Reprinted from Orthodox Life
Vol. 45, No. 4 July - August 1995
THE ROYAL MARTYRS
Sermon given by
His Eminence John, Bishop of Shanghai,1
during the memorial service for Tsar Nicholas II
and those slain with him
In the name of the Father and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit.
Tomorrow (July 4/17)
2 the Holy Church
praises Saint Andrew, the Bishop of Crete, the author of the Great Canon of
Repentance, and at the same time we gather here to pray for the souls of the
Tsar-Martyr and those assassinated with him. Likewise, people in Russia used to
gather in churches on the day of the other Saint Andrew of Crete (Oct.17), not
the writer of the Great Canon whose day is celebrated tomorrow, but the Martyr
Andrew, martyred for confession of Christ and His Truth. On the day of Martyr
Andrew, people in Russia thanked God for the miraculous delivery of Emperor
Alexander III from the train wreck at Borki on October 17, 1888. In the
terrible derailment which occurred during his journey, all the carriages of the
train were wrecked, except the one carrying the Tsar and his Family.
On the day of the Martyr Andrew of Crete, martyred by enemies
of Christ and His Church, the Heir to the throne and subsequent tsar, Nicholas
Alexandrovich, was saved, and on the day of Saint Andrew of Crete the Canonist,
who reposed in peace, the Tsar was assassinated by atheists and traitors. On the
day of Martyr Andrew, Russia also celebrated the day of the Prophet Hosea, who
foretold Christ's Resurrection. Churches were built in honor of these saints
wherever Russian people thanked God for the delivery of their Sovereign. Thirty
years later, on the day of Saint Andrew the Canonist, who taught repentance, the
Sovereign was assassinated before the eyes of the whole nation, that did nothing
to save him. It is especially dreadful and incomprehensible since the Sovereign,
Nicholas Alexandrovich, incarnated the best virtues of those Tsars whom the
Russian people knew, loved, and esteemed.
Most of all the Tsar-Martyr resembled Tsar Alexis
Michailovich Tishayshiy (the Most Meek, 1645-76) excelling in unshakable
meekness. Russia knew Alexander II(1855-81) as Liberator, but Tsar Nicholas II
liberated even more nations of the fraternal Slavic tribe. Russia knew Alexander
III (1881-94) as Peacemaker but Sovereign Nicholas II did not limit himself to
care for peace in his own days but made a significant step towards establishing
peace in Europe and in all the world so that all nations should solve their
controversies peacefully. To that purpose, by his dispassionate and noble
initiative, the Hague Conferences3 were called. Russia admired
Alexander I(1801-25) and called him the Blessed One because he liberated Europe
from the alien rule of a tyrant, Napoleon. Sovereign Nicholas II under much more
difficult circumstances rose against another ruler's attempt, Kaiser Wilhelm II,
to enslave Slavic nations, and in the defense of that nation showed a
determination that was devoid of compromises. Russia knew the Great Reformer
Peter I but if we recall all the reforms of Nicholas II, we would be uncertain
whom to give preference and the latter's reforms were con ducted more carefully,
more thoughtfully, and without abruptness. John Kalita (1328-40) and John III
(1449 - 1505), Grand Princes of Moscow, were known for uniting the Russian
people, but their cause was finally accomplished only by Sovereign Nicholas when
in 1915 he returned to Russia all her sons, though only for a short time.4
Sovereign of All Russia, Nicholas II was the first Pan-Russian Tsar. His
inner, spiritual, moral image was so beautiful that even the Bolsheviks in their
desire to blacken him could blame him only for his piety.
It is known for certain that he always began and ended the
day with prayer. He always received Communion on the days of the Church's great
holidays and often went to receive the Great Sacrament in a crowd of commoners,
as for instance during the opening of the relics of Saint Seraphim of Sarov. He
was an example of marital fidelity and the head of an exemplary Orthodox family,
bringing up his children to be ready to serve the Russian people and strictly
preparing them for the future labors and feats of that calling. He was deeply
considerate towards his subjects' needs and always wanted to ascertain clearly
and acutely their labor and service. Everyone knows that he once marched alone
many miles in soldier's full equipment in order to better understand the
conditions of a soldier's service. He walked alone, which refutes the slanderers
who say that he was afraid for his life. Peter I said: "know about Peter, that
life is not precious for him, but may Russia live" and Sovereign Nicholas II
indeed fulfilled his words. Some people say that he was credulous. But the great
father of the Church, Saint Gregory the Great, says that the more pure the
heart, the more credulous it is.
What did Russia render to her pure-hearted Sovereign, who
loved her more than life? She returned love with slander. He was of great
morality, but people began to talk about his viciousness. He loved Russia, but
people began to talk about his treason. Even the people close to the Sovereign
repeated the slander, passing on to each other rumors and gossip. Because of the
ill intention of some and the lack of discipline of others, rumors spread and
love for the Tsar began to grow cool. They started to talk of the danger to
Russia and discuss means of avoiding that non-existent danger, they started to
say that to save Russia it would be necessary to dismiss the Sovereign.
Calculated evil did its work: it separated Russia from her Tsar and in the dread
moment at Pskov5 he was alone; no one near to him. Those faithful to
him were not admitted to his presence. The dreadful loneliness of the Tsar...
But he did not abandon Russia, Russia abandoned him, the one who loved Russia
more than life. Thus, in the hope that his self-belittling would still the
raging passions of the people, the Sovereign abdicated. But passion never
stills. Having achieved what it desires it only inflames more. There was an
exultation among those who desired the fall of the Sovereign. The others were
silent. They succeeded in arresting the Sovereign; succeeded, and further events
were almost inevitable. If someone is left in a beast's cage he will be torn to
pieces sooner or later. The Sovereign was killed, and Russia remained silent.
There was no indignation, no protest when that dread, evil deed happened, and
this silence is the great sin of the Russian people, and it happened on the day
of Saint Andrew, the writer of the Great Canon of Repentance, which is read in
churches during Great Lent.
In the vaults of a basement in Ekaterinburg the Ruler of
Russia was killed, deprived by the peoples' insidiousness of the tsar's crown,
but not deprived of God's Sacred Anointment. Hitherto, all the cases of regicide
in the history of Russia were committed by cliques, not by the people. When Paul
I was killed, people knew nothing about it and when it became known, for many
years they brought to his grave compassion and prayers. The assassination of
Alexander II produced in Russia a storm of indignation that healed the people's
morality and assisted the reign of Alexander III. The people remained innocent
of the blood of the Tsar-Liberator, Alexander II. But in the case of Nicholas
lI the entire nation is guilty of shedding the blood of its tsar. The assassins
did the terrible deed, their masters approved the murder, sharing the same sin,
the people did not prevent it. All are guilty and indeed we must say: "His blood
is on us and on our children." The garland with which the Russian people crowned
their Tsar was made of treason, treachery, the breaking of the oath of
allegiance to Tsar Michael Theodorovich, the first Tsar of the Romanov dynasty
and his heirs, passivity, hardness of heart, and insensitivity.
Today is a day of sorrow and repentance. Why - we could ask -
did the Lord save the Tsar [previously] on the day of Martyr Andrew and not save
him on the day of the other Saint Andrew, the teacher of repentance? With deep
grief we answer: the Lord could have saved him, but the Russian people
did not deserve it.
The Sovereign received a martyr's crown, but this neither
justifies us, nor reduces our guilt, as the Resurrection of Christ does not
justify, but condemns Judas, Pilate, and Caiphas and those who demanded from
Pilate the murder of Christ.
It is a great sin to lift up a hand against the God-Anointed
Sovereign. When the news of the murder of Saul was brought to King David, he
ordered the execution of the messenger, although he knew that the messenger did
not participate in the murder but only hurried to bring that news, and he
ascribed the murder to him. Even the slightest participation in such a sin is
not without retribution.
In sorrow we say, "his blood is on us and our children."
Let us remember that this evil deed of the whole nation was
committed on the day of Saint Andrew of Crete, who calls us to deep repentance.
Let us remember also, that there is no sin which cannot be washed away by
repentance. But our repentance has to be full, without self-justification,
without reserve, condemning ourselves and the evil deed from the very beginning.
After the deliverance of the Royal Family at Borki the icon
depicting the patron saints of the family was painted. Perhaps the day will come
when not just the patrons but also the Royal Martyrs themselves will be depicted
on icons6 in remembrance of the event we recollect today. But now let
us pray for their souls and ask God for deep humble repentance and forgiveness
for us and for all Russian people.
"Tserkovnaya Zhizn" ("Church Life") #8, 1934
Republished in "Pravoslavnaya Rus" ("Orthodox Russia") #12, 1994
1) Archbishop John (Maximovitch) of Shanghai and San
Francisco was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in
2) Saint John of Shanghai is speaking in 1934.
3) Hague Peace Conference 1899 and 1907. Convened on the
initiative of Emperor Nicholas II with the primary objective of limiting
armaments on land and sea and furthermore prohibiting the use of asphyxiating
gases, expanding (dumdum) bullets and the dropping of explosives from the air.
4) The offensive against the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1915
once again incorporated all the lands of Ancient Kiev into the Russian Empire
that had for almost 1000 years been under Hungarian rule.
5) The abdication of Tsar Nicholas II took place at Pskov on
March 2, 1917.
6) The Royal Martyrs were canonized by the Russian Orthodox
Church Outside of Russia in 1981. Saint John Maximovitch is speaking here in
* [ed. notel One might ask, "What is my responsibility for
the Tsar's death since I was born (for example) of Irish parents in Boston in
1958?" In so much that many people stubbornly repeat the slander against
Nicholas II and in their hearts condemn him, they too spiritually take part with
those guilty ones mentioned by Saint John Maximovitch, and are in need of
re-examining their information and consciences.