MOSCOW — Ending a decades-long debate, the Russian Orthodox Church on Monday canonized Russia's last czar, Nicholas II, saying the ruler died as a martyr to his faith when he was executed 82 years ago.
"He is now a saint," said a spokeswoman for Patriarch Alexi II, the head of the church.
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 the royal family was slain in 1918 and came two years after the czar's remains were ceremoniously buried in St. Petersburg, Russia's imperial capital.
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.
Nicholas abdicated March 15, 1917, as revolutionary fervor swept Russia. He and his family were detained and later sent to the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg, where a firing squad killed them in July of the following year.
The Archbishops' Council also voted to canonize 853 other martyrs from the 20th century.
Many Western historians see Nicholas as an inept leader who shunned modernizing forces.