Today the Russian Orthodox Church commemorates the memory of the the last Imperial Family of Russia, the Romanovs, who were elevated to sainthood – Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Tsarina Alexandra, and their five children Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei. The family was killed by the Bolsheviks on 17 July 1918 at the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg; the site of their execution is now beneath the altar of the Church on Blood. They are variously designated as new martyrs by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and as passion bearers by the church inside Russia.
The family was canonized on 1 November 1981 as new martyrs by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. They were canonized along with their servants, who had been killed along with them. The canonized servants were their court physician, Yevgeny Botkin; their footman Alexei Trupp; their cook, Ivan Kharitonov; and Alexandra’s maid, Anna Demidova. Also canonized were two servants killed in September 1918, lady in waiting Anastasis Hendrikova and tutor Catherine Adolphovna Schneider. All were canonized as victims of oppression by the Bolsheviks. The Russian Orthodox Church did not canonize the servants, two of whom were not Russian Orthodox: Trupp was Roman Catholic, and Schneider was Lutheran.
Alexandra’s sister, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna, who was murdered by the Bolsheviks on 18 July 1918, was canonized on 1 November 1981 as New-Martyr Elizabeth by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, along with Prince Ioann Konstantinovich of Russia, Prince Igor Konstantinovich of Russia, Prince Konstantine Konstantinovich of Russia, Grand Duke Sergey Mikhaylovich of Russia, and Prince Vladimir Pavlovich Paley, and Elizabeth’s faithful companion, Sister Varvara Yakovleva, who were all killed with her. Fyodor Remez, Grand Duke Sergei’s personal secretary, who was killed as well, was not canonized. They are known as the Martyrs of Alapaevsk.
In 1992, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna and Varvara Yakovleva were canonized as New-Martyr Elizabeth and New-Martyr Barbara by the Moscow Patriarchate. The grand dukes and others killed with them were not canonized. On 20 August 2000, after much debate, the Romanov family was canonized as passion bearers by the Moscow Patriarchate.
There were those who rejected the family’s classification as martyrs because they were not killed because of their religious faith. There was no proof that the execution was a ritual murder. Religious leaders in both churches also had objections to canonizing the Tsar’s family because they perceived him as a weak emperor whose incompetence led to the revolution, the suffering of his people and made him at least partially responsible for his own murder and the murders of his wife and children. For these opponents, the fact that the Tsar was, in private life, a kind man and a good husband and father did not override his poor governance of Russia.
The Moscow Patriarchate ultimately canonized the family as passion bearers: people who face death with resignation, in a Christ-like manner, as distinguished from martyrs, the latter killed explicitly for their faith. Proponents cited previous Tsars and Tsareviches who had been canonized as passion bearers, such as Tsarevich Dimitri, murdered at the end of the sixteenth century, as setting a precedent for the canonization of the Romanov family. They noted the piety of the family and reports that the Tsarina and her eldest daughter Olga prayed and attempted to make the sign of the cross immediately before they died.
Despite their official designation as “passion-bearers” by the August 2000 Council, they are nevertheless spoken of as “martyrs” in Church publications, icons, and in popular veneration by the people.