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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Patriarch Plans to Snub Tsar's Burial

Restating doubts about the authenticity of the remains of the last Russian tsar and his family, Russian Orthodox Church officials said Tuesday that the head of the church, Patriarch Alexy II, would not lead next month's funeral service.

Following a meeting of the Holy Synod, senior officials said the church wanted the bones to be buried in a "symbolic grave" until they are identified definitively.

On July 17, the day of the funeral, all Russian Orthodox churches would still say prayers for the souls of the imperial family and "all those killed at the time of severe persecution," Metropolitan Juvenaly said. But, in remarks reported by Interfax, he said the patriarch will not attend the burial ceremony in St. Petersburg, the former imperial capital.

Russian media have said that President Boris Yeltsin will not take part unless Alexy II does.

Hundreds of foreign representatives, including many royals, have been invited to attend the ceremony in the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral, the traditional burial site of the Romanovs, who ruled Russia for 300 years and were related through intermarriage to many other royal families in Europe.

The church stopped short of protesting the tsar's funeral, saying it would never refuse to perform burial rites. The metropolitan said the synod took into account that this year would be the 80th anniversary of the "martyr death of Emperor Nicholas II, the members of his family and their poor servants," and decided to give church officials in St. Petersburg its blessing to conduct the service.

The Russian imperial family was executed in Yekaterinburg in 1918 by Bolshevik revolutionaries, and for eight decades the Communist authorities tried to keep the site of their grave secret to avoid it becoming a focus for opposition.

In 1991, nine skeletons were recovered from a pit near the city in the Ural Mountains and later identified by genetics laboratories in Russia, Britain and the United States as those of Tsar Nicholas II, his wife, three children and four servants.

In February, an official Russian government commission chaired by Boris Nemtsov, currently a deputy prime minister, issued a 1,500-page report confirming the remains as those of Russia's last imperial rulers and scheduling a funeral despite lingering reservations by the Orthodox Church.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the Moscow Patriarchate restated the church's skepticism.

"The decision of the state commission about the identification of remains found near Yekaterinburg as belonging to the family of Nicholas II has caused serious doubts and even resistance within the church and in society," read the statement.

"Accordingly, the Holy Synod urges the immediate burial of these remains in a symbolic grave. When all doubt about the 'Yekaterinburg remains' has been removed and there are no further grounds for outrage and resistance in society, the question of their burial site must be readdressed," it added.

The church has started proceedings to consider sainthood for the tsar and his family, which would make their bones holy relics.