Son of Catherine the Great, Russian Tsar Paul I (+1801), Is a Christian Hero, May be Canonized

Miraculous help and prophetic visions are just some of the supernatural events associated with Tsar Paul I, as interviewer Irina Akhundova learns in the translated interview below with Archpriest Gennady Belovolov, the priest in charge of gathering and curating any and all information regarding the tsar. As it is machine translated, we apologize in advance for any errors.


Image: Tsar Paul I


Archpriest Gennady Belovolov on the restoration of veneration for Emperor Paul I

Interviewed by Irina Akhundova


On September 20, 1754, on the day of the commemoration of St. Eustathius Plakida, the Emperor Paul Petrovich, an imperial martyr, without whose name it is impossible to imagine the history of Russia, was born in St. Petersburg. During his short reign Paul I managed to make huge transformations, setting the direction of Russia's development for centuries to come. Archpriest Gennady Belovolov, researcher at the Literary and Memorial Museum of Dostoevsky and director of the Memorial Apartment Museum of the Righteous Knight, tells about the worship of the Tsar-Knight today, as poet Sergei Bekhteev called Paul I, about a rug worn to shreds and millions of rubles burned by him. Father Gennady is also the Director of the Memorial Apartment-Museum of St. John of Kronstadt in Kronstadt, and rector of the Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul in the village of Somino.


Paul I


- Father Gennady, on March 24-25 and June 6-8, 2022, the VII Paul Readings were held in St. Petersburg. Unfortunately, not everyone understands the significance of Emperor Paul I, as he is slandered by Russia's enemies. At the mention of his name, the film "Poor, Poor Paul" comes to mind. Fortunately, the number of Paul's admirers grows every year. How will you celebrate his birthday?


- On October 3, after the tours of the Mikhailovsky Castle and the Peter and Paul Fortress at 15:00, I'll be holding "Pavlov Meetings at the Artillery Museum”. And on October 4th together with Alla Sergeyevna Karavaeva we will organize a trip along the unique Pavlovsk route "Pavlovsk - Gatchina Park - Vyritsa". The program in Vyritsa will end with a talk by Father Methodius (Zinkovsky).

- There are several important dates in the year 2022. Tell us about them, please.


- On February 26, 1797, 225 years ago, in the capital of the Russian Empire, the foundation of the Mikhailovsky Castle was laid. Emperor Paul I did not have time to live in it for a long time. Here, on the night of March 11-12, 1801, he was brutally murdered by conspirators who burst into his chambers. They demanded his abdication. The son of Catherine II and Peter III refused to abdicate.


225 years ago, Emperor Paul I signed important decrees. On April 5, 1797 his most important act was the decree on succession to the throne, which ended the era of palace coups. Since that day, the succession to the throne became possible only through the male line. Klyuchevsky called this decree "the first positive basic law in our legislation" that strengthened the autocracy as an institution of power.


Laying flowers on the tomb of the emperor.


In the same year Paul I also signed the highest decree to the Holy Synod on renaming the Alexander Nevsky Monastery into the Lavra with the staff equal to that of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra and the Trinity Sergius Lavra. By the same decree the Alexander Nevsky main seminary was transformed into the Alexander Nevsky Theological Academy. The Seventh Pavlov Readings were dedicated to this date with the blessing of Metropolitan Varsonofiy of St. Petersburg and Ladoga. They began on March, 24-25th in the Holy Trinity Alexander Nevsky Lavra, the vicar of which is the Bishop of Kronstadt, Nazarius. After discussing the reports, we visited the excursion to the Lavra archives and library and watched a concert in the Spiritual and Educational Center "Svyato-Dukhovsky".


And we commemorated the 225th anniversary of the coronation of Emperor Paul Petrovich and Empress Maria Feodorovna on April 29, 2022, in the Kazan Cathedral, built at the will of Paul I. His legislative policy, the foundations of the legislative body of the Russian Empire, the military reform that prepared the army for the War of 1812, the first steps in restricting serfdom, and other services not yet fully appreciated by Paul I before the Fatherland are described in the book of M.V. Klochkov published in scanty circulation during the First World War.


- Until the events of 1917 the tomb of Paul I in the Peter and Paul Cathedral was constantly covered with fresh flowers and considered miraculous, but the movement to canonize Emperor Paul I was buried under the rubble of the Russian Empire. Thank God, every year more and more people come to the memorial service for Paul Petrovich on his memorial day. A year ago no fewer than two hundred people came.


- Hundreds of people attend memorial services, readings, excursions, concerts, services and other events of remembrance each year - military servicemen, teachers and pupils of Pavlovsk Grammar School, veterans of the Great Patriotic War, representatives of many parishes and public organizations. Thank God, every year the number of admirers of the murdered Tsar Anointed of God increases. In our days the process of glorification of the Emperor is revived.


Ceremony of laying flowers to the monument to Paul I


A year ago, after the service for Emperor Paul I the Rector of the Peter and Paul Cathedral, Archimandrite Alexander (Fedorov) asked all those present to write down testimonies of his miraculous help and send them to the church shop of the cathedral. Unfortunately, during the years of privation and revolutionary terror, the so-called "Paul's Gravestone Book," in which, before the October Revolution, many miraculous helpings of Emperor Paul had been recorded, disappeared without trace. Apparently, it was destroyed.


The cross as a symbol of victory in the vision of Emperor Paul Rurik Yvnev


- This book is mentioned in his diary by the Silver Age poet Rurik Ivnev.


- Knowing that at the tomb of Paul Petrovich there was kept a record of his miraculous signs, the poet wanted to record his vision in the book. At the end of December 1916 (on the eve of Christmas), Rurik Ivnev wrote in his diary a remarkable account of how, on the eve of the revolution of 1917, the Emperor Paul Petrovich appeared to him three times. But since the book of the emperor's miracles has been lost, it is not known whether Ivnev recorded his vision or whether he met with the abbot of the Peter and Paul Cathedral. Thank God that his surviving diary has recently been published.


Having come to Smolny together with Blok and Mayakovsky in 1917, Ivnev became head of the All-Russian Union of Poets in 1920. He later withdrew from politics. The 25-year-old lyricist thought about death, asked God what would happen to Russia, asked not to leave him, and to strengthen him. He did not sing of the revolution, as he did not share its ideals. In his poems and diary, a sense of anxiety and impending disaster over the country is evident. December 17, he could not rejoice as others did over the murder of Rasputin. In his creative mind in those days resurfaced the image of the murdered Paul the First and the idea of a fantastic story was born, the plot of which resembles "The Nose" by Gogol.


In St. Petersburg, an official had achieved the position, which had him in the ceremonial uniform of Paul's time, and standing watch every day for 5 hours in secret from prying eyes at the tomb of the Emperor. During the days of revolutionary turmoil, the official was beaten by hooligans, and he begs Paul Petrovich to save him.


Thoughts of "poor Paul" penetrated deeply into Ivnev's soul, and on the night of December 23 to 24 the quiet, bright, and sad emperor appeared to him in a dream. He was walking on the sea and, pointing to the wreath shining around his head, said to the poet: "Thou hast conquered this!" In revealing his holiness to him, the sovereign was pointing to the Cross as a symbol of victory, just as the Lord had revealed the glory of the Cross to the holy King Constantine. St. Paul cared for his people, guiding the poet by showing him where to go. After this miraculous revelation in the morning, Ivnev stood at Paul's tomb for a long time.


On Christmas Eve, Emperor Paul embraced Rurik Ivnev in a second dream and silently pointed to the great road. The third time he appeared on the night of December 26-27 after Christmas, three days before the beginning of 1917, the year that changed the course of Russian history completely. When asked what he should do, Paul explicitly commanded to tell the Tsar Nicholas II that he and Russia would be saved through Paul I. All over Russia we must speak of him, burning the hearts of the people with the living word.


Awakened, Ivnev began to read books about the life of Emperor Paul, wishing, like him, to serve Russia. The shocks of 1917, which Paul I predicted, the poet soon saw with his own eyes. No longer did Emperor Paul remind the poet of himself, and Ivnev never recalled him again. But we must remember his testament, remember how much torment fell on the sovereign, whose every day life was a tragedy!


220 years since the martyrdom of Paul I


- The 6th Paul Readings, which took place in the Derzhavin Museum-Estate and the Kamennoostrovsky Palace, were dedicated to the 220th anniversary of the death of Emperor Paul Petrovich. How are they memorable?


- The anniversary began to be celebrated in the Church of the Blessed Prince Alexander Nevsky in the eponymous hermitage near Peredelkin. The fact that on March 23rd, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia carried out a memorial service for the murdered Emperor Paul, says a lot, since he could have chosen not to. There is hope that after His Holiness' speech, the truth about the short reign of Paul I will prevail, and all slanderous myths will be debunked. Let us pray and believe that this great man will be numbered among the saints. This will have enormous spiritual significance for all of our lives. Patriarch Kirill expressed the hope that the remembrance of such a terrible crime as the sin of the Tsar's assassination, which violated all laws, would lead to increased patriotism in our society. It is time to understand the importance of preserving the Orthodox faith, culture, language, and freedom of our people.


- Last year, for the first time in many years, memorials to Emperor Paul I were held in the Mikhailovsky Castle Museum Church.


- The memorial service, which was officiated by the archpriest Oleg Skoblya, was attended by museum staff. Huge baskets of red roses decorated the area in front of the monument to Paul Petrovich. Such flowers, probably, were brought only at the opening of the monument to Paul I in Gatchina. That was in 1851 under Emperor Nicholas I.


The plaque at the monument to Paul I   


- In history classes we were told little about the faith and mercy of kings. I was struck by the fact that not only did Paul's knees wipe the rug on which he prayed, but also the parquet in one corner of his tower study in the Gatchina Palace.


- Yes, at school we were not told that from a young age the future Emperor Paul began to show in his character such Christian qualities as justice, kindness, compassion for the sick, the maimed, and orphans. The common people loved him because as soon as he became autocrat every person could drop a petition or complaint in a special box in one of the windows of the Winter Palace. He personally read everything, and his petitioners learned his decisions from the newspapers. Metropolitan Platon (Levshin), the former teacher of the law and his religious instructor, who crowned Paul I, wrote that his high pupil "was always disposed to piety" and that discussions of God and faith were always pleasant to him.


- Paul I was also a good family man.


- Yes, he was the father of ten beautiful children, brought up two magnificent tsars - Alexander and Nicholas. The powerful shift in the perception of Paul Petrovich that has occurred will have significant spiritual consequences in the life of the Church and society. It is time to perceive the name of the emperor as meaningful and necessary, as an embellishment to the history of Russia. It is a name we should be proud of.


- Many do not understand why Paul I should be numbered among the saints.


- The Paul Readings are successfully continuing the process of glorifying the murdered Tsar, defending the blessed memory of the martyred Tsar. Gradually, the quantity of our work together is turning into quality. For over 15 years, Paul Petrovich's admirers have been debunking the historical myths surrounding his name. Sergei Vyzhevsky from the Pavlovsk Museum of History has collected facts which break down, for example, the myth of a conflictual relationship between Paul I and his mother, Catherine II. It is believed that she allegedly did not want to see him as emperor, removing Paul from state affairs in every possible way, preferring his son Alexander.


After the Great French Revolution, some longed for change. But the conspirators' dream of radically changing the lives of the peoples of Russia, following the models of Western Europe, did not materialize, despite the assassination of Paul I. The all-Russian emperor Alexander I did not wish his father dead, although he knew of the plot being prepared. He repented and, did not become a puppet tsar in the hands of Russia's enemies, which led the war with the French, reaching Paris. Russia showed the world its nobility and greatness under Alexander I. It is believed that he subsequently faked his death, dedicated his life to the service of God, and was glorified in the holy face as the righteous Theodore of Tomsk.


- In allowing wars and revolutions, God teaches us to learn from our mistakes. But after the murder of Paul I, another of God's anointed ones, Tsar Nicholas II, was brutally murdered along with his family. Now we are reaping the fruits of this terrible atrocity.


- We believe that God does not abandon our homeland not only through the prayers of the holy Royal Grand Martyrs, but also through those of the slain Paul I, who immediately came to be regarded by the people as a martyr to the royal throne, as a heavenly warrior.


About Pavlov's Gymnasium and the Master of the Order of Malta


- What are your personal impressions of the Pavlov Readings?


- These were brilliant readings with brilliant presentations. The main outcome of last year was that we witnessed the return of Emperor Paul to our lives. The ice had broken. The blockade around his name has been broken at a high ecclesiastical level, as evidenced by the Patriarch's sermon at the memorial service for Paul I, and at the state and public level. Among the devotees of his blessed memory we see representatives of the Church, employees of the Mikhailovsky Castle, the All-Russian Alexander Pushkin Museum, Gymnasium 209 "Pavlovskaya Gymnasium," and the Museum-Estate of G.R. Derzhavin, from where we walked to Alexander Nevsky Lavra a year ago with portraits of Emperor Paul. Quite unexpectedly, we all had an unplanned Pavlovsky Procession.


Alla Karavaeva, parishioners of the Church of St. John the Baptist's Nativity on Kamenny island and its rector, archpriest Vadim Burenin, take an active part in organizing Pavlovsk readings. According to his words, Paul Petrovich came to the church every day for night prayers, loved to sing in the choir, and gave money to skillful singers. From Father Vadim we learned about the Kamennoostrovsky architectural ensemble, the first suburban residence of the emperor, which was built for the heir to the throne by Felten and Quarenghi in 1776-1782. Doctor Elena Kopylova told about the history of the Kamennoostrovsky Palace.


Sergei Astakhov, director of the publishing house "Tsarskoye Delo" does a lot for the glorification of Tsar Paul Petrovich. Last year he published the book "The Tsarly Martyr Emperor Paul I." Its author, Evgeny Yurkevich, who made a report on the reforms of Paul I in the Russian artillery, speaking about the wide charitable activities of the sovereign, and his decisive reforms in the army, the navy, and in such areas as finance, law, public administration. His main task Paul Petrovich considered to be bringing order in the internal affairs of Russia. To increase the value of the ruble he ordered paper notes worth more than five million rubles to be burned in front of the Winter Palace. By his order most of the palace sets were turned from silver into coins. The Tsar severely prosecuted bribe-takers and punished his subjects for other crimes, since he expected them to serve not out of fear but out of conscience.


Contrary to slanderous rumors, nor more than ten people were exiled by him to Siberia, and those sentenced to prison and on penal servitude for the 4 years of his reign were no more than three hundred. And this punishment was just. Most of the others who were punished returned to their estates. If to the nobility Paul I showed severity, the common people, peasants, and especially soldiers loved him. On the day of his coronation he proclaimed a decree of “three days' burdens”. Henceforth a peasant could not work for a landlord for more than three days a week. And it was strictly forbidden to force the peasants to work on Sunday. This day was to be dedicated to God. These were the first steps to the abolition of serfdom in Russia.


- Many are confused by the fact that Paul was Grand Master of the Catholic Order of Malta.


- The Orthodox emperor Paul was not subordinate, but was at the head of the Catholic order. So it is more of a question and a problem for Catholics how they could submit to an Orthodox emperor. Victor Vasiliev made a report on the relationship of Emperor Paul Petrovich with the "free masons" (Freemasons), who wanted to lure him into their ranks, but could not. Although the teacher of the heir to the throne, Count Panin was a Freemason, there is no evidence of "Masonic consecration of the august person”. This fable was composed by his detractors. Paul Petrovich did not belong to the Masonic lodge, remaining an Orthodox Christian to the end of his life. He understood the harm of this secret organization, but could hardly foresee that it was the Freemasons who would play a major role in his murder and in the vilification of his memory.


- This year's Pavlovian readings began on March 24 at Pavlov Gymnasium.


- The gymnasium holds its own Pavlovian Readings research conference each year. A year ago, second grader Veronika Suvorovskaya won in the Pavlovian Section category. This year the gymnasium became the site for adult readings, which brings the veneration of Emperor Paul from the zone of marginality to the official public level. At the initiative of Dmitry Yefimov, director of the gymnasium and one of the organizers of the readings, a memorial plaque was made last year to immortalize the memory of Paul I, which is temporarily kept in the gymnasium. When the restoration work in the Mikhailovsky Castle is complete, the plaque will be hung in the once-abandoned passageway in the place of Emperor Paul's martyrdom so that we may remember this tragedy.


Mikhailovsky Castle


- Mikhailovsky Castle was the last imperial residence of Paul I. Were you at the scene of the czar's murder?


- No, we were not allowed into the corridor on the second floor where the Tsar's bedchamber was situated because the place had not been equipped with modern amenities. But close to the place of the tsar's murder we sang "Eternal Memory" to Paul Petrovich. With us were the famous author-singer Gennady Ponomarev and Irina Boldysheva - regent of the children's and youth choir named after St. John of Damascus at the Cathedral of the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God. Together with her choir we always sing the historical anthem of the Russian Empire "God Save the Tsar".


A Prayer Book for the Poor, the Miserable, and the Disadvantaged


- Who is Emperor Paul I for you personally?


Slave of honor, Russian Hamlet, a true knight, Paul I fought injustice and fell as a soldier of Christ


- The Emperor Paul Petrovich is the embodiment of duty, honor, nobility, and justice. As we raise our prayers to the Lord, to the Mother of God, to the holy Royal Grand Martyrs and to all the new martyrs and confessors of Russia, we pray for the salvation of our Fatherland, that our people will not repeat their terrible mistakes. We offer repentance for our sins and the sins of our ancestors, we ask the Lord for a peaceful life, for an end to hostilities and other upheavals. The slave of honor, the Russian Hamlet, the true knight Paul I fought against injustice and fell as a soldier of Christ. I believe that through his prayers the Lord will not abandon our Fatherland.


The late Olga Nikolayevna Kulikovskaya-Romanova said that Russian emigrants, torn from their homeland by the events of 1917, prayed to Emperor Paul I as follows:


"Give rest, O Lord, to the soul of your slain servant Emperor Paul I, and through his prayers grant us in these evil and terrible days wisdom in deeds, meekness in suffering, and Your salvation for our souls. Look, O Lord, upon Your faithful intercessor for the weak, the poor, and the needy, Emperor Paul, and grant, O Lord, through his holy prayers, speedy and faithful assistance to those who through him petition You, our God. Amen.


Eternal memory to the murdered Emperor Paul.