In addition, one of the most revered of Russia's saints, Seraphim of
Sarov, was glorified by the Church during the reign of this pious Tsar in
1903, at his insistence. At this time, Nicholas was made aware of the future apostasy and downfall of the Russian nation and Church through a prophetic letter written by St. Seraphim himself. The saint had, shortly before his death in 1833, written this letter, sealed it with five wax seals and addressed it "to the Tsar in whose reign I shall be glorified". He then gave it to Elena Motovilov, the young wife of N.I. Motovilov, who is now well-known for recording his conversation with the saint about the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. She kept that letter for seventy years and gave it to the Tsar at the glorification ceremony. While the exact contents are today unknown, it is nevertheless certain that St. Seraphim prepared Nicholas for the coming tribulations. Furthermore, on the return trip from Sarov, the Royal Family visited St. Seraphim's Diveyevo Convent where Blessed Pasha (Parasceva) the Fool-for-Christ spoke to them several hours; it is said that she foretold to them their own martyrdom as well as that of Holy Russia.
It is said that the Empress was near to fainting and said:
"I don't believe you, it cannot be!"
Now this was one year before the birth of the heir to the throne and
they very much wanted an heir. So Blessed Pasha got up from her bed with a piece of red material and said:
"This is for some little trousers for your son, and when he is born,you will believe what I have been telling you."
They left her cell pale and shaken but resolute - they would accept with faith whatever God had prepared for them, esteeming the incorruptible crown of martyrdom higher than corruptible earthly crowns; electing to accept the cup of suffering offered to them by God Almighty, that by drinking of it they might offer themselves up as a sacrifice for their people.
During his reign the Tsar sought the advice of Blessed Pasha on all serious questions. He used to send the Great Princes to her, and according to her cell-attendant, Eudocia Ivanovna, one would no sooner depart than another arrived. After the death of Blessed Pasha's cell-attendant, Matushka Seraphima (Bulgakova), they would put all their questions to her through Eudocia Ivanovna, who relates that she once said:
"Your Majesty, come down from the throne yourself!"
Not long before her death in August, 1915, Blessed Pasha was continually making prostrations to the ground in front of the portrait of the Tsar. When she was worn out, her cell-attendants lifted her up.
"Mamashenka, why are you praying to the Tsar?"
"Stupid, he will be higher than all the tsars."
There were two portraits of the Tsar: one of him with the Tsaritsa and the other of him alone. But she kept prostrating to the one of him alone.
Again she said about him:
"I don't know, a monk saint, perhaps a martyr!"
Being a peace-maker by nature, the young tsar made an unprecedented suggestion to the world early in his reign - that all nations come together and meet in order to cut their military forces and submit to general arbitration on international disputes.
The result of his proposal, the Hague Peace Conference, was convenedon May 18, 1899, and served as the precedent for the later League of Nationsand United Nations. In 1921, the American President, Warren Harding, officially acknowledged the Tsar's noble efforts towards the limitation of armamentsby way of binding agreements among the Powers.
The Tsar was unparalleled in Russian history for his mercifulness. He pardoned criminals, even revolutionaries, and gave away vast quantities of his own land and money to alleviate the plight of the peasants. It is believed that he gave away the last of his personal wealth during the Great War, to support the war effort. Even as a child he often wore patched clothing while spending his personal allowance to help poor students to pay for their tuition.
The Emperor took great interest in the strivings of the people for a
better life. He changed the passport system introduced by Peter I and thus facilitated the free movement of the people, including travel abroad. The
poll tax was abolished and a voluntary programme of hospitalisation insurance was introduced, under which, for a payment of one rouble per year, a person was entitled to free hospitalisation. The parity of the rouble was increased greatly on the international markets during his reign.
In 1897, a law was enacted to limit work hours; night work was forbidden for women and minors under seventeen years of age, and this at a time when the majority of the countries in the West had almost no labour legislation at all. As William Taft commented in 1913, "the Russian Emperor has enacted labour legislation which not a single democratic state could boast of".
On January 6, 1903, at the feast of the Blessing of the Water at the
Winter Palace, during the salute of the guns of the Peter and Paul fortress, one of the guns was loaded with grape-shot, and the grape-shot struck the
windows of the palace. Part fell near the procession where the clergy andthe emperor's and empress' suite was. The calmness of the emperor's reaction was so striking that it drew the attention of the members of his suite. He didn't move a hair and only asked:
"Who commanded the battery?"
And when they gave the name, he said with evident sympathy:
"Ach, poor (so-and-so), how sorry I am for him!"
They asked the emperor what effect this incident had had on him. He replied
"I fear nothing until 1918..."
The emperor forgave the commander of the battery and the officer who ordered the shooting because by the mercy of God there had been no serious injuries. Only one policeman had been very slightly wounded. His name was- Romanov...
Dominic Lieven writes: "Between 1895 and 1901 the Empress had given birth to four daughters: Olga, Tatiana, Marie and Anastasia. The four little girls were beautiful, healthy and lively children who were greatly loved by their parents. Nicholas was a fine father and the family circle was full of love, warmth and trust. If the Emperor had a favourite it was probably Tatiana, whose personality came closest to that of her mother. Olga, his eldest daughter, was the most thoughtful, sensitive and intelligent of the four. Marie, the third, with huge grey eyes and a warm-hearted, simple, friendly manner, was always the easiest to get on with at first acquaintance. Anastasia, born in 1901, was notorious as the family's comedian. Under Russian law, however, no woman could inherit the crown. Had Nicholas died before 1904, the throne would have gone to his kind-hearted but weak-willed younger brother, the Grand Duke Michael. Since Michael was a bachelor in 1904 an subsequently contracted an illegal and morganatic marriage, the Romanov inheritance would then have passed to a younger brother of Alexander III,the Grand Duke Vladimir, and his descendants. Tension and mutual dislike between the 'Vladimir branch' and the imperial couple were never far below the surface in the twentieth century. Much therefore hung on the life of the little boy born in August, 1904. All the more horrifying was the discovery that the child had haemophilia.
"In the Edwardian era there was no treatment for haemophilia and little way of alleviating the terrible pain it periodically caused. The chances were against a haemophiliac living into middle age, let alone being able to pursue a normal life. For any parents who loved their children as intensely as the imperial couple did, the physical and emotional strain of a haemophiliac son was bound to be great. In the case of Nicholas and Alexandra, however, matters were made worse by the fact that it was considered unthinkable to admit that the future autocrat of all the Russias was incurably ill and quite possibly doomed to an early death. The natural sympathy and understanding which might have flowed to the parents had therefore to be foregone. Moreover, however harrowing one of Aleksei's periodic illnesses might be,a monarch - let alone a Russian autocrat - had always to keep up appearances. It says something for Nicholas's extraordinary self-control that, adoring Aleksei as he did, he nevertheless never let the mask slip. As Alexandra herself once wrote to him, 'you will always keep a cheery face and carry all hidden inside.'
"Inevitably, however, it was the mother who bore the greater burden during her son's illnesses, not to mention the incessant worry even when he was relatively healthy. Nor could she escape the guilt born of the knowledge that she was the cause of her son's suffering and of the extra burden of worry about his dynasty's future which had been placed on her husband's shoulders. Physically frail and always very highly strung, the Empress poured her last drop of energy into watching over her son and nursing him duringhis attacks... The effort cost the Empress dear. She was often too ill and exhausted to play the role of a monarch's consort, incurring great odium as a result. Moreover, the strain of Alexis' illness pushed his mother close to nervous collapse. As the Grand Duchess Olga commented, 'the birth of a son, which should have been the happiest event in the lives of Nicky and Alicky, became their heaviest cross.'"
Shortly after the birth of Alexis, according to the Procurator Lukyanov, the Tsar went to the metropolitan of St. Petersburg and asked for his blessing that he abdicate from the throne and become a monk. But the metropolitan refused to bless this.
The tragedy of Alexis' haemophilia was followed by a succession of other tragedies, even a small number of which would have broken a lesser man. But for the Tsar they only served to further refine the nobility of his soul.
First there was the disastrous war with Japan of 1904-05 during which most of the Russian fleet was lost. At this time also, sensing public disappointment with the defeat, the nihilistic enemies of Christ seized the moment and instigated mutinies, strikes, riots and assassinations. Here was a whole class of society who were, in the words of St. Paul, "... lovers of theirown selves, boasters, proud, blasphemous, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those who are good, traitors, heady, highminded..." (II Timothy 3.2-4).
The last great prophet of Holy Russia, St. John of Kronstadt, who clearly foresaw the approaching catastrophe, repeatedly exhorted his countrymen to repent and return to their former piety and support the God-anointed ruler or face untold disaster, both here and in the world to come.
In 1905 St. John said: "We have a Tsar of righteous and pious life. God has sent a heavy cross of sufferings to him as to His chosen one and beloved child, as the seer of the destinies of God said: 'Whom I love, those I reproach and punish' (Rev. 3.19). If there is no repentance in the Russian people, the end of the world is near. God will remove from it the pious Tsar and send a whip in the person of impure, cruel, self-called rulers, who will drench the whole land in blood and tears."
Although the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05 was a bloody failure, the
Tsar refused to allow the official record to whitewash anything. He said:
"The work must be based exclusively on the bare facts... We have nothing to silence, since more blood has been shed than necessary.... Heroism is worthy to be noted on an equal footing with failures. It is, without exception, necessary to aim at recording the historic truth inviolably."
The year 1905 was to be a "rehearsal" for the bloody events which took place twelve years later. Encouraged by Lenin and Trotsky, a campaign of disorders was begun all over the Empire. Many high government officials were murdered in the streets, among whom, in 1905 was Nicholas' cousin, the Grand Duke Sergius, husband of the Empress' sister, Grand Duchess Elizabeth.
The Tsar supported the restoration of canonical order and the patriarchate in the Russian Church. Once, at the pre-conciliar assembly convened in 1906, when the bishops were discussing these issues, he asked
them whether they had a candidate for the patriarchate. When they said no, he offered himself as a candidate. The bishops were shocked and refused his offer. The Tsar, being a humble man, never brought this subject up again.
On one occasion, the emperor was talking about the sufferings that lay ahead of him with his prime minister at the time, Peter Arkadyevich Stolypin.
"It was not for nothing," he said, "that I was born on the day of Job the Much-Suffering."
And on other occasions he said:
"I have more than a presentiment that I am destined for terrible trials, and that I shall not be rewarded for them on this earth... Nothing that I have undertaken succeeds for me; I have no successes. Man's will is so weak... How many times have I applied to myself the words of the holy Job, 'For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me.'"
Once, having prayed a little before an important decision, the emperor said to Stolypin:
"Perhaps an atoning sacrifice is necessary for the salvation of Russia. I shall be that sacrifice. May the will of God be done!"
Stolypin later recalled: "He made this triumphant declaration to me in the simplest, calmest and most even voice. There was a strange mixture inhis voice, and especially in his look, of decisiveness and meekness, at the same time unshakeable and passive, unclear and well-defined; as if he was expressing, not his own will, but was rather bowing to some external power - the majesty of Providence."
After the disturbances of 1905-06, Russian entered into a period of great prosperity. With the wise and dynamic assistance of Stolypin, Tsar Nicholas led the nation through a time of such growth - agricultural, economic, educational and industrial - that had the first World War not occurred, Russia would have undoubtedly become the leading nation of the world.
But the Tsar never pursued industrial growth at the expense of his people. In 1908 he was presented with a huge plan for industrialisation which demanded far more money than was available. The Tsar replied:
"Peter I had little money and so he used forced labour and this costhim the lives of a million of his subjects... the realisation of this project would cost between 10 and 15 millions of the premature deaths of my subjects... I cannot in conscience sacrifice millions of my subjects, and therefore we must endure (without industrialisation)."
When he was advised that the success of future wars depended upon industrialisation, he replied:
"We will hope in God. If the war is short, we will win, but if it is long, then such is our fate."
Again, the head of the police promised the Tsar that there would be no revolution in Russia for a hundred years if the Tsar would permit 50,000 executions. The Tsar quickly refused this terrible proposal. After the revolution, however, the Bolsheviks thought nothing of butchering many millions of people for acts of "civil disobedience".
The Tsar tried to heal the revolutionary illness with mercy and forgiveness. One student was sentenced to death, but on the eve of the execution, his fianc=E9e petitioned the Tsar for a commutation. The Tsar was reached by having his personal attendant call him from his bedroom. He received the petition and sent off a telegram commuting the sentence. He praised the attendant for his daring and even had the student sent to theCrimea for treatment of his tuberculosis.
The Tsar was always careful not to be vindictive, saying:
"Irritation solves nothing, and besides, a sharp word from me would sound more offensive than from anyone else."
In 1911, during the performance of an opera in Kiev, at which the Tsar was also present, Stolypin was assassinated. Before he fell to the ground, he turned to his sovereign in the balcony and, blessing him with the sign ofthe Cross, said:
"May God save him!"
The Tsar made many pilgrimages, and was a staunch supporter of the schools operated by the Church. In 1912, there were 1,988,367 children in
these schools, in spite of a campaign by the Duma to close them. He also opened special industries for the city poor to help them earn their own living.
In 1914, Russia was forced to enter World War I. As Grand Duchess Elizabeth testified, the peace-loving Tsar did not want this war, but aggression against Orthodox Serbia by Germany left him no other honourable choice.
At the outbreak of the war, the Liturgy was celebrated in the Winter
Palace. The French Ambassador observed that "Nicholas II prayed with a holy fervour which gave his pale face a movingly mystical expression". The tsar's devotion to prayer was commented on by many; his private car included a "veritable chapel", and he never missed a service while in army headquarters.
As soon as the war broke out, the Empress and the four Grand Duchesses (Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia) became nurses; and hospitals were opened at Tsarskoye Selo, near the family's residence, where wounded soldiers were brought. They worked long hours, diligently and tirelessly following the commandment of Christ to visit the sick, since "inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me" (Matthew 25.30). Anna Vyrubova, the Empress' closest friend, wrote: "I have personally seen the Empress of Russia in the operating room, assisting in the most difficult operations, taking from the hands of the busy surgeon amputated legs and arms, removing bloody and even vermin-ridden field dressings." Vyrubova says that she was a "born nurse", who "from her earliest accession took an interest in hospitals, in nursing, quite foreign to native Russian ideas. She not only visited the sick herself, in hospitals, in homes, butshe enormously increased the efficiency of the hospital system in Russia. Outof her own private funds the Empress founded and supported two excellent schools for training nurses, especially in the care of children."
When the war broke out, the Tsar ordered that all the money deposited in Britain be returned to Russia. The British did not want to comply. The Tsar then called a conference of bankers and merchants of the highest rank. Heput 92 million roubles on the table and asked them voluntarily "to give moneyfor the military victory of which the Russian people will be proud." The merchants and bankers refused to give any money. But the Tsar expended the whole of his fortune on the war effort.
At first the war went well, and the country was united heart, soul and body in patriotic fervour behind their Tsar. But soon, due to poor communications, low-level mismanagement and subversive treachery, problems arose in supplying the armed forces with ammunition and food. The army began to suffer defeats, and many men were killed. It was at this crucial time that the Bolsheviks, fuelled by German money, went to work spreading discord among the troops and at home.
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