Written by Vladimir Moss



     Undoubtedly the most important date in modern history is March 2/15, 1917, the date of the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II. However, the mystical significance of this event is still little understood, even by the Orthodox. And yet we must try to understand it, otherwise the history of the last century remains, in Macbeth’s words, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing…”

     The meaning of the mystery is contained in three Grace-filled visions.

     The first took place on the very day of the Tsar’s abdication, when the Mother of God appeared to the peasant woman Eudocia Adrianovna and said to her: “Go to the village of Kolomenskoye; there you will find a big, black icon. Take it and make it beautiful, and let people pray in front of it.” Eudocia found the icon at 3 o’clock, the precise hour of the abdication. Miraculously it renewed itself, and showed itself to be the “Reigning” icon of the Mother of God, the same that had led the Russian armies into war with Napoleon. On it she was depicted sitting on a royal throne dressed in a dark red robe and bearing the orb and sceptre of the Orthodox Tsars, as if to show that the sceptre of rule of the Russian land had passed from earthly rulers to the Queen of Heaven…[1] 

     So the Orthodox Autocracy, as symbolized by the orb and sceptre, had not been destroyed, but was being held “in safe keeping”, as it were, by the Queen of Heaven, until the earth should again be counted worthy of it…[2]

     A second vision was given in this year to the holy Metropolitan Macarius of Moscow, who alone in the Church's hierarchy refused to accept the Provisional Government because of his oath of allegiance to the Tsar, for which he was removed from his see: "I saw a field. The Saviour was walking along a path. I went after Him, crying,

     "'Lord, I am following you!'

     "Finally we approached an immense arch adorned with stars. At the threshold of the arch the Saviour turned to me and said again:

     "'Follow me!'

     And He went into a wondrous garden, and I remained at the threshold and awoke. Soon I fell asleep again and saw myself standing in the same arch, and with the Saviour stood Tsar Nicholas. The Saviour said to the Tsar:

     "'You see in My hands two cups: one which is bitter for your people and the other sweet for you.'

     "The Tsar fell to his knees and for a long time begged the Lord to allow him to drink the bitter cup together with his people. The Lord did not agree for a long time, but the Tsar begged importunately. Then the Saviour drew out of the bitter cup a large glowing coal and laid it in the palm of the Tsar's hand. The Tsar began to move the coal from hand to hand and at the same time his body began to grow light, until it had become completely bright, like some radiant spirit. At this I again woke up.

     “Falling asleep yet again, I saw an immense field covered with flowers. In the middle of the field stood the Tsar, surrounded by a multitude of people, and with his hands he was distributing manna to them. An invisible voice said at this moment:

     "'The Tsar has taken the guilt of the Russian people upon himself, and the Russian people is forgiven.'"

     But how could the Russian people could be forgiven through the Tsar? A.Ya. Yakovitsky expressed the following thought. The aim of the Provisional Government was to have elections to the Constituent Assembly, which would finally have rejected the monarchical principle. But this would also have brought the anathema of the Zemsky Sobor of 1613 upon the whole of Russia, because the anathema invoked a curse on the Russian land if it ever rejected Tsar Michael Romanov and his descendants. The vision of Metropolitan Macarius demonstrates that through his martyric patience the Tsar obtained from the Lord that the Constituent Assembly should not come to pass. Moreover, his distributing manna to the people is a symbol of the distribution of the Holy Gifts of the Eucharist. So the Church hierarchy, while it wavered in its loyalty in 1917, did not finally reject monarchism, and so did not come under anathema and was able to continue feeding the people spiritually. In this way the Tsar saved and redeemed his people 

     Returning to the Reigning icon, Yakovitsky writes: “Through innumerable sufferings, blood and tears, and after repentance, the Russian people will be forgiven and Royal power, preserved by the Queen of Heaven herself, will undoubtedly be returned to Russia. Otherwise, why should the Most Holy Mother of God have preserved this Power?”[3]

     “With this it is impossible to disagree. The sin committed can be purified only by blood. But so that the very possibility of redemption should arise, some other people had to receive power over the people that had sinned, as Nebuchadnezzar received this power over the Jewish people (as witnessed by the Prophet Jeremiah), or Baty over the Russian people (the first to speak of this after the destruction was the council of bishops of the Kiev metropolia)… Otherwise, the sufferings caused by fraternal blood-letting would only deepen the wrath of God…”[4]

     So redemption could be given to the Russian people only if they expiated their sin through the sufferings of martyrdom and repentance, and provided that they did not reject the Orthodox Autocracy in principle. The Tsar laid the foundation to this redemption by his petition before the throne of the Almighty. The New Martyrs built on this foundation through their martyric sufferings.

     And yet redemption, as revealed in the restoration of the Orthodox Autocracy, has not yet come. And that because the third element – the repentance of the whole people – has not yet taken place.

     A third vision in the same fateful year of 1917 was given to “a pious girl”.  Elder Nectarius of Optina interpreted it as follows: "Now his Majesty is not his own man, he is suffering such humiliation for his mistakes. 1918 will be still worse. His Majesty and all his family will be killed, tortured. One pious girl had a vision: Jesus Christ was sitting on a throne, while around Him were the twelve apostles, and terrible torments and groans resounded from the earth. And the Apostle Peter asked Christ:

     "'O Lord, when will these torments cease?'

     "And Jesus Christ replied: 'I give them until 1922. If the people do not repent, do not come to their senses, then they will all perish in this way.'

     "Then before the throne of God there stood our Tsar wearing the crown of a great-martyr. Yes, this tsar will be a great-martyr. Recently, he has redeemed his life, and if people do not turn to God, then not only Russia, but the whole of Europe will collapse..."[5]


     For further insight into this mystery, let us return to a closer examination of the abdication itself, beginning with the question: Why did the Tsar agree to abdicate?

     Yana Sedova goes back to the similar crisis that took place during the abortive 1905 revolution. “His Majesty himself explained the reason for his agreement. He wrote that he had to choose between two paths: a dictatorship and a constitution. A dictatorship, in his words, would give a short ‘breathing space’, after which he would ‘again have to act by force within a few months; but this would cost rivers of blood and in the end would lead inexorably to the present situation, that is, the power’s authority would have been demonstrated, but the result would remain the same and reforms could not be achieved in the future’. So as to escape this closed circle, his Majesty preferred to give a constitution with which he was not in sympathy.

     “These words about a ‘breathing-space’ after which he would again have to act by force could perhaps have been applied now [in 1917]. In view of the solitude in which his Majesty found himself in 1917, the suppression of the revolution would have been the cure, not of the illness, but of its symptoms, a temporary anaesthesia – and, moreover, for a very short time.”[6]

     The tsar was quite capable of sending troops to suppress the revolution by force. In fact, he ordered this only days before his abdication. And he would have been justified in acting in this way in order to defend the throne, order and the monarchical principle as a whole. But now he saw how much hatred there was against himself, and believed that the February revolution was directed only personally against him. He did not want to shed the blood of his subjects to defend, not so much his throne, as himself on the throne…[7]

     Moreover, in refusing to defend himself personally, the Tsar was demonstrating  what the Orthodox autocracy really is, and how it differs from an absolutist tyranny, on the one hand, and a constitutional monarchy on the other. The tyrant kills his own subjects in order to defend his personal rule; the constitutional monarch allows his subjects to rule over him. Tsar Nicholas rejected both of these paths. He both rejected the constitutionalism that the Duma and the liberals in general wanted to impose on him. And he rejected the tyranny of imposing his rule by force on his unwilling subjects.

     The Russian constitutionalists demanded of Tsar Nicholas that he give them a “responsible” government – that is, a government completely under their control. But the rule of Tsar Nicholas was already responsible in the highest degree – to God. For this is the fundamental difference between the Orthodox autocrat and the constitutional monarch, that the autocrat truly governs his people, whereas the constitutional monarch “reigns, but does not rule”, in the phrase of Adolphe Thiers. The first is responsible to God alone, but the latter, even if he claims to rule “by the Grace of God” and receives a Church coronation, in fact is in thrall to the people and fulfils their will rather than God’s. 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.”[8]And so we have three kinds of king: the Orthodox autocrat, who strives to fulfill the will of God alone, and is responsible to Him alone, being limited only by the Faith and Tradition of the people as represented by the Orthodox Church; the absolute monarch, such as the French Louis XIV or the English Henry VIII, who fulfills only his own will, is responsible to nobody, and is limited by nothing and nobody; and the constitutional monarch, who fulfills the will of the people, and can be ignored or deposed by them as they see fit.

     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, instead of killing them all, as God had commanded "because I listened to the voice of the people" (I Kings 15.20). In other words, he abdicated his God-given authority and became a democrat, listening to the people rather than to God.

     The significance of the reign of Tsar Nicholas II lies in the fact that he demonstrated by his truly Christlike, self-sacrificial actions what a true Orthodox autocrat – as opposed to an absolutist despot or a constitutional monarch - really is. This knowledge had begun to fade in the minds of the people, and with its fading the monarchy itself had become weaker. The Tsar agreed to abdicate because he believed that the general dissatisfaction with his personal rule could be assuaged by his personal departure from the scene. But he never saw in this the renunciation of the autocracy itself; he envisaged only the transfer of power from himself to another member of the dynasty – his son or his brother. This, he thought, would placate the army and therefore ensure victory against Germany. By sacrificing himself, the Tsar restored the image of the Autocracy to its full glory, thereby preserving the possibility of its restoration in a future generation…

     The Tsar wrote in his diary: “My abdication is necessary. Ruzsky transmitted this conversation to the Staff HQ, and Alexeyev to all the com­manders-in-chief of the fronts. The replies from all arrived at 2:05. The essence is that that for the sake of the salvation of Russia and keeping the army at the front quiet, I must resolve on this step. I agreed. From the Staff HQ they sent the draft of a manifesto. In the evening there arrived from Petrograd Guchkov and Shulgin. I discussed and transmitted to them the signed and edited manifesto. At one in the morning I left Pskov greatly affected by all that had come to pass. All around me I see treason, cowardice, and deceit. 

     Commenting on these words, Fr. Lev Lebedev writes: “The Tsar was convinced that this treason was personally directed to him, and not to the Monarchy, not to Russia! The generals were sincerely convinced of the same: they supposed that in betraying the Tsar they were not betraying the Monarchy and the Fatherland, but were even serving them, acting for their true good!... But betrayal and treason to God’s Anointed is treason to everything that is headed by him. The Masonic consciousness of the generals, drunk on their supposed ‘real power’ over the army, could not rise even to the level of this simple spiritual truth! And meanwhile the traitors had already been betrayed, the deceivers deceived! Already on the following day, March 3, General Alexeyev, having received more detailed information on what was happening in Petrograd, exclaimed: ‘I shall never forgive myself that I believed in the sincerity of certain people, obeyed them and sent the telegram to the commanders-in-chief on the question of the abdication of his Majesty from the Throne!’… In a similar way General Ruzsky quickly ‘lost faith in the new government’ and, as was written about him, ‘suffered great moral torments’ concerning his conversation with the Tsar, and the days March 1 and 2, ‘until the end of his life’ (his end came in October, 1918, when the Bolsheviks finished off Ruzsky in the Northern Caucasus). But we should not be moved by these belated ‘sufferings’ and ‘recovery of sight’ of the generals (and also of some of the Great Princes). They did not have to possess information, nor be particularly clairvoyant or wise; they simply had to be faithful to their oath – and nothing more!..

     “… At that time, March 1-2, 1917, the question was placed before the Tsar, his consciousness and his conscience in the following way: the revolution in Petrograd is being carried out under monarchical banners: society, the people (Russia!) are standing for the preservation of tsarist power, for the planned carrying on of the war to victory, but this is being hindered only by one thing – general dissatisfaction personally with Nicholas II, general distrust of his personal leadership, so that if he, for the sake of the good and the victory of Russia, were to depart, he would save both the Homeland and the Dynasty!

     “Convinced, as were his generals, that everything was like that, his Majesty, who never suffered from love of power (he could be powerful, but not power-loving!), after 3 o’clock in the afternoon of March 2, 1917, immediately sent two telegrams – to Rodzyanko in Petrograd and to Alexeyev in Mogilev. In the first he said: ‘There is no sacrifice that I would not undertake in the name of the real good of our native Mother Russia. For that reason I am ready to renounce the Throne in favour of My Son, in order that he should remain with Me until his coming of age, under the regency of My brother, Michael Alexandrovich’. The telegram to Headquarters proclaimed: ‘In the name of the good of our ardently beloved Russia, her calm and salvation, I am ready to renounce the Throne in favour of My Son. I ask everyone to serve Him faithfully and unhypocritically.’ His Majesty said, as it were between the lines: ‘Not as you have served Me…’ Ruzsky, Danilov and Savich went away with the texts of the telegrams.

     “On learning about this, Voeikov ran into the Tsar’s carriage: ‘Can it be true… that You have signed the abdication?’ The Tsar gave him the telegrams lying on the table with the replies of the commanders-in-chief, and said: ‘What was left for me to do, when they have all betrayed Me? And first of all – Nikolasha (Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolayevich)… Read!’”[9]

     As in 1905, so in 1917, probably the single most important factor influencing the Tsar’s decision was the attitude of his uncle and the former Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolayevich Romanov, “Nikolasha” as he was known in the family. In 1905 Nikolasha had refused to accept the post of dictator, which forced the Tsar to grant the constitution that weakened his autocratic power. Now, in 1917, Nikolasha was among the generals pleading with him to abdicate… There was very little that the tsar cold do in view of the treason of the generals and Nikolasha.

      S.S. Oldenburg writes: “One can speculate whether his Majesty could have not abdicated. With the position taken by General Ruzsky and General Alexeyev, the possibility of resistance was excluded: the commands of his Majesty were not delivered, the telegrams of those who were loyal to him were not communicated to him. Moreover, they could have announced the abdication without his will: Prince Mark of Baden announced the abdication of the German emperor (9.11.1918) when the Kaiser had by no means abdicated! His Majesty at least retained the possibility of addressing the people with his own last word… His Majesty did not believe that his opponents could cope with the situation. For that reason, to the last moment he tried to keep the steering wheel in his own hands. When that possibility had disappeared – it was clear that he was in captivity – his Majesty wanted at least to do all he could to make the task of his successors easier… Only he did not want to entrust his son to them: he knew that the youthful monarch could not abdicate, and to remove him they might use other, bloody methods. His Majesty gave his opponents everything he could: they still turned out to be powerless in the face of events. The steering wheel was torn out of the hands of the autocrat-‘chauffeur’ and the car fell into the abyss…”[10]

     E.E. Alferev echoes this assessment and adds: “The Empress, who had never trusted Ruzsky, on learning that the Tsar’s train had been help up at Pskov, immediately understood the danger. On March 2 she wrote to his Majesty: ‘But you are alone, you don’t have the army with you, you are caught like a mouse in a trap. What can you do?’”[11]

     Perhaps he could have counted on the support of some military units. But the result would undoubtedly have been a civil war, whose outcome was doubtful, but whose effect on the war with Germany could not be doubted: the Germans would have been given a decisive advantage at a critical moment when Russia was about to launch a spring offensive. This last factor was decisive for the Tsar: he would not contemplate undermining the war effort for any reason. For the first duty of an Orthodox Tsar after the defence of the Orthodox faith is the defence of the country against external enemies – and in the case of the war with Germany the two duties coincided.

     The Tsar had always steadfastly refused to consider any internal constitutional changes during the war for the very good reason that such changes were bound to undermine the war effort. But his enemies wanted to force him to make such changes precisely while the war was still being waged. For, as George Katkov penetratingly observes, the Russian liberals’ and radicals’ “fear of the military failure and humiliation of Russia was, if we are not mistaken, only the decent cover for another feeling – the profound inner anxiety that the war would end in victory before the political plans of the opposition could be fulfilled, and that the possibilities presented to it by the exceptional circumstances of wartime, would be missed”.[12]

     Not knowing that the Tsar had already abdicated, the Duma deputies Guchkov and Shulgin arrived about 10 p.m. on March 2. “By this time, that is, in the evening, the Tsar had somewhat changed his original decision. The point was the extremely dangerous illness of his Son, the Tsarevich Alexis, who was still destined to rule, albeit under the regency of his uncle, Michael. The Tsar-Father, worrying about his, asked the doctors for the last time: was there the slightest hop of Alexis Nikolayevich being cured of haemophilia? And he received a negative reply: there was no hope. Then the Tsar took the decision to keep his sick son completely with himself and abdicate in favour of his brother Michael. However, the text of the abdication manifesto was still marked as March 2, 15.00 hours, that is, the moment when he decided to renounce his power. So when Guchkov and Shulgin brought the text of the manifesto that they had composed they found that it was not necessary. The Tsar gave them his. And they had to admit with shame how much more powerful, spiritual and majestic in its simplicity was the manifesto written by the Tsar than their talentless composition.[13] They begged the Tsar to appoint Prince Lvov as President of the Council of Ministers and General L.G. Kornilov as Commander of the Petrograd military district. The Tsar signed the necessary orders. These were the last appointments made by the Tsar.

     “Seeing themselves as the controllers of the destinies and rulers of Russia, Guchkov and Shulgin both arrived in a concealed manner, bewildered, unshaven, in noticeably dirty collars, and departed with all the papers they had been given in a conspiratorial manner, looking around them and concealing themselves from ‘the people’ whom they thought to rule… Thieves and robbers! Guchkov’s plan had been carried out, while as for Guchkov himself – what a boundlessly pitiful situation did this very clever Mason find himself in, he who had worked for so many years to dig a hole under Tsar Nicholas II!

     “Nicholas II’s manifesto declared: ‘During the days of the great struggle against the external foe which, in the space of almost three years, has been striving to enslave our Native Land, it has pleased the Lord God to send down upon Russia a new and difficult trial. The national disturbances that have begun within the country threaten to reflect disastrously upon the further conduct of the stubborn war. The fate of Russia, the honour of our heroic army, the well-being of the people, the entire future of our precious Fatherland demand that the war be carried out to a victorious conclusion, come what may. The cruel foe is exerting what remains of his strength, and nor far distant is the hour when our valiant army with our glorious allies will be able to break the foe completely. In these decisive days in the life of Russia, We have considered it a duty of conscience to make it easy for Our people to bring about a tight-knit union and cohesion of all our national strength, in order that victory might be the more quickly attained, and, in agreement with the State Duma We have concluded that it would be a good thing to abdicate the Throne of the Russian State and to remove Supreme Power from Ourselves. Not desiring to be separated from Our beloved Son, We transfer Our legacy to Our Brother Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, and bless Him to ascend the Throne of the Russian State. We command Our Brother to conduct State affairs fully and in inviolable unity with the representatives of those men who hold legislative office, upon those principles which they shall establish, swearing an inviolable oath to that effect. In the name of our ardently beloved Native Land We call upon all faithful sons of the Fatherland to fulfil their sacred duty before it, by submitting to the Tsar during the difficult moment of universal trials, and, aiding Him, together with the representatives of he people, to lead the Russian State out upon the path of victory, well-being and glory. May the Lord God help Russia. Pskov. 2 March, 15.00 hours. 1917. Nicholas.’ Countersigned by the Minister of the Court Count Fredericks.[14]

     “Then – it was already night on March 2 – the Tsar telegraphed the essence of the matter to his brother Michael and asked forgiveness that he ‘had not been able to warn’ him. But this telegram did not reach its addressee.

     “Then the train set off. Left on his own, in his personal compartment, the Tsar prayed for a long time by the light only of a lampada that burned in front of an icon. Then he sat down and wrote in his diary: ‘At one in the morning I left Pskov greatly affected by all that had come to pass. All around me I see treason, cowardice, and deceit.’

     “This is the condition that reigned at that time in ‘society’, and especially in democratic, Duma society, in the highest army circles, in a definite part of the workers and reservists of Petrograd...”[15]

      Time was to show that this condition reigned in the great majority of the Russian people…

     Although he had abdicated, the Tsar considered himself to be still Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. That is why his train now moved towards Mogilev, and why neither Ruzsky nor Alexeyev nor even Guchkov prevented him from returning there.

     General Vladimir Voeikov, commandant of the guard at Tsarskoye Selo, wrote: “Immediately the train had moved from the station, I went into the Tsar’s compartment, which was lit by one lampada burning in front of an icon. After all the experiences of that heavy day, the Tsar, who was always distinguished by huge self-possession, could not control himself. He embraced me and sobbed... My heart broke into pieces at the sight of such undeserved sufferings that had fallen to the lot of the noblest and kindest of tsars. He had only just endured the tragedy of abdicating from the throne for himself and his son because of the treason and baseness of the people who had abdicated from him, although they had received only good from him. He was torn away from his beloved family. All the misfortunes sent down upon him he bore with the humility of an ascetic... The image of the Tsar with his tear-blurred eyes in the half-lit compartment will never be erased from my memory to the end of my life...”[16]

     “Afterwards, ‘I slept long and deeply,’ wrote Nicholas. ‘Talked with my people about yesterday. Read a lot about Julius Caesar.’ Then he remembered Misha: ‘to his Majesty Emperor Michael. Recent events have led me to decide irrevocably to take this extreme step. Forgive me if it grieves you and also for no warning – there was no time.’”[17]

     Well he might remember Julius Caesar. For like Caesar, the Tsar, the Emperor of the Third Rome, was stabbed in the back on the Ides of March, bringing the Christian Roman empire to an end…


     At Stavka the Tsar appointed Nikolasha supreme commander of the armed forces, and Prince George Lvov – president of the Council of Ministers of the Provisional Government. For the last time, he listened to a report by General Alexeyev on the military situation. At the end of it, in a low voice said that it was difficult for him to part from them, and it was sad for him to be present for the last time at a report, “but it is evident that the will of God is stronger than my will”.[18]

     Sister Florence Farmborough, an English Red Cross nurse serving at the Russian Front, writes: “Deprived of Throne and Power, his visit was sorrowful in the extreme. He spent only a few days there and was visited by his mother, the Dowager Empress Marie. There they parted; she, to return to her home in Kiyev; he, to return as a prisoner to his family in Tsarskoe Selo [the Village of the Tsar]. Those who saw him in Mogilev were amazed at the self-control and courage with which he carried out the final ceremonies. He wrote to his fighting men on the various Fronts and addressed the troops in person. He told them that he was leaving them because he felt that he was no longer necessary; thanked them for their never-failing loyalty; praised them for their unwavering patriotism and besought them to obey the Provisional Government, to continue the war and to lead Russia to Victory. Only his mournful, hollow eyes, and extreme pallor told of the effort he was making to preserve the calm demanded of him.

     “Even before he left Mogilev, vociferous celebrations were taking place in the town; large red flags blazed in the streets; all photographs of himself and family had disappeared; Imperial emblems were being pulled down from walls, cut off uniforms; and, while the ex-Tsar sat alone in his room, the officers who had visited him, cheered his brave words and bowed low – many in tears – before him as he bid them farewell, were at that moment queuing up in the open air, outside his window, to take the Oath of Allegiance to the Provisional Government.”[19]

     For almost a whole week after his abdication the Tsar continued to lead all the Armed Forces of Russia!... But, although there many senior officers there who were ready to die for him, the Tsar made no move to make use of his powerful position to march against the revolution. On March 7 the Provisional Government ordered the arrest of the Tsar. And on March 8 four Duma deputies came to Mogilev and arrested him. This meant that he could not leave Russia (even if he had wanted to, which he and the Tsarina did not), and was the step that led inexorably to his martyrdom in Yekaterinburg the following year…

      According to Lebedev, the Tsar was sincerely convinced that “his departure from power could help everyone to come together for the decisive and already very imminent victory over the external enemy (the general offensive was due to take place in April). Let us recall his words to the effect that there was no sacrifice which he was not prepared to offer for the good of Russia. In those days the Tsar expressed himself still more definitely: ‘… If Russia needs an atoning sacrifice, let me be that sacrifice’. The Tsar was convinced (and they convinced him) that… the Provisional Government, society and the revolution were all (!) for the preservation of the Monarchy and for carrying through the war to a glorious victory…”[20]


     Lebedev is not convincing here. The Tsar’s first priority was undoubtedly a successful conclusion to the war. After all, on the night of his abdication, he wrote in his diary: “I decided to take this step for the sake of Russia, and to keep the armies in the field.” But it is hard to believe that he still, after all the treason he had seen around him, believed that “the Provisional Government, society and the revolution [!] are all for the preservation of the Monarchy”…

     It is more likely is that he believed that without the cooperation of the generals and the Duma Russia could not win the war, which was the prime objective, upon which everything else depended.And so he abdicated, not because he had any illusions about the Provisional Government, but because, as a true patriot, he wanted Russia to win the war...

     One of the best comments on the Tsar in the February revolution came from Winston Churchill: “Surely to no nation has Fate been more malignant than to Russia. Her ship went down in sight of port… Every sacrifice had been made; the toil was achieved… In March the Tsar was on the throne: the Russian Empire and the Russian army held up, the front was secured and victory was undoubted. The long retreats were ended, the munitions famine was broken; arms were pouring in; stronger, larger, better equipped armies guarded the immense front… Moreover, no difficult action was now required: to remain in presence: to lean with heavy weight upon the far stretched Teutonic line: to hold without exceptional activity the weakened hostile forces on her front: in a word to endure – that was all that stood between Russia and the fruits of general victory… According to the superficial fashion of our time, the tsarist order is customarily seen as blind, rotten, a tyranny capable of nothing. But an examination of the thirty months of war with Germany and Austria should correct these light-minded ideas.  We can measure the strength of the Russian Empire by the blows which it suffered, by the woes it experienced, by the inexhaustible forces that it developed, and by the restoration of forces of which it showed itself capable… In the government of states, when great events take place, the leader of the nation, whoever he may be, is condemned for failures and glorified for successes. The point is not who did the work or sketched the plan of battle: reproach or praise for the outcome is accorded to him who bears the authority of supreme responsibility. Why refuse this strict examination to Nicholas II? The brunt of supreme decisions centred upon him. At the summit where all problems are reduced to Yea and Nay, where events transcend the faculties of men and where all is inscrutable, he had to give the answers. His was the function of the compass needle. War or no war? Advance or retreat? Right or left? Democratise or hold firm? Quit or persevere? These were the battlefields of Nicholas II. Why should he reap no honour for them?...

     “The regime which he personified, over which he presided, to which his personal character gave the final spark, had at this moment won the war for Russia. Now they crush him. A dark hand intervenes, clothed from the beginning in madness. The Tsar departs from the scene. He and all those whom he loved are given over to suffering and death. His efforts are minimized; his actions are condemned; his memory is defiled…”[21]

     The autocrat, according to the Orthodox understanding, can rule only in partnership or “symphony” with the Church. Moreover, the leaders of neither Church nor State can rule if the people rejects them; for in Deuteronomy 17.14 the Lord had laid it down as one of the conditions of the creation of a God-pleasing monarchy that the people should want a God-pleasing king.[22] In view of this, the Tsar, who very well understood the true meaning of the autocracy, could not continue to rule if the Church and people did not want it. Just as it takes two willing partners to make a marriage, so it takes a head and a body who are willing to work with each other to make a Christian state. The bridegroom in this case was willing and worthy, but the bride was not…

     Nevertheless, the Tsar laid down his life for his bride, the Russian people, in order that they should one day be found worthy again of receiving the precious gift of the Autocracy back again, from the Reigning Mother of God…

    In an important address entitled “Tsar and Patriarch”, P.S. Lopukhin approaches this question by noting that the Tsar’s role was one of service, service in the Church and for the Church. And its purpose was to bring people to the Church and keep them there, in conditions maximally conducive to their salvation. But if the people of the Church, in their great majority, cease to understand the Tsar’s role in that way, then he becomes literally of no service to them.

   “The understanding of, and love and desire for, the ‘tsar’s service’ began to wane in Russia. Sympathy began to be elicited, by contrast, for the bases of the rationalist West European state, which was separated from the Church, from the religious world-view. The idea of the democratic state liberated from all obligation in relation to God, the Church and the spiritual state of the people began to become attractive. The movement in this direction in the Russian people was long-standing and stubborn, and it had already a long time ago begun to elicit profound alarm, for this movement was not so much ‘political’ as spiritual and psychological: the so-called Russian ‘liberation’ and then ‘revolutionary movement’ was mainly, with rare and uncharacteristic exceptions, an a-religious and anti-religious movement.

    “It was precisely this that elicited profound alarm in the hearts of St. Seraphim, Fr. John of Kronstadt, Dostoyevsky and Metropolitan Anthony…

   “This movement developed inexorably, and finally there came the day when his Majesty understood that he was alone in his ‘service of the Tsar’…

   “The Orthodox Tsar has authority in order that there should be a Christian state, so that there should be a Christian-minded environment. The Tsar bears his tsarist service for this end.

     “When the desire for a Christian state and environment is quenched in the people, the Orthodox monarchy loses both the presupposition and the aim of its existence, for nobody can be forced to become a Christian. The Tsar needs Christians, not trembling slaves.

   “In the life of a people and of a man there are periods of spiritual darkening, of ‘stony lack of feeling’, but this does not mean that the man has become completely stony: the days of temptation and darkness pass, and he is again resurrected. When a people is overcome by passions, it is the duty of the authorities by severe means to sober it up and wake it up. And this must be done with decisiveness, and it is healing, just as a thunderstorm is healing.

    “But this can only be done when the blindness is not deep and when he who is punished and woken up understands the righteousness of the punishment. Thus one peasant reproached a landowner, asking why he had not begun to struggle against the pogroms with a machine-gun. “Well, and what would have happened them?’ ‘We would have come to our senses! But now we are drunk and we burn and beat each other.’

   “But when the spiritual illness has penetrated even into the subconscious, then the application of force will seem to be violence, and not just retribution, then the sick people will not longer be capable of being healed. Then it will be in the state in which was the sinner whom the Apostle Paul ‘delivered to Satan for the tormenting of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved’ (I Corinthians 5.5).

  “At the moment of his abdication his Majesty felt himself to be profoundly alone, and around him was ‘cowardice, baseness and treason’, and to the question how he could have abdicated from his tsarist service, it is necessary to reply: he did this because we abdicated from his tsarist service, from his sacred and sanctified authority…[23]

   As St. John Maximovich put it: “Calculating malice did its work: it separated Russia from her tsar, and at that terrible moment in Pskov he remained abandoned… The terrible abandonment of the Tsar… But it was not he who abandoned Russia: Russia abandoned him, who loved Russia more than his own life. Seeing this, and in hope that his self-humiliation would calm the stormy passions of the people, his Majesty renounced the throne… They rejoiced who wanted the deposition of the Tsar. The rest were silent. There followed the arrest of his Majesty and the further developments were inevitable… His Majesty was killed, Russia was silent…”

    These explanations of why the Tsar abdicated agree with each other and are essentially true. But we can go still further and deeper. Michael Nazarov argues that the Tsar, seeing that it was impossible to stem the tide of apostasy at that time, offered himself as a sacrifice for the enlightenment of future generations, in accordance with the revelation given to Metropolitan Macarius: “His Majesty Nicholas II very profoundly felt the meaning of his service as tsar. His tragedy consisted in the fact that at the governmental level of the crisis fewer and fewer co-workers were appearing who would combine in themselves administrative abilities, spiritual discernment and devotion. ‘All around me are betrayal and cowardice and deception’, wrote his Majesty in his diary on the day of the abdication… Therefore, in the conditions of almost complete betrayal, his humble refusal to fight for power was dictated not only by a striving to avoid civil war, which would have weakened the country before the external enemy. This rejection of power was in some way similar to Christ’s refusal to fight for His life before His crucifixion – for the sake of the future salvation of men. Perhaps his Majesty Nicholas II, the most Orthodox of all the Romanovs, intuitively felt that there was already no other way for Russia to be saved – except the path of self-sacrifice for the enlightenment of descendants, hoping on the help and the will of God…”[24]

     From this point of view it was the will of God that the Tsar abdicate, even though it meant disaster for the Russian people, just as it was the will of God that Christ be crucified, even though it meant the destruction of the Jewish people. Hence the words of Eldress Paraskeva (Pasha) of Sarov (+1915), who had foretold the Tsar’s destiny during the Sarov Days: “Your Majesty, descend from the throne yourself”.[25] On the one hand, his abdication was wrong both in the legal sense that it was contrary to the Basic Laws of the Autocracy, which does not allow for the abdication of the tsar, and in the historical sense that it meant “the removal of him who restrains” the coming of the Antichrist (II Thessalonians 2.7) with all the disasters that came with that. But on the other hand, it was right and inevitable in a mystical, eschatological sense, in that it preserved the Autocracy pure and unimpaired, ready for the time when the bride would awake from her profound sleep and return with penitence and joy to her bridegroom...[26] As Blessed Duniushka of Ussuruisk, who was martyred in 1918, said: “The Tsar will leave the nation, which shouldn’t be, but this has been foretold to him from Above. This is his destiny. There is no way that he can evade it…”[27]


March 2/15, 2019.

Reigning Icon of the Mother of God.











[1] It is also said that during the siege of the Moscow Kremlin in October, 1917, the Mother of God ordered the “Reigning” icon to be taken in procession seven times round the Kremlin, and then it would be saved. However, it was taken round only once… (Monk Epiphany (Chernov), Tserkov’ Katakombnaia na Zemle Rossijskoj (The Catacomb Church in the Russian Land), Old Woking, 1980 (MS),

[2]However, both the facts about the appearance of the icon and its theological interpretation are disputed. See M. Babkin, “2 (15) marta 1917 g.: iavlenie ikony ‘Derzhavnoj’ i otrechenie ot prestola imperatora Nikolaia II” (March 2/15, 1917: the appearance of the “Reigning’ icon and Emperor Nicholas II’s abdication from the throne), Posev, March, 2009, pp. 21-24.

[3] Yakovitsky, in S. Fomin (ed.), Rossia pered Vtorym Prishestviem (Russian before the Second Coming), Moscow, 2003, p. 235.

[4] Yakovitsky, “Sergianstvo: mif ili real’nost’”, Vernost’ (Fidelity), N 100, January, 2008.

[5] I. Kontsevich, Optina Pustyn’ i ee Vremia (Optina Desert and its Time), Jordanville, N.Y.: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1977.

[6] Sedova, “Pochemu Gosudar’ ne mog ne otrech’sa?” (Why his Majesty could not avoid abdication), Nasha Strana, March 6, 2010, N 2887, p. 2.

[7] Sedova, “Ataka na Gosudaria Sprava” (An Attack on his Majesty from the Right), Nasha Strana, September 5, 2009.

[8] St. John Maximovich, Proiskhozhdenie Zakona o Prestolonasledii v Rossii (The Origin of the Law of Succession in Russia), quoted in “Nasledstvennost’ ili Vybory?” (“Heredity or Elections?”), Svecha Pokaiania (Candle of Repentance), N 4, February, 2000, p. 12. The phrase “multimutinous” was used by Tsar Ivan the Terrible in his correspondence with Kurbsky.

[9] Lebedev, Velikorossia (Great Russia), St. Petersburg, 1999, pp. 486-488.

[10] Oldenburg, Tsarstvovanie Imperatora Nikolaia II (The Reign of Emperor Nicholas II), Belgrade, 1939, vol. 2, pp. 641-642.

[11] Alferov, Imperator Nikolaj II kak chelovek sil’noj voli (Emperor Nicholas II as a Man of Strong Will), Jordanville, N.Y.: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1983, 2004, p. 121.

[12] Katkov, Fevral’skaia Revoliutsia (The February Revolution), Paris: YMCA Pres, 1974, p. 236.

[13] Shulgin wrote: “How pitiful seemed to me the sketch that we had brought him… It is too late to guess whether his Majesty could have not abdicated. Taking into account the position that General Ruzsky and General Alexeyev held, the possibility of resistance was excluded: his Majesty’s orders were no longer passed on, the telegrams of those faithful to him were not communicated to him… In abdicating, his Majesty at least retained the possibility of appealing to the people with his own last word” (in Oldenburg, op. cit., p. 253). (V.M.)

[14] Lebedev’s text has been slightly altered to include the whole text of the manifesto (V.M.). For more on the text of the manifesto, and proof that it was written by the Tsar himself, see “Manifest ob otrechenii i oktiabrskij perevorot: Kniaz’ Nikolai Davydovich Zhevakov” (1874-1939)”,

[15] Lebedev, op. cit., pp. 488-489.

[16] Voeikov, So Tsarem i Bez Tsaria (With and Without the Tsar), Moscow, 1995, p. 190.

[17]Montefiore, The Romanovs, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2016, p. 623.

[18]Alferov, op. cit., p. 105.

[19] Farmborough, Nurse at the Russian Front. A Diary 1914-18, London: Book Club Associates, 1974, pp. 271-272. Alexeyev reported the Tsar’s last address to the army to Guchkov, now War Minister. Guchkov forbade the distribution of the speech…(Alferov, p. 108)

[20] Lebedev, op. cit., p. 491.

[21] Churchill, The World Crisis. 1916-18, vol. I, London, 1927, pp. 223-225. Churchill was a Mason, Master of “Rosemary” lodge no. 2851, since 1902. However, this did not prevent him from being an admirer of the Tsar, and a fierce anti-communist.

[22] As Lev Alexandrovich Tikhomirov writes: "Without establishing a kingdom, Moses foresaw it and pointed it out in advance to Israel... It was precisely Moses who pointed out in advance the two conditions for the emergence of monarchical power: it was necessary, first, that the people itself should recognize its necessity, and secondly, that the people itself should not elect the king over itself, but should present this to the Lord. Moreover, Moses indicated a leadership for the king himself: 'when he shall sit upon the throne of his kingdom, he must… fulfil all the words of this law'." (Monarkhicheskaia Gosudarstvennost’ (Monarchical Statehood), St. Petersburg, 1992, pp. 127-129).

[23] Lopukhin, “Tsar’ i Patriarkh” (Tsar and Patriarch), Pravoslavnij Put’ (The Orthodox Way), Jordanville, 1951, pp. 103-104.

[24] Nazarov, Kto Naslednik Rossijskogo Prestola? (Who is the Heir of the Russian Throne?), Moscow, 1996, pp. 72-73. Italics mine (V.M.)

[25]N. Gubanov (ed.), Nikolai II-ij i Novie Mucheniki (Nicholas II and the New Martyrs), St. Petersburg, 2000, p. 70.

[26]On hearing the new of the abdication, the Tsar’s earthly bride wrote to him: “I fully understand your action, my own hero… I know that you could not sign against what you swore at your coronation. We know each other through and through – need no words.”

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