert

PLEASE NOTE that I cannot provide any publication dates for any of the titles listed above or that of any future book titles, nor any future issues of Royal Russia and Sovereign. If the title is NOT listed in my online bookshop, then it is not yet available. A listing will be added to my online shop + an email sent out, when each new title becomes available. I kindly ask that you refrain from phoning or emailing me with publication updates, because there will be delays. Under the present circumstances, I am doing the best I can. 

Thank you for your patience and understanding, and thank you for supported my research – PG

© Paul Gilbert. 30 March 2020

 

Holy Royal Martyrs, pray to God for us!

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Icon of the Holy Royal Martyrs, Church of the Holy Blessed Prince Alexander Nevsky in Tula.

Earlier this year, a unique icon of the Holy Royal Martyrs was presented to the Church of the Holy Blessed Prince Alexander Nevsky in Tula. The top layer of the icon was gifted by local needlewomen, who spent many months sewing it together.

According to Irina Alekseevna Vishnevskaya, the head of the needle circle, more than thirty women worked on the image of the Royal Family from the beginning of last summer. Another participant of the circle, Irina Sergeyevna Romanova, noted that pebbles from the basement of the Ipatiev house in Ekaterinburg, and from the mining pit at Ganina Yama were sewn into the icon.

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Depicted in their royal robes, the women took great care to ensure accuracy, right down to the smallest detail in the colourful vestments. As you can see in the video (below), the top layer of the icon was laid on top of the wooden icon depicting the images of the Holy Royal Martyrs. The two layers of the icon were joined together by ribbons, mounted in a wooden frame and hung on the side of a pillar within the church.

On Sunday 23rd February, the icon was consecrated by the rector of the church, Archpriest Victor Ryabovol, followed by a prayer to the Holy Royal Martyrs.

CLICK on the VIDEO below to watch the consecration of the icon performed in the Church of the Holy Blessed Prince Alexander Nevsky in Tula:

© Paul Gilbert. 29 March 2020

20th March 1917 – Provisional Government decrees that Nicholas II and family should be held under house arrest in the Alexander Palace

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Iconic image of Emperor Nicholas II in the Alexander Park at Tsarskoye Selo

On this day – 20th March (O.S. 7 March) 1917 – the Provisional Government decreed that Emperor Nicholas II, his wife and five children should be held under house arrest in the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo.

The Tsar joined the rest of the family there two days later, having travelled from Stavka at Mogilev. He was addressed by sentries at the gate of his home as “Nicholas Romanov”.

On Alexander Kerensky’s order, Nicholas and Alexandra were kept apart in the palace for a period of 18 days. They were permitted to see each other only during meals, and only in the presence of soldiers. Kerensky conducted an investigation of the Imperial couple’s documents and letters. He failed to find any evidence which would incriminate either of them.

Kerensky interviewed Alexandra regarding her involvement in state affairs and Rasputin’s involvement in them through his influence over her. She answered that as she and her spouse kept no secrets from each other, they often discussed politics and she naturally gave him advice to support him; as for Rasputin, he had been a true holy man of God, and his advice had been only in the interest of the good of Russia and the imperial family. After the interview, Kerensky told the tsar that he believed that Alexandra had told him the truth and was not lying.

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Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna sitting in the Alexander Park, June 1917

The family had total privacy inside the palace, but walks in the grounds were strictly regulated. Members of their domestic staff were allowed to stay if they wished and culinary standards were maintained.

Even in the Alexander Park, their movements were restricted. The photo at the bottom of this post, show the prisoners at the frontier of their domain. They were not permitted to cross the bridge which led them to the big park, to the outside world and freedom.

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Nicholas II working in the vegetable garden behind the Alexander Palace in 1917

Colonel Eugene Kobylinsky was appointed to command the military garrison at Tsarskoye Selo, which increasingly had to be done through negotiation with the committees or soviets elected by the soldiers.

During his captivity, the Tsar was subject to constant harassment and humiliation from the soldiers – most of whom were thugs – stationed in and around the Alexander Palace.

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Nicholas II and his family under guard in the Alexander Park, August 1917

On the morning of 14 August (O.S. 1), 1917, the former Tsar and his family left the Alexander Palace for the last time. They exited from the Semicircular Hall of the palace, and travelled by car to the Alexandrovskaya Station where they were sent into exile to Tobolsk. 

For an eye witness account of Nicholas II and his family under house arrest in the Alexander Palace, please refer to the following book The Romanovs Under House Arrest: From the 1917 Diary of a Palace Priest, the memories of Archpriest Afanasy Belyaev, who served as priest and confessor to the Russian Imperial family.

© Paul Gilbert. 20 March 2020

St. Petersburg Hosts One Day Exhibit of Pierre Gilliard’s Photographs of the Tsar’s family

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An exhibition of photographs depicting the life of Emperor Nicholas II and his family, from the collection of Pierre Gilliard, opened 17th March at the Karl Bulla Fund for Historical Photography, situated at No. 54 Nevsky Prospekt in St. Petersburg.

The one day exposition was timed to coincide with the release of the Russian translation of Gilliard’s book Трагическая судьба Николая II и его семьи (The Tragic Fate of Nicholas II and His Family), published in 1929 in Paris by Payot.

From 1905 Swiss citizen Pierre Gilliard (1879-1962) taught the French language to the children of Nicholas II. From 1913 he was appointed tutor to the Heir Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich. Gilliard accompanied the Imperial Family into exile to Tobolsk, but upon arrival in Ekaterinburg he was separated from the family. Gilliard was a keen photographer, and returned to Switzerland with a large number of photographs. In exile he wrote his memoirs of his life in Russia and his impressions of the daily life of Nicholas II and his family.

Today, Gilliard’s archives are stored in the Lausanne Museum of Photography, including 384 black and white photos. More than 70 photos from Pierre Gilliard’s archive, most of which never been exhibited in Russia are presented in the exhibition.

“In essence, this is the return of the memory of Pierre Gilliard, who, by the will of fate, witnessed one of the most tragic events in the history of Russia,” said the President of the Karla Bulla Foundation for Historical Photography Valentine Elbek.

He added that the photo exhibition will open at Livadia Palace in Yalta in May 2020, to coincide with the international scientific conference Russia. The Romanovs. More than a dozen photographs brought from Gilliard’s collection depict the Imperial Family during their visits to Livadia.

It is interesting to note that the idea of ​​publishing a photo album based on Pierre Gilliard’s collection is being worked out. “Our partners in Lausanne expressed a desire to host our exhibition, which will probably be shown in various European capitals,” added Valentin Elbek.

The St. Petersburg exhibition was implemented in partnership with the Ludwig Nobel Foundation. The Tsarskoye Selo Museum Reserve has shown interest in this initiative, where Gilliard’s working room is being restored in the Alexander Palace, and his heirs donated part of his belongings to the museum as a gift.

© Paul Gilbert. 20 March 2020

US Ambassador to Russia Visits Ekaterinburg

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PHOTO: From left to right: Archpriest Daniil Andreiuk, Representative of the Orthodox Church in America under the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, US Ambassador to the Russian Federation John J. Sullivan, US Consul in Ekaterinburg Amy Storrow, and Metropolitan of Ekaterinburg and Verkhotursky Kirill in the Patriarchal Compound in Ekaterinburg on 16th March 2020. Photo © Ekaterinburg Diocese

On 16th March 2020, Metropolitan of Ekaterinburg and Verkhotursky Kirill met with US Ambassador to the Russian Federation John J. Sullivan, US Consul in Ekaterinburg Amy Storrow, and Archpriest Daniil Andreiuk, Representative of the Orthodox Church in America under the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.

The visit to the Ural city by Ambassador Sullivan and his entourage took place in the Synodal Hall of the Tsarsky Cultural and Educational Center, located in the Patriarchal Compound, across from the Church on the Blood.

The US ambassador thanked Metropolitan Kirill for the meeting and noted that he plans to come again.

– “Indeed, we need to pray to God and, at the same time, we will continue to work together. This is my first visit to Ekaterinburg, and I plan to return,” the ambassador said.

Mr. Sullivan also congratulated Metropolitan Kirill on the 22nd anniversary of his Episcopal ordination. Then the archpastor presented his guest with souvenirs of his visit to Ekaterinburg.

After the meeting, Archpriest Maxim Minyailo, senior priest of the Church on the Blood conducted an excursion for their American guests around the Museum of the Holy Royal Family in the Tsarsky Center and the Church on the Blood, during which Ural shrines were presented that preserve the memory of the feat of the holy Royal Martyrs.

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PHOTO: Metropolitan of Ekaterinburg and Verkhotursky Kirill and US Ambassador to the Russian Federation John J. Sullivan admiring a sculpture of the Holy Royal Martyrs Saints Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and Alexei in the Patriarchal Compound in Ekaterinburg on 16th March 2020. Photo © Ekaterinburg Diocese

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PHOTO: Archpriest Maxim Minyailo, senior priest of the Church on the Blood conducts an excursion for his American guests around the Museum of the Holy Royal Family in the Tsarsky Center, situated in the Patriarchal Compound in Ekaterinburg on 16th March 2020. Photo © Ekaterinburg Diocese

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PHOTO: Archpriest Maxim Minyailo, senior priest of the Church on the Blood conducts an excursion for his American guests around the Upper Church of the Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg on 16th March 2020. Photo © Ekaterinburg Diocese

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PHOTO: Archpriest Maxim Minyailo, senior priest of the Church on the Blood conducts an excursion for his American guests to the Imperial Room (see note below) located in the Lower Church of the Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg on 16th March 2020. Photo © Ekaterinburg Diocese

NOTE: The altar of the Imperial Room is situated in the lower church, sanctified in honor of the Holy Royal Martyrs. It was established on the site of the room located in the basement of the Ipatiev House, where Emperor Nicholas II, his family, and four retainers were all brutally murdered on the night of 16/17 July 1918.

In the summer of 2018, with the blessing of Metropolitan Kirill of Ekaterinburg and Verkhoturye, the altar of the Imperial Chapel of the Holy Royal Passion-Bearers – the so-called Royal Room – was redesigned and decorated for the Tsar’s Days held in Ekaterinburg. The interior of the room has completely changed: like the Cuvuclia in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

Click HERE to read to read my article The Imperial Room in the Church on the Blood, Ekaterinburg, featuring 17 photos and 2 videos

© Paul Gilbert. 17 March 2020

‘The Last Tsar’ – a tale of two books

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The Last Tsar by Larissa Yermilova, 1996 edition (left) and 1997 edition (right)

Back in 1996, The Last Tsar by Larissa Yermilova was published, a joint effort by Planeta (Russia) and the Parkstone (UK) publishers. The book was one of numerous pictorials published in the 1990s, after historians were permitted access to the Romanov archives, which housed thousands of never before seen photographs from the private albums on Russia’s last emperor and his family. A second edition was published the following year (1997) in a larger format.

The Last Tsar is a major photographic record of the three last Emperors of Russia: Alexander II (pg. 41-68), Alexander III (pg. 69-122), and Nicholas II (pg.123-255).

Up until its publication in 1996, the great majority of the photographs used in this book had never been published before, and have rarely been seen even by researchers from the West, having remained hidden in the archives for 70 years, since the 1917 Russian Revolution. The many contemporary photographs depict Russian royalty in ceremonial dress and at leisure in informal surroundings.

The Last Tsar is a large format hardcover, with 255 pages, text in English. The highlight of this book is the illustrations: nearly 300 colour and black and white photographs! 

Copies of both the 1996 and 1997 editions can be found on eBay and Amazon. The original 1996 edition is the better of the two – PG

© Paul Gilbert. 16 March 2020

Why was Russia’s senior investigator and forensic expert dismissed from the Ekaterinburg remains case?

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The skull of Emperor Nicholas II

Vladimir Nikolaevich Solovyov, senior investigator and forensic expert at the Main Department of Criminalistics (Forensic Center) of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, who from 1991 to 2015 led the investigation into the death of the imperial family is calling it quits. Over the years, the case of the Ekaterinburg remains has taken up much of his professional career.

After his removal from the case, Vladimir Nikolaevich consented to the first interview, with the journalist Andrei Kamakin of the Russian media outlet MK – this is the First English translation – PG

***

– Vladimir Nikolaevich, let’s start with your retirement. What are the reasons?

– The reason is age (born in 1950 – PG). The Investigative Committee generally has a term of service of up to 65 years. After that, every year you need to renew it. But 70 years is considered the age limit, after 70 – you can no longer remain in the service if you are in uniform. I began my investigative work in 1976, after graduating from Moscow State University, so it’s time to retire. 

– What is the current status of the Ekaterinburg remains? What do you know?

– I have had nothing to do with the investigation, for more than four years now. Formally, I resigned from the investigation team in May 2016, but in fact I had already been dismissed in early November 2015. I do not have any reliable information on the current status of the investigation. In addition, the case materials are classified and remain “secret”. Further, I signed a non-disclosure agreement upon my dismissal.

– The case was classified immediately after you were dismissed?

– Yes.

– And how common is this practice – classified?

– The decision is made by the investigator. It is clear that many things need to be kept secret. We once worked in Togliatti investigating the criminal activities of one gang. Well, of course, this case had to be kept secret! A small leak of information – and a dozen people can die. But as far as the Ekaterinburg remains is concerned, I have always been against the case being “classified”. On the contrary, I believe that it should be as open as possible. This is not an ordinary criminal case. Rather, it is a historical investigation with forensic elements. I can hardly imagine what needs to be classified?!

– Well, what about the period when you conducted the investigation, can you discuss this?

– I can, however, I have no right to divulge the findings of the investigation before my dismissal. I know very little about the further progress of the investigation. Prior to this, until mid-November 2015, the case, was without a bar. I gave an interview, and did not hide anything. Therefore, I do not think that I can disclose something which is still classified as “secret” on the case.

– What, then, was the picture at the time of your dismissal?

– The case was resumed on September 23, 2015. On the same day, we exhumed the remains of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna. As witnesses, I invited the Metropolitan of St. Petersburg and Ladoga Barsanuphius and Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin (at that time – Chairman of the Synodal Department of the Moscow Patriarchate for the Relations of the Church and Society. – AK).

I told them: “I will not touch a single bone. Here are the packages for you, here are the specialists who will take fragments for research with you. You yourself will seal, sign these envelopes, and then I will sign them. This is a precaution, so that there would be no questions, no suspicion that ‘Solovyov might have replaced something there’ ”.

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Patriarch Alexei II (1929-2008) with HM Queen Elizabeth II, during her visit to Russia in 1994

– For what purpose was this examination carried out?

– It was a request of the patriarchy to check the ritual murder theory that the heads of the emperor and empress had been separated from the bodies after their execution, and that the skulls of two other people had been buried with the remains. The church has always been very nervous about this theory. I had numerous conversations with Patriarch Alexei II (1929-2008), and he repeatedly asked questions: “were their heads separated from their bodies, was their execution a ritual murder?”

The severed heads myth began with General M.K. Diterichs (head of the Kolchakovo commission to investigate the killing of the imperial family. – AK ). According to Diterichs, the heads of the Romanovs were placed in barrels filled with alcohol and brought to Moscow to Lenin and Sverdlov.

Then there were the so-called “witnesses”. For example, the monk Iliodor (Sergey Trufanov), a famous friend, and then enemy of Rasputin, claimed that Dzerzhinsky allegedly showed him a barrel containing the tsar’s head when they met in person in the Kremlin. It was all bullshit, of course!

In short, the task was to conduct a genetic examination of the skulls to make sure that they had not been replaced.

– At the first stage of the investigation, in the 1990s, such a study was not conducted?

– It was not. I was often criticized for not conducting a genetic examination on the skulls at the time. 

– Why?

– I will try to explain. Genetics can now work with microscopic volumes of matter, even with individual molecules. And in the early 1990s, after a full genetic examination, there would be little left of the skulls. At the same time, we had the categorical conclusion of anthropologists: the heads had not been separated. All the cervical vertebrae of the emperor and empress were preserved. Post-cranial skeletons, that is, the part that is below the head, corresponded to that of the skulls.

– Were the results ready when you were dismissed?

– Yes, a genetic examination confirmed that both the skulls and skeletons belonged to the same people – the emperor and the empress. There had been no substitution. 

– Did the church also ask you about them?

– No. A genetic examination was carried out on the traces of blood, on the shirt worn by Nicholas II, which he was wearing during an assassination attempt on him in Japan in 1891, as well as blood on the uniform and boot of Alexander II, which he was wearing during an assassination attempt. All these things are today stored in the State Hermitage. In addition, samples of bio-materials were taken from the descendants of Anna Demidova, Dr. Eugene Botkin and Ivan Kharitonov (a lady-in-waiting, the family doctor and the cook who were all murdered with the Imperial Family in the Ipatiev House on July 17, 1918. – AK). We were unable to locate any descendants of the valet Alexei Troupe.

The experts worked day and night, and by mid-October all the results were ready. All of them categorically confirmed that the remains found in the Porosenkov ravine near Ekaterinburg belong to the Romanovs and their servants. But the patriarch still had doubts.

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Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin (1968-2020)

– Did the Patriarch insist on the resumption of the investigation?

– Here is how it was. In July 2015, a government working group was created (on issues related to the investigation and reburial of the remains of Tsesarevich Alexei and Grand Duchess Maria. – AK), which was headed by Sergei Prikhodko (at that time – Deputy Prime Minister and Head of the Government of the Russian Federation. – AK).

All departments and organizations that were involved in the identification of the remains and historical research – the Federal Center for Forensic Medicine, Rosarchive, the Institute of General Genetics of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Investigative Committee – presented their conclusions. And all the references clearly and definitely stated that the Ekaterinburg remains were indeed those of the murdered Imperial Family. Therefore, the working group, convinced of the seriousness of the arguments, proposed a burial on October 18, 2015.

But when Vsevolod Chaplin, who represented the patriarchy in the group, was asked if the representatives of the church would give the names of members of the Imperial Family at the burial ceremony, he replied that the names would not be spoken, since the church had no confidence in the research of scientists. All the results had been allegedly obtained secretly by him.

This, I must say, was an outright lie. Nobody hid anything from the church. Moreover, from 1995, the investigation actually worked only for the church: it answered its questions and complaints. I will say more: the experts who participated in the investigation from 1995 to 1998 were appointed at the proposal of Patriarch Alexy II.

I realized that Vsevolod Chaplin voiced the position of Patriarch Kirill and that we would face the same scandal as in 1998. Then, at the funeral (July 17, 1998, the remains of 9 of 11 prisoners of the Ipatiev House — Nicholas II, Alexandra Fedorovna, three of their daughters and four servants — AK) were buried, the priest was forbidden to acknowledge the unidentified corpses by name.

We met with Chaplin face to face. “Father Vsevolod,” I said, “we must somehow get out of this situation. I suggest such an option. We will resume the criminal case. If you want the church to be involved in the investigation, then there is no problem. We will give you complete carte blanche: do what you want, invite any kind of specialists. Talk, I ask you, with His Holiness. ”

Chaplin spoke with the patriarch. The patriarch then made a request to President Vladimir Putin to conduct additional research, which would allow church representatives the opportunity to actively participate in this. The church’s proposal was forwarded to the First Deputy Prosecutor General of Russia, and Chairman of The Investigative Committee of the Prosecutor General’s Office Alexander Ivanovich Bastrykin, who moved quickly to reopen both the criminal case into the deaths of the Imperial Family and a new investigation. I was ordered to lead the new investigation.

– That is, it turns out that it was you who initiated the “resumption” of the case?

– Yes, but in reality, all I wanted was to wait for the funeral, probably get a departmental medal for good service, retire and forget about the Ekaterinburg remains case.

But I saw an imminent conflict and believed that only the participation of the church in the investigation could prevent it. Conversations with Chaplin encouraged me then. I was sure that we would finish the job before the new year 2016, after which I would calmly retire. But I was wrong.

Instead of a calm, honorable resignation – it became a nightmare. I was inundated with a flurry of criticism from the press, public organizations, and pundits close to church circles. They accused me of grossly breaking the law, falsifying the tsar’s bones, bribing experts all over the world, and forcing the Russian people to pray to the devil through “fake bones”.

These outrageous accusations endured for five years. Since all my work on the Ekaterinburg Remains was being called into question, I decided to wait for the final results of the investigation.

– Do you regret intervening?

– No, not at all! It was necessary for me to go this way. This way, the church could not say later, that I did not listen to their position.

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Exhumation of the remains of Emperor Alexander III

– What led to your removal from the case?

– Relations with the patriarchy escalated. As an example, I can cite the conflict around the remains of Alexander III. The church commission (to study the “remains found near Ekaterinburg”, formed by order of the patriarch in September 2015. – AK ) appealed to the Investigative Committee with a request for the exhumation of the ashes of the “Tsar-Peacekeeper”. I was categorically against opening the grave.

– For what reason?

– In 1994, when we exhumed the remains of Grand Duke George Alexandrovich, the brother of Nicholas II, we were convinced of two things. First: the graves in the Peter and Paul Cathedral had not opened and not defiled, according to many, by the Bolsheviks. And the second: burials, a significant part of them, were exposed to water. Including the sea, which, apparently, was caught up in the Neva during the floods.

The remains of George Alexandrovich, in addition to a wooden coffin, were enclosed in a zinc coffin and a copper ark. And when the crypt was flooded, then, apparently, in salty sea water metal objects formed a kind of battery. Moreover, the current was generated so thorough that only a few small pieces remained of the zinc coffin. The wooden coffin, however, was perfectly preserved. But the remains themselves were also badly damaged.

I had serious doubts about how well preserved the remains of Alexander III would be. More appropriate, if the church so wanted to double-check everything, I thought to open the grave of George Alexandrovich once again. We already knew the degree of preservation of these remains. In addition, before the second burial, the grave was put in order and  drained. That is, from a technical point of view, exhumation would not be as difficult.

And most importantly: George Alexandrovich carried the genes of both the father and mother of Nicholas II, that is, from the point of view of genetics, his remains are much more important and informative than those of his father, Alexander III.

But I understand now why the patriarch and Tikhon Shevkunov (Metropolitan of Pskov and Porkhovsky, secretary of the church commission on the Ekaterinburg remains.” – AK) insisted on opening the tomb of Alexander III.

In the 1920s, I recall, Poland was at war against Soviet Russia, Polish newspapers published stories about how the Bolsheviks had desecrated the graves of the Russian emperors. In particular it noted how the tombs of Alexander III and Peter I had been opened … thus raising speculation by the church.

As I understand it, the representatives of the church really wanted to prove that the grave of Alexander III had indeed been looted. Then it would be possible for the church to say that Solovyov or someone else took the bones from the graves in the Peter and Paul Cathedral, and then passed them off as the Ekaterinburg remains.

– As far as I remember, opening the tomb did not show anything which confirmed this version?

– That’s right. The exhumation, which was carried out after my dismissal, unequivocally established that the tomb had not been disturbed.

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Tikhon Shevkunov (Metropolitan of Pskov and Porkhovsky

– But this was not the only conflict?

– Indeed, it was not the only one. I had a major disagreement with Tikhon Shevkunov during a meeting with Bastrykin. Everyone involved in this matter was invited to it, including Bishop Tikhon. And shortly before that, he held a press conference in which academician Veniamin Alekseev, the former director of the Ural Institute of History and Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, took part.

This was the first press conference of Tikhon Shevkunov in the rank of secretary of the church commission, which was to set the tone for work on the study of the remains. In theory, a specialist whom the church trusts the most should have been invited to it. And this specialist, academician Alekseev, was telling us that the Imperial Family, or part of it, may have been saved! There is supposedly a lot of documents confirming this version.

At the same meeting I, met Vladyka Tikhon. “Listen,” I said, “in 2000 the church canonized the Romanovs as martyrs, that is, acknowledging that the entire family died. They are saints precisely on the fact of their death. And you invite a “historian” who questions the decision of the church. Are you against the decision of the Council of Bishops? ” Tikhon then began to make excuses: they say, I misunderstood him. I did not.

Bastrykin intervened. He realized that any conflict could lead to unpredictable consequences. At the same meeting, I was ordered to transfer the case to Krasnov (at that time – the head of the Investigative Department of the Investigative Committee, since January 22, 2020 – the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation. – AK).

From that moment I could no longer examine any documents of the investigation. Krasnov advised the members of the investigative team not to communicate with me.

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On 17th July 2018, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill led a Cross Procession from the Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg to the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs at Ganina Yama

– They say that the Patriarch himself insisted on your removal. He allegedly requested this from the chairman of the Investigative Committee?

– I can’t rule that out. He really wanted another investigator to get down to business. As Vsevolod Chaplin later told me, shortly after the resumption of the case, the patriarch demanded that he “solve the problem with Solovyov.” And when Father Vsevolod replied that he could not do this, he said that then another person would do it. And Chaplin in the church commission was replaced by Tikhon Shevkunov.

As for the transfer of the case itself, I have no grievance or complaint. This is a common scenario: today the matter is in the production of one investigator – tomorrow the other. But they could use me at least as a consultant! At that time, I was the only person on the committee who thoroughly knew the case of the Ekaterinburg Remains thoroughly. For some reason, apparently, Krasnov did not like me. 

– Be that as it may, the issue of identification has been resolved. On July 16, 2018, the Investigative Committee officially declared: “The findings of the commission of molecular genetic examinations confirmed that the Ekaterinburg Remains belong to the former Emperor Nicholas II, members of his family and their retainers.”

– I never had the slightest doubt that it would be so. The truth has triumphed, and I am completely satisfied.

– Nevertheless, the case is not closed, the investigation continues. What else, do your colleagues want to find out?

– Apparently, the emphasis is now the insistence of the church on historical expertise. This topic is voluminous, and can be infinitely long. But, as far as I know from the press, no new documents have been found during this time. 

– Two years ago at a conference organized by the church, the current head of the investigation on the Ekaterinburg Remains Marina Molodtsova expressed her intention to check all possible versions, including the theory of the ritual murder of the Imperial Family. Perhaps this is the reason it has taken so long?

– This theory was checked back in the 1990s. At that time, I had requested all the data on ritual killings from the archives and investigative units of Russia and prepared a comprehensive report on this subject, which I read to the government commission. There were no objections – including from the church commission, which included Metropolitan Juvenal and church archaeologist Belyaev.

The question, I believe, has long been closed: the murder was entirely for political reasons and did not involve any satanic rites. By the way, the church’s decision to canonize the Imperial Family in 2000, was based on their recognition as a political murder. For several years, the special commission of the patriarchy studied the issue of the “ritualism” of regicide and did not find any reasons for its recognition.

But the most important thing: the resolution on the rehabilitation of the Romanovs, adopted by the Presidium of the Supreme Court on October 1, 2008, states that members of the Imperial Family “were shot on behalf of the state” and “subjected to political repression.” And this is a judicial act of higher legal force. 

Only the Presidium of the Supreme Court itself can change this verdict. Not a single court, prosecutor’s office, or investigator can do anything contrary to this ruling. Even if you do not agree with it. Incidentally, I myself do not agree with the ruling regarding the motives of rehabilitation. But the law is the law.

– Yes, I know your position: having rehabilitated the Imperial Family, but at the same time, the regicide was also rehabilitated. And indeed a criminal case turned out: there are those who were killed, there are those who killed, but there are no perpetrators.

– That’s right. Prior to this, the organizers and participants in the execution appeared in the case as murderers, as persons who committed a criminal offense. But since the Supreme Court found that they were only following the decision of a “public authority vested with judicial functions”.

However, there was one benefit from this ruling, it put an end to all the impostors, those who claimed to be heirs of the “miraculously saved Romanovs.” I told them: “Unfortunately, we can’t do anything for you. According to the decision of the Presidium of the Supreme Court, the entire Imperial Family were shot.”

So, back to your question: I was very surprised when it was announced that the investigation was even going to check the claims of the impostors, as well as the ritual murder theory. Investigative bodies do not have the right to audit the decisions of the Presidium of the Supreme Court!

In fact, the only question that the investigation could fully deal with is the identification of the remains.

– It turns out that historical examination does not make sense at all?

– Whatever the results of the historical examination, the investigation must repeat the ruling by the Presidium of the Supreme Court. Even if it came to other conclusions. The only thing the Investigative Committee can do in this case is to turn to the Presidium of the Supreme Court with a request to review its decision of October 1, 2008.

– Despite all the vicissitudes of the past five years, you remain a member of the government working group. As I understand it, no one has removed you from this position.

– Yes, no one has told me that I have been removed from this group. I think that after the publication of this interview, I will immediately be removed, but for now I officially remain a member of it.

– When was the working group meeting for the last time?

– The last meeting took place on September 11, 2015.

– How did it come about?” What prompted the prime minister to create it?

– What prompted … probably, in March 2015, I turned to Lyudmila Borisovna Narusova (member of the Federation Council, widow of the mayor of St. Petersburg Anatoly Sobchak. – AK). We have had a very long, good relationship with her. Her husband, Anatoly Sobchak, was the main engine of the first government commission created in 1993. He provided enormous assistance when all these studies were carried out.

I said: “Lyudmila Borisovna, Anatoly Alexandrovich was very sympathetic with regard to this topic. Is it possible to somehow end it humanly, to finally bring peace to the poor bones of the imperial children?” Narusova fully supported me. She turned to Putin and Medvedev. The President and the Prime Minister were both familiar with this problem and made the appropriate decisions.

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The remains of Tsesarevich Alexei and Grand Duchess Maria found in 2007, consist
of 44 bone fragments, as well as seven teeth, three bullets and a fragment of clothing

– And who proposed October 18 as the date of the funeral? I heard that the idea belongs to Putin?

– Yes, I believe that it was his idea.

– But why exactly on October 18?

– This is the name day of Tsesarevich Alexei.

– Prior to the creation of the working group, did the church show any interest in the remains of Alexei and Maria?

– None, there was absolutely no interest. I will tell you a story. In March 2011, after the case was closed and the question arose of what to do with the remains of Alexei and Maria — they were then stored in my safe — I sent a letter to the patriarch.

He wrote back, that the government does not solve the issue of burial, relatives also need not apply. According to the law, the remains in such cases are transferred to the corresponding department responsible. That is, formally, we had to deal with them as unclaimed remains. Their graves with zinc tablets are buried in unmarked graves, situated in special sections of municipal cemeteries.

In a letter to the patriarch, I asked if the church would take upon itself the burdens of burial. The answer was very short: “The Russian Orthodox Church does not claim the right to bury the “Ekaterinburg remains ”mentioned in your letter.

Is that all?

– And that’s it. That is, look: the church was asked how it relates to the fact that the saints canonized by it, the heir to the throne and his sister can be buried like homeless people. And the primate replies: “Well, bury them!” There were many other appeals to the church leadership on this subject, but I received no answer other than this letter from the patriarch. And after that, Kirill has the conscience to declare that the church has repeatedly appealed to the investigation, but no one answered it! Cynicism, of course, is complete.

Even a person with a secondary school education, a conscientious person, after many studies, understands the importance that the remains discovered near Ekaterinburg in 1991 and 2007 respectively, belong to the Imperial Family. And that the church hierarchs have a responsibility.

Since the discovery of the Ekaterinburg remains and to this day in Russia about 60 million people have died. Many Orthodox Christians died without praying to the relics of the Holy Royal Martyrs. I think Patriarch Kirill should publicly apologize to the believers for this.

– The last, as far as I could trace, the public statement of the head of the working group Sergey Prikhodko dates from July 2016. Then he said the following: “We are waiting for the end of church examinations. Timing depends on the church.” Do you know anything about these studies? What phase are they in?

– I know that the church has done some genetic research. Most likely, they have long been finished. And the results, of course, are exactly the same as those of the investigation committee.

– As for church plans for the remains, the latest information on this topic is a statement by the spokesman for the patriarch made in July 2018: “We are waiting for the final conclusions, which will then be presented to the next bishops’ council.” The next meeting is due to take place this year. That is, in theory, the issue will soon be resolved. But I believe in this, frankly, with difficulty. Do you have any forebodings about this?

– Church hierarchs can, of course, bring this issue to the Council of Bishops. But that doesn’t mean anything. At the council, I am sure it will be said that there is still not enough data to make a final decision. What you need to research is something else. 

At one time, church representatives demanded from me a detailed, almost second-to-second report on what happened during and after the execution. As if there were five operators with video cameras! I worked in the investigating authorities for many years and I can say with confidence that only in the rarest cases do we have as much information as we have on the Ekaterinburg remains.

– Do you understand the purpose pursued by the church leadership?

– As the late Vsevolod Chaplin told me at one time, the patriarch, speaking with him, said that he would not want this issue to be resolved in his lifetime. It is clear that the patriarch does not want to take responsibility for the processions to Ganina Yama (an abandoned mine, where the murderers brought the Romanovs’ bodies right after the execution and made the first, unsuccessful attempt to hide them; in 2000, the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs was founded on this site – AK). 

– What is so terrible in these religious processions?

– The church still officially adheres to the version of investigator Sokolov (Nikolai Sokolov, the investigator who investigated the execution of the Imperial Family on behalf of Admiral Kolchak. – AK): the bodies of the Romanovs were completely destroyed at Ganina Yama. In 1919, Sokolov found several dozen bone fragments – chopped and burnt. And he suggested that these were the remains of the Imperial Family.

These fragments, were taken out of Russia by Sokolov, but lost during the Second World War. But in 1998, when archaeological excavations were carried out on Ganina Pit, another 73 bone fragments were found there. In the same place and, judging by the description, similar to what Sokolov discovered. Experts found that at first these bones were welded, and then burned in a low-temperature flame, which could be a fire. But the most important thing: these are not human bones, but domestic animals – cow, goat, and chicken.

Where they came from is understandable. According to the memoirs of Yurovsky (the head of the firing squad. – AK), his men were hungry, and he ordered them to bring food from the city. Apparently, the Chekists and Red Guards cooked a soup for themselves, and then they threw the bones into the fire.

In order for the church hierarchs to recognize the remains of the Imperial Family means for them to acknowledge that all these years they led religious processions not to relics, but to animal bones. They want to delay this shame as long as possible.

– In this case, the authorities are greatly mistaken, making the decision on the burial of Alexei and Mary dependent on the position of the church.

– Yes, the prospects for church burial are not yet visible. The Patriarchate has not decided on its position to the remains, although it had all the possibilities for such. But all reasonable deadlines have passed, it is impossible to drag it out any longer. In my opinion: the question of the burial of members of the Imperial Family, of the head of a great empire cannot even be left to the mercy of even the most respected religious denomination.

It is necessary to assemble a working group and once again consider the issue of identifying the remains – taking into account the results of the new genetic examinations. And decide on a civil burial. Whether the church will take part in this ceremony and in what form is no longer a problem of the government, but of the church.

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Vladimir Solovyov in the State Archive of the Russian Federation

– With what mood do you leave the Investigative Committee, Vladimir Nikolaevich? With a sense of accomplishment or unfinished business?

– My feelings are contradictory. I am glad that the conclusions made by me back in 1998 were confirmed. And it doesn’t matter who puts the last point in the matter. Maybe it’s even better that it’s not me. This will once again prove the objectivity of the investigation.

But the feeling of incompleteness, of course, is also there. And I feel this, not only as an investigator, but also as a citizen of Russia. The Bolshevik Revolution and the Civil War are not over until all of their victims are buried. Do not forget that Alexei and Maria are not just ordinary victims, they were the children of Russia’s last tsar. Let them be buried with the rest of their family in peace. 

© Andrei Kamakin / Paul Gilbert. 14 March 2020

The Baron who remembered meeting Nicholas II in 1914

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Baron Eduard Oleg Alexandrowitsch von Falz-Fein’s
collection of art included a portrait of Tsar Nicholas II

On 17th November 2018, Baron Eduard Oleg Alexandrowitsch von Falz-Fein died in a house fire in Vaduz, Liechtenstein, at the age of 106. The Russian-born Liechtensteiner businessman, journalist, sportsman and art collector, may very well have been the last person who recalled meeting Tsar Nicholas II.

There are almost no contemporaries who knew Nicholas II,” wrote Eduard Alexandrovich von Falz-Fein in 2017 – “It has been 100 years since I saw the kind eyes of the Sovereign, and I remember the warmth of his hands when he held me as a child. Nothing can erase that cheerful and happy memory! The comprehension of those years leaves me in deep sadness. The Lord gave us a peaceful and bright joy to remember the August Family and their sincere love, their devotion to Russia!

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Eduard Alexandrovich von Falz-Fein was born on 14th September 1912 in the village of Gavrilovka, situated in the Kherson region of the Russian Empire. Today, it is part of Ukraine.

“We were big landowners, the peasants loved us, because we paid well,” said Eduard Alexandrovich about his childhood – “For New Year and Christmas, all employees received gifts, and on their birthday the employee was given the day off. Uncle had the largest zoological garden in the world, where more than three thousand animals and birds from around the world were collected. Every day, a distinguished guest came to see the zoo, and if no one came for a long time, mother would say: “How is this so! Nobody loves us anymore? ”

Probably the most honoured guest to the estate was made by Tsar Nicholas II. In the Spring of 1914, Eduard Alexandrovich’s uncle Friedrich invited the sovereign to Askania-Nova, who arrived on 29th April 1914, staying for 2 days. “No one knew what they talked about, noted Eduard Alexandrovich, –  “most likely, about the approaching war.”

On the occasion of their august guest, Falz-Fein announced a three-day holiday for his employees, allocating money for refreshments. The peasants raised toasts and cheered, as they drank to honour the tsar’s visit.

On the evening of the 29th, the tsar was invited to dinner, which included soup, consomme, various pies, sterlet, wild goat with croquettes, poivrade sauce, roast chicken and partridges, a traditional fried pig, caviar and Bavarian cheese, all of which was complimented with a selection of fine Crimean winse.

The following morning, the Tsar was given a lavish breakfast in the garden, and it was at this time that little –year-old Eduard Alexandrovich was honoured to be planted on the lap of Nicholas II.

Nicholas II did not boast of his title Autocrat of the Russian Empire. He was relaxed and at ease, talking freely with the senior caretaker of the zoo, Klimentiy Siyanko, the coachman Reznichenko, the shepherd Samuel Sukonko, the estate manager Iosif Kiriltsev, and the scientific observer Grote.

The sovereign was delighted with what he saw on the estate. Nicholas II gave Friedrich Eduardovich his portrait with a dedicatory inscription (a mark of highest respect) and ordered his ajutant Vorontsov-Dashkov to present gifts on his behalf to the estates’ employees.

Falz-Fein sent a gift for Empress Alexandra Feodorovna: a luxurious fan made of peacock feathers with an enamel pen made by Rene Lalique.

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In the photo above, Baron Eduard Oleg Alexandrowitsch von Falz-Fein (right) is visiting his friend, the senior male and former head of the Romanov Family Association Prince Nicholas Romanovich (1922-2014) at this home in Switzerland.

Together, they are looking at a copy of Romanoff: Un Album de Famille, a series of magnificent pictorials produced by Jacques Ferrand in the 1980s and early 1990s. Each volume featured hundreds of photos of members of the Russian Imperial Family, including the Tsar and his family, grand dukes and grand duchesses, princes and princesses of the imperial blood, etc. Ferrand received exclusive publication rights from members of the Imperial Family who fled Russia after the 1917 Revolution.

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Tsar Nicholas II (left) with Friedrich Eduardovich Falz-Fein (standing next to the tsar),
at the latter’s estate Askania-Nova, in Crimea, 29th April 1914

In a letter dated May 8, 1914, to his mother the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, Nicholas II writes about his visit to Askania-Nova:

“On April 29, early in the morning, I went by motor through Simferopol and Perekop to Askania-Nova, where I arrived at 4 p.m. There I was met by the owner himself [Friedrich Eduardovich Falz-Fein], the old mother, her daughter, who is married to Paker, the granddaughter and another son, that is, the brother of Falz-Fein. They are completely Russian and easy people to talk with. I was offered tea in the garden. Herons, ducks, geese and cranes walked around the table, looked at us and some came up and pushed with their beaks, begging us to give them bread.

“Then the master led me past large cages with all kinds of birds living together, to the pond, filled with several hundred ducks, geese, swans, and flamingos of different breeds. Then we went to the famous menagerie, the size of the military field in Gatchina, with a huge fence around. Different deer, goats, antelopes, wildebeests, kangaroos and ostriches live there, all year round in the open and in the open, and also all together.

“An amazing impression, like a picture from the Bible, as if the animals came out of Noah’s Ark! From there we went to his lovely park, which Falz-Fein planted and laid out in 1888, after he found water. All our northern bushes and trees grow here, which is also strange in the steppe. Then, in a motor, I drove around his huge herd of sheep, cows, bison, horses, zebras and camels. These herds graze for six months in the steppe, far from his house, and he encouraged me to approach them.

“Still, I did not see everything, because there was not enough time. In the evening I dined with them and went to bed early. Three gentlemen (accompanying) me were: Voeikov, Drenteln and Sashka Vorontsov.

“The next morning, April 30, we went to the steppe and continued to inspect the herds: they also showed us the shearing of the sheep. In the garden in one of the ponds, are red fish – carp, ides, and roaches. He explained to me that it is very simple: you just need to provide them with a lot of sun and feed the fish meat! He made a brood of his best horses, which is what he is most pleased with, and they are really remarkably good and beautiful! He sells 120 horses annually for cavalry repairs.

“Before I left, the Falz Feyn family served breakfast in the garden, although it was 9.30 in the morning. Having said goodbye to them, we went the other way back and examined several new peasant farms, who had been evicted from the villages after three years. They themselves are very satisfied. Their homes, households, fields and orchards make the most pleasant impression. Everything is so clean, neat and they themselves do not look like ordinary peasants!

“Then we drove to Simferopol and through Bakhchisaray to Ai-Petri, home. Arrived in Livadia before dinner. So I did 587 miles in two days, almost as much as from St. Petersburg to Moscow … ” 

The stay of Nicholas II in Askania-Nova was recorded on film by court photographer V.K. Trikler (representative of the French film rental company) and has been preserved to this day – see below:

Click HERE to watch 4 short film clips of Nicholas II visiting Askania-Nova 28-30 1914

© Paul Gilbert. 10 March 2020

How the Orthodox Church supported the overthrow of the monarchy

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Early 20th century propaganda caricature depicting Emperor Nicholas II
between a member of the Holy Synod and a revolutionary

In 1917, Emperor Nicholas II abdicated the throne, and the country was proclaimed a republic. How did the hierarchs of the Orthodox Church react to this event? In response, I am pleased to present the First English translation of an interview by the Russian media outlet “MK” in St. Petersburg with Doctor of historical sciences, Professor Mikhail Babkin of the Russian State University for the Humanities (Moscow), and author of the monograph “Clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church and the overthrow of the monarchy” who discusses the topic.

– Mikhail Anatolyevich, what place did the Orthodox Church in general and the Holy Synod in particular occupy during the Russian Empire?

– The Russian Empire and the Russian Orthodox Church were a single church-state body, headed by the emperor. The supreme body of church administration in Russia was the Most Holy Governing Synod established by Peter the Great in 1721.

From 1723, the Synod had been titled as “His Holiness” and “Governing”. The first of these denominations pointed to the equality of the Synod with the Eastern patriarchs, and the second to the independence of the Synod from the Governing Senate, to which all colleges were subordinate (from 1802 they became known as ministries). That is, by its status, the Synod was not equated to the college, but to the Senate. If the Senate acted in the civil administration field, the Synod in that of the spiritual. Moreover, the buildings of the Senate and the Synod, located on Senate Square in St. Petersburg, were a single whole, connected by a triumphal arch, and surmounted by the imperial crown.

The activity of the Synod was controlled by a secular person appointed by the emperor – chief prosecutor of the Holy Synod, who was the official representative of the authority of His Majesty. The chief prosecutor was responsible for protecting state interests in the field of church administration, as well as overseeing the governing bodies of the Orthodox Church in the center and in the localities: the Synod and the spiritual consistories, respectively.

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The buildings of the Senate (former) and the Holy Synod, in St. Petersburg as they look today

– What was the political position of the hierarchs during the February Revolution?

– In the last days of February 1917 (I quote the dates according to the Julian calendar), in the conditions of a crisis of state power in the capital of the Russian Empire, there was an increase in the number of strikes and street demonstrations, which resulted in the treasonous defection of military units of the Petrograd garrison to the side of the Revolution. During those days, the Synod was urged to take any measures in support of the monarchy by both representatives of the public and government officials: for example, the Chief Procurator of the Holy Synod, Nikolai Pavlovich Raev (1855-1919) and his deputy (more precisely, in the terminology of those years – comrade) Prince Nikolai Davidovich Zhevakhov (1874-1946). However, the members of the Synod did not meet those motions.

On March 2, 1917, in the chambers of the Moscow Metropolitan (they were located on the courtyard of the Trinity-Sergius Lavra, at 44, Fontanka River Embankment, in the building where the Mayor’s Central City Public Library is now located), a private meeting of the Synod members was held. Six of the eleven members of the supreme body of church administration took part in it. It was decided to immediately establish contact with the Provisional Government, formed that day by the Executive Committee of the State Duma. This fact allows us to argue that the members of the Synod recognized the new government even before (!) The abdication of Emperor Nicholas II from the throne, which took place on the night of March 2–3.

– During the February Revolution, the reigning dynasty was overthrown. How did the clergy of the Orthodox Church react to this event?

– Let’s do a little historical excursion. As you know, on March 2, 1917, in Pskov, Emperor Nicholas II renounced for himself and for his son in favor of his younger brother – Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich. The following day, March 3, in Petrograd, in house No. 12 on Millionnaya Street, Mikhail Alexandrovich signed a document whose official name is the “Act on the refusal of Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich from the acceptance of the supreme power and his recognition of the full power for the Provisional Government  on the initiative of the State Duma ”(source: Collection of Legalizations and Decrees of the Government. Pg., 1917. No. 54. March 6. Sep. 1. Art. 345. S. 534.). However, in early March 1917 that document which was printed in the press, controlled by the Petrograd Soviet of Workers ‘and Soldiers’ Deputies, was published under the title “Abdication of Mikhail Alexandrovich.” It was from that point, that the myth spread about the abdication of the Grand Duke. At the same time, both the Petrograd Soviet, but also the Holy Synod were involved in the creation of this myth.

Let us turn to the text of the Act of March 3, 1917, in which Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich said: “I made a firm decision only in that case to accept the Supreme (tsarist. – Approx. Ed.) Power, if that would be the will of our great people, which should […] establish a government in the Constituent Assembly and new basic laws of the Russian State. Therefore, […] I ask all citizens of the Russian Power to submit to the Provisional Government, […] henceforth before the […] Constituent Assembly, by its decision on the form of government, expresses the will of the people.” There are no words about any abdication in the Act. Moreover, it speaks of Mikhail Alexandrovich’s readiness to take the throne if the Constituent Assembly elects a monarchical form of government for Russia.

Thus, on March 3, 1917, Russia was at a historic crossroads: to be a monarchy or a republic, in one form or another.

We come back to your question. How did the Holy Synod behave in this situation? In short, from March 4, it had taken a whole range of measures to remove the issue of the monarchy from the agenda in the socio-political consciousness of the 100 million Orthodox flock. For example, on March 7, the supreme body of church administration issued a definition in which it was prescribed to all Russian clergy: “in all cases, instead of commemoration of the reigning house, to offer prayers “for the God-Preserving Russian and Noble Interim Government”. That is, on March 7, in the absence of the abdication of Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich and before the decision of the Constituent Assembly on the form of government, the reigning House of Romanov began to be commemorated in the past tense. Thus, the members of the Synod intervened in the state system of Russia, and in this context, we can say that the members of the Synod overthrew royal power as an institution.

Thus, the thesis of the Petrosoviet about the alleged “abdication of Mikhail Alexandrovich” and, as a consequence, that the “House of Romanov abdicated” was supported by the authority of the Holy Synod, after which it was introduced into the public consciousness of the Orthodox flock, turning over time into an enduring myth. It is replicated to this day in contemporary scientific works and educational literature.

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Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich and Emperor Nicholas II

– How did the local clergy react to the February Revolution?

– The political line for the entire clergy was determined by the Synod. Its corresponding orders in the order of church administration from Petrograd were distributed to all dioceses, monasteries, and parishes. And the clergy, in turn, brought information to their parishioners. For example, after the changes made by the supreme body of church administration in liturgical ranks, prayers of the following plan began to sound in all the churches of the Russian Orthodox Church: With such “doctrinal” texts, the Synod actually proclaimed the thesis of the divine origin of the authority of the Provisional Government.

– If, in your opinion, the members of the Synod took the side of the Revolution, what did they hope to gain from it?

– After the reform of church administration carried out by Tsar Peter I, there was no Russian patriarchate for more than two centuries. And the clergy over time (especially after 1905) began to cultivate views, but in fact – the myth that, they say, the patriarchate is the “canonical system of church administration”, and that the Russian Church, deprived of the patriarch, is “decapitated” and in a state of “enslavement”.

The actions taken by the Holy Synod in the spring of 1917 were due to motives arising from the centuries-old historical and theological problem of the “priesthood-tsardom,” the main question of which is the relationship between the tsarist and sacred hierarchical authorities, or whose authority is higher: the tsar or patriarch? 

Taking advantage of the socio-political situation prevailing during the February Revolution, members of the Holy Synod decided to “settle accounts” with tsardom. Indeed, if there is tsarist power in the state in any form, then there is the participation of the emperor, as the anointed of God, in the affairs of church administration, there is a problem of correlation of priesthood and tsardom. If in the state there is no tsar, but there is a secular republic, devoid of sacred meaning in any form, then automatically it turns out that “the priesthood is higher than tsardom.”

In other words, in the early days of March 1917, members of the Holy Synod overthrew imperial power as their “charismatic competitor.” They wanted the church in the state to exist as if under the tsar, but without the tsar: in which the clergy, as before, would enjoy special rights and privileges, that it would receive subsidies from the treasury, but that there would be no “state interference in affairs church”, so that the clergy does not have any outside supervision, control and accountability.

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Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow (1865-1925)

– It seems paradoxical that the restoration of the patriarchate took place in 1917 – during such a milestone in the history of Russia …

– The patriarchate was restored for the sake of the patriarchal power itself: first of all, so that it would be. Thus, the Local Council, under pressure from the “bishops’ party,” adopted the decision to restore the patriarchate on November 4, 1917, and the next day elected Metropolitan Tikhon of Moscow (Bellavin) [1] to the patriarchate. But at the same time, the powers of the first bishop and his place in the system of church administration were not delineated. Only on December 8, the Council adopted the definition “On the rights and obligations of His Holiness Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.” Further, the power of the patriarch only increased, right up to his absolutization in the 2000-2010s.

In general, speaking in the context of the problem of the “priesthood of the tsardom”, the year 1917 was reduced to the following: in March there was no royal authority, and in November the patriarchate appeared. That is, the tsar was gone, but the patriarch appeared. Who benefits from this? The question is rhetorical.

***

[1] When Patriarch Tikhon learned of the vengeful execution of the Imperial Family in 1918, he commanded that Panikhidas (requiems) be served for Nicholas II as the slain Tsar—regardless of the fact that he abdicated the throne; regardless of the fact that under the Bolshevik terror this was dangerous for the Patriarch himself; regardless, finally, of the fact that ironically, it was the Tsarist government that had for two hundred years prevented the restoration of the Patriarchy in general, and would have prevented his becoming Patriarch in particular.

Tikhon was glorified (canonized) a saint by the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) on 1 November [O.S. 19 October] 1981. He was later glorified by the Moscow Patriarchate during the Bishop’s Council of 9–11 October 1989.

© Professor Mikhail Babkin / Paul Gilbert. 8 March 2020

The Fate of the Ekaterinburg Remains

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NOTE: This article was originally published on 17th March 2016, and updated on 4th January 2017. It has been expanded and further updated, based on new information from Russian media sources. Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are my own based on my own research and do not reflect those of the Russian Orthodox Church.

For the record, regarding my personal position on the Ekaterinburg remains, I have now and always believed the remains discovered near Ekaterinburg in 1991 and 2007 respectively, are those of Emperor Nicholas II, his wife, their five children, and four faithful retainers. Further, not only did I attend their interment on 17th July 1998 in St. Petersburg, I have visited both Ganina Yama and Porosenkov Log on several occasions, where I have offered prayers and left flowers. Memory Eternal! Вечная Память! – PG

Bones of Contention

On 17th July 1998, the remains of Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, three of their five children: Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Anastasia, and their four faithful retainers Dr. Eugene Botkin, Ivan Kharitonov, Alexei Trupp and Anna Demidova were interred in the Saint Catherine Chapel of the SS Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg.

Not only was I both privileged and honoured to attend this historic event, I was also hopeful that the burial would bring some closure to what is considered one of the greatest tragedies of 20th century Russian history. Sadly, this was not to be.

The questions raised about the murders of the Russian Imperial family in 1918, the discovery of their remains in the vicinity of Ekaterinburg in 1991 and later those of Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich and Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna in  2007, as well as the recognition or non-recognition of their authenticity, have been unsettling both Russian and Western society ever since.

As a result, many people looked to the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) for its verdict on the Ekaterinburg remains. But expressing an objective view requires the Church to conduct a thorough examination of their own, of the historical records as well as the investigation materials and the results of scientific inquiries.

Over the course of the last few years, I have published more than 50 news stories and articles on the subject, which included many first English translations from Russian media sources. Since that time, I have received numerous emails and telephone calls from readers frustrated by the ROC’s position on the Ekaterinburg remains. I cannot stress enough, that I do not represent the Russian Orthodox Church or His Holiness Patriarch Kirill. I do, however, hope that the contents of this article will help provide some answers.

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His Holiness Patriarch Kirill and Bishop Tikhon of Yegoryevsk

New Investigation

In September of 2015, I published an article on my Royal Russia News blog announcing that the investigation into the Ekaterinburg remains had been reopened by the Russian Orthodox Church. The investigation would include a new series of genetic studies, and a comprehensive review of the evidence accumulated since 1918 into the murders of the last Russian Imperial family. With the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill and at his request to the Investigative Committee a new team of experts was formed. A complex examination would be carried out for the first time – a historical, anthropological and genetic one – one in which the ROC would be involved in all aspects of the investigation.

It is important to note, that had the ROC been invited to participate in the original investigation and forensic tests carried out by Western experts, that this new investigation might not have been necessary. Many viewed the 1991 investigation as a propaganda tool by then president Boris Yeltsin, who was anxious to bring closure to the century-long mystery, thus gaining favour with Western nations.

When the first nine bodies were interred; that was partly because of their antipathy for the liberal government of the day, headed by Yeltsin, which organised the interment.

In the face of this skepticism, the late Patriarch Alexei II was obliged to profess agnosticism over the identity of the bodies, as a way to avoid massive internal rifts within the church. 

Many Westerners believed that the ROC were obligated to accept the findings of the original Western led investigation, however, the Moscow Patriarchate were under no obligation to accept their findings, which they believe left a number of unanswered questions and concerns about the Ekaterinburg remains. The ROC wanted to confirm 100% that the remains were authentic, in order for them to be recognized as Holy Relics.

As Archpriest Oleg Mitrov points out in his essay The Investigation Into the Deaths of the Russian Royal Family and Persons of Their Entourage (first English translation published in Royal Russia No. 9 Winter 2016, pg. 31-44), in the early 1990s, the Moscow Patriarchate had suggested “a temporary burial, then completing the investigation which, once it produced indisputable results, could stop all discord that this question created in society.” Their request fell on deaf ears, “the voice of our church wasn’t heard at the time,” added Mitrov.

More than 20 years of scientific testing, extensive theological debates, and the enormous public outcry for resolution on the issue has failed to deter the Moscow Patriarchate’s decision to resolve the issue. In early January 2016, Bishop Tikhon of Yegoryevsk noted that the “examination of the Ekaterinburg remains may take several years.” This statement was later confirmed during the bishops’ council of the Russian Orthodox Church, when Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia announced at the opening ceremony that “the inquiry will last as long as is necessary in order to establish the truth”.

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Members of the new ROC investigation inspect the Ekaterinburg remains

Non Orthodox Christians must understand the position of the ROC on the matter of both relics and canonization. The Russian Legitimist web site correctly notes: “Any remains of the murdered Imperial Family are ipso facto religious relics, and therefore the internal procedures of the Russian Orthodox Church in completely satisfying itself of their genuineness must be followed. The Russian Orthodox Church wants to address any remaining doubts about the remains, given the fact that, once accepted by the Church as the remains of Emperor Nicholas II and his family, they will become relics venerated by the faithful.” 

It was hoped, that given the weight of evidence accumulated by experts in their respective fields since the early 1990s, that the Moscow Patriarchate would not dispute the remains recovered from the two burial sites in Ekaterinburg between 1979 and 2007 for much longer. A number of statements made in the Russian media offered some hope that they are moving in that direction:

“The re-examination of the criminal case is not an attempt to reconsider the evidence received earlier and established facts, but rather represents the necessity of additionally investigating the new facts, which was requested by the Russian Orthodox Church,” Russian Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin told the TASS News Agency (24 September, 2015).

Markin went on to say, “an interdepartmental working group for the study and burial of the remains of Tsesarevich Alexei and Grand Duchess Maria (discovered in 2007) gave its consent to conducting additional identification studies of the objects previously inaccessible for investigators.” To this end, the investigators exhumed the remains of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna in the SS Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg. Blood samples of Emperor Alexander II, Nicholas II’s grandfather who died in a terrorist act in 1881 and whose blood stains are found on his full-dress uniform, kept in the State Hermitage Museum, have also been taken. Additional DNA samples were extracted from Emperor Alexander III in November 2015, in a bid to conclusively answer questions about the fates of Nicholas II and his family.

Markin’s statements would suggest that the Moscow Patriarchate had already accepted the Ekaterinburg remains as authentic, although no official statement had been issued by the Church.

The Russian Orthodox Church also believed that it was necessary to continue the search for the remains of Nicholas II’s children. Only a small part of the remains of Tsesarevich Alexei and Grand Duchess Maria had been found, therefore, the search must be continued, said a spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church. Some experts, however, believe that such a search would be in vain, and that given that any remaining bones would have been dug up and carried off by animals.

The investigation into the criminal case of the murder of the Imperial Family also included an examination of the remains found by Nikolai Sokolov in the 1920s and later transferred to St. Job’s Church in Brussels.

On 27th November 2017, the Sretensky Monastery and Seminary in Moscow hosted the conference “On the Murder of the Royal Family: New Evaluations and Materials. Discussion,” devoted to studying the results of the study of the Ekaterinburg remains.

In early 2018, the Russian media announced that Patriarch Kirill would be participating in the commemorative events marking the 100th anniversary of the Holy Royal Martyrs in Ekaterinburg in 2018. Many believed that Kirill’s attendance was significant, and fueled speculation that the Moscow Patriarchate was on the verge of officially recognizing the Ekaterinburg remains. Once again, this was not to be!

On the eve of the anniversary marking the regicide, the Investigation Committee announced that the remains were “authentic”. Despite the announcement, the ROC remained silent. The commemoration could have been a great and solemn moment of truth, a time to reflect on the passage from one era of Russia’s tragic history to another. Many (myself included) were hopeful that both the examination and investigation would conclude before the 2018 centenary.

Sadly, the 100th anniversary of the Romanovs’ deaths passed with little notice in Russia. The Russian government ignored the anniversary, as it surprisingly did the year before, when Russia marked the 100th anniversary of the 1917 October Revolution. No prominent state museums or venues hosted events to mark the anniversary. The few exhibitions and other events organized were tellingly modest.

The most significant event, took place on the night of 16/17 July 2018, when more than 100,000 people from across Russia, and around the world gathered at the Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg for the Patriarchal Liturgy, followed by a Cross Procession to the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs at Ganina Yama, a journey of 21 km.

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The tomb of the Imperial Family in the St. Catherine Chapel of the SS Peter and Paul Cathedral

The Fate of the Ekaterinburg Remains

In the summer of 2000, the Moscow Patriarchate canonized Nicholas II, his wife, and five children as Royal Passion-Bearers. [NB: Nicholas II, his wife, and five children were canonized as saints by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) in 1981] The ROC’s official recognition of the Ekaterinburg remains would result in an elaborate glorification ceremony headed by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia.

Many people are expecting that the remains of the Tsesarevich Alexei and his sister, Grand Duchess Maria will be interred with those of their family in the Saint Catherine Chapel of the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral. The ROC’s recognition of the Ekaterinburg remains would make this highly unlikely for a number of reasons.

Both the Saint Catherine Chapel and the SS Peter and Paul Cathedral are currently museums under the administration of the State Museum of the History of St. Petersburg, in which visitors must pay an admission fee to gain entry to view the Romanov tombs as a tourist attraction. This is something that the ROC would vehemently oppose, and rightly so!

It seems highly likely that the remains of Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra, Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, Tsesarevich Alexei, and their four faithful retainers would be reinterred in another church. It is quite possible that a new church would be constructed in their honour, one which would allow Orthodox Christians to enter freely to venerate the Holy relics. During the past year, there has been some speculation in the Russian media that such a church would be constructed in Ekaterinburg – possibly Porosenkov Log, where their remains were discovered in 1991 and 2007 respectively.

It is interesting to add, that one unconfirmed report claims that the remains of the last Imperial Family are no longer entombed in the St. Catherine Chapel of the SS Peter and Paul Cathedral. According to the report when their remains were exhumed for further testing by the new ROC commission a few years back, they were never returned to this tomb. It is believed that the Ekaterinburg remains are now in the possession of the ROC, in the Novospassky Monastery in Moscow, where the remains of Tsesarevich Alexei and Grand Duchess Maria have been since 2015.

If there is any truth to this rumour, it only adds further speculation that the ROC have no plans to rebury the entire Imperial Family in the St. Catherine Chapel, but as Holy Relics interred in a new cathedral named in their honour, where Orthodox Christians can come to venerate them.

It is important to add that by accepting the remains as authentic, the ROC must also acknowledge that for the past 100 years, they were wrong. This in itself may be perceived by many as a great embarrassment and humiliation to the church.

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Ganina Yama

Will the Imperial Family be reinterred in Ekaterinburg?

A number of rumours have circulated in the Russian media over the past few years that once the ROC have officially recognized the remains, that all of the members of the Imperial Family will be interred in an existing or a new cathedral in or near Ekaterinburg.

For some, one option would be the Church on the Blood, built on the site of the former Ipatiev House, where the Imperial Family met their martyrdom. For others, another possible option would be a new cathedral built at Porosenkov Log, where the Imperial Family’s remains were discovered by two amateur archaeologists in 1978.

It is interesting to note that in March 2016, the Ministry of Culture of the Sverdlovsk Region reported that if the ROC requests the transfer of the territory in and around Porosyonkov Log (added to the cultural heritage list in 2014), would be designated as sacred land and transferred to the ROC, where a memorial and monastery, similar to that at Ganina Yama would be constructed. This in itself suggests that perhaps the ROC had already come to a conclusion on the authenticity of the remains, and were making preparations.

There is also the possibility that the reconstruction of St. Catherine’s Cathedral (timed to coincide with the 300th anniversary of the founding of Ekaterinburg in 2023) is being considered?

While some may scoff at the idea of interring the remains of the Imperial Family in Ekaterinburg, it seems only logical that their remains are interred in the place in which they met their death and martyrdom on 17th July 1918 or the final resting place where their remains were recovered.

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 have experienced a revival of faith, with Ekaterinburg at the the center of Orthodox Russia in the Urals. It should also be noted, that Ekaterinburg has done more to honour Nicholas II and his family than any other city in Russia.

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Aerial view of Ekaterinburg

“Ekaterinburg was the last capital of the Russian Empire”

The Ural city of Ekaterinburg occupies an important place in the modern spiritual life of Russia. This conclusion was reached by Russian historian Peter Multatuli following the results of the International Festival of Orthodox Culture Tsar’s Days 2019. The historian is recognized as one of Russia’s leading authorities on the life and reign of Nicholas II, having published numerous books, articles, and a popular public speaker.

“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,” said 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 Peter 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.”

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Святы Царственные мученики, молите Бога о нас! / Holy Royal Martyrs, pray to God for us!

Conclusion

In an unprecedented move, the Russian media reported in 2019, that President Vladimir Putin urged the ROC to “reach a verdict soon”. He further condemned Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin for “the murder of the tsar and his family”.

In the meantime, as the world awaits the final results of the ROC’s new DNA and forensic studies on the Ekaterinburg remains, and the conclusion of the investigation headed by the Russian Orthodox Church into the deaths of Emperor Nicholas II and his family, additional questions are sure to arise about the fate of the remains. According to Elena Nikolaevna Chavchavadze, in her recent Russian language documentary, Цареубийство. Следствие длиною в век / Regicide. A Century of Investigation “we will never know the entire truth”.

Despite the ROC’s earlier statements that the examination and investigation may take years, it seems highly likely that the Moscow Patriachate will soon make an official announcement recognizing the Ekaterinburg remains.

At long last, the remains of all members of the last Russian Imperial family will be laid to rest together. Not only will their holy relics be venerated by the faithful, but they will receive the honour which they truly deserve. Their glorification will continue to help Russia heal the wounds of the Bolshevik regicide which has haunted the nation for more much of the past century.

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© Paul Gilbert. 7 March 2020