In 1905, twelve years before Emperor Nicholas II’s abdication and three years from his own repose, St. John of Kronstadt, who had served as confessor to Nicholas II’s father Emperor Alexander III (r. 1881-94, d. 1894), spoke these prophetic words:
We have a Tsar of righteous and pious life. God has sent a heavy cross of sufferings to him as to His chosen one and beloved child, as the seer of the destinies of God said: ‘Whom I love, those I reproach and punish’ (Rev. 3.19). If there is no repentance in the Russian people, the end of the world is near. God will remove from it the pious Tsar and send a whip in the person of impure, cruel, self-called rulers, who will drench the whole land in blood and tears.
Nicholas himself made a similar observation about his fate when speaking to his Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin. In his diary, Stolypin noted with some degree of incredulity that Nicholas spoke these words without any hint of alarm or distress. “I have a premonition. I have the certainty that I am destined for terrible trials, but I will not receive a reward for them in this world… Perhaps there must be a victim in expiation in order to save Russia. I will be this victim. May God’s will be done!”
According to Anna A. Vyrubova, the Empress’ closest confidante, best friend and lady-in-waiting, in Her Majesty’s Lady-in-Waiting, a Russian holy woman by the name of Maria blessed the Empress in December 1916 when she visited her cell and foretold her eventual martyrdom:
In December of 1916, Her Majesty traveled from an emotional rest to Novgorod for a day, with two Grand Duchesses and a small suite. She visited field hospitals and monasteries and attended the Liturgy at the St. Sophia Cathedral. Before her departure the Tsaritsa visited the Yurievsky and Desyatina Monasteries.
In the latter she visited Eldress Maria Mikhailovna in her tiny cell, where the aged woman had lain for many years in heavy chains (this was self inflicted – Editor’s notes) on an iron bed. When the Tsaritsa entered, the Eldress held her withered hand out to her and said, “Here comes the martyr, Tsaritsa Alexandra!” She embraced her and blessed her. In a few days the Eldress reposed.
In 1917, the venerable St. Metropolitan Makary Nevsky of Moscow beheld the Savior speaking to the Tsar in a vision:
“You see,” said the Lord, “two cups in my hands: one is bitter for your people, and the other is sweet for you.” In the vision the Tsar begged for the bitter cup. The Savior then took a large glowing coal from the cup and put it in the Tsar’s hands. The Tsar’s whole body then began to grow light, until he was shining like a radiant spirit. Then the vision changed to a field of flowers, in the middle of which Nicholas was distributing manna to a multitude of people. A voice spoke: “The Tsar has taken the guilt of the Russian people upon himself and the Russian people are forgiven.”
As the First World War dragged on with mounting casualties and no conclusive end, causing a decline in morale and furthering discontent among those disposed toward revolutionary sentiment in the armed forces and urban factories, the Empress and her older daughters continued to serve actively as hospital nurses. Numerous historical accounts of the Empress’ life during the war years, especially the memoirs of the women who perhaps knew her best, her dear confidantes the Countess Anna A. Vryubova and Baroness Sophie von Buxhoeveden, recall her dedicated service in the blood and disease-filled hospitals of wartime Moscow and St. Petersburg.
As soon as the war broke out, the Empress and the four Grand Duchesses (Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia) became nurses; and hospitals were opened at Tsarskoye Selo, near the family’s residence, where wounded soldiers were brought. They worked long hours, diligently and tirelessly following the commandment of Christ to visit the sick, since inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me (Matthew 25.30).
Anna A. Vyrubova, the Empress’ closest friend, wrote: “I have personally seen the Empress of Russia in the operating room, assisting in the most difficult operations, taking from the hands of the busy surgeon amputated legs and arms, removing bloody and even vermin-ridden field dressings.” Vyrubova says that she was a “born nurse”, who “from her earliest accession took an interest in hospitals, in nursing, quite foreign to native Russian ideas. She not only visited the sick herself, in hospitals, in homes, but she enormously increased the efficiency of the hospital system in Russia. Out of her own private funds the Empress founded and supported two excellent schools for training nurses, especially in the care of children.”
Unsurprisingly, this is the same Empress who wrote in her diary at some point during that fateful year of 1917, “In order to climb the great heavenly staircase of love, we must ourselves become a stone, a stair which others will climb.”
Here is a beautiful quote from Saint John the Wonderworker (1896-1966) on the Emperor, which the younger saint said in July 1963, the 45th anniversary of the martyrdoms:
Why was Tsar Nicholas II persecuted, slandered and killed? Because he was Tsar, Tsar by the Grace of God. He was the bearer and incarnation of the Orthodox world view that the Tsar is the servant of God, the Anointed of God, and that to Him he must give an account for the people entrusted to him by destiny, for all his deeds and actions, not only those done personally, but also as Tsar. . . Thus did the Orthodox Russian people believe, thus has the Orthodox Church taught, and this did Tsar Nicholas acknowledge and sense. He was thoroughly penetrated by this awareness; he viewed his bearing of the Imperial crown as a service to God. He kept this in mind during all his important decisions, during all the responsible questions that arose. This is why he was so firm and unwavering in those questions about which he was convinced that such was the will of God; he stood firmly for that which seemed to him necessary for the good of the realm of which he was head.
Holy Royal Martyrs, pray to God for us that He may save our souls!