RUSSIAN AUTOCRACY AND ENGLISH MONARCHY: A COMPARISON

Written by Vladimir Moss

RUSSIAN AUTOCRACY AND ENGLISH MONARCHY:
A COMPARISON

     Appearances can be deceptive. There is a famous photograph of the Russian Tsar Nicholas II and the English King George V standing together, looking as if they were twins (people often confused them) and wearing almost identical uniforms. Surely, one would think, these were kings of a similar type, even brothers in royalty? After all, they called each other “Nicky” and “Georgie”, had very similar tastes, had ecumenical links (Nicky was godfather of Georgie’s son, the future Edward VIII, and their common grandmother, Queen Victoria, was invited to be godmother of Grand Duchess Olga ), and their empires were similar in their vastness and diversity (Nicholas was ruler of the greatest land empire in history, George – of the greatest sea power in history). Moreover, the two cousins never went to war with each other, but were allies in the First World War. They seem to have been genuinely fond of each other, and shared a mutual antipathy for their bombastic and warmongering “Cousin Willy” – Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany. To crown it all, when Tsar Nicholas abdicated in 1917, Kerensky suggested that he take refuge with Cousin Georgie in England, a suggestion that the Royal Family did not reject…

     But Cousin Georgie betrayed Cousin Nicky, withdrawing his invitation for fear of a revolution in England, with the result that the Tsar and his family were murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918. Nor was this the only betrayal: in a deeper sense English constitutionalism betrayed Russian autocracy. For it was a band of constitutionalist Masons headed by Guchkov, and supported by the Grand Orient of France and the Great Lodge of England, that plotted the overthrow of the Tsar in the safe haven of the English embassy in St. Petersburg. Thus it was not Jewish Bolsheviks or German militarists who overthrew the Russian autocracy, but monarchists – but monarchists who admired the English constitutionalist model. The false kingship that was all show and no substance betrayed the true kingship that died in defence of the truth in poverty and humiliation - but in true imitation of Christ the King, Who said: “You say rightly that I am a king: for this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth!” (John 18.37).

     The main difference between true and false kinship is that a true king rules in consultation with his subjects, but not in thrall to them, whereas the false kind “reigns but does not govern”, as Adolphe Thiers put it in 1830. Not that the false kingship has no power of any kind: the recent 60th jubilee celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II of England, which were watched by hundreds of millions around the world on television, witnessed in a remarkable way to the emotional power even of the false, constitutional monarchism. But this is the power of a religious symbol answering to the deepest needs of human nature, not of a major political reality. Queen Elizabeth reigns, but she does not govern. In fact, unlike the humblest of her citizens, she is not allowed to express any political opinion. Therefore, she is both the most privileged and most enslaved person in the realm, a paradox that only the English, it appears, consider to be normal…

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     Let us look briefly at the origins of English constitutionalism… England was ruled by Orthodox autocrats for approximately four-and-a half centuries until 1066. In that year, however, the last Orthodox king, Harold II, was killed in battle against the Catholic Duke William of Normandy, while his only child, Gytha, fled to Kiev, where she married the Russian Great Prince Vladimir Monomakh. In this way the English autocracy was merged into the Russian autocracy, just as, in 1472, the Byzantine autocracy was merged into the Russian autocracy through the marriage of the niece of the last Byzantine autocrat, Sophia Palaeologus, to Great Prince Ivan III of Moscow.

     Under the Normans and during the time of the heretical popes, the English monarchy was transformed into a totalitarian despotism. Thus William the Conqueror seized control of the Church and most of the land and wealth of the kingdom, reducing the consultative, judicial and legislative organs of the English state to mere reflections of his personal will. But then, slowly, attempts to claw back power from the despotic Norman kings began. The first, famously, was Magna Carta (1215), a contract between the English barons and King John, which succeeded to some degree in limiting the power of the king. But this benefited only the barons, not the people, who rebelled in 1381, were crushed by King Richard II, and continued in subjection to their aristocratic landlords.

     A more determined and successful attempt to limit the power of the monarchy was made during the English revolution. The fledgling parliament of medieval times had now been transformed into a more powerful organ controlled by the leading landowners, who controlled the king’s purse-strings. When parliament refused to give money to King Charles I for a war against Scotland, civil war broke out. In 1649 Cromwell tried and executed King Charles, the first ideologically motivated and judicially executed regicide in history. Before then, kings had been killed in abundance, and many Popes had presumed to depose them by ecclesiastical decrees. But Charles I was not deposed by any Pope; nor was he the victim of a simple coup. He was charged with treason against the State by his own subjects...

     Treason by a king rather than against him?! This was a contradiction in terms which implied that the real sovereign ruler was not the king, but the people – or rather, those rebels against the king who chose to speak in the name of the people. As Christopher Hill writes: “high treason was a personal offence, a breach of personal loyalty to the King: the idea that the King himself might be a traitor to the realm was novel” , to say the least. The king himself articulated the paradoxicality of the revolution during his trial, declaring: “A King cannot be tried by any superior jurisdiction on earth.”

     At his trial Charles had said that the king was the guarantor of his people’s liberties: “Do you pretend what you will, I will stand for their liberties – for if a power without law may make laws, may alter the fundamental laws of the kingdom, I do not know what subject can be sure of his life, or of anything that he calls his own.” As for the people, “truly I desire their liberty and freedom, as much as anybody whomsoever; but I must tell you that their liberty and their freedom consists in having of government those laws by which their life and their goods may be most their own. It is not for having share in government, sir, that is nothing pertaining to them. A subject and a sovereign are clean different things…”

     Charles presented his case well; he went, as he put it, “from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown” with great courage and dignity. Thereby he acquired more genuine monarchist followers in his death than he had possessed during his life. Very soon, moreover, the leader of the Revolution, Oliver Cromwell, came to realize that if you kill the king, then any Tom, Dick or Harry will think he has the right to kill you. In particular, he realized that he could not possibly give in to the demands of the Levellers, proto-communists who wanted to “level” society to its lowest common denominator. And so in May, 1649, only four months after executing the king, he executed some mutinous soldiers who sympathised with the Levellers. And four years later he was forced to dissolve the fractious Parliament and seize supreme power himself (although he refused the title of King, preferring that of “Protector”). So England went from monarchy to dictatorship in the shortest possible time…

     Earlier, just after his victory over the King at Naseby in 1645, he had declared: “God hath put the sword in the Parliament’s hands, - for the terror of evil-doers, and the praise of them that do well. If any plead exemption from that, - he knows not the Gospel”. But when anarchy threatened, he found an exemption to the law of the Gospel: “Necessity hath no law,” he said to the dismissed representatives of the people. Napoleon had a similar rationale when he dismissed the Directory and the elected deputies in 1799. As did Lenin when he dismissed the Constituent Assembly in 1918… “Necessity” in one age becomes the “revolutionary morality” of the next – in other words, the suspension of all morality. This is the first law of the revolution which was demonstrated for the first time in the English revolution.

     The English revolution, writes Metropolitan Anastasy (Gribanovsky), “bore within itself as an embryo all the typically destructive traits of subsequent revolutions”. Nevertheless, “the religious sources of this movement, the iron hand of Oliver Cromwell, and the immemorial good sense of the English people, restrained this stormy element, preventing it from achieving its full growth. Thenceforth, however, the social spirit of Europe has been infected with the bacterium of revolution…”

     Another revolutionary leader from the gentry was the poet John Milton. He set himself the task of justifying the revolution (Engels called him “the first defender of regicide”) in theological terms. For unlike the later revolutions, the English revolution was still seen as needing justification in terms of Holy Scripture. Milton began, in his Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, with a firm rejection of the Divine Right of Kings. “It is lawful and hath been held so through all ages for anyone who has the power to call to account a Tyrant or wicked King, and after due conviction to depose and put him to death.” Charles I was to be identified with the Antichrist, and in overthrowing him the English people had chosen God as their King. Moreover, it was now the duty of the English to spread their revolution overseas (Cromwell had begun the process in Scotland and Ireland in 1649-51), for the saints in England had been “the first to overcome those European kings which receive their power not from God but from the Beast”.

     “No man who knows aught,” wrote Milton, “can be so stupid as to deny that all men naturally were born free”. Kings and magistrates are but “deputies and commissioners of the people”. “To take away from the people the right of choosing government takes away all liberty”. Of course, the bourgeois Milton agreed, “the people” did not mean all the people, or even the majority: the “inconstant, irrational and image-doting rabble”, could not have the rule; the better part – i.e. the gentry, people like Milton himself – must act on their behalf. This raised the problem, as Filmer argued against Milton, that even if we accept that “the sounder, the better and the uprighter part have the power of the people… how shall we know, or who shall judge, who they can be?” But Milton brushed this problem aside…

     Another problem that Milton had to face was the popular (and Orthodox) conception that the king was “the image of God” - within a week of the king’s execution, Eikon Basilike (Royal Icon) was published by the royalists, being supposedly the work of Charles himself. This enormously popular defence of the monarchy was countered by Milton’s Eikonoklastes, in which the destruction of the icon of the king was seen as the logical consequence of the earlier iconoclasm of the English Reformation. For, as Hill explains: “An ikon was an image. Images of saints and martyrs had been cleared out of English churches at the Reformation, on the ground that the common people had worshipped them. Protestantism, and especially Calvinism… encouraged lay believers to reject any form of idolatry.” Thus did the anti-papist iconoclasm of the English Reformation reap its fruits in the anti-monarchist iconoclasm of the English Revolution… The transition from rebellion against the Church to rebellion against the king was inevitable. Luther had tried to resist it, but the Calvinists were less afraid to cross the Rubicon by ascribing all authority, both ecclesiastical and secular, to the people. For “if a purer religion, close to the one depicted in the gospel, was attainable by getting rid of superiors in the church, a better social and economic life, close to the life depicted in the gospels, would follow from getting rid of social and political superiors.”

     As time passed, however, the English tired of their revolution. It was not only that so traditionalist a nation as the English could not live forever without Christmas and the “smells and bells” of traditional religion (not to speak of drinking and dancing), which Cromwell banned. “As the millenium failed to arrive,” writes Christopher Hill, “and taxation was not reduced, as division and feuds rent the revolutionaries, so the image of his sacred majesty loomed larger over the quarrelsome, unsatisfactory scene… The mass of ordinary people came to long for a return to ‘normality’, to the known, the familiar, the traditional. Victims of scrofula who could afford it went abroad to be touched by the king [Charles II] over the water: after 1660 he was back, sacred and symbolic. Eikonoklastes was burnt by the common hangman together with The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates… The men of property in 1659-60 longed for ‘a king with plenty of holy oil about him’…”

     And yet the king’s holy oil was not the main thing about him from their point of view. Far more important was that he should suppress the revolutionaries, preserve order and let them make money in peace. A Divine Right ruler was not suitable because he might choose to touch their financial interests, as Charles I had done. For, as Ian Buruma writes, “there is a link between business interests – or at least the freedom to trade – and liberal, even democratic, politics. Money tends to even things out, is egalitarian and blind to race or creed. As Voltaire said about the London stock exchange: Muslims, Christians and Jews trade as equals, and bankrupts are the only infidels. Trade can flourish if property is protected by laws. That means protection from the state, as well as from other individuals.”

     A constitutional ruler was the answer, that is, a ruler who would rule within strict limitations imposed by the men of property (who packed the Houses of Parliament) and drawn up in a constitution that was never written down, but was enforced by the power of tradition and precedent and the occasional mini-mutiny. And so even when, in 1660, after the failure of Cromwell’s republican experiment, King Charles’ son, Charles II, was allowed to occupy the throne, it was only on certain conditions, conditions imposed by the men of property. And after the “Glorious Revolution” in 1688, the English monarchy became officially constitutional – that is, subject in the last resort to the will of parliament.

     The paradoxical result is that, in England today, while everyone is a subject of the Queen, and the Queen is far more popular than any elected politician, she is also bound as none of her subjects is bound, being strictly forbidden from expressing any political opinions in public and being forced to sign all the laws that parliament sets before her… And not only in England. For if, before 1914, the family of European constitutional monarchs still had some power to influence the politicians’ decisions – although not their decision to go to war - since then their power has dwindled to almost nil, with the very rare exception only proving the point more clearly. Thus “in 1990, when a law submitted by Roger Lallemand and Lucienne Herman-Michielsens, liberalising Belgium's abortion laws, was approved by Parliament, [King Baudouin of Belgium] refused to give Royal Assent to the bill. This was unprecedented; although Baudoin was nominally Belgium's chief executive, Royal Assent has long been a formality (as is the case in most constitutional and popular monarchies). However, due to his religious convictions, Baudouin asked the Government to declare him temporarily unable to reign so that he could avoid signing the measure into law. The Government under Wilfried Martens complied with his request on 4 April 1990. According to the provisions of the Belgian Constitution, in the event the King is temporarily unable to reign, the Government as a whole fulfils the role of Head of State. All members of the Government signed the bill, and the next day (5 April 1990) the Government declared that Baudouin was capable of reigning again.” So King Baudoin, a pious Catholic, became a true king for one day (April 4, 1990), when he spoke in defence of God’s truth in defiance of the godless Belgian government. But precisely on that day and for that reason the godless declared him to be no king at all. Such is the absurdity entailed by the self-contradictory concept of constitutional monarchy…

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    And so the English constitutional monarchy is not monarchical in its origins at all, but actually arises from the first successful European revolution against the monarchy (if we except Pope Gregory VII’s revolution against monarchism in general in the late eleventh century). Very different was the Russian autocracy. Founded in its Christian form by St. Olga of Kiev and her grandson St. Vladimir in the late tenth century, its origins were in the Byzantine autocracy, to which it was bound by faith, baptism and marriage (St. Olga was baptized by the Byzantine emperor, and St. Vladimir was married to the sister of the Byzantine emperor). Indeed, from a juridical-symbolical point of view, the Russian Great Princes were subjects of the Byzantine emperor until the very fall of Constantinople in 1453. De facto, however, they were true autocrats (“autocratic” means “self-governing”) who both ruled and governed the Russian people from the beginning.

     The Russian autocrats were supreme in their own, political sphere: the only limitation on their power was the Orthodox Church, which could excommunicate them if they defied Church law (as it excommunicated Tsar Ivan the Terrible for his seven marriages) or even call for a war of national liberation if they betrayed the Orthodox Faith (as St. Hermogen did when the false Dmitri proclaimed his status as a Catholic). This “symphony of powers” was another feature of the Russian autocracy inherited from Byzantium… Only the Russians embodied the symphony much more successfully than the Byzantines. For, on the one hand, the Byzantines far more often committed the most serious sin of regicide (“in Byzantium out of 109 reigning emperors 74 ascended onto the throne by means of regicide” ). On the other hand, many Byzantine emperors were heretics who were permitted to occupy the throne without hindrance (all the last Byzantine emperors from John V to Constantine XI were Catholics).

     The first tsar who showed weakness in relation to the idea of democracy was Boris Godunov. He had been a member of the dreaded oprichnina from his youth, and had married the daughter of the murderer of St. Philip of Moscow, Maliuta Skouratov. He therefore represented that part of Russian society that had profited from the cruelty and lawlessness of Ivan the Terrible. Moreover, although he was the first Russian tsar to be crowned and anointed by a full patriarch (on September 1, 1598), and there was no serious resistance to his ascending the throne, he acted from the beginning as if not quite sure of his position, or as if seeking some confirmation of his position from the lower ranks of society. This was perhaps because he was not a direct descendant of the RIurik dynasty (he was brother-in-law of Tsar Theodore), perhaps because (according to the Chronograph of 1617) the dying Tsar Theodore had pointed to his mother’s nephew, Theodore Nikitich Romanov, the future patriarch, as his successor, perhaps because he had some dark crime on his conscience…

     In any case, Boris decided upon an unprecedented act. He interrupted the liturgy of the coronation, as Stephen Graham writes, “to proclaim the equality of man. It was a striking interruption of the ceremony. The Cathedral of the Assumption was packed with a mixed assembly such as never could have found place at the coronation of a tsar of the blood royal. There were many nobles there, but cheek by jowl with them were merchants, shopkeepers, even beggars. Boris suddenly took the arm of the holy Patriarch in his and declaimed in a loud voice: ‘Oh, holy father Patriarch Job, I call God to witness that during my reign there shall be neither poor man nor beggar in my realm, but I will share all with my fellows, even to the last rag that I wear.’ And in sign he ran his fingers over the jewelled vestments that he wore. There was an unprecedented scene in the cathedral, almost a revolutionary tableau when the common people massed within the precincts broke the disciplined majesty of the scene to applaud the speaker.”

     How different was this democratism from the self-confidence of Ivan the Terrible: “I perform my kingly task and consider no man higher than myself.” And again he said: “The Russian autocrats have from the beginning had possession of all the kingdoms, and not the boyars and grandees.” And again, this time to the (elected) king of Poland: “We, humble Ivan, tsar and great prince of all Rus’, by the will of God, and not by the stormy will of man….” In fact, Ivan the Terrible’s attitude to his own power, at any rate in the first part of his reign, was much closer to the attitude of the Russian people as a whole than was Boris Godunov’s. For, as St. John Maximovich writes, “the Russian sovereigns were never tsars by the will of the people, but always remained Autocrats by the Mercy of God. They were sovereigns in accordance with the dispensation of God, and not according to the ‘multimutinous’ will of man.”

     Monarchy by the Grace of God and monarchy by the will of the people are incompatible principles. The very first king appointed by God in the Old Testament, Saul, fell because he tried to combine them; he listened to the people, not God. Thus he spared Agag, the king of the Amalekites, together with the best of his livestock, instead of killing them all, as God had commanded. His excuse was: "because I listened to the voice of the people" (I Kings 15.20). In other words, he abdicated his God-given authority and became, spiritually speaking, a democrat, listening to the people rather than to God.

     Sensing this weakness in Tsar Boris, the people paid more heed to the rumours that he had murdered the Tsarevich Demetrius, the Terrible one’s youngest son, in 1591. But then came news that a young man claiming to be Demetrius Ivanovich was marching at the head of a Polish army into Russia. If this man was truly Demetrius, then Boris was, of course, innocent of his murder. But paradoxically this only made his position more insecure; for in the eyes of the people the hereditary principle was higher than any other – an illegitimate but living son of Ivan the Terrible was more legitimate for them than Boris, even though he was an intelligent and experienced ruler, the right-hand man of two previous tsars, and fully supported by the Patriarch, who anathematized the false Demetrius and all those who followed him. Support for Boris collapsed, and in 1605 he died, after which Demetrius, who had promised the Pope to convert Russia to Catholicism, swept to power in Moscow.

     “As regards who had to be tsar,” writes St. John Maximovich, “a tsar could hold his own on the throne only if the principle of legitimacy was observed, that is, the elected person was the nearest heir of his predecessor. The legitimate Sovereign was the basis of the state’s prosperity and was demanded by the spirit of the Russian people.” The people were never sure of the legitimacy of Boris Godunov, so they rebelled against him. However, even if these doubts could excuse their rebellion against Boris (which is doubtful, since he was an anointed Tsar recognized by the Church), it did not excuse the cruel murder of his son, Tsar Theodore Borisovich, still less their recognition of a series of usurpers in the next decade. Moreover, the lawless character of these rebellions has been compared, not without justice, to the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. First they accepted a real imposter, the false Demetrius – in reality a defrocked monk called Grishka Otrepev. Then, in May, 1606, Prince Basil Shuisky led a successful rebellion against Demetrius, executed him and expelled the false patriarch Ignatius. He then called on Patriarch Job to come out of his enforced retirement, but he refused by reason of his blindness and old age. Another Patriarch was required; the choice fell of Metropolitan Hermogen of Kazan, who anointed Tsar Basil to the kingdom…But the people also rejected Tsar Basil… Finally, in 1612, coming to their senses, they besought Michael Romanov, who was both legitimate and Orthodox, to be their tsar, promising to obey him and his descendants forever, under pain of anathema. The appointment of Tsar Michael’s father as patriarch underlined the filial relationship between Church and State in the restored Russian autocracy.

     The Russian autocracy of the seventeenth century presents one of the most balanced examples of Church-State symphony in history. While the autocrats were supreme in the secular sphere, any attempt they might make to dictate to the Church, or corrupt her role as the conscience of the nation, was firmly rebuffed, as we see in the life of Patriarch Nicon of Moscow. The people did not strive to limit the tsar’s authority; but their voice was respectfully listened to in the Zemskie Sobory, or “Councils of the Land”; and there was a degree of local popular representation at the lower levels of administration.

     Early in the eighteenth century, however, Peter the Great disturbed the balance by trying to subject the Church to his own will, introducing the western theory of Divine Right absolutism into the government of the country, together with many other Protestant innovations. But gradually, in the nineteenth century from the time of Paul I to Nicholas II, the balance began to be restored. In 1901 Tsar Nicholas removed from the Basic Laws the phrase designating the Tsar as “Supreme Judge” of the Church, and then prepared the way for the convening of the first genuine Church Council since the middle of the seventeenth century. The Local Russian Council of 1917-18 may be counted as a fruit of the Tsar’s reign, even if was convened after he had abdicated. And after he was murdered in July, 1918, the Red Terror began, showing that the freedom of Orthodoxy and the Church was guaranteed by the autocracy and disappeared with its fall.

     It is striking how, with the fall of true autocracy, the structure of European monarchy, being built, not on the rock of true faith and the Grace of God, but on the porous sand of the “multimutinous will” of the people (Tsar Ivan IV), began to collapse completely. For in 1917-18 the dynasties of all the defeated nations: Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria (temporarily) collapsed. And within a decade monarchy had more or less disappeared in several other nations, such as Turkey, Italy and Greece.

   The first to go was Russia; for the one true monarchy had to be destroyed violently before the pseudo-monarchies could be peacefully put out to grass. The abortive revolution of 1905 had imposed a kind of constitution on the Tsar. But then he, summoning the last of his political strength, effectively defied the will of the Masons (but not that of the people) until 1917 – and even then he did not give them their “responsible government”, but abdicated in favour of other members of the dynasty. Thus the Russian autocracy went out with a bang, undefeated in war and defiantly resisting the traitors and oath-breakers who opposed it. The latter, however, went out with a whimper, losing the war and after only nine months’ rule fleeing in all directions (Kerensky fled in women’s clothes to Paris).

     The only major monarchies to survive were those of England and Serbia. But the Serbian King Alexander, for his over-zealous defence of Orthodoxy and traditional monarchism (he had reigned together with a parliament until 1929, but then took over the reins of government himself), was assassinated in 1934, and the dynasty was forced into exile in 1941. (The monarchy has now returned to Serbia in a meekly constitutional form.) As for England, King George V, as we have seen, bought time by casting “Cousin Nicky” to the Bolshevik wolves, while his granddaughter has bought still more time by opening Hindu temples and honouring anti-monarchist rulers such as Ċeaušescu and Putin… Prince Charles, meanwhile, has said that when he ascends the throne he will no longer be “the Defender of the Faith”, i.e. Christianity, like all English monarchs before him, but “the defender of all faiths…”

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     Democracy, of course, claims to guarantee the freedom and equality of its citizens. But even if we accept that “freedom” and “equality” are too often equated by liberals with licence and an unnatural levelling of human diversity, and have little to do with spiritual freedom or moral equality, England in 1914 was probably a less free and less equal society than Russia. As the call-up for the Boer war in 1899-1902 revealed, a good half of British conscripts were too weak and unhealthy to be admitted to active service. And things were no better in 1918, when the tall, well-fed American troops seemed giants compared with the scrawny, emaciated Tommies - the monstrously rich English factory-owners and aristocratic landlords had seen to it that the workers’ lot remained as harsh as it had been when Marx and Engels first wrote about it. But in Russia in 1914 greatly increased prosperity, rapidly spreading education among all classes, liberal labour laws and a vast increase in a free, independent peasantry (especially in Siberia) were transforming the country.

     The idea that autocracy is necessarily inimical to freedom and equality was refuted by the monarchist Andozerskaya in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s novel, “October, 1916”: “Under a monarchy it is perfectly possible for both the freedom and the equality of citizens to flourish. First, a firm hereditary system delivers the country from destructive disturbances. Secondly, under a hereditary monarchy there is no periodic upheaval of elections, and political disputes in the country are weakened. Thirdly, republican elections lower the authority of the power, we are not obliged to respect it, but the power is forced to please us before the elections and serve us after them. But the monarch promised nothing in order to be elected. Fourthly, the monarch has the opportunity to weigh up things in an unbiased way. The monarchy is the spirit of national unity, but under a republic divisive competition is inevitable. Fifthly, the good and the strength of the monarch coincide with the good and the strength of the whole country, he is simply forced to defend the interests of the whole country if only in order to survive. Sixthly, for multi-national, variegated countries the monarch is the only tie and the personification of unity…”

     For these reasons Nicholas II was completely justified in his firm attachment to the autocratic principle. And his choice was vindicated by his own conduct: no autocrat conducted himself with more genuine humility and love for his subjects, and a more profound feeling of responsibility before God. He was truly an autocrat, and not a tyrant. He did not sacrifice the people for himself, but himself for the people. The tragedy of Russia was that she was about to exchange the most truly Christian of monarchs for the most horrific of all tyrannies – all in the name of freedom!

     The constitutionalists criticize the Orthodox autocracy mainly on the grounds that it presents a system of absolute, uncontrolled power, and therefore of tyranny. They quote the saying of the historian Lord Acton: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. But this is and was a serious misunderstanding. The Russian autocracy was based on the anointing of the Church and on the faith of the people; and if it betrayed either – by disobeying the Church, or by trampling on the people’s faith, - it lost its legitimacy, as we see in the Time of Troubles, when the people rejected the false Dmitri. It was therefore limited, not absolute, being limited, not by parliament or any secular power, but by the teachings of the Orthodox Faith and Church, and must not be confused with the system of absolutist monarchy that we see in, for example, the French King Louis XIV, or the English King Henry VIII, who felt limited by nothing and nobody on earth. Just as the Tsar had earlier rejected the temptation of becoming an English-style constitutionalist monarch, so now he resisted the opposite temptation of becoming a western-style absolutist ruler, thereby refuting the constitutionalists who looked on his rule as just that – a form of absolutism. Like Christ in Gethsemane, he told his friends to put up their swords, and surrendered himself into the hands of his enemies; “for this is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22.53). He showed that the Orthodox Autocracy was not a form of western-style absolutism, whose right is in its might, but something completely sui generis, whose right is in its faithfulness to the truth of Christ. He refused to treat his power as if it were independent of or over the Church and people, but showed that it was a form of service to the Church and the people from within the Church and the people. 

     So if the people and the Church did not want him, he would not impose himself on them. He would not fight a ruinous civil war in order to preserve his power. Instead he chose to die, because in dying he proclaimed the truth of Christ, thereby imitating again the King of king Himself. Moreover, he also imitated the example of the first canonized saints of Russia, the Princes Boris and Gleb, following the advice of the Prophet Shemaiah to King Rehoboam and men of the house of Judah: “Thus saith the Lord, Ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren, the children of Israel. Return every man to his house…” (I Kings 12.24).

     If we compare the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II in 1917 with that of his godson, the British King Edward VIII in 1936, we immediately see the superiority, not only of the Tsar over the King personally, but also of Orthodox autocracy over constitutional monarchy generally. Edward VIII lived a life of debauchery, flirted with the German Nazis, and then abdicated, not voluntarily, for the sake of the nation, but because he could not have both the throne and a continued life of debauchery at the same time. He showed no respect for Church or faith, and perished saying: “What a wasted life!” While the abdication of Edward VIII placed the monarchy in grave danger, the abdication of Tsar Nicholas, by contrast, saved the monarchy for the future. For by his example of selfless sacrifice for the faith and the people, he showed what a true king is, preserving the shining image of true monarchy shining and unsullied for future generations of Orthodox Christians…

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     One of the greatest threats to Russia and Orthodoxy in the world today are the plans to introduce a constitutional monarchy into Russia. The best-known candidate is George Romanov, a great-grandson of Great Prince Kyril Vladimirovich, who betrayed the autocracy in 1917 and whose son, Vladimir Kyrillovich, apostasized from the True Church in 1992 in order to join the Sovietized Moscow Patriarchate. If the present neo-Soviet regime of Putin begins to feel insecure at some time in the future, it may well “restore the monarchy” in the person of George Romanov in order to gain the support of traditionalists – while keeping the real power in their own hands.

     A more recent, and perhaps more interesting and intriguing candidate is Prince Michael of Kent, known as “Kentsky” in Russia. A member of the English Royal Family, he speaks fluent Russian, is a frequent visitor to Russia (particularly Yekaterinburg), and has the support of powerful Russians such as the Jewish oligarch Berezovsky. Now Berezovsky is an enemy of Putin, who, he feels, betrayed him after he raised him to power in the last years of Yeltsin. So he sees himself as the king-maker who has now changed his choice of king. But the fact that Berezovsky supports “Kentsky” does not necessarily mean that Putin will be against him – Putin has been known to cross the room in order to shake “Kentsky’s” hand. Nevertheless, Prince Michael would appear to have only an outside chance of ascending the throne by comparison with the better-established George Romanov. But it must not be forgotten that Michael, too, is related to the Romanovs, and has the manners and prestige of one brought up in the most famous Royal Family still in power. Moreover, he bears a distinct physical resemblance to Tsar Nicholas…

     Either candidate would be a disaster for Russia. Archimandrite Kyril Zaitsev of Jordanville once said that the greatest “achievement” of the Russian revolution was its creation of a pseudo-Orthodox Church, which looks like the real thing, but destroys souls rather than saving them. However, perhaps the real “crown” of the revolution that destroyed the Russian autocracy in 1917 would be a pseudo-restoration of the Romanov dynasty, the creation of a “constitutional autocracy” with all the external trappings of Russianness and Orthodoxy, and even genuinely Romanov genes, but none of the real autocracy’s internal, spiritual essence…

“Do not judge according to appearance,” said the Lord, “but judge with righteous judgement” (John 7.24).

June 12/25, 2012.


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