What is Monarchy and What Example Can it Serve for Today’s Youth?
On Saturday, November 10, 2018, at the Synodal Residence of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in New York, the Prince Vladimir Youth Association hosted a symposium on the 100th anniversary of the martyrdom of the Russian Royal Family.
The main element of the event was a lecture by Professor Nicholas Ganson of Hellenic College: “Monarchy, Modernity and Mythology from Babylon to Byzantium and Beyond.” Participating in the symposium was His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America and New York.
Dr Ganson gave an outline of monarchical forms over the course of world history, paying special attention to the monarchy in Russia during the time of Emperor Nicholas II, and the martyrdom of the Tsar-Martyr and the Royal Family.
A round-table discussion followed, during which it was emphasized that Tsar Nicholas accepted martyrdom as a true Orthodox Christian, a “passion-bearer.” Dr Ganson noted that his sanctity is beyond doubt, since he accepted his death with humility, and prepared himself throughout his life for that moment. “If he had not exhibited humility throughout his life, he could not have accepted the horrifying reality facing him, with confidence in the future eternal life, meekly and calmly accepting Divine will over himself.”
This symposium struck the final chord in a series of celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the martyrdom of the Royal Passion-Bearers, which was marked in Russia and throughout the Russian diaspora.
Participants were asked to share their thoughts:
Adrian Fekula, moderator:
- We live in America, where there was never a monarchy, and we feel no bond with it. It interests me how our ancestors lived under a monarchical state, and what we can learn from it.
- Is it difficult for you to venerate the Passion-bearer Nicholas? Is it hard to pray to him as to other great saints of past centuries?
- For me, it’s easy. I think that the Tsar was a profoundly faithful main, and we see this clearly by looking at his life. He never wanted to rule Russia. He retreated to his residence and lived with his family. He rarely visited the capital. We see his deep faith and his love for his people and Homeland.
So it is hard for us to imagine how he was the Tsar and ruled the state, since we never had such a sovereign form of government. Praying to him is easy, because this was a person who suffered for his faith, for his nation. He loved his country, tried to defend it from communism, knowing that it would be a great catastrophe for Russia.
Protopriest Serafim Gan, Chancellor of the Synod of Bishops, Rector of St Seraphim Memorial Church in Sea Cliff, NY:
- I came to this symposium to support the event and honor the martyrdom of the Royal Family together with our young people. For me this is the most important thing: to participate, support our youth and Russian Orthodoxy. I think that clergymen should serve as an example.
Last July, when 100 years earlier the Royal Family was shot, our parish in Sea Cliff celebrated a night-time Liturgy, and so we marked the anniversary in prayer.
In addition to that, in February I had the Divine mercy to participate in divine services and events dedicated to the martyrdom of Hieromartyr Vladimir, Metropolitan of Kiev, held at Kiev-Pechersk Lavra in Ukraine. I spoke at a conference at the monastery on how the Russian Church Abroad glorified St Vladimir, the Royal Family and other New Martyrs at the Council of Bishops in 1981. I was fortunate enough not only to concelebrate, but to venerate the relics of St Vladimir, the site of his execution by gunfire, and to spend time with His Beatitude Metropolitan Onouphry, his most recent successor. In May, I participated in divine services devoted to the 150th anniversary of the birth of the Tsar, held at St Sergius Church in Churaevka, CT, where Protopriest Constantine Semyanko serves.
Svetlan Lemza, radiologist, member of the St Vladimir Youth Association:
- I was interested in learning more about monarchy in general and the Royal Family in particular. I love them, I venerate them, and they hold a dear place in my heart.
Is it difficult to pray to them? Not for me. On the contrary, I learned more about the Royal Family when I moved to New York. I read the book Divny svet [Wondrous Light], which was published in America. It helped reveal the essence of the Tsar-Martyr and his Family. I came to love and respect them more. I feel close to them everywhere—in New York, and when I visit Russia—the important thing is that they remain in my heart.
William Bortins, student at King’s College, NY:
- I myself am American, I have no Russian blood. But last year I traveled to Russia, where I spent three weeks. One week was on a cruise on the Volga River, later a week in St Petersburg, then a week in Moscow, where there was a conference which included discussion on home-schooling. Politicians and other experts from all over the world spoke, all very interesting. I was very pleased with my trip, and when my girlfriend invited me to this symposium on monarchy, I decided to go. I wanted to learn more about Russian history, the monarchy, and learn how Orthodox Christians live in New York, get to know the youth better, and Orthodox Christians who live here.
Alexei Ohotin, student at Steven’s Institute of Technology, Hoboken, NJ:
- It was very interesting to learn more about the history of monarchy, its moral aspects, how it can connect with contemporary life, and whether it has a future in the contemporary world.
This symposium is the continuation of events through whic the Church Abroad marks the centenary of the martyrdom of Holy Passion-Bearer Nicholas II and the Royal Family. As part of this series, we traveled to Minsk. This was my first trip to Belarus. It was fantastic! I was most impressed by the kindness of Belarussians—like I entered a different world! We met the local youth and scouts. In Minsk, we traveled with a reliquary containing the holy relics of Holy Grand Duchess Elizabether and Nun Barbara brought from the Synodal Cathedral of Our Lady “of the Sign” in New York, along with Fr Andrei Sommer. So we visited many churches and monasteries, including a convent dedicated to St Elizabeth, where we did some volunteer work.
Tanya Zakharova, Westchester Community College, Croton-on-Hudson, NY:
- I was born in Moscow. We came to America, where my father was offered a job, when I was about 8. Last summer we went to Minsk, where we helped out at an orphanage run by St Elizabeth Convent. I was impressed by how organized it was, and by the people who work there. We learned a lot.
This symposium is part of a series on the martyrdom of the Tsar’s Family. I am trying to learn more about the history of monarchy. Sadly, one rarely hears about it, so I was interested in this symposium. We were also happy to help Fr Andrei organize it.
Isaiah Trofimenko, Synodal Choir singer, member of the St Vladimir Youth Association:
- I’ve been interested in history since childhood, and think that all young people who grew up in the Russian Church Abroad usually like history. Our church is very closely bound to Russian history, because its members are Russians who were left without a homeland. I’m glad that I had the opportunity to hear this lecture by a good professor, and to ask questions.
In my opinion, such gatherings are very important. We have lived for a long time without monarchy. But we are taught that monarchy was the best system for Orthodox Christianity. Many questions come to mind. For instance, what should our attitude be towards monarchy today? We asked the lecturer, and others who know this topic, questions like that today.
I asked about a constitutional monarchy. Maybe this would be the best system in Russia today, but I doubt it will ever happen.
Gregory Soloviev, BA and MA in history, Parish of St Xenia of St Petersrburg, Methuen, MA:
- Today we discussed monarchy as a form of government. In my opinion, monarcy is important to contemporary society as an element of history. Today there are no Orthodox monarchies, so we can only discuss the idea in theoretical terms.
Nicholas Straut, St Elizabeth Parish, Rocky Hill, NJ:
- I attended a similar symposium last year; everything having to do with the history of Russia is interesting to me. I learned a lot from today’s lecture. It was interesting to contrast contemporary forms of government and monarchy, and how monarchy is bound to Orthodox Christianity.
Katia Kallaur, St Seraphim Memorial Church, Sea Cliff, NY:
- I brought my children to the symposium, because it’s very important that they participate in such events. Maybe they don’t understand everything now, because they didn’t cover these topics in school. But I think it’s very important that they learn about such historic events, in particular about the monarchy and the Royal Family from an Orthodox point of view, and, with time, drop by drop, they will come to understand everything. I myself found it all very interesting.
- Is it easy to venerate the Royal Family in America, when people know nothing of the atmosphere of old Russia?
- For our family it’s easy. Yesterday in the car, our daughter Manya said that she wants to become famous. I told her that many temptations come with popularity and that she might lose her faith. She answered that the Royal Family was rich and famous, and they didn’t lose their faith. That is the connection she has with the Royal Family, yet Manya is part of the third generation of emigres born abroad.
Protopriest Andrei Sommer, President of the St Vladimir Youth Association, organizer of the symposium:
- This symposium is a continuation of the events marking the 100th anniversary of the martyrdom of the Tsar Passion-Bearer Nicholas and His August Family. Such discussions, symposia, are part of our church life, a continuation of the work begun in the 1950’s with the St Vladimir Circles, and our group is continuing that tradition. It is very important for our youth to continue the traditions of their predecessors.
It is important to reveal to our youth the reasons and significance of the podvig of the Holy Tsar-Passion-Bearer, the image of the life of the Royal Family, to give them an understanding of monarchy from the point of view of the Orthodox faith, for the world today dictates its own world view, its own opinion of Orthodox Christianity, of family life. That is why we must show our youth other examples. Especially since we already have them to reveal.
Many participants of this event study in college or are employed at work, and have little opportunity to see and ponder the Orthodox way of life, humility, devotion, the traditions of Orthodox Christianity. It is important to open up the example of the last Royal Family, especially on the 100th anniversary of the murder of these saints. We are striving to do so through this symposium, through trips, for instance, like our trip to Ekaterinburg in July, where we saw thousands of people and sensed their love for the Royal Passion-Bearers.
Today’s lecture explained how to properly view history and the Royal Family from the perspective of Orthodox Christianity, and not how the West dictates, which labeled the last Tsar as “weak” and “bloody.” From an Orthodox viewpoint, Emperor Nicholas II was a great and strong man, and his family was strong and faithful. This is confirmed by the words of the second Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky), on the 7th anniversary of the martyrdom of the Royal Family in 1925, after Liturgy at Golgotha in Jerusalem: “The late Emperor passed through the two great forms of temptation man is subject to in this world: that of lofty standing, glory and joy and that of humiliation, deprivation, and physical and spiritual suffering.” I would like for our youth to remember that, and as Apostle Paul said, “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation” (Hebrews 13:7), and emulate their faith and follow their life’s example, honoring their end.