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A President's Repentance: A Prince's Pilgrimage

Yesterday's funeral of the late Boris Yeltsin has called forth mixed responses around the world.

On the one hand, there are those who recall that he was once the local Communist Commissar who, under the Soviet regime, had the Ipatiev House, where the Imperial Family were martyred in Ekaterinburg 89 years ago, demolished. This was in order to prevent it from becoming a place of pilgrimage. There are those who recall that under his drunken and sometimes clownish rule, chaos reigned in Russia and any number of dubious individuals took over large parts of Russian national wealth.

On the other hand, there are those who recall that he was Russia's first President, a man who ended Communism, standing on a tank and ushering in a measure of democracy - and certainly the beginning of freedom for the Church. Symbolically, it was under Boris Nikolayevich that the Church of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, where he was to be buried, was rebuilt.

The story has it that yesterday, as he was buried in Moscow, candles held by the faithful at the panikhida in the church at Butko in the Sverdlovsk Region, the very church where Boris Nikolayevich was baptised, mysteriously went out.

What is also true is that not long ago Boris Nikolayevich went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Who are we to judge what the human soul goes through in the last months, weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds before death? We do not judge the thief on the cross for his acts of theft, we judge him for his repentance at his end. Indeed, the only difference between us and the saints is that we are still musing over the word repentance, whereas the saints have actually done it.

In the same way, we should not judge Russia during this intermediate period, this time of transition, whether under President Yeltsin or President Putin. Rather we should look to the future, when repentance may yet turn from a minority movement into a majority movement. Post-Soviet society may yet evolve into Russian society, homo sovieticus may yet evolve into homo orthodoxus, mass alcoholism and bribe-taking, abortion and drug-taking, divorce and crime, may yet be overcome.

The day before yesterday President Yeltsin had the Ipatiev House pulled down. Yesterday he was buried. Today, it has been announced that on 29 April the Russian-speaking Prince Michael of Kent, a man with a strange resemblance to his great-uncle, the martyred Tsar, is to go on pilgrimage to Ekaterinburg, the very place where his relatives were shot.

If we may sound a prophetic note, we would say that pilgrimages from all over the world to Ekaterinburg have not been prevented - they are only just beginning.

And what shall we say of the day after tomorrow?

Fr Andrew

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