Moscow Ending a decades-long debate, the Russian Orthodox Church on Monday canonized Russia's last czar, Nicholas II, saying the haughty and cruel ruler died as a martyr to faith when he was executed 82 years ago.
The Archbishops Council, the church's highest body, also canonized Nicholas' wife, Alexandra, and the couple's four daughters and one son, all of whom were killed by a Bolshevik firing squad.
The decision closed a debate that began soon after they were slain in 1918 and two years after the czar's remains were ceremoniously buried in his former imperial capital, St. Petersburg.
Although Nicholas was reviled by many, he and his family deserved sainthood for their "meekness during imprisonment and poise and acceptance of their martyrs' death," according to a church statement.
The vote was unanimous, the Interfax news agency reported.
Nicholas abdicated as czar on March 15, 1917, as revolutionary fervor swept Russia. He and his family were detained and in April 1918 they were sent to the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg, where a firing squad lined them up in the basement of a palace and killed them on July 17.
"In the last Russian Orthodox monarch and his family, we see people who sincerely tried to carry out the commandments of the Gospels in their lives," the statement said.
The Archbishops' Council also voted to canonize 853 other martyrs from the 20th century, many of them priests and monks killed by the Soviets.
The bishops' meeting was held in secrecy as they debated the czar's spiritual status in a gilded chamber of Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior, a reconstruction of the cathedral that was dynamited under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
Patriarch Alexy II and about 150 leaders took part in the meeting.
The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, which split from the Moscow-based church in the 1920s, has already made Nicholas II a saint, and this issue had been a major obstacle to reuniting the two churches. During their gathering in Moscow, slated to last several days, the bishops were also to consider the Russian church's relations with other denominations.