01 January 2001

From the Head of the Russian Imperial House, H.I.H. Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna: An Entry in the Commemorative Book Gatherer of the Russian Church, Published on the 40th Anniversary of the Ordination to the Episcopacy of His Holiness, Aleksei II, Pat

From the Head of the Russian Imperial House, H.I.H. Grand Duchess Maria Wladimirovna: An Entry in the Commemorative Book Gatherer of the Russian Church, Published on the 40th Anniversary of the Ordination to the Episcopacy of His Holiness, Aleksei II, Patriarch of Moscow and of All Russia

The Russian monarchical tradition is inseparably linked with the Orthodox Faith and, in fact, is inconceivable without it. The tsars and emperors of Our House could not confess any other Faith except Orthodoxy, and were called Christian Sovereigns and Supreme Defenders and Preservers of the doctrines of Orthodoxy—the guardians of faith and morals. There were, to be sure, moments of tension in the history of the relations between the Church and the Dynasty, but all my predecessors unwaveringly remained faithful sons and daughters of the Orthodox Church. Even so, there probably has never before been an occasion for the Head of the Dynasty to share her thoughts of the First Hierarch of the Orthodox Church with her fellow believers. I am delighted to be able to do this in connection with the 40th anniversary of the ordination to the episcopacy of His Holiness, Aleksei II, patriarch of Moscow and all Russia.

During the entire period of the exile of the Imperial House, our family never separated itself from the Mother-Church in the Motherland. At those moments of even the most exacerbated inter-jurisdictional disputes abroad, both my grandfather, Emperor Kirill Wladimirovich, and my father, Grand Duke Wladimir Kirillovich, were absolutely certain that sooner or later the Church in Russia would free itself from the chains of the godless powers, and at that time, whatever transgressions, committed in knowledge or in ignorance, of the Church’s hierarchs against the Martyr-Church, the Russian Church Abroad would have to respond to these new, positive developments. In 1938, not long before his death, my grandfather addressed the Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, affirming that “We all know that the Orthodox Faith has not dried up in Rus’, but rather has been purified and strengthened. This remarkable fact heralds the pledge of the salvation of Russia and the obvious operation of the mercifully right hand of the Lord. […] Russian history tells us that we cannot find a common language without turning to the historic Leader and Gatherer of the fate of Russia: the Orthodox Church. To It we should again return and in Its bosom again find ourselves.” Unfortunately, this call was not heeded by the clergy of the Church Abroad. And if, nonetheless, there actually existed at that time serious reasons that prevented unity, then in our day the unwillingness to reconcile can only be explained by spiritual blindness. In the last years of his life, my father had to endure not a little spiritual suffering on account of the lack of order in the Church Abroad. However, he firmly walked once and for all on his chosen path, rejecting all attempts to hinder the Imperial House from again finding unity with the Orthodox people in Russia.

The long-awaited return of our Dynasty to the Motherland and the establishment fully of relations with the spiritual leader of the Russian Orthodox Church coincided in time with the reign of Patriarch Aleksei II. Before relating the recollections that stand out most in my mind about my relationship with him, I think it necessary first to note what in my view is most important about the ministry of His Holiness.

The situation in which the Russian Orthodox Church found itself in the late 1980s and early 1990s—when Patriarch Aleksei II took over the helm—was in essence entirely unique. Once when I was a student at Oxford, I read a book someone gave me about Patriarch Sergii, and his words after the publication of the decree on freedom of conscience issued in 1905 have stuck in my memory. I cannot vouch for the exactness of the citation, but the sense of the homily amounted to this: that it falls now upon the Church alone to defend the Orthodox Faith, without the support of the state, to which the clergy have become accustomed over the centuries; and that in these conditions, the shepherds of the Church especially must display not the outward forms of virtue, but an inner enthusiasm, sacrifice, and courage.

However difficult these changes were to the Church in 1905, it’s impossible to compare them with what transpired still later. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Church in fact stood face to face with the enemies of Orthodoxy, but nevertheless It was strong, behind It stood the Orthodox autocratic state, its monasteries and churches, all accumulated over the centuries and all at its disposal. Then the revolution of 1917 and brutal persecution followed. During World War II, the state found it necessary to end its undisguised terroristic policies toward the Church, but the price for this was the establishment of the godless state’s total control over all aspects of Church life. In 1918, the Church was not only separated from the State, it lost all its legal rights; however, the state, which had declared as one of its goals the destruction of faith in God, was not in fact separate from the Church, but intruded in significant ways into the innermost areas of Its activities. More than one generation of clergy and faithful grew up in these circumstances. The situation was not normal and was very onerous for the faithful, but many did get used to it: restrictions on sermons in the few churches remaining open, prohibitions on the teaching of the Orthodox catechism, prohibitions on charity work and other traditional and essential activities of the Orthodox Church, the lack of opportunities to develop the necessary skills and experience for altar servers and priests. Then, suddenly, the Communist regime faltered and fell. At the same time, the entire system of Church-State relations that had been established came crashing down. The principle of separation of Church and State stopped being a mere fiction. The Russian Orthodox Church, on the one hand, found independence, but on the other, struggled with the same problems that it encountered in 1905. But now, these struggles were encountered after having endured 70 years of devastation. To embark upon the enlightenment of the people, the struggle with the expansion of heterodox and oppressive sects, to rebuild and reopen monasteries and churches—in other words, to embark upon resolving the most fundamental issues facing the Church—had to be accomplished starting practically from zero. And it is precisely at this moment that Patriarch Aleksei II found himself the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church.

If we were to make a historical analogy, Patriarch Aleksei II could be compared to Patriarch Filaret, the memory of whom we hold dear not only because he is our direct ancestor but also because it fell upon him to bring about the rebirth of Church life after the Russian revolution of the seventeenth century: the Time of Troubles. In the same way, it has fallen on Patriarch Aleksei II to work to reorganize the Church after even more difficult and bloody revolutionary years of evil during the twentieth century. Of course, it is not for us living now to decide whose Cross was heavier: the patriarchs of the times of persecution or of present times. But with confidence I can affirm that Patriarch Aleksei must decide questions that are on a level and scale significantly more complex than faced his predecessors, all the more so since he must make his decisions independently, recognizing that, in the event he should make a mistake, he will not be able to use outside interference as an excuse any more, or that there were persecutions or meddling by the atheist political authorities. This truly colossal burden our patriarch carries with dignity and confidence, giving new life to and adopting all that is best from what the Leaders of the Russian Church have bequeathed over its thousand years of existence.

My father very much wanted to relate to His Holiness his thoughts about the current situation and the future of the Church. The possibility to do this presented itself rather quickly, when the attempted pro-Communist coup in August 1991 led to the final collapse of the regime. For the first time in many decades, the Head of the Russian Imperial Dynasty could visit his Fatherland. While preparing for the trip, my father did not consider his meeting with the patriarch to be the main event of his visit. It became such on account of an unpleasant event on the part of some of the bishops of the Church Abroad. The Synod of the Bishops of the Church Abroad had sent a delegation to Paris headed by Archbishop Antony of Los Angeles with the goal of persuading my father not to go to Russia. My father had already made the decision to go, but it was morally very difficult for him to stand up to the unexpected admonitions not to go from the archbishop, a man who for many years was a faithful friend of our family, loyal to the teachings of the Church on monarchical power and to the obligations of a loyal subject. My mother, Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna, was a great help to her husband and sovereign, my father, in dealing with this moral dilemma. On 5 November 1991, my mother and father, along with a small entourage, arrived by plane in St. Petersburg. On the following day, they for the first time met and had a long conversation with Patriarch Aleksei at the St. John-Ryl’skii Convent on the Karpovka, founded by St. John of Kronstadt, the great Russian pastor who was close to the Imperial Family, and in whose arms died Emperor Aleksander II, the Peace-Maker. In the evening of that same day, my mother and father prayed at a moleben, served by the partriarch himself, at St. Isaac’s Cathedral on the occasion of the changing of the name of the historic capital of the Russian Empire back to St. Petersburg.

In May, 1992, we planned to bring the entire family to Moscow. But during Holy Week, on 21 April, the Lord called my father back home to Him. We wanted to fulfill my father’s wish and bury him in his native land, in our family vaults at the Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral. Patriarch Aleksei was a great help to us in this matter, personally leading the burial service in St. Isaac’s Cathedral and delivering a touching funerary homily at the grave site. For the first time in more than 300 years, the final journey of a Russian tsar was led by a Russian patriarch!

His Holiness offered his support to us in those sorrowful days with his prayers and kind words. It is precisely in these important moments that one especially clearly feels how much the sense of unity with the Mother-Church means for Orthodox Christians. The patriarch did everything so that we felt this unity in full measure.

During subsequent visits, we almost always met Patriarch Aleksei. My mother, who has made more trips to Russia than I, has been able to meet with His Holiness more often than I. But I have always been part of their conversations and I have always been touched by the warmth and care that Patriarch Aleksei has shown to our family, and by his understanding of the mission that has been given us by God.

In 1997, my son Grand Duke Georgii Mikhailovich turned 16 years old. According to our family laws, this is the age of dynastic majority for the heir, an occasion which should be marked by a ceremonial oath of allegiance to the Fatherland and to the Head of the Imperial Dynasty. For obvious reasons, we wanted the oath to be taken in Russia, at the Ipat’evskii Monastery in Kostroma, where once the Russian people had summoned to the throne the first ruler of the House of Romanoff. Unfortunately, certain people appeared who, with ill intentions and misrepresenting our purpose, unleashed a campaign against the dynasty in the media and attributed to us a kind of plot to establish the monarchy without regard for the will of the people. While considering how to respond to these false charges, we, naturally, turned to the patriarch for advice. In his letter to us, His Holiness advised us not to make the trip to Russia and to conduct the ceremony abroad, in a place of historical significance commensurate with the importance of this ceremony. I will not fail to admit the fact that these lines were difficult to read. But we understood that, in giving this advice, the patriarch was not guided by trepidation, but by his heartfelt feelings for us. He did not want the tsesarevich’s holy oath to be marred by political games, which have nothing to do either with our intentions or with the fundamental relationship of the people with the Romanoff Dynasty. We followed the patriarch’s advice, and the Lord helped us arrange a ceremony such as we at the beginning could never have conceived possible. Indeed, a providential confluence of circumstances brought us to the Holy Land in April, 1998, where the Grand Duke’s oath was taken by His Beatitude Patriarch Diodor of Jerusalem. This was a unique event in the history of our dynasty: my son took the oath in the place where the Savior taught, suffered, died on the Cross, and was raised from the dead. And for this we are greatly indebted to Patriarch Aleksei, whose wise and considered opinion helped us to make the right decision and to enjoy a great spiritual gift.

Also in 1998, the epic tale of the remains found near Ekaterinburg was finally brought to a conclusion. Over the course of several years, the government commission that was tasked with identifying the remains assured us that it was acting in full agreement with the Church and with His Holiness personally. Our support for the activities of this commission on an international level was dependent on that assurance. However, at the beginning of 1998 it became evident that the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church was not satisfied by the answers to important questions posed to the commission. This was quite surprising to us. We very much wanted to believe that, at the end of the day, all of the remains actually belonged to the Royal Martyrs, and that on the threshold of their canonization, the faithful would have the chance to venerate their relics. The majority of those around us tried to convince us to support the commission and to take part in the ceremonies, organized by the government, even independent of the views of the Synod. Some others, obviously not openly but privately, held the view that the objections of the Church were the result of the incompetence of the bishops, of their distrust of science, and their obscurantism. From loyal people in Russia we received reliable information as well, but any doubts fully disappeared after my mother, who had arrived in Moscow in May, 1998, on Victory Day, met with His Holiness, who answered all her questions and explained that there were sufficient reasons to prevent the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church from participating in the burial of the remains. We entirely supported His Holiness. On 17 July, by invitation from His Holiness, we came to Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Monastery and prayed at the liturgy in memory of the Royal Martyrs and all New Martyrs of Russia. Since then, specialists in political science have asserted that we made a mistake. But we not only do not regret our decision, but, quite the contrary, are proud that, on the day of the 80th anniversary of the regicide, we were with our people and with our patriarch at the monastery, and not at the social gala event that had been arranged in St. Petersburg.

I would also like to discuss the role of Patriarch Aleksei’s opinion in the two years since the canonization of the Royal Martyrs. It is no secret that there were many opponents to this canonization, both on the political Left and on the Right. One person might be irritated by the very fact of the canonization of Emperor Nicholas II, another person might consider him a political failure who was responsible for the revolution. In these circumstances, any pressure could produce an escalation of the disputes and result in opposition to the canonization, similar to the way the situation developed over the question of the authenticity of the Ekaterinburg remains. In an atmosphere of conflict, it is easy to imagine how the canonization could be deemed untimely and be postponed for an undetermined period of time.

There was, to be sure, opposition to the canonization, but, on the other hand, there was widespread veneration for the Royal Martyrs, as well. In our family, Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Aleksandra, their children and their loyal servants always were accepted as holy martyrs. The first step in their glorification as saints was taken by my grandfather, who in 1929, on the anniversary of their martyrdom, called for a Day of National Sorrow and Penance. In 1981, we took part in the canonization of the Royal Family by the Church Abroad, though my father and mother and I understood even then that this was an interim act—profoundly important, but merely preliminary to the all-church glorification that would have to come later.

We always expected that canonization would one day happen. We knew that His Holiness also venerated the Royal Martyrs and hoped for their canonization to take place soon. But he placed not the slightest pressure on the Commission on Canonizations, relegating the decision of the matter to the Fullness of the Russian Church. Everyone knew the patriarch’s position on the matter, but no one could reproach him for using the weight of his ecclesiastical administrative authority to influence the decision. And so the canonization, long-awaited by so many millions of the faithful, took place in a spirit of love and concord, to the joy of the entire Orthodox world. And for this, Patriarch Aleksei II deserves the credit.

Patriarch Aleksei II leads the Russian Orthodox Church as an experienced pilot of the ship entrusted to him by God, through the choppy waves of modern life. We are grateful to him that, despite the burdensome legacy of the revolutionary era and every possible new temptation that makes itself felt, the Orthodox Faith in Russia is shielded not only from ruinous modernism, but also from the equally destructive influences of obscurantism. In the realm of Church-State relations, His Holiness maintains a genuinely Orthodox perspective, never expressing his displeasure, but at the necessary moment displaying resolve in the defense of the Church’s interests. We see how high his authority is, not only for the children of the Church, but also among the heterodox and among those of our countrymen who have not yet returned to the Faith.

Patriarch Aleksei II of Moscow and all Russia has already accomplished a great deal for Orthodoxy, and his name will forever be written in the history of the Orthodox Church. I, my august mother, Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna, and my son, Grand Duke Georgii Mikhailovich, offer heartfelt prayers that the Lord will send down to our patriarch health and many years of life for the good of his all-Russian flock. 

From Gatherer of the Russian Church, ed. Archbishop Vladimir of Tashkent and Central Asia (Moscow: Krasnaia ploshchad’ [Red Square], 2001), 363-69.

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