The Glorification
of the
Royal Family
"The Matter Has Been Resolved"
Maxim Shevchenko,
Nezavisemaya Gazeta,
May 31, 2000


The identity, affiliation, and authorization of the translator are unknown. Nothing in this piece should be construed as an apologetic either for the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad or for the Moscow Patriarchate.

— Editor of The Struggler


[It was considered worthwhile to translate this interview since it deals with much more than just the glorification of the Royal Martyrs. Also discussed here are such topics as: the Moscow Patriarchate's attitude toward the New Martyrs in general, Sergianism, and the Moscow Patriarchate's relations with the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. Nor did it seem right to leave without comment certain statements made during the interview. All footnotes are those of the translator.

— Translator, identity unknown]

The chief criterion for canonization is the faithfulness of the clergy who received a martyric death to the Patriarchal Locum tenens Metropolitan Peter (Polyansky), according to Protopriest George (Mitrophanov), member of the Moscow Patriarchate's synodal commission for the canonization of saints.

Fr. George, what results of its work will the Commission on canonization bring to the Bishops' Sobor?

     It should be noted that the Bishops' Sobor* in question may become an unprecedented one in the history of the Russian Church. This is due to the fact that the overwhelming majority of the strugglers for piety who will be glorified at the Sobor are New Martyrs of the Twentieth Century.

      * This Sobor was scheduled to begin on August 17, 2000, in Moscow.

     At the Sobor possibly about 500 people may be glorified. Included in that number are both those who will be glorified as generally venerated saints, and those who are already venerated as local saints in individual dioceses. But it will not be just New Martyrs. Among them will also be ascetics who lived in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: hierarchs, righteous ones, confessors, and monastics.

     As for concrete examples of those to be glorified, among the New Martyrs will be represented such eminent Church hierarchs as Metropolitans Cyril (Smirnov) and Agathangel (Preobrazhensky), who at different times were Locum tenens of the Patriarchal Throne.

     Also represented will be quite a large assembly of those who preserved canonical unity with Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky), and those who were not in agreement with one or another element of the ecclesiastical politics of Metropolitan Sergius, but who at the same time testified to their righteous way of life by the exploit of martyrdom. All the same, we consider the chief criterion to be the faithfulness of these martyred clergymen to Metropolitan Peter (Polyansky), the Patriarchal Locum tenens.

     There will be no question of glorifying those who were connected with the renovationist schism, the autocephaly schisms in the Ukraine, or the Gregorian schism. Among those being glorified will be not only clergy (bishops, priests, and monks), but also laymen.

     In particular, the two sons of the hieromartyr, Protopriest-philosopher Arnadsky, who died together with their father, will be glorified. One of them was an army doctor, the other an artillery officer. This is a very instructive episode, which unfolds before us the possibility of likewise canonizing righteous laymen.

     Of course, the glorification of the Imperial family as passion-bearers has special significance. This question was examined quite some time ago, and a positive conclusion was reached concerning it. At present the commission has no basis whatsoever for supposing that the glorification of the Imperial family will be postponed. It should take place precisely at this Bishops' Sobor in the order of passion-bearers.

But Metropolitan Cyril (Smirnov) of Kazan very sharply criticized the then-still-Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky) for his politics of collaboration with the persecutors of the Church, and, in fact, supported Metropolitan Joseph (Petrovykh), who even until now is counted by the Moscow Patriarchate to be a schismatic. Was this fact considered during the examination of his life?

     At this point I must state that the point of view of the Synodal Commission differs from that which, in your opinion, has been held up until now by the Moscow Patriarchate, although between the position taken by Metropolitan Cyril and that of Metropolitan Joseph there were important differences. Thus, for example, Metropolitan Cyril never called into question whether Metropolitan Sergius and the entire Sergianist clergy had grace. He blessed his spiritual children to receive Communion in Sergianist churches, if there were no churches of the "non-commemorators," and he never accused Metropolitan Sergius of heresy.*

     * In the beginning, owing to a lack of information and to the general confusion of the times, Metropolitan Cyril was indeed quite cautious in evaluating the church policy of Metropolitan Sergius. However, before his martyrdom in November 1937, he had come to the firm conclusion that Metropolitan Sergius was very wrong, and that ignorance was no longer an excuse for being in communion with him. Metropolitan Cyril's position became more generally known only in recent years after letters written by him not long before his death were published. Thus, in March of 1937 he wrote: "Recent events have finally made clear the Renovationist nature of Sergianism." See, for example, Vertograd-Inform (English) Nos. 9 and 11, 1999; and Pravoslavnaya Rus, No. 16, 1999, p. 7.

     In this stance Metropolitan Cyril and his adherents differed from the stance of Metropolitan Joseph.* However, although the question of the glorification of Metropolitan Joseph will not be raised at the Sobor, a number of hierarchs, such as, for example, the Hieromartyrs Victor (Ostrovidov) and Seraphim (Zvezdinsky) will be glorified. I repeat, we have but one criterion: those will be glorified who preserved canonical faithfulness to Metropolitan Peter (Polyansky), and who did not introduce any alterations whatsoever of dogma, divine services, or canonical tradition. The possibility of the glorification of those who only criticized Metropolitan Sergius on political grounds cannot be excluded.

     * In a letter written in 1928 Metropolitan Joseph had stated: ". . . But beyond this, the canons themselves could not foresee many things. And can one dispute that it is even worse and more harmful than any heresy when one plunges a knife into the Church's very heart — Her freedom and dignity." See: Orthodox Christian Witness, Vol. 15, No. 28, 1982.

Has a motion been introduced at any of the sessions of the Commission concerning the glorification of Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky), or has it ever considered such an action?

     No such material was ever received by us from anyone. And it's hard to say if it would be submitted in the future.*

     * In addition to all Metropolitan Sergius's crimes against the Church, which would be more than enough to exclude the possibility of his being glorified, he does not even meet the chief criterion repeatedly stated in this interview: canonical faithfulness to the Locum tenens of the Patriarchal Throne, Metropolitan Peter. Soon after having appointed Metropolitan Sergius as his deputy, Metropolitan Peter was arrested. He was never again to be at liberty. From exile Metropolitan Peter repeatedly wrote to Metropolitan Sergius, stating that he did not agree with the course he had taken, declaring that he had exceeded his authority as Deputy Locum tenens, and that he had usurped powers not his own. In his audacity Metropolitan Sergius ignored these rebukes from his senior hierarch and advanced to even more shameless canonical violations. In 1934, while Metropolitan Peter was still living, Metropolitan Sergius lawlessly assumed the title of Metropolitan of Moscow, and in 1936 declared himself to be the Locum tenens of the Patriarchal Throne. Then in January of 1937 he served a formal pannikhida for Metropolitan Peter, although the latter was not martyred until October of that year!

Was the possibility of glorifying Fr. Paul (Florensky) considered?

     Such material likewise was not received by our commission. Therefore it would be difficult to give a definite answer to your question. I can only speak concerning those cases in which some material or other was submitted to the Commission by His Holiness, the Patriarch, or by some diocesan bishop. We studied such materials and drew our conclusions concerning the possibility or impossibility of glorification. As for Fr. Paul Florensky, just as is the case with Metropolitan Sergius, such material did not reach us, and therefore we did not take action on the matter.

You stated that the Church is on the verge of canonizing tens of thousands of New Martyrs, and that the chief criterion for this was their faithfulness to Orthodoxy and to the Locum tenens of the Patriarchal Throne, Metropolitan Peter (Polyansky). The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad at one point took the course of canonizing all the Orthodox who had suffered at the hands of the Bolsheviks.* On the Church Abroad's icon The Host of New Martyrs, there is in particular depicted Fr. Paul Florensky, of whom I made mention, despite the fact that within the Church Abroad they are quite critical of his pronouncements and works.** In your opinion, in the future is a similar synodal glorification of all the New Martyrs, of all the Orthodox laymen who suffered at the hands of the persecutors of the Church of Christ possible?

     * This is simply not true. The Church Abroad ruled that all those martyred prior to 1927 (i.e., before Metropolitan Sergius's infamous Declaration) could be considered martyrs, but that each case after the publication of the Declaration would have to be investigated and decided on an individual basis.

     ** This statement also is not true. The Church Abroad has categorically stated on several occasions that it has not glorified Fr. Paul Florensky as a saint. The official publication of the ROCA, Tserkovnaya Zhizn (Church Life), Nos. 1 and 2, 1990, reprinted a detailed, 28-page article on his heretical teachings. Also see: Tserkovnie Novosti (Church News), No. 22, 1991, p. 8.

     On an equal level with those who will be glorified by us by name — and concerning whose lives and service we will present material at the Sobor — there will also be glorified those whose names have remained unknown up until now. But this in no wise means that everyone who preserved faithfulness to Metropolitan Sergius and to Metropolitan Peter,* and who died during the persecution of the Church, should automatically be considered a martyr.

     * Note the inverted order here: Metropolitan Peter was the actual Locum tenens of the Patriarchal Throne. Metropolitan Sergius was only his deputy.

     While proposing this formula [for determining who is a New Martyr], we emphasize that there are many who are still not known, and whose names perhaps will never be known, but who are glorified before the Lord. Nevertheless, in the matter of whether or not it is possible to consider as a saint any clergyman who preserved canonical faithfulness to his hierarchy, and who perished during the persecutions, we have still one more very essential criterion. If as a result of the actions of this clergyman, either before his arrest or afterwards, other Christians suffered (his fellow clergymen and his spiritual children), if he collaborated with the authorities or gave evidence by which people suffered repression, or if he informed against anyone or against himself, then he cannot be glorified, even if he preserved canonical faithfulness to his hierarchy or if he himself perished during the persecutions.

     * Well, at least now we know why no one has dared to nominate Metropolitan Sergius for glorification!

     This, in particular, is what makes impossible the glorification of several rather well-known and even sometimes venerated, church hierarchs, whose names I would prefer not to mention at this time.

     * Again, Metropolitan Sergius?

Will the servants who perished together with the Imperial family be glorified?

     No, for the time being the servants will not be glorified. This has to do, above all else, with the fact that the death of the Imperial Family in a very narrow sense falls within the ancient tradition of the glorifying of passion-bearers (princes and sovereigns who accepted a guiltless death with Christian humility). The death of the palace servants who were fulfilling their official duties, however, is not the same thing, which makes it in principle not possible. We are still seeking a more adequate form for their glorification. In the strict sense of the word, they were not martyrs.* During the persecutions many worthy people perished, faithfully fulfilling their duty before the Sovereign, before Russia, before their dear ones.

     * This seems quite unfair to those Orthodox servants who remained with the Tsar, the Anointed of God, out of a sense of Christian duty. Once they had arrived in Ekaterinburg, it was demanded of them by the Cheka that if they wished to stay with the Imperial Family, they had to sign an official document stating: ". . . I wish to continue to be of service to the former Tsar Nicholas Romanov . . . and to consider myself in the same circumstances as the rest of the Romanov family" (Steinberg, Fall of the Romanovs, Yale: 1995, p. 306).

Why did the commission for glorification consider it necessary to glorify Nicholas II and the members of his family precisely as passion-bearers, and not as martyrs? Is not a distinction made here between the last emperor, and the empress and their children?

     A [martyrdom] presupposes that the person who has accepted it had the opportunity to save his life by apostatizing.* And the chief reason for his death is his faith. The Tsar's family was killed precisely as the Tsar's family. No demands were made upon them to renounce their faith. Moreover, even if we could imagine such a rather ignoble picture, that they should have renounced their Faith, nevertheless it would not have altered their fate. Thus their death cannot be called [martyrdom]. Especially since even the people who killed them were sufficiently secularized in their world-view and perceived them, above all else, as a symbol of Imperial Russia, which they hated. For them it wasn't a matter of the faith of the Imperial Family. Although, of course, all of these people were of an anti-Christian mind. Yet at the same time, the circumstances of their death organically link the Imperial family precisely with that marvelous type of sanctity which appeared first of all in the Russian Church. The first Russian saints, glorified in Constantinople, were princes — the passion-bearers Boris and Gleb, who were glorified as no one had been before them. Among our slain sovereigns, there can be mustered a veritable array of passion-bearer princes — for example, Michael of Chernigov and Michael of Tver. And later, even the Tsarevich Dmitry.

     * Again, a rather narrow definition of martyrdom. The lives of the saints are replete with cases where renunciation of Christ was not even a consideration. For example, many martyrs died to preserve their chastity.

     Royal sanctity seems to have ceased among us with the canonization of the passion-bearer Tsarevich Dmitry at the end of the sixteenth century. And it turns out that the last ruling Orthodox sovereign in Russia is found to have been murdered in the same manner as were murdered many sovereigns and passion-bearers. We did not begin artificially to think up a basis for declaring their end to have been martyric. What happened, happened. We proceeded from actual circumstances, from actual facts.

Did the Commission decisively reject the version that this was a ritual murder?

     Concerning that question, the Commission turned directly to the Moscow Theological Academy. There this circumstance was submitted to the evaluation of experts. The representatives of the Academy came to the conclusion that there is no basis whatsoever for seeing the elements of a ritual murder in the death of the Imperial Family.

     Half of the text of the Life is dedicated to the last year of the life of the Imperial Family, i.e., the time they spent in captivity. Precisely their spiritual transfiguration while awaiting death, their hoping on the aid of God, their unwillingness to offer resistance (as would have been only human), their capacity to forgive their would-be murderers, those who were holding them in captivity — all this is striking in its astonishing similarity to the lives of passion-bearers of previous centuries.

Did the Commission consider it necessary not to take into account the often-heard accusations against Nicholas II for political errors which brought about the death of a great number of people, and in the end led to the fall of the Russian Empire?

     First of all, one should not link the fall of the Russian Empire to the activities of a single sovereign. Great empires cannot be destroyed by the acts of one concrete person. As any other government figure, as any other monarch, the Tsar, naturally, was forced to take various measures to fulfill his civil and state duties. There's no such thing as a sinless sovereign. Elements of a mistaken policy can be found in the actions of Boris and Gleb, too — instead of resisting the usurper Svyatopolk, they surrendered themselves into his hands.

     I would like to emphasize that the Commission did not attempt to retouch the statesmanship or ecclesiastical policy of Emperor Nicholas II. We did seek to debunk many of the stereotypes, since his image had been sufficiently demonized in the previous Marxist-Leninist pseudoscientific historical tradition. But at the same time, the shortcomings in his statesmanship and ecclesiastical policy were noted, and, in particular, it was even emphasized that precisely his end as a passion-bearer, and not his statesmanship or ecclesiastical policy, gives us grounds for raising the question of the glorification of the Imperial Family. This was definitely emphasized. In our account of the life of Nicholas II, his statesmanship and ecclesiastical policy are given a rather laconic and reserved evaluation. We do not idealize the Tsar. Saints are not sinless. And in the policies of the Emperor, there were not a few shortcomings.

Fr. George, you said that several locally venerated saints will be canonized. In particular, is the question being raised of the canonization of the Blessed Matrona who is venerated in Moscow?

     I am not able to say anything about that because, to begin with, the glorification of Blessed Matrona was initiated by the Moscow Commission for Glorification of Saints, which also received for this the blessing of His Holiness the Patriarch.* I had in mind above all else the New Martyrs. Those who are now venerated locally will be glorified also as saints for general veneration.

     * Blessed Matrona (Nikonova, 1952) of Moscow, was glorified on May 2, 1999. The service was conducted by Patriarch Alexis II himself. Aliksei Makarin (Segodnia, May 11, 1999) furnishes some revealing details: "The Synodal Commission for the Glorification of Saints, by direction of His Holiness, spent more than one month [!] inquiring into the possibility of glorifying the righteous Matrona. Formidable passions swirled round her glorification, and no wonder. All sorts of things were said about Matrona, for example, that she spoke sympathetically about Stalin: ‘He loves Russia and put his whole spirit into the war.'"

     I would like to mention several amazing strugglers for piety who will be glorified, in particular Metropolitan Arsenius (Matseevich). He was starved to death in the eighteenth century. Further, the Starets Alexis (Mechev), who is much venerated in Moscow, will be glorified immediately as a saint for general veneration; the Starets and schema-monk Fr. Alexis (Soloviev), who drew the lot for the election of Patriarch Tikhon at the Local Council; and the most deeply venerated, not only in the Petersburg diocese, but throughout all Russia, Hieroschemamonk Starets Seraphim (Vyretsky). They, although they did not receive a [martyrdom], continued the service of eldership amidst the difficult conditions of persecution.

Do you not see a certain contradiction in the glorification at the same Sobor of Archbishop Arseny (Matseevich), who was tormented by the Romanov Dynasty, and the glorification of the last representative of that dynasty?

     It was precisely during the reign of the last representative, as you put it, of the ruling dynasty, Emperor Nicholas II, that the need to convene a Local Council of the Russian Church was acknowledged, that very Local Council for which Arseny (Matseevich) strove. The preparations for that Local Council had already been made at the pre-conciliar conference in 1906. And although during the reign of Emperor Nicholas II the Council was not convened, but was convened only after his abdication, it was precisely at that Council — the possibility of which the Emperor had acknowledged in principle, and the conditions for preparation of which he had created — that Metropolitan Arseny (Matseevich) was rehabilitated. He was released from all the ecclesiastical bans placed upon him, and he was reinstated in his hierarchal dignity.

The Council took place in the absence of the imperial regime.

     Yes, but one must bear in mind that Emperor Nicholas II was the first Russian emperor since Peter I who recognized the necessity of convening a council and gave his consent to the preparation for it as early as 1906.

     I would like to mention that the glorifications at this present Sobor are, of course, only the first stage in the glorification of the New Martyrs. There were indeed tens, hundreds of thousands of them, maybe even millions, if you consider the multitude of laymen. We conducted this work very slowly, striving not to permit any serious errors, and thus far, thank God, we have not had any, although we are often reproached for working so slowly. But it is precisely this unprecedented experience of the phenomenon of New Martyrs which the Church has gone through in the twentieth century, that truly opens a new page in the history of the Glorification of saints in the Russian Church.

Let's be more precise. The Church had two "wings" which arose after the Revolution, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, which was founded, in particular, by Metropolitan Antony(Khrapovitsky), and the Moscow Patriarchate. ROCA has glorified the New Martyrs. In the given instance, we could say that the Moscow Patriarchate is following in the footsteps of ROCA, which, in a freer society, was able to glorify the New Martyrs a long time ago. Does it not seem to you that the presence of mutual saints of the two Churches could at last lay the beginning of a certain fruitful dialogue between the Moscow Patriarchate and her "branch" abroad?

     We would like it to be so, and in that regard we strive to do everything so that such a dialogue should be started up. As a matter of fact, it is taking place on the level of individual bishops, of individual clergy of the Church Abroad. They are quite positively disposed towards the Moscow Patriarchate. But, as long as Metropolitan Vitaly is at the head of their church hierarchy, even glorifications such as these will not bring about cardinal changes in the official policy of the Synod Abroad toward the Moscow Patriarchate.


The Holy Fathers Speak

Saint John Chrysostom on Martyrdom:

. . . . Other sacrifices also there are, which are indeed whole burnt-offerings, the bodies of the martyrs: there both soul and body [are offered]. These have a great savor of a sweet smell. Thou also art able, if thou wilt, to bring such a sacrifice.

     For what, if thou dost not burn thy body in the fire? Yet in a different fire thou canst; for instance, in that of voluntary poverty, in that of affliction. For to have it in one's power to spend one's days in luxury and expense, and yet to take up a life of toil and bitterness, and to mortify the body, is not this a whole burnt-offering? Mortify thy body, and crucify it, and thou shalt thyself also receive the crown of this martyrdom. For what in the other case the sword accomplishes, that in this case let a willing mind effect. Let not the love of wealth burn, or possess you, but let this unreasonable appetite itself be consumed and quenched by the fire of the Spirit; let it be cut in pieces by the sword of the Spirit.

     This is an excellent sacrifice, needing no priest but him who brings it. This is an excellent sacrifice, performed indeed below, but forthwith taken up on high. Do we not wonder that of old time fire came down and consumed it all? It is possible now also that fire may come down far more wonderful than that, and consume all the presented offerings: may rather, not consume, but bear them up to heaven. For it does not reduce them to ashes, but offers them as gifts to God. . . .

     "But what can we do," you say, "to obtain the enjoyment of life?" Listen to the Judge Himself conversing with a certain young man on the subject. When the latter asked: "What shall I do to obtain eternal life?" Christ after mentioning to him the other commandments, ended with the love of his neighbor. And perhaps some of my listeners, like that rich young man, will say: "We also have kept these, for we have not stolen, we have not committed murder, we have not committed adultery." However, you will not be able to say this, also: that you have loved your neighbor as you ought. For, if a man has been envious, or has spoken slander, or has not helped one who wronged him, or has not shared his possessions, he has not loved his neighbor.

Saint Athanasius on Saint Antony's Desire for Martyrdom:

. . . . After this the Church was seized by the persecution which then (a.d. 303–311) took place under Maximus, and when the holy martyrs were led to Alexandria, Antony also followed, leaving his cell, and saying, Let us go too, that if called, we may contend or behold them that are contending. And he longed to suffer.martyrdom, but not being willing to give himself up, he ministered to the confessors in the mines and in the prisons.

     And he was very zealous in the judgment hall to stir up to readiness those who were summoned when in their contest, while those who were being martyred he received and brought on their way until they were perfected. The judge, therefore, beholding the fearlessness of Antony and his companions, and their zeal in this matter, commanded that no monk should appear in the judgment hall, nor remain at all in the city. So all the rest thought it good to hide themselves that day, but Antony gave so little heed to the command that he washed his garment, and stood all the next day on a raised place before them, and appeared in his best before the governor.

     Therefore, when all the rest wondered at this, and the governor saw and passed by with his array, he stood fearlessly, showing the readiness of us Christians. For, as I said before, he prayed himself to be a martyr, wherefore he seemed as one grieved that he had not borne his witness. But the Lord was keeping him for our profit and that of others, that he should become a teacher to many of the discipline which he had learned from the Scriptures. For many only beholding his manner of life were eager to be imitators of his ways. So he again ministered as usual to the confessors, and as though he were their fellow captive he labored in his ministry.

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem on Baptism by Blood:

If a man receive not baptism, he has not salvation; excepting only the martyrs, even who without the water receive the kingdom. For when the Savior was ransoming the world through the Cross, and was pierced in the side, He gave forth blood and water, that some in times of peace should be baptized in water; others in time of persecution, in their own blood.

— Saint John Chrysostom


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