Spiritually Moved To Tears

Spiritually Moved To Tears

by Kenneth Rayman on June 10, 2017

My first stop in St. Petersburg was to Peter and Paul Fortress. My guide asked what I wanted to make sure I saw there and I said, “the Romanov tombs”. The story of Nicholas and Alexandra was romantic, as a kid, as it was sad. The photos I saw of them were of their younger years, which not knowing that they were much older when they were assassinated, it made the feeling of tragedy and romance more intense thinking of young love cut short. I read Robert Massie’s biography of Catherine the Great in which it was said that Catherine nearly died of pneumonia trying to learn Russian and read about the religion in the dead of winter, by moonlight, with the palace window open, or how she instituted reforms to bring change to the lives of her subjects in various forms.

I found a book in an old book store of translated letters of the Romanov family and ministers during the last 30 years of the dynasty as well as Catherine’s published diary in the local library. I soaked up everything I could, sometimes reading them multiple times. It amazed me to find out that each Russian Tsar/Tsarina from Catherine to Alexander II, agonized over serfdom and wanted to do something about it but knew that their power rested on the nobility’s support, which influenced the military. I read how conflicted Nicholas was on his responsibility of ruling yet was not willing to give it up though desired to. Nicholas knew he was fated to have bad things happen to him and his life, having been born on the Orthodox name-day of Job the long suffering, and pointed to that fact routinely after tragic occurrences. The event that stuck with me was during the coronation of Nicholas, there was a stampede of people attending his coronation celebration after which he and Alexandra prayed for hours while they received reports from the scene, retired to their apartments anytime they could during the court celebration parties to pray, and would later donate personal money to the victims, though the mere fact they were at parties while people died soured the public on his image.

I read a book by Helen Rappaport called, “The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg” which told an intimate history of every member of the family: Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, Alexei, Nicholas and Alexandra; as well as a day by day account of their captivity drawn from historical documents, reports by guards, and diaries of soldiers. When the family is led to the cellar and shot, you are given a vivid mental picture that is horrific and incredibly sad through soldier’s accounts. It was gut-wrenching to read of the soldiers’ confusion not knowing who they were personally to shoot, the chaos of shooting blindly through increasing gun smoke, and vivid descriptions as to how each family member personally died as well as the confusion on how and where to discard the bodies in the forest. A 2000 movie, “Romanovs: An Imperial Family” was a special treat to find on Youtube, though having read Helen’s book the last few minutes of the movie were hard to watch.

As I moved through the cathedral where the tombs are located and heard my guide talk about the rulers, my emotions were of elation (of finally seeing this in person) astonishment (learning about Maria Feodorovna, who was aboard at the time of the Revolution, being re-interred following the fall of the Soviet Union to be buried next to Alexander III), fulfillment (seeing Catherine the Great’s tomb given my personal fascination with her) to finally sadness as we stood and observed the sarcophagus holding the last family’s remains and the room with plaques detailing each family member. What I was learning moved me and then just as I felt fulfillment with Catherine’s tomb, I began to feel overwhelming sadness at finally seeing the tomb of Nicholas II and the family I had read about all my life and been intrigued by as a child.

While not a religious person, myself, you can be spiritual without doctrine and I felt I was having a spiritual experience as a historian and Russophile. I left the cathedral wiping tears from my eyes for the family, the country, and my guide who told me of her similar feelings as we walked through the cathedral. I knew that Russia was more than a passion, but a love of culture, tradition, time, and transcended my lifetime.

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