Moscow, December 1, 2017
Even after his abdication, Tsar Nicholas II remained a symbolic, sacred figure, and therefore his murder could have a very specific ritualist meaning in many senses, His Grace Bishop Tikhon (Shevkunov) of Egorievsk, abbot of Moscow’s Sretensky Monastery and Secretary of the patriarchal commission tasked with studying the remains believed to belong to the Royal Martyrs, told RIA-Novosti.
“No one will deny that the emperor, even after his abdication, undoubtedly remained a symbolic, sacred figure. The murder of the tsar and his family, putting the final stamp on the existence of the hatred of the 300-year Romanov dynasty by the new authorities, was a matter bearing very special ritualistic, symbolic meaning for many,” Bp. Tikhon stated.
To the objection, “What ritualistic meanings could there be for the Bolsheviks?” Bp. Tikhon responded with his own question: “Isn’t Lenin’s mausoleum a sacred, symbolic, and ritualistic phenomenon?” The Bolsheviks and their associates, he added, were by no means strangers to a variety of ritualistic symbolism.
“Many people involved in the shooting, whether in Moscow or in Ekaterinburg, saw in the murder of the prostrate Russian autocrat a special ritual of retribution,” the patriarchal commission secretary added. Many different kinds of people surrounded the event, he stated, from sadistic criminals who wanted to personally torture the tsar and his family, to Yurovsky, the leader of the band of regicides, who later boasted of his role in the murders and felt himself to be someone “who performed a sacred historical mission.”
His Grace’s explanation comes on the heels of his statement at Monday’s conference “On the Murder of the Royal Family: New Evaluations and Materials. Discussion,” devoted to the various studies on the remains, that the majority of those involved in the ongoing scientific examinations believe there is evidence of ritual elements in the murder of Tsar Nicholas II and his family. He stated then that according to Yurovsky, all the victims were divided up between the shooters, but that the tsar’s remains show more bullet holes because “everyone wanted to be regicides,” that is, “for many it was a special ritual.”
His statement sparked controversy in both Russian and outside media, which tied his use of the phrase “ritual murder” to anti-Semitic accusations of previous centuries. Yurovsky himself, an atheist, was ethnically Jewish, while all the other perpetrators were Russian.
The Speaker of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia Baruch Gorin, for example, was shocked to hear of Vladyka Tikhon’s statement. “For us it is all an absolute absurdity, for a number of reasons… It is shocking,” he told Interfax-Religion on Tuesday.
While stories of ritualistic murders are tied to various cults and religions, Gorin acknowledged, in Russian history and in the history surrounding the Royal Family, the notion of a ritual murder is “absolutely an anti-Semitic myth,” he stated, adding that the killers in question were, in fact, atheists—although, this is certainly a fact of which Bp. Tikhon is aware.
Western media, such as ABC News, picked up on Gorin’s concern, commenting that, “Some Christians in medieval Europe believed that Jews murdered Christians to use their blood for ritual purposes, something which historians say has no basis in Jewish religious law or historical fact and instead reflected anti-Jewish hostility in Christian Europe.” The article does, however, note that Bp. Tikhon himself said nothing about Jews or Judaism.
The Jerusalem Post ran an article entitled, “Russian bishop claims last tsar murdered by Jews for ritual purposes,” also quoting from Gorin, and others, while not producing any quotes from Bp. Tikhon himself to back up the strongly worded title.
The Sretensky abbot addressed the topic again today at a press briefing during a break in the working sessions of the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church which is currently meeting in Christ the Savior Cathedral, explaining that “ritual murder” in the case of the Royal Family is understood exclusively as “revolutionary, Bolshevistic retribution.”
Matters have been worked out with the local Jewish community as well, Bp. Tikhon explained: “I had a conversation with the head of the largest Jewish community in Russia, Alexander Moiseevich Boroda. He called me, I explained our position to him, and, as far as I understood, he was absolutely satisfied by this conversation and explanation—that it had all just been distorted.”
He added that the entire expert commission was “deeply outraged by the disgusting attempts to accuse us of xenophobia and anti-Semitism.” “No one mentioned anything about the nationality or religious affiliation of the shooters,” he said, adding that of the eight shooters, only Yurovsky was non-Russian, but he was not religiously Jewish, according to Interfax-Religion.
The Federation of Jewish Communities even agrees with Bp. Tikhon that the execution of the Royal Martyrs was a symbolic act, but rejects the use of the specific phrase “ritual murder” in relation to this event.
“It is obvious that the execution of the prisoners of the Ipatiev House was carried out by the godless Bolsheviks as a significant symbolic massacre,” Boroda stated today. However, “it is totally unacceptable to use in these processes the historically and ideologically-charged phrasing ‘ritual murder,’ evoking the obvious connotations,” he added.
It was announced today that the Russian Orthodox Church hopes to see the end of the examinations on the Ekaterinburg remains and to come to a decision on their authenticity or lack therefore sometime next year.