THE ROMANOV FAMILY: LAST PRAYER SERVICE AT THE HOUSE OF SPECIAL PURPOSE
Testimony of Father [Protoirei] Ioann Storozhev (as given to investigator Nikolai Sokolov)
Around 8 o’clock in the morning on 14 July, a soldier came to see me, and requested I serve obednitza at the Ipatiev house. At 10 o’clock, I was already at the Ipatiev house with deacon Buimirov. Inside, behind the fence, at the bottom of stairs and inside the house, there were lots of armed young men, standing on guard. When we entered the commandant’s room, we saw disorder, dust and mess. Yurovsky was sitting at the table, drinking tea and eating bread with butter. Another man was sleeping on the bed, fully dressed. Having entered the room, I said to Yurovsky: “The clergy was invited here, so here we are. What do we need to do?” Yurovsky directly stared at me without a greeting, and said “Wait here, then you will serve obednitza” I asked “Obednya or obednitza?” “He wrote obednitza”, said Yurovsky.
When we dressed [in vestments] and a bucket with coals was brought in, Yurovsky invited us into the hall for service. I was the first to enter the hall, then the deacon and Yurovsky. Simultaneously, Nicholas Alexandrovich with two daughters came in through a door that led into inner rooms. Yurovsky asked Nicholas Alexandrovich: “Are all of you gathered?”, Nicholas Alexandrovich answered firmly “Yes – all”.
Ahead, behind the arch already standing were Alexandra Feodorovna with two daughters and Alexei Nikolaevich, who was sitting in a wheelchair, wearing a sailor jacket. He looked pale. Alexandra Feodorovna, wearing a dress, looked livelier than in the past. Olga Nikolaevna, Tatiana Nikolaevna, Maria Nikolaevna and Anastasia Nikolaevna were wearing black skirts and white blouses. Their hair reached their shoulders in the back. To me Nicholas Alexandrovich, as well as his daughters, looked exhausted this time. During the service the family members arranged themselves [this way]: Alexandra Feodorovna’s chair stood next to the chair of Alexei Nikolaevich, which was farther away from the arch, hers was a bit behind his. Behind Alexei Nikolaevich stood Tatiana Nikolaevna. Olga Nikolaevna, Maria Nikolaevna, Anastasia Nikolaevna stood near Nicholas Alexandrovich, who took his usual place at the right side of wall arch. Behind the arch, in the hall stood Doctor Botkin, the maid and three servants. At the far corner window stood Yurovsky. We performed the prayer service at the table set up in the center of the room behind the arch. This table was covered with a silk cloth with ancient Russian style design. On the table, in proper order and the usual church symmetry stood numerous icons. There were small, medium and very small skladni [?] icons with vestments – all these of unique beauty in their ancient style and workmanship: “Our Lady of the Sign [Znamenie]”, “It Is Truly Meet”, the Icon of the Holy St Ioann of Tobolsk… In front was a large plant and to me it looked like among its branches was an icon called “Saviour Not Made By Hands”, in the usual style, without vestments.
The deacon and I started the obednitza service. The ritual of bednitza is usually performed to the military, when for one reason or another it is impossible to do a [full] liturgy. In its substance this prayer service is similar to the ritual of the liturgy, but is significantly shorter, as at obednitza the Holy Eucharist is not given. According to the ritual of obednitza, it is customary to read “at rest with saints” at a certain point. For some reason instead of reading, the deacon sang this prayer. But as soon as we started singing, I heard that the Romanov family members, who were standing behind us, fall to their knees, and here I suddenly felt a deep spiritual comfort afforded by shared prayer. On an even deeper level one felt this when at the end of the service I read a prayer to the Mother of God, where in highly poetic touching words the supplication of a tormented person is expressed to support him in his sorrows, to give him strength to bear with dignity the cross sent by God. After the service all kissed the Holy Cross. When I was leaving and walked very close by the former grand duchesses, I heard barely audible words “Thank you”.
Silently the deacon and I reached the art school building, and here he said to me, “You know Otetz Protoirei, – something happened with them in there”. In these words there was confirmation of my own impression, I stopped and asked him why he thinks so. “Not sure. It is as if they are different somehow. And no one sang.” And I must say that for the first time no one in the Romanov family sang with us at the prayer service on 14 July.
What an amazingly subtle perception of the situation. Only now do we know what happened to the family from the testimonies of the eyewitnesses. But those who performed the service understood with a joint perception of the praying people. As far as deviation from the cannon law in following the ritual of obednitza: singing “at rest with saints” represented a funeral service for those praying while they were still alive! How this happened, for what reason – is only known to the Supreme Being, but it happened just prior to the murder of the prisoners of the House of Special Purpose. They had their funeral service. That evening was blessed: it passed in warm sincere conversations.