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“A tsar glorified by God”
Voluntary martyrdom
“Surrounded by treason, and cowardice, and deceit”
Coronation of Tsar Nicolas II: not only the Khodynka tragedy
Tsar Nicholas II did not abdicate the throne
Crown Jewels: The Royal Children-Martyrs
Tsar-Martyr Nicholas
Not Abdication of the Tsar, but Abdication from the Tsar
Tsar-Martyr Paul I
Royal Martyr Prince Vladimir Paley
The Baptism of Russia
Penitence for the Tsar
The Holy Royal Martyrs in the Light of History and God’s Providence
Miracles of the Royal Martyrs
Russia's destinies
Two Great Nicholases

Imperial eagle.

not only the Khodynka tragedy

 The ceremony of the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II took place on May 14, 1896 (old style).  The meaning of this event is much more profound than simply a tribute to tradition.  Alas, in the minds of subsequent generations it was overshadowed by the Khodynka catastrophe.  But still: what is meant by anointment to reign?  Is it only a rite confirming the already existing fact of a new Sovereign’s ascension to the throne?  What did it mean for Tsar Nicholas II?  What did the Khodynka tragedy signify within the perspective of the next, the 20th century?

 The subject of anointment to reign demands a serious and thoughtful approach.  This especially pertains to the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II, who, as is obvious in hindsight, was at that same time anointed for his forthcoming martyrdom.  But no sooner does one start thinking of the anointing of our last Tsar that the mind, apparently filled with compassion for our fallen compatriots, forces us to think of the catastrophe.  Yet it is impossible to disregard a tragedy that took the lives of more than a thousand-and-a-half people.  It took place on the fourth day after the coronation, was, as we shall see, the result of brief madness on the part of the crowd and, according to Abbot Seraphim (Kuznetsov), presaged a loss of consciousness that caused us, after 1917, to “trample” upon one another not only in thousands, but in millions.  However, we may add, just as the revolution and civil war in the 20th century, which overshadowed the reign of Tsar Nicholas II, did not cancel out his reign, so the Khodynka catastrophe did not cancel out the coronation ceremony and its main component: the anointing of the Sovereign.

 The Tsar arrived in Moscow on his birthday, May 6th (old style), and stopped at the Peter Palace, which at that time stood on the outskirts of the capital.  On May 9th the Tsar ceremoniously entered Moscow.  The Royal couple settled at the Alexander Palace and prepared for communion all the days remaining before the coronation.  The day of May 14, 1896 arrived, and the Tsar and the Empress were met on the portico of the Dormition Cathedral by the clergy.  Metropolitan Sergius of Moscow, having blessed the Tsar and the Empress, addressed the Sovereign with a speech which, traditionally, was not only welcoming, but also instructive.  He said: “Thou art entering this ancient and holy temple in order to lay upon thyself a kingly crown and to accept sacred anointment … All Orthodox Christians receive anointment, but it is never repeated.  If thou art due to receive a new imprint of this sacrament, then it is only because just as there is nothing higher on earth than kingly power, so is there nothing more difficult, there is no burden more difficult than kingly service.  Through visible anointment may thou be granted invisible power, coming from above and illuminating thy monarchical work for the good and happiness of thy loyal subjects.”

 The Tsar and the Empress kissed the cross and were sprinkled with holy water, after which they entered the Cathedral accompanied by the singing of the 101st psalm, in which is heard a ruler’s confession of the ideal of integrity: “…a froward heart shall depart from me; whoso privily slandereth his neighbor, him will I cut off; I will not know a wicked person.”  The Tsar and the Empress then knelt before the royal doors, kissed the miraculous icons, and sat down on the thrones that were prepared for them in the middle of the Cathedral.  The rite of coronation began from the moment the primate, Metropolitan Palladius of Saint Petersburg, approached the royal throne and asked the Sovereign about his profession of faith.  In response the Emperor pronounced the words of the Orthodox Creed in a clear and loud voice.

 One of the most important moments of the coronation is the Metropolitan’s cruciform placement of his hands on the Tsar’s head and his proffering of a prayer to the Lord “to anoint the Tsar with the chrism of joy, to vest him in strength from above, … to give the scepter of salvation into his hand, to set him on the throne of truth…”.  After this prayer the Sovereign took the crown that was brought to him on a pillow by the Metropolitan and, in accordance with the rite, placed it on his head himself, then took a smaller crown and placed it on the head of the Empress, who knelt before him.  Having confessed his faith and accepted the burden of rule, the Tsar knelt down and, holding the crown in his hand, offered the coronation prayer to God.

 After the rite of Coronation followed the Divine liturgy.  At the end of it, right before communion, the Tsar and the Empress were anointed.  The repetition of this sacred action, which in principle must not be repeated, imparted a special status to the Tsar, a special charisma: the Tsar now seemed to belong to another, higher sphere of existence, and his judiciary authority now turned into charismatic authority.



 According to protopriest Maxim Kozlov, “the meaning of this sacred rite lay in the fact that the Tsar was being blessed by God not only as the head of a government or civil administration, but primarily as the bearer of theocratic service, of church service, as God’s vicar on earth.”  Moreover, the Tsar was responsible for the spiritual state of all his subjects.  Protopriest Maxim Kozlov also reminds us of the teaching of the holy hierarch Philaret of Moscow on the subject of royal power, and on the right attitude of all Orthodox subjects towards it; he reminds us of the hierarch’s words: “A people that venerates the Tsar thereby pleases God, for the Tsar is a dispensation from God.”  Protopriest Kozlov goes on to say: “According to the teaching of hierarch Philaret, the Tsar is the bearer of God’s power, the power which, as it exists on earth, is a reflection of God’s celestial, all-sovereign power.  An earthly kingdom is the image and threshold of the Heavenly Kingdom and, therefore, it follows from this teaching that only that earthly society is blessed and contains within it the seed of God’s grace, spiritualizing and sanctifying this society, which has as its head the supreme bearer of power – the anointed Tsar.”

 After the service in the Dormition Cathedral was over, the coronation procession began, which included the Tsar and the Empress visiting the sacred icons of the Archangels Cathedral and the Annunciation Cathedral.  Finally the royal personages ascended the Red Porch and bowed thrice to the people: before them, to the right, and to the left.




 Nowadays Tsar Nicholas is usually regarded as “a good man” with the addition of “but.”  This “but” may be followed by his being blamed for all our 20th century woes, or perhaps not; in any case, however, the following is understood: “a good man, but an incompetent ruler.”  His successes, which were acknowledged even by his enemies, are now glossed over, while there is no thought for his sense of responsibility, which is considered to be self-evident.  At the same time, in terms of responsibility Tsar Nicholas II may be regarded as a model Sovereign.  It was well-known that he did not make any decision without checking it against Divine law, and he never went against his conscience.  According to currently emerging testimonials, even his so-called “abdication” was not real, but provoked or even fabricated.  Moreover, none of his actions were a manifestation of the notorious “weakness” that is ascribed to him even to this day, but rather a demonstration of strong will.

 And now let us turn to the events on the Khodynka field on May 18, 1896.  From early morning and even from nighttime a huge number of people had gathered here: more than half-a-million people, waiting for the distribution of royal gifts.  Up until 6:00 in the morning everything was absolutely peaceful.  Around 6:00 a rumor suddenly spread that there would not be enough gifts for everyone, that the concessioners were supposedly stockpiling reserve supplies for themselves… Then, according to an eyewitness, “the crown sprang up as one man and rushed forward so precipitously, as though it were pursued by fire… The back rows pressed upon the front ones, and whoever fell was trampled upon, with people losing the ability to feel that they were treading over still living bodies as though over stones or logs.  The catastrophe lasted only 10-15 minutes.  When the crowd reeled back to its senses, it was already too late.”

 The coronation of the Tsar Alexander III took place thirteen years before the coronation of his son, and now they prepared for the festivities on the Khodynka field just as they had then, not expecting such an influx of people.  The organization of such a mass measure undoubtedly left much to be desired.  But when one reads the description above, one gets the impression that no measures could have saved from such madness.  Like a hundred or fifty years ago, to this day there are people who with great pathos blame the Governor-General of Moscow, the Grand Duke Serge Aleksandrovich, although officially he was in no way responsible for the organization of the festivities at Khodynka field.  A.N. Bokhanov’s book Nicholas II describes in detail the intrigues that were spun in the House of the Romanovs around the name of the Grand Duke, who had many enemies among “his own,” and it was they who ordered the indicated pathos.

 In the “canonical” list of accusations against Tsar Nicholas II the tragedy on the Khodynka field occupies perhaps not the most significant place, but a quite definite one.  The Tsar was accused and continues to be accused of heartlessness: he supposedly did not refuse to attend a ball at the French Ambassador’s, etc.  Let us again cite A.N. Bokhanov, who very clearly explains the impossibility for the Sovereign to refuse the French party’s invitation.  An official individual is always a helpless hostage to etiquette and protocol.  It is well-known that after May 18th ceremonious measures were curtailed; however, the calumny regarding the Tsar’s heartlessness continues to be amazingly tenacious.

 The Tsar ordered 1,000 rubles (a very considerable sum in those days) to be given to each family of a person who died or was wounded on Khodynka field.  Together with the Empress he visited in the Moscow hospitals those who were wounded during the tragedy.  They were also visited by the Dowager Empress Maria Fedorovna.  A.N. Bokhanov cites her letter to her son George, written during those days: “I was extremely upset at seeing in the hospital all these poor wounded and semi-crushed people, and almost each one of them had lost a family member.  It was absolutely heart-wrenching.  But at the same time they were so sensible and dignified in their simplicity that they caused a desire to get down on one’s knees before them.  They were so moving, not blaming anyone except themselves.  They said that they themselves were to blame, and that they regretted having upset the Tsar by this!  They were as dignified as always, and one can take pride in realizing that one belongs to such a great and wonderful people.  Other classes should follow their example, instead of devouring one another and, most of all, with their cruelty inciting people’s minds to such a state as I have never yet seen in all my 30 years in Russia.”  A remarkable testimonial!  Alas, the “incitement of minds” would only continue to grow and in only one direction: the depletion of the traditional for Russia love for the Tsar and the acquisition of a “right to dishonor,” in the words of Dostoyevsky.

 But at the same time we already had an anointed one and, moreover, an anointed one who “would endure to the end” and would become a holy intercessor for his obdurate people before God.  And thus took place his union with us – through the “nuptial ties” of martyrdom.

Andrey Manovtsev

(Reprinted from the site for May 26, 2011)

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