Life Without the Tsar
On the 100th Anniversary of the February Revolution
by Protopriest Alexander Lebedeff
On the hundredth anniversary of the catastrophic events 1917, Protopriest Alexander Lebedeff discusses the reasons and consequences of the great Russian tragedy. His thoughts reflect the pain of the Russian diaspora felt over the Fatherland and Church.
“Deliver us not up for ever, we beseech thee, for thy name's sake, and abolish not thy covenant. And take not away thy mercy from us. For we, O Lord, are diminished more than any nation, and are brought low in all the earth this day for our sins. Neither is there at this time prince, or leader, or prophet.”
(Prayer read on the day of the martyrdom of the Royal Family, July 4/17.)
One hundred years ago, a terrible catastrophe stuck the Russian nation, the so-called “February Revolution,” during which Tsar-Martyr Nicholas Alexandrovich was treacherously deprived of his throne, and Russia was left without a leader, without the “Restrainer of evil,” and the entire nation collapsed.
The most terrible consequence of this was that the Russian Orthodox people ceased to pray for their Tsar. Yet Holy Scripture clearly speaks of the need to pray for one’s monarch.
Holy Apostle Paul, in his epistle to Timothy, writes: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
This was written during a time when the monarch, the Roman Emperor, was a pagan and persecutor of Christians! How much more important is it to pray for an Orthodox king, the Anointed of God.
But the Russian people forgot this commandment, and in February-March, 1917, they ceased to pray for their Tsar.
That which the Apostle cautioned against took place: quiet and peaceable life ended, all godliness and honesty disappeared, and the nation fell into a bloody abyss as millions of people were sacrificed.
Many of us grant little importance to the meaning of the February Revolution, concentrating solely on the events of the following October, known as the Bolshevik Revolution. But we must remember that October would not have occurred without the events of the preceding February.
The Bolsheviks themselves admitted this. For instance, Lev Trotsky clearly stated this in his work, The History of the Russian Revolution, “The February Revolution was only an outer shell in which the nucleus of the October Revolution lay concealed.”
The collapse of the Russian Army, the freeing of dangerous revolutionaries from prisons and exile (and along with them an enormous number of felonious criminals), the closing of church schools, the looting of church property, the vengeance taken out on clergymen and police officers were all the fruits of the February uprising.
But the bitterest loss was the loss of the Divinely-ordered symphony between the Church and state, between the Tsar and the people.
The Tsar was the supplicant for the Russian nation. He prayed for his nation, and the people prayed for him.
This was all brought to naught in the sorrowful days of February and March, 1917. As Protopriest Sergei Bulgakov-no monarchist himself-wrote in his memoirs: “Russia stepped on its way of the Cross the day it ceased to pray for the Tsar.”
Today, on the other hand, many blame Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II himself for the February uprising and aver that Russia was on the brink of catastrophe because of him. Let us contrast this with another point of view.
In an article published 50 years ago in Pravoslavnaya Rus’ (Orthodox Russia) to mark the 50th anniversary of the Revolution, the renowned Church writer Peter Mar wrote:
“Now, when fifty years have passed since the fall of the Russian Monarchy, it is absolutely clear to us that the collapse of our Fatherland was the result of the February Revolution. It is evident now as the most terrible crime in Russian history, which led the Russian nation a half a year later into the dark abyss of the complete perversion of human sensibility and humane conscience.
Let us not only judge by our own measuring stick the evil of February 1917, but turn to an objective observer, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who wrote in “The Russian Catastrophe-Russia and Her Tsar,” characterized the February Revolution in this way:
“Fate has never been so cruel to any nation as to Russia. Her ship sank within sight of its port, caught in a storm, and all was doomed, all had already been sacrificed, all efforts expended. Despair and treason overtook the state at the very moment when its work was completed. The long retreat had just ended, hunger was vanquished, weapons flowed in abundance, a stronger, larger and well-equipped army now defended the vast front, and brave men filled the ranks of the reserves. There were no more harsh challenges to be faced. All they needed was to wait out the weakening enemy forces, that was all that Russia had to do in order the taste of the fruits of total victory…
“It is the shallow fashion of these times to dismiss the Tsarist regime as a purblind, corrupt, incompetent tyranny. But a survey of its thirty months' war with Germany and Austria should correct these loose impressions and expose the dominant facts. We may measure the strength of the Russian Empire by the battering it had endured, by the disasters it had survived, by the inexhaustible forces it had developed, and by the recovery it had made. In the governments of states, when great events are afoot, the leader of the nation, whoever he be, is held accountable for failure and vindicated by success. No matter who wrought the toil, who planned the struggle, to the supreme responsible authority belongs the blame or credit.
“Why should this stern test be denied to Nicholas II? He had made many mistakes, what ruler has not? He was neither a great captain nor a great prince. He was only a true, simple man of average ability, of merciful disposition, upheld in all his daily life by his faith in God. But the brunt of supreme decisions centered upon him. At the summit where all problems are reduced to Yea or Nay, where events transcend the faculties of man and where all is inscrutable, he had to give the answers. His was the function of the compass needle. War or no war? Advance or retreat? Right or left? Democratize or hold firm? Quit or persevere? These were the battlefields of Nicholas II. Why should he reap no honour from them? The devoted onset of the Russian armies which saved Paris in 1914; the mastered agony of the munitionless retreat; the slowly regathered forces; the victories of Brusilov; the Russian entry upon the campaign of 1917, unconquered, stronger than ever; has he no share in these? In spite of errors vast and terrible, the regime he personified, over which he presided, to which his personal character gave the vital spark, had at this moment won the war for Russia.
“He is about to be struck down. A dark hand, gloved at first in folly, now intervenes. Exit Tsar. Deliver him and all he loved to wounds and death. Belittle his efforts, asperse his conduct, insult his memory; but pause then to tell us who else was found capable. Who or what could guide the Russian State? Men gifted and daring; men ambitious and fierce, spirits audacious and commanding –of these there were no lack. But none could answer the few plain questions on which the life and fame of Russia turned.”
These lines by the British minister offer an objective assessment of the insanity of the February Revolution”
(Peter Mar, “The February Revolution in Historical Perspective,” Pravoslavnaya Rus’,1967, No. 3, p. 6).
Many write today about the Tsar’s abdication of the throne, but it is not for us to characterize historical events, let us leave that to historians. But on the matter of the Tsar’s abdication, we should heed the words of the great hierarch, Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow. He wrote the following upon hearing the news of the murder of Tsar Nicholas II:
“Let us not assess or judge the actions of the former Tsar: that belongs to the history books, for he now stands before the just judgment of God. But we know that when he abdicated from the throne, he did it from concern for the benefit of Russia and his love for his nation. He could have found a safe and reasonably quiet life for himself abroad, but he did not do so, preferring to suffer together with Russia.”
It is worth noting that many preachers of piety in Russia, for instance, St Seraphim of Sarov, St John of Kronstadt and others saw in the Anointed of God, their Tsar, the one about whom Holy Scripture writes as being the “Restrainer” of evil: “For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way” (2 Thessalonians 2:7).
But the Lord did not leave the Russian people without a supplicator, even though our own sins “took out of the way” the Restrainer. He sent a new supplicator for the Russian nation in that fateful year of 1917, -- St Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, who fearlessly denounced the militant atheists and fought for his God-loving flock.
Not everyone knows the Epistles of Holy Patriarch Tikhon. They mostly went unpublished when written or even since.
We can see the fearlessness of Patriarch Tikhon the Confessor in the sermon he delivered on July 8/21, 1918, in Kazan Icon of the Mother of God Church on Red Square, opposite the Kremlin, when he had learned of the killing of the Tsar-Martyr (the Bolsheviks had kept secret the fact that the entire Royal Family was killed along with the Tsar):
He [the Tsar] undertook nothing to help his situation, he submitted to his fate without grumbling… And suddenly he was sentenced to execution somewhere in the depths of Russia by a small band of men not for any fault, but under the pretense that someone wished to steal him away. This order was fulfilled, and after his execution, the act was approved by the powers that be. Our conscience cannot make peace with this act, we must openly declare this as Christians, as sons of the Church. Let us be called counter-revolutionaries, let them execute us. We are ready to endure this all with the hope that the words of our Savior will apply to us: “Blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:28.)
Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia recently reminded us of the need to pray for our monarchs on the 70th birthday of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia:
On behalf of the Georgian Orthodox Church and on my own behalf, I congratulate you on your 70th birthday. As we celebrate such jubilees, let us always analyze the path we have traveled and carefully look to the future.
I remember on the day of my enthronement, a wise man approached me and said: “The Lord has placed a heavy cross upon you, but to lessen the burden, commemorate your sovereigns and your Patriarchs, they will help carry your weight.” Since then I have done so, and I palpably sense their help. May they likewise help you, Your Holiness, all the Tsars and Patriarchs of the Russian land!
In our day, a century after the February revolt, we must prayerfully commemorate the Tsars and Patriarchs of the Russian land, lest the same tragedy once again befall Russia, which did once cease to pray for their sovereign in a difficult time. We must note with sorrow that the sin of regicide-the murder of the Anointed of God-is a sin as yet unrepented by the majority of the Russian nation.
Let us remember the words of the Tsar-Martyr himself, recorded in his journal on the day of his abdication: “Surrounding me are betrayal, cowardice and deceit.” Let us pause to ponder these words.
In my opinion, every reasonable person should be moved by these words. Let us then ask: what was the reason for the February Revolution and what were its consequences?
On July 26/August 8, 1918, Patriarch Tikhon appealed to the nation with the following words:
From Humble Tikhon, by Divine grace the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, to All the Faithful Flock of the Russian Orthodox Church:
Beloved in the Lord Brothers and Sisters:
It is my archpastoral duty of love, occupied by the pain and sorrow of the Russian Orthodox people, that commands me to address this fatherly sermon to you today. We all suffer together in our hearts over the unending calamities in our Fatherland, and together we pray to the Lord that He soften the wrath He has wrought upon our land. This terrifying and exhausting night continues in Russia, and there is no hope of dawn yet visible. Our Motherland is faltering under the weight of terrible torment, and there is no physician to be found to heal her.
Wherein lies the reason for this extended ailment, casting some into depression and others into despair?
Inquire of your Orthodox Christian conscience, and you will find the answer to this tortuous question. The sin burdening us, your conscience will say, is the root cause of our illness, this is the source of our troubles and imprisonment. Sin has corrupted our land, sin has weakened the spiritual and physical strength of the Russian people. As the prophet of the Lord once said, “Behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stay and the staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water, The mighty man, and the man of war, the judge, and the prophet, and the prudent, and the ancient” (Isaiah 3:1-3).
Sin has darkened the reason of our people, and we “grope in the dark without light, and… stagger like a drunken man” (Job 12:25).
Sin has ignited the flames of passion, of hatred and enmity, and brother has risen against brother, prisons are filled to capacity, the earth itself is wallowing in the blood spilt by brother, the earth is defiled by violence, robbery, perversion and all forms of filth.
From this poisonous wellspring of sin comes the great temptation of earthly and sensual pleasures which seduced our people, who have forgotten the “one thing needful.” We did not reject this temptation, as Christ the Savior did in the wilderness. We desired to create a heaven on earth, but one without God and His holy commandments. But “God is not mocked” (Galatians 6:7).
And now we thirst, we hunger naked in the wilderness, though blessed with abundant wealth of nature, while the imprint of condemnation has been stamped upon our nation’s efforts and all of our works.
Sin, heavy, un-repented sin, has summoned Satan from the depths, who now belches out blasphemy against the Lord Christ, and leads the persecution of the Church. O, who shall give tears to our eyes to weep over these troubles, which are borne of our nation’s sins and lawlessness, over the darkening of the glory and beauty of our Fatherland, sins which have impoverished our land, enfeebled our spirit, destroyed towns and cities, desecrated churches and relics, and have led to the self-destruction of a great nation, which has become a horror and disgrace before the entire world?
Where are you now, o Russian Orthodox people, once so powerful and sovereign? Have you lost all your strength? Once a magnanimous and joyous titan, you trampled the path shown to you from above, bringing forth the good news of love and truth to the world. Yet now you lie in the dust, trampled by your enemies, burned in the flames of sin, of passion and of internecine strife. Will you not be reborn in spirit, will you not rise up again in your former power and glory? Has the Lord forever shut you off from the source of life, has He extinguished your creative forces, has He smitten you down like a fruitless fig tree?
O, let it not be so! The very thought brings us to trembling!
Let us weep, brothers and sisters who have remained true to the Church and our Motherland, let us weep for the great sins of our Fatherland before it dies completely. Let us weep for ourselves and for those whose hardened hearts have no tears of grace to weep. Rich and poor, scholars and simple folk, elders and young alike, maidens, children, let us all unite, let us don the sackcloth like the people of Nineveh and beg the mercy of God for the salvation of Russia. Let us set aside life’s cares and vanities and hasten to the churches of God to weep before the Lord over our sins, to suffer before our Intercessor the Queen of Heaven and the Host of great saints of God.
Let every one of us strive to purify our conscience before our spiritual fathers and strengthen ourselves with communion of the Life-Giving Body and Blood of Christ.
May the entire Russian land be washed as with invigorating dew with the tears of our repentance, and may it blossom forth with spiritual fruits. O, Lord, Lover of mankind! Receive the purifying sacrifice of the repentance of Thy people, take away from us the spirit of feebleness and of despair, and with Thy Sovereign Spirit, the Spirit of power and strength bolster us. May the light of Thy wisdom shine forth in our hearts, and visit “the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted” (Psalms 80:15). Amen.
My pastoral conscience calls upon me in these days of sorrow to appeal to you to bring repentance for the salvation of our souls.
May the Lord God and the Most-Holy Mother of God, and moreover the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II and the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia help us!
Protopriest Alexander Lebedeff