In 1915, tens of thousands of Serbs began to die after their forced march to the Albanian coast. Their allies looked upon them with indifference from their ships. The Tsar informed his allies by telegram that they must
immediately evacuate the Serbs, otherwise he would consider the fall of the Serbs as an act of the greatest immorality and he would withdraw from the
Alliance. This telegram brought prompt action, and dozens of Italian, French and English ships set about evacuating the dying army to Corfu.
Once, during manoeuvres, the Tsar and his suite were brought breakfast. However, when he discovered that nothing had been prepared for the soldiers who were holding his horses, he would not eat until all the soldiers had received their rations. He also showed great compassion for the wounded.
In 1915, the following event described by Count Sheremetiev took place when the Tsar and his family arrived in Sebastopol: "His Majesty, who loved to make long drives in the car in the environs of Sebastopol after breakfast, ... unexpectedly set off with the Empress to the monastery of St. George,
where he had been for short periods in earlier years, but where nobody expected him this time. The abbot and brotherhood were very surprised and delighted by the visit of their Majesties...
"We went into the church, and a moleben began. The harmonious voicesof the monks immediately changed in mood: it was as if we had come into a quiet bay after a storm. Everything was so prayerful, penetrating and quiet... Suddenly beyond the doors of the church, which were very small, there was an unusual sound, loud voices and a strange turmoil - in a word, something that did not correspond to the seriousness of the moment or the usual monastic order. His Majesty turned his head in surprise, knitted his brows in displeasure and sent to find out what had happened and from where this incomprehensible disturbance and whispering to each other was coming from. I went out of the church and learned the following from the monks who were standing there: in the rocks of the cliffs to the right and left there lived two schema-monks whom none of the monks had ever seen, and who were knownto be alive only from the fact that the food which was placed for them on the narrow path in the rocks would be taken by some invisible hand by morning...
"And then an improbable event took place which shook all the monks of the monastery: two elders in the clothing of schema-monks were quietly climbing the steep steps that led upwards from the direction of the sea. They could have known nothing about the arrival of his Majesty, for neither the abbot nor the brothers themselves, nobody knew about the visit of his Majesty, which had been decided on quite suddenly, at the last minute. That was what caused the disturbance among the brotherhood. I told his Majesty about this and saw that this event made an impression on him, but he said nothing and the moleben continued.
"When the moleben had come to an end, his Majesty and the Empress kissed the Cross, then chatted for a while with the abbot and came out of the church onto the square...
"There, at the point where the wooden staircase ended, stood the twoold elders. One had a long white beard, while the other had a short beard. When his Majesty came up to them, they both silently bowed to the earth before him. His Majesty was clearly embarrassed, but he said nothing and slowly bowed to them.
"... Now, after all that has happened, I wonder: did the schema-monks not foresee with their noetic eyes the destinies of Russia and the Royal Family, and did they not bowed down to the feet of his Majesty the Emperor Nicholas II as to the great sufferer of the Russian land?
"Living here, as a refuge, many years later, I heard from one reliable person that his Majesty himself told him that once, as he was standing onthe deck of the Standart, and passing by the monastery of St. George, he saw what seemed to be the figure of a monk in the rocks, continually blessing his Majesty as he was standing on the deck of the Standart with a large sign of the Cross, until the Standart disappeared from view."
In August, 1915, Igumen Seraphim (Putyatin) visited Blessed Pasha of Sarov. "In my presence the clairvoyant kissed the portraits of the Tsar and his family several times. She placed them together with the icons and prayed to them as to holy martyrs. Then she wept bitterly. I understood these allegorical acts only when there took place the great sorrows experiencedby the Tsar and his Family and linked with the war; for although they were not torn by grenades or wounded by lead bullets, their loving hearts were torn by the unprecedented sorrows and flowed with blood. They were truly bloodless martyrs. In the same way the Mother of God was not wounded by weapons of torture, but at the sight of the suffering of her Divine Son, as Righteous Simeon said, a sword pierced her heart. Then the eldress took little icons of the Mother of God of Loving Tenderness, in front of which St. Seraphim died, and blessed them from a distance for his Majesty and his Family. Then she gave them to me and asked me to send them to them. She blessed icons for his Majesty, her Majesty, the Tsarevich, the Great Princesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, Great Princess Elizabeth Fyodorovna and A.A. Vyrubova. I asked her to bless a little icon for Great Prince Nicholas Nikolayevich. She blessed one, but not of the Mother of God of Loving Tenderness, but of St. Seraphim. She blessed icons for nobody else, although I even asked her to bless some for some people. But my requests had no influence on her, for she acted independently..."
Once, in December, 1916, the Emperor and Empress went for the day with two of the Grand-Duchesses to Novgorod, where they visited some hospitalsand monasteries and attended the Liturgy in the cathedral of Saint Sophia. Before leaving, the Empress visited the Yuriev and Desyatina monasteries. In the latter there lived the eldress Maria Mikhailovna, who was according to different accounts 107 or 116 years old and who for many years had been lying on an iron bed in iron chains.
According to the Empress' own account in a letter to the Tsar: "She blessed and kissed us. She sends you an apple (perhaps you'll eat it). She said that the war will soon end - 'tell him that we've had enough.' To meshe said: 'As for you, beauty - a heavy cross - don't fear.' (She repeated this several times.) 'Because you came to us, two churches will be built in Russia (she repeated this twice) - don't forget us, come again.'"
According to another account, when the Empress came in, the eldress stretched out her withered hands to her and said:
"Here comes the martyr - the Tsaritsa Alexandra!"
She embraced her and blessed her. A few days later she died.
It has often been asserted that the Tsar was a weak-willed man who allowed himself to be ruled by his wife in matters of State, and, through
her, by the evil monk Rasputin. However, General A.I. Spiridonovich, having mentioned the empress' insistence on not trusting anybody but Rasputin, Vyrubova and Sablin, comments: "The Emperor understood all this well and very frequently acted against her advice, guided by his own experience. Sometimes his decisions coincided with the Empress' wishes. But to claim indiscriminately that the Emperor acted in state matters only according to the Empress' wishes is a great mistake. This means ignoring the facts as well as the character and principles of the Emperor. Emperor Nicholas was far from being as simple-minded and weak-willed as many thought."
As for Rasputin, Grand Duchess Olga writes: "Knowing Nicky as I did,I must insist that Rasputin had not a particle of influence over him. It was Nicky who eventually put a stop to Rasputin's visits to the palace. It was again Nicky who sent the man back to Siberia and that more than once. And
some of Nicky's letters to Alicky are proof enough of what he really thought of Rasputin's advice..."
The enemies accused the Empress of pro-German sympathies because of her German blood. But her letters demonstrate beyond a shadow of doubt that she was completely devoted to Russia. In any case, as the French ambassador pointed out, "her education, her intellectual formation and her morals were entirely English."
In May, 1917, a Sarov archimandrite, who was sorrowing over the fate of the Royal Family, fell asleep during prayer and saw a vision of the Family together with St. Seraphim. And the saint told him not to sorrow, that God would not forsake his chosen ones, and that He had sent him, Seraphim, to comfort the Royal sufferers in the hour of their trial.
"Do you see the radiant light come from the faces of the Royal sufferers? This is a sign that they are under the special protection of God, as being righteous ones... Look at the face of the Empress and you will see that the light coming from it is brighter than the others. This is a sign that she will suffer more slander than any from the followers of the world's slanderer."
There had been even earlier prophecies of the martyrdom of the Tsar and Holy Russia. Thus A.D. Khmelevsky writes: "[Towards the end of the eighteenth century] the clairvoyant monk Abel wrote a prophecy entitled 'On the destinies of the Russian realm' for the Emperor Paul I Petrovich which referred to his great-grandson, the Emperor Nicholas II. This prophecy was placed in an envelope and sealed with the personal seal of the Emperor Paul I and with an inscription in his own hand: 'To be opened by our successor on the one hundredth anniversary of my death.' The document was kept in a special room in the Gatchina palace. All the emperors knew about it, but none dared to oppose the will of their predecessor. On March 11, 1901, when 100 years had passed in accordance with the behest, the Emperor Nicholas II came to Gatchina palace with the minister of the court and members of his suite and, after a funeral service for the Emperor Paul, opened the packet and learned of his thorny destiny. The writer of these lines knew about this already in 1905.
"The Emperor Alexander I Pavlovich once visited the elder St. Seraphim of Sarov in his poor cell, and this is what the man of God foretold him:
"'There will a Tsar who will glorify me, after which there will be a great disturbance in Rus', and much blood will flow because they will rise up against this Tsar and the autocracy, but God will exalt the Tsar...'"
The Atoning Sacrifice
The enemies of Holy Russia knew well that the greatest unifying factors in Russia were the love of God and love for the Tsar, the visible symbol of the Orthodox Empire. By cutting off the head, they hoped to render the body powerless through fragmentation, thereby making it malleable to their evil intents. Through infiltration of the press, slanderous stories against the Royal Family were printed. The foreign press, hungry for scandal, printed unverified stories, many of which are still believed to this day. Even the Empress was accused of disloyalty and treason - she who was above reproach in her heartfelt love for her adopted land. Conspiracies began to take shape among court officials, the Duma (Parliament), the generals and the nobility, even including relatives of the Tsar. This, at a time when unity was more than ever needed.
The Duma deputies and army generals were putting pressure on the Tsar to abdicate. They kept reassuring him that only such an act would save Russia from bloodshed. He repeatedly asked:
"Are you confident that my abdication will save Russia from bloodshed?"
Again they reassured him that it would.
But the Tsar knew the quality of the men who were advising him. As he sadly wrote in his diary on the day of his abdication:
"All around me I see treason, cowardice and deceit."
And again, on the same day, while holding a bundle of telegrams from the Corps of Generals and even from his own uncle, he said:
"What is left for me to do when everyone has betrayed me?"
On the day of the abdication the enemies had arranged that the Emperor should not meet his strongest supporter, the Empress. She understood this and wrote: "My heart is rent with suffering, since you are completely isolated. It is clear that they do not wish to allow us to see each other before you sign some sort of paper. If they compel you to make concessions, you are under no circumstances obliged to fulfil them, because they are obtained by unworthy means. We are all of good cheer, but pressured by circumstances. We only suffer for you and endure humiliation for you, holy sufferer..."
And after the abdication, the Empress wrote to the Emperor: "You will be crowned by God Himself on this earth, in your own country..."
And so, after an entire night spent in prayer, he laid aside the crown for what he felt was the good of his country. For, as he wrote: "I am ready to give up both throne and life if I should become a hindrance to the happiness of the homeland." And again: "There is no sacrifice that I would not make for the real benefit of Russia and for her salvation."
Metropolitan Anastasius writes that the emperor "was far removed from the idea of defending his authority only for the sake of the desire to rule. 'Are you sure that this will be to Russia's benefit?' he asked those who, supposedly in the name of the nation, presented him with the demand that he renounce his hereditary rights, and when he received a positive answer, he immediately laid aside the burden of royal government, fearing lest a single drop of Russian blood might fall on him in case a civil war arose."
Though he no longer had the responsibility of government, his first thoughts were for his nation, as he said to one of his officers,
"Just to think that, now I am Tsar no longer, they won't even let me fight for my country."
At the very moment of the Tsar's abdication - 3 o'clock on March 2, 1917 - a miracle took place that attested to God's love for Russia. In the village of Kolomenskoye, near Moscow, according to a revelation of the Mother of God, a search had been taking place for several days for her icon "The Reigning Mother of God". This icon had gone at the head of the Russian army in 1812 as it drove Napoleon out of Russia. But then this wonder-working icon had been forgotten and seemingly lost. No one knew about its fate. And only on March 1, 1917, did a pious widow by the name of Eudocia receive a revelation to look for the icon in the village of Kolomenskoye. She looked through both of the churches of the village, but did not find the icon. Then she asked whether they had any old icons. They told her that there were some in the basement. She asked to go there, and she and a deacon went down into the basement.
"And truly, there were many old, dust-covered icons there. They began to wipe them one by one. But they still did not find the icon they were looking for. But when she came up to the icon "The Reigning Mother of God", Eudocia cried out:
although it was still covered with a thick layer of dust which made it impossible to recognise. But when they cleaned it, it was true: the wonder-working icon of the Mother of God had been found. It depicted the Mother of God seated on a throne, her countenance both stern and sorrowful, an orb and sceptre in her hands and the Christ-child giving a blessing in her lap, with God the Father looking down from above. This icon soon thereafter miraculously renewed itself and the robe of the Mother of God was seen to be blood red, something which had been foretold also in the dream. Services were written to this icon and many people made the pilgrimage to venerate it. Healings, both of physical and mental infirmities began to take place before it.
However, the attention the event deserved was given to it neither by the provisional government, which was only to be expected, nor by the people, which was less expected, nor even by the Church herself... Then the servant of God Eudocia insisted that according to the revelation the icon had to be taken round the Kremlin seven times. But they managed to take it round only once during the time of Patriarch Tikhon, that is, after the October revolution, and to the sound of gunfire. Eudocia said:
"The Mother of God said: if they take it round the Kremlin seven times, the Bolsheviks will not be able to capture it!"
But this was not done. The Bolsheviks put the icon in a museum under the title "A counter-revolutionary icon of the Mother of God". Recently, it has been returned to Kolomenskoye.
After the abdication, on March 9, the Tsar arrived back in Tsarkoye Selo, where his family were all under house arrest like common criminals, and found all of his children ill. Alexis, Olga and Maria had the measles and were bedridden with high fevers; Tatiana and Anastasia both had painful ear abscesses, which left Tatiana temporarily deaf.
Again the image of Job overshadowed him - all had been taken from him except his dear ones and his indomitable faith. He did not curse his fate, accepting all as the will of God, and did not even murmur against his captors who treated him with disrespect and even contempt. What greater example could the Russian people have asked for, or what nobler man could have led them as their king? Thus Christ's lament over the chosen people was fulfilled in Holy Russia as well: "How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate" (Matthew 23.37-38).
Not only the Tsar, but the whole of his blessed family, met their fate with truly Christian patience. Thus on March 13, 1917, the Tsarevich Alexis wrote to his sister Anastasia:
"I will pray fervently for you and Maria. With God everything will pass. Be patient and pray."
And shortly after the abdication the Empress said: "Our sufferings are nothing. Look at the sufferings of the Saviour, how He suffered for us. If this is necessary for Russia, we are ready to sacrifice our lives and everything."
And again: "I love my country, with all its faults. It grows dearer and dearer to me... I feel old, oh, so old, but I am still the mother of this country, and I suffer its pains as my own child's pains, and I love it in spite of all its sins and horrors... Since [God] sent us such trials, evidently He thinks we are sufficiently prepared for it. It is a sort of examination... One can find in everything something good and useful - whatever sufferings we go through - let it be. He will give us strength and patience and will not leave us. He is merciful. It is only necessary to bow to His will without murmur and wait - there on the other side He is preparing for all who love Him indescribably joy."
The Royal Family left Tsarksoye Selo on July 31, and on August 6 they arrived in Tobolsk on the ship "Rus", as the provisional government began to collapse amidst Bolshevik ravings. Many Russians everywhere behaved as though in a trance, against their better instincts, or even worse - as though possessed. The Tsar and his family remained in Tobolsk until the following April, taking comfort only in prayer and in each other.
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