Sermon for the Feast of the Royal Martyrs (2016)

Sermon for the Feast of the Royal Martyrs (2016) - Holy Cross Monastery
Our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, speaks to his apostles in today’s gospel, which we read in honor and memory of the Royal Passion-bearers, with these words:
If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
These words certainly apply to the saints whose memory we celebrate today. The Royal Family, Tsar Nicholas II, Tsaritsa Alexandra, the Crown Prince, Alexis, and the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, are some of the most misunderstood and vilified people in modern history. For many people, both in Russia and here in the West, this can be partially understood by ignorance and misinformation coming from the media and academia. But for many others, from the tsar’s own family and the Russian intelligentsia, to those in the West in high finance, the press and academia, there was (and still is!) a vicious hatred, even a demonic hatred, for the God-crowned Tsar and his most pious family. The Tsar’s grandfather, Alexander II, was murdered by revolutionaries; Tsar Nicholas’ father, Alexander III, was nearly killed several times by revolutionary terrorist attacks. Tsar Nicholas II knew almost the entire time that he reigned as emperor that his life would be a sacrifice for Russia; that it would most likely end in bloodshed; his own blood being spilled by those whose hatred was stirred up against him. This was prophesied by both St. Seraphim of Sarov and Blessed Parasceva of Diveyevo long before that terrible night in July of 1918 when they were gunned down and bayoneted by the Bolsheviks.

There have been many books and articles in recent decades, written by Orthodox writers, that have set the record straight on the piety of the Royal family, on the love and care that the Tsar and Tsaritsa had for their country and for the Orthodox Church, of the close family bond that united them to their dying day, and of their sacrifices for their beloved Russia. These writings give us a more accurate perspective of what a saintly family this was and how so much of the slander hurled against them simply wasn’t true.

In thinking about the Royal Martyrs, and how they maintained and preserved their Orthodox piety in the midst of those extraordinary times of revolution, godlessness and attacks on the Faith from all sides, it is helpful for us to look at them and examine their lives, because we ourselves live in extraordinary times. We live in an unprecedented time of revolution, godlessness and attacks on the Faith, like the world has never seen. You might say, “How can that be? The times of Lenin, Hitler, Stalin and Mao are over. Things in the world are not good, but certainly they could be much worse?!” True, the time of these worldwide dictators is currently not the same as in those days, but now, our Enemy, the Devil, prowling about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, uses more crafty and less open methods of warfare against the Church of Christ. Father George Calciu, the confessor from Romania who suffered for 22 years in communist prisons, and nearly as many years later in the United States, said,

“I don’t think it is easier to be a Christian in America than in Romania under the Communist regime. In America, we don’t have to suffer imprisonment, torture and so on, but spiritually, it is very difficult to keep the true Faith here.”

Our world, especially here in this country, is inundated with all kinds of things that are attempting to draw our minds and hearts away from Christ, from His Church, from a pious way of life, from remembrance of death and the future life. What they teach in schools, what we see and hear on the internet, in the movies and on TV, the endless and ever-increasing amount of technological gadgets that distract us and rule our lives without our being aware of it are making the temptations so subtle that we are numb to their harmful effects and don’t realize how we gradually slip away from God when we aren’t watchful and sober. C.S. Lewis commented on this when he wrote:

“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

So what can we learn from the Royal Martyrs to inspire us on our path to preserve the Faith in these difficult days? Let’s look at one aspect or virtue of each member or group of the family and see how it protected them from the hatred of the world, the world that hates Christ and therefore hates those who are His.

One of the prominent virtues of Tsar Nicholas II was his faithfulness to his calling as emperor, both to do everything to protect and serve the Russian people, and to uphold and support the Church. Faithfulness and integrity! These basic and most normal virtues have become increasingly rare in our day and age! No matter how much hatred the world had towards the Tsar, he was never bitter or angry about it, and those who were closest to him marveled at his patience and lack of vindictiveness. More saints were glorified during his reign than any other Tsar before him, and oftentimes he pushed for it when the Church was slow to act. St. Seraphim of Sarov prophesied, “The Tsar who glorifies me him will I glorify.” By this, we can see the spiritual value and benefit of being faithful to the Church and honoring the saints. Tsar Nicholas always honored the saints, went to church and confessed and communed regularly, embellished and established churches and monasteries all over Russia and even here in America. This love for the Church is something so basic, and yet so necessary if we are going to preserve our Orthodox Faith. The world, the flesh and the devil will try to use every means to keep us away from the soul-saving grace of the Church, but to love the Church, to pray, to give, to confess, to commune, to serve within the bosom of the Holy Church, to make it the most important thing in our lives, this we can be inspired by in the life of Tsar Nicholas, and see what spiritual benefit it brought to him, both during his lifetime, in overcoming the world, and after his martyric end, being glorified by the Russian Church and adorned with a multitude of miracles.

Tsar Nicholas’ wife, the Tsaritsa, Alexandra. She was likely the victim of gossip and slander even more than her husband. We must not forget, those of us who converted to Orthodoxy, that Alexandra herself, and also her sister, St. Elizabeth the New Martyr, were English-speaking converts to the Orthodox Faith. Both of them are now glorified saints! This reason alone should inspire those of us who are converts to emulate their good deeds and ask for their intercessions. One of the primary virtues of the Tsaritsa that is inspiring for us is how she preserved herself from worldly distractions and entertainments. The Empress was often expected to engage in many worldly activities, such as balls, operas, concerts, theatre and much more. Although sometimes attending because of her royal duties, she mostly shunned attendance at such places where triviality and amusement were the mainstay of high society, and she was despised and slandered for this. At times, she grew despondent and was upset at how viciously the press and high society attacked and slandered her, but she never despaired and always trusted in God to get her through the difficult times. In this regard, we find ourselves living in a world very much like Russian society at the beginning of the 20th century. In our times, to be a normal Orthodox Christian, to desire to live a pious life within the Church, requires us to swim against the stream, to love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. To attend church on Saturday nights, Sunday liturgies and feast days, to keep the fasts, to make pilgrimages to monasteries, to prefer prayer and spiritual reading to hedonistic pleasures and worldly entertainments is taking a bold and courageous step in our day and we must be ready to be scorned and ridiculed for our Faith in God and love for the Church of Christ. The Tsaritsa Alexandra can inspire us, to show us how she handled herself and guided her children, and even the mistakes she made can serve to make us mindful of our own weaknesses and passions that blind us to the Truth and a virtuous way of life.

The Grand Duchesses. We don’t often hear of the virtues of the daughters of the Royal Couple, but there is something we can mine from their lives that can inspire us today. Like all older children and especially teenagers, the world was very enticing to them, and their mother noticed the tendency in them towards “frivolity and extravagance”. Most young girls or women in their shoes would likely have felt the same temptations. In order to subdue this tendency in them, the tsaritsa drew their attention to the sufferings of others. During World War I, she and the four grand duchesses “became nurses; and hospitals were opened near the family's residence, where wounded soldiers were brought. They worked long hours, diligently and tirelessly following the commandment of Christ to visit the sick”. Abba Dorotheos of Gaza writes that nothing cures the passions and sins inside of us so much as tending to the sick and the suffering. The Church is a hospital, and all of us are in need of a spiritual physician. Yet many people also suffer from physical ailments, and also from spiritual ailments and mental illnesses. As Orthodox Christians, it is our duty, and should be our joy, to minister to and to serve those who are suffering. Whether visiting those in prisons or in hospitals, giving food and clothing to the needy and poor, or oftentimes, listening with hearts full of pain and love to those who are having difficulties and need someone to talk to. This brings consolation to the sufferer and gives an abiding joy and spiritual grace to those who give of themselves to help others. The Grand Duchesses had all the wealth and extravagance of the world waiting for them if they had wanted it, but they chose to serve those who were suffering and in the end, to stay with their family and suffer at the hands of those who hated them. Even in captivity towards the end of their lives, cruel and barbaric guards were sent to keep watch over the family, but the family’s purity of soul, their innocence and piety changed the guard’s attitudes, and frequently they had to be rotated out to bring in more cruel guards who would be more mean and brutal to the Royal family, so profoundly did the piety of these sisters affect the Communists sent to harass them.

Lastly, we come to the tsarevich, Alexis. He is mostly remembered for the illness that he suffered with: hemophilia. Hemophilia is a disease where the blood will not clot properly, and the slightest scratch or wound can cause intense bleeding and suffering. With this disease and the worries and troubles it caused the Royal Family, one could say that Alexis was not just a martyr for the type of death he met, but his entire life was a martyrdom. Despite living the life of a normal boy as much as he could, much of his time was spent in bed or being guarded so that he didn’t injure himself. In our day, when many young people curse God or even take their own life due to such suffering, the young tsarevich was always patient and tried to live a normal life as much as he could. He never complained of injustice and endured his suffering with patience, as Christ tells us, “In your patience, possess ye your souls.” When Alexis was only 13 years old, after his father had abdicated from the throne and the family was distraught, he wrote a letter to his sister Anastasia and said: “I will pray fervently for you and Maria. With God everything will pass. Be patient and pray.” Imagine! A thirteen year old! What strength of character at such a young age! Surely we can learn from him and be inspired by him and pray to him for help in our own sufferings. Handling our own sufferings with patience and trust in God is one of the most fundamental and yet difficult things for us to learn to do in our day. Science wants to find the cure for every disease and eventually eradicate death, but if cures are found, new diseases will surely surface. The illnesses that plague us today, whether physical ailments, or mental and emotional suffering such as depression, anxiety, fears, paranoia and much more, are crosses that we must bear with patience, much patience, and trust in God that these thorns in the flesh are for our salvation; that without them perhaps we would fall away from God and stop relying on him. The child-martyr Alexis can inspire us to endure our momentary trials, which will serve as a crown for us in the heavenly kingdom, if we wait on the Lord and do not despair.

So we see several virtues in the Royal Family that can serve as a guide to us as we struggle to maintain our Faith. 10 Faithfulness to our work and especially to the Church, 2) preserving ourselves from the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, 3) serving and caring for those around us who are suffering and in need, and 4) patiently enduring the trials that God allows us to have for our humility and our salvation. From the grand palaces in Moscow and St. Petersburg, to their death in the basement of the Ipatiev house in Yekaterinburg, the Tsar-martyr Nicholas and his family always remained steadfast in their faith and love for God, for each other and for their enemies who hated them.

Shortly after the abdication of the Tsar in 1917, the Empress Alexandra said: "Our sufferings are nothing. Look at the sufferings of the Savior, how He suffered for us. If this is necessary for Russia, we are ready to sacrifice our lives and everything."

Again, we remember what our Savior said in today’s Gospel:
If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
We must firmly believe that if our Savior suffered and was hated by the world, then we too must be ready to do the same and not shrink back due to fear. Let us strive to imitate our Savior, and also those saints who emulated Him with their patience amidst sufferings, and endured slander from those who hated them. Christ tells us:
In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
O Holy Royal Martyrs pray to God for us! Amen.

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