Monday, June 4, 2018

“And before you I would like to reiterate — in a special way before you, my dear brother [referring to Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion, the leader of the group he was addressing], and before all of you — that the Catholic Church will never allow an attitude of division to arise from her people. We will never allow ourselves to do this, I do not want it. In Moscow — in Russia — there is only one Patriarchate: yours. We will not have another one.” —Pope Francis, in Rome on May 30, greeting a delegation of Russian Orthodox led by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev

“We must continue to study theology, to clarify the points, but in the meantime let us walk together, let us not wait for these things to be resolved in order to walk, no.” — Pope Francis, in the same May 30 greeting

“The Catholic Church, the Catholic Churches must not get involved in internal matters of the Russian Orthodox Church, nor in political issues. This is my attitude, and the attitude of the Holy See today. And those who meddle do not obey the Holy See.” —Pope Francis, in the same May 30 greeting

(Below, Russian Orthodox St. Seraphim of Sarov, 1754-1833. According to pious tradition, St. Seraphim prayed kneeling on a rock each day for 1,000 days. In his greeting on May 30, Pope Francis said that each morning and each night he venerates a relic of the Russian Orthodox St. Seraphim which was given to him by Patriarch Kirill on February 12, 2016, when the two met for the first and only time in Havana, Cuba; link)

“I would like to say something to you: when we met with the Patriarch, afterwards he sent me a relic of Saint Seraphim [of Sarov, a Russian Orthodox hermit saint from the early 1800s, regarded because of his simplicity and goodness as more or less the Russian St. Francis of Assisi.] I keep that relic on my nightstand, and at night, before going to bed, and in the morning, when I get up, I venerate it and pray for our unity.” —Pope Francis, in the same May 30 greeting

Strong Words from Pope Francis regarding the Russian Orthodox Church

Pope Francis on May 30 made an important — and not sufficiently noted — statement on the ecclesial situation of the Orthodox Church in Russia and Ukraine.

He made the statement in a brief greeting to a small delegation of Russian Orthodox headed by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, the “foreign minister” of the Russian Orthodox Church, on May 30 in Rome.

An Invitation to Travel with me to Russia

We have two spaces left on a pilgrimage we will be
making to Yekaterinburg, Russia, in mid-July.

We will be attending the commemorative liturgy marking the 100th anniversary of the July 17, 1918 execution of Tsar Nicholas and his wife, Alexandra, and their five children.

Here below is the invitation to join us on this journey, which we take in the spirit described in his May 30 remarks by Pope Francis — journeying together as we seek to overcome the things which divide us.

For more information, simply reply to this email, or send an email to [email protected].
More information is also included at the end of this email below.

(Hilarion with Pope Francis 6 days ago in Rome)

In fact, the remarks are the strongest statement yet of the the Holy See’s position on a matter of considerable importance: whether or not the Russian Orthodox believers in Ukraine should become a separate, “autocephalous” Orthodox Church — a matter of declared political importance to the government of Ukraine, and also of importance to the governments of Russia, the United States and the European Union.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has said he hopes that an upcoming the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul will “green-light” the granting of a tomos, an official Church document, on autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine by the 1030th anniversary of the baptism of Kyivan Rus, which will be celebrated on July 28, 2018. (link)

(Here, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and his family during an Orthodox religious service)

“The victory is not only when Ukrainian land has been liberated,” Poroshenko said. “The victory is when for the first time, more than 300 years, Ukraine has got a real chance to create a united local Orthodox Church and, most importantly, a Ukrainian Church.”

The president was speaking at a “Prayer for Peace in Ukraine” event at Almudena Cathedral, a Catholic church in Madrid, Spain. The Ukrainian community of Spain took part in the event, the Ukrainian presidential press service said.

“And we are praying that by the 1030th anniversary of the baptism of Ukraine-Rus by the holy apostolic prince Volodymyr, the Lord will give us this tomos,” Poroshenko said. “And I ask you, dear brothers and sisters, for your prayers. Because miracles are created with a common prayer.”

The president recalled that he had appealed to His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew immediately after Easter, on April 9, during a visit to Istanbul.

“I would be very happy to see this happen,” Poroshenko added, expressing the conviction that Ukraine has won the right to have the united local Church. “And in the near future, I believe that we will succeed,”

Clearly, this is a religious matter of global political importance.

And Pope Francis, on this question, was saying that the Catholic Church will not get involved with internal matters of the Russian Orthodox Church — one third of whose dioceses and parishes are… inside Ukraine.

So, implicitly, the Pope is saying the Catholic Church will not take a position on Ukrainian President Poroshenko’s request to Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to issue a “tomos” or judgment that the Orthodox Church in Ukraine is no longer under the Patriarchate of Moscow, but under a new, independent “Orthodox Patriarchate of Kiev,” which Poroshenko supports because it would strengthen Ukrainian nationalism, diminishing Ukraine’s traditional religious ties to, and dependence on, Russia.

“The Catholic Church, the Catholic Churches must not get involved in internal matters of the Russian Orthodox Church, nor in political issues,” the Pope said.

And he added that those who seek to get involved in such matters “do not obey the Holy See.”

Let’s look more closely at this remarkable text.

“In a special way before you, my dear brother…”

Here is the text in full (link) and (link):

The following is the greeting the Holy Father Francis addressed to the delegation from the Patriarchate of Moscow, whom he received in the study of the Paul VI Hall before the general audience on Wednesday 30 May:

Greeting of the Holy Father

Thank you so much for your visit, and also for this meeting, which helps us so much to live our faith in unity and in the hope to walk together.

I am happy to take the road of unity with you: the only road that promises us something certain, because the path of division leads us to war and destruction.

[Note: in these lines, the Pope seems to be making an oblique reference to the fighting in eastern Ukraine, and perhaps even to the long history of tension and distrust between Orthodox and Catholics over any centuries.]

And before you I would like to reiterate — in a special way before you, my dear brother, and before all of you — that the Catholic Church will never allow an attitude of division to arise from her people.

[Note: Here the Pope directly addresses Hilarion as “my dear brother,” and one sense that the words reflect prior conversations the two have had.]

We will never allow ourselves to do this, I do not want it.

[Note: This rhetoric — “I do not want it” — seems clearly not that of a Vatican staff person, writing a text for the Pope to read. These seem clearly to be the Pope’s own words. He would not speak so personally in a text prepared by others.]

In Moscow — in Russia — there is only one Patriarchate: yours.

[Note: Here the Pope begins to address the question of “one Patriarchate.” This is a bit strange, since there has not really been any controversy over whether there should be more than one Patriarchate in Moscow, or in Russia. There has been no call for the establishment of a Catholic Patriarchate of Moscow. So why does the Pope raise the matter? It seems it may be an oblique reference to the controversy over the Patriarchate of Kiev, which currently does not, according to Orthodox tradition, exist (because Kiev is under Moscow). This is a present controversy: whether to erect another Patriarchate in Kiev, not in Moscow, for the Ukrainians. Is the Pope referring to this? It is not clear.]

We will not have another one.

[Note: for the same reasons as stated above, these words are not clear.]

And when some Catholic faithful, be they laypeople, priests or bishops, raise the banner of Uniatism, which does not work anymore, and is over, then it causes me pain.

[Note: Here the Pope is clearly speaking of Ukraine, not of Russia, for the phenomenon of “Uniatism” is a Ukrainian phenomenon, with its own special history — the “uniting” of formerly Orthodox Ukrainians and Russians especially in the western part of Ukraine with Rome, becoming Catholics, but keeping their eastern, Byzantine, Orthodox liturgy. The much-persecuted, long-suffering Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, suppressed under Stalin in 1946 (made illegal) is the chief representative of this “Uniatism.” But why is the Pope referring to this now, suddenly? Evidently, if is on his mind, and it is on his mind, one might imagine, because he has been talking about this phenomenon with the man in front of him — Hilarion. Hilarion has made no secret of his conviction that “Uniatism” is not the correct path for a reunion between Orthodox and Catholics. So it is to be assumed that the matter was part of his private discussions with Pope Francis. And here, in public, Pope Francis is saying, more or less, “I agree” that Uniatism is not the path to be followed today toward Christian unity. But what is the path forward, then? The Pope is about to speak about that…]

The Churches that are united in Rome must be respected, but Uniatism as a path of unity is not valid today.

Instead it brings me comfort when I find this: the extended hand, the fraternal embrace, thinking together, and journeying.

[Note: So this is the alternative path toward Church unity that the Pope favors.]

Ecumenism is made by journeying.

We walk.

Some think — but this is not right — that there must first be doctrinal agreement, on all the points of division, and then the journey.

[Note: Here he raises the understandable objection: how can we walk together when doctrinal disagreements still separate us?]

This does not work for ecumenism, because we do not know when agreement will come.

I once heard a man of the Church, a man of God, who said: “I know which day a doctrinal agreement will be signed.” They asked him: “When?” — “The day after the coming of Christ in glory.”

[Note: And this is his answer: because, humanly speaking, we will never come to a complete and final doctrinal agreement until the end of the world, until the Lord’s return, or rather, until after the Lord’s return. So, practically speaking, we must set out now, if we are to make some progress, along a different path…]

We must continue to study theology, to clarify the points, but in the meantime let us walk together, let us not wait for these things to be resolved in order to walk, no.

[Note: So the advice is, to begin to walk together…]

We journey together and also do this, but walking in love, in prayer; as in this example of the relics.

[Note: And these are the things that walking companions do — they pray for each other, they exchange gifts…]

Prayer together, for each other, in dialogue.

This is so good.

The meeting with His Holiness Kirill was very good for me, I found a brother.

[Note: He is referring back now to the meeting on February 12, 2016, in Havana, Cuba, at the airport, when for the first time ever a Roman Pope met with a Russian Orthodox Patriarch, in this case, with Patriarch Kirill.]

And now, spiritually, we walk together.

And a couple of words to finish.

[Note: So, having said something about the unity of the Moscow Patriarchate, and then about walking together before doctrinal issues are resolved, Francis is minded to say two more things, “a couple of words to finish.”]

One on the respect of Catholics towards you, Russian Orthodox brothers: the Catholic Church, the Catholic Churches must not get involved in internal matters of the Russian Orthodox Church, nor in political issues.

[Note: So he re-emphasizes something: that the Catholics, the Catholic Church and the Catholic Churches, “must not get involved in internal matters of the Russian Orthodox Church.” This could not be clearer. Since the Russian Orthodox Church, canonically, is one-third in Ukraine, the Pope is saying that even in regard to those territories of their Church, Catholics “must not get involved” when at issue is something internal the Orthodoxy. He is saying “that is not our business.”]

This is my attitude, and the attitude of the Holy See today.

[Note: So, he emphasizes this point.]

And those who meddle do not obey the Holy See.

[Note: And he re-emphasizes it…]

This regards politics.

[Note: And this is the punctuation point — it is politics, not Christian faith…]

The second thing: piety.

[Note: So now he is wrapping up his remarks, and he turns toward something deeper, more personal…]

It is important that we pray for each other, also in personal prayer.

We know new brothers and sisters, and then there is also personal prayer.

I would like to say something to you: when we met with the Patriarch, afterwards he sent me a relic of Saint Seraphim [of Sarov, a hermit saint regarded because of his simplicity and goodness as more or less the Russian St. Francis of Assisi.]

I keep that relic on my nightstand, and at night, before going to bed, and in the morning, when I get up, I venerate it and pray for our unity.

[Note: So we come to an end of this extraordinary greeting with a very personal, intimate details: the the Pope keeps a relic of St. Seraphim of Sarov on his night-table, and venerates it each night, and each morning, as he prays for unity between Catholics and Orthodox.]

Thank you very much. Let us pray for each other. Let us bless each other. And let us go together. Thank you.



In the Orthodox Church saints emerge. No central office in an institution checks, qualifies and certifies a person as a saint.

On one reading, we are all saints. The word simply means “set apart” and that’s how Christians have understood themselves since ancient times: set apart for service to God in, but not of, the world. “He who truly loves God considers himself a wanderer and newcomer on earth, for in him is a striving towards God in soul and mind, which contemplates God alone.”

Certain people emerge as standouts in the Church. Their chief characteristic is the search to live in the presence of God with every fiber of their being, and to recognize God’s presence in creation and humanity.

Such a saint was Seraphim of Sarov, author of the saying quoted above.

Seraphim was born Prohor Moshnin in 1759 in Kursk, Russia, to a merchant family, and he showed strong spiritual sensitivity from childhood. After recovering from a childhood illness, he entered the monastery at Sarov in 1778. In 1786 he took final vows to become a monk and received the name Seraphim, which means “fire” or “burning,” in part because of his zeal at prayer.

After 1793, the year he was ordained a priest of the church, he moved to a forest hermitage five miles north of the monastery, and began to see people as a starets, Russian for “elder,” meaning a spiritual director.

People flocked to him over the last decades of his life. Early in this period he sustained a severe beating at the hands of robbers, which left him with a hunchback for the rest of his life. At the trial for these men, who had been captured, Seraphim offered them words of forgiveness.

The animals in the forest especially loved Seraphim, and he fed them even as legend says that they fed him, too. Among his animal friends was a bear often depicted with him on one of the icons that commemorate his life. Our annual animal blessing at St Anthony of the Desert Mission this Saturday is in honor of St Seraphim.

St. Seraphim says about faith: “Faith, according to the teachings of St. Antioch, is the beginning of our union with God: the true believers are the stone of the church of God, prepared for the edifice of God the Father, which is raised up to the heights by the power of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Cross and help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. ‘Faith without works is dead’ (James 2:26). The works of faith (fruits of the Spirit) are love, peace, long-suffering, mercy, humility and bearing one’s cross. True faith cannot remain without works. One who truly believes will also surely perform good works.”

Central to Seraphim’s approach to the faith was the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, which he called the “true goal of the Christian life.”

He gave his life over to this acquisition through prayer and discipline and he urged the same practice on his visitors.

His most remembered saying is, “Acquire a peaceful spirit, and thousands around you will be saved.”

Prayer, ascetic discipline and acts of mercy achieve this, over a long time. Seraphim said, “Only deeds performed for Christ give us the fruits of the Holy Spirit.”

The Orthodox Church in Russia recognized Seraphim as a Saint in 1903, the 70th year after his death.

Orthodox churches around the world held a centennial celebration of his recognition as saint in 2003.

People continue to come to pray at the grave of St Seraphim and to experience his presence in their lives in many ways for counsel and healing.

—By Fr. Gabriel Rochelle (link)


From the Russian Side

This is how the meeting with Pope Francis was reported on the website of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Russian Orthodox Church delegation led by Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk meets with Pope Francis (link)

On May 30, 2018, Pope Francis of Rome met at the Paul VI Audience Hall in the Vatican with delegations of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Italian Bishops’ Conference, who gathered together for the Russian-Italian dialogue to discuss church pilgrimage as parts of civil societies.

Participating in the meeting from the Russian Orthodox Church were:

Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Department for External Church Relations (DECR) of the Moscow Patriarchate;

Archbishop Antony of Vienna and Budapest, head of the Moscow Patriarchate office for institutions abroad, administrator of the Moscow Patriarchate parishes in Italy;

Dmitriev, co-chairman of the Russian-Italian Forum-Dialogue of Civil Societies;

Archimandrite Philaret (Bulekov), DECR vice-chairman;

Archpriest Sergiy Zvonarev, DECR secretary for the far abroad;

Hieromonk Stephan (Igumnov), DECR secretary for inter-Christian relations;

Alexiy Dikarev, DECR secretariat for inter-Christian relations;

Hierodeacon Sergiy (Turkeyev), director general of the Moscow Patriarchate pilgrimage service;

Hierodeacon Yaroslav (Ochkanov), DECR secretariat for the far abroad;
Yershov, aide to the DECR chairman;

T. Shumova, director of the Center of Film Festivals and International Programs;

N. Salmanova, executive director of the Russian-Italian Forum-Dialogue of civil societies;

Shestakov, assistant to the director general of the Moscow Patriarchate pilgrimage service;

Derevenev, head of the St. Petersburg diocesan pilgrimage department;

Minulin, director of the Radonezh pilgrimage service.

The participants in the audience from the Roman Catholic Church included:

Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, Archbishop of Perugia-Citta della Pieve, chairman of the Italian Bishops’ Conference;

Maurizio Malvestiti, Bishop of Lodi;

Visvaldas Kulbokas, executive officer of the Holy See Secretariat of State;

Cristiano Bettega, director of the National Office for Ecumenism and Inter-religious Dialogue of the Italian Bishops’ Conference;

Hyacinthe Destivelle, Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Opening the meeting, Cardinal Bassetti presented to the Pope the theme of the dialogue between the two Churches concerning pilgrimage to Christian holy places and introduced to the Pope the two delegation members in episcopal rank.

Addressing Pope Francis with words of greeting on behalf the Moscow Patriarchate delegation, Metropolitan Hilarion underscored the importance of dialogue between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church in Italy for strengthening mutual understanding and lasting peace between nations, saying, ‘In the centre of our dialogue is the great heritage of Christian culture created by the Russian and Italian nations under the pastoral guidance of the Church. At a time of dramatic divisions in the world, it is difficult to overestimate the humanitarian and peacemaking role of Churches. The sphere of culture with its universal language has a tremendous potential for the common witness of Churches to the common human values of peace, goodness, love, mercy and forgiveness, which find their ultimate expression in the gospel’s message’.

As Metropolitan Hilarion said further, the Common Declaration signed by Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in Havana stressed the common spiritual tradition of the Churches of East and West. Among the most important elements of this tradition is veneration of saints. It was at the Havana meeting that an agreement was reached that the relics of St. Nicholas the Wonder worker lying in rest in Bari should be brought to Russia.

The DECR chairman informed the pontiff that one of the main holy icons of the Russian Church — the icon ‘Crucifixion’ painted by Dionysius, a great disciple of St. Andrew Rublev — will arrive this autumn to Rome. ‘For the first time this word-known Russian icon will leave Russia to appear before the eyes of thousands of pilgrims who come to Rome. Together with it, 20 more icons from the collection of the State Tretyakov Gallery will be displayed at the St. Peter Cathedral’, Metropolitan Hilarion noted.

In conclusion of his remarks, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church delegation said, ‘Pilgrimages to common Christian shrines kept in the Roman Catholic Church or the Orthodox Church introduce pilgrims to the traditions, history and art heritage of the Church and people of a particular country. This, in its turn, cannot but promotes mutual understanding, Orthodox-Catholic dialogue and strengthens international and inter-religious peace’.

In his response, Pope Francis cordially welcomed the two delegations pointing to the importance of communication and beneficial dialogue between the Orthodox and the Catholics. Addressing the delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church and personally Metropolitan Hilarion the Pope said, ‘In your presence and especially before you, dear brother, I would like to stress once again that the Catholic Church will never allow, on her part, of an approach that provokes divisions. We will never allow of it. I do not want it. In Russia, there is only one patriarchate — yours. And we will not have another’.

According to the Pope, uniatism as a method is completely unacceptable in the relations between the Orthodox and the Catholics at the present stage; it is only a fraternal dialogue that is the only possible way to a greater unity. His Holiness spoke with warmth about the meeting with His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia in 2016 in Havana, which was of great importance for the development of relations between the two Churches. The pontiff pointed out that ‘the Catholic Churches should not interfere in the internal affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church, including also for political reasons. This is my position and the position of the Holy See today. Those who do otherwise do not obey the Holy See’.

In conclusion of the audience, the members of the both delegations were introduced to the Pope, after which the sides exchanged tokens of the meeting.


Some terms

Autocephaly is the status of a hierarchical Christian Church whose head bishop does not report to any higher-ranking bishop (used especially in Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Independent Catholic churches).

Autocephaly opens the way for the creation of a united Orthodox Church in Ukraine, which will not be subordinate to Moscow.

The split between the Moscow and Kyiv branches of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church happened during the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Ukraine’s Primate Filaret broke with the Russian Orthodox Church. He argued that an independent Ukraine deserved a national church truly independent of Moscow.

The Moscow Patriarchate whose parishes prevail in Ukraine has never recognized the Ukrainian Patriarchate.


An Invitation

We have two spaces left on a pilgrimage we will be making to Yekaterinburg, Russia, in mid-July. We will be attending he commemorative liturgy marking the 100th anniversary of the execution of Tsar Nicholas and Alexandra, and their five children. Metropolitan Hilarion is expected to be among those present at the commemorative liturgy.

Here below is the invitation to join us on this journey, which we take in the spirit described in his May 30 remarks by Pope Francis — journeying together as we seek to overcome the things which divide us.

A Pilgrimage to Yekaterinburg

Friday, May 18, 2018

Dear Friend,

I am writing to invite you to join with me on a pilgrimage to the heart of Russia on one of the most solemn and historic of occasions.

I propose to travel to the Ural mountains, the border between Europe and Asia, to the city of Yekaterinburg, on the 100th anniversary of a tragic event in that city: the execution of Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Tsarina Alexandra, and their five children, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei.

That execution occurred on July 17, 1918.

On July 17, 2018, exactly 100 years later, the Russian Orthodox Church will celebrate a solemn liturgy of remembrance in Yekaterinburg, which will remember the death of the Romanovs.

There will be one purpose only: to stand as witnesses, to give testimony to our solidarity with all who are caught up in the violence of civil wars and revolutions, in a place — where the executions occurred — and at a time — exactly 100 years after the executions — which seem fitting.

We do not intend to support monarchy as a form of government, or to support any claim of any branch of the Romanov family to rule Russia.

We do not wish to make any sort of political statement at all, in any form. We wish only to bear witness to our solidarity with all who suffer in the convulsions of civil war, especially children, but also the parents of children, who suffer great pangs of sorrow at the brutality that man is capable of visiting on other men, especially on the most innocent.

It will be a long journey, perhaps a tiring journey. But we have been assured that the journey will be safe, that there will be old friends who will meet us and guide us when we arrive in Yekaterinburg, that we will be welcomed as respected guests, and that we will be received with honor as representatives of the Urbi et Orbi Foundation, as Roman Catholics, as friends of the Russian people and of the Russian Orthodox Church.

After Yekaterinburg we will spend four full days in Moscow, where we will have special meetings, and then fly to Rome, where we will stay near or inside Vatican City, for four more nights. (This final portion of the trip is optional, but we strongly encourage our pilgrims to make this journey with us to the Eternal City, where we will report back to Vatican officials on what we have seen and heard in Russia.)

This pilgrimage will be “historic” in the highest sense of the term: a pilgrimage to a place of great historical tragedy, on the 17th of July, 2018, on the 100th anniversary of the execution. Each of us will be able afterwards to say “I was present, to remember and to commemorate, on that anniversary.”
And, in the current American-Russian impasse, it might help that some Americans show their concern for Russia’s past, and Russia’s suffering, in this way.

One important note: to travel to Russia, you must receive a Visa to enter the country. We will help you obtain the Visa, but it must be done during the month of June, and it will take about one week’s time, so we must have your decision about the trip by June 15, no later — and much better if considerably earlier.

So the deadline for a decision on this trip is June 15, just four weeks away. If you are interested, please write to me by return email.

Below is a proposed schedule for this trip. We do not yet know the price, but air fare, lodging and meals will amount to several thousand dollars.

We will of course help with all details, from obtaining the visa to reserving all airplane tickets.

We look forward to having you join with us on this extraordinary, very special journey to Russia and Rome.

My very best wishes,

—Dr. Robert Moynihan

P.S. Here is the schedule we propose:

July 14 (Saturday) and July 15 (Sunday) — fly from America via Moscow to Yekaterinburg (overnight flight)

July 16 — rest and orientation (overnight July 16 in Yekaterinburg)

July 17 — Divine Liturgy in the Orthodox Byzantine Rite for the Commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Execution of Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra and their five children (overnight July 17 in Yekaterinburg)

July 18 — meeting and visits in Yekaterinburg; commemoration of the execution of Grand Duchess Elizabeth, sister of Alexandra, killed on July 18, 1918 (overnight July 18 in Yekaterinburg)

July 19 — fly to Moscow; meetings in Moscow (overnight, July 19 in Moscow)

July 20-23 (Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday) — 2nd, 3rd and 4th days in Moscow, special meetings, visits with Russian believers, both Catholic and Orthodox

July 23 — fly from Moscow to Rome (overnight in Rome, near or inside Vatican City)

July 24-26 — meetings inside the Vatican (overnight in Rome)

July 27 — end of pilgrimage, depart Rome for home



Here is an account of those 100-year-past events:

Execution of the Romanov family
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (link)

The Russian Imperial Romanov family (Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Tsarina Alexandra and their five children Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei) and all those who chose to accompany them into imprisonment—notably Eugene Botkin, Anna Demidova, Alexei Trupp and Ivan Kharitonov — were shot, bayoneted and clubbed to death in Yekaterinburg on the night of 16-17 July 1918.

The Tsar and his family were killed by Bolshevik troops led by Yakov Yurovsky under the orders of the Ural Regional Soviet and according to instructions by Lenin, Yakov Sverdlov and Felix Dzerzhinsky.

Their bodies were then stripped, mutilated, burned and disposed of in a field called Porosenkov Log in the Koptyaki forest.


The House of Special Purpose

The imperial family was kept in strict isolation at the Ipatiev House. They were strictly forbidden to speak any language other than Russian. They were not permitted access to their luggage, which was stored in an outhouse in the interior courtyard. Their brownie cameras and photographic equipment were confiscated. The servants were ordered to address the Romanovs only by their names and patronymics.


The windows in all the family’s rooms were sealed shut and covered with newspapers (later painted with whitewash on 15 May). The family’s only source of ventilation was a fortochka in the grand duchesses’ bedroom, but peeking out of it was strictly forbidden; in May a sentry fired a shot at Anastasia when she peeked out. After repeated requests, one of the two windows in the tsar and tsarina’s corner bedroom was unsealed on 23 June 1918. However, the guards were ordered to increase their surveillance accordingly and the prisoners were warned not to look out the window or attempt to signal anyone outside, on pain of being shot.

From this window, they could only see the spire of the Voznesensky Cathedral located across the road from the house. An iron grille was installed on 11 July after Alexandra ignored repeated warnings from Yurovsky not to stand too close to the open window.


To maintain a sense of normality…

To maintain a sense of normality, the Bolsheviks assured the Romanovs on 13 July 1918 that two of their loyal servants, Klementy Nagorny (Alexei’s sailor nanny) and Ivan Sednev (OTMA’s footman; Leonid Sednev’s uncle), “had been sent out of this government” (i.e. out of the jurisdiction of Yekaterinburg and Perm province). However, both men were already dead. After the Bolsheviks removed them from the Ipatiev House in May, they were shot by the Cheka with a group of other hostages on 6 July in reprisal for the death of a local Bolshevik hero who was killed by the Whites.

On 14 July, a priest and deacon conducted a liturgy for the Romanovs. The following morning, four housemaids were hired to wash the floors of the Popov House and Ipatiev House; they were the last civilians to see the family alive. On both occasions they were under strict instructions not to engage in conversation of any kind to the family.

Yurovsky always kept watch during the liturgy and while the housemaids were cleaning the bedrooms with the family.


The Romanovs were being held by the Red Army in Yekaterinburg, since Bolsheviks initially wanted to put them on trial. As the civil war continued and the White Army (a loose alliance of anti-Communist forces) was threatening to capture the city, the fear was that the Romanovs would fall into White hands.

This was unacceptable to the Bolsheviks for two reasons: first, the tsar or any of his family members could provide a beacon to rally support to the White cause; second, the tsar, or any of his family members if the tsar were dead, would be considered the legitimate ruler of Russia by the other European nations. This would have meant the ability to negotiate for greater foreign intervention on behalf of the Whites. Soon after the family was executed, the city fell to the White Army.

In mid-July 1918, forces of the Czechoslovak Legion were closing on Yekaterinburg, to protect the Trans-Siberian Railway, of which they had control. According to historian David Bullock, the Bolsheviks falsely believed that the Czechoslovaks were on a mission to rescue the family, panicked and executed their wards.

The Legions arrived less than a week later and on 25 July captured the city.


Planning for the execution

The Ural Regional Soviet agreed in a meeting on 29 June that the Romanov family should be executed. Filipp Goloshchyokin arrived in Moscow on 3 July with a message insisting on the Tsar’s execution. Only seven of the 23 members of the Central Executive Committee were in attendance, three of whom were Lenin, Sverdlov and Felix Dzerzhinsky. It was agreed that the presidium of the Ural Regional Soviet should organize the practical details for the family’s execution and decide the precise day on which it would take place when the military situation dictated it, contacting Moscow for final approval.


On 14 July, Yurovsky was finalizing the disposal site and how to destroy as much evidence as possible at the same time. He was frequently in consultation with Peter Ermakov, who was in charge of the disposal squad and claimed to know the outlying countryside, to which Yurovsky placed his trust in him. Yurovsky wanted to gather the family and servants in a closely confined space from which they could not escape. The basement room chosen for this purpose had a barred window which was nailed shut to muffle the sound of shooting and in case of any screaming. Shooting and stabbing them at night while they slept or killing them in the forest and then dumping them into the Iset pond with lumps of metal weighted to their bodies were ruled out. Yurovsky’s plan was to perform an efficient execution of all 11 prisoners simultaneously, though he also took into account that he would have to prevent those involved from raping the women or searching the bodies for jewels. Having previously seized some jewelry, he suspected more were hidden in their clothes; the bodies were stripped naked in order to obtain the rest (this, along with the mutilations were aimed at preventing investigators from identifying them).

On 16 July, Yurovsky was informed by the Ural Soviets that Red Army contingents were retreating in all directions and the executions could not be delayed any longer. A coded telegram seeking final approval was sent by Goloshchyokin and Georgy Safarov at around 6:00pm to Lenin in Moscow.

There is no documentary record of an answer from Moscow, although Yurovsky insisted that an order from the CEC to go ahead had been passed on to him by Goloshchyokin at around 7:00pm.


Yurovsky and Pavel Medvedev collected 14 handguns to use that night, comprising two Browning pistols, two American Colts, two 7.65 Mausers, one Smith & Wesson and seven Belgian-made Nagants. The Nagant operated on old black gunpowder which produced a good deal of smoke and fumes; smokeless powder was only just being phased in.

In the commandant’s office, Yurovsky assigned victims to each killer before distributing the handguns. He took a Mauser and Colt while Ermakov armed himself with three Nagants, one Mauser and a bayonet; he was the only one assigned to kill two prisoners, Alexandra and Botkin. He instructed his men to “shoot straight at the heart to avoid an excessive quantity of blood and get it over quickly.”



While the Romanovs were having dinner on 16 July, Yurovsky entered the sitting room and informed them that the kitchen boy Leonid Sednev was leaving to meet his uncle Ivan Sednev, who had returned to the city asking to see him; Ivan had already been shot by the Cheka. The family was very upset as Leonid was Alexei’s only playmate and he was the fifth member of the imperial entourage to be taken from them, but they were assured by Yurovsky that he would be back soon. Alexandra did not trust him, writing in her final diary entry just hours before her death, “whether its [sic] true & we shall see the boy back again!” Leonid was in fact kept in the Popov House that night. Yurovsky saw no reason to kill him and wanted him removed before the execution took place.

Around midnight 17 July 1918, Yakov Yurovsky, the commandant of The House of Special Purpose, ordered the Romanovs’ physician, Dr. Eugene Botkin, to awaken the sleeping family and ask them to put on their clothes, under the pretext that the family would be moved to a safe location due to impending chaos in Yekaterinburg.

The Romanovs were then ordered into a 6 m × 5 m (20 ft × 16 ft) semi-basement room. Nicholas asked if Yurovsky could bring two chairs, on which Tsarevich Alexei and Alexandra sat.

Yurovsky’s assistant Grigory Nikulin remarked to him that the “heir wanted to die in a chair. Very well then, let him have one.”

The prisoners were told to wait in the cellar room while the truck that would transport them was being brought to the House. A few minutes later, an execution squad of secret police was brought in and Yurovsky read aloud the order given to him by the Ural Executive Committee: “Nikolai Alexandrovich, in view of the fact that your relatives are continuing their attack on Soviet Russia, the Ural Executive Committee has decided to execute you.”

Nicholas, facing his family, turned and said “What? What?”

Yurovsky quickly repeated the order and the weapons were raised. The Empress and Grand Duchess Olga, according to a guard’s reminiscence, had tried to bless themselves, but failed amid the shooting. Yurovsky reportedly raised his Colt gun at Nicholas’s torso and fired; Nicholas was the target of all of the assembled shooters, and he quickly fell dead, pierced by many bullets. The intoxicated Peter Ermakov, the military commissar for Verkh-Isetsk, shot and killed Alexandra with a bullet wound to the head. He then shot at Maria, who ran for the double doors, hitting her in the thigh.[95] The remaining executioners shot chaotically and over each other’s shoulders until the room was so filled with smoke and dust that no one could see anything at all in the darkness nor hear any commands amid the noise.

Alexey Kabanov, who ran out onto the street to check the noise levels, heard dogs barking from the Romanovs’ quarters and the sound of gunshots loud and clear despite the noise from the Fiat’s engine. Kabanov then hurried downstairs and told the men to stop firing and kill the family and their dogs with their gun butts and bayonets.

Within minutes, Yurovsky was forced to stop the shooting because of the caustic smoke of burned gunpowder, dust from the plaster ceiling caused by the reverberation of bullets, and the deafening gunshots. When they stopped, the doors were then opened to scatter the smoke.

While waiting for the smoke to abate, the killers could hear moans and whimpers inside the room. As it cleared, it became evident that although several of the family’s retainers had been killed, all of the Imperial children were alive and furthermore, only Maria was even injured.

The noise of the guns had been heard by households all around, and had awakened many people. The executioners were ordered to proceed with their bayonets, a technique which proved ineffective and meant that the children had to be dispatched by still more gunshots, this time aimed more precisely at their heads. The Tsarevich was the first of the children to be executed.

Yurovsky watched in disbelief as Nikulin spent an entire magazine from his Browning gun on Alexei, who was still seated transfixed in his chair; he also had jewels sewn into his undergarment and forage cap.

Ermakov shot and stabbed him, and when he failed, Yurovsky shoved him aside and killed the boy with a gunshot to the head.

The last to die were Tatiana, Anastasia, and Maria, who were carrying a few pounds (over 1.3 kilograms) of diamonds sewn into their clothing, which had given them a degree of protection from the firing

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