Introduction by Father Demetrios Serfes
In looking for examples of truly radiant ones we find a loving mother, a devoted wife, a struggling Orthodox Christian, and one who truly loved Russia -the Holy Royal Martyr Tsarina Alexandra (Romanov), Russia’s last Empress.
Who was this Russian Empress? She was the grandaughter of Queen Victoria of England, and the sister of Grand Duchess Elizabeth, who also became a Holy Martyr in Russia, the beloved wife of His Imperial Majesty Tsar Nicholas II, devoted mother of four loving daugthers Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia, and one son -the joy of her life- Tsarevich Alexis.
This very special Empress was the “Matushka” -the Mother of all of Russia. A mother who cared not only for her beloved family, but also for the country, in which she frequently spoke in terms of love and devotion. She came from Germany, with a devout Lutheran background, and on her marriage to Nicholas became a sincere convert to Russian Orthodoxy. This was not easy for her – she had to find her own path towards her salvation virtually alone, but surely with the help of our loving God, together with His saints, and angels whom she loved dearly. Nothing was more important for this Empress than her Bible, and the faith of the Church which she began to love and became increasingly devoted to, hour by hour and day by day. Nothing became more important for this loving Empress then to learn and to share with others the holy Orthodox Faith in which brought her inner strength and great endurance. Every day there was a lesson for her beloved children, who had to learn about God, His Church and the teachings of the faith. She encouraged the children to learn frist from the Holy Scriptures, and then from the lives of the saints and martyrs of the Church as well as to pray. Wherever the Empress and her family lived, holy icons and holy relics would be found not only her room, but all the children’s rooms, and a chapel was always a central part of her household. A Church was even built in honor of the sufferings of her loving and devoted son the Tsarevich.
The Tsarevich! Every hour every day, of the life of the Holy Royal Martyr Tsarina Alexandra was her son. Nothing was more important to her life than her son, and his preparation as the future Tsar of Russial. There are so many photographs of the Tsarina preserved for us, showing her at the bedside of her beloved son Alexis, who suffered from the dangerous condition of Royal Martyr Tsarevich Alexis (photo source: Bob Atchison)hemophilia. The pains of her son where her pains, and she was always ready to wipe away the sweat of his sufferings, remaining at his bedside hour after hour, exhausted yet unshakeable in her devotion. In reading the Tsarina’s diary one can note that the time she spent with her son, she would try to comfort him and read to him selections of the Bible and the lives of the saints, as well, as of course, praying with her son. One can see the strain of this beloved Mother in the many beautiful photographs, who at often look downward in sorrow as his pain brought her to total exhaustion and despair. However the Empress and mother did not and would not despair, as she was strong-willed, and at the same time was blessed with extraordinary patience. She was prepared and willing to endure, and indeed she acted like an angel, always ready to comfort both her son and anyone else who was ill or suffering.
Here we have an Empress, a wife, and a mother who was often misrepresented as weak, despotic and withdrawn. The truth is that she was a different person than some history books, and much politically inspired opinion, has suggested. Her faithfulness, love, devotion and generosity ecompassed her God, her countrymen, and her family. She cared deeply for her family, and those with whom she came in contact, her Chruch, and people who loved God and Russia. Nothing was more important than the love of God and His Church to this “Matushka”, the Empress of Russia. If you loved God, then you loved one another, and if you loved Russia, then you also loved your Tsar and his family -and they loved in return!
Let me with humility now share with you a poem, “To My Beloved Mama”, written by the Royal Martryr Grand Duchess Olga, the eldest daughter of the Tsarina Alexandra, on 23 April 1917. This poem was written in Tsarskoye Selo.
You are filled with anguish
For the suffering of others.
And no one’s grief
Has ever passed you by.
You are relentless
Only toward yourself,
Forever cold and pitiless.
But if only you could look upon
Your own sadness from a distance,
Just once with a loving soul-
Oh, how you would pity yourself.
How sadly you would weep.
It has been said that without a doubt, as a Orthodox Christian the New Martyr Tsarina Alexandra had for many years forseen intuitively a terrible end for herself, and as a consequence seldom smiled, living, as it were, always in a somber shadows of Eternity. Indeed, she and her Martyr Tsar had long sensed the rising force of darkness in Russia, the approaching monster of revolution. In the year 1917, their dark foreboding became reality. Placed under arrest and confined, first by the Provisional (Kerenskyite) Government and then by the Bolsheviks, the Martyr Tsar and Martyr Tsarina were not even allowed to communicate with each other. Everything the Russian people had given to the Tsar, Tsarina and their children was taken away from them.The homes that had been built in honor of the Tsars of Russia, the holy icons they loved, even their clothes! Their devoted friends had also been driven away, some short to death, others simply going missing.
This Holy Royal Family were to receive crowns of Martyrdom, and they were prepared for this gift from above, inwardly and outwardly. Their Martyr’s crowns were not easily won. We have details of the Tsar, Tsarina and their beloved children being insulted, humiliated, and, on occasion, even spat upon (and their food spat upon); they were divested of every trace of worldly goods and earthly honor; they were rejected and their Sovereign dignity repudiated by their own subjects – not only by the multitudes, but by princes and traitorous, fraudulent dukes as well. What is more, their sufferings were wholly innocent and righteous. They deserved none of this, not a Tsar or Emperor, not a Tsarina or Empress, not the children, the Grand Duchesses and not the Tsarevich, of their own country Russia, or even the few who remained with them until the last hour. But the Tsarina and her devoted family bore all this with absolute faith and trust in God, with complete resignation to Divine Will, almost in silence, never complaining, and incredibly enough, even without bitterness! Such was their “podvig,” (struggle) their spiritual endeavor. So fervent their Orthodoxy, so great their piety, so deep their faith, so pure their innocence, that they all were found worthy to partake of the Passion of Christ our Lord and join the ranks of the Martyrs and Innocent Sufferers in Christ-their Martyrdom a pure sacrifice, without blemish, for even before their death as Martyrs they unquestionably would have stood before “the dread judgment seat of Christ with untarnished righteousness”.
It might be said that the holy angels were with this loving family in all of their lives, especially in the end….”The Bridegroom cometh. We must prepare ourselves to receive HIm,” wrote the Martyr Empress from Tobolsk. She also wrote: “Everything in this world is vain. Let our brows touch the ground for the Ruler of all approaches. We must bow in all humility before His Cross”.
As all good loving Christians wear Crosses they must also bare one. In that last hour in the Ipatiev house in Ykaterinburg, the entire Royal Family (and devoted friends, and servants) was miercilessly slain by the Communists on the 17 July in 1918, their souls receiving heavenly crowns from the hands of angels.
The innocent sufferings and holy Martyrdom of the Royal Family, the deep humiliation, and cruel death, should indeed evoke the sympathy of everyone with a Chrisitian consceience, everywhere in the world. Our priority now must be repentance, an expression of our love for the Holy Royal Martyrs, asking them to forgive us, and to pray for us poor sinners who must remain on this earth to struggle for our salvation and to carry our Cross.
Now, good and faithful beloved Christians, I present to you some selective outstanding spiritually rewarding writings of the Holy Royal Martyr Tsarina Alexandra, Empress of Russia, bringing to us all a ray of hope and guidance in the life we face in our daily existence. Let us at the same time give thanks to God for sending to us this light of joy -the spiritual beauty of this holy woman who was both a great handmaiden of Christ our Lord and our friend.
“The Garden Of The Heart”
The Mystery of Sorrow
“It will steady our faith and help us to trust in times of suffering and trial if we understand that nothing is purposeless, nothing accidental, that nothing is meant to harm us, that everything is intended to help us toward noble character and fuller, richer life.”
Sorrow sometimes staggers us. There is a mystery about it which we cannot solve. No one can answer this question definitely, to say just why this good man suffers so sorely, yet we know that blessings and good will surely come out of the experience. Possibly he is suffering that his own life may be made more pure, more radiant. Possibly he is permitted to suffer as a witness to Christ, his patience, trust, and joy being the fruit of the spirit in him. In some way at least we know that pain is meant to yield blessing-to him who endures it, or to those who look on and note the courage and victoriousness with chich it is borne. Of one thing we may always be sure-it is because God loves us that we are called to permitted to suffer.” (p. 15).
A Christian Should Never Be Discouraged
“Good cheer is a Christian duty. A Christian should never be discouraged, should never doubt the outcome of good from all that seems evil. A wailing, a complaining, a fearing Christian is failing his Lord. In countelss ways does the word of Christ in the heart reveal itself in life. It makes shining faces. It makes men patriotic and women patient and kind. It blesses houses; it enriches and beautifies lives.” (p. 22).
God Loves To Be A Comforter
“God loves to be a comforter. His heart is ever tender and compassionate toward human pain and suffering. When we look into the Bible we find it full of comfort from beginning to end. On every page God is trying to get men to believe that He loves them, that He is their friend, that He wants to do good. There is not a chapter in the Scriptures which does not in some way reveal or declare divine mercy. That is what makes the Bible such a dear and precious book to the despondent, the sturggling, the disappointed, the wronged, the bereaved, the lonely. The Bible is like a mother’s bosom, to lay one’s head upon in a time of pain and distress.” (p. 41).
Christ Gives Rest For The Soul
“The rest that Christ gives is the rest in the soul-not external rest. One may have it in all its sweetness and fullness, and yet have to toil unceasingly, and endure continual sufferings and pain. Some of the best Christians the world has ever known have been the greatest sufferers, but meanwhile nothing has been able to break their rest.” (p.24).
Christ Will Fill Us With Himself
“St. Paul tells us here also that he rejoiced in his thorn. He did not at first. He creid to heaven to have it removed. But when his Master told him that he needed to keep it, that he needed it, that it had in it a blessing for him, he chafed no longer. Indeed, he made friends with it quickly, accepted it, and stopped complaining about it. That is the only right and sensible thing to do with any disagreeable, uncongenial, or painful thing we find we cannot have removed. It is God’s will that it should be in our life for some good reason which He knows. We should get the victory over it by taking it to our heart, be receiving it as coming from Christ. No matter how it hurts us, if we accept it in this way it will leave benediction in our life. God sends some of our greatest blessings to us in our thorns, and it will be a sad thing if we thrust them away and miss them. There are many who are so full of themselves that they have no room for Christ. If only they could come empty, empty of self, He would fill them with Himself, and then they would have untold power for good in the world. He knows when pain is needful, when loss is the only way to gain, when suffering is necessary to hold us at His feet. He gives us trouble in order to bless us in some way, and we shall always be losers when we chafe or reject our thorn.” (p. 45).
Two Letters From the Royal Martyr Alexandra, The Empress
The Following Introduction and Two Letters are excerpts from the book compiled by Father Demetrios Serfes: “The Royal Martyr Sisters: “Empress Alexandra and Grand Duchess Elizabeth”,1982.
The last Russian Tsar, his wife and their children were glorified with the New Martyrs of the 20th Century, on October 19/ November 1, 1981, by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, in the Synodal Cathedral in New York City. Sadly enough we are patiently awaiting the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, Russia, to open up it’s mind, heart, and soul to either recognize this holy canonization or do the same! Those familiar with the history of the reign of Tsar Nicholas II, the circumstances under which he labored, the devotion of the Royal Family to the Orthodox Church, etc., understand the reason for their holy glorification. But there were some who questioned it, not realizing the Christian precendent for proclaiming the Royal Family as saints…Passion-bearers. An eloquent witness to the deeply Christian character of the members of the Tsar’s family are their letters during the tragic period from March 1917 to May 1918. These letters were written from imprisonment: first at Tsarskoye-Selo, then from Tobolsk, and the last ones from Ekaterinburg, where the family, with their loyal servants, were martyred on July 4/17, 1918.
The letters speak of the Royal Family’s faith in risen Christ and the patient carrying of their cross through the months of mockery and cruelty that were inflicted upon them.
Two letters of the Emrpess Alexandra, written shortly after the family’s arrest, movingly express her spiritual strength before the “distant journey” which her family was to endure. The first letter was written to S.V. Markoff, a 19-year-old officer of Her Majesty’s Crimean Cavalry Regiment, who was wounded in the war and was placed in the Lianozov Hospital, where the Empress and her daughters had often visited him. The second letter also was written to a former patient of Her Majesty’s Palace Hopsital at Tsarskoe Selo, Colonel A.V. Syroboyarsky, whose family the Empress knew:
To S. V. Markoff:
When your heart is so burdened and you are terribly sad – do not dispair, my Little One. Remember that there is someone who understands you better than you know yourself, and who each day prays steadfastly to God for you. You are not alone – do not fear to live; the Lord will hear your prayers and will help console you and make you strong. Preserve your faith pure and child-like, and even when you are grown up, remain in this a child.
It is painful and difficult to live, but ahead lies light and joy, peace and the reward for all suffering and tornment. Go your way forthrightly, look not to right or left; and if you do not see the stone by which you fall, do not be afraid and do not lose heart. Get up and continue to go forward. Painful things occur, the soul may be heavy, but grief purifies us. Remember the life and sufferings of our Saviour, and your own life will not seem as dark to you as you thought. We have a single goal toward which we are all striving, let us help each other find the way.
Christ is with you, do not be afraid, “It is the beginning of the end,” you said – yes, Little One, but not quite – your new friend will not forget you, her soul will always be near, and will always and everywhere follow you and protect you from every evil, with prayers. Always be the knight that you wanted to be.
Tsarkoye Selo, March 1917
To A. V. Synoboyarsky
Eeverything can be endured if you feel His (God’s) presence and love and if you believe in Him steadfastly in everything. Severe trials are helpful – they prepare us for the other life, for the distant joruney. It is easier to bear one’s own sufferings than to see the woe of others without it being possible to help them. I am reading the New and Old Testament extensively, as I must prepare for lessons with the children; it is a great comfort after that to read everything with them – it provides, in fact, our spiritual sustenance. And everytime you find a new and better understanding. I have many such good books, and I always copy out (passages) from them. There is no falsehood in them. Did you ever read the letters of St. John Chyrsostom to the Deaconess Olympiada? I started to read them again now. There is such profundity in them, surely you would like them. My excellent books help me very much. I find in them answers to many things. The give strength, consolation, especially for my lessons with the children. The children undrstand deeply-the soul grows in sorrow. You yourself know this. Tomorrow at noon is a molieben (a prayer of supplication). Tatiana will already be twenty. They are well, thank God. One must ever thank God for all that He gives, and even if He took it away, then perhaps, when one endures without a murmur, all will be even brighter. One must always hope. The Lord is so great, and one needs only to pray to ask Him unceasingly to save our dear homeland. It has quickly, frighteningly begun to collaspse in shuch a short time. But then, when everything seems bad, that worse cannot be. He will show His mercy and will save everything. How and when is known to Him alone… Although there is darkness and gloom now, the sun is shining brightly in nature and provides hope for something better.
You see, we have not lost our faith, and I hope we never will. It alone provides strength, the streadfastness of spirit, to endure all. And one must be grateful for everything, for it could be much worse…Isn’t that so?
For now we are alive and together, a small, tightly-knit family. And they, why did they want to separate us?** Thus, you see how the Lord is great. We even spend our time in the garden (i.e.in freedom). But remember those others,** O God, how we suffer for them, for what they, innocent ones, are living through… They will receive crowns from the Lord. One wants to kneel before them for what they suffer on our behalf, but we cannot help them, not even with a word. This is the most burdensome of all. We grieve for them, but yet for them too, I firmly believe, there will be something greater (a great reward in heaven) also while here on earth. Already their health will never be what it was, but their souls are growing, and He will provide the strength to carry the cross. There are those who find it diffcult there without mother, but her faith will save her. (Reference unclear-Editor.) I cannot remember without tears. But she knows (wherever she may be) my soul is with her, and those who truly love me ought to remember this, lest our separation be unbearable. To be thus without news is so distressing, so burdensome.
You are surprised that suddenly I write so candidly, but this letter will not go by mail-I am less shy of new commandant. We visited him several times in the Lianozov Hospital, took photographs together, so that there is a very different feeling-and then he is a true soldier.*** At that I do not envy him-it must be very difficult for him. But God will reward his every kindness; you see, God helped again. All the same it feels different now that he is our superior and censor. Previous to this he too had suffered. My mind is somewhat weary-today I wrote much to others, and soon it will be time for lessons. It is time to go. May the Lord bless and keep you on all your paths, and may He give you inner peace and tranquility.
Most hearfelt regards.
Your sister. **** May 28, Tsarskoye Selo 1917
In concluding this presentation, I must say that these two letters are rare documents by a Christian family, who became holy in their martyrdom. In her letter to the young officer, the Royal Martyr Tsarina Alexandra the Empress of Russia concluded prophetically- “My soul will always be near, and will always and everywhere follow you and protect you from every evil with prayers.”
Editors notes: I certainly would like to thank John Wilson Smith for his kind assistance in the presentation of this text, and I would also like to thank Bob Atchison for his kind permission for the photographs used for the presentation of this web site.