What is Tsar’s Days?

Tsar’s Days before the 1917 Revolution

Tsar’s Days began during the Tsarist era, the idea being very different from that celebrated in the 21st century. In the Russian Empire, holidays were established in honour of solemn events in the lives of members of the Imperial Family.

The Tsar’s Days were divided into two groups – solemn and high solemn days.

The first group included the coronation, accession to the throne, birthdays, as well as the namesake [see below] of the emperor, empress-mother, empress-wife, and the heir to the throne. The second group included birthdays and namesakes of other members of the Imperial Family.

  • A namesake consists of celebrating a day of the year that is associated with one’s given name. The celebration is similar to a birthday. Russians celebrate name days [именины in Russian] separately from birthdays. Such a celebration begins with attendance at the divine services marking that day [in the Russian tradition, the All-Night Vigil and Divine Liturgy], and usually with a festive party thereafter. Before the October Revolution of 1917, Russians regarded name days as important as, or more important than, the celebration of birthdays, based on the rationale that one’s baptism is the event by which people become “born anew” in Christ. The Russian Imperial family followed a tradition of giving name-day gifts, such as a diamond or a pearl.

On high solemn days, special prayers were held in churches: on birthdays, a general thanksgiving service was performed, and on the day of the namesake, a prayer service to the saint of the same name [i.e. Nicholas II + Saint Nicholas of Myra]. On the day of the accession to the throne of the sovereign-emperor and his coronation, prayers were served for a special rite.

The solemn days, were postponed until the following Sunday. If the solemn day fell on the first week of Great Lent , it was postponed to the Feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. If it fell during Holy Week (the last week of Great Lent) or the first day of the celebration of Easter, the solemn day was postponed to Monday of Bright Week.

On 7th March 1917, the Holy Synod, in response to the February Revolution, began to call the “reigning” House of Romanov in the past tense and abolished “Tsar’s Days”. The corresponding decree of the Provisional Government appeared on 16th March of the same year.

Below, is a list of the four high solemn days celebrated for Nicholas II in 1913 [dates are noted in the Old Style Julian Calendar]:

May 6 – Birth of Sovereign Emperor Nicholas Alexandrovich ;
May 14 – Sacred Crowning of Their Imperial Majesties;
October 20 – Accession to the throne of Sovereign Emperor Nicholas Alexandrovich;
December 6 – Namesake of Sovereign Emperor Nicholas Alexandrovich.

Tsar’s Days in Post-Soviet Russia

In the 21st century, Tsar Days have taken on a whole new meaning. The annual holidays are held in mid-July in the Ekaterinburg diocese, during which divine services are held, a cross procession in memory of the death and martyrdom of Emperor Nicholas II and his family, as well as a festival of Orthodox culture, including exhibitions and other social events.

The name is taken from the pre-revolutionary Tsar’s Days, timed to coincide with the anniversaries of solemn events in the lives of members of the Romanov Dynasty. The dates of the modern Tsar’s Days are timed to the dates of 21st July 1613 – the day of the anointing of the first tsar of the Romanov dynasty, Mikhail Fedorovich, and 17th July 1918 – the day of the brutal murders of the last Emperor of Russia Nicholas II and his family, in the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg and 18th July – the day of the murders of Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich, Princes of the Imperial Blood Ioann, Konstantin and Igor Konstantinovich, Prince Vladimir Paley (son of Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich) in Alapaevsk.

Events

As part of the Tsar’s Days, an all-night vigil is held in the Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg, which includes a Divine Liturgy followed by a Cross Procession. The Tsar’s Days Festival celebrates Orthodox culture in the Ekaterinburg Diocese. Dozens of religious and secular public events dedicated to the tsarist theme are held, including exhibitions, concerts, conferences and other events.

Some of the city’s museums and churches become venues for exhibitions dedicated to Emperor Nicholas II, his family and other members of the Romanov dynasty, who were murdered in Ekaterinburg and Alapaevsk.

The main event, for which Orthodox pilgrims come to Ekaterinburg, is the solemn divine liturgy, which takes place on the night of the murder of the Holy Royal Murders – 16/17 July, in the Church on the Blood. At the end of the Liturgy, tens of thousands of pilgrims take part in the 21 km Cross procession from the Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg to the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs in Ganina Yama.

Pilgrims from other cities in Russia organize pilgrimages from their cities to Ekaterinburg to participate in the Tsar’s Days. A growing number of Russian cities [i.e. St. Petersburg, Kazan, etc.] are today organizing their own Tsar’s Days events, but on a much smaller scale than that of Ekaterinburg.

PHOTO: His Holiness Patriarch Kirill delivers a Divine Liturgy outside the Church on the Blood on the night of 16/17 July 2018 (above); His Holiness Patriarch Kirill leads the 21 km Cross Procession from the Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg to the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs in Ganina Yama (below)

100th anniversary of the death of members of the Romanov family

In 2018, the Tsar’s days in the Ekaterinburg Diocese were timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the deaths and martyrdom of members of the Romanov family in Ekaterinburg and Alapaevsk. The centenary celebrations also included the XVII Tsar’s Days Festival of Orthodox Culture, a five-day visit by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and a meeting of the Holy Synod.

The first procession in memory of the Holy Royal Martyrs, headed by Metropolitan of Ekaterinburg and Verkhoturye Kirill, took place in 2002, in which more than 2 thousand pilgrims and about 100 clerics participated. In 2012, for the first time since the construction of the Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg, an all-night vigil and Divine Liturgy were performed in the open air.

In 2017 they estimated crowds of up to 60,000 people. In 2019, 60 thousand participated, and in 2020, 10 thousand people [due to COVID]. In addition, up to 2 thousand people gathered an alternative religious procession of the schismatic and tsarist monk Sergius (Romanov) in the Sredneuralsky Nunnery.

In 2018, more than 100,000 Orthodox Christians, monarchists, among others from across Russia and around the world took part in the Patriarchal Liturgy and procession of the cross from the Church on the Blood to the Ganina Yama.

The events marking Tsar’s Days in 2018, fell on the tail end of the 2018 Football World Cup which was held in Ekaterinburg that year. It was estimated that as many as 200,000 people flocked to the city to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the regicide, undoubtedly the largest public demonstration yet of the growing significance of the Russia’s last emperor and tsar in the cultural, historical and spiritual life of modern-day Russia.

*NOTE: due to the fact the Moscow Patriachate does not yet recognize the Ekaterinburg remains as authentic, the Cross Procession does not stop at Porosenkov Log, where the remains of the Imperial family were unearthed in two separate graves in the late 1970s and 2007 – PG

*  *  *

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On the night of 16/17 July 2018, I had the great honour of attending the Patriarchal Liturgy performed at the Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia. During my week in the Ural capital, I recorded the Tsar’s Days events, and published them in a ‘SPECIAL ISSUE’ of my bi-annual periodical ‘SOVEREIGN’.

The entire issue of Sovereign No. 7 is dedicated to Tsar’s Days, held in Ekaterinburg in July 2018, the year marking the 100th anniversary of the deaths and martyrdom of Nicholas II and his family.

This issue features 143 pages, and richly illustrated with 150 black and white photographs – many of them taken by me, during my visit to Ekaterinburg in July 2018. Click HERE to order your copy

© Paul Gilbert. 15 May 2021

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