(A talk given by priest Andrew Phillips after the Divine Liturgy on the day of commemoration of the Holy Royal Martyrs, 4/17 July 2005, in London)
This very day, 87 years ago, the Russian Royal Family and their servants met martyrs’ deaths. If the world is still here in 2018, perhaps all of us present here will be alive for the centenary of their martyrdom. As I look around, I see Romanians, English, Ukrainians, French, Bulgarians, and, of course, Russians. Although only a minority of us is Russian, and the vast majority of us are under fifty, since we are all Orthodox, we have all been profoundly affected by the martyrdom of 4 July 1918.
We have come a long way since the glorification of the New Martyrs and Confessors by our Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, nearly 25 years ago. At that time this mystical act was mocked by the rest of the world (including certain supposed Orthodox) as some political act to be scorned and condemned. Today in Russia, icons of the Royal Martyrs are commonplace, the faithful name their children after the members of the Imperial Family, churches are dedicated to them, the site of their martyrdom has become a place of pilgrimage, and Orthodox radio and television stations preach on the significance of these tragic events.
There are historians who consider that the martyred Tsar was a poor ruler; others consider him to have been one of the best of rulers. I do not wish to talk about this; my business is not politics, although I do know that Tsar Nicholas II was much slandered. Let us leave politics to academicians. The last Russian Tsar and his family are not holy confessors, but holy martyrs. In other words, all the human errors and sins they had committed in their lives (and only One is without sin, Christ our God) were washed away by the blood of martyrdom. Moreover, in case some should confuse politics with the Orthodox faith, in human, legal, and political terms the New Martyr Nicholas was not the Tsar of Russia at the time of his martyrdom: he had abdicated over a year before this, in the noble, if mistaken, hope of avoiding bloodshed. Of course, spiritually and mystically, Nicholas was still Tsar, for he had been anointed Emperor, receiving the sacrament of God’s Anointed.
Let us avoid politics and keep to facts:
We know that Tsar Nicholas and his family were very pious. He was probably the most pious of all the Russian Emperors since the 17th century. Certainly it was he who ordered the glorification of St. Seraphim of Sarov and several other saints, despite the opposition of even some bishops.
We know that he loved peace. Hence his moves in 1898-1899 to convene the Hague Peace Conference in Holland, establishing conventions whereby nations which were in dispute could negotiate, avoiding bloodshed. This conference was at the root of the League of Nations and later the United Nations.
Finally, we know that when the Austrians, pushed by Berlin, which was very anxious to conquer France according to long-held plans, finally began World War I, Tsar Nicholas’s motives in responding were noble. First of all, he sought to protect the Serbs, the Galicians, and the Carpatho-Russians from Austro-Hungarian persecution. Secondly, he sought to push the Turks out of the territory that they occupied, and still occupy, in Eastern Europe and in the Holy Land. The aims of the Crimean War, which had, ironically, been frustrated 60 years earlier by the new Russian allies, the British and the French, would now be realized. Thus, after over 450 years, Russia would at last liberate Constantinople and the Greeks of Asia Minor, allowing the restoration of the East Roman Empire and also freeing Jerusalem. Finally, Tsar Nicholas hoped to relieve the Armenians from Turkish oppression, opening up the Middle East for its Christian peoples.
Alas, none of this happened and, as we know, Russia fell. Russian military reverses began only a few months after the war broke out in August 1914. The first non-Russian victims were the Armenians, one million of whom were massacred in the terrible Turkish genocide in 1915, which occurred exactly 90 years ago. However, all the nations who conspired to bring about the Russian Revolution, directly or indirectly, then suffered for it.
The Austro-Hungarians lost their Empire. The Habsburgs, terrible oppressors of the Orthodox, were deposed. The final Austrian humiliation was to be invaded by Nazi Germany – becoming through the Anschluss a German colony, ironically, under the leadership of an insane Austrian called Hitler. As regards Hungary, it was to become a small and impoverished nation-state, with a much reduced territory.
The Germany of Kaiser Wilhelm, humiliated and deposed, disappeared into anarchy and humiliation. World War II was born directly out of the first debacle of Germany, bringing yet another terrible punishment on the German people.
The Jews, who formed the core of the Bolsheviks and who had largely financed the Russian Revolution from New York, also suffered. Not only were the Jewish Bolsheviks to be massacred by Stalin, but at least one million Jews, who had once lived relatively well in Tsarist Russia, were massacred by Hitler.
By 1917, the allies of Russia, France and Great Britain, who had at first disloyally welcomed the Revolution, and for whom so many Russian soldiers had died, were faced with defeat by Kaiser Wilhelm’s reinvigorated Germany. Great Britain had gone bankrupt and was forced into signing the Balfour Declaration, in order to borrow money from Jewish financiers to continue the war against a Germany now fighting on only one front after the fall of Russia. The Balfour Declaration was to establish the State of Israel and begin the Near East problem, causing a strong grudge on the part of the illegally-dispossessed Palestinians and unleashing Islamic fundamentalism, which to this day haunts the entire world.
Even the Balfour Declaration was not to be enough. France and Great Britain and their colonial Empires were so exhausted by World War I that they were obliged to call on the USA to save them. It was the end of European world domination, the end of European colonial Empires, and the beginning of a world dominated by the USA. Indeed, a generation later, the same USA had to be called on by Western Europe yet again, in order to save it from its latest bout of insanity: World War II.
The USA, keen to see American-style democracy in Russia, therefore encouraged the Revolution. It soon regretted it, having created for itself the Soviet enemy. Thus, there later began a Cold War lasting some 45 years, during which the world cowered from the threat of a nuclear holocaust.
As for the other inhabitants of Imperial Russia, at first many, like the Ukrainians or the Latvians, welcomed the Revolution, but these minorities were soon to regret it. The Latvians suffered, first from Hitler and then from Stalin. Ukraine was depopulated by the terrible artificial famine of Stalin, in which 20th century Europeans were reduced to cannibalism. However, few suffered as much as the Poles. Having re-established Poland, they began oppressing the minority peoples in the new Poland, having learnt nothing from their own sufferings. Notably, after the Russian Revolution, the Polish State dynamited some 400 Orthodox churches before their own nemesis came, in 1939, in the shape of Hitler from the west and Stalin from the east. For the Poles, World War II was to end as it had begun, occupied and ravaged by a murderous dictator.
As regards the liberals and freemasons who had fomented the Revolution of February 1917 and forced the Tsar to abdicate, they, too, were punished. By November 1917 they were being forced into exile. The majority of the Orthodoxy-hating aristocracy and liberal intelligentsia, often with German names, went into exile, mainly in Paris, where their only comfort was the freemasons’ lodges they founded there.
The list of suffering resulting around the world from the Russian Revolution could continue, and we could speak of the Communist genocide in China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Cuba, Africa, and among all the other naïve victims of the Communist delusion around the world. The point is, however, that whatever the faults of Tsarist Russia, and there were many, they were as nothing when compared to the faults that were to follow under the satanic regimes of Lenin and Stalin and their followers. From this we can, at least, learn never to destroy something, if we do not first have something better to put in its place.
Recently, seeing the greatly humbled position of modern Russia on the world stage, President Putin suggested that the greatest catastrophe in the recent history of Russia was the fall of the Soviet Union. Had he extended his timeline, then surely he would have had to say that the greatest catastrophe ever in Russian history was the overthrow of Imperial Russia, which made the horrors and tragedies of the Russian Revolution, the Soviet Union, World War II, and all subsequent world events inevitable.
Some 75 years ago Metropolitan Antony, the great hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, wrote that the roots of the fall of Russia went back to 1666. It was then that the holy Russian Patriarch Nikon was deposed and already foretold the collapse of Russia as an Orthodox land. After this, there inevitably followed the complete abolition of the Russian Patriarchate by Peter I in 1721, and in 1797 the proclamation of the Emperor as the head of the Russian Church. The Church became a mere department of the State, as in the Protestant model – as indeed in the Soviet model. Quoting Genesis 6:3, which foretold the Flood, “And the Lord said: My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh, yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years,” Metropolitan Antony wrote of how 1917 was exactly 120 years after 1797. Thus, 120 years after 1797 there began the all-destructive Flood of 1917.
The tragedy of the Russian Royal Family was that they were to die not for their own human sins, but for the sins of their dynasty and all of Russia. They were in fact prisoners of a system, a system into which they were born, a system whereby the whole of the Russian Empire was governed not by a symphony of Church and State, but by the State and a decapitated Church. With the spiritual principle of the Church subverted, the Russian State was unbalanced, and sooner or later the Revolution had to happen. The State needed the Church, just as the Church needed the State.
In today’s Russia Communism no longer officially exists. We know, of course, that it continues to exist in the people’s mentality. In today’s Russia the putrefying corpse of Lenin still lies in the Red Square, organized crime and violence are widespread, and two million abortions occur every year. However, those émigrés who are still living in the Cold War past, believing that Russia has not changed at all in the last fifteen years, and demanding that Russia return to what it was before 1917, are wrong on both counts.
First of all, they are wrong because great changes have taken place in Russia in the last 15 years. 20,000 churches and 600 monasteries have opened. Here in the West, the only thing that is talked about in religious circles is the closure of churches and monasteries. And here I am not only talking about non-Orthodox. I have seen countless parishes of our Church die out and close, both in England and in France, as Russians are assimilated and refuse to do missionary work. For example, our church in London only exists today because of the presence of new Russian immigrants. During the period of stagnation in Soviet Russia in the 1970s, Solzhenitsyn said that when you are at the bottom, there is only one way to go – upwards. Today, Russia is going upwards, perhaps slowly, perhaps with great difficulty, but nobody ever said that repentance was easy.
Secondly, such nostalgic émigrés are wrong in wanting to return to pre-1917 Russia (which is impossible anyway), because if ever Russia is restored, it should not return to pre-1917 errors. And the main error was that its administrators, those who so often did not so much carry out the wishes of the Russian rulers as prevented them from being carried out, confused two things. They confused the narrow and provincial political interests of Russian nationalism with the calling of Orthodox Russia. And the calling of Orthodox Russia, as figures like Patriarch Nikon, Metropolitan Antony (Khrapovitsky), and the writer Dostoyevsky knew, was to protect and defend the Universal Orthodox Commonwealth. The pre-1917 Russia was to a certain extent not Orthodox at all. That is, after all, why the Revolution happened.
The Orthodox calling of Russia is what the noblest souls in Russia knew about before the Revolution. It is what the Tsar knew and reacted accordingly, once the Austrians had started the war in 1914. It is what pious Russian peasants knew when they went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It is what Orthodox Bulgaria knew, it is what Orthodox Carpatho-Russians in Czechoslovakia knew when they gave shelter to Russian refugees after 1917, it is what the Serbs knew when they began venerating the martyred Tsar as early as the 1930s. But the Westernized Russians – the apostate aristocrats, the liberal professors, – they did not know it, and so brought upon their heads their own misfortunes and the misfortune not only of all Russia, but of all Orthodox lands and peoples.
Without the support of a benign Orthodox Emperor, since 1917 the Russian Church has experienced Golgotha, as have the Georgian and Serbian Churches. Without the support of a benign Orthodox Emperor, since 1917 all the other Orthodox Churches, in Eastern Europe, in the Balkans, in Constantinople, and in the Middle East have been the victims of either Communist, Fascist, Muslim, or Masonic political regimes. And Orthodox minorities in Western countries, like ourselves, have suffered and suffer because we have no support, we sit and weep in our little churches as by the rivers of Babylon.
Let no one say that the events of 1917 and the martyrdom of the Russian Royal Family in 1918 only concern Russians: they concern all who are Orthodox. Some 25 years ago I remember a Russian friend visiting Moldova. There he spoke to an old peasant woman. On telling her that he was Russian but now lived in England because of the Revolution, the old woman crossed herself and said: “Ah, it was when they killed the Orthodox Tsar in Russia that all our troubles in Moldova began.”
Russia’s destinies? The world’s destinies!