MOSCOW, Aug. 20 (AP)--Thousands of people crowded into a Moscow cathedral Sunday to watch as white-robed clerics officially canonized Russia's last tsar, his family, and hundreds of other victims of Soviet repression.

The Archbishops Council, the Russian Orthodox Church's highest body, decided last week to canonize Nicholas II, his wife, and their five children for the humility with which they faced a Bolshevik firing squad in 1918. The seven deserved sainthood for their "meekness during imprisonment and poise and acceptance of their martyrs' death," according to a church statement.

Some of the people who packed into Christ the Savior Cathedral for Sunday's service carried icons bearing Nicholas' image. Members of the Archbishops Council, dressed in embroidered white robes and miters sparkling with gold and silver, officiated.

During the ceremony, the church also canonized 1,147 other Russians from the 20th century, many of them priests and monks killed by the Soviets.

Nicholas was a largely ineffective monarch who only grudgingly implemented political reforms. He was helpless to stop the Bolshevik revolution and abdicated as tsar on March 15, 1917, as revolutionary fervor swept Russia.

He and his family were detained. 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 shot them on July 17.

Debate on canonizing Nicholas II and his family dragged on for years. Some believers regarded him as a saint and claimed that icons of the tsar have worked miracles, but the church was concerned that canonizing Nicholas could be seen as an endorsement of his political actions.

Canonizing the royal family as so-called "passion bearers"--the lowest level of sainthood--is intended to appease Nicholas' supporters and avoid controversy.

The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, which split from the Moscow-based church in the 1920s, has already made Nicholas II and his family saints, along with thousands of other Soviet-era victims. The issue had been a major obstacle to reuniting the two churches.

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