PHOTO: Alexander Chernavsky carries the miraculous Myrrh-Streaming Icon of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II, during the 21-km Cross Procession from the Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg to the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs at Ganina Yama
The annual Cross Procession held during Tsar’s Days in Ekaterinburg on 17th July is known for many miraculous events. It was during this year’s procession, that the miraculous Myrrh-Streaming Icon of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II, once again began to stream myrrh. The icon was brought from Moscow, by the head of the Military Orthodox Mission, Alexander Chernavsky, and this miracle was witnessed by the film crew of the Orthodox Soyuz TV channel, headed by correspondent Svetlana Ladina.
“This is the 30th annual Cross Procession in which we are taking part. The icon of the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II has been streaming myrrh since 1998, and today, look, droplets of myrrh on the icon itself and along the frame have appeared like “diamonds”. I think the Sovereign is happy that we are here, and these “diamonds” bless all the participants in the procession. Kiss and pray for the sovereign to open our eyes and heart,” – said Alexander Chernavsky.
The icon of the Russian Emperor Nicholas II was painted in the United States of America even before the sovereign was glorified in Russia by the Moscow Patriarchate. And this event has an amazing story . . .
VIDEO: interview with Alexander Chernavsky, and coverage of the Cross Procession from the Church on the Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg to the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs at Ganina Yama
The miraculous Myrrh-Streaming Icon of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II
The Icon of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas was commissioned by Ija Schmit (1936-2018), a Russian émigré in the United States, who used money inherited from her mother to have the icon painted in 1996.
Paul Gilbert first met Ija in 1998, when she joined his annual Romanov Tour to Russia, which that year included Moscow and Crimea. Ija was accompanied by her husband Harvey and their daughter Nina. It was during this visit that she told me about this icon, a copy of which she later gifted me.
The icon would be dedicated to the future canonization of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas in Russia, and in memory of her mother. After Ija’s initial inspiration to have the icon painted, she contacted iconographer Paul Tikhomirov, himself a Russian immigrant, to see if he was interested in her project. Tikhomirov’s response was, “I will make the icon shine!” They decided to depict Nicholas II in coronation robes [1996 was the 100th anniversary of his coronation in Moscow], with St. Nicholas, his patron saint, and St. Job, on whose feast day Nicholas was born, in the upper right and left hand corners. Below the figures would be printed in Russian, “This Holy Icon is for the Canonization of the Tsar-Martyr in Russia.”
Ija received the finished icon on 12th May 1996 and then traveled to Texas, where it was blessed by Bishop Constantine (Yesensky), an old family friend, who had served as Bishop of Great Britain. The icon, however, was not intended solely for family veneration. Ija and her husband, Harvey Schmit, had already arranged to have paper copies of the icon printed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II on 27th May (O.S. 14th) 1996.
Forty-four thousand copies of the icon were printed. The distribution of the icons [printed in three sizes], was handled by Ija’s own non-profit organization, the Society Honoring Russian Nobility, and income from the icons sold in the West purchased food and medicine for needy pensioners and orphans in Russia. A fourth, smaller version of the icon was printed by the thousands and given away in Russia without charge.
As word of the icon spread, Christians from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and even Serbia, began writing and requesting copies. The Society has met all these requests and distributed more than twenty thousand icons in Russia alone.
PHOTO: Alexander Chernavsky holding the miraculous Myrrh-Streaming Icon of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II, at the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs at Ganina Yama
On a visit to Russia in late 1996, Father Herman [Ija Schmit’s brother] presented a number of prints to Fr. Juvenaly, the priest at the St. Nicholas Almshouse in Ryazan. On 16th (O.S. 2nd) March 1998 (the anniversary of Tsar Nicholas II’ abdication and the miraculous appearance of the Reigning Icon of the Mother of God. Fr. Juvenaly blessed Dr. Oleg Belchenko with one of the prints, which the doctor took with him back to Moscow. The paper icon had been given to him in a glassfronted, three-dimensional wooden icon-case (a kiot) and Dr. Belchenko set it in a prominent place in his Moscow apartment. On 5th September, Dr. Belchenko noticed that a red spot had appeared over the right eyelid of the Tsar. The following day a second red spot appeared over the left eye. Dr. Belchenko first compared the icon with a smaller print to be sure that he had simply overlooked the distinctive marks. The smaller icon did not match. Dr. Belchenko then called Sretensky Monastery of the Meeting of the Lord to ask what he should do. The monks asked him to bring the icon of Tsar Nicholas to the monastery the following morning. Dr.Belchenko arrived early and stood through the liturgy holding the icon in a plastic bag at his side. At the end of the liturgy a moleben and blessing of the waters was held. The officiating priest recognized Dr. Belchenko, and knowing that he had come with the icon, had the choir sing a troparion for Tsar-Martyr Nicholas. Following the troparion, Dr. Belchenko noticed one of the parishioners staring at him. Finally, the man approached and asked, “What is that fragrance?” Dr. Belchenko replied: “You are probably smelling incense – I am sorry, I can’t smell anything myself because I have a cold.” The man persisted: “No. I tell you, the fragrance is coming from somewhere around you… the smell is much more refined than incense.” Dr. Belchenko replied impatiently, “You should be ashamed of talking such nonsense while the service is going on!” The man moved away embarrassed, but within a few moments other worshippers filtered over, curious about the fragrance and asking what was in the package. “Nothing, only an icon,” he replied. “Show it to us.” As Dr. Belchenko opened the package and took out the icon, the remarkable scent filled the church.
The icon of Tsar Nicholas II was displayed for veneration in the monastery church for three weeks. After Dr. Belchenko took it home, the fragrance continued to a lesser degree, and as word began to spread, Muscovites increasingly asked to come to his apartment to venerate the icon. Dr. Belchenko felt that his home was too small to accommodate many visitors, so he asked an Orthodox friend, Alla Dyakova, to keep the icon in her flat, where those who wished could venerate it. When asked how he was able relinquish such a treasure, Dr. Belchenko answered, “The icon is not mine. It belongs to all Russians.”
On 19th October, Alla Dyakova and Fr. Peter Vlashchenko, a married priest from the Ivanovo region, took the icon to Elder Kyril of St. Sergius Lavra, who was in Peredelkino, outside Moscow. Elder Kyril venerated the icon and blessed Fr. Peter and Alla with the words, “Go. Take the icon to whomever asks for it.”
On 1st November, the icon was brought to the Martha-Mary Convent in Moscow, founded by Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, the sister- in-law of Tsar Nicholas II and herself a new-martyr. The day not only marked the birthday of Elizabeth, but the anniversary of Tsar Nicholas’ assuming the throne at his father’s death in 1894. The icon of Tsar Nicholas was placed on the analogion next to an icon of Grand Duchess Elizabeth. Throughout the Divine Liturgy the icon of the Tsar poured forth waves of fragrance, filling the chapel.
It is worth mentioning that the popular veneration of the Tsar-Martyr played an important role in the canonization of the Imperial Family at the Jubilee Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2000 among the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia.
In August 2000, the Russian Church met at a synod in the Christ the Saviour Cathedral, Moscow. Amongst the things discussed was the issue of canonization. The eagerly-awaited news finally escaped the cathedral’s walls to the faithful gathered outside: Tsar Nicholas II and his family were now recognized as Saints! The date of their martyrdom was now recorded in Orthodox calendars around the world as their feast day. It is certain that influential in this decision were two paper icons of the martyrs, both of which exuded sweet-smelling myrrh and so revealed those Saints to be themselves “a sweet aroma of Christ unto God” (2 Cor 2:15).
The keeper of the miraculous image, the Moscow surgeon Oleg Ivanovich Belchenko, has travelled around Russia for many years, bringing the icon to to churches and monasteries arousing veneration of the Holy Royal Martyrs wherever it went through its aromatic myrrh. Many Orthodox Christians believe that their prayers have been answered by God through the intercession of the Tsar and his family.
Lately, due to his age, Oleg has handed over this honourary mission to Alexander Fedorovich Chernavsky, a publicist, head of the Orthodox Mission for the Revival of the Spiritual Values of the Russian People. The Myrrh-Streaming Icon of Tsar Nicholas II, appears with the same unpretentious simplicity with which the late Tsar laid down his throne and bore his final months of house arrest before his death and martyrdom.
Holy Tsar Martyr Nicholas II, Pray to God for Us!
 The desire of many Russian Orthodox Christians for the canonization of Tsar Nicholas and his family does not stem from a belief that their personal lives were blameless, although from historical accounts and the family’s own letters it is obvious that they were Christians of great integrity. The widespread desire for the family’s canonization is based on the fact that Tsar Nicholas and his family were murdered as a result of his position as the sacramentally anointed Orthodox monarch of Russia.
© Paul Gilbert. 21 July 2022