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Sainthood approved for Russia's last Czar

MOSCOW -- The Russian Orthodox Church is to canonise Russia's last czar, Nicholas II, his wife and five children, it was announced on Monday. 

The vote by the Archbishops' Council to bestow sainthood on the family was unanimous with the official ceremony to be held on Sunday at Jesus The Savior Cathedral in central Moscow. 

The church's highest ruling body also agreed to canonise 853 other martyrs from the 20th century, many of them priests and monks killed by the Soviets. 

The bishops' meeting was cloaked in secrecy as they debated the czar's spiritual status in a gilded
chamber of the cathedral. Church Patriarch Alexy II and about 150 leaders took part in the meeting. 

The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, which split from the Moscow-based church during Soviet times, has already made Nicholas II a saint, and the issue had been a major obstacle to reuniting the two churches. 

Most Western historians see Nicholas II as an inept leader who tried to withstand modernising forces, and oversaw the 1905 "Bloody Sunday" massacre of several thousand peaceful strikers who were carrying his portrait. 

But many Orthodox Church members wanted to elevate him and his family for meeting their own deaths bravely. 

Some have also attributed miracles to the late czar, claiming to have been miraculously cured of medical ailments after praying to icons of Nicholas. 

Before the sainthood was announced, Alexander Perk, the treasurer of the Church of the Nine Martyrs -- home of a Nicholas icon said to work miracles -- said: "Nicholas does not need this canonisation. As for any saint, the church will only be confirming what is already known." 

Since the collapse of communism, both the Orthodox faith and imperial history have enjoyed a strong revival. 

Nicholas, his wife Alexandra and their five children were shot along with four servants by a Bolshevik firing squad on July 17, 1918, in Yekaterinaburg.  The bodies were burned, doused with acid and thrown into a pit outside the city.  The remains were exhumed in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union and, after years of genetic tests and disputes about their authenticity, were buried in 1998 in St. Petersburg, although the remains of two of the children were never found. 

CNN, The Associated Press & Reuters contributed to this report. August 14, 2000

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