A few months ago, on July 17, Orthodox Christians in Russia and throughout the world observed the 100-year anniversary of the assassination of Tsar Nicholas and his family. A procession was held, starting from the Church on the Blood in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, the place where the Romanovs were murdered. Led by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, over 100,000 pilgrims walked 21 kilometers to the Monastery of the Holy Imperial Passion-Bearers at Ganina Yama, the site of the ignoble graves which had held the imperial family for more than three-quarters of a century.
In the early morning hours of July 17, 1918, Tsar Nicholas, his wife Alexandra, his four daughters Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia, and the 13-year-old heir, Alexei, in confinement at the Ipatiev House, were led to the basement and shot. It was a brutal, ugly execution. Before being sent to the Ipatiev House, the family was under house arrest in Tobolsk, Siberia, and there the Grand-Duchess Olga relayed the words of her father the Tsar:
“…Father asks to have it passed on to all who have remained loyal to him and to those on whom they might have influence, that they not avenge him; he has forgiven and prays for everyone; and not to avenge themselves, but to remember that the evil which is now in the world will become yet more powerful, and that it is not evil which conquers evil, but love…”
Facing their death in a Christ-like manner is what makes the Romanovs passion-bearers and saints. (The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia canonized the Romanovs as martyrs, while the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate recognizes them as passion-bearers.)
When the Bolsheviks decided to move the family from Tobolsk to Yekaterinburg, Alexei was too sick to travel. Because she was nurturing and naturally cheerful, third-daughter, Maria, was chosen to accompany her parents on the long journey. Because she was naturally cheerful, I chose Maria as my patron saint when I converted to Orthodoxy as an adult. Complaining comes too easily to me, and I hope to become one who shares joy rather than dismay. I aspire to learn from her example.
There’s an expression in certain faith communities: “Be careful what you pray for.” It’s a variation of the commonplace aphorism, “Be careful what you hope for.” Because you may get it. Because it may not be what you thought.
For 78 days, the Romanov family kept vigil in the Ipatiev House, suspecting or knowing that their end drew closer.
This past April, my mother fell and never recovered, a broken bone turning into a gradual decline. For 113 days, my sisters and I have visited and attended her. For her last four nights, I kept vigil at Mom’s bedside, recalling my patron Maria, asking for her grace and strength and joy in the midst of my somber challenge.
I don’t know how the Grand-Duchess kept her optimism while enduring cruel imprisonment and the knowledge of inevitable death. At night I chanted Psalms to my mother and prayed with her, hoping to be an encouragement. I was at Mom’s side when she reposed. I held her hand. I sang to her. I prayed with her. I don’t know how I endured the unendurable.
Except I do know. Through the prayers of my patron, through the prayers of the saints, through the prayers of my friends and spiritual father, I was able to be present with Mom at her end. I almost felt myself floating on top of, carried by their prayers. In times of trial, the prayers of the saints and the prayers of our loved ones sustain us.
Through the prayers of the Saints, Lord have mercy. By Cynthia Long