What the Romanovs Can Teach Us about Living Like Cossacks

Ever hear of a $55 paperback book? Me neither. But not only do I want one, I think we might all need one. “The Romanov Royal Martyrs: What Silence Could Not Conceal” has been compiled by the brothers at St. John the Forerunner Monastery of Mesa Potamos on Cyprus, the island nation in the Mediterranean Sea. John the Forerunner would be John the Baptist, and the monastery is Greek Orthodox. The Romanovs were Russian Orthodox—think “The Deer Hunter”—but my pitiful understanding of Orthodoxy is that the commonality of Orthodoxy outweighs the ethnicity of the people who practice it. So, once communism failed miserably in Russia and historical archives were opened not only to Russian scholars, but to the world, the monks of St. John the Forerunner got busy. They only used verified original sources—letters, diaries, and memoirs—and meticulously translated them into English for the first time.

Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his children pose with the elite Cossack warriors.
Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his children pose with the elite Cossack warriors. The Cossacks received many benefits for their loyalty to the emperor, but their ranks were split by the Bolshevik revolution. Ironically, they consistently offered the greatest resistance to communism in their democratic, self-governing, semi-military communities. They were superb horsemen and well-trained fighters. Their wealth was in their land. The colorized version of this photo will surprise you. (Credit: Use allowed with attribution to the Romanov Collection, General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.)

How does that add up to $55? Here’s how. The book is beautiful, and I don’t use that word frivolously. It contains over 200 black and white images of the Romanov, some never seen before. There’s also a 56-page insert of pictures that have been colorized by an expert. I know what you’re thinking. The colorized versions of movies are always a disappointment, but I can guarantee you won’t feel that way about these. They bring to life members of a family who were brutally murdered because they represented God and country in a way that communists had to wipe off the face of the earth. More than anything else, they were killed because of their belief that they were God’s earthly representatives, not as idols, but as humans who strove to live by God’s example every moment of their lives.

For just over 100 years we have been taught to believe a certain narrative about the Romanovs. Particularly that Nicholas II was meek and ill-prepared for a job that he didn’t want, that of being emperor of Russia, when his father Alexander III died suddenly in 1894. The truth was that at just 23, he indeed faced the monumental task of bringing Russia into the 20th Century, but that as a man of faith, he gave his life fully and completely to God’s will. Although his grandfather, Alexander II, had begun to move the country toward a more liberal form of governance, his father, Alexander III, was reactionary and undid his father’s efforts. Nicholas was not as feckless a leader as the communists and therefore our history books portray him to be. He made great advances in agricultural and industrial production, as well as in social services. His strides in education were so important that the communists kept them in place. Eventually, a constitutional monarchy was established, but by 1917 when he was betrayed by his own generals and forced to abdicate, the Bolshevik tide could not be turned. This man of God had the best of intentions, but it was too little, too late as far as the godless communists were concerned.

We are also led to believe that Nicholas was further hampered by a severe and despised wife of German and English ancestry. First off, Nicholas and Alexandra were in love from the moment they saw each other to the moment they were gunned down in terror. Their numbered letters to each other reveal how much they were and remained in love with each other. Gushy, mushy, eye-rolling adoration is in every letter they wrote over their 23-year romance. Keep that in mind when you consider that their wedding was held in the midst of official mourning and that their upbringings were very different. Nicholas’ Danish mother ensured that Nicholas enjoyed a happy childhood, whereas Alex faced the loss of her mother and two siblings at a very young age. She was a somber person, but she was not only deeply in love with her husband, she was committed to being an involved mother and providing an heir to the Romanov dynasty. She had zero patience with fake people and with the Russian court being a pit of vipers, she quickly left pubic functions mostly to her mother-in-law and focused on her children. She was undone in both spheres.

An empress must be able to extend graciousness to all people equally. We veterans will note that the only people Alexandra was able to do this with were warriors and the peasantry. During World War I, she spent exhaustive amounts of time nursing wounded soldiers and just visiting. The men would reach out to touch her, and she would lean down to their pillow to whisper a few words of encouragement and peace to them. The populace, unfortunately, viewed Alex as cold, aloof, and German, an arch enemy. So much so that the Russian police secretly ran an operation to encourage people to write her letters of support. What nobody understood, except Nicholas and God, was that if her childhood hadn’t broken her psyche, surely the condition of her youngest child and heir to the throne did.

The young Alexandra had five pregnancies and hard births in rapid succession. Four girls—Olga, Tatiana, Marie, and Anastasia—were finally followed by a son, Alexei. There was only one problem: He was a hemophiliac, and that, of course, was passed down through Alexandra’s line. Any mother would be broken by that, any marriage strained, but when you add on how she was negatively perceived by the people and that she herself was in near constant pain, the love in that family, on display through all their letters and diaries, was none other than a miracle and gift from God. Keep in mind that Alex was young, too, when she married and moved to a foreign country. She barely spoke a word of Russian, and was required to convert to Orthodox Christianity. Her conversion, by the way, was embraced by her with fervor. It could be argued that her mental state manifested physically, or that her physical condition contributed to her brokenness, but either way, she was practically confined to a wheelchair by the end. She had heart disease and its accompanying shortness of breath, sciatica, migraines, cyanosis due to low blood oxygen, and trigeminal neuralgia, which causes severe pain in the face. Today, she could have been treated to enjoy a relatively normal life, but in the early 1900s, her sole medicine was that God was with her in her suffering.

Alexei’s hemophilia B was discovered by his parents when his umbilical cord would not clot and he lost, according to Nicholas’ diary, about 1/8 of his blood within 48 hours. The diagnosis was kept a secret from the nation and even most extended family members, further isolating Alexandra. Resiliency, character, and faith are noble traits, but it’s a hard, cold fact of life that too much can be piled onto a person. Both she and Nicholas were taken in by the mad, lecherous, self-proclaimed monk with the high animal magnetism and low personal hygiene standards. He claimed that he got closer to God by the confession of sins, so he committed lots of them. The occult-enamored aristocracy fell for him hard, as did the press before admiration turned to mockery. Whether by God or the devil Grigori Rasputin on more than one occasion prayed over young Alexei and stopped his bleeding. If you are a parent, are you not going to take advantage of that?

Mini geopolitical rundown: Despite real efforts toward a more democratic, representative form of government, the Romanov rule was on the verge of collapse. It got a reprieve through World War I, but the war was not going well. One example is the Russian Army’s shortage of ordnance, which in trench warfare, can only be described as a severe deficiency. Nicholas took charge of the army himself, heading to the front with Alexei and leaving Alexandra to run things with Rasputin having undue influence over her due to her child’s fatal illness. No, the man wasn’t ravaging the tsarina or her daughters. He was doing something far worse; he was encouraging her to pull back from the war. And, that is what got him assassinated. All of the prostitutes, debauchery in the bath houses, sex with aristocratic women was not nearly as problematic as someone preaching peace to the woman whom Nicholas listened to.

Russians poisoned Rasputin, shot him twice, and dumped him in an icy river, but that was not what killed him. If the Russians negotiated a separate peace with Germany and stopped fighting along a 1000-mile eastern front, Germany could focus all of her attention on the western front. Britain was not ready; it had to keep Russia in the fight long enough to coordinate with the reluctant Americans. Rasputin, code name DARK FORCES, suffered a third gunshot, center forehead, delivered by a British secret service agent. You will find many updated documentaries and videos on The Royal Romanov Martyrs You Tube channel, and there are two that are must-watch. The BBC’s “Who Killed Rasputin” is the first. It bears noting that the daughter of one of the British agents involved remembered her father saying he’d never encountered anyone of such pure evil as he had in the person of Grigori Rasputin.

The second is any of the videos on the channel that describe the murder of the Romanov family. We now know that all bodies are present and accounted for. None escaped, no matter how much we wish they had. The first grave that contained nine of the 11 bodies (the seven Romanovs and four remaining servants) included Anastasia. A second grave included the burned remains of Alexei and Marie. The British offered the Romanovs sanctuary and then withdrew it, most likely out of fear that revolution would spread to Britain. The White Army was closing in, and its nearness to Yekaterinburg, in fact, caused the execution to be moved up. Not even the jewels sewn into the bodices of the tsarinas could save them; they stopped the bullets, but the not the bayonets.

Throughout captivity, Nicholas remained the bedrock of his family, praying constantly for his enemies and asking God to forgive them. He said that there would be more evil in the world and it would only be defeated by good. He maintained good cheer throughout, despite the false promise of rescue that was orchestrated by his enemies. His example is worthy of canonization, and, indeed, in 2000 the Russian Orthodox Church canonized the whole family as passion-bearers, meaning people who face their death in a Christ-like manner. I’d like to say that I find that heartbreakingly admirable, but there is a part of me that sees it as so much “lambs to the slaughter.” What exactly was he supposed to do with a sick wife and son, and four daughters? What if he had trained Olga and Tatiana, who each reveled in their status as figureheads of different regiments, to ride the steppes and become true Cossacks, the kind that established democratic, self-governing, semi-military communities? What if we did?

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4 thoughts on “What the Romanovs Can Teach Us about Living Like Cossacks”

  1. The extent of my knowledge about the Romanovs can be contained in a documentary from the BBC, hosted by Lucy Worsley, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
    This sounds like a very interesting book.

  2. An interesting “book report.”
    I’m not sure I want
    To spend that much on a paperback, as you inquired… but with BidEnflation killing the value of a dollar, it’s really not that expensive any more.
    Thanks for the insight!

    • Sorry for the book report tone. It was a collaboration, and I just a conduit. I barely get a say. I know it is indeed pricy, but go search “Romanovs and Cossacks” and check out the red coats–really brings it to life.

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