After eight years of debate, which at times threatened to split the Russian Orthodox Church, the Council of Bishops yesterday unanimously approved the canonization of Czar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra and their five children—Alexei, Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia.The canonizations will take place on Sunday August 20, in Moscow's newly reconstructed Cathedral of Christ the Savior.In a bid to strip the issue of its political connotations, the Council of Bishops decided to canonize the imperial family under a special category—"passion-bearers"—in recognition of the humility with which they accepted death rather than the way in which the imperial family ruled Russia. Many Russians still take a dim view of Czar Nicholas, with some describing him as a weak and impressionable ruler whose ineptitude helped bring about the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. The council also decided to canonize almost 1,100 priests and lay people who were persecuted by the communists. Most of the new saints died in prisons and camps in the 1920s and 1930s. Along with the Romanov saints, they will constitute the Assembly of New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia. More names may be added later.As 146 bishops from across the former Soviet Union deliberated yesterday behind closed doors in a massive hall beneath the cathedral, a group of Ukrainian women gathered outside to pray for the canonization of the czar. The women held a copy of an icon of Nicholas, similar to one that is believed by some Christians to have brought about a string of miraculous healings in Russia and Ukraine earlier this year."At last, we live to see the day when people begin to revere our Father Czar," said Tamara, from Kiev, who declined to give her surname. The group of Ukrainians interrupted one another in their eagerness to describe to ENI the miracles they had experienced after praying for the czar's intervention. One woman said she had recovered from heart problems after praying before the icon, which she said gave off a sweet-smelling liquid, called "myrrh." Another woman said she saw the icon in a dream after confessing to the "sin" of being a communist.Russian church officials said that popular veneration of the czar, along with reports of healings, family reunifications and other "miraculous" events, had convinced the church hierarchy that the Romanovs should be made saints, even though until recently the issue had caused deep apprehension and doubt among the church's leaders.In a live interview with RTR television yesterday, one of the church's top officials, Metropolitan Kirill, said the situation had changed since three years ago, when the last gathering of the Council of Bishops decided to postpone a decision. "In 1997 there were big arguments, big discussions, and the political connotation became an integral part of the discussions," Metropolitan Kirill said. "Much has happened during these three years. We have received proof of their [the Romanovs'] sanctity, particularly through the many miracles that have been documented * Today the members of the Council of Bishops had no grounds for speaking against the canonizations.""In the last Russian Orthodox monarch and members of his family, we see people who sincerely aspired to manifest in their lives the commandments of the Gospels," the Council of Bishops said in its official statement yesterday. "In the suffering that the imperial family bore in captivity—with meekness, patience and humility—and in their death as martyrs in Yekaterinburg on the night of 17 July1918, the light of the Christian faith that vanquishes evil was manifested."Although the canonizations were expected, bishops remained reluctant to predict the outcome of the vote on the Romanovs even on Sunday August 13 as they gathered for their four-day meeting in the new cathedral's Hall of Church Councils. Sources in the Moscow Patriarchate told ENI that two icons had been commissioned for next Sunday's canonization service—one icon includes the imperial family among the new saints, the other omits them.In his report opening the council meeting on August 13, the church's head, Patriarch Alexei II, expressed no opinion on the Romanovs. "We know that there are various opinions in the church regarding the possibility of canonizing the imperial family," the patriarch said in his 50-page report on church life, which took him more than four hours to read to the council. "I would not impose my opinion on this subject on anyone. I suggest that we discuss it most thoroughly, and think how this difficult question should be submitted to God's will so that the discussion and the process of decision-making will not introduce dangerous divisions into our midst."Sergei Chapnin, editor of an Internet magazine Sobornost, told ENI that the canonization issue had been freed of much of its political wrapping thanks to eight years of debate, particularly about the authenticity of the remains—claimed to be of the Romanovs—which were unearthed near Yekaterinburg in 1991, and reburied in 1998 in St Petersburg's Cathedral of Peter and Paul. "Eight years appears to be a healthy period to get rid of the main stereotypes of political mythology that had grown up around this subject," Chapnin said. "What has remained is largely an ethical issue: how to meet adversity, how to meet death, how to treat your wife and children."Metropolitan Yuvenaly, who chairs the Moscow Patriarchate's Commission on Canonizations, said in his own report to the Council of Bishops yesterday August 14 that the honor given Nicholas and his family "in no way means a 'canonization' of the monarchy as a form of government."The church has in fact refused to accept DNA tests indicating that remains now buried in the St Petersburg Cathedral are indeed those of the Romanovs. Metropolitan Yuvenaly said in his report that since no new data emerged, the church's position had not changed.Metropolitan Yuvenaly said his commission had thoroughly examined the lives and deaths of 860 priests, monks and church workers—a fraction of the hundreds of thousands who died during Soviet persecution of the church. Another 230 Soviet-era martyrs who were previously recognized as saints at a local level have now been proclaimed as saints for the entire Russian church.The council also separately approved the canonization of another 57 martyrs from the 16th to the 20th centuries. This brings the total number of new saints for the 2,000th anniversary of Christianity to well over 1,100, many times greater than any previous mass canonization.A breakaway church, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, based in New York, canonized the imperial family and Russian martyrs from the Soviet era in 1981, an action which deepened its schism with the Moscow Patriarchate. Metropolitan Kirill said yesterday that he hoped the canonizations in Moscow would help heal the schism. However, hopes for re-unification are slim.The Council of Bishops has also approved an important document on relations with non-Orthodox churches. Details are expected to be released this week.
Copyright © 2000 ENI.See the Russian Orthodox Church's official Web site, which includes a news section. Sobernost's coverage of the canonization is available here.Coverage of the canonization in the mainstream press includes:Church Agrees to Canonize Nicholas II -- The Moscow TimesRomanov Family Given Sainthood -- St. Petersburg TimesNicholas II and Family Canonized for 'Passion' -- The New York TimesSainthood Granted to Last Czar and Family -- The Washington PostSainthood for last tsar -- BBC Tsar's sainthood: Sign of the times -- BBC Sainthood approved for Russia's last czar -- CNN Russia's last tsar canonised as an Orthodox martyr -- The Independent (UK) Tsar and family canonised -- The Telegraph (UK) Russia makes saints of its imperial martyrs -- The Guardian (UK) Russian Church Canonizes Czar -- Associated Press
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