17 July 2011 is the 93rd anniversary of the murder of Nicholas II, Emperor of all the Russias, with his wife, who began life as Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine, a Lutheran, and children in 1918 in Yekaterinburg, Russia.
The Chilling Legacy of These Murders.
The brutality of these murders would in time to come be visited upon millions of Russians, as the regime which ordered and carried them out blossomed into a world power. While we hear much about the six million victims of one group specifically targeted by Nazi Germany, that was only roughly half of the total number of the victims of Nazi Germany. And if relatively little is said about the other half, even less is said about the great number murdered under our ally against Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia under Stalin.
By the most conservative estimates, that number would be 4 million from direct repression and 6 million from the results of enforced economic theory, namely, collectivisation, for a total of 10 million. That is roughly equal to total estimates of Nazi victims, and nearly twice the number of the specifically targeted group. However more recently available material generally indicates a total of around 20 million, nearly twice by our ally of what Nazi Germany managed to attain in toto, and over three times the 6 million of their specifically targeted group.
The Soviet Union itself passed into history on 26 December 1991. On 17 July 1998, the 80th anniversary of their murders, the bodies of Tsar Nicholas and Tsaritsa Alexandra and the three of their children then found were buried with state honours in the Cathedral of Sts Peter and Paul in St Petersburg. The city was founded 27 May 1703 by Tsar Peter the Great and named by him after his patron saint St Peter. It was the capitol of Russia until the Communist revolution, known as Leningrad under the Soviet regime, and its name was restored in 1991. All Russian Emperors since Peter the Great are now buried there.
The President of post Communist Russia, Boris Yeltsin at the time, attended along with members of the House of Romanov, the Russian royal family. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia had declared them saints and martyrs in 1981, and on 14 August 2000 the Russian Orthodox Church itself declared them saints, of a type called Passion Bearers. These are people who were killed but not specifically for their faith, and who met their deaths with Christian humility and dignity. This is not a judgement on his rule, rather universally regarded as weak and incompetent at best, but rather on the why and manner of his death. On 16 June 2003 Russian bishops consecrated the "Church on the Blood", built on the site of the house where the royal family was murdered.
The regime which killed them has passed into history, but, there is still a Russian Orthodox Church, there is still a House of Romanov, and there is still a Russia -- The Russian Federation.
About 70% of Russians count themselves Orthodox Christians, though few regularly participate in church. Of Orthodox churches, 95% are Russian Orthodox, the traditional Russian religion overall. There are Lutherans in Russia, in large part due to the open immigration policies of Catherine the Great.
How a German Lutheran Princess Ends Up Empress of Russia. Twice.
How there's a story. Tsarina Alexandra wasn't the first German Lutheran noblewoman to end up Tsarina. Catherine was originally the noble-born raised-Lutheran Sophie Friederike Auguste, nicknamed Figchen, or Little Frederica. Her father was the devout Lutheran Prince Christian August of Anhalt-Zerbst, who as a Prussian general was governor of Stettin, Pomerania, then part of Prussia, then part of the Holy Roman Empire, but her birth city (Stettin) is in a part of Pomerania that in now part of Poland (and called Szczecin).
Huh? How does Figchen end up Empress of Russia? Because her mother, Johanna, loved court intrigue and wanted it for her daughter, but she really ticked off Tsarina Elisabeth who threw her out of the country for spying for Prussia. The Big E liked Figchen though, and apparently liked the family, hell, she was going to marry Johanna's brother Karl but he died from smallpox before it could happen. Figchen ended up married to E's nephew and heir, Peter III, who was also Figchen's second cousin. But first she learned Russian, and on 28 June 1744 she converted to the Russian Orthodox Church -- against her father's orders, who went ballistic over it -- and was given the name Catherine. Then she marries Peter on 21 August 1745, and after Elisabeth died on 5 January 1762, Peter takes the throne.
He didn't last long. He pulled Russia out of the Seven Years War -- remember that, left Mother England in huge debt to pay for which they taxed the hell out of the American colonies who ended up revolting and becoming the United States -- got friendly with Prussia, admired the Western Europeans, tried to make the Russian Orthodox Church more Lutheran, and had a mistress for whom Catherine was afraid he would divorce her. So he pissed off everybody, and when he went to his paternal ancestral Schleswig-Holstein (the area from which my ancestors the Angles left for Mother England, but hey) Catherine with her lover (fair is fair I guess) staged a military coup and Peter was arrested 14 July 1762. He wasn't too upset really, just asked for an estate and his mistress, also named Elisabeth.
But three days later he was killed by one of the conspirators while in custody, though Figchen/Catherine does not seem to have been behind that part of things. So after Peter being Tsar for six months, his wife succeeds him. Some say she should have been Regent until her son, Paul, was old enough to become Tsar, but what the hell, the first Tsarina Catherine (Catherine the Great is technically Catherine II) succeeded her husband Peter I (aka the Great) in 1725, and anyway Catherine no longer Figchen ruled until she died, which was 17 November 1796, at which time George Washington was in his second term as President of the United States. Got all that? No wonder George didn't want anything resembling royalty here.
Why Eating Runzas Is a Spiritual and World-Historical Experience.
And a damn good eating experience too.
In 1762, the year she came to power, Catherine issued a manifesto inviting non-Jewish Europeans to settle in Russia and farm using more modern European methods. It got few results, French and English preferred to emigrate to America, and another manifesto with more benefits was issued in 1763, attracting Germans since they were allowed to maintain their language, religions and culture, and were exempt from military service. This last was particularly attractive to Mennonites, but many German Lutherans, Catholics and Reformed also came, settling along the Volga River, hence the name Volga Germans, or Wolgadeutsche.
However these benefits, particularly the exemption from military service, were eroded and many Wolgadeutsche, especially the pacifist Mennonites, left for the midwestern United States, Canada, and South American places of German emigration. The midwestern US immigrants have given us people as different as US Senator Tom Daschle and and big-band leader Lawrence Welk. But most importantly, it has given us the Runza, a magnificent pocket sandwich of beef, onion and cabbage -- thank you Catherine!!
In 1949 Alex Brening and his sister Sally Everett opened a drive-in in Lincoln NE offering food of Wolgadeutsche derivation, which has since expanded to a regional chain, including one close to Concordia-Seward (NE) as every grad of there knows, and besides the fantastic runza (get the cheese runza, Combo #1) has the best burgers, fries and OR in the whole "fast food" industry. Hell yes. You can have a great meal, be a part of history back to Catherine the Great, proclaim your solidarity with ethnic self-determination and praise God for religious freedom as a Lutheran (or anything else) all at the same time! Makes me wanna go to the one a few blocks from me right now!
Lutherans In Russia Now.
Anyway, in this heavily Russian Orthodox land with notable German-born raised-Lutheran Tsarinas, there are Lutherans. Not a lot, but even so, not all in the same group (just like here). There is the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia (a member of the International Lutheran Council, founded 1993, as are we, "we" being LCMS), the Evangelical Lutheran Church - "Concord" (a member of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference, founded 1996, whose American members are WELS and ELS), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia and Other States (a member of the thoroughly heterodox Lutheran-in-name-only Lutheran World Federation, founded 1947,whose American member is the similarly characterised ELCA, and to which the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia also belongs).
I am pleased to say that the pastor of St Gertrude's Lutheran Parish in Yekaterinburg -- the city in which the Tsar and family were murdered in the Ipatiev House, on whose site the "Church on the Blood", whose full name is Church on Blood in Honour of All Saints Resplendent in the Russian Land, now stands as mentioned above -- is a "friend" of Past Elder on Facebook. Seeing another "Catherine" in the city's name? It's there, named at its founding 18 November 1723 after St Catherine, name saint of Catherine I (Yekaterina), Tsarina and wife of then ruling Tsar Peter I the Great, who died 8 February 1725, after which she became ruler like the next Peter and Catherine duo (III and II/the Great). St Gertrude's has been there since Day One too. Check out their site here and please consider giving them a hand in their wonderful work.
Kind of all comes full circle, huh? That's what's cool about history, makes the circle clearer, sometimes even gives one a clue there is a circle, an interrelation, at all amid all this stuff of life that otherwise seems like so much dust from the past, and makes our present point clearer, which is why I get into all this stuff.
Nicholas' feast day, following ancient custom, is 17 July.
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