Thursday, July 31, 2008
Commemorated on July 31
Righteous Joseph of Arimathea was a secret disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ. As a member of the Sanhedrin he did not participate in the "counsel and deed" of the Jews in passing a death sentence for Jesus Christ. After the Crucifixion and Death of the Savior he made bold to go to Pilate and ask him for the Body of the Lord, to Which he gave burial with the help of Righteous Nicodemus, who was also a secret disciple of the Lord.
They took down the Body of the Savior from the Cross, wrapped it in a winding-cloth, and placed it in a new tomb, in which no one had ever been buried, in the Garden of Gethsemane, in the presence of the Mother of God and the holy Myrrh-Bearing Women (St Joseph had prepared this tomb for himself). Having rolled a heavy stone before the entrance of the tomb, they departed (John. 19: 37-42; Mt. 27: 57-61; Mark 15: 43-47; Luke. 24: 50-56).
St Joseph traveled around the world, proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. He died peacefully in England.
The Orthodox Church professes to preserve the Faith of the Apostolic Church. Wherever a right-believing Bishop with Apostolic Succession walks in the spiritual footsteps of the Fathers, there the whole Church of Christ is. Wherever there are those loyal to the rock of St. Peter’s confession of Christ as the Son of the living God, there Orthodoxy is. And wherever the traditions of the Church and the Fathers are guarded faithfully, as St. Paul enjoins us to do, there we find our Faith. Spiritual succession, the living Faith of the Saints, the unity of God-inspired liturgical and spiritual traditions, the oneness of witness in Orthodox Baptism and Communion—these express our Faith.
But now we find, especially in America and Western Europe, a new kind of Orthodoxy, based on innovation, neo-papist notions of “officialdom,” sophomoric criticism of the Fathers and of the Church’s liturgical practices, and a relativism that places fidelity to the humanistic dictates of ecumenism above the dictates of the Christian conscience.
We are seeing inadequately converted clergymen and scholars create, in the midst of several modernist jurisdictions, a “church” which is far from that of the Fathers. This new Orthodoxy has manifested itself in two forms. On the one hand, there is a would-be “intellectual” trend in modernist circles, replacing the pious study of the Fathers that marks true theology in the Orthodox Church with the traditions of textual criticism, often marked by a snide spirit of doubt and impiety unknown to Orthodox spirituality. The expertise of Latin scholarship is often exalted over that of pious Orthodox theologians—”the superstitions of simple-minded Greeks,” as one seminary professor recently remarked. So it is that another seminary instructor in a modernist jurisdiction beset by this spirit of unedifying disdain for Orthodox tradition began a course on liturgics with the incredible comment: “Now we will see how the Liturgy came into its present decrepit state….”
It is no wonder that these same “intellectuals” clamor to create a monasticism which is unrecognizable to us traditional Orthodox, compromised as it is by innovation, a spirituality of the brain, not the heart, and by a minimalism that dismisses traditional Orthodox asceticism with unwise talk about its abuses, rather than its centuries of triumphs —a monasticism of communal romanticism and social service lived, at times, by unbalanced individuals more to be pitied than emulated. No wonder, too, that such intellectual circles have created a “reformed” Liturgy derived from the data of historical research rather than the living, organic witness of a Liturgy wholly adequate to those truly immersed in the spiritual life which has formed it.
On the other hand, we are seeing the humble and self-effacing example of our Saints swept aside by the pompous and bombastic egotism of Bible-thumping “evangelists,” who have come into various modernist jurisdictions with an understanding of traditional Orthodox piety so minimal that one blushes in thinking about it. The rubrics of pop-psychology and the tactics of the “Jesus freaks” of the 1960s are now openly preached in the name of the Orthodox Church, at times with arrogant denunciations of the ethnics and” backward” traditionalists into whose Church these misguided individuals have entered by the back door. Gone for them is the sure guidance of spiritual principles based on centuries of spiritual experience—Holy Tradition.
One would, of course, delight at the thought of a true Patristic revival in the Orthodox Church, a truly intellectual movement towards the brilliant body of wisdom contained in the Fathers. We desperately need such a thing. But such a movement must be based in true scholarship, not on snide commentaries gleaned from secondary (and usually non-Orthodox) materials by those who can only minimally read the Fathers in the original anyway. And certainly such a movement cannot divorce a study of the Fathers from traditional piety, from profound awe for what they have passed down to us, including the Divine Liturgy in its present form, and for the common civility which should mark true scholars, one aspect of which is respect for our Church Fathers and for our elders in the Faith.
One could also do nothing more than shout for joy at the return of Protestant evangelicals to the Orthodox Faith. Sincere evangelicals, deeply rooted in a Biblical Christianity and a respect for moral rectitude —how could they do anything but fulfill their Faith and adorn our Church by returning to Orthodoxy? But such Christians are a far cry from the cigar-smoking, tract-distributing purveyors of the “religious product” who now wish to use Orthodoxy to “evangelize” America. Real evangelicals would truly understand the need for self-perfection as a path to evangelization. And certainly they would have entered into the Church, not through innovation and “deals,” but through humble submission to the traditions of the Church—including Orthodox Baptism, which is required for entry into the Eastern Church, save in rare and individual cases.
In seeing all that this new Orthodoxy is, as well as what it is not, one is prompted to ask: “Indeed, is this the Faith of our Fathers, the Faith for which many of us have sacrificed, even to the point of shedding our own blood?”
An Inauthentic Witness
The majority of the Orthodox Church is suffering under the yoke of communism and hostile oppression. The modernists—a handful of Orthodox in Western Europe and the Americas (less than 20% of world Orthodoxy) and the products, for the most part, of the calendar reform of the 1920s—, however, enjoy the freedom and wealth of the West. They have used these advantages to establish their minority views, to foster the un-Orthodox innovations which hold forth under the sponsorship of their jurisdictions, and to gain the attention of the press in the New World.
They have effectively disenfranchised the body of True Orthodox. With their money, they have even taken over several, dying ancient Patriarchates, or sought legitimacy from captive Sees anxious to have any voice in the West. Mediocre theologians and Churchmen, more marked by their experience in the corporate boardroom than the cells of monasteries—the traditional training grounds for spiritual leaders—, have spewed forth notions of Orthodoxy that, while perhaps new and intriguing to a naive heterodox audience, smack of the innovative spirit of those who have little careful guidance and experience in the way of life which they purport to teach.
We see converts and former Greek Catholics dismissing traditionalist Orthodox as fanatics and “fringe elements” outside the Church, all the while violating every basic Canon of the Orthodox Church by inviting joint prayer with those who are outside the Church—outside the Church, not by virtue of traditionalist polemics, but by the decrees of the Fathers and Councils who guide our Faith. All of this characterizes this new church: an inauthentic religion rooted in a deviation from genuine tradition and watered, at times, by an unfortunate spirit of arrogance—a church fueled by hostility towards authentic Orthodox tradition; towards the ethnics who have, however perfectly or imperfectly, guarded it, following the apostasy of the West; and towards all that calls Orthodoxy, not to a witness of worldly officialdom, but spiritual succession and honesty.
One of the sad consequences of the ascendency of this inauthentic Orthodoxy over True Orthodoxy is that, at a time when Western Christians are increasingly hungry for new spiritual food, they are being offered a proverbial stone in the place of Orthodoxy’s Apostolic bread. Inauthentic Orthodoxy is victimizing the hungry West.
Orthodoxy teaches that Christ established one Church and that the Orthodox Church embodies this True Church. There are Mysteries within this Church—Baptism and Ordination among them—which belong only to Her. She is the criterion of truth and within Her lies the fullness of the Christian witness. She is the anchor after which many Western Christians seek.
This new “Orthodoxy,” seeking to attain worldly recognition and to give wrong and un-Orthodox beliefs the flavor of Orthodox historical primacy, has changed this teaching. It has, in accord with political ecumenism, begun to declare that the Orthodox Church is not the One, True Church, the criterion of Christianity, but that She, in a spirit of deep love, accepts the sacraments and Christian ways of others. They have made of the Orthodox anchor a sail by which to blow the dinghy of their self-created church here and there, according to the whims of contemporary ecumenism.
Thus it is that the ecumenical movement is more often than not deprived of the witness of True Orthodox—though we emphasize here very clearly that there are yet some traditional voices in the modernist Orthodox Churches and among their representatives in the ecumenical movement, and that the inauthenticity of what these modernists have created certainly has not taken from them Orthodoxy in the canonical and technical sense. In ecumenical meetings, the heterodox inevitably encounter shaved clergy in Roman clerical garb. The witness of the Apostles and Patriarchs embodied by traditional Orthodox garb they see only in Hierarchs, many of whom are represented, not as equals among the many Bishops, but as the equivalents of “Cardinals,” “Princes of the Church,” and so on. Few ecumenists see Orthodox representatives at their various gatherings refraining from meat and dairy products on Wednesdays and Fridays, and few, to be sure, realize that their steak-eating Orthodox guests, who ignore these canonical prescriptions, are violating the basic spiritual disciplines of the religion they claim to represent.
The ecumenists learn from most of these modernist Orthodox representatives that the traditionalists—a majority—are a minority, overtaken by a spirit of fanaticism and “legalism” incompatible with the ecumenical spirit. Never do they learn that we who hold strongly to the tenets of our Faith do so with a deep yearning for Christian unity and with a deep love for our Christian brothers and sisters outside the Orthodox Church. They do not learn that we hold fast to our Apostolic Faith because we believe that the non-Orthodox will one day return to it, finding in Orthodoxy the fulfillment of their own sincere and honored Christian aspirations. They do not know that our “legalism” is based on honest adherence to our Church’s teachings and that our “fanaticism” is nothing more than a fidelity which leads us not to hatred for the non-Orthodox, but to a profound love for them.
Were sincere heterodox ecumenists to hear our voices, they would hear both a stern and a loving note. And they might encounter an Orthodoxy with a power far greater than the inauthentic Orthodoxy which says: “Together with you we will find the Church.” Indeed, they might rejoice at the refreshing honesty of an Orthodoxy that says: “We are what you were, and in us you can return to a unity which belongs to all of us, which was never really lost, and that has preserved the Church of the Apostles.”
The ecumenical spirit of the Faith of our Fathers in based in honest and uncompromising love, not a love created by inauthenticity and human machinations.
An Impediment to Unity
Another tragic effect of the ascendency of inauthentic Orthodoxy is the separation of Orthodox themselves. What is inauthentic is threatened by the authentic. It strives to obscure the authentic. Thus, the modernist movements have found themselves increasingly separated from True Orthodoxy. Even when they go to such places as Mt. Athos, they seek out those who will tolerate them, not those who can lead them, correct them, and counsel them. If we can stop the course of Orthodox innovation and persuade the innovators to leave their false ways, then we Orthodox can find unity. This demands of us traditionalists both a stern and uncompromising stand and a loving, open attitude. But it demands from the innovators something which they do not have: honesty and humility. They must turn from their errors, admit those errors, and honestly confess that they are not what they should be.
From Orthodox Tradition, Vol. 6, No. 4, 1989, pp. 1-2.
hat tip: Mrs Xenia Suaiden of Orthodox Christian blog
By Andrea Shea
30 July 2008
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Antique bells that rang from a tower at Harvard University for the past 78 years are on their way home to a monastery in Russia. Andrea Shea has the story behind their long-awaited return.
The ornate bells in the belfry at Lowell House, a dorm at Harvard, chimed each Sunday afternoon for about 15 minutes. Graduate student Ben Rappaport is the Head Bell Ringer and says he and the other ringers often played contemporary tunes on the enormous bronze instruments. He reports that one of the most popular ones recently was the theme song to the Harry Potter movies.
But the bells themselves haven't always been popular. In fact, when they were installed at Harvard in the 1930's, students who lived in Lowell House couldn't stand the clanging and would protest the noise by flushing huge wads of paper down the toilets hoping to clog the system.
A crane slowly lowers each bell to the ground from the scaffold-rigged Lowell House tower
Professor Diana Eck, the current Master at Lowell House, says 80 years later, students still resent the bells. Part of the reason, she suggests, is that no one really knew how to ring them properly. "It's a little bit more like jazz, it requires a group of several people, it is improvisational," she explains, adding "when we began really hearing the Russians ring them, we knew that they were their bells."
Originally, the bells rang at the Danilov Monastery in Moscow. In the 1920's, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin led a brutal campaign against the Russian Orthodox Church, killing monks and destroying sacred property. But the monastery's bells were saved. And in the 1930's, American industrialist Charles Crane purchased them from the Soviet government and donated them to Harvard. "[The set] has been preserved here in a kind of refugee status in the Lowell House bell tower," Eck notes.
Monks from the Danilov Monastery bless the bells before their journey home
With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the church began its campaign to get the bells back. Professor Eck has been working since 2003 to orchestrate their repatriation.
This month, with a choir singing in the background, the bells were lowered, by crane from the Lowell House tower. The Lent Bell weighs more than 1800 kilos. The biggest bell, known as "Mother Earth" weighs over 10,000 kilos.
Hierdeacon Roman prepares to ring the Tsar's Bell, which carries the inscription that it was cast "by order of the Great Tsar and Grand Duke Feodor Alekseevich, the Autocrat of all Russias"
Superior Alexy of the Danilov Monastery blessed the bells as they were loaded onto a flat bed truck. He was accompanied by Hierdeacon Roman, the Monastery's Chief Bell Ringer. Roman says the ceremony is a huge event because the bells symbolize the now-ended conflict between the Russian state and the Church, as he put it, "one of the sacred things that connects us with that time."
He called the bells the voice of the church, and said he was excited that they will again be one of the best sets in Moscow. "There will be a celebration from St. Petersburg to Moscow," he said happily, "all the churches will be ringing."
The ornate new bells that will be installed at Lowell over the summer rest next to the antique set they'll replace
To mark the bells' departure, Heirdeacon Roman and officials from Harvard each rang the Matorin – or Tsar's Bell – the oldest of the set, cast by Feodor Matorin in 1682. Then it, and the other bells, set off for the long voyage back home to Russia.
But the Lowell House belfry won't be silent for long. A near-replica set, also made in Russia, will soon take the place of the antique bells high above Harvard's campus.
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By TERRY MATTINGLY, Scripps Howard News Service
For a dozen years, they hunted Europe's most notorious war criminal.
Investigators knew exactly where they thought they would find former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, the man accused of masterminding the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica.
After his July 21 arrest, most media reports echoed vague statements in The New York Times in which unidentified voices said Karadzic "eluded arrest so long by shaving his swoopy gray hair and disguising himself as a Serbian Orthodox priest. He reportedly hid out in caves in the mountains of eastern Bosnia and in monasteries."
"Of course they were wrong," said Metropolitan Christopher, leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America. "It was not true, to say that the Serbian church was hiding him. It appears that he was living right there in clear view, practicing alternative forms of medicine in front of everybody."
The Times updated its first report, adding that for "some of those years" the fugitive lived under an assumed name in Belgrade. A second-day report conceded that Karadzic "was not in a distant monastery or a dark cave when caught at last, but living in Serbia's capital."
Instead of shaving his photogenic silver hair and pretending to be a priest, the former president of the Bosnian Serb mini-state had built a new identity based on his career as a psychologist -- becoming Dr. Dragan David Dabic, expert on meditation, unorthodox therapy techniques and herbal treatments from the East. He was, observers said, a self-made guru with dashes of Freud, a Bohemian poet who resembled Santa Claus, complete with a bushy white beard and long hair, including a ponytail. He published journal articles, gave public lectures and lived with a young mistress.
Blend all that together and, according to ABC News, what you get is an "Orthodox mystic."
"It's like that old saying that you can't fight city hall," said Metropolitan Christopher, in frustration. Journalists and outsiders "want to link all of this to the Serbian Orthodox Church. And they want to say that all Serbs, everywhere, are guilty of the actions of these violent men and that, most of all, the Serbs are the only people who have ever done these terrible things to their neighbors. ...
"They forget that men like Karadzic and Slobodan Milosevic were enemies of the church and used violence against the Orthodox, too. Our bishops were jailed and beaten for opposing the regime behind this violence."
As the Serbian Orthodox bishops proclaimed, at one of the worst moments in the fighting, the "way of non-violence and cooperation is the only way blessed by God in agreement with human and divine moral law and experience."
There was also an interfaith appeal for peace in 1999, signed by Orthodox Patriarch Pavle, Catholic Archbishop Franc Perko, Mufti Hamdija Jusufspahic and Rabbi Isak Asiel. It called for a total cease-fire and the return of all refugees -- Serbs, Albanians and Croats -- to their homes.
"Even as evil cannot be overcome by evil, so peace and harmony cannot be attained by war," said that statement from Belgrade. "To be a peacemaker is the greatest duty and most noble obligation of every man. That is why we are not afraid to be the first to extend the hand of peace to one another."
Hardly anyone was listening.
Truth is, Orthodox Christianity does play a major role in defining the history and identity of the Serbs. It is also true that Orthodox leaders have opposed the breakup of their homeland and, in particular, the loss of Kosovo -- a state containing more than 1,000 historic churches and monasteries. Serbs have pleaded with Western officials to intervene and stop the destruction of many priceless sanctuaries.
The lines between faith and ethnicity are often blurred in the Balkans.
In this violent, splintered and ravaged region, Karadzic -- who remains a hero to Serb radicals -- may have found refuge for some period of time with the help of some priests or monks, acting on their own.
"We hear accusations against Orthodox people, but we never seem to hear who, what, when and where," said Metropolitan Christopher. "If it's true, we need to know facts. But it is wrong for the media to keep making vague accusations against our whole church in this way, which only makes things worse for those who have endured so much."
(Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities. Contact him at tmattingly(at)cccu.org or http://www.tmatt.net/.)
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Special to Russia Profile
Victor Yushchenko Calls for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to Separate From Russia’s
Last weekend, celebrations of the 1020th anniversary of the Christening of Russia took place in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. But given Ukraine’s desire to continuously re-affirm its sovereignty, along the numerous factors that presently aggravate the relationship between Russia and Ukraine, any kind of constructive dialogue between the two countries in the near future is impossible, as even such holidays have political implications.
Victor Yushchenko, the president of Ukraine, uses every chance he has to strengthen Ukrainian sovereignty, as he understands it. He never misses an opportunity to do so. Therefore, it has been obvious for a long time that the celebration of the 1020th anniversary of the Christening of Russia would be employed by the Ukrainian president precisely for this purpose, which is why from the very beginning, the celebration was bound to have a political resonance. Russian secular and churchly authorities saw it coming. Perhaps this is why some politicians were originally intent on “putting up a fight with Ukrainian nationalists” and on not giving in under any circumstances. For example, it was clear in advance that Deputy Konstantin Zatulin would not be permitted to cross the Ukrainian border, because the Ukrainian authorities are following the notorious “black list” policy with regard to Russian politicians, especially those who dare to make public statements that insult or challenge Ukrainian sovereignty. Zatulin is one such politician: along with the Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, he has made the most controversial remarks regarding the fact that Crimea and Sevastopol should not “belong” to Ukraine.
Zatulin went to Ukraine anyway. And, of course, he was deported.
The topics of Crimea and the “unjustly given over to Ukraine” (in the interpretation of a number of Russian politicians) Sevastopol have become customary stumbling blocks in the relationship between the two states, while the subjects of church and religion have caused no controversy for a comparatively long time. This made the escalation of tensions that took place in connection with the celebration of the 1020th anniversary of the Christening of Russia only more predictable.
The Ukrainian authorities met the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I (the country’s highest officials greeted him at the airport) in an emphatically solemn and ceremonious manner, while their attitude toward the visit of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexy II was just as emphatically unfriendly and even scornful.
While greeting Bartholomew I, president Yushchenko even dared to make some political statements, going as far as to make a public appeal to create a “separatist,” independent Orthodox church in Ukraine, which would be subordinated directly to Constantinople, not to the Moscow Patriarchate.
The Constantinople Patriarch should be given credit too – he did not support this initiative. When he later met with Alexy II, he supported the idea of a dialogue between the two churches to settle any controversial, disputable matters: “When any problems arise between the brotherly Orthodox churches, dialogue is all the more useful,” said Bartholomew I during his meeting with Alexy II in the Kiev Pechersk Lavra.
In his turn, the head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Foreign Church Relations Department, Metropolitan Kirill, hurried to make an assuring statement that the separation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from Moscow is not forthcoming: “This topic is not on our agenda. It is in some people’s heads… These are different matters – political projects and church life. And it is very important for political projects to not interfere with the church life and to not destroy it.”
Nevertheless, political projects continue to remain in some people’s heads, and as of right now it is not very clear as to what exactly can knock the former out of the latter: in recent years, the Ukrainian regime headed by Yushchenko has launched a humanitarian attack aimed not only at increasing interest and respect for Ukrainian culture and language, but also at juxtaposing Ukrainian culture with Russian and Ukraine’s history with Russia’s. In essence, Yushchenko is taking the “Baltic path:” the Soviet Baltic republics made their way to independence namely by arousing, in the late 1980s, interest in all things pertaining to their ethnic history.
Ukraine obtained its independence in a different manner, but today the Ukrainian elite is essentially faced with the task of finally and fully legitimizing the Ukrainian statehood, in the humanitarian field among others.
In all likelihood, while the policy of strengthening Ukrainian sovereignty continues to be realized in the next few years, negotiations with our Ukrainian counterparts on practically any issues are doomed to face difficulties, since it will be challenging to have a conversation about specific economic problems, interests and deals, and hearing something about Golodomor and about whose fault it was in response. You talk about trade or gas transit problems, and the other side replies with something formal, while referring to the necessity of separating the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from the Russian one, because this is presently seen as politically more significant. Or you talk about somehow arranging a way to keep the base of Russia’s Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol, and the other side starts telling you that Sevastopol is not in the least the city of Russian naval glory, but the city of Ukrainian glory in the same field, and this is a fundamental difference. On the whole, it becomes obvious that nobody is really planning to come to any agreements on essential matters.
What can we agree on when more and more differences surface at the level of culture and history? No matter how paradoxical this sounds, at the beginning of the 21st century, it becomes difficult to agree on practically anything. And this is why I, for example, do not see any prospects for negotiations about Sevastopol, and not even about the WTO, which Ukraine just recently joined and now burns with desire to set its own conditions for Russia’s acceptance into the organization.
It seems that the young Ukrainian statehood, and primarily the young Ukrainian political elite, simply needs to “sow its wild oats.” This is like trying to have an “educational conversation” with a teenager at an awkward age – in this case, normal logic and usual methods do not work; the first thing you need is titanic, extreme patience. Any new attempt to irritate such partners will spur all kinds of nonsense, like a demonstrative, “out of spite” visit by the most polemical and militant Russian deputies, is of as much use as thrusting a stick into an anthill. Unless, of course, it is not an attempt to completely demolish this anthill.
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Moscow, July 30, Interfax - Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko didn't manage to "legalize" Ukrainian schismatics during the Russia's Baptism 1020 celebration, the Russian Orthodox Church believes.
"Frankly speaking, Yushchenko is out of reckoning for the visit of the Constantinople Patriarch. Representative of schismatic jurisdiction didn't participate in official events," acting secretary for Church and Society of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations Fr. Georgy Ryabykh said.
According to him, if earlier many Ukrainians considered "ephemeral and strange that world Orthodoxy doesn't recognize schismatics, today they have seen with their own eyes what it means."
"No matter how hard the president tried to pay compliments to the Constantinople Patriarch he couldn't made him come in sight with schismatic leaders," Fr. Georgy said.
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By ENI Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Senior church members in Russia have deemed as a public relations success the State backing of the celebration of the Feast Day of Saints Pyotr and Fevronia, which is a Russian Orthodox holiday, after strong media coverage of festivities, from concerts to weddings. Held on 8 July, some Russians now believe the holiday could soon overshadow Valentine's Day.
Still, it will take some months to determine whether this year's celebration of Pyotr and Fevronia achieved its goal of encouraging family life and stimulating the birth rate in Russia. The country continues to suffer from a declining population that now stands at 141 million.
Young Russians in urban centres have embraced Valentine's Day despite the disapproval of the Russian Orthodox Church that sees it as purely a commercial holiday that promotes promiscuity.
Russian Patriarch Alexei II issued a statement in June supporting the mass celebration of the feast day of Saints Pyotr and Fevronia, and stressed its importance both morally and in countering the consequences of what Russia went through in the 20th century.
"In the 20th century, Russia endured a succession of events that placed our Motherland on the verge of disappearance," Patriarch Alexei said. "The family, deprived of higher religious ideas, suffered especially. The consequences of the destruction of this ideal were so severe that today there are grounds to fear for the physical extinction of Russia."
Demographers report that Russia's birth rate grew by 8.3 percent, nearly 2 million, in 2007. This is a record for the post-Soviet era but still far too low to compensate for the death rate. According to Goskomstat, Russia's national statistics service, the number of deaths in the country between 1992 and 2007 exceeded births by 12 million.
The July feast day that the Russian authorities hope will help buck this trend commemorates the lives of Pyotr, a prince from Murom that, with 1146 years of history to its name, is one of Russia's most historic cities, and Fevronia, a peasant maiden who cured Pyotr of disease on condition that he married her. Russians revere both saints for their acts of charity and marital fidelity.
In his statement, Alexei said the religious holiday, which has also been given a secular name and remains a working day, could help remedy the situation. "I support the initiative to hold an annual day to celebrate the family, love and fidelity, and hope that it will enable the confirmation in Russia of high moral values, without which the life of both individuals and society is impossible."
The feast day is also developing a commercial side. Russians call Valentine's Day cards "valentinki". Now, "fevronki" cards are also on sale.
Metropolitan Kirill, who heads the external relations department of the Orthodox Church, was quoted by the RIA Novosti news agency as saying at a press conference, "Representatives of all of the traditional religions of Russia have expressed fervent support for the idea of this holiday."
The relics of Saints Pyotr and Fevronia are kept at the Holy Trinity Convent in Murom and draw pilgrims to the city, which was a closed military-industrial centre in Soviet times.
Reported by Sophia Kishkovsky for ENI.
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Moscow, July 30, Interfax - The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate criticizes Ukrainian authorities for their attempts to set up an independent local Church contrary to the opinion of the majority of people.
"Viktor Yushchenko abused his authority, violated the constitution and ignored the opinion of hierarchs on the unity of the Russian Orthodox Church outspoken at the Bishops' Council in Moscow," Archbishop Ionafan of Tulchin and Bratslav said at the Moscow-Kiev video bridge organized to sum up the results of Ukrainian celebrations of the 1020th anniversary of Russia's Baptism.
Thus, the Ukrainian hierarch commented on the initiative of the Ukrainian President Yushchenko to establish an Orthodox Church independent from Moscow.
According to the archbishop, Yushchenko "interferes in a strictly canonical field of church organization and administration." "He demonstrated it more than once when meeting Patriarch Bartholomew."
Archbishop Ionafan stressed, Ukrainian autocephaly (church independence - IF) was impossible without complete unanimity between people and hierarchs on the question, which was lacking.
The archbishop also said that the Ukrainian Church Synod stated twice that the establishment of the local Church was unviable.
The hierarch also told that when he prayed at the liturgy near the monument to St. Vladimir the Baptist he "was distracted by talks in the presidential lodge and involuntarily overheard them."
"You won't believe me! They talked about cold beer! What restaurant serves it colder. And these people speak about autocephaly and spirituality! They need cold beer and sturgeon with horse radish rather than autocephaly," Archbishop Ionafan summed up.
He stressed that "the plan of forced (spiritual - IF) separation of Ukraine from Russia is Ukraine's perish." "God forbid for the Yugoslavian scenario to work here," the hierarch stated.
See also under the Mosaic heading.
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Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Saint Silas was a companion and fellow labourer of the Apostle Paul: "And Paul chose Silas and departed...and he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches" (Acts 15:40-41). He later became Bishop of Corinth, and reposed in peace. Saint Silvan became Bishop of Thessalonica, and also reposed in peace. Saint Crescents, whom Saint Paul mentions in his Second Epistle to Timothy(4:10), became Bishop of Chalcedon, and brought many to the Faith. As for him whom the Apostle of the Nations praises as "my well-beloved Epenetus, the first-fruits of Achaia unto Christ" (Roman 16:5), he became Bishop of Carthage, and after enduring many afflictions from the idolators, and bringing many of them to Christ, he departed to the Lord.
Apolytikion in the Third Tone
O Holy Apostles, intercede to our merciful God, that He may grant our souls forgiveness of sins.
Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
Ye have appeared as great and fruit-bearing branches of Christ the Vine, O God-proclaiming Apostles, bearing the virtues in great clusters, wisdom's fruit, which pour forth upon us all the sweet wine of salvation; which when we receive within, we are drunken with gladness, and celebrate your honoured memory. Pray that our sins be forgiven and we be saved.
This is without a doubt the most important result to come out of the celebrations in Kiev, which ended in a joint statement to the press by Bartholomew I and Aleksij II.
For his part, Aleksij thanked the ecumenical patriarch several times, saying that he agreed that all problems must be solved through dialogue “without becoming tools of politicians.”
The festivities had begun amid controversy though. Moscow had criticised Bartholomew I’s decision to head the delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the Kiev festivities.
Ungracefully Aleksij II’s staff had put pressure on other Orthodox Churches to stay away from the celebrations in Ukraine.
The dispute between Moscow and Constantinople has been going on for some time: first in Rhodes (Greece) in 2007, when Moscow announced it would not take part in the pan-Orthodox Synod in 2008; then in Ravenna when Moscow’s representatives walked out of a conference because they objected to the presence of the Estonian Orthodox Church which Moscow does not recognise.
The confrontation began to ebb when Aleksij II decided to take part in the Kiev festivities.
Since his arrival last Friday Bartholomew made it clear that his trip was not meant to reassert his “supremacy” but only “contribute to the unity of the Ukrainian Church . . . and honour the martyrs of the Holotovol famine of 1932-1933, victims of the atheist fury.”
He even admitted that “the Church as a living organism has problems,” adding that ‘what is important is knowing how to engage in dialogue with a spirit of love.”
During his stay in Ukraine Bartholomew met Metropolitan Vladimir, legate of the Moscow Patriarchate; Filaret, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (independent of Moscow); as well as Card Lubomir Huzar, of the Byzantine (Uniate) Catholic Church.
During a dinner given by Metropolitan Vladimir for the Ecumenical delegation, Bartholomew expressed his regrets that “that at this table the brothers from other Churches from the Land of Ukraine are absent.” He did reaffirm “the strong willingness of the Mother Church of Constantinople to mend rifts among its children.
The archbishop of Albania, a figure well respected in the Orthodox world, noted that often people forget that the survival of Christianity in this vast geographical area after the rise of Islam and the collapse of the ancient Patriarchal centres in Alexandria, Jerusalem and Antioch was due to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople.
And probably in what may very well be a first, Turkey’s press followed in great number and with great interest the patriarch’s trip, stressing the role Constantinople played in the Christianisation and the civilisation of the Ukraine.
Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk said that the meeting, especially after the statement by Bartholomew and Aleksij, “breathed new life into the relationship between the two Churches”
One of his close aide confirmed that a solution to the split between the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church (which is considered “schismatic” by Moscow) and the one loyal to Moscow might be in a “temporary self-determination which would allow each Church to choose to which Patriarchate it wishes to join.”
This indicates that even within the Russian Orthodox Church there are those who disagree with the authoritarian practices of some of its members.
By Anne Barnard Published: July 29, 2008
President Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine chose the 1,020th anniversary of the advent of Christianity in the Slavic kingdom that predated both Ukraine and Russia - a date that each country claims as a founding event of its nationhood - to issue a public plea for Ukraine's Orthodox Christians to gain independence from the Russian Orthodox Church.
With Orthodox church notables from around the world looking on, Yushchenko asked Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the titular spiritual leader of the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians, to bless the creation of an independent Ukrainian church - "a blessing," he said, "for a dream, for the truth, for a hope, for our state, for Ukraine."
The Ukrainian president - who claims that Russian agents tried to murder him with poison that left him with a pockmarked face - snubbed the Russian Orthodox Patriarch, Alexei II, giving him a businesslike handshake after warmly kissing Bartholomew on both cheeks.
During three days of solemn religious ceremonies, rock concerts and political brinksmanship in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, the power struggle was not resolved. Both sides declared victory as Bartholomew stopped short of supporting or rejecting the independence movement, saying only that divisions in the Ukrainian church would have "problematic consequences for Ukraine's future."
The possibility of a split in the church revealed that behind the geopolitical bluster that the two countries have directed at each other since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991 lies an identity crisis and a deep sense of loss.
Many Ukrainians believe the Russian empire and later the Soviet Union robbed them of the chance to develop a national identity, while many Russians feel that Ukraine is now claiming for itself both land and history that belong to them as well.
For Svetlana Dyomena, a nurse who prayed Monday at Yelokhovsky Cathedral in Moscow, the idea of an independent Ukrainian church immediately reminded her of her objections to an independent Ukraine.
"How can Ukraine not be part of Russia?" she said after lighting a candle at the turquoise, golden-domed church, which was the Russian capital's main practicing Orthodox cathedral under Soviet rule. "We have a common faith, a common history."
Dyomena said it was less painful to see countries like Georgia seek to escape Moscow's sphere of influence.
"Georgians - well, they were always from the Caucasus," she said, referring to the restive mountainous region that has fought wars against Russian rulers for centuries. But Ukraine and Russia, she said, have "one language, one religion, even one cuisine."
Ukrainians disagree. Russian was the language of government and education in Ukraine under the Soviet and Russian empires, and Ukrainians struggled to maintain their language. They view the absorption of the Ukrainian state and church into Russia's institutions under Peter the Great as an annexation that was not reversed until 1991.
"How can you live like neighbors when your neighbor says the house you live in is not your own house, but our common house?" asked Bishop Yevstraty, the spokesman for one of two Ukrainian breakaway churches, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kiev Patriarchate, which the Moscow Patriarchate has declared heretical.
Establishing an independent church is essential for Ukraine to consolidate its national identity and statehood, and it will probably happen eventually, said Alexei Malashenko, an expert on religion and society at the Moscow Carnegie Center.
"But for Russia it is also a tragedy," he said. "I don't know how they are going to agree."
When Ukraine left the Soviet Union in 1991, the new nation took with it much that was dear to Russian hearts.
The Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, won by Catherine the Great from the Turks for the Russian empire, was a vacation getaway for generations of Russian nobles and, later, Soviet laborers. Its port, in Sevastopol, is the home of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
Odessa, an important shipping hub now part of Ukraine, is also the source of cultural touchstones from its bawdy jokes to the famous shot of the baby carriage rolling down the steps in the classic Eisenstein film, Battleship Potemkin.
But the biggest prize is the inheritance of Kievan Rus, the kingdom that Prince Vladimir converted to Christianity in the 10th century. Some historians consider the kingdom to be the predecessor of the three east Slavic nations existing today - Russia, Ukraine and Belarus - as well as a cultural high point in the medieval history of Europe as a whole.
Speaking in Kiev, the Russian patriarch called it "the mother of Russian cities, a city from where Holy Orthodoxy began to spread through our land."
Moscow church officials, who are close to the Kremlin, linked church unity to political efforts to maintain close ties among Slavic countries.
At a rock concert organized by the Moscow patriarchate, the popular rock band DDT performed alongside Metropolitan Kirill, a Moscow church spokesman who declared in a kind of ecclesiastical rap: "Russia, Ukraine, Belarus - That is Holy Rus!"
There is also division within Ukraine itself over the issue.
The idea of church independence is less popular in Ukraine's mainly Russian-speaking, pro-Russian industrialized south and east than in the Ukrainian-speaking, Western-leaning part of the country west of the Dniepr River.
Alexei II canceled a planned trip to Donetsk, a pro-Russian city, citing health reasons, but was widely seen to be either trying to avoid stirring up conflict by rallying his supporters, or to be leaving early because the Ukrainian president did not show him enough respect.
At Yelokhovsky Sobor, another worshipper, Aleftina Prosvirnikova, 65, declared that all the problems had started in Western Ukraine.
"The south and east - that's the normal, Russian Ukraine," she said.
Constantinople's jurisdiction over Ukrainian Orthodoxy would deepen religious split in Ukraine - cleric
Kiev, July 29, Interfax - The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) doubts that the possible introduction of parallel jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Ukraine is capable of re-uniting Ukrainian Orthodoxy.
"We think that this model will not work because instead of promoting church unity, the two jurisdictions will in fact remain parallel for a long time, deepening the split in the Ukrainian society," head of the Department for External Church Relations of the Ukrainian Church Archimandrite Kirill (Hovorun) told reporters in Kiev.
The prospect of creating a single Church in Ukraine under two parallel jurisdictions is highly unlikely, he said.
As for the possible unification on the basis of the secessionist "Kiev Patriarchate" and other secessionist structures, that is even less probable, Father Kirill said.
As soon as there emerged an opportunity for the "Kiev Patriarchate" to come under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, it immediately relinquished its struggle for the status of the only canonical autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine, the metropolitan said.
"The idea of uniting the Ukrainian Orthodox Church on the basis of the "Kiev Patriarchate" or unrecognized jurisdictions has suffered a fiasco," he said.
In his opinion, the Ukrainian Orthodoxy can only be united "on the basis of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church - [which is] the most numerous and enjoys the widest support worldwide," Metropolitan Kirill said.
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Utah Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko giving Medvedev an Olympic basketball team jersey in the Kremlin on Tuesday.
“I do not have a good-natured, optimistic view of the future. We do not have the grounds for such good-natured optimism. But our assignment consists of resisting all the dangers appearing in our faith, from our convictions and relying on help from God,” he added.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Commemorated on July 29
The Holy Martyr Callinicus, a native of Cilicia, was raised from childhood in the Christian Faith. Grieving that many misguided people would perish for eternity because they worshiped idols, he went through the cities and villages to proclaim Jesus Christ and His teachings to the pagans, and with the Word of God he converted many to Christianity.
In the Galatian city of Ancyra the holy confessor was arrested and brought to trial before a governor named Sacerdonus, a fierce persecutor of Christians. The governor, threatening tortures and death, ordered the saint to offer sacrifice to the idols. The saint fearlessly declared that he was not afraid of martyrdom, since every believer in Christ receives from Him strength in ordeals, and through death inherits an eternal blessed life.
They cruelly beat the saint with ox thongs and tore at his body with iron hooks, but he endured everything with patience and calm. This aroused still greater fury in Sacerdonus, and he ordered that sandals with sharp nails be placed on the saint's feet, and that they should drive the martyr with whips to the city of Gangra to be burned.
The pathway was arduous, and the soldiers who accompanied the condemned man were weak from thirst. In despair they began to implore the saint to pray the Lord for water. The saint, taking pity on his tormentors, with the help of God caused a miraculous spring of water to gush forth from a stone. The astonished soldiers were filled with sympathy for their rescuer, and they wanted even to set him free. Fear of execution, however, compelled them to bring the martyr farther. In Gangra, St Callinicus joyfully offered thanks to the Lord, Who had vouchsafed him the crown of martyrdom. He went into the blazing fire and gave up his soul to God. His body, remaining unharmed, was reverently buried by believers.
Troparion - Tone 4
Your holy martyr Callinicus, O Lord,through his suffering has received an incorruptible crown from You, our God.For having Your strength, he laid low low his adversaries,and shattered the powerless boldness of demons.Through his intercessions save our souls.
Kontakion - Tone 2
Podoben: “Seeking the highest...”You worthily inherited joy on high, Callinicus,for aflame with love for Christ you bravely endured the fire.As you stand before Him,never cease to intercede for us all.
Bartholomew arrived in Kiev on Friday to join the celebrations, seen by Ukrainian officials as an opportunity to assert the independence of their local church from Russia, a policy Ukraine has been seeking since the 2004 Orange Revolution that moved the country away from Moscow and closer to the West.
Ankara sees Patriarch Bartholomew as the leader of the Greek Orthodox community in Turkey, although the world Orthodox community considers him their ecumenical spiritual leader.
Thousands of Ukrainian believers gathered in the early morning hours on Sunday in front of the monument of Vladimir the Great, under whose reign the region converted to Christianity in 988, to attend the liturgy. The event follows a liturgy in the St. Sophia Cathedral in the center of the city on Saturday during which Yushchenko publicly expressed his confidence that an “autonomous national church will see the light in Ukraine as an historic truth,” in front of thousands of people.
Yesterday’s liturgy was conducted in Greek and Russian and followed a restrained speech from Kiev Patriarch Vladimir, who emphasized Vladimir the Great’s role in the baptism of Ukraine. He also expressed “pain” and “sorrow” over the schism created by two breakaway churches unrecognized both by Moscow and Bartholomew, saying they prayed for unity and expressing his confidence that peace and understanding would eventually prevail over current disputes.
Patriarch Bartholomew described in detail in his speech the role of the Orthodox Church in İstanbul in the Christianization of Kiev, including the Christianization of Olga of Kiev, the first ruler of the medieval state who converted to Christianity, and hundreds of missionaries sent by his church to Kiev. He said this “great even” was made possible by the church in İstanbul, the mother of all Orthodox churches in the world. He noted that “the Kiev Metropolite was established by Constantinople, just like the St. Sophia Cathedral,” adding that it was named after the same saint as the first great church in İstanbul.
“We always remember the efforts of the church of Constantinople as a source of our baptism and we are grateful for that,” said Alexy II in his speech after Bartholomew. “However the Russian Church had to split from Constantinople due to historical conditions and events,” he said, adding it had become the church maintaining unity of the Slavic Orthodox populations.
Archimandrite Cyril of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, who responded to journalists’ questions after the liturgy said the “problems between the churches are very special,” noting also that Sunday’s liturgy was a token of the church’s unity.
He said there were efforts to “heal” the current division, saying Bartholomew’s visit upon the invitation of President Yushchenko was indicative of the reconciliation efforts.
In response to a question on what could be a concrete solution for reconciliation, Archimandrite Cyril said a model was yet to be established but that a structure under the ecumenical church or establishing Ukraine as an independent church were options that had not been ruled out. He said there would be “one single model of reconciliation that is the common voice of the churches.”
KIEV, Ukraine: Moscow and Kiev both are claiming victory in a dispute creating an independent Ukrainian Orthodox church — which Russia fiercely opposes — after a weekend visit by the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko is hoping to win recognition of the local church's independence from Moscow as part of his drive to shed centuries-long Russian influence. The Russian Orthodox Church resists losing control over this predominantly Orthodox country of 46 million.
Yushchenko said on his Web site that the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox believers has voiced support for the creation of a local church, independent of the powerful Russian Orthodox Church.
"I am glad that the Patriarch is backing the aspiration of the Ukrainian people to have its own national local church," Yushchenko said in a statement. "Such aspirations are in line to all the principles of a national, state and of course church life."
Yushchenko made the statement Sunday at the end of a three-day visit by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, who came to Kiev to attend massive celebrations marking the 1020 anniversary of Ukraine's and Russia's conversion to Christianity.
But Mikhail Prokopenko, a spokesman for the Moscow-based Russian church, disputed Yushchenko's claim. He told The Associated Press on Monday that a meeting between Russian Patriarch Alexy II and Bartholomew confirmed that Constantinople recognizes Moscow's supremacy over the Ukrainian church.
Prokopenko also said that Bartholomew also will not recognize a breakaway church in Ukraine that has proclaimed its independence and whose leader has been excommunicated by Alexy.
Bartholomew's office declined immediate comment.
Experts say the Ukrainian church likely will get independence eventually, like churches in other countries will sizable Orthodox populations. But an abrupt decision on this could lead to a deep split between Constantinople and the Russian church, the biggest Orthodox church in the world, which claims 95 million believers out of the world's 250 million Orthodox.
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PETER MURTAGH in Srebrenica
THEY answered the call - young and old, male and female.
"I am here for life of Radovan Karadzic," said a man in the Serbian Orthodox church in Bratunac, a town a mere 10kms down the road from Srebrenica where in 1995 Serb forces loyal to Karadzic murdered more than 8,000 Muslims.
On Saturday morning local radio reported that the Serbian Democratic Party, the SDS, which was founded by Karadzic, wanted people across Republika Srpska, the self-governing Serbian part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, to assemble in towns and villages at midday in town and then go to their local Serbian Orthodox churches and hold vigils for him.
At noon in Srebrenica, the local Orthodox priest, Father Zeljko Teofilovic, said he was unaware of the call but would not allow his church to be used for what he said was politics.
There was no such reluctance in Bratunac. Watched by police, some 400 people walked in sombre mood from the town centre to the nearby Orthodox church. There were elderly men and women, husbands and wives in their middle years and young people, some in their 20s, others teenagers.
A large man with a Republika Srpska flag on a pole stood at the church door and gave the Serbian V sign for photographers. People, many holding candles, stood initially outside in the rain until numbers swelled.
At 12.30 they filed inside, filling the small church to overflowing. At least two-thirds could not squeeze in and remained in the rain. No priest was present but one of the protesters, a local activist with the SDS, stepped forward and recited a few prayers. People blessed themselves, kissed icons and left. There was no hostility to outsiders.
Karadzic, former president of Republika Srspka, and Radko Mladic, the head of the Bosnian Serb army, have been indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. They are charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity over the 43-month long siege of Sarajevo and the genocide at Srebrenica, which was carried out systematically by Mladic's men after Karadzic gave the order to take the town.
Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade last week after 11 years on the run and could be extradited to The Hague this week. His lawyer declined to say whether an appeal against extradition had been lodged by the deadline, which was midnight on Friday.
Pro-Karadzic vigils were held also in Banja Luka, capital of Republika Srpska, and Pale, the war-time base of Karadzic and Mladic in the mountains above Sarajevo.
Many people carried pictures of Karadzic. Most Bosnian Serbs see both him and Mladic as heroic defenders of the Serb nation and say the charges are false accusations founded on anti-Serb propaganda.
"More than 200 Bosnian Serb war veterans are ready to testify in The Hague that Karadzic is innocent, and prove that there was also Serb victims in that war," said Slavko Jovicic, a member of a veterans' association, who was marching in Pale in support of Karadzic.
In Bratunac, a young woman explained she was at the vigil because "I am a Serb and I love Republikla Srpska and Serbia".
Just 10kms up the road, Muslim families were making weekend visits to graves at the genocide memorial.
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From Monday's Globe and Mail
July 27, 2008 at 9:42 PM EDT
MOSCOW — In the basement of Moscow's most iconic church, levelled to dust by the Soviets and later rebuilt after communism collapsed, a new exhibit about the doomed Romanov family is drawing crowds.
But some say that this rehabilitation has drifted too far and that Russians are wrongly lionizing their former monarch, who abdicated in 1917 on the eve of the Bolshevik revolution. A year later, Nicholas and Alexandra and their five children were executed by firing squad in a Yekaterinburg cellar on the orders of Vladimir Lenin.
Ninety years later, with the backing of the Russian Orthodox Church, which canonized the entire family in 2000, many Russians now view the czar as a martyred hero and great statesman.
In fact, Nicholas is now running neck and neck with Josef Stalin in popularity in a television program that is running a contest to judge Russia's greatest historical figures.
Some historians say the Orthodox Church is the driving force behind attempts to withhold negative publicity about the Romanovs.
Archivist Elena Chirkova, who helped with the current exhibit, said two photographs of the royal family pictured with Rasputin were ordered removed from the exhibit by church officials.
Ms. Chirkova said she believes church attempts to idealize the family are a mistake, every bit as misplaced as the Soviet efforts to denigrate them. She thinks the czar was just an ordinary man who made mistakes in office, but loved his wife and children.
“During Soviet times, they were depicted as bad people. For 70 years, that's what people were taught. Now it's the opposite – they are idealized. The truth, I think, is somewhere in the middle. They were human beings.”
Previous exhibits in the 1990s, she said, provided more complete versions of the lives of Nicholas and Alexandra.
The current exhibit, entitled Crown of the Czar, is sponsored by the Orthodox Church's Yekaterinburg diocese, the Russian Archives and the Moscow Museum.
A spokesman for the Yekaterinburg diocese confirmed that the church nixed the Rasputin photos, but denied that it was censoring negative images from the exhibit.
In a telephone interview, Father Maxim said the photos were removed because they didn't fit the theme of the exhibit, which was to show the czar's political, social and military activities.
However, the priest stressed that he does not believe Nicholas II had any significant weaknesses and was a true “hero of Russia.” In the future, he said, the church will seek to further elevate the czar's status and accomplishments in office.
“He was a great emperor and he did a lot of good things for Russia,” Father Maxim said in a telephone interview from Yekaterinburg.
Despite the spat about the exclusion of some photos, the Russian appetite for all things Romanov is large. Nearly 40,000 people have visited the exhibit, which features some never-before-seen documents and artifacts, including the bayonets that were used to kill some family members and the yellowed telegrams from the Soviet executioners, ordering litres of acid, which they doused over the bodies before burying them.
There are also documents detailing a peace conference in The Hague which the czar initiated in 1899.
Earlier this month, thousands of pilgrims flocked to Yekaterinburg, the Urals city about 1,300 kilometres east of Moscow, to mark the 90th anniversary of the family's death. Interest in the royals was also buoyed by the recent discovery of the remains of Crown Prince Alexei and Grand Duchess Maria. Their parents and siblings' remains were discovered in a mass grave outside the city in 1991. Last summer, an amateur historian discovered the second gravesite and subsequent DNA tests have confirmed their identities.
Since their deaths in 1918, the lives and deaths of Russia's Romanov family have inspired books, films and pretenders to the throne the world over. The most infamous was a claim from a Polish peasant, Anna Anderson, who said she was the Grand Duchess Anastasia, the czar's youngest daughter. DNA tests after her death discredited her claims.
The official Soviet narrative, taught to schoolchildren, was that Nicholas II was a weak and violent ruler who destroyed Russia and deserved to die.
Western historians were kinder, although the consensus was that he was a naive leader, ill-equipped to steer a massive empire on the verge of a Bolshevik revolution.
Some older visitors to the Moscow exhibit seemed overwhelmed by the discrepancy between the czar's current reputation and the version that was drummed into them during the Soviet era.
“We were taught that all of them were enemies of the people,” said visitor Galina Glabokova, 52. “What we were told wasn't true. It was a tragedy. Our new society began with the blood of this family.”
Liudmila Mukhamedova, a curator with the Moscow Museum, went further. She described the doomed czar as a visionary leader who faced his death with “Christian humility.”
“He thought about his family, which he adored,” she said. “But I think he thought more about Russia's future. He was ready to sacrifice himself for his country.”
Her introduction to the lives of Russia's last imperial family may have been less complete than she knew. Absent from this exhibit are any traces of Czar Nicholas II's well-documented human foibles, including the family's infamous association with the manipulative mystic Rasputin, as well as his wife Alexandra's fondness for expensive jewels.