by Ruslan Ward @ Russian Faith
People often ask why Tsar Nicholas II and his family were canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church. The controversy reached a new high following the release of the controversial film ‘Matilda’ in Russia in 2017. Many people still question the sainthood of Tsar Nicholas II because of their criticism of his political and personal actions. The Russian television channel Tsargrad.TV released a video explaining the canonization. This article written by Ruslan Ward is based on a translation of the arguments in the video. It also complements the video material with other sources.
Following the social upheaval caused by the Russian film “Matilda” in 2017, the timeworn question surfaced yet again: Why did the Russian Church canonize Tsar Nicholas II as a saint?
Some people are doubtful, saying: What kind of saint was he? He rejected the throne, destroyed the country, was a weak ruler, etc.
Though many of these accusations are actually inaccurate stereotypes, whether they’re true or not is irrelevant in this instance.
Let’s review, once again, how Christians understand “sainthood” and why the Church made the decision to name Nicholas II a saint.
A saint is NOT a person who never sinned. A saint is definitely not someone who never made mistakes.
The Bible directly states that no man has ever lived, who has not sinned – Ecclesiastes 7:20: Surely there is no righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins. Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins.
A saint is someone who always strains towards God, becomes near to God, and, by the strength of God’s Grace, defeats evil in himself and in the surrounding world.
The Russian Orthodox Church has different categories for saints, that offer explanation what particular aspect of that person’s life made them pleasing and similar to Christ.
Here are a few examples:
- The Holy Martyrs are people who were faced with the choice between keeping their own lives and being faithful to Christ. They chose faith to Christ and lost their lives.
- The Confessors are people who openly preached the faith during persecutions.
- The Holy Unmercenaries are saints who exhibited extraordinary charity and generosity in the name of the Christian faith
In the Russian Orthodox Church, Nicholas II and his family were canonized (made saints) as Passion-bearers. A Passion bearer is someone who faced his death in a Christ-like manner.
Passion-bearers die and suffer not for the explicit reason that they are Christians. They are people who were killed innocently, with no fault, but yet maintained an attitude of Christian meekness and love towards their persecutors and murderers, thus fulfilling God’s commandment.
An example of this love, of this meek approach to ones’ torturers, was given to us by Christ Himself.
Having been completely innocent on the Cross of Golgotha, Christ pronounced the words that totally changed the course history of humanity, offering a radically different approach to one’s enemies. The soldiers that had just crucified Christ were standing around the cross. They didn’t understand at all what had just happened, they didn’t understand WHO was dying on the Cross. They sat around the scene of violence and suffering, and threw lots for would take which article of Christ’s clothing home.
Yet Christ said “Lord, forgive them. They know not what they do.”
Emperor Nicholas and his entire family meekly, patiently accepted their unfair persecution, the surrounding unjust criticism and hate, the harsh treatment they received, and their violent, brutal death.
It’s well known that the Emperor was offered the chance to leave the country, to escape a horrifying end and save his own life and the life of other members of the family. But he consciously decided not to. He consciously remained in the country; he believed it was his duty.
Nicholas II and his family have been named saints, because they accepted their sufferings and trials in a Christian manner; because they met death at the hands of those, who were moved by hatred and anger, with Christlike love and patience.
On the eve of the terrifying murder in Ipatyev house, Nicholas II’s eldest daughter, the Grand Duchess Olga wrote.
“Father asks the following message to be given to all those who have remained faithful to him, and to those on whom they may still have influence, that they should not attempt to take revenge for him, since he has forgiven everyone and prays for everyone. He wants them to remember that the evil which is now in the world will be become still stronger, but that evil will never conquer evil , but only Love…”
It was precisely for the reason of their unconquerable meekness, patience, and love, that the Tsar’s family are saints. Not for their political actions, not how saintly or “right” their lives were, but for how they met their horrible end: with Christian love and faith.
More about how they treated their trials and the people who hated and purposely tortured them from an article on Pravmir:
In Ekaterinburg they spent three hellish months of psychological torture – and yet they all retained their inward calm and state of prayer, so that not a small number of their tormentors were softened by these valiant Christian strugglers.
As Pierre Gilliard, the French tutor to the Tsarevich Alexis recalled:
“The courage of the prisoners was sustained in a remarkable way by religion. They had kept that wonderful faith which in Tobolsk had been the admiration of their entourage and which had given them such strength, such serenity in suffering.
They were already almost entirely detached from this world. The Tsaritsa and Grand Duchesses could often be heard singing religious airs, which affected their guards in spite of themselves.
Gradually these guards were humanised by contact with their prisoners.
They were astonished at their simplicity, attracted by their gentleness, subdued by their serene dignity, and soon found themselves dominated by those whom they thought they held in their power.
The drunken Avdiev found himself disarmed by such greatness of soul; he grew conscious of his own infamy. The early ferocity of these men was succeeded by profound piety.”
When this would happen, the inhuman Bolsheviks would replace the guards who had been so touched with crueller and more animalistic ones.
Seldom being allowed to go to church, they nevertheless nourished their souls with home prayers and greatly rejoiced at every opportunity to receive the Divine sacraments.
Three days before their martyrdom, in the very house in which they were imprisoned, there took place the last church service of their suffering lives.
As the officiating priest, Fr. John Storozhev, related:
“‘It appeared to me that the Emperor, and all his daughters, too, were very tired. During such a service it is customary to read a prayer for the deceased. For some reason, the Deacon began to sing it (which is usually done in memorial services for the reposed), and I joined him…As soon as we started to sing, we heard the Imperial Family behind us drop to their knees’ (as is done during funeral services)…
Thus they prepared themselves, without suspecting it, for their own death – in accepting the funeral viaticum.
Contrary to their custom none of the family sang during the service, and upon leaving the house the clergymen expressed the opinion that they ‘appeared different’ – as if something had happened to them.”
Not only the Tsar, but the whole of his blessed family, met their fate with truly Christian patience. Thus on March 13,1917, the Tsarevich Alexis wrote to his sister Anastasia:
“I will pray fervently for you and Maria. With God everything will pass. Be patient and pray.”
Shortly after the abdication the Empress said: “Our sufferings are nothing. Look at the sufferings of the Saviour, how He suffered for us. If this is necessary for Russia, we are ready to sacrifice our lives and everything.”
And again: “I love my country, with all its faults. It grows dearer and dearer to me… I feel old, oh, so old, but I am still the mother of this country, and I suffer its pains as my own child’s pains, and I love it in spite of all its sins and horrors… Since [God] sent us such trials, evidently He thinks we are sufficiently prepared for it. It is a sort of examination… One can find in everything something good and useful – whatever sufferings we go through – let it be. He will give us strength and patience and will not leave us. He is merciful. It is only necessary to bow to His will without murmur and wait – there on the other side He is preparing for all who love Him indescribable joy.
 The Moscow Patriarchate canonized the family as passion bearers: people who face death with resignation, in a Christ-like manner, as distinguished from martyrs, the latter historically killed for their faith. Proponents cited the piety of the family and reports that the Tsarina and her eldest daughter Olga prayed and attempted to make the sign of the cross immediately before they died.
The term “passion-bearer” is used in relation to those Russian saints who, “imitating Christ, endured with patience physical, moral suffering and death at the hands of political opponents. In the history of the Russian Church, such passion-bearers were the holy noble princes Boris and Gleb (1015), Igor of Chernigov (+ 1147), Andrei Bogolyubsky (+ 1174), Mikhail of Tverskoy (+ 1318), Tsarevich Dimitri (+ 1591). All of them, by their feat of passion-bearers, showed a high example of Christian morality and patience.
Despite their official designation as “passion-bearers” by the August 2000 Council, Nicholas II and his family are referred to as “martyrs” in Church publications, icons, and in popular veneration by the people.
*On 1st November 1981, Emperor Nicholas II, his wife, their five children and four faithful retainers were canonized as new martyrs by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR),
© Ruslan Ward @ Russian Faith. 11 December 2022