The future martyr Nicholas (Johnson) was born in Russia in 1878, the brother of two elder sisters, Elisabeth and Anna. He was the son of Captain Nicholas A. Johnson, an English guard at the Imperial Court, and Loiuse (von) Kreisler Johnson, who was German and a music and singing teacher at Court. Widowed, she later married a Russian doctor, moved to England and is buried in Weybridge in Surrey, where she died in 1924.
Nicholas was given the name Brian at birth, but took his father’s name Nicholas when he was baptised in the Russian Orthodox Church on 28 September, probably in 1878. A shared love of music with the Anglophile Grand Duke Michael, the younger brother of Tsar Nicholas, who like Nicholas was also a graduate of the Mikhailovsky Artillery School, led to a deep friendship with him. Nicholas is recorded as having kept his British nationality and he was given the nickname ‘Johnny’. However, he spoke English with a Russian accent and made grammatical mistakes, unlike the Grand Duke, whose English was perfect, as was that of Tsar Nicholas himself.
Nicholas is described as being ‘round faced, not very tall, and speaking three languages’; indeed, he was much shorter than the tall, thin Grand Duke. He was sociable, smiling, an accomplished pianist and would accompany the very musical Grand Duke, who played several instruments, notably the guitar. In late 1912 the Grand Duke Michael chose Nicholas as his private secretary and there are several good photographs of him in the possession of his great-great nephew. He devoted himself to serving his master and even in the face of certain death his loyalty never wavered. Thus, after the Revolution, Grand Duke Michael pleaded with his faithful servant to flee to Britain, but Nicholas refused to leave his side.
Arrested at Gatchina outside St Petersburg on 7 March 1918, both were soon exiled to the city of Perm. On Ascension Day, 31 May/13 June 1918, they were shot by a bloodthirsty rabble, probably by order of Lenin. As Nicholas lay dying, the wounded Michael went to his aid, begging the execution squad: ‘Let me say goodbye to my friend’. Moments later, he too was dead, killed at point blank range in the head. Their remains have never been found. St Nicholas was canonised with the rest of the New Martyrs and Confessors in 1981 and is mentioned in the stichira at lauds in the service to the Royal Martyrs on 4/17 July
Now a new icon is to be painted of him. This is based on a newly-revealed (2014) photograph taken soon before 1917, which gives a new and more accurate likeness of the New Martyr Nicholas, notably without a moustache.