MOSCOW, Aug. 14 (AP) - The Russian Orthodox Church decided Monday to canonize Russia's last tsar, Nicholas II, his wife and five children, a church statement said.
The decision closed a debate which began soon after the tsar and his family were executed by a Bolshevik firing squad 82 years ago, and two years after his remains were ceremoniously buried in his former imperial capital, St. Petersburg.
The vote to canonize the tsar and his family was unanimous, the Interfax news agency reported.
The Archbishops' Council, the church's highest ruling body, also voted to canonize 853 other martyrs from the 20th century. Many were priests and monks killed by the Soviets.
The bishops' meeting was cloaked in secrecy as they debated the tsar's spiritual status in a gilded chamber of Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Church Patriarch Alexy II and about 150 leaders took part in the meeting.
Supporters of canonization for the tsar have said Nicholas II was God's anointed ruler on Earth, unable to stop the communist revolution. Opponents of canonization say he was weak and haughty, more fond of lavish parties than running the country.
The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, which split from the Moscow-based church during Soviet times, has already made Nicholas II a saint, and the issue had been a major obstacle to reuniting the two churches.
The church had said earlier that Nicholas II and his family were being considered for sainthood for accepting death before the firing squad with Christian humility. Many believers have already considered Nicholas II holy and have said an icon depicting his image shed miraculous tears in a Moscow church.