The Russian Church ready to recognise the remains of the Tsar
by Vladimir Rozanskij

A synodal decision is still necessary. A way to establish continuity between Putin and the rulers. Tsar Nicholas and the relics of his lineage will be the invincible "spiritual weapon" of the Russians against all threats.



Moscow (AsiaNews) - With a statement from the Moscow patriarchate, an issue that has been dragging on since the end of the Soviet period ihas returned to the fore in Russia: the recognition of the mortal remains of the last Tsar Nicholas II and members of his family, found in mass graves in the woods near Ekaterinburg. The Bolsheviks had killed them on Lenin's orders in July 1918. The tsar was canonised in 2000 as a 'strastoterpets' martyr, the category of Russian 'political' martyrs who defended the Orthodox faith.

Since 1998, the presumed mortal remains of the tsar, his wife and five children, including 'Tsarevich' Alexis and his servants (including a Catholic doctor and a Protestant nanny) have rested in a special chapel. The chapel was inaugurated by the then president Boris Yeltsyn during the state funeral in the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in St Petersburg, next to the tombs of all the other tsars of the Romanov dynasty.

On 22 January, Metropolitan Ilarion (Alfeev) spoke on his weekly television programme "The Church and the World" on the Rossija-24 channel, declaring that "nothing now prevents the authenticity of the 'remains of Ekaterinburg' from being recognised, but for this to happen a synodal decision of the Church will be necessary". Since 1990, when the bones were found, there has been a long and controversial process of analysis and study, which has given rise to various discussions; President Putin has decided to leave the final word to the Orthodox Church.

Ilarion recalled that during last year's synod in June, the report of the chairman of the commission of enquiry had been heard, who had presented the bishops with the results of the investigation "in a convincing manner". The next synod was supposed to be held in November 2021, but the epidemiological situation forced the patriarchate to postpone it to May 2022; if there are no further postponements, the long-awaited official recognition can take place.

Ilarion went on to explain in that case 'the remains will become holy relics, and due veneration will be allowed'. The relics are now kept in the chapel in a simple sepulchral form, while with the recognition the relics would be exposed to the devotion, which is deeply felt in the Russian Orthodox tradition towards saints. For years, the main proponent of this solemn act has been Putin's 'spiritual father', Metropolitan Tikhon (Ševkunov), and many have attributed to his insistence a political and ideological significance, to establish continuity between Putin and the tsars.

Indeed, the discussion about imperial remains was also linked to the change of regime: the analyses made by Yeltsyn were not accepted, while those ordered under Putin are considered reliable, especially since Tikhon himself took the matter under his supervision in 2015, precisely in the neo-imperial phase of Putin's policy.

Solemnities are now expected not only in the capital, but also in Yekaterinburg on the Urals, at the shrine of Galina Jama erected on the site of Nicholas' martyrdom and where the faithful flock even in times of pandemic, despite prohibitions. The area has now been freed from the cumbersome figure of the denialist 'starets' Sergei Romanov, and a new monastery will soon be opened.

Tsar Nicholas and the relics of his lineage will thus be the invincible "spiritual weapon" of the Russians against every threat to Russia, external and internal, from East to West, exalting the "patriotic sacrifice" of those who found sanctity in defeat and humiliation.