CANONIZING RUSSIA'S LAST TSAR
by Sergei Bychkov

Moscow News, no. 47, 4 December 1996

At a recent meeting of the Holy Synod, the Canonization Commission, headed by Metropolitan Yuvenaly of Kolomenskoe and Krutitsy, made the following proposal: "That the bishops council examine the possible canonization of Emperor Nicholas II and his family, who were executed without trial in the summer of 1918."

This decision took many by surprise. This past January Metropolitan Yuvenaly announced that "with regard to the emperor's life, the church has not forgotten about Bloody Sunday, or Rasputin, or the abdication. All circumstances of the tsar's life are being studied carefully."

Now that the commission has completed its work, let's take a look at just who was involved. The brains behind the commission is the young Father Superior Ignaty Krekshin, with a university degree in the arts, a former parishioner of the cathedral of the Purification in Novaia Derevnia, and follower of the murdered spiritual leader Alexander Men. The commission's most eloquent writer is the monastic priest Damaskin Orlovsky, a recent graduate of the Gorky Institute of Literature. The inspiration and chairman of the commission is Metropolitan Yuvenaly himself. These three people took a decision on behalf of the church on whom ordinary Orthodox Christians should look up to.

Canonization is the church's recognition of a feat that is confirmed through miracles, such as curing a person of a serious illness when doctors have already given up hope, or saving people from misfortune in an accident. Such miracles must be recorded and thoroughly verified. Early this year, when asked about miracles worked by Tsar Nicholas II, Metropolitan Yuvenaly admitted: "The commission has no such facts at its disposal." So it didn't have them in January, but in October they suddenly turned up? And if so, why didn't Metropolitan Yuvenaly tell the church authorities about them?

The issue of whether or not the last tsar deserves to be accorded sainthood has given way to another question, which the commission has also neglected to answer. Nicholas voluntarily abdicated before the Bolsheviks seized power, during one of the most tragic moments in Russia's history. Knowing this, is it still possible to speak of him as an emperor? In 1905 Nicholas II solemnly promised the church and the Russian people that he would allow the local council to convene. The council was absolutely necessary, above all else, for the restoration of the patriarchate. But the emperor did not keep his promise. The council was convened in 1917, after the fall of the monarchy. By opening fire on the religious procession of workers on 9 January 1905 Nicholas II in fact started the first revolution. And need we elaborate about the part Rasputin played in the second?

So it was on these grounds that the canonization commission drew a natural conclusion: "Having analyzed the state and church activities of the last Russian emperor, the commission has not found sufficient reason for his canonization." There is, however, one huge "but." The commission noted that Most Holy Patriarch Tikhon held a requiem in honor of the executed imperial family. Is it possible that, in doing so, Patriarch Tikhon was trying to canonize the emperor? Everything is much simpler than that: in the summer of 1918 the patriarch expressed indignation that the imperial family was executed without trial. He was shocked that innocent children and servants were killed along with the imperial couple. Patriarch Tikhon was not an admirer of the imperial family, and his conduct of the memorial service itself should not be interpreted as a sign of reverence: it was a mere act of pity for innocent people who were punished for the sins of others.

The commission divided the tsar's life into two uneven parts. The first was a life filled with sin and mistakes, says Metropolitan Yuvenaly, but the second part, which was spent in confinement, was filled with sanctity.

Metropolitan Yuvenaly corroborates the need to canonize the imperial family by comparing them to Holy Maria of Egypt. Before turning to Christianity, Maria had been a lost soul; but after finding God, she withdrew to the desert and led an ascetic life to the day she died. This earned her holy status. But how fair is it to compare the spiritual path of this truly holy woman with the life of Tsar Nicholas II, who was born into a Christian family and raised in the spirit of Christianity, and yet whose reign threw Russia into the tragedy of Bolshevism.

The conclusions drawn by the commission on the canonization of the last Russian tsar are highly dubious, weakly argued, and riddled with internal contradictions. The decision seems to be oriented toward the conservative circles of the church, and will not do much to uphold its moral standing. There is also the fear that one day the church may be abandoned by intelligent, thinking Christians, of which there are now not too many in its bosom.

copyright Moscow News