Russian Orthodox Church in Dispute Over Porosenkov Log


At Porosenkov Log, during my visit to Ekaterinburg, July 2018

NOTE: All of the articles pertaining to Nicholas II and his family which were originally published in my Royal Russia News blog, have been moved to this Nicholas II blog. This article was originally posted on 13 August 2018 in my Royal Russia News blog – PG

Back in March 2016, I reported that Metropolitan Kirill of Yekaterinburg and Verkhoturye had made a request to the Sverdlovsk regional government to transfer the land in and around Porosenkov Log (3.7 hectares) to the Ekaterinburg Diocese. The territory is simultaneously claimed by the Sverdlovsk Regional Museum of Local History in Ekaterinburg. My report was followed up by a second article on the dispute in July 2017 (see links below for both articles – PG).

Since the events marking the 100th anniversary of the death and martyrdom of Emperor Nicholas II and his family last month, the subject is again making headlines in the Urals media.

According to a document signed by the head of the regional forestry department Oleg Sandakov, as early as 2016, Metropolitan Kirill of Yekaterinburg and Verkhoturye made a request to the regional government to transfer Porosenkov Log to the diocese “for gratuitous urgent use for religious activities.” Scans of the relevant documents (see below) were published last week on the Memorial of the Romanovs Facebook page.

In June 2014, a request was made to recognize Porosenkov Log as a cultural heritage site. Then, the regional ministry of culture planned to transfer the Romanov Memorial site to the Sverdlovsk Museum of Local History. The official opening of the memorial was planned to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the deaths and martyrdom of the Holy Royal Martyrs in July 2018.

In 2016, however, the Ekaterinburg Diocese began to interfere with the plans. In February of the same year, Metropolitan Kirill of Ekaterinburg and Verkhoturye sent an appeal to the Governor of the Sverdlovsk Region Evgeny Kuyvashev, in which he asked to declare invalid the document on the transfer of the site to the museum. The governor granted the Metropolitan’s appeal, with the regional ministry of culture subsequently putting the project on hold.

“Due to the historical and spiritual significance of the territory, and in order to avoid any disagreements between secular and religious parties, an official note was sent to the governor of the Sverdlovsk region on the expediency of organizing a discussion on the development of the territory as a cultural heritage site with all interested parties,” said the head of the regional department of forestry Oleg Sandakov.


At the second grave where the remains of Alexei and Maria where discovered in 2007

On the eve of the Tsar’s Days held in Ekaterinburg last month, the Russian Investigative Committee confirmed that genetic examinations on the remains found at Porosenkov Log belong to the murdered Imperial family. It was hoped that Patriarch Kirill would officially recognize the remains during his visit to Ekaterinburg, however, this did not happen. An estimated 100,000 people took part in the pilgrimage from the Church on the Blood to the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs at Ganina Yama, where once again the final prayer service was held, which is still considered by the ROC to be the final burial place of the bodies of the royal martyrs. Porosenkov Log was not included in the pilgrimage.

Despite the fact that the authenticity of the “royal remains” has not been recognized by the ROC, the Ekaterinburg Diocese is unlikely to back away from its plans. It can not be ruled out that the dispute over the site will be put on hold until the time when the church changes its position.

It is believed that not “if” but “when” the Moscow Patriarchate officially recognize the “Ekaterinburg remains”, that a new monastery in honour of the Holy Royal Martyrs, similar to the one situated 3.8 km down the road at Ganina Yama, will be constructed at Porosenkov Log.

© Paul Gilbert. 5 November 2019

The Imperial Room in the Church on the Blood, Ekaterinburg


NOTE: All of the articles pertaining to Nicholas II and his family which were originally published in my Royal Russia News blog, have been moved to this Nicholas II blog. This article was originally published on 20 June 2018 in my Royal Russia News blog – PG

On 20th June 2018, representatives of the media were granted a first look at the Imperial Room, in the Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg. 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. The decoration of the room received the blessing of the Metropolitan of Ekaterinburg and Verkhoturye Kirill to mark the centenary of this tragic event.



The new design, the reconstruction of the altar, along with additional work in the Imperial Room, was carried out during the past year,the senior priest of the Church on Blood Achpriest Maxim Minailyo told journalists.

Father Maxim noted that the decoration of the Imperial Room was conducted by masters from Moscow and Belarus. Above the paintings worked talented Moscow icon painters led by Alexei Vronsky, and the mosaic was done by specialists of the mosaic workshop at the Holy Elizabethan Monastery of Minsk under the guidance of the icon painter Dmitry Kuntsevich. The work was supervised by nuns of the Novo-Tikhvin Convent in Ekaterinburg, known for their skill in restoring and decorating Orthodox churches.


Representatives of the media saw a unique mosaic panel which occupies the central part of the altar depicting the Holy Royal Passion-Bearers and their faithful retainers who suffered with them: Emperor Nicholas Alexandrovich, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, Tsesarevich Alexei, Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatyana, Maria, Anastasia, Saint Yevgeny Botkin, Alexey Trupp, Ivan Kharitonov and Anna Demidova.



As the priest said, the mosaic reflects the position of the Royal Passion-Bearers at the time of their martyrdom. They stood with their backs to the east, facing west, as it is now depicted in the altar.

Above them rises the Feodorovskaya Icon of the Mother of God, which is the heavenly patroness of the House of Romanov.

On the western vault depicts the Sovereign Icon of the Mother of God, which was revealed on the very day when the Emperor was forced to abdicate the throne, and the saints glorified during the reign of Emperor Nicholas Alexandrovich: St. Theodosius of Chernigov, St. Seraphim of Sarov, St. Princess Anna Kashinskaya, St. Joasaph Belgorod, St. Hermogen of Moscow, St. Pitirim of Tambov, and St. John of Tobolsk.

The creation of the paintings and mosaics took almost a year to complete. The creation of mosaic works was a particularly complex project, as the iconography of all the members of the Imperial Family and their faithful retainers had to be intricately created.

The walls and the floor around the altar are lined with red onyx, which is very symbolic, because the red color on one side symbolizes the martyrs blood shed by the Imperial family, and on the other hand, red is the color of the royal scarlet, porphyry, regal color. This color depicts very well the feat of the Royal Passion-bearers, who in both imperial majesty and in humiliation showed rare piety and great spiritual heights.

On the right side of the throne in a special reliquary containing fragments of the Ipatiev House: a brick and a balustrade.

At the end of the media presentation, the senior priest of the church thanked the journalists for the meeting, noting the great importance of this holy place in the church.

– “We must understand that this is the main sacred place of our city. And this room is the holy of holies in this church,” the father pointed out. – “This place today inspires us to move on and create such unique architectural and religious monuments to which our children, visitors, pilgrims will be drawn, because creating such a diverse national architecture, we lay the foundation for future generations to be proud of our country, including our cultural, religious and architectural heritage.”


NOTE: This article was originally published on 20 December 2018 in my Royal Russia News blog – PG

On 12th December 2018, Metropolitan Kirill of Ekaterinburg and Verkhotursk performed the rite of Great Consecration of the renovated side-chapel in the name of the Holy Royal Passion-Bearers of the Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg. His Eminence was served by the hierarchs of the Ekaterinburg Metropolis: Bishop Method Kamensky and Alapaevsky, Bishop Evgeny of Nizhny Tagil and Nevyansky, and Bishop Serov and Krasnoturyinsky Alexy.


At the end of the service, Metropolitan Kirill recalled in his archpastoral talk that the year 2018 – the Imperial or Royal Year – the year marking the 100th anniversary of the deaths and martyrdom of the Imperial family, was widely celebrated in the Ural city. He recalled that on the night 16/17 July, an estimated 100,000 people participated in the Divine Liturgy at the Church on the Blood and the subsequent cross procession, both of which were headed by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia. According to the ruling bishop, it was truly a “nationwide prayer celebration.”


And completing this year, the consecration of the renewed side-altar in the name of the Holy Royal Passion-Bearers was performed in the Church on the Blood.

Metropolitan Kirill noted that a Divine Liturgy is performed once a week, on the night of Tuesday/Wednesday, in memory of the Holy Royal Passion-Bearers, whose murder occurred on the night of Tuesday/Wednesday 16/17 July 1918. In addition, once a month, on the night of the 16/17, a night liturgy is also celebrated. Metropolitan Kirill reached out to Orthodox Christians asking them to attend the night service and pray to the Holy Royal Passion-Bearers.


– “Here you have this feeling – a special reverence for the Royal Family and our martyrs, the new confessors of the Russian Church, one which will enter the soul, even if the soul is cold. All this love and achievement will melt away any callousness and any coldness. And the more we pray, the more we pay attention to the memory of the Holy Royal Martyrs, to their feat – the feat of meekness, humility, purity, the feat of absolute love for their God and for their homeland, until then our country will stand, and no evil power will be able to disturb her. Therefore, today we especially thank God for the feat of our Regal martyrs, our holy martyrs, all those who have defended our Homeland and our Church, and thanks to whom we today live on this earth,” Metropolitan Kirill said.


The ruling bishop also thanked the senior priest of the Church on the Blood, Archpriest Maxim Minyaylo, for his work in this church, and also thanked Abbess Domnik (Korobeinikova) and the sisters of the Novo-Tikhvinsky Convent, who “very strongly and powerfully helped create this chapel.”


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.


The central place is occupied by a unique mosaic panel. in the central part of the altar, depicting the Holy Royal Martyrs and their loyal subjects: Emperor Nicholas Alexandrovich, the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, Tsesarevich Alexei, Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, St. Eugene Botkin, Alexei Trupp, Ivan Kharitonov and Anna Demidova. The mosaic reflects the position of the Royal Passion-Bearers at the time of their martyr’s death: standing with their backs to the east, facing west, as is now depicted in the altar.

© Paul Gilbert. 30 November 2019

When Holy Russia’s Bells Were Silenced


A young boy inspects one of the bells felled by the Bolsheviks

Prior to the 1917 Revolution, more than 1 million bronze bells rang in churches, cathedrals and monasteries throughout the Russian Empire.

After the October Revolution of 1917, church bells were especially despised by the new Bolshevik order. Bell ringing went against the party’s anti-religious campaign, and by the beginning of the 1930s all church bells had been silenced. Under Soviet law, all church buildings, as well as bells, were placed at the disposal of the Local Councils, which “based on state and public needs, used them at their own discretion.” In 1933, at a secret meeting of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, a plan for the procurement of bell bronze was initiated. Each republic and region received a quarterly quota for their respective procurement of bell bronze. Within a few years, in a well organized campaign, nearly everything which represented Orthodox Russia was destroyed.

The closure of more than 20 specialized bell factories led to the loss of skills in this ancient craft, and the professional knowledge, handed down by many generations of Russian foundry workers, was lost. The bell manufacturers in the city of Valdai, worked longer than others, but by 1930, they ceased to exist.

Until now, no one can say even approximately how many bells have been destroyed over the past century. Some of them were lost when churches were demolished, some were destroyed intentionally, while others destroyed “for the needs of industrialization.” Even the bells cast by glorified masters for some of Russia’s oldest and most famous Orthodox places of worship did not escape this fate. They included the Ivan the Great Bell Tower (Moscow), Christ the Saviour (Moscow), and St. Isaac’s Cathedrals (Leningrad); the Solovetsky, Valaam, Simonov, Savvino-Storozhevsky monasteries; along with thousands of chapels, churches, cathedrals, and monasteries throughout the former Russian Empire. In 1929, a 1,200-pound bell was removed from the Kostroma Assumption Cathedral. In 1931, many bells of the Savior-Euthymius, Rizopolozhensky, Pokrovsky monasteries of Suzdal were sent for remelting. There were no bells left in Moscow.

The story of the destruction of the famous bells (19 bells with a total weight of 8,165 pounds) of the Trinity-Sergius Lavra was particularly tragic – they were handed over to the Rudmetalltorg (the Metal Scrap Trust in Moscow). In his diary about the events in the Trinity-Sergius Lavra, the writer M. Prishvin wrote: “I witnessed the death … the majestic bells of the Godunov era were felled – it was like a spectacle of public execution.”


The spoils of revolution and Soviet dogma

Most church bells were destroyed. A small number of bells, which were of artistic value, were registered with the People’s Commissariat of Education, which disposed of them based on “state needs.” Other bells seized were sent to large construction sites of Volkhovstroy and Dneprostroy for technical needs, such as the manufacture of boilers for dining rooms! The Moscow authorities found one peculiar use of some of the Moscow bells in 1932. Bronze high reliefs cast from 100 tons of church bells were used for the construction of the Lenin Library.

To eliminate the most valuable bells, it was decided to sell them abroad. “The most appropriate way to eliminate our unique bells is to export them abroad and sell them there on a par with other luxury goods …”, wrote the ideological atheist Gidulyanov.

The bells of the Danilov Monastery were sold to Harvard University in the United States, while the unique bells of the Sretensky Monastery were sold to England. A large number of bells went to private collections.

The gateway 30-meter bell tower of the Church of Simeon Stolpnik in Moscow, was demolished on the eve of World War II, fearing it as a possible landmark for enemy air raids. Holy Russia was silenced, depriving it of a single ringing bell.

© Paul Gilbert. 30 October 2019

Holy Royal Martyrs Monument Vandalized in Ekaterinburg

On the night of 31 August/1 September the monument to Emperor Nicholas II and his family, in front of the Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg was vandalized. An unknown woman with a black marker defaced the pedestal of the monument, but she has been detained by law enforcement officials

The woman wrote several insulting inscriptions against the Russian Orthodox Church and the United Russia Party on the pedestal. The inscriptions included words such as “Masons” and “Illuminati.” A police spokesman confirmed that the vandal was arrested at the crime scene. She was a woman born in 1971, and is known to Ekaterinburg police for previous offences.

The Ekaterinburg diocese has confirmed the act of vandalism, who also added that the insulting inscriptions on the monument platform were erased that very morning.


The Church on the Blood was constructed on the site of the Ipatiev House, where the Imperial family and their four faithful retainers were all brutally murdered by the Bolsheviks on 17th July 1918

On 28th May 2003, a monument to Nicholas II, his wife and their five children was established at the entrance to the Lower Church. The seven-figure composition represents the tragic moment of the descent of Nicholas II and his family into the basement of the “House of Special Purpose” for execution.

The monument is bordered by a spiral staircase from the Upper Church to the Lower Church. According to the sculptors, the 23 granite steps of this staircase, which correspond to the 23 steps into the basement of the Ipatiev House, should remind visitors of the last journey of the emperor and his family

© Paul Gilbert. 3 September 2019

2nd International Nicholas II Conference – UPDATE!


Today, I have received the blessing of His Grace Bishop Luke of Syracuse, Abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery, to host the 2nd International Nicholas II Conference at the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York in the Spring of 2021.

A number of historians and writers have already expressed interest in speaking at the Conference. I hope to confirm the actual date within the next few weeks.

The Holy Trinity Monastery is home to the Foundation of Russian History Museum, located in the Seminary. The conference, the museum and the beautiful Holy Trinity Cathedral combined will make a memorable visit for all who attend.

Truly, my prayers have been answered. I am so pleased that we can now honour Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II at the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville.

While the event is still more than a year away, I wanted to share this wonderful news with all of you! I will continue to keep you posted of any new developments.


«Прости нас, Государь»  «Forgive us, Sovereign»

Click HERE to read the summary + PHOTOS about the 1st International Nicholas II Conference, held on Saturday, 27th October 2018, in Colchester, England.

© Paul Gilbert. 8 August 2019

Icon of the Mother of God, “Of the Three Hands”


The Icon of the Mother of God, “Of the Three Hands” belonged to Nicholas II and his family

On 11th July 2019, on the feast day of the Icon of the Mother of God, “Of the Three Hands”, Mrs. Olga Nikolaevna Kulikovsky, chairman of the Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna Charitable Foundation, attended a Divine Liturgy in the Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg.

The Divine Liturgy was led by Metropolitan Kirill of Ekaterinburg, in front of the Icon of the Mother of God, “Of the Three Hands.” The icon belonged to the Imperial Family, who venerated the icon, during their imprisonment in the Ipatiev House in 1918. The icon was found in the basement of the house after the murder of the Tsar and his family on the night of 16/17 July 1918. In the early 1920s, through the efforts of officers loyal to the Sovereign, the icon was smuggled out of Bolshevik Russia to Denmark, and presented to Nicholas II’s mother – the Dowager Empress Maria Fedorovna. After her death in 1928, the icon was bequeathed to her youngest daughter Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, who took it with her when she emigrated to Canada in 1948.


Metropolitan Kirill of Ekaterinburg, kisses the Icon of the Mother of God, “Of the Three Hands”

In 1991, when Tikhon Nikolaevich Kulikovsky, the eldest son of Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, learned that Russia was discussing the construction of a Memorial Church on the site of the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg, he addressed a letter to His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia, in which he noted that upon completion of construction, he intended to transfer the icon to the newly established church. However, Tikhon Nikolayevich was not able to fulfill his wish during his lifetime – he died on 8th April 1993. His widow Olga Nikolaevna Kulikovsky, however, carried out her husbands wish, and presented the Mother of God, “Of the Three Hands” during the solemn consecration of the Church on the Blood in 2003.

After the service, Metropolitan Kirill congratulated everyone on the holiday and the beginning of the Tsar’s Days, noting that this day marks the beginning of “Passion Week” dedicated to the memory of the Holy Royal Martyrs. His Eminence thanked Olga Nikolaevna, to whom the Church on the Blood and the Ekaterinburg Diocese acquired “a special significant icon – the image of God’s blessing on the Holy Tsar’s Family.”

Today, the icon is kept in the Upper Church of the Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg.


Mrs. Olga Kulikovsky

It should be noted, that Mrs. Olga Kulikovsky (now 93 years old), has dedicated many years to charitable activities in the name of her mother-in-law Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna. Despite her age, she continues to work actively to help clear the name of Russia’s much slandered Tsar and his family. She travels to Ekaterinburg each year to take part in the Tsars Days events, culminating with the Divine Liturgy at the Church on the Blood on the night of 16/17 July, and in Ganina Yama.

© Paul Gilbert. 12 July 2019

The Canonization of Nicholas II


The canonization of the last Imperial Family of Russia was the elevation to sainthood of Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Tsarina Alexandra, and their five children, the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and the Tsesarevich Alexei – by the Russian Orthodox Church. The family were murdered by the Bolsheviks on 17 July 1918 at the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg; the site of their murders is now beneath the altar of the Church on Blood.

They are variously designated as new martyrs by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCOR) and as passion bearers by the church inside Russia. The family was canonized on 1 November 1981 as new martyrs by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. Their servants, who had been killed along with them, were also canonized. The canonized servants were their court physician, Yevgeny Botkin; their footman Alexei Trupp; their cook, Ivan Kharitonov; and Alexandra’s maid, Anna Demidova. 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. The Russian Orthodox Church did not canonize the servants, two of whom were not Russian Orthodox: Trupp was Roman Catholic, and Schneider was Lutheran.

In 2000 Metropolitan Laurus became the First Hierarch of the ROCOR and expressed interest in the idea of reunification. The sticking point at the time was the ROCOR’s insistence that the Moscow Patriarchate address the slaying of Tsar Nicholas II and his family in 1918 by the Bolsheviks. The ROCOR held that “the Moscow Patriarchy must speak clearly and passionately about the murder of the tsar’s family, the defeat of the anti-Bolshevik movement, and the execution and persecution of priests.”

Some of these concerns were ended with the jubilee Council of Bishops in 2000, which canonized Tsar Nicholas and his family, along with more than 1,000 martyrs and confessors.

On 20 August 2000, the Moscow Patriarchate ultimately canonized the family as passion bearers: people who face death with resignation, in a Christ-like manner, as distinguished from martyrs, the latter killed explicitly for their faith. They noted 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. On 3 February 2016, the Bishop’s Council of the Russian Orthodox Church canonized Botkin as a righteous passion bearer.

Despite their official designation as “passion-bearers” by the Moscow Patriarchate, they are nevertheless spoken of as “martyrs” in Church publications, icons, and in popular veneration by the people.

In particular icons of both the Tsar and his family are displayed in a growing number of churches across Russia, where the faithful come to venerate them. Gift shops in Ganina Yama and the Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg sell icons depicting the image of the Holy Royal Passion-Bearer Nicholas II.


Click HERE to read the Report of the Holy Synod Commission on the Canonization of Saints with Respect to the Martyrdom of the Royal Family / 9-10 October 1996

© Paul Gilbert. 20 March 2019

15th March: Reigning Icon of the Mother of God Revealed


The original Reigning Icon of the Mother of God in the Church of Our Lady of Kazan, Kolomenskoye (near Moscow)

On this day in 1917, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated from the throne. That same day, the Reigning Icon of the Mother of God was revealed to a peasant woman in Kolomenskoye. Many believe the reappearance of the icon was an indication that the Virgin Mary was displeased with Russia for dethroning Tsar Nicholas II during the February 1917 Revolution.

The Reigning Icon of the Mother of God is believed to date from the 18th century. It is considered one of the most revered both inside Russia and in Russian emigre circles. 

The icon was originally venerated in the Ascension Convent, in the Chertolye neighborhood near the Moscow Kremlin. In 1812, as Napoleon Bonaparte’s Grande Armée approached Moscow during the French invasion of Russia, the icon was taken to the village church in Kolomenskoye for safekeeping and subsequently forgotten until 1917.

At the end of the February Revolution of 1917, on 15 March (O.S. 2 March) 1917, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia abdicated the throne. That same day, Evdokia Adrianova, a peasant woman in the village of Pererva in Moscow Province, dreamed that the Blessed Virgin appeared and spoke to her. She was instructed to travel to the village of Kolomenskoye, where she would find an old icon which, “will change colour from black to red.”


The Church of Our Lady of Kazan in Kolomenskoye has been preserved to the present day

Upon her arrival, the parish priest Father Nikolai Likhachev took Evdokia at her word and together they searched until they found, in an old storage room located in the basement, an icon covered with candle soot. When they took the icon outdoors, the sunlight revealed that the Mother of God was wearing the scarlet robes of a monarch. She also wore the Imperial crown and held a sceptre and orb — the symbols of royal regalia.

Since all this took place on the same day as the Tsar’s abdication from the throne, the appearance of the icon was immediately thought to be connected with that event. What is more, the priest was given to understand that the Crown that had fallen from the head of the Tsar had been taken up by the Theotokos, the Mother of God: henceforth, She would be the reigning Tsarina of the Russian State. Thus the icon was named the ‘Reigning’ icon and became widely revered among the Russian people”


A copy of the Reigning Icon of the Mother of God is carried in a Moscow procession

Russian monarchists believe the reappearance of the icon was an indication that the Virgin Mary was displeased with Russia for dethroning Tsar Nicholas II during the February 1917 Revolution. They believe that She will hold the Imperial Crown for safekeeping until the House of Romanov is restored.

In Soviet times, the icon was kept in the vaults of the State Historical Museum in Moscow. On 27th July 1990, the Reigning Icon of the Mother of God  was returned to the Church of Our Lady of Kazan in Kolomenskoye. After the reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in August 2007, the icon was taken to Russian parishes in Europe, the United States and Australia

© Paul Gilbert. 15 March 2019

An Atheist Among the Orthodox: Ural Correspondent Reflects on her Pilgrimage to Ganina Yama


“Nonbelievers have no place in the procession of the cross” – Olga Tatarnikova

On the morning of 17th July 2016, special correspondent Olga Tatarnikova took part in the procession from the Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg to the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs at Ganina Yama. After she awoke the following morning, she described what she had to go through and why she was completely unprepared for this annual event.

After returning from my first religious procession, I collapsed on my bed and slept almost the entire day. Neither my body nor my head managed to recover from this strange night. It was only the next day, noting the calluses on my feet, that I was able to more soberly evaluate everything that had taken place and understand that nonbelievers have no place in the procession of the cross.

When the editorial board at asked me to go along with the believers to Ganina Yama, I thought: “So what? It must be similar to the May Walk (a Russian physical culture event held in Ekaterinburg every 3rd Sunday of May), only the procession of the cross to Ganina Yama takes place in the early morning hours, among women in headscarves”. I could not even imagine that this would be the most difficult task in my entire career.

It all started at half past two on the morning of 17th July. At this time, a column of thousands of believers was gathering on the street below the Church on the Blood. The 20-kilometer journey, follows the route which almost a hundred years ago, the remains of members of the Imperial family were taken by their murderers to be disposed of in an abandoned mine. As the column began moving, I noticed heaps of rubbish, long lines for the toilets and crowds of people trampling down the lawn to join the procession. 

Most of the pilgrims are women, wearing color scarves and skirts, carrying packs and mats on their back, many with raincoats. On their chest – icons bearing the image of Holy Royal Martyrs. Many went on their way in rubber slippers and socks, which by the end of the procession were covered in dirt and mud.

Overtaking the column was not an easy feat. Despite the fact that there were many women, pensioners and children in the procession, they walked so fast that I had to run to catch up with them. It was amazing to see young children who were led by their mothers, and I even came across people in wheelchairs.

Photos courtesy of

And finally, I am among the believers. They hardly spoke amongst themselves. The bell ringing, and prayers gave the impression that they were in a state of trance. They repeat:

  – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us.

Sometimes people took out their phones to take pictures of the crowd, themselves and the surrounding buildings. There are many visitors among the pilgrims, who at the same time take pictures of the city’s sights.

  – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us.

As soon as I got inside the column, I felt scared and ill. Never at night in Ekaterinburg have I experienced such stuffiness. You take a breath of air – and it does not fill the lungs. You just can’t breathe. Gradually, my head began to spin, my forehead became heavy, and a strange sensation appeared in my eyes, as if someone was pressing on them. No matter how hard I tried to force myself to walk among the Orthodox, my legs carried me closer to the safety of the sidewalk.

  – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us.

The temperature was already 18 degrees Celsius. After the first few kilometers, we turned onto Verkh-Isetsky Boulevard, it became hot, the humidity oppressive.

On the side of the lawn are the Cossacks – making sure that no one walks on the grass. 

I stumble about wearing a long skirt, and disgruntled people rush at me from behind – the crowd does not stop.

  – Alyosha! – shouts one woman. She lost her son in the crowd. Nobody responds to her calls, which are drowned in the prayers of human voices around her. 

  – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us.

We pass the Karnaval shopping complex, and fear that I will soon faint. I feel sweat trickling down my back and take off my jacket.

  – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us.

Photos courtesy of

As we approach the bridge, something starts to happen. I am sure that I will lose consciousness, from all the stuffiness, chants and oppression . The asphalt seemed to buckle under my feet. I am not imagining this in my head. You take a step, and it feels as if the earth is going up and down – I panic, and jump over the fence, running through the mud onto solid ground. But even then the buckling did not stop – it was as if I had been riding a boat for several hours.

  – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us.

As we turn on Ulitsa Teknikalskaya, men run behind flower stalls and stand under the windows to relieve themselves. Women have nowhere to run, so they crouch under the trees, hiding behind flags bearing the image of the tsar. Someone went into the courtyard and upon, returning, said that the residents were swearing at the participants in the procession. Perhaps the organizers could remedy this problem by placing portable public toilets along the procession route.

  – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us.

At the half way point the brain stops working. I carry on, trying not to step on my calluses, and listen to the conversations around me.

A bald man tells his neighbor that he had been sick with cancer. At first he lamented the injustices of his life, and then he accepted it. I decided to go to church, he added. And two weeks later, a doctor came to him with all the equipment, checked the man and said that he could find no trace of cancer. noting a miracle of God

  – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us.

As we walk through the forest, every now and then people stop and shake the stones out of their shoes. On the side of the road stands a woman with a red cross on her head and with a spray gun in her hands:

  – “Who wants to be sprinkled with Holy water?”

Six in the morning. Feet continue to slowly, painfully stride forward. I hear the conversation behind. A boy of five holds his mother by the hand and complains that he is very tired. Next to him is a man who advises him to thank God for his trials:

  – Fatigue – it will pass. It will be hard for you – fold your hands like this and ask the saint for help. He sees every soul and immediately comes to the rescue. Only then do not forget to pray and say thanks to God for the difficulties he subjected you to. Work, pray and be patient.

  – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us.

Photos courtesy of

After an hour and a half we come to EKAD (Ekaterinburg Ring Road). The column blocks the road, and I can note the glare from angry drivers as we pass. Nearing Ganina Yama, we pass a growing number of beggars. And these are the same people who asked for alms at the Church on the Blood.

  – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us.

As I approach Ganina Yama, I hear the ring of bells from the monastery’s churches. I am pleased with this sound. People collect their last remnants of strength, and seek out a spot to rest. I am short of being delirious, that we have reached the very end. My only desire is to finally stop and sit down.

When I come to the entrance, many people are already sleeping along the road. They have spread mats and rub their tired and sore feet. Some eat, while others sleep. I sit down near a large rock by a pine and have a blissful rest. Snoring resounds around me.

Buses were on hand to take people from the monastery back to Ekaterinburg. For the pilgrims, there was surprise that the buses would only go as far as the village of Shuvakish, to the town of Sredneuralsk and to the 9th hospital in Ekaterinburg. Traffic police officers try to reassure every one that there are enough places for everyone, but as soon as the bus approaches, the believers storm the bus fiercely, pushing, stepping on each other’s feet and cursing one another. 

Those who do not want to suffocate, go on foot to Shuvakish and from there look for a way to get home. I am among them. Four kilometers more – and you can get in a taxi (cars are not allowed closer). Half past ten in the morning. “Thank God, take me home,” I say to the driver, and I immediately fall asleep in the backseat.

© Paul Gilbert. 10 March 2019

How Old Believers suffered from the overthrow of Nicholas II


Nicholas II receives bread and salt from the Yaroslavl Old Believer Ascension Community. 1913

Writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) once said that if it were not for the church schism of the 17th century, the revolution of 1917 would not have happened. Some modern historians believe that the writer was correct in the literal sense and that the Russian Old Believers played a significant role in the political cataclysms of the early 20th century. 

The position of the Old Believers in Russia in the pre-revolutionary years

By the end of the 19th century, the Old Believers held considerable material resources in their hands. “The entire Russian market was dominated by the Old Believers,” says A. V. Pyzhikov, a doctor of historical sciences, and author of the book Грани русского раскола (The Edge of Russian Schism). Merchant dynasties among the Old Believers began to emerge in the era of Catherine II, who encouraged free enterprise.

The Old Believers held a fair share of the national income, particularly in Russia’s vast raw materials and manufacturing industries. They also owned banks, railways, and shipping companies. The Old Believers firms received state orders, including the manufacture of weapons.

At the turn of the 20th century, not all Old Believers dared to confess their religious affiliation openly (their actual numbers far exceeded that indicated in official documents), for fear of persecution.

In 1905, Emperor Nicholas II signed an act of religious freedom that ended the persecution of all religious minorities in Russia. The Old Believers gained the right to  build churches and monasteries, to ring church bells, to hold processions and to organize themselves. It became prohibited (as under Catherine the Great—reigned 1762–1796) to refer to Old Believers as raskolniki (schismatics), a name they consider insulting. People often refer to the period from 1905 until 1917 as “the Golden Age of the Old Faith”. One can regard the Act of 1905 as emancipating the Old Believers, who had until then occupied an almost illegal position in Russian society. Nevertheless, some restrictions for Old Believers continued: for example, they were forbidden from joining the civil service.

On 16 April 1905, divine services were allowed in the Old Believer churches of the Rogozhsky cemetery in Moscow. On 19 April, Emperor Nicholas II wrote in his diary: “I christened myself with the Old Believers.” 

The authorities clearly wanted to live in harmony with the Old Believers. But did the Old Believers want to live in harmony with the authorities?


The altar of the Old Believer Pokrovsky Cathedral, Rostov-on-Don. 1905

The attitude of Old Believers to autocracy

It is widely believed that, without exception, the Old Believers hated the Imperial House of the Romanovs to the depths of their hearts. It is not hard to substantiate this point of view, since the schism of 1650–1660, which had driven the followers of the old rite underground during the reign of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich (1645 to 1676), and lasted for more than three centuries.

The Old Believers, referred to Tsar Peter I as “the Antichrist” (although, the persecution of the schismatics was far less severe than during his father’s reign), but any Romanov on the throne, up to the early 20th century, was regarded likewise.

But even educated citizens, businessmen, publishers, politicians, who observed the strict archaic and patriarchal structure characteristic of the Old Believers in their homes, were hardly guided in their thoughts and actions for historical and religious reasons.

They were modern practical people who, like many in that era, believed that the social structure of the country conditioned by the autocracy hampered its development, including the development of its economy and business.

The manifestos of 1905 “On the improvement of the state order” and “On the establishment of the State Duma”, thanks to which Russia had its own parliament for the first time, together with the Tolerance Ordinance, gave some Old Believers hope of a better future. However, some believed that there would be no changes, and that things would return to the old ways.

O. P. Ershov, a researcher on the history of Old Believers, writes that in 1917 one of the regional meetings of Old Believers recognized the autocracy incapable of ensuring the rights granted by the Tolerance Ordinance and not in the interests of the people. This case was not an isolated one.

The relation of the autocrat to the Old Believers

The question of how Nicholas II really treated the Old Believers remains open. A number of researchers of the Old Believers, including the historian and literary critic MA Dzyubenko, believe that the emperor sympathized with them and even hoped to unite the two branches of the Russian Church, but there is no direct evidence of this.

An indirect argument is, for example, Nicholas II’s interest in Neo-Byzantine church architecture and music, which may well be explained for aesthetic and partly diplomatic reasons. Moreover, it is extremely doubtful that most Old Believers would have taken the idea of ​​uniting with the Russian Orthodox Church with any enthusiasm.


Old Believers in early 20th century Imperial Russia

The participation of Old Believers in the preparation of revolutionary events

In all likelihood, the theory gaining popularity in recent years that Old Believers were perhaps the main driving force of all three Russian revolutions is greatly exaggerated. However, the fact of the participation of the Old Believers in the revolutionary movement is indisputable.

Since the end of the 19th century, they were in active contact with various groups of the political opposition. According to the historian Pyzhikov, “the Orthodox Slavophile merchant elite is moving towards a liberal-constitutional path.”

For wealthy people, who also had access to the communal capital of the Old Believers, the most simple and convenient way to influence the events was the financing of the opposition. The most famous example is the manufacturer and philanthropist Savva Morozov, for whose money the Iskra social-democratic newspaper, the Bolshevik publications The Struggle and the New Life were published.

In addition, Morozov supplied his own workers with prohibited literature and was the author of the note “On the Causes of the Strike Movement. Requirements for the introduction of democratic freedoms”. He penned it in January 1905, a few days after Bloody Sunday, in the hope that it would be supported by the other shareholders of the Nikolskaya manufactory, which did not happen. It is also known that Savva Morozov’s funds secretly purchased weapons for the Bolsheviks.

Many Old Believers or people from Old Believer families themselves were members of opposition parties in the Duma and other factions. Often these same people who held important government positions before the February Revolution became members of the Provisional Government afterwards, allowing for assumptions to the “revolution came from above” theory.

Thus, one of the leaders of the Progressive Party A. I. Konovalov, a member of the Fourth State Duma (15 November 1912 – 6 October 1917), later occupied the post of Minister of Trade and Industry in the Provisional Government. His closest associate, P. P. Ryabushinsky, publisher of the newspaper “Morning of Russia”, was a member of the State Council and chairman of the Military Industrial Committee. The founder of the party “Union on October 17” and the chairman of the Third State Duma (7 November 1907 – 9 June 1912) A. I. Guchkov became the Provisional Government’s Minister of War and Navy.

Collapse of hope

Many Old Believers greeted the establishment of the Provisional Government with sincere joy. Thus, the magazine Слово Церкви (Word of the Church), published the greeting of the monks of the Transfiguration Monastery: “I firmly believe the brethren of your wise government, that you will try to improve everything for the good of the motherland and fatherland, and to enlighten the Russian land.”

As we know, the Provisional Government failed to cope with these tasks. In August 1917, an obvious fact was stated at a meeting held at the Bolshoi Theater: “the situation was hopelessly out of control.”

After the October Revolution, almost all the Old Believers lost their fortunes, while many others lost their freedom or their life. Those who succeeded, emigrated. Some, such as Guchkov and Konovalov, continued their political and social activities in Europe.

Note: Many congregations emigrated to the United States, where their descendants still live, observing the ancient customs of the Old Believer’s Church.


Head of the Russian Orthodox Old Believer Church, Metropolitan Cornelius

The Old Believers View of Nicholas II in Post-Soviet Russia

During an interview with the Ekaterinburg media, the head of the Russian Orthodox Old Believer Church, Metropolitan Cornelius, was asked: – In July, “Tsar’s Days” took place in Yekaterinburg, timed to coincide with the execution of Nicholas II and his family. The Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill came to us, who declared the guilt of the whole people in the death of the tsar . What is the attitude of the Old Believer Church to the personality of Nicholas II? Why do you think these events happened a hundred years ago in the Urals?

Metropolitan Cornelius – Nicholas II, of all the Romanovs, did a great blessing for the Old Believers to give the Old Believers freedom in 1905 after 300 years of persecution during the rule of the Romanovs. But we must understand that Nicholas II is not in our church, he was a new believer. And there is no question of canonization.

Of course, the murder of the entire royal family and Nicholas is a tragedy, this should not have taken place. Alexander Solzhenitsyn very wisely said about this: the 17th century spawned 1917. Who ruined the church and beat the priests? Russian people themselves. Not the French, not the Germans, not the British, but the Russians, who had lost the foundations of their faith after a church schism. It was then that the destruction of the foundation of the faith began, Russia turned to the West, the Church lost its primacy: an official began to rule the church instead of the patriarch. As a result, godless people came to power, killed the tsar and destroyed everything. To prevent this from happening, we need to return to our foundations, our religion.

Click HERE to learn more about the The Russian Old Believer Church

© Paul Gilbert. 4 March 2019