His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia appeared on the television program “The Shepherd’s Word” and expressed the official position of the Russian Orthodox Church in regard to the history and current role of the House of Romanov in Russia.
Broadcast on March 9, 2013, His Holiness answered questions from television viewers on the Church’s assessment of the role of the Romanov Dynasty in Russian history. Below is an excerpt from the transcript of the broadcast. For the original video (in Russian only), see: http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/2836965.html.
- From an email from Vladimir Petrovich Surov in Saratov: “Your Holiness, tell us, please, how, in light of the 400th anniversary of the House of Romanov, does the Orthodox Church regard the years of rule of this dynasty? Is this an anniversary that deserves to be celebrated, and are the claims of the descendants of this dynasty to the throne legitimate?”
In answer to Vladimir Petrovich’s question, I want first to say that the Church’s view on events in history can only be from the vantage point of the mission that it carries out in the world. Often, reporters or the public at large demand immediate responses from the Church to all political events that are taking place in the country. And if the Church, especially the patriarch, do not respond immediately, then this leads to confusion, questions, complaints, and sometimes even accusations that the Church is holding an incorrect position.
In its homilies to the people, the Church always points first and foremost to those things that relate to salvation. The effects of historical events may relate to the salvation of mankind, but very often events have little connection whatsoever with the Gospel. That is why one should not expect an immediate comment from the Church on events that are taking place in the political life of the nation. The Church is not an organ of political commentary, and we do not set for ourselves the task of immediately giving an opinion on all that is going in in the country, in society, or in the world. But nevertheless, the Church can have a soteriological view on history—that is, a view on History from the perspective of the salvation of Man. And it is precisely from that perspective that I would like to respond to this question.
It is impossible to separate the rule of the Romanovs from the rule of the Riurikovich family. It is impossible to speak about the Romanovs and not also speak about Prince Vladimir, or Alexander Nevsky, Dmitry Donskoy, or Ivan III the Gatherer of Rus’, or about Ivan the Terrible, who played an enormously significant role in the foundation of the Russian state. That which the Romanov dynasty achieved was certainly a continuation of the prior service to the Russian people and to the Russian state by previous rulers. If we take a closer look at the entire history of the Russian monarchy, we can say that it served for the good of the country and the people. Each epoch of Russian history had its own particular emphasis on what was beneficial. The middle ages were one thing, and the modern age is quite another. Therefore, in a purely formal way, in an outward way, the reign of Peter I was of course quite different from that of Ivan the Terrible, but from the point of view of the contributions these reigns made to the Russian state, they are actually quite similar. In fact, there was no tsar during whose reign the size of the state shrank, but during every reign, the size of the state always grew larger. Of course, some of the expansion was only temporary, such as when, during the reign of Empress Elizabeth Petrovna, our armies advanced to Konigsberg and occupied East Prussia, only to evacuate this territory later under the orders of Peter III. But we are not talking about those cases. We are, of course, talking about the expansion of the Russian state, and here the patriotic service of the Romanov dynasty is absolutely obvious.
But here is what I would also like to say. When we evaluate the activity of a ruler or any government official of that high station, we are first and foremost evaluating results: what was done for the country, for the people, for the development of society. But we forget about the personal qualities of the ruler or official—those are kept in the shadows.
And so it must be pointed out that among the Romanovs there was not a single saint, except for the last tsar, who was glorified among the choir of saints not as statesman, not as a military leader, not as a political leader, but as a Passion-Bearer. Therefore, when speaking about the Romanov dynasty, we should not forget about the general cultural background in which its policies were formulated. And not everything in that general cultural background was entirely favorable for them. We know what a corrupting influence the 18th century had on the life of our people—undoubtedly, with the collusion of those rulers who themselves were proponents of the spirit of that age. There were problems also in the 19th century. Therefore, with all the due respect that the Church has always had for governmental power, which is in accordance with the teachings of the Gospels, we must nonetheless note that there was a certain distance between the spiritual life of the people and the spiritual life of our aristocracy.
And so, stepping back from all this a bit, I want to say that “at the end of the day,” as they say, we have made many enormous positive accomplishments as a result of the activities of the tsars of the Romanov dynasty. And so in that sense, I think the first feeling we today ought to have toward those who have ruled our country for 300 years is a feeling of gratitude, of appreciation for what they did. But even so, this appreciation should not be like some cheap print, or idealized painted image, or some otherwise imaginary depiction. We should remember that there were a number of serious mistakes that were made in the formation of the ideals of the life of our intelligentsia and our educated classes; and that these mistakes undoubtedly affected the lives of the entire people. Therefore the Church has, from its point of view of history, both a positive and a somewhat restrained assessment of the actions of the tsars who belonged to the Romanov dynasty.
Even so, I would like to say in conclusion that everything is relative. If we compare the policies of the tsars with the policies of those who came later and destroyed our great Russian nation, with those who tore it asunder, and who in the twentieth century caused enormous destruction to the interests of the nation, then without any doubt the tsars of the Romanov dynasty appear as elevated and remarkable models of care for both the state and the people.
As for the second part of your question: are the claims of the descendants of the Romanovs to the Russian throne legitimate? I would like to say right away that there are no pretenders. Today, none of those persons who are descendants of the Romanovs are pretenders to the Russian throne. But in the person of Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna and her son, Georgy, the succession of the Romanovs is preserved—no longer to the Russian Imperial throne, but to history itself.*
And I should acknowledge with gratitude to this family and to the many other Romanovs the current contributions they make to the life of our country. Maria Vladimirovna supports a great many good initiatives, she makes visits to Russia, she meets with people, she grants noble status to ordinary people who have in various ways distinguished themselves. I remember very well how, when she was visiting Smolensk, she elevated an old peasant woman to noble status who had done much for her neighbors during the difficult years of the war and immediately after the war. Thus the cultural contributions of this family continue to be very significant in our society.
And now to that part of the question that asks if this is an anniversary that we should at all be celebrating. Yes, of course we should. This is a very significant historical date. Regardless of people’s attitudes toward the monarchy or to the possibility of a restoration at the present time, the very fact of the 400th anniversary presents the opportunity to analyze history; with gratitude, as I said, and to remember the efforts of those who ruled the Russian state, to remember the enormous achievements in the development of the lands, in the creation of a vast state infrastructure, including a transportation infrastructure, and in the development of science, art, and industry. It is enough to say that on the eve of the First World War, Russia almost had the second highest GDP in the world, and if the war had not intervened, then it definitely would have achieved second place. All this shows that Russia’s sovereigns made truly enormous contributions to the development of our country, and to celebrate this entirely appropriate.
This will not be an official state celebration, but it is an important historical date and the Church has marked it already: a solemn Divine Liturgy was celebrated on March 6 in Dormition Cathedral in the Kremlin, during which we commemorated all Romanovs, beginning with Mikhail Fedorovich, Aleksei Mikhailovich—the great gatherer of the Russian land, Peter I, and down to the Holy Passion-Bearer Nicholas II. We commemorated these people with thanks to God for their efforts and with prayers beseeching the Lord to grant rest to their souls in the abode of the righteous.
It was also remarkable how the television media have responded to this anniversary. You can now watch many interesting historical films, documentaries, and discussions on this topic on TV. Therefore the anniversary is being especially broadly celebrated, not so much on the state level as on a societal level.
But I want to repeat that the Church has its own way to comment on history and its own way of marking historical dates, and on the day of the 400th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty, we will first and foremost raise up to God our prayers for the repose of their souls.
And with this I conclude our program, and may God’s blessing be with all of you.
Press Service of the Moscow Patriarchate
*In an interview she gave on the eve of her visit to Russia in March 2013, the Head of the Russian Imperial House, Grand Duchess Maria of Russia, expressed her thoughts on some of the same issues that were later addressed by the Patriarch in the broadcast “The Shepherd’s Word,” thoughts that coincide entirely with those offered by His Holiness: “Many mistakenly believe that the Head of the Imperial House is the ‘pretender to the throne.’ In point of fact, this is absolutely not the case. The Imperial House is an historical institution, which preserves an entire range of traditional spiritual values, including, of course, the idea of monarchy. It would be impossible for the dynasty to reject monarchy in the same way it would be impossible for the Church to reject belief in God. We are convinced that legitimate monarchy has a future and can be of service to our country. If our people—freely and fully-informed—should choose to restore the monarchy, then the Head of the Imperial House will be ready to fulfill her or his duty as the legal successor to Russia’s past sovereigns. But we do not desire to force ourselves on the nation, we do not participate in any political activities whatsoever, and we do not have pretensions to anything.
“Both I and my son, Tsesarevich George of Russia, are citizens of Russia. We respect its Constitution and laws. We strive to help the President and government, the Church, the other traditional religious confessions in the nation, and various civic groups to revive the nation’s historic traditions and to develop these traditions in ways that fit the circumstances of the modern world we live in.
“At the present time, and in the foreseeable future, the main activities of the House of Romanov are to sponsor charitable activities, to help strengthen the state and civil society, to foster social, religious, and ethnic harmony in the country, to help maintain and preserve the cultures and civilization of the various peoples that once were part of the former Russian Empire, to protect the environment and our common historical heritage, and to promote a positive image of Russia in the wider world. All our activities are of a humanitarian, not a political, character.”
For the full text of this interview (in English), see: http://www.imperialhouse.ru/eng/allnews/news/2013/3496.html