St. Tsar Martyr Nicholas II of Russia And His Family, his wife Tsarina Alexandra, and their five children Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Grand Duke Tsarevich Alexei
Commemorated on July 17
Saints Grand Duchess Elizabeth, Nun-Martyr Barbara and the other New Martyrs of Alapayevsk
Commemorated on July 18
Tsar-Martyr Nicholas was born in 1868 in St. Petersburg on May 6, the day upon which the Holy Church celebrates the memory of St. Job the Long-Suffering. And how prophetic this turned out to be, for Nicholas was destined to follow the example of this great Old Testament Saint both in circumstance and in faith. Just as the Lord allowed the Patriarch Job to suffer many things, trying him in the fire of calamity to test his faith, so was Nicholas tried and tempted, but he too never yielded and remained above all a man of God. His parents were the then-Tsarevich (heir) Alexander Alexandrovich and Grand Duchess Marie Fyodorovna. They were a good strong couple whose relationship was without quarreling or dissension.
The activity of hateful revolutionaries was to plague Nicholas and his family throughout their lives.
Despite such difficult circumstances, Nicholas, now the Tsarevich, was being formed in all the Christian virtues. During his youth his kindness to others and selflessness impressed all who met him. While living frugally himself, he gave freely to those less fortunate.
By 1894 the health of Nicholas’ father, Tsar Alexander, began to fail; and on October 20 he reposed under the loving hand of his confessor, St. John of Kronstadt.
On 14 May 1896 Nicholas’ formal coronation as Tsar was held in Uspensky Cathedral located within the Kremlin.
The coronation of a tsar is no mere secular affair of state. As Bishop Nektary Kontzevitch has written, “The Tsar was and is anointed by God. This mystery is performed by the Church during the coronation, and the Anointed of God enters the Royal Doors into the altar, goes to the altar table and receives the Holy Mysteries as does the priest, with the Body and Blood taken separately. Thus the Holy Church emphasizes the great spiritual significance of the ‘podvig’ (struggle) of ruling as a monarch, equaling this to the holy sacrament of the priesthood…. He (the Tsar) is the sacramental image, the carrier of the special power of the Grace of, the Holy Spirit” (Bishop Nektary Kontzevich, “The Mystical Meaning of the Tsar’s Martyrdom,” The Orthodox Word, Vol. 24, Nos. 5 & 6, p. 327).
As Tsar Nicholas was crowned, he knelt and prayed aloud, “Lord God of our fathers, and King of Kings, Who created all things by Thy word, and by Thy wisdom has made man, that he should walk uprightly and rule righteously over Thy world; Thou hast chosen me as Tsar and judge over Thy people. I acknowledge Thine unsearchable purpose towards me, and bow in thankfulness before Thy Majesty. Do Thou, my Lord and Governor, fit me for the work to which Thou hast sent me; teach me and guide me in this great service. May there be with me the wisdom which belongs to Thy throne; send it from Thy Holy Heaven, that I may know what is well-pleasing in Thy sight, and what is right according to Thy commandment. May my heart be in Thine hand, to accomplish all that is to the profit of the people committed to my charge, and to Thy glory, that so in the day of Thy Judgment I may give Thee account of my stewardship without blame; through the grace and mercy of Thy Son, Who was once crucified for us, to Whom be all honor and glory with Thee and the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life, for ever and ever. Amen.”
So it was that the new Tsar in all things placed God first, and therein was his treasure laid, “Where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal” (Matt. 6:20).
In the words of Archpriest Michael Polsky:
in the person of the Emperor Nicholas II the believers had the best and most worthy representative of the Church, truly “The Most Devout” as he was referred to in church services. He was a true patron of the Church, and a solicitor of all its blessings.
During the reign of Nicholas II, the Church reached its fullest development and power.
There was no tsar in whose reign more saints were glorified (canonized) than that of Nicholas. His love of Orthodoxy and the Church’s holy ones knew no bounds; and he himself often pressured the Holy Synod to speedily accord fitting reverence to many of God’s saints. Among those glorified during his reign were: St. Theodosius of Chernigov (glorified in 1896), St. Isidore Yurievsky (1897), St. Euphrosyne of Polotsk (1909), St. Anna of Kashin (1910), St. Ioasaph of Belgorod (1911), St. Germogen (Hermogenes) of Moscow (1913), St. Pitirim of Tambov (1914), St. John (Maximovich) of Tobolsk (1916), St. Paul of Tobolsk (1917) and St. Sophrony of Irkutsk (1918). In addition, one of the most revered of Russia’s saints, Seraphim of Sarov, was glorified by the Church during the reign of this pious Tsar in 1903, at his insistence. At this time, Nicholas was made aware of the future apostasy and downfall of the Russian nation and Church through a prophetic letter written by St. Seraphim himself.
The young Tsar, as a fervent lover of the Beatitudes of Christ, strove to emulate them all. He was truly meek, sought after righteousness, and was acknowledged by all who knew him as pure hearted.
There soon began an endless succession of tragedies, even a small number of which would have broken a lesser man. But for the Tsar they only served to further refine the nobility of his soul. First there was the disastrous war with Japan of 1904-1905 during which most of the Russian fleet was lost. At this time also, sensing public disappointment with the defeat, the nihilistic enemies of Christ seized the moment and instigated mutinies, strikes, riots and assassinations.
The year 1905 was to be a “rehearsal” for the bloody events which took place twelve years later. Encouraged by the traitors Lenin and Trotsky, a campaign of disorders was begun all over the Empire.
In the midst of these troubles, in the summer of 1904, an event which should have been the cause of great joy was turned into tragedy when it was learned that the long-awaited newborn heir, Alexis, was born with the dread disease hemophilia, which was to afflict him horribly during the course of his all too short life.
Then, in 1914, Russia was forced to enter World War I. The peace-loving Tsar had no desire to go to war…
It was at this crucial time that the Bolsheviks, fueled by German money, went to work spreading discord among the troops and at home. The enemies of Holy Russia knew well that the greatest unifying factors in Russia were love of God and love for the Tsar, the visible symbol of the Orthodox Empire. By cutting off the head, they hoped to render the body powerless through fragmentation, thereby making it malleable to their evil intents. Through infiltration of the press, slanderous stories against the Royal Family were printed. The foreign press, hungry for scandal, printed unverified stories, many of which are still believed to this day…. Conspiracies began to take shape among court officials, the Duma (Parliament), the generals and the nobility, even including relatives of the Tsar. This, at a time when unity was more than ever needed. As Nicholas himself sadly wrote in his diary at that time, “All around me I see treason, cowardice and deceit.”
Finally, on March 3, 1917, isolated from his family, bereft of friends, Nicholas II, the Anointed Tsar of the last Christian Empire, abdicated the throne… And so, after an entire night spent in prayer, he laid aside the crown for what he felt was the good of his country. Later, seeing the result of this decision, he was to regret it to his dying day. At the time he wrote, “I am ready to give up both throne and life if I should become a hindrance to the happiness of the homeland. There is no sacrifice that I would not make for the real benefit of Russia and for her salvation.”
After the abdication, Nicholas made his way back to his family in Petersburg, all of whom were under house arrest like common criminals, and found all of his children ill…
Again the image of Job overshadowed him — all had been taken from him except his dear ones and his indomitable faith. He did not curse his fate, accepting all as the will of God, and did not even murmur against his captors who treated him with disrespect and even contempt. What greater example could the Russian people have asked for, or what nobler man could have led them as their king? Thus Christ’s lament over the chosen people was fulfilled in Holy Russia as well; “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (Matt. 23:37-38).
The Royal Family was moved to Tobolsk in Siberia in August of 1917, and remained in Tobolsk until the following April, taking comfort only in prayer and in each other. “In what consisted the meaning of their life? In fulfilling God’s commandments. Where could support be found? In prayer, in awareness of the providential hand of God stretched over it. It may have been that the only family experiencing complete calm and untroubled family happiness was the imprisoned Royal Family; so great was the adornment of its spiritual powers, so clear was its conscience, so near was God to it. This indeed was a ‘home church’ ” (ibid., p. 5). Even in the midst of their persecution they had one great consolation — there were still those who loved them, true godly people all over Russia who prayed for them; and many were those who, in defiance of the authorities, would pause in front of the house of their captivity and, making the sign of the Cross, pray for the safety and well-being of their sovereigns.
Finally, after midnight on July 4, 1918, the entire family, with their doctor and two faithful servants, was brought to the basement of the house of their confinement under the pretext of moving them once again. There they were brutally and mercilessly murdered, the children as well as the adults, under the cover of darkness — for “Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).
This crime was the beginning of an inhuman bloodbath which left tens of millions dead, the Church in the grip of atheists and Holy Russia entirely unrecognizable.
There is one painted icon, located on the iconostasis of the catholicon of the Sretensky Monastery in Moscow, that is named “The Opening of the Fifth Seal,” and refers to the Book of the Apocalypse: “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held… And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled” (Apoc. 6:9-11). The Royal Martyrs are shown here already serving as intercessors for us before God, praying that He might strengthen us for the dark times ahead.
Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II by R. Monk Zachariah (Liebmann)
Tropar-Dismissal Hymn of the Royal Martyrs. First Tone
Most noble and sublime was your life and death, O Sovereigns;* wise Nicholas and blest Alexandra, we praise you,* acclaiming your piety, meekness, faith, and humility,* whereby ye attained to crowns of glory in Christ our God,* with your five renowned and godly children of blest fame.* Martyrs decked in purple, intercede for us.
Tropar-Dismissal Hymn of the Martyrs Elizabeth and Barbara. Plagal of First Tone
Emulating the Lord’s self-abasement on the earth, * thou didst forsake royal mansions to serve the poor and disdained, * overflowing with compassion for the suffering. * And taking up a martyr’s cross, * thou in meekness didst perfect the Saviour’s image within thee, * Wherefore, with Barbara, entreat Him to save us all, O wise Elizabeth.
Kontakion of the Martyrs Elizabeth and Barbara. Third Tone
In the midst of worldliness, * thy mournful heart dwelt in Heaven; * in barbaric godlessness, * thy valiant soul was not troubled; * thou didst long to meet thy Bridegroom * as a confessor, * and He found thee worthy of thy martyric purpose. * O Elizabeth, with Barbara, * thy brave companion, * pray to thy Bridegroom for us.
from “The Horolgion”, Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Brookline, Masschusetts., 1971.
St. Tsar Martyr Nicholas II of Russia And His Family
Ζάννα Μπικιέφσκαγια – Жанна Бичевская (Zhanna Bichevskaya)