Category Archives: Ekaterinburg

1917-2017: On the Holy Relics of the Imperial Family and Their Faithful Servants

Foreword

I write as a priest who has served the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia in Paris, Lisbon and England, who loves the Russian Orthodox Tradition, and as a monarchist who hopes for justice through the restoration of Tsardom in Russia. Since the 1970s I have venerated the saint-loving St John of Shanghai, founding the first church in Western Europe dedicated to him after his canonization. I have also always venerated the other saints of the Church Outside Russia, like St Seraphim of Sofia, and our founding bishops, all of whom revered the Tsar-Martyr. Part of my veneration also comes from the fact that the internationally-minded Tsar was a forward-looking missionary, building seventeen magnificent churches precisely in Western Europe for the Orthodox faithful, and looking after Orthodox on three continents.

Like all his followers, the Tsar-loving St John of Shanghai was opposed not only by liberals, ecumenists and modernists, who despised, compromised or had entirely lost the Faith, but also by narrow, Old Believer-type nationalists, some of whom put him on trial in San Francisco. In general, it can be said that attitudes to St John, as to the Tsar, are litmus papers that tell us of love for the Church or, on the other hand, contempt for the Church. I have now been asked what I think of the remains disinterred near Ekaterinburg in 1991 and claimed to be those of five members of the Tsar’s Family and their four servants. With my great-grandfather born in the same year as the Tsar-Martyr and myself born on 19 July, the day of the final disposal of the remains of the Imperial Martyrs, my eagerness to see truth and justice before I die is also personal.

How My Views Were Formed

I was brought up surrounded by the blasphemous Western propaganda which asserts that the last Christian Emperor, the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II, was a weak-willed, decadent, incompetent reactionary, who was controlled by others, did not care about his people, and in general ‘got what he deserved’. Significantly, in those Cold War times, this propaganda was more or less identical to Soviet propaganda. This indicated that Western materialism and Soviet materialism were essentially the same. I disbelieved all such propaganda, sensing that it was lies with ulterior, power-grabbing motives, but I lacked arguments to counter it. In the 1960s I neither mastered Russian, nor had access to the often obscure émigré publications about the world-changing overthrow of the Tsar which told the truth. So I waited to discover more.

From the mid-1970s onwards I came to discover émigrés, truly White ones, all of whose words and writings have been confirmed by historians and researchers in the new, post-Soviet Russia, where truth is valued by many, even though a legitimate Tsar has not yet been restored. I understood that the Tsar had fallen victim, not to old-fashioned Marxists, but to an elitist conspiracy of aristocrats, generals and Duma masons, strongly backed by the Western Powers, supposed ‘Allies’. After very careful examination of the evidence over decades, I also came personally to venerate those around the Royal Martyrs. These included the much-slandered St Maria of Helsinki (Anna Vyrubova) and the Martyr Gregory (Rasputin), to whom I composed an akathist in English, published last year on the centenary of his martyrdom.

As a priest I met the last émigrés both in the Church Outside Russia and those in breakaway groups, like that in Paris. I was acquainted with many of the last exiled representatives of the Tsar’s Russia to have been adults before the Revolution. I knew both sides of the emigration. Some were truly White, patriots who honoured the Tsar, both when he was alive and afterwards. With others, it was the opposite, they simply wanted their money, estates and lost power back. They had little love for the Church, Russia or its people, contemptuously calling them ‘Soviets’, and many of them were compromised by sympathy for Hitler or by working for spy agencies, whether in Britain, France, Canada or the USA. They would never accept the miraculous 2007 act of repentance between the Patriarchate and the Church Outside Russia.

There was something rotten in parts of the emigration. It may be called ‘Paris-ism’. The aristocratic émigrés who confessed this ideology and who often lived in Paris had inverted the Imperial Christian motto of ‘Orthodoxy, Sovereignty and the People’, ‘the Faith, the Tsar and Rus’. They had abandoned the Russian Orthodox Church, were anti-Tsar and anti-people (by being anti-Rasputin – his great grand-daughter is still alive, despised by them, in Paris). It was precisely the Rus-hating oligarchic aristocracy, greedy for power, which had overthrown the Tsar. Those so-called ‘White’ émigrés, in fact not White at all, had carried out the February Revolution that had led directly to the Red Revolution of October. The noble Tsar, forced into abdication, had stood above them all, rejecting the bloodshed of civil war among his beloved peoples.

In the 1990s, amid the political manipulations of the shameful, anti-Russian, US-backed Yeltsin and his corrupt regime, like most other Orthodox I had not been convinced of the authenticity of the Ekaterinburg remains. I distrusted the political appointee investigator of the 1990s, V.N. Solovyov, a disrespectful non-Churchman. There were far too many contradictions and inconsistencies in the results, not least in the DNA results. Nothing was satisfying. In any case two of the eleven skeletons of the Imperial Family and their servants were still missing. Then, in 2007, the remains of two skeletons were found. One of our hierarchs, Bishop, now Archbishop, Agapit of Stuttgart, became convinced of the authenticity of the remains, which for him had become holy relics. For my part I awaited the results of a Church investigation with an open mind.

I wanted the list of questions about the remains submitted by the Church to be answered. At last, the much trusted Bishop Tikhon (Shevkunov) was put in charge of a new, Church-led investigation, to be published in this centenary year of the so-called ‘Russian Revolutions’ of 1917. On 3 July 2017 a first interview was published with Professor V.L. Popov, once a sceptic, confirming that the remains were authentic (http://www.pravoslavie.ru/104826.html). It seemed that Nikolai Sokolov, the White Army’s investigator into the Imperial Martyrs, had been mistaken in his report, which had been rushed, through no fault of his own. Not a chemist, he had thought the Martyrs’ bodies had been destroyed by fire and acid and so had not followed his investigation by digging at Porosenkov Log. My view of what had happened has become clear (1).

Afterword

With the results now appearing and publication of the vital DNA results eagerly awaited, it seems that the story has become clear. The remains entombed in the Sts Peter and Paul Cathedral and those of Sts Alexei and Maria kept in store are authentic and so must be enshrined. The great Church-on-the-Blood that stands on the site of the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg will continue to be a place of veneration. The shrine and the seven churches at Ganina Yama will remain as the first place where the martyrs’ relics were taken. However, at Porosenkov Log, a great new Cathedral has to be built, a Cathedral of Reparation for the greatest crime of the age, a twelve-domed Cathedral dedicated to the seven Royal Martyrs and their four martyred servants, who joined Christ. Building can begin on the centenary of their martyrdom, in 2018.

This is called on to become a great centre of pilgrimage, the third and final destination for the faithful after Ekaterinburg and Ganina Yama. The holy relics can there be enshrined for the veneration of pilgrims from all over the world. We have no doubt that then, once the relics are properly enshrined and honoured, long-awaited miracles will begin. Tiny fragments of the relics may be distributed elsewhere, especially in Saint Petersburg, but the place where their relics were finally buried is to become a centre of worldwide repentance for all, Russians and Non-Russians alike, who committed ‘treason, cowardice and deceit’ against the Faith, the Tsar and Rus. Only then can the injustice committed 100 years ago be paid for and humanity, descended since the Pigs’ Ravine to the level of the Gergesene swine, turn back from the brink.

1. What Happened

The seven Royal Martyrs and their four servants were horribly and brutally martyred in the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg, in the Urals between Europe and Asia, in the darkness just after midnight on 17 July 1918. Their bodies were taken some nine miles north by lorry to marshy ground called Ganina Yama (Gabriel’s Hole). Here, the lorry bogged down, the bodies were laid on the grass, stripped, burned, dumped into a supposed mineshaft and sprinkled with sulphuric acid.

We now know that only then was it discovered that the supposed mineshaft was quite shallow, only some three metres deep. The exhausted murderers learned of deeper mines west of Ekaterinburg, some four miles away. They obtained barrels of petrol, kerosene, sulphuric acid and firewood and returned at about 4.00 am on 18 July. They hauled the corpses out of the shaft and loaded them back onto the lorry, awaiting final disposal in the new location under cover of night.

In the early morning of 19 July, the lorry transporting the bodies again got stuck in mud on the Koptyaki Road near a place called Porosenkov Log (Pigs’ Ravine). The exhausted murderers decided to bury them here. They dug a shallow grave, doused the bodies in sulphuric acid again, smashed their faces with rifle butts and buried nine of them, covering them with quicklime, hoping to prevent identification, and placed railway sleepers over the grave so as to disguise their crime.

In an attempt to confuse anyone who might discover the first grave with only nine, and not eleven, bodies (the confusion caused was for long successful), the murderers had separated the bodies of the Tsarevich Alexei and one of his sisters from the nine others. These were to be buried about fifteen metres (fifty feet) away. These two bodies were also burned, their remaining bones smashed and then they were thrown into a smaller pit. The burial was completed at 6.00 am on 19 July.

After Ekaterinburg was liberated by the White Army on 25 July, a Commission was established under a legal investigator called Nikolai Sokolov. He discovered a number of the Romanovs’ belongings in and around Ganina Yama where the bodies had first been buried. However, not a chemist, he wrongly concluded that the bodies had been utterly destroyed (an impossibility) in a bonfire there with petrol and sulphuric acid. He had failed to find the real burial place on the Koptyaki Road.

The return of Bolshevik forces in July 1919 forced the conscientious Sokolov to leave in haste, his enquiry incomplete, taking only the box containing the items that he had recovered. His preliminary report was published that same year. On 30-31 May 1979, after years of research, a local amateur and a film-maker located the grave. They removed three skulls but, worried about the consequences of finding the grave, they reburied them. Only on 10 April 1989 was the find publicly revealed.

As a result, all the remains were disinterred in 1991 by Soviet officials in a hasty ‘official exhumation’ that destroyed precious evidence. In February 1998 the Yeltsin regime (twenty-one years before, Yeltsin had been responsible for destroying the Ipatiev House) decided to reinter the remains in the Sts Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg. Although they were interred here in July 1998, their identity had still not been authenticated beyond doubt, leaving many questions unanswered.

On 29 July 2007 amateur investigators found the small pit containing the remains of Alexei and his sister, located not far from the main grave on the Koptyaki Road. Although criminal investigators and geneticists initially identified them as Alexei and Maria, they were stored pending a decision from the Russian Orthodox Church, which had requested a thorough and detailed authentication to eliminate all doubts. This has only recently been allowed and the results, positive, are now being published.