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CHURCH NEWS

For Immediate Release, June 10, 1998

STATEMENT
by Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia
and the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church
on the 80th Anniversary of the Murder of Emperor Nicholas and His Family

Beloved in Christ, most reverend archpastors, venerable pastors,
God-loving monks and nuns, and
all the faithful children of the Russian Orthodox Church: 

The 17th of July, 1998, marks the 80th anniversary of the murder of the Russian Emperor Nicholas and members of his family. Time takes us increasingly away from the day when this evil deed was committed. Several generations have given way to one another during this time, but the memory of that murder of the Imperial family is a heavy burden on the people's conscience still conscious of the fact that crime and the feeling of guilt for the lack of repentance for it has not been blotted out in our people.
The many of our ancestors, through either direct participation or approval or acquiescence, are guilty of this sin. Repentance for it should become a sign of the unity of our people which is reached not through indifferent acquiescence but thoughtful reflection on what happened to the country and the people. Only then it will be a unity not in form but in spirit.
Today, as it was five years ago, when we sent to the pastors and the flock a Letter devoted to the 75th anniversary of the Yekaterinburg tragedy, we testify again that "our people have not repented for the sin of regicide committed with the Russian citizens remaining indifferent. We call to repentance all our people - all their children regardless of their political convictions or views of history, regardless of their ethnic background or religious affiliation, regardless of their attitude to the idea of monarchy or to the personality of the last Russian emperor".
Let the memory of the crime committed move us to make on this day a general repentance for the sin of apostasy and regicide- repentance accompanied by fasting and abstention, so that the Lord may hear our prayers and bless our Motherland with peace and prosperity.
On this day we call upon and bless the archpastors and pastors of our Holy Church to conduct requiem services commemorating the murdered Emperor Nicholas II, his wife Empress Alexandra and their children, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, Alexis, and their faithful servants and all those martyred and lain in the time of fierce persecution for the faith of Christ, whose names are known to the Lord.
Making this appeal, we profoundly regret that the sad anniversary of the murder of the Emperor and his family has been darkened by hard arguments around the remains found near Yekaterinburg. 
On this day, the 17th of July, these remains will be buried at the Cathedral of Sts Peter and Paul in St. Petersburg. The State Commission identified them as those of the Imperial family. As is known, the decision of the commission has provoked a twofold response in our society and the Church. Along with those who trust the Commission's conclusions, there are those who do not accept them. The Church and the secular public have been divided in their judgment, and this division is apparently confrontational and painful. In this situation, the Supreme Church Authority, whose duty it is to take care of the unity of the Church and to promote civic peace and accord, is called by the very logic of the conflict to restrain from supporting a particular point of view.
Requiem services for the murdered Emperor, his family and all those martyred in the years of persecution will be conducted on this day in our churches; the same requiem service will be conducted at the Cathedral of Sts Peter and Paul in the city on the Neva. This divine service will not be an act of recognition or non-recognition of the scientific conclusions with regard to the "Yekaterinburg remain", but rather a fulfillment of Christian duty, the Church's response to the requests for conducting a service for the repose of the souls during the burial of the remains.
Most reverend archpastors, all-honorable pastors, God-loving brothers and sisters! Today the plenitude of the Church is working hard to restore the ruined shrines, recovering the image of Holy Russia. Blessing this work, we call upon you to lift up prayers not only for the repose of the Imperial family, but also for all hose slain and killed in the years of trouble, so that we may survive the difficult time experienced by the church and our people today in the spirit of harmony, not yielding to the pressure from vain discordance which is alien to the good of the Church.
Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding" (Rom. 14:19). "Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways" (2 Thes. 3:16).
+ ALEXY, PATRIARCH OF MOSCOW AND ALL RUSSIA
 

Russians pay final tribute to last czar before burial

July 16, 1998

YEKATERINBURG, Russia (AP) --

Hundreds of Russians prayed, and some wept, as they paid final tribute Thursday to Russia's last czar at a hilltop church in this Ural Mountains city where the royal family was executed 80 years ago. In a solemn ceremony, the wooden coffins of Nicholas II, his family and their servants were placed in the Ascension of the Lord Church in Yekaterinburg before being flown to St. Petersburg, where they will be buried Friday in the old imperial capital.
And in a surprise development, President Boris Yeltsin changed his mind and announced he would attend Friday's service. The president had been planning to skip the ceremony due to the multiple controversies that had arisen mong political and religious leaders over how to handle the burial.
'I should take part' "The truth (about the executions) was concealed for 80 years," Yeltsin said. "I was told nothing. And tomorrow, the truth should be told, and I should take part."
In Yekaterinburg, hundreds of police stood guard around the church, and people were allowed in a few at a time to pray and light candles next to the nine small coffins containing the bones.
"I have come to pay a last tribute to the innocent victims," said a tearful Vera Kolchina, 74. "Their deaths were a tragic part of our history."
Nicholas and his family were executed by Bolshevik revolutionaries on July 17, 1918, in the basement of a house that was just down the hill from the site of Thursday's church service. Their bodies were dumped in a mass grave in the forest outside Yekaterinburg and remained there until they were unearthed in 1991. The infamous house where they were shot was torn down in the 1980s under the supervision of the local Communist Party boss at the time -- Yeltsin. As president, Yeltsin originally sought a grandiose burial ceremony that would serve as an act of repentance for the sins of Communism. But it was scaled back as the disputes mounted.
Ordinary Russians also have mixed feelings about the czar. Some saw him as a despot, others consider him a martyr, and there are those who believe he was simply a weak, indecisive ruler overwhelmed by the tides of history."I have come here because it is a historical event and I wanted my daughter to see it, so she could tell her children about it," said Galina Feoktistova, accompanied by her 10-year-old daughter Yulia. "I feel pity for the czar, as for any man who died so tragically," she said. But, she added, "I don't want the monarchy restored." 

1,000 attended the 3-hour service

About 1,000 people visited the church during the three-hour service. Afterward, a thunderstorm broke out as an honor guard began removing the coffins from the church to take them to the airport. The remains were placed on an Aeroflot cargo jet for the journey to St. Petersburg.
The coffins, each decorated with an ornately etched name plate, hold the remains of Nicholas, his wife, Alexandra, three of their five children and four servants. The coffins of the czar and czarina are draped with the yellow flag of the Romanov family, and the servants' coffins are lined with silver, rather than the royal gold.
The other two children, Alexei and the one scientists believe is Maria, were executed along with the entire family, but their remains have not been found and most investigators believe the bodies were burned to ashes. There has long been a myth that one of the daughters, Anastasia, survived the shooting and escaped. But scientific tests indicate her bones are among the remains and those of her sister Maria are missing. Extensive DNA testing in the United States, Britain and Russia convinced scientists of the authenticity of the remains. But the Russian Orthodox Church has refused to accept the results, and top church officials were not at the services, though local priests were officiating.

What happened to the Romanovs?

July 16, 1998

(AP) -- Answers to common questions concerning the remains of Czar Nicholas II, Alexandra and their five children:

Q: How did they die?

A: The entire family, along with their doctor and three attendants, were lined up against a wall in the basement of a house in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg.
A firing squad burst into the room and emptied the barrels of their guns then used bayonets to finish them off. 

Q: What happened to the bodies?

A: The bodies were stripped of clothes and jewels and dumped in a mine shaft outside town. Grenades were thrown into the pit to try to destroy them. Rumors circulated identifying the site, so the next day the bodies were retrieved and driven away. When the truck carrying them broke down, the revolutionaries set two of the smallest corpses ablaze. Burning proved time-consuming, so the rest of the bodies were buried near the road and sulfuric acid was poured into the pit. 

Q: How were they found?

A: In the late 1970s, a local geologist and an interested filmmaker obtained an account of the botched burial written by the leader of the death squad. They found the site he identified, dug into the pit and retrieved three skulls. Later, however, they replaced them and kept quiet until Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost. In 1989, the filmmaker announced the discovery. In July 1991, the bodies were exhumed. 

Q: How were they identified?

A: Russian officials sent bone samples to Britain and the United States for DNA testing. Those tests concluded that five of the skeletons were members of one family and four were unrelated. Of the five, three were the children of the two parents. The mother was determined to be related to the British royal family, as was Alexandra. The father was determined to be related to several Romanovs. Scientists have said the accuracy of the identification is greater than 99 percent. 

Q: With two skeletons missing, what about stories that Alexei or Anastasia escaped?

A: Hundreds of people have come forward over the years claiming to be an escaped member of the royal family. None of the claims has been proved. Perhaps the most famous pretender, Anna Anderson, was determined by genetic testing to be a Polish peasant named Franziska Schanzkowska. 

Q: Why is the Russian Orthodox Church refusing to recognize the bones as belonging to the czar and his family?

A: The debate is tied to larger battles within the church and with Orthodox believers living in exile since the revolution. The exiled church has canonized the czar. The Moscow-based church has started canonization proceedings, but they are likely to take years. In the interim, if the church were to bury the czar without treating his remains as holy relics of a saint, the exiled church would take offense, jeopardizing reunification efforts. So, the Moscow patriarchate cannot formally
recognize the bones. 

Q: What happens if the Russian Orthodox Church canonizes Nicholas and his family?

A: The remains would be exhumed, ritually washed and placed in sacred garments. After canonization rites, the bones would be interred in above-ground reliquaries and become objects of veneration.
 

Russia buries last czar

July 17, 1998

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (CNN) --

Nicholas II was buried Friday, 80 years to the day after the emperor and his family were executed by Bolshevik revolutionaries. The czar was laid in a common grave alongside his wife Alexandra, three of their daughters and four faithful retainers. With cathedral bells ringing, Boris Yeltsin and dozens of dignitaries gathered Friday at a riverfront fortress for the burial. the Russian leader called the czar's murder "one of the most shameful pages in our history." 

Dozens of relatives of Czar Nicholas II, diplomats from about 50 countries, and Prince Michael of Kent, a member of the British royal family, which is related to Russian royalty, stood for the brief service in an intimate and elegant 18th-century cathedral. The czar, his family and servants were to be laid to rest alongside earlier Russian monarchs. 

Many leading figures chose to skip the service due to controversies it generated. Yeltsin was planning to stay away as well, but changed his mind, saying Thursday he would participate. Friday, he delivered a powerful message of regret. "We must tell the truth -- the (czar's) massacre has become one of the most shameful pages of our history," Yeltsin said in opening the ceremony in the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral. "By burying the innocent victims we want to expiate the sins of
our ancestors." 

Burial stirs debate about Bolshevik Revolution

The burial has reopened long-suppressed chapters of Russian history, stirring fresh debate about the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the Romanov dynasty that preceded it, and the nature of national guilt and  repentance. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, but Russia has not previously held any major, formal ceremonies dealing with the abuses committed during communist times. Friday's service brought the issue to the fore. "This is not just a funeral, but a national repentance," said Mstislav Rostropovich, one of the world's leading conductors and cellists, who was exiled during the Soviet era. It has been difficult to turn on a television in Russia this week without seeing programs about the royal family, with archival footage of Nicholas, his wife, Alexandra, and their children. Russians who grew up in the communist era knowing little about the Romanovs are being inundated with their history. But the burial has also raised multiple disputes among political and religious leaders. 

Alexy II did not take part

Among those who did not take part in the observance was Patriarch Alexy II, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, which as those of the royal family. Largely because of that, the actual burial ceremony was relatively simple. When they are interred, the priest was not to use
the names of the deceased, even though plaques bearing their names are already hanging on the walls of the chapel.About 1,500 people gathered outside the fortress before the ceremony got under way, most of them hoping to get a glimpse of the ceremonies. But a few dozen were there to protest the burial. "Factories are closed. People aren't getting their pay -- what's going on with this funeral?" said Vyacheslav Marichev, a former politician.
Nicholas was the last of the Romanov emperors who ruled Russia for 300 years. After abdicating in 1917 in the throes of the Russian Revolution, he was murdered on July 17, 1918, along with Alexandra, their five children and four servants. 

Burial ceremonies began Wednesday

Bolshevik zealots who carried out the killings then tried to erase all traces of the corpses. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, nine of the 11 bodies were recovered from a desolate forest outside the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg and subjected to years of painstaking tests to confirm their identification. The burial ceremonies began Wednesday in Yekaterinburg, when the bones were taken from the city's police morgue and placed in small, skeleton-sized coffins. The coffins were flown to St. Petersburg on Thursday, and thousands of Russians stood in silence along the city's passed by.

Text of Yeltsin's remarks at czar's burial

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - The following is the speech given by Russian President Boris Yeltsin at the Peter and Paul Cathedral where Russia's last Czar Nicholas II and his family were buried on Friday. Text translated by Reuters.

"Today is a historic day for Russia. Eighty years have passed since the murder of the last Russian emperor and members of his family. For many years we were silent about this awful crime but we must tell the truth. The reprisal in Yekaterinburg was one of the most shameful episodes in our history. By burying the remains of the innocent murdered we want to expiate the sins of our ancestors. Those who committed this crime are guilty as are those who approved of it for decades. We are all guilty. It is impossible to lie to ourselves by justifying senseless cruelty on political grounds.
The shooting of the Romanov family is a result of an uncompromising split in Russian society into "us" and "them." The results of this split can be seen even now. Burying the victims of the Yekaterinburg tragedy is an act of humane justice, a symbol of unification in Russia and
redemption of common guilt. In the face of the historical memory of the nation we are responsible for everything. And that is why I could not have failed to appear here, as a human being and as a president. I bow my head for the victims of the merciless killings. Building a new Russia must be based on its historical experience. Many glorious pages of Russian history were connected with the name of Romanovs. But with this name is connected one of the most bitter lessons: any attempt to change life through violence is condemned to failure. We must end the century which has been an age of blood and violence in Russia with repentance and peace, regardless of political views, ethnic or religious belonging. This is our historical chance. At the turn of the next millennium we must do this for the sake of those living now and the generations to come.
Let us remember those who became innocent victims of envy and violence.
 

  
                                                                       Boris Yeltsin and wife Nina
 

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