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Sermon by Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky, +1965), Primate of the Russian Church Abroad, on the Seventh Anniversary of the Martyric Death of Tsar Nicholas II

Seven years have passed since the day of the death of our Royal Martyrs, and we bring forth upon this world-wide altar table the Bloodless Sacrifice in their memory.

The prayer of love is our constant duty before them and their great sufferings, which culminated with the cruel execution of the entire Royal Family in that bloody night in Ekaterinburg.

The great battle between good and evil continues, and it has demanded of Russia such terrible sacrifices. The name of the late Tsar will continue to stand before us as a “sign spoken against.”

Even as tears of sorrow are evoked in one person at the mention of this name, another is brought to a frenzy and he furiously casts poisonous barbs at him. Are not such people vindictive against the martyred Tsar because even though his blood was spilt, they cannot justify the crime in any way?

All the contrivances of the killers of the Tsar proved too feeble to darken his moral image—the image which serves as a measuring stick of true human dignity—whether one sits on a throne or ekes out a pitiful living among the lowest of this world.

It is well known that people, just like precious metals, are revealed through fire. The late Emperor passed through both forms of temptation that mankind is subjected to on earth: the temptation of lofty position, glory, happiness, and also the temptation of insult, deprivation, and physical and emotional suffering. It is difficult to say which of these two paths of tribulation is more dangerous. It is hard for a person to endure the notion of his superiority over others and to bear the intoxicating effect of greatness, glory, wealth, which almost always come to him along with their all-corrupting companion, the temptation of pride. No less moral strength is required of us in order to preserve peaceful grandeur of spirit as we face sorrows and misfortunes, when the human heart unwittingly harbors anger towards the whole world, or falls into depression.

The position of a king, especially an absolute sovereign, contains within it more danger, since in his hands is the fullness of power and might, and the earthly benefits this brings, which would seduce the majority of mankind.

For the ruler of millions of people, there is almost no conception of “impossible,” and his wishes are given creative force. It is no wonder that sycophants often ascribe almost divine properties to the great and the glorious.

The temptations of royal power are so great that they gave rise to a wise custom in ancient Byzantium: amid the noise and glitter of coronation ceremonies, when the elated crowds applauded their king, their crowned sovereign, as though to a demigod, pieces of stone were presented to him so that he would select a material for his tomb, or a sack of ashes to remind him that he will become as earth and dust, just as every other mortal.

The throne of the Russian Tsar when Emperor Nicholas II occupied it was so lofty that it was visible to the whole world; but its brilliance did not blind the late Tsar for even a moment. He did not become drunk with power and did not ponder his fleeting greatness; to the contrary, he felt drawn to the lowly of the world and could not overcome his own feelings of humility, which frequently hindered his ability to express his will to the degree demanded by the times. Nurtured from his childhood by the peace-giving spirit of Orthodox Christianity, the Tsar-Martyr was always meek and humble and soft of heart, “a bruised reed did he not break, and smoking flax did he not quench.” Peace and love were the main elements of his soul: he began his peaceable and seemingly blessed reign by calling for peace in the entire world, and when he was first forced to draw his sword to defend Russia from external enemies, and then from internal enemies, his heart could not but ache with pain.

Untested yet by experience, the Tsar constantly grieved that his benevolent intentions were dashed against the obstacles of life’s contradictions. Power was revealed to him to be less a joyful opportunity to spread goodness, than a bitter necessity to fight evil (Romans 13:1-4), and, suffering in his heart, with patient submission, he bore the burden as a duty laid upon him from on high.

The Tsar spent his moments of repose within the circle of his loving family, who lived according to the ancient Russian daily way of life even amid the surrounding splendor.

The lofty, self-sacrificing attitude burning in the heart of the Russian people at the outset of the world war once again gave the Tsar wings. Inspired by this holy fire, his soul merged with that of his subjects, and as the expression of his people’s desires, became the true Leader of the Fatherland.

These were doubtless the happiest days of his reign, when the legacies of his homeland’s history were unfurled and he sensed in his heart the mysterious voice calling upon him to manifest the lofty call of the Russian nation. Patiently enduring all the misfortunes of war, he went boldly forth towards the glorious triumph of truth and peace. But alas! The time had come only to demonstrate that we were not prepared to meet the lot cast to us. The people did not endure the great tribulations to the end and were not crowned with victory. Enticed by the spirit of seduction and temptation, they strayed from the narrow road of podvig that the hand of Providence had set them upon and chose instead the broad road of willfulness and lawlessness. In drunken madness, they mercilessly set out upon the destruction of all the sober foundations of social life and then, the Restrainer, that is, the Tsar, as the source of power and the main pillar of civic order, was taken from them.

Just like Job, on whose feast day the Lord deemed the Tsar would be born, the latter likewise lost glory, wealth and his reign, and his friends, in an instant.

Only a very few of his friends then wished to drink of the same cup with him and remained true to him to the end; others, thought they sympathized with his plight, did not dare to speak of this openly, lest they be ostracized by the crowd; most of his former friends, who were often much favored by him, denounced him “for fear of the Jews” and instead of consoling him, sent their recent benefactor words of criticism for having deserved his own fate.

The Lord only left the Passion-Bearing Tsar a single consolation which He did not grant Job--his loving and selfless family, but alas! They were to share with him only humiliation and sorrows, and for this reason sometimes they served as additional causes for his suffering.

The worst of all sorrows that suddenly befell the Ruler of All Russia was doubtless the loss of his personal freedom, that most treasured of all blessings, which millions of his subjects enjoyed and which God did not deprive of Patriarch Job, the Old Testament man of sorrows. Imprisoned and under watch, the Tsar had to endure this sorrow of the brutality of human ingratitude. People who had so recently trembled at his very glance and hoped to catch the briefest of his smiles, as a living ray of sunlight, now subjected him to the lowest degradations, mocking not only him and the Empress, but even their young children, whose tender purity was enchanting, whose souls had to suffer for an especially long time, for this was their first contact with evil and falsity of this world. Every day, every hour these brutal keepers invented new forms of mental anguish for the helpless Royal Family, and yet they heard not one word of admonishment from the mouths of the regal victims. They emulated the One of Whom it was said “when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not” (1 Peter 2:23). They only spoke of their sufferings to God and before Him only did they pour out their hearts. The sense of abandonment which gripped them did not cool their love for Russia; forgetting their own sufferings, the royal prisoners continued to the end of their days to suffer inseparably with their people.

The very act of abdication from the throne was on the part of the Tsar an expression of his lofty self-sacrifice for the sake of his fervently-loved Fatherland.

While foreign kings who had, in England and France, experienced the same fate by Divine Providence, they would not abandon their thrones without a bloody battle, but our late Emperor was foreign to any thought of defending his power from the sole desire to rule. “Are you certain that this will serve to benefit Russia?” he asked of those who, ostensibly in the name of the people, requested that he abdicate from his inherited rights. Receiving a positive response, he immediately removed the burden of royal power from himself, lest even a single drop of Russian blood spilt during a civil war, which would be his sole responsibility.

By this wise, historic question, the Tsar forever removed from himself any responsibility for his decision and it fell upon those who first raised their sacrilegious hand against him.

As they approached their final days, these noble sufferers, with genuine royal greatness, as we see from their last letters, rose higher and higher above this world, towards the strength of faith of holy confessors, with martyric benevolence and with utter forgiveness of their enemies.

Death caught them fully prepared for eternity; yet the very surroundings of the sudden execution must have inflicted even more suffering upon them. For the young royal children, who were to fade in the very prime of life, the thought of a violent death was especially horrifying because they were facing it for the first time in their lives, and the very sight of those heartless executioners must have been shocking. The hearts of their parents were torn to pieces from the thought that—because of them—their absolutely innocent children were being led to slaughter, and these unfortunate royal parents, like the Holy Martyr Sophia, endured death time and time again, dying inside together with each of their children

History will someday reveal the details of this terrible night which are yet hidden from us now, and the tears of loving joy will often spill over the podvigi of our new great Passion-Bearers, whom the Lord smelted like silver, seven times, in order to obtain them as worthy unto Himself (Wisdom of Solomon 3:5-7), and will crown them with even more glorious diadems than the crowns of kings.

The world shook in horror at the sight of the atrocity at Ekaterinburg. Only the evil-doers themselves continued to spew unquenchable hatred, even after the execution, persecuting their victims, weaving a thorny network of bitter slander around them. Fortunately, time—the indifferent judge of human deeds—will every day continue to denounce the slander, revealing the image of the late Tsar and Tsarina in the light of truth. Now no one dares to say that they could have ever even thought of betraying Russia, or that the sanctity of their family hearth was darkened by even a fleeting shadow. No one could now dare lay the blame of all the sufferings and horrors crushing our Homeland at the feet of Emperor Nicholas II, for the guilt of this lies truly upon the entire Russian nation and upon each one of us in particular.

This genuine suffering sovereign could not be responsible that his fate was to rule such a gigantic sovereignty at a crucial moment in history when no natural human power could withstand the opposition of the evil, destructive elemental force, accumulated by the sins of many generations, and unstoppable like the lava of an exploding volcano.

The measure of spiritual gifts the Tsar possessed with which he served God and mankind was likewise granted from above. Not everyone is born a genius, but each must work and increase his God-given talents to the extent possible. Who can accuse the Tsar, now reposed in the Lord, that he did not fulfill this Gospel commandment? Who does not know that he was a tireless worker upon his throne, always zealous for the successes of his country, protecting its dignity and safety over the course of his 23 years of rule, until he finally lay down his soul for it in the end.

If the Tsar, striving as always for lofty goals, did not find the corresponding means to manifest them, if he often thought more highly of his advisors than they deserved, and experience at times frustration and indecision in the face of the looming danger, this only proves that he was a human being.

Who has the right to judge one human weakness or another, his willful and unintended sins, except the One Who entrusted him with the throne and sent him into such great cleansing tribulations, which were “heavier than the sand of the sea” (Job 6:3)? 

The great martyric podvig of the Russian Tsar Nicholas II almost has no equal in the history of recent centuries, and only here upon this terrifying and mysterious Golgotha can we make sense of the sacred meaning of the cross placed upon him and upon his entire family from above. This Golgotha is the global altar, and it is the place of judgment of the entire world.

Since Divine love and truth have joined together here, in order to tear asunder the manuscript of human sins, Divine Providence is revealed to us from the heights of Golgotha, weighing the fates of individuals and of entire nations. From here, all the blood of martyrs cries out to heaven and invokes God’s wrath upon some, and bestows grace upon others. Here is the wellspring of judgment and of mercy to the peoples of the world.

Filled with sorrowful bewilderment, the Most-Pure Mother stood here with the Myrrh-Bearing Women and with St John the Theologian, beholding the King of Glory crucified on the Cross. Pierced with sorrow, too, from the height of this holy place we gaze upon crucified, humiliated and bloodied Russia, and on behalf of the entire Russia people, we pray to Him in Whose hands rests the entire world: O Lord! If it is for the purification of the entire people that the sacrifice of the first of their sons and the Leader of the Russian Land was required, then it has been brought forth. If the resolution of our common sins must occur with the spilling of innocent blood, then it even now pours forth to You from the wounds of the Royal Children, pierced, young and pure like sinless lambs, and other passion-bearers like them, whose names only You know. We bring to You for the sake of redemption, too, the pleas and cries of all the Russian people wallowing in deathly sufferings, and these Russian tears of love which for the centuries poured from Golgotha.

We beseech Your mercy and call upon Your eternal truth, combined in the unspeakable mystery of the Cross raised by Your Divine Son.

Arise, O God, judge Thou the earth; for Thou shalt inherit among all the nations. Amen. 

Read on July 4/17, 1925, after the funerary Liturgy at Golgotha in the Church of the Resurrection of Christ in the Holy City of Jerusalem.