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Monday, 14 August, 2000, 17:18 GMT 18:18 UK
Tsar's sainthood: Sign of the times
Romanov family portrait
The Romanovs: riding a wave of popular nostalgia
By BBC News Online's Stephen Mulvey

The canonisation of Tsar Nicholas II and his family by the Russian Orthodox Church comes amid growing popular nostalgia for the Romanov family, who were slain by Bolsheviks 82 years ago.

Increasing numbers of icons of the last tsar have been reported weeping "myrrh" - interpreted as a sign of heavenly support for canonisation.

Work on a grand cathedral has begun at the site of the family's murder in Yekaterinburg.

Plans are also afoot to search for the bodies of two of the tsar's children, which were not found in time for the family's majestic re-burial in St Petersburg in 1998.

Church under pressure

The decision to canonise the family was taken by a council of Russian Orthodox bishops - the same group that opted in 1997 to shelve the issue by putting it to a larger and long overdue gathering of the faithful.

But what was then too hot to handle later became impossible to ignore.

A member of the Church's Committee for the Canonisation of Saints, Father Georgi Mitrofanov, told the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper that the tsar, his wife Alexandra, and their five children would be declared "passion bearers" - people who met their death in a Christian way even though they were not martyred for their faith.

Larry Uzzell, Moscow correspondent for the religious-freedom monitoring organisation, the Keston Institute, said before the canonisation that the Church was under a lot of pressure to elevate the family to the sainthood.

"There are political pressures from powerful secular circles to recognise them as saints, and also popular pressures," he said.

"A referendum among Christian supporters of the Church would result in a hands-down vote in favour of canonisation."

Holy soil

Icons of Tsar Nicholas have long been circulating among believers, and some are even displayed in churches.

Nicholas II
Nicholas II: enjoying a revival
The Holy Synod began examining one such icon more than a year ago, after it was observed exuding a sweetly-smelling substance, regarded as a potentially miraculous appearance of myrrh.

Church officials say reports of similar occurrences from various parts of the country have been multiplying in recent weeks, and that confirmed instances could be used to support the case for canonisation.

One Muscovite priest has started collecting and publishing stories of miracles, which he says are the result of Tsar Nicholas interceding in the heavenly realm.

Meanwhile, volunteers helping to excavate the site for the planned new cathedral in Yekaterinburg are reported to be taking home bags of "holy soil".

Architects aim to locate the altar of the "Church on the Blood" directly above the cellar where the family was killed.

Rasputin reassessed

In 1996 the Church's canonisation committee issued a report recommending elevation of the family to the sainthood.

The tsar's re-burial: the Church disputes the authenticity of the remains
The tsar's re-burial: the Church disputes the authenticity of the remains
It noted that while much of the tsar's life was full of sin and mistakes, the last months were characterised by dignity, fortitude and prayer.

In the past, the imperial family's reliance on the monk Rasputin as a healer and unofficial adviser, was often interpreted as a major mistake that hastened the decline of the Russian state and helped to bring about the 1917 revolution.

But Father Sergei Hackel, an Orthodox priest who broadcasts on the BBC Russian Service, says that today there is a growing tendency in Russia to regard Rasputin as a genuine holy man - and to applaud the tsar who brought him to prominence.

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See also:

15 Jul 98 | Romanov
Death of a dynasty
17 Jul 98 | Europe
Romanovs laid to rest
13 Jan 98 | Monitoring
Tsar's remains genuine: Russian report
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