A CHURCH'S SHAME Russian Christians should lay their Tsar to rest

The Times (UK)
June 20 1998

The murder of Tsar Nicholas II, his wife, children and servants by Bolshevik guards in 1918 remains on the Russian conscience. For more than 70 years the assassinations in the basement of the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg were shrouded in mystery and political taboo. The Communists well knew the shame that this regicide caused, and did their best to suppress every relevant document and archive. It was the Russian Orthodox Church, once headed by the Tsar, which quietly kept alive the memory of a man who, though a poor ruler and politician, was secretly revered as a martyr. The extraordinary discovery of his remains and their authentication by DNA analysis shed unexpected light on this murky chapter in Russian history. It also gave Moscow a unique opportunity for national and spiritual reconciliation. President Yeltsin's Government proposed the interment of the imperial family's remains in the Peter and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg, the resting place for most of the Romanov tsars. He and the Patriarch, it was hoped, would attend a glittering ceremony that would be a symbol of reconciliation between State and Church, lay to rest the taboos as well as the bones and heal the chasm opened up by the Bolsheviks in Russian tradition and history.

The patriarchate, now a free and independent body, gave every indication that it, too, would welcome such a step. But, allegedly because of the the growing movement to have Russia's last tsar canonised, it insisted that the verification of the remains had to be beyond doubt. The bones were subjected to further analysis. The Church still voiced doubts. Earlier this month, Patriarch Aleksi announced that he and the entire Church hierarchy would boycott the proceedings.

The reason has nothing to do with science and everything to do with bigotry. The Russian Orthodox Church is in the grip of extreme nationalists and anti-Semites. Their views, which Patriarch Aleksi has yet to repudiate, are rapidly returning the Church to the political wasteland that polluted its spiritual authority before the Revolution. The Church was once happy to utter unctious endorsements of the former communist Government. Now it appears to regard Russia's post-communist Government as some creation of the devil.

A witch-hunt has begun against all manifestations of liberalism. A book-burning ceremony was ordered in the Yekaterinburg seminary to burn the works of two "heretic" priests whose broadcasts from exile kept faith alive in the communist time. Gleb Yakunin, a priest whose struggle against communist persecution made him a beacon of integrity, has been defrocked. Foreign missionaries and non-Orthodox clergy have been hounded out of Russia. Most disgraceful of all, crude anti-Semitism has been propagated by the Metropolitan of St Petersburg with no check or rebuff by the Patriarch. Somewhere on the road from servitude to reconciliation the Church has lost its way. Unless the Patriarch reconsiders his decision, a critical chance for a new spiritual beginning will be lost.