Historic link between Nicholas II and St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York

PHOTO: St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral was built in the Moscow Baroque style in 1902

This month marks the 120th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone for St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral, located in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, New York City. The cathedral serves as the administrative center of the Russian Orthodox Church in North America, and houses the representation of the Moscow Patriarchate in the United States.

On 25th August 1899, a plot of land of about 700 m² was purchased on 97th Street, between Madison and 5th Avenue, on which it was planned to build a cathedral that could accommodate 900 worshipers, as well as premises for a Sunday school, festive meetings and an apartment for clergy.

The cathedral was constructed in the Moscow Baroque style by the architect Ivan Viktorovich Bergezen. In 1900, permission to raise funds for the construction of the church was issued by Emperor Nicholas II, who on his own behalf donated 7,500 gold rubles to the project.

PHOTO: the iconostasis of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral

The foundation stone of the church was laid by Bishop Tikhon, the head of the Russian Church in the Aleutian Islands and North America – the future Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Tikhon (1865-1925) on 22nd May 1901.

On 23rd November 1902, a consecration service, the first to be held in the completed church, was led by Bishop Tikhon. Bishop Charles Chapman Grafton, representing the Episcopal Church, participated in the service. The Russian Holy Synod elevated St. Nicholas Church to Cathedral status in December 1903, and the Diocesan Seat of North America was transferred from San Francisco to New York in 1905. Restoration work was carried out on the Cathedral between 1954 and 1960.

Today St. Nicholas Cathedral continues to serve the needs of the Russian Orthodox Church in this country as it has since its founding.

© Paul Gilbert. 4 May 2021

New documentary series defends the reign of Nicholas II

A new Russian language documentary is “important for historical parallels”, experts say, by dispelling the myth that Russia was a backward nation during the reign of Nicholas II – 1894 to 1917.

More than a hundred years have passed since the catastrophic events of the February 1917 Revolution in Petrograd, but their significance has not diminished during the last 100+ years.

The February Revolution left behind a lot of questions. With all the chronological clarity of those events, their interpretations to this day contradict each other. What was the Russian Empire like on the eve of the February Revolution? What was the position of the peasants and workers? What was the state of the economy and events of the First World War? For decades (especially during the Soviet period) it was believed that life in Russia at that time was characterized by poverty, backwardness, military devastation. oppression by the autocracy, etc. So, what is the truth?

In his new Russian language documentary series Гибель империи. Российский урок / Death of the Empire. Russian Lesson [18 episodes, each one a duration of 15 to 20 minutes] Metropolitan of Pskov and Porkhov Tikhon (Shevkunov), analyzes the economy of the Russian Empire, its domestic and foreign policy, the activities of the tsar, military, political elites, but most importantly, the state of Russian society during that period.

Metropolitan Tikhon clearly notes that during the First World War, the Russian Empire was neither economically nor militarily in any worse state than that of other countries. On the eve of the First World War, the Russian economy was developing rapidly, the standard of living rose significantly, the population during the reign of Nicholas II increased by 50 million people.

By 1917, Russia had increased the production of cast iron 4 times, copper 5 times, coal 5 times, and from 1911 to 1914 the machine-building industry increased 2 times. Before World War I, Russia produced 9.4% of world GDP and was ranked 4-5 in the world in terms of its volume. Most importantly, the land issue was not a decisive factor in the revolution. So, by 1916, in the European part of Russia, 90% of arable land was in the hands of the peasantry, and100% in the Asian part of the empire.

A key factor in the tragedy of 1917 was played out by Russia’s so-called “allies” – Great Britain and France, who directly indulged the conspirators. The British delegation led by Lord Alfred Milner (1854-1925) presented an ultimatum to the Emperor on the eve of the revolution, in which he demanded, a change in the state system in Russia with the introduction of the concept of “responsible” (before the Duma) government. An outrageous demand by a foreign power, especially during war with Germany. In the aftermath of the Tsar’s abdication in 1917, the “allies” abandoned the Russian Sovereign, who in the end, was the only true ally who honoured his commitment to the war.

PHOTO: Metropolitan of Pskov and Porkhov Tikhon (Shevkunov)

The betrayal of the elites was even more tragic. At the beginning of 1917, Russia was on the verge of winning the war – during the planned spring-summer offensive. The Russian Imperial Army would surely have broken through the German positions, which would have resulted in the enemy being forced to cede all the territories to Russia, promised under the Sykes-Picot Agreement and enormous reparations. The commander-in-chief of the German army General Erich Ludendorff (1865-1937), even admitted: “Our defeat seemed inevitable.” But then the February Revolution broke out in Russia.

One of the main problems of pre-revolutionary Russia was its “enlightened” society, who literally dreamed of a revolution. Many prominent writers, scientists and publicists supported the underground movements in one way or another, some even through financing and campaigning.

Russia’s “enlightened” society created, in fact, a parallel state. It had almost all the attributes of statehood – its own army (terrorist), its own mass media, its own informal budget, its own “courts” and governing bodies. As a result, by 1917, public opinion in Russia was prepared for a conspiracy and a change of power. however, in the end, many of those who were so thirsty for revolution then perished during the civil war and the subsequent Bolshevik repressions.

The key problem of the Russian people, according to the testimonies of eyewitnesses of the events cited by Father Tikhon, was the colossal impatience of the people and their pliability to the provocative speeches of revolutionary agitators. It is simply amazing how in 1917 a significant number of people fell so easily for the fables about “freedom, equality and brotherhood” – who in the end received any such promises.

Malicious gossip and revolutionary propaganda, helped to turn the people against their Tsar. Lies spread like wildfire during the war years. References were made to the “bloody tsarist regime”. Emperor Nicholas II was referred to as “an alcoholic”, and his wife as “a German spy”, as well as the “destructive influence of Grigory Rasputin”. References to the “bloody tsarist regime”, were published daily by the liberal press, often prompted by Western propaganda. German planes dropped leaflets with cynical cartoons of Nikolashka in the trenches of Russian soldiers.

“Russia was ruined by gossip,” Vladyka Tikhon quotes the outstanding Russian writer Ivan Lukyanovich Solonevich (1891-1953), a devout monarchist, who believed that “monarchy was the only viable and historically justified political system for Russia”.

© Paul Gilbert. 21 April 2021

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Dear Reader

If you enjoy my articles, news stories and translations, then please help support my research by making a donation in US or Canadian dollars to my project The Truth About Nicholas II – please note that donations can be made by GoFundMePayPal, credit cardpersonal check or money order. Thank you for your consideration – PG

104 years on, Orthodox Church still split over murdered tsar’s remains

PHOTO: remains of Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia, Ekaterinburg 1998

In 2018, the centenary of the murder of Russia’s last tsar reignited a long-running conflict between the state and the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) over what to do with the remains of the murdered Russian Imperial Family.

On the night of 16/17 July 2018, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus’, led a cross procession in Ekaterinburg marking 100 years since the Bolsheviks shot dead Tsar Nicholas II, his family and four faithful retainers.

But the ROC — dominated by hard-liners — still remains divided over the authenticity of the remains of the family, whose members were all canonized by the Moscow Patriarchate on 20 August 2000 [Nicholas II and his family were canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia on 1 November 1981].

Sadly, the Russian state failed to make any official commemorations of what is surely one of the darkest pages in 20th century Russian history. It was not until the following year, on 17th July 2019, that Russia’s State Duma for the first time observed a minute of silence in memory of the last Russian emperor Nicholas II and all those killed in the Civil War (1917-1922).

In 1998, then-president Boris Yeltsin’s government buried bone fragments, first found in 1979, that were identified as those of Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra Feodorovna and three of their daughters: Olga, Tatiana and Anastasia. The burial, attended by more than 50 Romanov descendants, took place in St. Catherine’s Chapel [a side chapel in the SS Peter and Paul Cathedral] in St. Petersburg. But 23 years later, the ROC still refuses to accept DNA tests confirming their authenticity.

The ROC also does not recognize the remains of the tsar’s other children Alexei and Maria, whose bodies were separated from the others and found in 2007. The government has failed to reach an agreement with the ROC on burying them. For years, the boxes containing 44 bone fragments remained on dusty shelves in the Russian State Archives. In December 2015, their remains were transferred to the Novospassky Monastery in Moscow, where they remain to this day.

The ROC maintains that the Bolsheviks put the burnt bodies of their 11 victims in a pit in a forest in the Urals region, where the ROC has built a large monastery complex: the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs at Ganina Yama.

In 1998, the late Patriarch Alexei II (1929-2008) snubbed a state funeral for Nicholas II’s bones in the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg. He sent a bishop to bury them as “unknown remains” instead.

Officially, the Patriarchate said there was not enough evidence to accept DNA test results and accused the government of sidelining the Church.

PHOTO: An unidentified specialist places the skull of Nicholas II in a coffin, on 15th July 1998, in Ekaterinburg

“Nobody really knows what happened because everyone who was involved is no longer here,” said Ksenia Luchenko, an expert on the Russian Orthodox Church, commenting on the dispute.

She speculates that tensions could stem from a “personal conflict” between the ROC and state officials.

Liberal-leaning priest Andrei Kurayev noted that the ROC opted to believe a version of the killings favoured by anti-Bolshevik forces during the Civil War in the wake of the revolution.

“Over 20 years, it grew into a huge conspiracy theory,” Luchenko said.

One version says that Soviet Union founder Vladimir Lenin kept Nicholas II’s head in his office, another that the tsar’s youngest children, Alexei and Maria, somehow survived and lived abroad.

Tikhon Shevkunov — the senior cleric put in charge of the ROC investigation who is reportedly close to President Vladimir Putin — raised the possibility of a “ritual killing,” implying that Jews murdered the ex-tsar. He denied anti-Semitism.

Father Kurayev said such interpretations are common inside a Church now dominated by ultra-conservatives.

“Church circles that had good relations with science were sidelined after the Pussy Riot scandal” in 2012, he said, referring to Russia’s jailing of two punk activists over an anti-Putin stunt in a Moscow church.

The case was a huge boost for the ROC, and its radical wing has been growing stronger “by the day” since, said Kurayev.

Patriarch Kirill is “scared” of recognizing the remains, fearing a backlash from ultra-conservatives, many of whom have not forgiven him for shaking hands with Pope Francis in 2016, Kurayev said.

Church issues — including the question of Nicholas II’s remains — have become “politicized” under Patriarch Kirill, said Roman Lunkin, a religion expert at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

In 2017, “Matilda,” a Russian feature film about Nicholas’s pre-marital love affair with a ballerina, sparked a violent backlash from radical Orthodox activists.

PHOTO: Paul Gilbert (far right) joins 50 Romanov descendants, at the funeral of Nicholas II, in St. Petersburg on 17th July 1998

“It showed that Nicholas II is a figure who can divide Orthodox society,” something the Patriarch wants to avoid, Lunkin said.

Luchenko said that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “less interested” in burying the ex-imperial family’s remains while his predecessor Yeltsin saw it as “personal repentance.”

Putin “does not worship Nicholas II. His heroes are Alexander III and Alexander Nevsky,” she said, referring to Nicholas II’s father and a 13th-century leader.

Nonetheless, she called the dispute an “uncomfortable situation” for Putin, who has positioned himself as a close ally of the ROC.

“It somehow frustrates (the Kremlin),” she said, adding that authorities want to “draw a line under this situation.”

In 2015, at the Church’s request, Russia reopened its criminal investigation into the remains of the Imperial Family, which included the exhumation of the remains of Emperor Alexander III.

Ahead of the centenary in 2018, some Russian newspapers were asking when Patriarch Kirill would finally recognize the remains.

On the eve of the centenary of the regicide, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation concluded that the so-called Ekaterinburg Remains, where indeed those of Nicholas II, his family and their retainers.

But six years on, the ROC have remain silent. “The ROC has not formulated a position on the results of the investigation,” Patriarch Kirill said.

Father Kurayev accused the Church of not wanting to make the results public, suggesting they match previous tests.

“They made a mistake with the science and now they are reluctant to take a step back,” he concluded.

Click HERE to read 7 additional articles and interviews about the Ekaterinburg Remains

© Paul Gilbert. 6 April 2021

ROC Metropolitan blames Nicholas II for February 1917 Revolution

PHOTO: Revolutionaries burning a portrait of Nicholas II on 5th March 1917
Artist: Ivan Alekseevich Vladimirov (1869-1947)

On 23rd February (O.S.) 1917, workers unrest and mass demonstrations began in the capital of the Russian Empire, Petrograd. Thus began the February Revolution, which brought an end to the monarchy and lead the country into chaos.

On 2nd March (O.S.) 1917, Russia’s last emperor Nicholas II, betrayed by the elites, members of his inner circle, generals and even members of his own family abdicated the throne. Although historians continue to argue about the authenticity of the renunciation manifesto, it was then, at the Pskov railway station, that the Imperial Family’s journey to Golgotha ​​began.

On the recent 104th anniversary of the events which proved fatal for Russia, Metropolitan of Pskov Tikhon (Shevkunov)¹ talked about the drama and lies of the Russian Revolution during a discussion on the YouTube channel “Seraphim”.

Metropolitan Tikhon said that the last Russian emperor Nicholas II was responsible for the February Revolution of 1917, since he was the supreme ruler of the country and failed to discern the impending threat.

“The first person is always to blame for the troubles that befall the country. Always!” – said Tikhon. He explained that Nicholas II was glorified in the person of the saints in a special way – as a passion-bearer², in connection with the tragic circumstances of the deaths of the Imperial family.

At the same time, Tikhon recalled an article by Winston Churchill (1874-1965) in the Illustrated Sunday Herald about the revolutionary events in Russia, where the British politician spoke positively about Nicholas II and emphasized the inevitability of the victory of the Russian Empire in World War I, if not for the revolutionary events.

PHOTO: Metropolitan of Pskov Tikhon (Shevkunov)

“Nicholas II was one of the most successful and yet one of the most tragic leaders of our state,” said Metropolitan Tikhon, referring to the rapid growth of the empire’s population, the economic and industrial boom during the reign of the last emperor. “This is evidence of his caring for the Russian people and the ever-increasing standard of living,” he added.

According to Metropolitan Tikhon, during his 22 year reign, although he was a decent and even selfless person, Nicholas II “bored” Russian society, and “could not see the terrible situation which was developing”. He went on to say that “the aristocratic and noble monarchy,” played a fatal role in the fate of the Russian Empire.

NOTES

¹ Tikhon is the Metropolitan of Pskov and Porkhov and Bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church. He is often referred as the personal confessor of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

² Nicholas II was glorified as a saint by the ROCOR in 1981, and as a passion-bearer by the Moscow Patriarchate in 2000

© Paul Gilbert. 23 March 2021

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Dear Reader

If you enjoy my articles, news stories and translations, then please help support my research by making a donation in US or Canadian dollars to my project The Truth About Nicholas II – please note that donations can be made by GoFundMePayPal, credit cardpersonal check or money order. Thank you for your consideration – PG

First iconostasis in Russia dedicated to the Tsar’s family

PHOTO: Russia’s first iconostasis to the Holy Royal Martyrs
© Вести / Vesti News Agency

The first iconostasis in Russia dedicated to the Holy Royal Martyrs is being erected in the church of the St. Elisabeth Convent in the village of Priozerye, situated 120 km from Kaliningrad.

Within the walls of the church of the convent, preparations are underway for the installation of an icon depicting Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich. A prayer is said as the image takes its place in the iconostasis.

The convent is dedicated to the Holy Royal Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, but Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II and his family are especially revered in the convent.

PHOTO: Entrance to St. Elisabeth Convent ;
monument to Holy Royal Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth

Nun Anastasia, Sister of the St. Elizabeth Convent, spoke to the Vesti News Agency this week, and stated the following:

“The iconostasis that is installed in our convent is dedicated to the Imperial Family and all the royal martyrs. It is unique in its kind for the whole of Russia. There is no such iconostasis anywhere else in Russia, only in our church.

“Once completed, the iconostasis will be in the shape of a cross. The images are distinguished by a special subtlety of writing. The colours of the elements: red, blue and gold stand out. The works were specially made for the convent by an artist from Kaliningrad.

“The top of the iconostasis will feature an icon of the Archangel Michael, then the icon of the Alapaevsk Martyrs, then Job the Long-Suffering. In the center are Tsarina Alexandra, Tsesarevich Alexei, and Tsar Nicholas II.

Once assembled, this unique iconostasis will stand as tall as a three-story building. It will become one of the main decorations of the convent cathedral.

At the base of the royal iconostasis will be an icon of the Most Holy Theotokos Theodorova, patroness of the Romanov family.”

© Paul Gilbert. 14 February 2021

New Metropolitan of Ekaterinburg confirms: “ROC in no hurry to recognize Ekaterinburg remains”

PHOTO: Bishop Evgeny of Ekaterinburg and Verkhotursky

According to Bishop Evgeny of Ekaterinburg and Verkhotursky the Russian Orthodox Church ( ROC ) will not rush to recognize the Ekaterinburg remains – those of Emperor Nicholas II and his family. The newly appointed metropolitan made the comments during a press conference held on Saturday, 12th December in Ekaterinburg. On 8th December 2020, by the decision of the Holy Synod, Vladyka Evgeny was appointed Metropolitan of the Ekaterinburg Diocese.

“I had an opportunity to communicate with those on the commission who investigated the remains … there are many arguments and evidence that these are indeed the remains of the Tsar and his family. But at the same time, there are still many questions that have not yet been answered. His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia stated that the ROC is not in any hurry to complete their investigation by a certain date. We will wait for answers to these questions. This is not some kind of artifact … For us it is a matter of principle, these are holy passion-bearers, these are people who have played a significant role in the spiritual life of our people, and in the state, so the church is in no hurry, fulfilling the words of the holy patriarch,” added Vladyka Evgeny.

“The church will recognize the remains only if there is not an ounce of doubt. If doubts remain, then we will not rush, we will wait. We do not want to offend their memory by making hasty decisions,” he added.

In the summer of 2018, the official representative of the Investigative Committee, Svetlana Petrenko, said that a repeated comprehensive study confirmed the authenticity of the remains of Emperor Nicholas II and his family, who were shot on 17th July 1918 in Ekaterinburg.

Earlier, Evgeny Pchelov, associate professor of the Historical and Archival Institute of the Russian State Humanitarian University, who took part in the research, told journalists about the completion of the historical and archival examination, which, according to him, confirmed the authenticity of the “Ekaterinburg remains.” According to Pchelov, thanks to a comprehensive analysis of primary sources, it was possible to recreate a fairly complete picture of what happened in the days leading up to the deaths of the Imperial family, and the subsequent days which followed the brutal murder. He emphasized that some specific  questions remained unclear, but “the main picture was clarified.”

On 16th July 2018, the eve of the 100th anniversary marking the deaths of Nicholas II and his family, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation reported that since the resumption of the investigation in 2015, investigators carried out a wide range of new tests, including 37 different forensic examinations. In total, more than two thousand historical sources were analyzed.

The Investigative Committee stated that “on the basis of numerous expert examinations, the committee concluded that the remains belong to Nicholas II, his family and their four retainers.” At the same time, the committee noted that, “excluding the possibility of ambiguous interpretation of certain circumstances associated with the murders, other examinations necessary for the investigation shall continue.”

In addition, the investigation into the murder of Nicholas II and members of his family intends to identify all those involved in the execution and qualify their actions in accordance with the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. This part of the investigation is extremely important! Should the *regicides be found guilty of their heinous crime, then lawmakers and historians will be forced to rewrite history. It is a well known fact that after the murders of the Tsar and his family, that many of the *murderers [Yurovsky, Ernakov, etc.] enjoyed a “celebrity” status among the Bolsheviks and revolutionaries. To now find them guilty of their crime a century later, this then clears the way for the names of streets, squares and buildings named in their “honour” of these criminals to be changed, and the removal of any monuments and memorials from the Russian landscape.

*For more information on the regicides, please read my article: The fate of the regicides who murdered Nicholas II and his family, published on 28th October 2020 – PG

Human remains, presumably belonging to the Imperial family, were found in July 1991 on the Old Koptyakovskaya road near Ekaterinburg. The remains of nine people were found in the grave. Forensic studies confirmed the identity of the remains as those of Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, three of their five children and their four retainers.

In July 2007, during archaeological excavations south of the site of the first burial, the remains of two more people were found, presumably Tsesarevich Alexei and his sister Maria. Forensic studies concluded the identity of the remains as those of Alexei and Maria.

In 2000, the Moscow Patriarchate canonized Nicholas II and his family members as passion-bearers. After the opening of the burial near Yekaterinburg, the remains of members of the imperial family were buried in St. Catherine’s Chapel of the Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg. However, the Church did not recognize these remains as genuine due to a lack of evidence. In the fall of 2015, the investigation into the death of the Imperial family was reopened.

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

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CLICK on the IMAGE above or the LINK below to order my book
‘Bones of Contention: The Russian Orthodox Church and the Ekaterinburg Remains’
Published 2020. 156 pages + 55 illustrations. Price: $20 + postage

© Paul Gilbert. 13 December 2020

20th anniversary of the Canonization of Nicholas II and his family

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Bas-relief on the wall of the Chapel of the Royal Passion-Bearers in Kostroma

On this day – 20th August 2000 – after much debate, Emperor Nicholas II and his family were canonized as passion bearers by the Moscow Patriarchate

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.

NOTE: The family was canonized on 1st November 1981 as new martyrs by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR).

This bas-relief also depicts their servants, who had been killed along with the Imperial family. They were also canonized as new martyrs by the ROCOR in 1981 The canonized servants were Yevgeny Botkin, court physician; Alexei Trupp, footman; Ivan Kharitonov, cook; and Anna Demidova, Alexandra’s maid. Also canonized were two servants killed in September 1918, lady in waiting Anastasia Hendrikova and tutor Catherine Adolphovna Schneider. All were canonized as victims of oppression by the Bolsheviks.

On 3 February 2016, the Bishop’s Council of the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) canonized Dr. Botkin as a righteous passion bearer. They did not canonize the servants, two of whom were not Russian Orthodox: Trupp was Roman Catholic, and Schneider was Lutheran.

© Paul Gilbert. 20 August 2020

Putin, the Church and the last Tsar

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Russian President Vladimir Putin

Since coming to power in 1999, Russian President Vladimir Putin has embraced the Russian Orthodox Church and the symbols of Imperial Russia

Today, the Romanovs are the subject of a rather unusual debate between two powers that have reconciled in Putin’s Russia: the Church and the State.

For more than two decades, the heads of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) – Patriarch Alexei II (1929-2008) and Patriarch Kirill (2009-present) – both refused to recognize the remains found in the vicinity of Ekaterinburg as those belonging to the Imperial family.

Even after successive DNA tests, the ROC prevented the bones of Tsesarevich Alexei and his sister Grand Duchess Maria from being buried with the rest of the their family in the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul in St. Petersburg.

The issue made headlines again in July, when the Russian Investigative Committee, the country’s top criminal investigation body, confirmed that, after 37 new forensic analyzes, it was possible to conclude – again – that the bones belonged to members of the Imperial family.

“Based on the numerous findings of the experts, the investigation came to the conclusion that the remains belong to Nicholas II, his family and their retainers,” said a committee spokesperson.

But why does Russia’s leading criminal investigation body continue to reconfirm facts related to a homicide that happened more than a century ago?

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President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia

A long way

The whereabouts of the remains of the Imperial family were one of the best kept secrets during the Soviet period.

Only in 1979 did a geologist with an amateur detective streak, Alexander Avdonin, discover the first bones in the vicinity of Porosenkov Log, near Ekaterinburg.

Citing fear of reprisals from the regime, he reburied them where he found them and kept them there until 1991, after the Soviet Union disintegrated.

An extensive investigation and a series of DNA tests (for which even Prince Philip donated blood) proved that the bones belonged to Nicholas II, his wife, three of their five children and four retainers who were also murdered with the Imperial family.

One of the big questions Russia was asking at the time was where were the remains of the Imperial couple’s other two children. Anastasia’s whereabouts were also cause for speculation, but evidence has since proven that she died along with her family.

“In 1998, after a five-year investigation, the Russian government decided to bury the bones in the Romanovs family tomb in St. Peter and St. Paul’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg, as a political gesture of reconciliation and atonement for the crimes committed in the Soviet period”, says Marina Alexandrova, a professor at the University of Texas, in the United States.

The Holy Synod, the governing body of the Orthodox Church, however, opposed the decision and called for a more thorough investigation before the burial.

“Due to the political motivation of the event and the absence of consultation with the Russian Orthodox Church, the patriarch did not participate in the ceremony and rejected the test results,” says the professor.

The country’s president at the time, Boris Yeltsin, challenged the Church and gave the green light for the funeral. The act was the background of great friction that marked the Yeltsin government and the head of the Orthodox Church – at the time still weakened by decades of Soviet oppression.

Yeltsin would resign shortly afterwards, on the night of December 31, 1999, leaving the post in the hands of his then prime minister, a former KGB agent who had become his discreet shadow: Vladimir Putin.

A new stage in the relationship between State and Church then began.

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Emperor Nicholas II and Russian President Vladimir Putin

Putin, the Church and the last tsar

As Pablo de Orellana, professor at King’s College London, UK, explains, the beginning of Putin’s government marked a new phase, of “rescuing” the Romanov dynasty, which went beyond the golden double-headed eagles and other symbols of Imperial Russia.

“In his administration, some traditions of Tsarist Russia were re-instituted,”  he points out, “But I believe that one of the most important elements in this regard is the rebirth of the Orthodox Church, which has returned to being as powerful as before and is now recognized as the country’s official religion.”

In a referendum held in June to determine whether Putin would remain in power until 2035, Russians also voted Orthodoxy the country’s official religion, which was seen as a consolidation of relations between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Kremlin.

And it is in this new context that the Romanovs become key figures for the powers. “The Russian Imperial family is vital for the current regime and for the nationalist narrative that drives it, because it is the connection between Russia’s past and present, between the before and after of the Soviet regime,” says De Orellana.

“For the Church, the Romanovs’ theme is central, because the Russian Orthodox Church is part of the Imperial family and the Imperial family is part of the Church.”

Since Putin’s rise to power, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church has proclaimed the last tsar, his wife and children, as saints, which was viewed with fear in a country where the Imperial family are still victims of a century of myths and lies, much of which are based on Bolshevik propaganda.

In addition to canonization, the Church also decided to build a grand church on the spot where the family was murdered in Ekaterinburg.

But one theme remained an obstacle: the authenticity of the remains of the last tsar.

“The Russian Church has been reluctant to recognize the bones as belonging to the Romanov family since they were officially exhumed in 1991 near Ekaterinburg,” says Alexandrova.

“And although multiple DNA tests and forensic analyzes in Russia and other countries have shown that they do indeed belong to the Imperial family, their doctor and three faithful servants, the issue remains controversial to this day.”

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Alexei and Maria

The remains of the tsar’s two other children who were not found with the family were not discovered until many years later, in 2007.

“DNA tests carried out both inside and outside Russia have confirmed that they are the remains of Alexei and Maria,” says the professor at the University of Texas.

“The Russian Orthodox Church, however, again refused to acknowledge the discovery and denied the burial in the family tomb.”

In the years that followed, the boxes containing 44 bone fragments remained on dusty shelves in the Russian State Archives. In December 2015, their remains were transferred to the Novospassky Monastery in Moscow, where they remain to this day.

“Their remains have not yet been buried, which, ironically, runs counter to orthodox tradition in general.”

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Members of the Imperial family were exhumed so that new DNA tests could be performed

New investigations

In 2008, the Russian Supreme Court officially rehabilitated the Imperial family and recognized that Nicholas II and his family were victims of political repression.

Two years later, another Russian court ordered the investigation into the murder to be reopened, which was in charge of the country’s top criminal investigation body.

In 2015, as determined by instances of the Orthodox Church, the remains of the Imperial family were once again exhumed and subjected to DNA tests, which confirmed again that it was the Tsar and his family – including Alexei and Maria.

The funeral of the last Romanovs was scheduled to take place in October of this year, but the Church asked to postpone the ceremony again to conduct an investigation of its own. “To date, no results have been announced,” says Alexandrova.

On the eve of the centenary of the massacre in 2018, the Russian government announced that the new investigation had once again confirmed that the bones belonged to the Romanovs. This year, again on a date close to the anniversary, they again released the findings.

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The reasons for the debate

According to De Orellana, the dispute over the authenticity of the remains found in Ekaterinburg shows how, during the Putin government, the Church once again became a “legitimizing institution” – and that, therefore, “also legitimizes what one wants to tell about history. “.

“We see this in how the Church on several occasions had the final say, as in the question of where the bodies will be”, he points out.

In this sense, the expert believes that the position of the church in the case of the Romanovs generates a delicate political conflict.

“The Putin government needs to end the story, it needs the bodies to be ‘found’ also symbolically, ‘to bring them home’ and to have a place where they can be celebrated.”

“All this reconstruction is important, because Putin reinvented Russian nationalism based on the same nationalist theories as the tsars. In other words, it is not just an obsession to demonstrate that the bones actually belong to the last Tsar and his family, but an effort to establish continuity between the past and today’s Russia”, he adds.

Roman Lunkin, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society, a state organization, assesses that both the government and the Church are involved in a mutual process of revisionism of the history of Tsarism for “their own benefit”.

“The Russian Church does not want to recognize that the remains belong to the Imperial family, because there is a risk of internal division as a consequence of this,” he ponders.

According to Alexandrova, according to orthodox beliefs, it is a serious sin to pray before “false images”. The church, for its part, is reluctant to accept the result of the investigations carried out until today on the grounds that it was not invited to participate in the process.

There are still some people who believe that members of the Imperial family had managed to escape and live in secrecy in Europe and the United States.

“They think that what happened in 1918 was a ritual murder by Bolsheviks of Jewish origin. There is also a movement that sees Nicholas II as a Christlike figure who died for the sins of the Russians.”

Even if these movements are not really popular, he says, they would be strong enough to cause repercussions in the media, something that the head of the Church would certainly like to avoid.

“For the Church, the murder of the Imperial family is a symbol of all the evil of the Soviet period, of Satanism and of Marxist ideology. For the State, however, the Soviet period is also a period of victories – and the last tsar is not an example of a strong leader, “says Lunkin.

“So it is evident that the glorification of the Imperial family means different things for both the state and the church.”

© Paul Gilbert. 10 August 2020

ROC Investigation Committee confirms (again) the authenticity of Ekaterinburg remains

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On the eve of the 102nd anniversary of the death and martyrdom of Emperor Nicholas II and his family at Ekaterinburg on 17th July 1918, the senior investigator of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, Marina Molodtsova provided an update on the criminal investigation initiated in 2015 by the Russian Orthodox Church.

During an interview with the Izvestia News Agency, Molodtsova was asked, “you have been investigating the circumstances of the death and burial of the Tsar and his family for more than three years. What new information did the investigation manage to find out during this time?”

“Since the resumption of the case in 2015, 37 new forensic examinations have been carried out, including forensic (anthropological), molecular genetic, trasological, and handwriting analysis among others,” she stated. “In addition, various kinds of investigative experiments were conducted as part of the investigation. In some cases, their results allowed us to reconstruct a more complete picture of events.”

“For example, in the murder room located in the basement of the Ipatiev House, the dimensions of the room were reproduced. This recreation refuted the arguments by some researchers that 11 victims and the participants in the murders could not fit into such a small room.”

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The basement room in the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg, where the Imperial Family were murdered

“Another investigative experiment refuted the popular held version that the bodies of the dead were destroyed using sulphuric acid and fire.” But many people consider this a fact, asked Izvestia.

“Yes, this theory has been rehashed for many years in popular science and historical publications. However, it was found that applying concentrated sulphuric acid to the surface of biological tissue slows down the process of their subsequent burning,” added Molotsova.

When asked what else was learned from the forensic examinations, Molodtsova replied:

“As part of the investigation, handwriting examinations were carried out on the notes of Commandant of the House of Special Purpose Yakov Yurovsky. His notes set out the events which occurred, including those on the night of 16/17 July 1918. The experts determined that on the now famous “Yurovsky Note” stored in the State Archives of the Russian Federation (GARF) in Moscow, corrections made to the note were made by Yurovsky himself, while another person added marginal notes and the addition at the end of the text.”

“Also, handwritten corrections in the transcript of Yurovsky’s speech at the meeting of the old Bolsheviks on 1st February 1934 (where he boasted about the regicide in Ekaterinburg) were made by Yurovsky himself.”

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Senior investigator of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, Marina Molodtsova

Molodtsova also noted, “in order to solve the questions posed as part of the judicial, historical and archival examination of the fate of the Imperial Family, a systematization of some 2,000 historical sources, including those located abroad, was carried out. Some of these sources are multi-volume. A lot of books and scientific papers have been written about the events surrounding the murder of the Imperial Family. The media regularly report a variety of versions and assumptions. We have checked all these contemporary versions as well. However, in this case, we have only taken into account the data from archival documents, primary sources and the results of both the previous and recent examinations.”

Not everyone recognizes that the remains found in 1979 near Ekaterinburg belong to members of the Imperial Family, so what is the situation with their identification now?

“Based on numerous examinations, the investigation has concluded that the remains belong to Nicholas II, his family and their faithful retainers,” added Molodtsova. “Nevertheless, we continue to collect materials and conduct further forensic examinations which we deem necessary in order to eliminate the slightest doubt. At the end of all examinations, their results will be evaluated.”

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Tsesarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich in Nagasaki, Japan. 1891

“For example, now experts are proposing to make a 3D-model of a hat, which was on the head of Tsesarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich at the time of the assassination attempt on his life in Japan. It is now kept in the Collection of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Three-dimensional copies of the hat and skull, identified as “N.A. Romanov,” can be compared and assessed if the marks found on the hat and the wound found on the skull match. The healed wounds were found on the right side of the cranial vault during an anthropological examination.”

“According to the mechanism of occurrence, localization, relative position, shape and dimensional characteristics, they are similar to the description of the injuries on the head of Nicholas Alexandrovich inflicted on him in 1891.”

Molodtsova was also asked which experts the investigation team turned to work with on the criminal case:

“Honoured scientists, doctors and candidates of science – honoured doctors of the Russian Federation, highly qualified forensic experts, prominent historians and archivists; geneticists were involved in conducting historical-archival, forensic (anthropological) and molecular genetic forensic examinations. Among them are the President of the History Department of Moscow State University Sergey Pavlovich Karpov; Rector of the Russian State Humanitarian University Alexander Bezborodov; Olga Yuryevna Vasilieva (Minister of Education of the Russian Federation from 2016 to 2020); associate professor of the Historical Archive Institute of the Russian State Humanitarian University Evgeny Vladimirovich Pchelov; chief specialist of the State Archives of the Russian Federation Zinaida Ivanovna Peregudova; and chief specialist of the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political Sciences Lyudmila Anatolyevna Lykova,”

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Search for the remains of Tsesarevich Alexei and Grand Duchess Maria in 1999

“I want to emphasize that all the specialists we have recruited are not exempt from their official activities and conduct research on a gratuitous basis,” Molotsova added.

The senior investigator was also asked about the study of the remains of Tsesarevich Alexei and Grand Duchess Maria found in 2007, and where their remains are stored today:

“According to the conclusion of molecular genetic examinations, the remains of two persons discovered in the summer of 2007 near the first burial place of nine other victims belong to the daughter and son of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna. Biological kinship for both parents was established with the maximum probability for both Alexei and Maria.”

“Due to the small number of bone fragments found, it can be assumed that one or more additional burial sites may be located near the place of discovery of the remains of two persons in 2007, that of Alexei and Maria. Their remains are in storage at the Novo-Spassky Monastery in Moscow, since all the necessary expert studies have not yet been completed.”

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Investigator Nikolai Sokolov

But what about the documents of the investigator Nikolai Sokolov:

“Copies of these materials are attached to our criminal case and are considered part of the evidence. As part of a historical and archival examination, data from official inspection reports compiled by Nikolai Sokolov and those cited in his book The Murder of the Tsar’s Family were initially compared with other materials. Significant discrepancies were revealed in the details and circumstances of the discovery of Sokolov’s investigation. This is of great importance: public opinion on this case was mainly based on the facts set forth in Sokolov’s book, since the primary sources on this issue were not available.”

“We are in regular communication with the Church Commission to study all the results of the remains found near Ekaterinburg. The investigation, in the manner prescribed by law, answers all questions that come to us from representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church. It is important to note that locating materials on this criminal case has been a very complicated and laborious process. No single register of all the documents in the case of the murder of the Imperial Family exists.’

“We have researched sources from around the world. These include public and private archives, museums and libraries in various cities in both Russia and abroad.”

“Finally, this important investigation has been the quintessence of many years of work by investigators, experts, scientists and researchers. The purpose of the investigation is to recreate and examine all the events and their participants as thoroughly as possible, objectively, using all the achievements of modern science. This is the task that the Chairman of the Investigative Committee set when he decided to transfer the criminal case to the Main Directorate for the Investigation of Highly Important Cases. We try to do our job professionally, efficiently and in strict accordance with the law. And the solution of questions of this kind does not apply to our work – rather, it needs to be asked to the public.”

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The remains of the Imperial Family in Ekaterinburg, 1997

On a final and personal note, as the investigation seems to be coming to a close, can we at last see a light at the end of the tunnel? Will the Russian Orthodox Church, at long last bring closure to this highly emotional and contentious issue? For the time being, we will have to wait until October when the bishops of the Holy Synod meet. Let us all hope and pray that they will at last accept the truth.

© Paul Gilbert. 19 July 2020

Faithful to the End: Klimenty Nagorny and Ivan Sednev 

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Klimenty Grigorievich Nagorny (left). and Ivan Dmitriyevich Sednev (right)

Today – 28th June 2020, marks the 102nd anniversary of the death and martyrdom of two faithful servants to Emperor Nicholas II and his family – Klimenty Grigorievich Nagorny and Ivan Dmitriyevich Sednev. 

Klimenty Nagorny and Ivan Sednev selflessly served the Tsar’s children. Nagorny in particular, lay the great responsibility of protecting the Tsesarevich, even the slightest injury could put the heir to the Russian throne in danger, due to his hemophilia. Alexei was very fond of Nagorny, who in turn showed complete devotion to the Tsesarevich, faithfully sharing with him all the joys and sorrows.

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Nagorny and Tsesarevich Alexei in Tsarskoe Selo, 1907

Klimenty Nagorny and Ivan Sednev voluntarily stayed with the Tsar’s family during their house arrest in Tsarskoe Selo, and then followed them to Tobolsk, where Nagorny shared a room with the Tsesarevich, serving him day and night. Together with the Imperial family, Nagorny also attended all the divine services, and the only member of the family’s retinue who was a member of the choir organized by the Empress: he sang and read for the Imperial family during services held in the house church.

In the spring of 1918 Nagorny and Sednev once again, voluntarily followed the Imperial family to Ekaterinburg. They spent only a few days in the Ipatiev House, and then were separated from the Imperial prisoners. They were arrested and imprisoned, their sole crime had been their inability to hide their indignation on seeing the Bolshevik commissaries seize the little gold chain from which the holy images hung over the sick bed of the Tsesarevich.

On 28th June 1918, they were shot in the back by the Bolsheviks, in a small wooded area behind the Yekaterinburg-2 railway station (modern name – Shartash). Nagorny and Sednev were “killed for betraying the cause of the revolution” – as indicated in the resolution on their execution. The murderers left their bodies unburied.

When Ekaterinburg was occupied by the Whites, the the half-decayed bodies of Nagorny and Sednev, were found and solemnly buried near the Church of All the Afflicted (demolished). Witnesses at the funeral recall that the graves of the former sailors of the Imperial Yacht Standart were strewn with white flowers. Their graves were not preserved – they were destroyed when the Soviet authorities built a city park on the site of the cemetery.

Both Nagorny and Sednev were canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) on 14 November 1981, and both rehabilitated by the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation on 16 October 2009. They have yet to be canonized by the Moscow Patriarchate. 

Memory Eternal! Вечная Память!

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Sednev and Alexeei Nikolaevich, in the Finnish skerries, 1914 

Nagorny, Klementy Grigorovich (1887—1918) – from 1909, he served on the Imperial yacht Standart and appointed as a footman to the imperial children. He received the Court title Garderobshik (wardrobe keeper) in 1909 and accompanied the Imperial family on every tour. In November 1913, he was appointed assistant dyadka to guard the Imperial children. He travelled with the Tsesarevich Alexei to Mogilev during 1914-16. After the Tsar’s abdication, he lived under detention with the Imperial family in Tsarskoe Selo, Tobolsk and Ekaterinburg.

Sednev, Ivan Dmitrievich (1881—1918) – was recruited into the Russian Imperial Navy in 1911, where he began as a machinist on the Imperial Yacht Polyarnaya Zvezda (Polar Star) then transferred onto the Imperial yacht Standart. By invitation he became a Lakei (liveried footman) to the Grand Duchesses, and subsequently to the Tsesarevich. Ivan lived under detention with the Imperial family in Tsarskoe Selo, Tobolsk and Ekaterinburg.

© Paul Gilbert. 28 June 2020