The other Holy Family

In the Mstera cathedral one of the most striking icons is that of the last Tsar and his family, who in the Russian church have now achieved the status of saints and martyrs (or ‘passion-bearers’, in Orthodox terminology – i.e. people who have faced their death in a Christ-like manner, though not explicitly killed for their faith).

In most Orthodox churches I have visited in Russia in recent years I have seen an icon like this, or at least cards or bookmarks with images of Nicholas II and his family for sale amongst all the other objects designed to assist the faithful with their prayers. Less than a hundred years after they were regarded as despots and brutally cut down by their own people, the Romanovs are now rehabilitated, and venerated by millions as models of humility and piety.

During the miners’ strike in Britain in the 1970s, a television news report included miners’ wives speaking about their recent visit to the USSR. They had been invited by their Soviet counterparts in a gesture of working-class solidarity. One woman enthused: ‘We had a wonderful time – we were treated like royalty.’ Hmmm….


Tsarevich Alexei with his sisters Maria and Anastasia – detail from modern icon in Bogoyavlensky monastery cathedral, Mstera


The last Tsar and his family in the company of saints. The central image is surrounded by scenes of persecution and blasphemous outrages perpetrated by the godless Bolsheviks, such as turning churches into cinemas and drinking dens


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