The Holy Martyrs
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The last Russian Emperor Nikolay II was born on May 6th 1868. He was the first son of Alexander III and Maria Feodorovna, Princess Dagmar, the daughter of the Danish King.

Regardless of the fact that in Anichkov Palace in St Petersburg, in Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo and in Gatchina's Palace (residences of the Russian monarchy) were hundreds of rooms, Nikolay and his brothers and sisters were brought up in Spartan simplicity. 'I don't need porcelain', Alexander said to the minders of his children, 'I need good, healthy Russian children.' So the children slept on hard beds, took cold baths and had porridge for breakfast.

Nikolay's education started early and by the age of 21 he was well educated. He finished with distinction the higher course of general education, law and military science, trained with all weapons. He was a model officer. (At the age of 19 he commanded a cavalry squadron and went with them to Krasnoe Selo, near Petersburg. At the age of 26 he completed his service as an officer as a Colonel). He had an excellent memory. He knew history very well. He spoke German, French, and English fluently. He was a very good horse rider, was an excellent marksman, was very strong physically and hardly ever got ill. His personality was very pleasant - people around him noticed his friendliness, kindness and his magnetic personal charm. He was very even-tempered.

Princess Alix, the future Russian Empress, Alexandra Feodorovna, came to Russia for the first time when she was twelve. She attended the wedding of her elder sister Elizabeth (Ella), who was marrying Grand Duke Sergey, the younger brother of Alexander III. Alix, saw with great interest, how a golden carriage with six white horses were waiting for her sister at the railway station in St Petersburg, and in the church in the Winter Palace, she saw that beautiful wedding ceremony and heard the heavenly singing of the choir. Nikolay saw her there.

They met again in five years time. Alix came to see Ella in St Petersburg, Nikolay and Alix met at dinners, receptions and balls. Sometimes he would take her to skate. She was seventeen and he was twenty one at that time. Next year she came again, but didn't stay in St Petersburg. She went to Ilyinskoe, the simple Russian village where Ella and Sergey lived in summers. That's how Alix saw beautiful, endless Russian fields, white birches and Russian peasants in their wide robes who greeted her with a bow down to the ground. That summer Nikolay did not see her. He went on a long journey to the Far East. But they both knew that their feelings were growing stronger, they both knew they loved one another.

Princess Alice Victoria Helena Louise Beatrice of Hesse-Darmstad was born on 25th of May 1872. She was named Alice in honour of her mother, Princess Alice of England, the third of the nine children on Queen Victoria. She was a happy little girl. She loved walks in the park, riding her own little pony. In the summer her father Grand Duke Lois of Hesse was taking his family to a hunting lodge called Wolfsgarten, where little Alice spent all day running in a sun-filled garden playing near the palace fountain, trying to fish out the goldfish. They also visited her grandmother Queen Victoria in England. There they stayed in Windsor Castle near London, or at Balmoral in Scotland. In 1878 when Alix was only six an epidemic of diphtheria developed in Hesse-Darmstadt. It reached the palace too. Regardless of all the efforts, Alice's four year old sister May died and four weeks later, on the 2nd of December, her mother died, who was only thirty five.

This tragedy left a scar for all of Alexandra Feodorovna's life. Only in a circle of very close people did her sunny smile appear on her face, otherwise she did not go looking for the company of other people. After her daughter's tragic death, Queen Victoria treated Grand Duke Ludwig as her own son, and he and his family were in England very often. She surrounded Alice with love and attention, and gave her the best education an English lady could have. She knew well history, geography, German and English literature and studied Philosophy at Oxford University. She played the piano so well that Queen Victoria asked her to play for guests at Windsor Castle, and although being very shy she did it at her grandmother's request.

Alexander III was not too happy at first about his son marrying a Princess from a little German town, but Nikolay was so insistent that in spring 1894 he and Maria Feodorovna gave their blessing for the marriage. But there was another obstacle: the Heir to the Russian Throne could only marry an Russian Orthodox Christian, whereas Princess Alice was a Protestant and a very religious one too.

In April 1894, Nikolay together with his Uncles, Sergey, Vladimir and Pavel, travelled to Coburg, to the wedding of Alice's elder brother. Nikolay with his Uncles, was not only coming to represent the Russian Monarchy, but also with his parents' blessing. On the very next morning he went directly to Alice and asked her to marry him. 'We talked until twelve, but without result. She was still resisting converting to Orthodoxy. Poor she, she cried a lot, but we parted more calmly', Nikolay remembered. Suddenly some support came to Nikolay. Queen Victoria who also arrived for the wedding, approved of the marriage to the future Russian Tsar. She had a talk with the stubborn girl. Next day the German Kaiser quite firmly approved of this marriage. Ella too was trying to convince that there was not much difficulty in converting to Russian Orthodoxy, which she did herself. Alix agreed. Nikolay wrote in his diary:' The most beautiful, unforgettable day in my life was the day of my engagement to my dear Alix.'

Alexander III died unexpectedly on the 20th of October 1894, aged 49, in the Lyvadia Palace in Yalta in the Crimea. As a fiancée Alix came to Russia while he was still alive. Although very ill, he ordered that he be dressed in his military uniform and greeted her very warmly. On 21st Princess Alix convered into the Russian Orthodoxy with the name - Alexandra Fydorovna. On November the 14th 1894 in the church of the Winter Palace the wedding of Nikolay II and Alexandra Fydorovna took place.

On May 14th 1896 in the Kremlin in Moscow, in the Church of the Dormition of the most Holy Mother of God, the ceremony of coronation of Nikolay II and Alexandra Feodorovna took place. This event was outshadowed by a tragedy too. By tradition the Tsar and Tsarina gave people gifts and free drinks. On this day at the Khodinskoye Field a lot of casks of beer were brought for people to drink in celebration. A rumour started in the crowd that there would not be enough beer for everyone. Panic broke out and lot of people were killed. For the Emperor and Empress it was a horrendous shock. They went from hospital to hospital trying to see those who were injured. They paid for the funerals of the dead. But this dramatic event marked the beginning of their way of the Cross, that was with them throughout their reign as the last Russian Monarchs and right up to their own tragic death in July 1918.

Nicolai and Alexandra

Nikolay II and Alexandra Fydorovna had a very happy and loving family. Their daughters were born: Olga - 1895, Tatyana - 1897, Maria - 1899, Anastasia - 1901, but there was no son. Under the law of Russian succession, decreed by Pavel the First, the Russian throne could be inherited only by males. The Tzar and Tzarina prayed for a son. On the 12th of August 1904, Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna gave birth to the fifth child. 300 shots were fired at the Peter and Paul Fortress - it meant the child was a boy. The Tsarevich Alexei was born. His parents were so proud of him. Alexandra Feodorovna was glowing with joy as people described who saw her then.
The boy was so beautiful like a little angel with blue eyes and golden curls of hair, but as Alexei grew up the Tzar and Tzarina noticed something strange: even the slightest fall left terrible bruises ands swellings, and the blood was very difficult to stop from the smallest scratch. Their most fearful suspicions were fulfilled: Alexei had haemophilia. This terrible illness ran in the family of Alexandra Feodorovna, the genes of which were carried only by females of the family and affected only male children. A few of Alexandra Feodorovna's relatives had died of haemophilia. Now her own child was ill too. Alexey was a very lively child, the real love of his parents and sisters, but of course his life was very restricted. He had two soldiers who guarded his every step, but still it was sometimes impossible to stop him from falls and then he suffered so badly that Alexandra Feodorovna who was by his bed day and night, was broken-hearted. On one occasion in Spala, after a particularly bad fall from a boat, Alexei nearly died. His illness was kept a complete secret not only from the whole country but from very close people, even Monsieur Gilliard, Alexei's teacher, didn't know the truth for a long time. However, there was one person who knew of the illness of Tsarevich Alexey: Grigory Rasputin, the Russian seer, who helped him with the power of his prayer. The Empress trusted him and called him 'Friend'.

The reign of Nikolay II was not easy too. In 1904 the Russo-Japanese war started. The finest ships of the Russian Fleet were destroyed. In Russia itself the anti-monarchy mood rose which led to other tragic events. On the 9th of January 1905 a demonstration of workers was organised that carried a petition to the Tsar. Firing started and a few people were killed. This was called 'Bloody Sunday' and all the blame for it was put on Nikolay II. The truth of the matter was that Nikolay II never gave the order to open fire. He was not even in Petersburg that day but was in Tsarskoe Selo with his family.

The wave of hatred against the Russian Tsar started, not taking into account that in the reign of Nikolay II Russia reached its highest levels in economy and agriculture. After the Stolypin reforms, when 80% of the land was privately owned, Russia became the main supplier of grain to Europe. Economists were saying that if Russia develops as it was now (1914) by 1950s it would be the most powerful country in Europe economically and politically.

The First World War started in August 1914. Serbia and Austria had a political conflict, in which Germany, France, England and Russia were involved. Nikolay II was trying to avoid war at all costs. He was negotiating with the German Kaiser Wilhelm till the last minute, but Germany started mobilisation of its army. By the request of Serbia, in which, like in Russia, the Orthodox Christianity is the main religion, Russia entered the war.
Russia mobilised a colossal army but it had to be modernised, and in action this led to enormous human losses. Nevertheless, on 23rd of August 1915, when Nikolay II became Supreme Commander he lead the country to victory. When in 1918, after his arrest, the Brest-Litovsk agreement was signed by Lenin, Nikolay II called it a disgrace. In Russia itself especially in Petrograd (as St Petersburg was renamed in 1914) the revolutionary fervour was at fever pitch. In October 1917 what is called the Soviet Revolution took place, which led to seventy years of terror in Russia under the Lenin and Stalin regimes. But then, back in 1917 and early 1918, they were all split into Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, with the reactionary provisional government and temporary Duma in the middle. They were tearing the country apart, however they had one thing in common - they hated the Royal Family, especially Nikolay II, on whom they put all the blame for everything. They also blamed his wife the Empress Alexandra Fydorovna, accusing her of the most unthinkable thing - a cooperation with the Germans, while she together with her elder daughters, Grand Princesses Olga and Tatiana was working non-stop as sister of mercy at the hospital in Tzarskoe Selo. After finishing a medical course she even worked as a theatre nurse which was particularly hard physically and emotionally.

On March 2nd (15) 1917, at the Pskov railway station, cut off from the whole world, under the severe pressure from the representatives of the Duma and a few Generals, Nikolay II abdicated, firstly in his son Alexey's favour, then understanding all the implications of that, he changed it in favour of his brother Mikhail, who in his turn refused to take the Russian throne. 'There are no sacrifices that I would not make to save Russia' Nikolay II said.

Nikolay II, or citizen Romanov as they started to call him to humiliate him, and his family were arrested and kept in Tsarskoe Selo. At first Kerensky was trying to negotiate the possibility of the family going to the West, but after the Bolsheviks came to power, that did not seem possible any more. On 31st of July 1917, they left Tsarskoe Selo, so dear to their hearts, and under guard they were sent to Tobolsk in the Urals, and in spring 1918 to Ekaterinburg.

Nikolay II and members of his family took their imprisonment, all the insults and humiliation with a real Christian humbleness, in fact most of the soldiers who guarded them, seeing such a loving family, became very sympathetic to them, so they had to be changed often. The person who was sent there last, Yurovsky, was not like that. After a month and a half of imprisonment in the Ipatiev House (which coincidentally has the same name as the Ipatiev Monastery where the first Romanov - Mikhail - was crowned Tsar in 1613) late on the night of Tuesday and Wednesday, 4 (17) July 1918 the Russian Tsar Nikolay II, Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna, Grand Princesses, Olga - aged 23, Tatyana - aged 21, Maria - aged 19, Anastasia - aged 17, and Tsarevich Alexei - aged 14, were shot dead.

In Moscow in August 2000, at the Jubilee Bishops' Council, Nikolay II and the members of his family were canonised as the Holy Martyrs and they became Russian Saints.

'My father requests that everyone, who is dedicated to him and those whom they may influence be told that they should not take revenge for him, for he forgave everyone and he prays for all, and not to take revenge for themselves, and to remember that evil that now exists in the world will be even stronger, but evil will not conquer evil, only love will.'

From a letter of Grand Princess Olga Nikolaevna

"I feel myself to be the mother of this country and I suffer as though it were my child and love my country, despite all the present horrors and all the sins. It is impossible to tear either the love or Russia from my heart, despite the black ingratitude to the Tsar, which breaks my heart – but that is not from the whole country. It is an illness after which it will be stronger. Lord, have mercy and save Russia."

Empress Alexandra Fydorovna

"When I will be Tsar, there will be no poor and unhappy people. I want everyone to be happy".

Tsarevich Alexei

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