Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Prince Alexei Romanov: A Short and Bright Life

Look at the icon of New Martyrs and Confessors of the Russian Orthodox Church and you will see something very important. There is a boy standing in front of all the great martyrs and confessors who defended the Faith in its darkest hour in Russia. He is up there like the main intercessor before God for all people. How come a boy’s prayers can be so powerful and important to God?

We know that a child’s prayer is always particularly dear to God, and that’s why it’s always a good idea to teach kids to pray. The Russian Orthodox Church is very lucky and unique in the fact that it has a child as its intercessor. This boy is St. Alexei (†1918), Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra’s only son and the heir to the Russian throne. The whole Royal Family went through martyrdom at the cruel hands of godless commissars in July of 1918. St. Alexei was the youngest in the family; he was about 14 at the time.

St. Alexei was born on July 30 (August 12, NS), 1904, in Peterhof, a beautiful suburb of St.Petersburg. He was the fifth and the last child in the royal family. Alexei was very long awaited by his parents as the line of hereditary succession in Russia required a male heir to the throne. Before Alexei Tsar and Tsarina had four daughters: Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia. Together they made up one of the most loving and exemplary families in the world. They were canonized in Orthodox Christianity as a family too.

Pierre Gilliard, a Swiss academic and a French language tutor to the royal children wrote in his memoirs about the first time he saw Alexei: “I almost finished my class with Olga Nikolaevna [-Tsar’s daughter-] when the Empress entered with the Prince on her hands. She obviously wanted to show me her newborn son who I have not seen yet. Her face shone with maternal joy as the Prince was the answer to her long prayers. I felt she was very proud and happy for her beautiful son… And indeed the Prince was as good-looking a boy as you could only imagine with his pretty fair-hair curls, big grey-green eyes, long and beautiful eyelashes. His face had healthy rosy complexion, and when he was smiling he had two cute dimples at his cheeks… I noticed that the Empress was holding the Prince very tenderly and tightly to herself. There was some deep underlying concern about her loving look at him. It was much later when I realized the reason for her concern”.

Little Alexei was found to have a rare hereditary blood condition called hemophilia causing very slow blood clotting and thinning of blood vessels. Any small bruise or cut would cause him a lot of painful suffering and might be deadly. From his earliest age his doctors required special care for him, which was carried out by two sailors who were with him at all times. Many regular kids’ activities that his sisters enjoyed were prohibited for him, like playing tennis or riding a bike.

Nonetheless, little Alexei was a very playful boy. Pierre Gilliard noted in his diaries that Alexei liked to play with his guards’ kids, never paying any attention to his royal status or their being sailors’ children; yet he was a very thoughtful, bright and compassionate boy. Gilliard was often struck by the questions Alexei would ask, which meant just how delicate and sensitive he was. Gilliard wrote: “I found in him a boy with a naturally loving heart with unusually deep understanding of other people’s pain, probably because he suffered himself a lot”. Another commentator noted that Alexei’s condition increased his will power as he did not like to cause too much concern in those around him while his sufferings were truly great. He also had a lot of respect for his mother and for all who would devote themselves to caring for others.

Young Prince’s life was far from being luxurious. Alexei spent a lot of time studying and doing homework. He studied with breaks from 9 am to 2 pm. Then there was a mandatory walk in the fresh air with other kids, his favorite pet animals or his sisters (he especially enjoyed the company of Anastasia who was just a little older than him). At 4pm the studies resumed and lasted until dinner time. All commentators noted his bright and quick mind, his high ability to learn. Before bedtime Alexei would listen to his father's reading out his favorite book. Alexei was very religious and when his health allowed it he always attended Church services with his family (missing Church for other members of the royal family was not an option).

All this suffering and the incurable condition shaped a very special personality in him. By ten he had learnt quite well what pain was and how close death could be. Once his sister Olga found him lying on his back and looking at the clouds: “What are you doing?” – she asked. “I like to think. I enjoy so much the sun and the summer, and I know tomorrow I might not see it again” – he replied. He realized very well how fragile life was and how limited the physical presence might be even if you are a Prince.

They say there are no ifs in history but looking at the downfall of Soviet Russia in the 20th century it’s very important to think of what Russia would have become had Alexei become its Tsar. His father, Tsar Nicholas II laid out very firm and fertile foundation for the economic, cultural and religious development of the country which flourished under his rule. Russia was still behind some world powers but this lag was only temporary. With Alexei being all Nicholas II hoped for in terms of intellect, character, faith, and more – due to his specific condition – Russia would have soared as an economic, political, scientific, cultural and spiritual leader of the world. It would have become the country demonstrating both might and highest moral principles and ideals, setting the mark of responsible political behavior at such high levels that are nowhere seen at the real moment. The Russian monarchy would have become the glorious kingdom, emulating the mystical Kingdom as close as it is physically possible in this world.

There is profound wisdom in the fact that God did not let this happen at that time. For the good of the mankind He sent His Own Son to die on the Cross. For the same good of the Russian people the Royal Passion-Bearers accepted their martyrdom. The world was simply not ready for this bright kingdom that Russia would have become, and God in His Wisdom made it impossible – for the moment. But as St. Paul wrote it in his Epistle “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe.” (1Cor 1:21). The life of St. Alexei shows that the only true and lasting answer to all human weakness and suffering is humility, unconditional love for Jesus Christ Who would accept all His faithful servants in His Heavenly Kingdom. And this Kingdom would never crumble as did Russia without the Orthodox Christianity and the pious Tsar.

(Translated from Russian and English-language sources)

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