"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012
The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch
Old Calendar: Corpus Christi; Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary; St. Petronilla, virgin
The feast of the Visitation recalls to us the following great truths and events: The visit of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth shortly after the Annunciation; the cleansing of John the Baptist from original sin in the womb of his mother at the words of Our Lady's greeting; Elizabeth's proclaiming of Mary—under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost—as Mother of God and "blessed among women"; Mary's singing of the sublime hymn, Magnificat ("My soul doth magnify the Lord") which has become a part of the daily official prayer of the Church. The Visitation is frequently depicted in art, and was the central mystery of St. Francis de Sales' devotions.
The Mass of today salutes her who in her womb bore the King of heaven and earth, the Creator of the world, the Son of the Eternal Father, the Sun of Justice. It narrates the cleansing of John from original sin in his mother's womb. Hearing herself addressed by the most lofty title of "Mother of the Lord" and realizing what grace her visit had conferred on John, Mary broke out in that sublime canticle of praise proclaiming prophetically that henceforth she would be venerated down through the centuries:
"My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me, and holy is His name" (Lk. 1:46).
—Excerpted from the Cathedral Daily Missal
This feast is of medieval origin, it was kept by the Franciscan Order before 1263, and soon its observance spread throughout the entire Church. Previously it was celebrated on July 2. Now it is celebrated between the solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord and the birth of St. John the Baptist, in conformity with the Gospel accounts. Some places appropriately observe a celebration of the reality and sanctity of human life in the womb. The liturgical color is white.
According to the 1962 Missal of Bl. John XXIII the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, today is the feast of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Petronilla. The feast of the Queenship of Mary is now celebrated in the Ordinary Rite on August 22.
Aurelia Petronilla was guided in the Faith by St. Peter, the first pope. She died three days after refusing to marry a pagan nobleman, Flaccus. There is no historic proof that she was martyred, but an early fresco clearly represents her as a martyr. Her feast is no longer on the calendar.
And Mary rising up in those days went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda. [Lk. 1:39]
How lyrical that is, the opening sentence of St. Luke's description of the Visitation. We can feel the rush of warmth and kindness, the sudden urgency of love that sent that girl hurrying over the hills. "Those days" in which she rose on that impulse were the days in which Christ was being formed in her, the impulse was his impulse.
Many women, if they were expecting a child, would refuse to hurry over the hills on a visit of pure kindness. They would say they had a duty to themselves and to their unborn child which came before anything or anyone else.
The Mother of God considered no such thing. Elizabeth was going to have a child, too, and although Mary's own child was God, she could not forget Elizabeth's need—almost incredible to us, but characteristic of her.
She greeted her cousin Elizabeth, and at the sound of her voice, John quickened in his mother's womb and leapt for joy.
I am come, said Christ, that they may have life and may have it more abundantly. [Jn. 10, 10] Even before He was born His presence gave life.
With what piercing shoots of joy does this story of Christ unfold! First the conception of a child in a child's heart, and then this first salutation, an infant leaping for joy in his mother's womb, knowing the hidden Christ and leaping into life.
How did Elizabeth herself know what had happened to Our Lady? What made her realize that this little cousin who was so familiar to her was the mother of her God?
She knew it by the child within herself, by the quickening into life which was a leap of joy.
If we practice this contemplation taught and shown to us by Our Lady, we will find that our experience is like hers.
If Christ is growing in us, if we are at peace, recollected, because we know that however insignificant our life seems to be, from it He is forming Himself; if we go with eager wills, "in haste," to wherever our circumstances compel us, because we believe that He desires to be in that place, we shall find that we are driven more and more to act on the impulse of His love.
And the answer we shall get from others to those impulses will be an awakening into life, or the leap into joy of the already wakened life within them.
Excerpted from The Reed of God, Caryll Houselander
What we call the "Old Testament" and what the first Christians called the "Scriptures" was regarded in the first Christian centuries as God's own commentary on the Gospel. Its primary function, its truest meaning is revealed when it illuminates our understanding of the Christian Mystery. Hence, we cannot really understand the Annunciation without the story of the Fall of Adam and Eve, nor can we understand the Visitation without the Visit of the Ark of the Covenant The Fall
3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” 4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realised they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
In the Fall, there were two acts of disobedience, firstly, that of Eve and, secondly, that of Adam. Adam's sin was facilitated by Eve's sin and, perhaps, would not have happened if Eve had not tempted him. However, according to primitive beliefs, it was Adam as the male that had all his human descendants stored up in seed form in his loins, so that it was his sin, rather than that of Eve that radically changed the relationship between the human race and God. Looking at our salvation through spectacles provided by the Adam and Eve story, we must look for two acts of humble obedience that correspond to the acts of disobedience in the story of the Fall. These are the act of obedience of the Blessed Virgin Mary expressed in the words, "Behold the Slave of the Lord! May it be done to me according to your Word", and the act of obedience of Jesus expressed in the words, "Not my will but yours be done." Both sentences expressed a life of total commitment which led Jesus to be obedient unto death and which led Mary to the foot of the Cross and beyond to her faithful presence in the Apostolic community until death and her Assumption. Jesus is the New Adam and Mary is the New Eve. The Annunciation
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you." But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God." Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.
In this story, Mary is a young girl, married to Joseph but not yet old enough to be living with him. He announces to her the Good News that she is about to become Mother of the Messiah, and she recognises that it is a vocation she simply cannot accomplish, something way beyond her powers: "How can this be since I am a virgin?" The angel's answer, while giving her the solution, tells her that she cannot do it by herself because the child will be Son of the Most High: she is to become the Theotokos, the "Godbearer" and can only do so by working in "sinergia" with the Holy Soirit. The Incarnation reqiires TWO causes, the presence within her of the Holy Spirit to enable her to become Mother of God, and her own humble obedience to allow the Holy Spirit to do his work. His power and her obedience working as one will bring about the Incarnation and will thus make possible that obedience unto death of Christ by which we have been saved. As Eve's disobedience created the context for the disobedience of Adam by which all were alienated from God, so Mary's obedience created the context for Christ's obedience by which we are saved.
THE VISITATION OF THE "THEOTOKOS"
Luke 1:39-45 New International Version (NIV)
39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil his promises to her!”
The early fathers found the real significance of the Visitation in the parallel between the Ark of the Covenant and the Blessed Virgin Mary who, after the Annunciation, bore the divine Presence through the presence of Christ in her womb. As Maximos of Turin says, "What can one say that the Ark was if not Holy Mary, because the Ark bore the tables of the Law while Mary bore the Master of those tables."
St Luke, having shown that Mary's vocation is only possible if the Holy Spirit and Mary's humble obedience act completely together in unison, now wishes to show us how this works. Through her obedience, Mary has become Christ-bearer. She is the Ark of the Covenant, not just for herself, but for others.
Having heard her cousin Elizabeth is in need she hurriedly "rose and went" to a town in the hill country of Judea, just as David "rose and went" to the same area to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.
After Uzzah was struck dead for inadvertently touching the Ark, David exclaimed, "How can the Ark of God come to me?", just as Elizabeth exclaimed on meeting Mary, "But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"
Just as the Ark remained in the property of Obededom for three months, so Mary remained with Elizabeth for three months, and God blessed Obededom and his household.
As Daviddanced for joy in the presence of the Ark, so the infant John the Baptistjumped for joy in his mother's womb as his mother praised Mary and both were conscious of being in the presence of Jesus in whom God was united to his creation.
Thus the immediate result of the coming of the Holy Spirit on Mary, working through her humble obedience which we remembered on her feast of the Annunciation, was for Mary to become the new Ark of the Covenant. In icons this is often symbolised by the presence of two cherubim above her head.
On the feast of the Visitation, we see this Presence of Christ in Mary at work. Her obedience to God is shown as she makes herself disposed to help Elizabeth. However ordinary this visit may seem, beneath the surface of ordinary events he Holy Spirit is at work. Her humble obedience allows the Spirit to transform an ordinary event into an event of salvation.
If Mary is the Ark of the Covenant, so is the Church that she personifies because, at its very heart is the Eucharist. Each one of us, as we receive the eucharistic Lord into ourselves, also become Church and Ark of the Covenant; "He who eats my body and drinks my blood, I live in him and he in me." Christians are "Christ-bearers."
As we are humbly obedience to God, let us ask the prayers of Our Lady that we may make Christ's presence in the world who is present in us. May the world see Christ's presence in us as it shines through the quality of our love, just as it did through the love that Mary had for Elizabeth.
"But the priority of God, we have forgotten, concerns us all." —Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, in the Russian-language preface to a new translation of his book The Spirit of the Liturgy, presented yesterday, May 23, in Moscow
"If God is not the most important, then the whole scale of values is changed. By rejecting God, man condemns himself to necessity, which then subjects him to all material forces, contrary to his dignity." —Emeritus Pope Benedict, in the same preface. The subjection of man to necessity is the essential consequence of a materialistic pragmatism which denies the reality of the spiritual, the transcendent, therefore, the reality of God. It is, in essence, atheism — and this subjection to necessity is not worthy of man, Ratzinger is saying. However, during the 20th century, Russia passed through 70 years of official, government-imposed atheism, an experience which deeply marked the Russian soul
(Below, a photo of the Romanov family from 1913)
"I am writing to invite you to join with me on a pilgrimage to the heart of Russia on one of the most solemn and historic of occasions. I propose to travel to the Ural mountains, the border between Europe and Asia, to the city of Ekaterinburg, on the 100th anniversary of a tragic event in that city: the execution of Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Tsarina Alexandra, and their five children, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei. That execution occurred on July 17, 1918. On July 17, 2018, exactly 100 years later, the Russian Orthodox Church will celebrate a solemn liturgy of remembrance in Ekaterinburg, which will remember the death of the Romanovs. I invite you to join me." —Invitation to join a pilgrimage this July to Russia (see below)
"There will be one purpose only: to stand as witnesses, to give testimony to our solidarity with all who are caught up in the violence of civil wars and revolutions, in a place — where the executions occurred — and at a time — exactly 100 years after the executions — which seem fitting... We do not wish to make any sort of political statement at all, in any form. We wish only to bear witness to our solidarity with all who suffer in the convulsions of civil war, especially children, but also the parents of children, who suffer great pangs of sorrow at the brutality that man is capable of visiting on other men, especially on the most innocent." —From the invitation
Eleven Russians meet Pope Francis in Rome....
There was a little-noted event on Wednesday, May 23, in Rome -- a small group of young Russian Orthodox men met briefly with Pope Francis.
At a time when Orthodoxy and Catholicism remain divided, at a time when the media in the West report ceaselessly on the evidently deepening political and military tensions between Russia and the West, this meeting was a sign of something different.
A sign of opening, or dialogue, of possible friendship, or possible collaboration... of possible peace between brother traditions and brother Churches. After all, the Orthodox trace their spiritual patrimony back to St. Andrew, the brother of... St. Peter...
The meeting was sponsored, in part, by the Foundation which we created in 2012 to try to bring the "two lungs" of Christianity into greater harmony -- the "Urbi et Orbi" Foundation.
Here is a brief Osservatore Romano report on the meeting (link):
WEDNESDAY 23 MAY 2018Vatican City11 young Orthodox greet Pope FrancisThe Osservatore Romano This morning's general audience was also an occasion to relaunch ecumenical dialogue: for the third consecutive year, in the framework of cultural exchanges between the Holy See and the Patriarchate of Moscow, eleven Orthodox youths led by Bishop Arsenij of Juriev greeted personally the Pope. They are in Rome, from May 19 to 26, for a study visit that will allow them to get to know the Catholic Church closely. "This initiative has a fraternal character of reciprocity and exchange, because the same type of visit is also carried out by Catholic priests who are welcomed in Moscow by Patriarch Kirill," explains Fr. Hyacinthe Destivelle, official of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the unity of Christians. (L'Osservatore Romano, 23-24 May 2018)
Meanwhile, in Moscow...
(Below, Metropolitan Hilarion presents Emeritus Pope Benedict with a Russia translation of his book on the liturgy in Rome one year ago, in April 2017; the book was presented in Moscow yesterday)
At the same time, also on Wednesday, May 23, in Moscow, there was a presentation of a book by Emeritus Pope Benedict on the liturgy by the "foreign minister" of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokolamsk, 51, known also for his musical compositions, including his moving The Passion According to St. Matthew.
Here is a notice of this presentation, translated from the French (link):
Presentation in Moscow of the Russian edition of Joseph Ratzinger's book: "The Spirit of the Liturgy"
The book opens with a prefatory note signed by Metropolitan Hilarion: "I hope this book will not only contribute to open the minds of our contemporaries toward Catholicism, but will also help our own authors to solve some of the problems of Orthodox theology such as the anthropological aspects of the liturgy or the theological foundations of religious music.
"This book can nourish reflection on the questions concerning the life of the Church in the contemporary world, in a simple dialogue with the civil society and the culture."
On 23 May, at the Library of Foreign Literature Mr. I. Rudimino (Moscow - 1 Nikolayamskaya Street) will be presented the Russian edition of The Spirit of the Liturgy by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger).
The Russian version of the book was published by the charitable fund St. Gregory the Theologian in 2017. This publication celebrates the 90th anniversary of the author [April 16, 2017].
The book will be presented by Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, President of the Department of External Ecclesiastical Relations, and Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Apostolic Nuncio to the Russian Federation.
The book considers all aspects of liturgical life. In the German edition, the author writes: "The liturgy of the Church has been the focus of my life from my earliest years and, at the Faculty of Theology, the center of my research."
The author writes in the new preface to the Russian edition: "In the consciousness of the man of today, the subject of God, and therefore the liturgy, is not considered primordial. We run after anything whatsoever, as if the question of God can always be postponed. We can say that the monastic life is totally different from the life in the world, and we are absolutely right. But the priority of God, we have forgotten, concerns us all. If God is not the most important, then the whole scale of values is changed. By rejecting God, man condemns himself to necessity, which then subjects him to all material forces, contrary to his dignity."
A Pilgrimage to Ekaterinburg
Friday, May 18, 2018
I am writing to invite you to join with me on a pilgrimage to the heart of Russia on one of the most solemn and historic of occasions.
I propose to travel to the Ural mountains, the border between Europe and Asia, to the city of Ekaterinburg, on the 100th anniversary of a tragic event in that city: the execution of Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Tsarina Alexandra, and their five children, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei.
That execution occurred on July 17, 1918.
On July 17, 2018, exactly 100 years later, the Russian Orthodox Church will celebrate a solemn liturgy of remembrance in Ekaterinburg, which will remember the death of the Romanovs.
There will be one purpose only: to stand as witnesses, to give testimony to our solidarity with all who are caught up in the violence of civil wars and revolutions, in a place — where the executions occurred — and at a time — exactly 100 years after the executions — which seem fitting.
We do not intend to support monarchy as a form of government, or to support any claim of any branch of the Romanov family to rule Russia.
We do not wish to make any sort of political statement at all, in any form. We wish only to bear witness to our solidarity with all who suffer in the convulsions of civil war, especially children, but also the parents of children, who suffer great pangs of sorrow at the brutality that man is capable of visiting on other men, especially on the most innocent.
It will be a long journey, perhaps a tiring journey. But we have been assured that the journey will be safe, that there will be old friends who will meet us and guide us when we arrive in Ekaterinburg, that we will be welcomed as respected guests, and that we will be received with honor as representatives of the Urbi et Orbi Foundation, as Roman Catholics, as friends of the Russian people and of the Russian Orthodox Church.
After Ekaterinburg we will spend four full days in Moscow, where we will have special meetings, and then fly to Rome, where we will stay near or inside Vatican City, for four more nights. (This final portion of the trip is optional, but we strongly encourage our pilgrims to make this journey with us to the Eternal City, where we will report back to Vatican officials on what we have seen and heard in Russia.)
This pilgrimage will be “historic” in the highest sense of the term: a pilgrimage to a place of great historical tragedy, on the 17th of July, 2018, on the 100th anniversary of the execution. Each of us will be able afterwards to say “I was present, to remember and to commemorate, on that anniversary.”
And, in the current American-Russian impasse, it might help that some Americans show their concern for Russia’s past, and Russia’s suffering, in this way.
One important note: to travel to Russia, you must receive a Visa to enter the country. We will help you obtain the Visa, but it must be done during the month of June, and it will take about one week’s time, so we must have your decision about the trip by June 15, no later — and much better if considerably earlier.
So the deadline for a decision on this trip is June 15, just four weeks away. If you are interested, please write to me by return email.
Below is a proposed schedule for this trip. We do not yet know the price, but air fare, lodging and meals will amount to several thousand dollars.
We will of course help with all details, from obtaining the visa to reserving all airplane tickets.
We look forward to having you join with us on this extraordinary, very special journey to Russia and Rome.
My very best wishes,
—Dr. Robert Moynihan
P.S. Here is the schedule we propose:
July 14 (Saturday) and July 15 (Sunday) — fly from America via Moscow to Ekaterinburg (overnight flight)
July 16 — rest and orientation (overnight July 16 in Ekaterinburg)
July 17 — Divine Liturgy in the Orthodox Byzantine Rite for the Commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Execution of Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra and their five children (overnight July 17 in Ekaterinburg)
July 18 — meeting and visits in Ekaterinburg; commemoration of the execution of Grand Duchess Elzabeth, sister of Alexandra, killed on July 18, 1918 (overnight July 18 in Ekaterinburg)
July 19 — fly to Moscow; meetings in Moscow (overnight, July 19 in Moscow)
July 20-23 (Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday) — 2nd, 3rd and 4th days in Moscow, special meetings, visits with Russian believers, both Catholic and Orthodox
July 23 — fly from Moscow to Rome (overnight in Rome, near or inside Vatican City)
July 24-26 — meetings inside the Vatican (overnight in Rome)
July 27 — end of pilgrimage, depart Rome for home
Here is an account of those 100-year-past events:
Execution of the Romanov family
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (link)
The Russian Imperial Romanov family (Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Tsarina Alexandra and their five children Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei) and all those who chose to accompany them into imprisonment—notably Eugene Botkin, Anna Demidova, Alexei Trupp and Ivan Kharitonov — were shot, bayoneted and clubbed to death in Yekaterinburg on the night of 16-17 July 1918.
The Tsar and his family were killed by Bolshevik troops led by Yakov Yurovsky under the orders of the Ural Regional Soviet and according to instructions by Lenin, Yakov Sverdlov and Felix Dzerzhinsky.
Their bodies were then stripped, mutilated, burned and disposed of in a field called Porosenkov Log in the Koptyaki forest.
The House of Special Purpose
The imperial family was kept in strict isolation at the Ipatiev House. They were strictly forbidden to speak any language other than Russian. They were not permitted access to their luggage, which was stored in an outhouse in the interior courtyard. Their brownie cameras and photographic equipment were confiscated. The servants were ordered to address the Romanovs only by their names and patronymics.
The windows in all the family's rooms were sealed shut and covered with newspapers (later painted with whitewash on 15 May). The family's only source of ventilation was a fortochka in the grand duchesses' bedroom, but peeking out of it was strictly forbidden; in May a sentry fired a shot at Anastasia when she peeked out. After repeated requests, one of the two windows in the tsar and tsarina's corner bedroom was unsealed on 23 June 1918. However, the guards were ordered to increase their surveillance accordingly and the prisoners were warned not to look out the window or attempt to signal anyone outside, on pain of being shot.
From this window, they could only see the spire of the Voznesensky Cathedral located across the road from the house. An iron grille was installed on 11 July after Alexandra ignored repeated warnings from Yurovsky not to stand too close to the open window.
To maintain a sense of normality...
To maintain a sense of normality, the Bolsheviks assured the Romanovs on 13 July 1918 that two of their loyal servants, Klementy Nagorny (Alexei's sailor nanny) and Ivan Sednev (OTMA's footman; Leonid Sednev's uncle), "had been sent out of this government" (i.e. out of the jurisdiction of Ekaterinburg and Perm province). However, both men were already dead. After the Bolsheviks removed them from the Ipatiev House in May, they were shot by the Cheka with a group of other hostages on 6 July in reprisal for the death of a local Bolshevik hero who was killed by the Whites.
On 14 July, a priest and deacon conducted a liturgy for the Romanovs. The following morning, four housemaids were hired to wash the floors of the Popov House and Ipatiev House; they were the last civilians to see the family alive. On both occasions they were under strict instructions not to engage in conversation of any kind to the family.
Yurovsky always kept watch during the liturgy and while the housemaids were cleaning the bedrooms with the family.
The Romanovs were being held by the Red Army in Yekaterinburg, since Bolsheviks initially wanted to put them on trial. As the civil war continued and the White Army (a loose alliance of anti-Communist forces) was threatening to capture the city, the fear was that the Romanovs would fall into White hands.
This was unacceptable to the Bolsheviks for two reasons: first, the tsar or any of his family members could provide a beacon to rally support to the White cause; second, the tsar, or any of his family members if the tsar were dead, would be considered the legitimate ruler of Russia by the other European nations. This would have meant the ability to negotiate for greater foreign intervention on behalf of the Whites. Soon after the family was executed, the city fell to the White Army.
In mid-July 1918, forces of the Czechoslovak Legion were closing on Yekaterinburg, to protect the Trans-Siberian Railway, of which they had control. According to historian David Bullock, the Bolsheviks falsely believed that the Czechoslovaks were on a mission to rescue the family, panicked and executed their wards.
The Legions arrived less than a week later and on 25 July captured the city.
Planning for the execution
The Ural Regional Soviet agreed in a meeting on 29 June that the Romanov family should be executed. Filipp Goloshchyokin arrived in Moscow on 3 July with a message insisting on the Tsar's execution. Only seven of the 23 members of the Central Executive Committee were in attendance, three of whom were Lenin, Sverdlov and Felix Dzerzhinsky. It was agreed that the presidium of the Ural Regional Soviet should organize the practical details for the family's execution and decide the precise day on which it would take place when the military situation dictated it, contacting Moscow for final approval.
On 14 July, Yurovsky was finalizing the disposal site and how to destroy as much evidence as possible at the same time. He was frequently in consultation with Peter Ermakov, who was in charge of the disposal squad and claimed to know the outlying countryside, to which Yurovsky placed his trust in him. Yurovsky wanted to gather the family and servants in a closely confined space from which they could not escape. The basement room chosen for this purpose had a barred window which was nailed shut to muffle the sound of shooting and in case of any screaming. Shooting and stabbing them at night while they slept or killing them in the forest and then dumping them into the Iset pond with lumps of metal weighted to their bodies were ruled out. Yurovsky's plan was to perform an efficient execution of all 11 prisoners simultaneously, though he also took into account that he would have to prevent those involved from raping the women or searching the bodies for jewels. Having previously seized some jewellery, he suspected more were hidden in their clothes; the bodies were stripped naked in order to obtain the rest (this, along with the mutilations were aimed at preventing investigators from identifying them).
On 16 July, Yurovsky was informed by the Ural Soviets that Red Army contingents were retreating in all directions and the executions could not be delayed any longer. A coded telegram seeking final approval was sent by Goloshchyokin and Georgy Safarov at around 6:00pm to Lenin in Moscow.
There is no documentary record of an answer from Moscow, although Yurovsky insisted that an order from the CEC to go ahead had been passed on to him by Goloshchyokin at around 7:00pm.
Yurovsky and Pavel Medvedev collected 14 handguns to use that night, comprising two Browning pistols, two American Colts, two 7.65 Mausers, one Smith & Wesson and seven Belgian-made Nagants. The Nagant operated on old black gunpowder which produced a good deal of smoke and fumes; smokeless powder was only just being phased in.
In the commandant's office, Yurovsky assigned victims to each killer before distributing the handguns. He took a Mauser and Colt while Ermakov armed himself with three Nagants, one Mauser and a bayonet; he was the only one assigned to kill two prisoners, Alexandra and Botkin. He instructed his men to "shoot straight at the heart to avoid an excessive quantity of blood and get it over quickly."
While the Romanovs were having dinner on 16 July, Yurovsky entered the sitting room and informed them that the kitchen boy Leonid Sednev was leaving to meet his uncle Ivan Sednev, who had returned to the city asking to see him; Ivan had already been shot by the Cheka. The family was very upset as Leonid was Alexei's only playmate and he was the fifth member of the imperial entourage to be taken from them, but they were assured by Yurovsky that he would be back soon. Alexandra did not trust him, writing in her final diary entry just hours before her death, "whether its [sic] true & we shall see the boy back again!" Leonid was in fact kept in the Popov House that night. Yurovsky saw no reason to kill him and wanted him removed before the execution took place.
Around midnight 17 July 1918, Yakov Yurovsky, the commandant of The House of Special Purpose, ordered the Romanovs' physician, Dr. Eugene Botkin, to awaken the sleeping family and ask them to put on their clothes, under the pretext that the family would be moved to a safe location due to impending chaos in Yekaterinburg.
The Romanovs were then ordered into a 6 m × 5 m (20 ft × 16 ft) semi-basement room. Nicholas asked if Yurovsky could bring two chairs, on which Tsarevich Alexei and Alexandra sat.
Yurovsky's assistant Grigory Nikulin remarked to him that the "heir wanted to die in a chair. Very well then, let him have one."
The prisoners were told to wait in the cellar room while the truck that would transport them was being brought to the House. A few minutes later, an execution squad of secret police was brought in and Yurovsky read aloud the order given to him by the Ural Executive Committee: "Nikolai Alexandrovich, in view of the fact that your relatives are continuing their attack on Soviet Russia, the Ural Executive Committee has decided to execute you."
Nicholas, facing his family, turned and said "What? What?"
Yurovsky quickly repeated the order and the weapons were raised. The Empress and Grand Duchess Olga, according to a guard's reminiscence, had tried to bless themselves, but failed amid the shooting. Yurovsky reportedly raised his Colt gun at Nicholas's torso and fired; Nicholas was the target of all of the assembled shooters, and he quickly fell dead, pierced by many bullets. The intoxicated Peter Ermakov, the military commissar for Verkh-Isetsk, shot and killed Alexandra with a bullet wound to the head. He then shot at Maria, who ran for the double doors, hitting her in the thigh. The remaining executioners shot chaotically and over each other's shoulders until the room was so filled with smoke and dust that no one could see anything at all in the darkness nor hear any commands amid the noise.
Alexey Kabanov, who ran out onto the street to check the noise levels, heard dogs barking from the Romanovs' quarters and the sound of gunshots loud and clear despite the noise from the Fiat's engine. Kabanov then hurried downstairs and told the men to stop firing and kill the family and their dogs with their gun butts and bayonets.
Within minutes, Yurovsky was forced to stop the shooting because of the caustic smoke of burned gunpowder, dust from the plaster ceiling caused by the reverberation of bullets, and the deafening gunshots. When they stopped, the doors were then opened to scatter the smoke.
While waiting for the smoke to abate, the killers could hear moans and whimpers inside the room. As it cleared, it became evident that although several of the family's retainers had been killed, all of the Imperial children were alive and furthermore, only Maria was even injured.
The noise of the guns had been heard by households all around, and had awakened many people. The executioners were ordered to proceed with their bayonets, a technique which proved ineffective and meant that the children had to be dispatched by still more gunshots, this time aimed more precisely at their heads. The Tsarevich was the first of the children to be executed.
Yurovsky watched in disbelief as Nikulin spent an entire magazine from his Browning gun on Alexei, who was still seated transfixed in his chair; he also had jewels sewn into his undergarment and forage cap.
Ermakov shot and stabbed him, and when he failed, Yurovsky shoved him aside and killed the boy with a gunshot to the head.
The last to die were Tatiana, Anastasia, and Maria, who were carrying a few pounds (over 1.3 kilograms) of diamonds sewn into their clothing, which had given them a degree of protection from the firing.
However, they were speared with bayonets as well. Olga sustained a gunshot wound to the head. Maria and Anastasia were said to have crouched up against a wall covering their heads in terror until they were shot down. Yurovsky himself killed Tatiana and Alexei. Tatiana died from a single bullet through the back of her head. Alexei received two bullets to the head, right behind the ear. Anna Demidova, Alexandra's maid, survived the initial onslaught but was quickly stabbed to death against the back wall while trying to defend herself with a small pillow which she had carried that was filled with precious gems and jewels.
While the bodies were being placed on stretchers, one of the girls cried out and covered her face with her arm. Ermakov grabbed Alexander Strekotin's rifle and bayoneted her in the chest, but when it failed to penetrate he pulled out his revolver and shot her in the head.
While Yurovsky was checking the victims for pulses, Ermakov went back and forth in the room, flailing the bodies with his bayonet. The execution lasted about 20 minutes, Yurovsky later admitting to Nikulin's "poor mastery of his weapon and inevitable nerves."
Future investigations calculated that a possible 70 bullets were fired, roughly seven bullets per shooter, of which 57 were found in the basement and at all three subsequent gravesites. Some of Pavel Medvedev's stretcher bearers began frisking the bodies for valuables. Yurovsky saw this and demanded that they surrender any looted items or be shot. The attempted looting, coupled with Ermakov's incompetence and drunken state, convinced Yurovsky to oversee the disposal of the bodies himself.
Only Alexei's spaniel, Joy, survived to be rescued by a British officer of the Allied Intervention Force, living out his final days in Windsor, Berkshire.
Alexandre Beloborodov sent a coded telegram to Lenin's secretary, Nikolai Gorbunov. It was found by White investigator Nikolai Sokolov and reads:
"Inform Sverdlov the whole family have shared the same fate as the head. Officially the family will die at the evacuation."
After Ekaterinburg fell to the anti-communist White Army on 25 July, Admiral Alexander Kolchak established the Sokolov Commission at the end of that month to investigate the murders.
Soviet historiography portrayed Nicholas as a weak and incompetent leader whose decisions led to military defeats and the deaths of millions of his subjects, while Lenin's reputation was protected at all costs, thus ensuring that no discredit was brought on him; responsibility for the 'liquidation' of the Romanov family was directed at the Ural Soviets and Ekaterinburg Cheka. The Incredible Holy Lives of The Last Russian Tsar's Family: Eyewitnesses Reminisce
The Imperial Family depicted in traditional Russian costume as New-Martyrs and Saints of the Orthodox Church.
Just read their own words. It's enough. by Ryan Hunter Originally appeared at: Orthodox Christianity In 1905, twelve years before Emperor Nicholas II’s abdication and three years from his own repose, St. John of Kronstadt, who had served as confessor to Nicholas II’s father Emperor Alexander III (r. 1881-94, d. 1894), spoke these prophetic words:
We have a Tsar of righteous and pious life. God has sent a heavy cross of sufferings to him as to His chosen one and beloved child, as the seer of the destinies of God said: ‘Whom I love, those I reproach and punish’ (Rev. 3.19).
If there is no repentance in the Russian people, the end of the world is near. God will remove from it the pious Tsar and send a whip in the person of impure, cruel, self-called rulers, who will drench the whole land in blood and tears.
Nicholas himself made a similar observation about his fate when speaking to his Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin. In his diary, Stolypin noted with some degree of incredulity that Nicholas spoke these words without any hint of alarm or distress. This must have taken place sometime before the latter’s 1911 assassination at the Kiev Opera House in the presence of the Emperor and his eldest daughters, the Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana. Immediately after the assassin, Dmitri Bogrov, shot him twice, causing panic to erupt among those around him, Stolypin calmly rose from his chair, removed his gloves and unbuttoned his jacket, exposing a blood-soaked waistcoat. He sank into his chair and loudly exclaimed, “I am happy to die for the Tsar,” before motioning to Nicholas in his imperial box to withdraw to safety. Nicholas remained in his position, and in one final gesture Stolypin bowed to his sovereign, blessing him with a sign of the cross and saying “May God save him!”. Bogrov then attempted to stab Stolypin, but tripped and was subsequently caught and hanged.
Nicholas II smiling in a signed photo taken in 1898his fourth year on the throne.
I have a premonition. I have the certainty that I am destined for terrible trials, but I will not receive a reward for them in this world… Perhaps there must be a victim in expiation in order to save Russia. I will be this victim. May God’s will be done!
A signed portrait of the Empress from 1899, five years into her reign with Nicholas II.
According to Anna A. Vyrubova, the Empress’ closest confidante, best friend and lady-in-waiting, in Her Majesty’s Lady-in-Waiting, p. 171 (reprinted in Orthodox Word, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, Ca., Vol. 34, No.5 (202) Sept-Oct, 1998,p. 215), a Russian holy woman by the name of Maria blessed the Empress in December 1916 when she visited her cell and foretold her eventual martyrdom:
In December of 1916, Her Majesty traveled from an emotional rest to Novgorod for a day, with two Grand Duchesses and a small suite. She visited field hospitals and monasteries and attended the Liturgy at the St. Sophia Cathedral. Before her departure the Tsaritsa visited the Yurievsky and Desyatina Monasteries. In the latter she visited Eldress Maria Mikhailovna in her tiny cell, where the aged woman had lain for many years in heavy chains (this was self inflicted – Editor’s notes) on an iron bed. When the Tsaritsa entered, the Eldress held her withered hand out to her and said, “Here comes the martyr, Tsaritsa Alexandra!” She embraced her and blessed her. In a few days the Eldress reposed.
In 1917, the venerable St. Metropolitan Makary Nevsky of Moscow beheld the Savior speaking to the Tsar in a vision:
“You see,” said the Lord, “two cups in my hands: one is bitter for your people, and the other is sweet for you.” In the vision the Tsar begged for the bitter cup. The Savior then took a large glowing coal from the cup and put it in the Tsar’s hands. The Tsar’s whole body then began to grow light, until he was shining like a radiant spirit. Then the vision changed to a field of flowers, in the middle of which Nicholas was distributing manna to a multitude of people. A voice spoke: “The Tsar has taken the guilt of the Russian people upon himself and the Russian people are forgiven.”
As the First World War dragged on with mounting casualties and no conclusive end, causing a decline in morale and furthering discontent among those disposed toward revolutionary sentiment in the armed forces and urban factories, the Empress and her older daughters continued to serve actively as hospital nurses. Numerous historical accounts of the Empress’ life during the war years, especially the memoirs of the women who perhaps knew her best, her dear confidantes the Countess Anna A. Vryubova and Baroness Sophie von Buxhoeveden, recall her dedicated service in the blood and disease-filled hospitals of wartime Moscow and St. Petersburg. Despite that Nicholas and Alexandra disliked her cousin, the blustering Kaiser Wilhelm II, and had decidedly English cultural sensibilities (Nicholas II and Britain’s King George V were first cousins, as their Danish mothers were sisters, while the Empress Alexandra and her older sister Ella, the Grand Duchess Elizabeth, had grown up at the court of their grandmother Queen Victoria), as the war dragged on, communist and anarchist groups working to subvert the monarchy and undermine the war effort at the same time began to circulate pamphlets and scrawl graffiti attacking the Empress as a German “imposter”, “traitor”, “spy”, and worse. According to this Pravmir article from May 2006 on “Tsar Nicholas and His Family”,
As soon as the war broke out, the Empress and the four Grand Duchesses (Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia) became nurses; and hospitals were opened at Tsarskoye Selo, near the family’s residence, where wounded soldiers were brought. They worked long hours, diligently and tirelessly following the commandment of Christ to visit the sick, since inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me (Matthew 25.30).
Anna A. Vyrubova, the Empress’ closest friend, wrote:
“I have personally seen the Empress of Russia in the operating room, assisting in the most difficult operations, taking from the hands of the busy surgeon amputated legs and arms, removing bloody and even vermin-ridden field dressings.” Vyrubova says that she was a “born nurse”, who “from her earliest accession took an interest in hospitals, in nursing, quite foreign to native Russian ideas.
She not only visited the sick herself, in hospitals, in homes, but she enormously increased the efficiency of the hospital system in Russia. Out of her own private funds the Empress founded and supported two excellent schools for training nurses, especially in the care of children.”
Unsurprisingly, this is the same Empress who wrote in her diary at some point during that fateful year of 1917, “In order to climb the great heavenly staircase of love, we must ourselves become a stone, a stair which others will climb.” In this deeply moving poem to Empress Alexandra, “To My Beloved Mama”, which she composed at Tsarskoye Selo on April 23, 1917, just over a month following her father’s abdication, the 22-year old Grand Duchess Olga wrote: “You are filled with anguish. For the suffering of others. And no one’s grief Has ever passed you by. You are relentless Only toward yourself, Forever cold and pitiless. But if only you could look upon Your own sadness from a distance, Just once with a loving soul- Oh, how you would pity yourself. How sadly you would weep.”
The Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna as a young girl.
These are the qualities of a saint, ones which the young Princess discerned in her own mother. Grand Duchess Olga, clearly a beautifully gifted writer possessed of praiseworthy talent as a poet, evidently perceived the devastating combined impact that her father’s abdication and the Tsarevich Alexei’s incurable hemophilia continuously wrought on her mother’s emotional, physical and spiritual health. As the following letter from the Princess indicated, Grand Duchess Olga, as the oldest of the children in the Imperial Family, consciously served as a kind of envoy for her beleaguered parents to the outside world beyond their prison walls:
Father asks the following message to be given to all those who have remained faithful to him, and to those on whom they may have an influence, that they should not take revenge for him, since he has forgiven everyone and prays for everyone, that they should not take revenge for themselves, and should remember that the evil which is now in the world shall grow even stronger, but that it is not evil that will conquer evil, but only love. . .
Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna, writing from Tobolsk in the Urals during the Royal family’s exile there in summer 1917, about a year before their brutal execution.
Emperor Nicholas II sawing wood with Alexei during the Imperial Family’s winter at Tobolsk.
The change in the Grand Duchess’ tone is remarkable: from an already highly perceptive young woman, it is evident that the several harrying months spent under house arrest confined to a few small rooms at the old Governor’s House in Tobolsk had caused the close-knit Imperial Family to keep a more eternal perspective. We read of a young woman both clearly aware that her words would eventually be read by many people who heartily supported the Romanov monarchy and the cause of their liberation from the Bolsheviks, and acutely aware that her father abhorred the continued bloodshed of the civil war between Whites and Reds. Nicholas’ exhortation for his supporters to refrain from further bloodshed in the cause of his liberation is at first glance surprising (though not when we take into consideration the Emperor’s profound concern for his people, whom he loved as much as he did his own children), and indeed, extraordinary, all the more so given the successes so many White army forces were having against the Bolsheviks at the time the Grand Duchess wrote this letter. One can only infer that the Imperial Family were permitted to receive little to no news of ongoing political developments outside the walls of their prison. Nonetheless, for the former Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias to write that “he has forgiven everyone and prays for everyone, that they should not take revenge for themselves”, one comes away with a clear sense that the Imperial Family anticipated their eventual martyrdom.
Reading the following poem, another one beautifully composed by the Grand Duchess Olga, its meaning is unmistakable: by the time that she wrote these words, it is certain that the Imperial Family expected to be martyred. The Princess’ poem here is both hymn and dirge, a psalm of praise and one of sorrow and fear, but above all, a canticle of deep faith and a discernment of God’s will in all things. True of saints’ writings, we see that the centrality of the Princess’ poem is not her dwelling on her own anguish or horror at the thought of a potentially agonizing death, or lamentation at the thought of her earthly life cut short so abruptly, but a profound trust in God’s providence that His purpose guides all things and that, ultimately, He would work good out of evil.
I do not know how many months or weeks before her death the Grand Duchess wrote this haunting poem, but I come away thinking that it is truly astonishing—and almost unheard of today—for a young woman my age to be so accepting of a possibly imminent death or any manner of torture. So long as the Imperial Family, with God’s aid, continued to endure and persevere in faith, withstanding all evil and, above all, forgiving “our neighbors’ persecution”, the Grand Duchess prays, above all, to receive strength to “pass the last dread gate” into eternal life. Grant us Thy patience, Lord, In these our woeful days, The mob’s wrath to endure, The torturer’s ire; Thy unction to forgive Our neighbors’ persecution And mild, like Thee, to bear A bloodstained Cross. And when the mob prevails And foes come to despoil us, To suffer humbly shame, O Savior aid us! And when the hour comes To pass the last dread gate, Breathe strength in us to pray, Father forgive them!
Here is a beautiful quote from Saint John the Wonderworker (1896-1966) on the Emperor, which the younger saint said in July 1963, the 45th anniversary of the martyrdoms:
Why was Tsar Nicholas II persecuted, slandered and killed? Because he was Tsar, Tsar by the Grace of God. He was the bearer and incarnation of the Orthodox world view that the Tsar is the servant of God, the Anointed of God, and that to Him he must give an account for the people entrusted to him by destiny, for all his deeds and actions, not only those done personally, but also as Tsar. . .
Thus did the Orthodox Russian people believe, thus has the Orthodox Church taught, and this did Tsar Nicholas acknowledge and sense. He was thoroughly penetrated by this awareness; he viewed his bearing of the Imperial crown as a service to God. He kept this in mind during all his important decisions, during all the responsible questions that arose. This is why he was so firm and unwavering in those questions about which he was convinced that such was the will of God; he stood firmly for that which seemed to him necessary for the good of the realm of which he was head.
Holy Royal Martyrs, pray to God for us that He may save our souls!
the remains of Princess Alexei & Princess Anastasia authenticated