Bonded in the Old Faith: Saint Andrew, Nicholas II, and the Birdcatchers

by Monk Theodore

Saint Andrew the First-Called is beloved and revered by mil­lions of Ortho­dox Chris­tians as the patron saint of their home­land. From the dusty Mediter­ranean climes of Greece to the dense­ly-forest­ed moun­tains of Roma­nia, and from the vast steppe of Rus­sia to the rain-sod­den hills of Scot­land, Saint Andrew’s name is praised by those who have been under his pro­tec­tion for hun­dreds, if not thou­sands, of years.
Devo­tion­al hymns to Saint Andrew are no longer heard by the major­i­ty of Scots. Dur­ing the Ref­or­ma­tion, icon­o­clast zealots destroyed the apostle’s relics at what was once the biggest church in Europe, in the city that bears his name, St Andrew’s. This des­e­cra­tion was a tan­gi­ble sign of the spir­it of the age, which did away with the ven­er­a­tion of the apostle’s mem­o­ry.  Nev­er­the­less, there are still some con­nec­tions between mod­ern Scot­land and the old faith that the mists of time can­not keep shroud­ed.
One such con­nec­tion, or rela­tion­ship to be more pre­cise, one which is not sim­ply a foot­note in the his­to­ry of our two respec­tive nations, but rather is alive today and even serves as many Scots’ first – and maybe even only – encounter with the Ortho­dox faith. It is in this rela­tion­ship — guard­ed and pro­tect­ed by a small num­ber of men locat­ed in a small cor­ner of Fife — that we can see the ancient and pious tra­di­tions of Holy Rus’ and the Russ­ian Empire still alive and prac­ticed in mod­ern day Scot­land. Who are these men? They are the Bird­catch­ers.
The Bird­catch­ers, known offi­cial­ly as the Roy­al Scots Dra­goon Guards (Cara­biniers and Greys), are Scotland’s only cav­al­ry reg­i­ment, their nick­name being derived from their cap­tur­ing an impe­r­i­al eagle from Napoleon’s army at Water­loo. The reg­i­ment was pre­vi­ous­ly known as the Roy­al Scots Greys and, being raised in 1678, it has had con­nec­tions with Rus­sia from the begin­ning. Its first colonel, Thomas “Tam” Dalyell, had pre­vi­ous­ly served in the army of Tsar Alex­ei I dur­ing the wars against the Turks and Poles in the lat­ter half of the sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry. It is in the regiment’s lat­er his­to­ry that our inter­est lies, how­ev­er. From the day of his mar­riage in 1894 until his trag­ic mar­tyr­dom in 1918, His Impe­r­i­al High­ness, Tsar Nicholas II was Colonel-in-Chief of the reg­i­ment, a dig­ni­ty that was bestowed upon him by his grand­moth­er-in-law, Queen Vic­to­ria. Colonel-in-Chief is not an oper­a­tional appoint­ment; instead, it is a cer­e­mo­ni­al role usu­al­ly giv­en to a mem­ber of the roy­al fam­i­ly or, in the case of Tsar Nicholas II, a mem­ber of an allied roy­al fam­i­ly. The role of the Colonel-in-Chief is to assist in rais­ing the morale of the troops by tak­ing an inter­est in their tra­di­tions, life, and wel­fare.
Portrait of His Imperial Majesty Nicholas II Alexandrvitch, Tsar of All the Russias, 1902Tsar Nicholas II cer­tain­ly took an inter­est in his reg­i­ment. Hav­ing been very impressed by them after their first and only offi­cial vis­it to the Russ­ian Empire in 1895, where they vis­it­ed Tsarskoe Selo and were met by the Russ­ian Impe­r­i­al Guard, the Tsar wore their full dress uni­form at a num­ber of offi­cial occa­sions of state impor­tance, includ­ing dur­ing a two-week vis­it to Queen Vic­to­ria at Bal­moral Cas­tle in Scot­land in 1896. Dur­ing this time, the Impe­r­i­al escort was com­prised of men and offi­cers of the Roy­al Scots Greys, who met the Tsar when he dis­em­barked at the port of Lei­th and when he arrived at Bal­later rail­way sta­tion. The Tsar com­ment­ed dur­ing this trip that “Scot­land is a beau­ti­ful place, but it seems to be rain­ing every­day.”
It was dur­ing this rainy vis­it that the regiment’s adop­tion of cer­tain Russ­ian cus­toms began: Tsar Nicholas gift­ed the reg­i­ment with sev­er­al white bearskin hats of Russ­ian style, which are worn to this day by mem­bers of the reg­i­men­tal pipes and drums, name­ly the Drum Major, who wears his white bearskin while mount­ed upon one of the regiment’s dis­tinc­tive grey hors­es. In hon­or of their beloved Russ­ian Colonel-in-Chief, the reg­i­men­tal band began play­ing the Impe­r­i­al Russ­ian Anthem, “God Save the Tsar” at the end of all offi­cial func­tions in the offi­cers’ mess, along with the British nation­al anthem. Even now, over a cen­tu­ry lat­er, the stir­ring tones of this prayer for the Auto­crat of All Rus­sia and defend­er of the Ortho­dox Chris­t­ian peo­ples is heard in the offi­cers’ mess of the Roy­al Scots Dra­goon Guards, while a beau­ti­ful por­trait of the Tsar still hangs in a promi­nent place, watch­ing over the men of his reg­i­ment, who con­tin­ue to toast him at every for­mal mess func­tion.
It was in his mar­tyric death, how­ev­er, that the Tsar has had his great­est effect on the tra­di­tions of the reg­i­ment. Dev­as­tat­ed by the loss of their Colonel-in-Chief at the hands of the blood­thirsty Bol­she­viks, the reg­i­ment entered a peri­od of mourn­ing, which entailed the wear­ing of black back­ing behind the reg­i­men­tal cap badges worn with all uni­forms. This peri­od of mour­ing has nev­er end­ed. Even today, the regiment’s dis­tinc­tive grey berets and “zig-zag” peaked caps are nev­er worn with­out the black patch­es, in per­pet­u­al mourn­ing for the Tsar-Mar­tyr.
After the reg­i­ment sent a del­e­ga­tion that includ­ed its then-com­mand­ing offi­cer Colonel Andrew Phillips to the bur­ial ser­vice of the Holy Roy­al Mar­tyrs at the Peter and Paul fortress in Saint Peters­burg in 1998, a friend­ship devel­oped which led to the 2001 pre­sen­ta­tion to the reg­i­ment of an icon of Tsar Mar­tyr Nicholas, spe­cial­ly com­mis­sioned by the Moscow Cale­don­ian Club. This icon, in the words of the club direc­tor, Vitaly Mironov, was giv­en to the regiment

not on our own behalf, but on behalf of ALL RUSSIAN PEOPLE. This is extreme­ly impor­tant for us because we con­sid­ered the very fact of paint­ing this icon and its pre­sen­ta­tion to the glo­ri­ous Scot­tish reg­i­ment as an act of the deep­est repen­tance of ALL OF OUR PEOPLE of the great­est evil that our ances­tors did to the Tsar, his fam­i­ly and mem­bers of the house­hold… it is our his­to­ry and our com­mon his­tor­i­cal memory.

The icon was received from the Russ­ian del­e­ga­tion at Edin­burgh Cas­tle by the Colonel of the Reg­i­ment, Brigadier Melville Jame­son, who not­ed that “The Tsar is a revered fig­ure in the reg­i­ment. In the offi­cers’ mess and at reg­i­men­tal din­ners we play his nation­al anthem before our own.” Also present at the cer­e­mo­ny was the then-old­est sit­ting Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, Tam Dalyell, a descen­dent of the afore­men­tioned found­ing colonel of the Roy­al Scots Greys.
The icon accom­pa­nies the reg­i­ment wher­ev­er it is based, be it Ger­many, where the reg­i­ment spent sev­er­al decades, or back in Scot­land since its recent return to the regiment’s moth­er coun­try. Echo­ing the pious cus­toms of the Ortho­dox Chris­t­ian war­riors of Holy Rus’, this very icon is also car­ried into bat­tle by the troop­ers of the Roy­al Scots Dra­goon Guards. To date, the icon has accom­pa­nied and pro­tect­ed them on deploy­ment in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was in Iraq in 2003 that the icon led the men into com­bat for the first time. Being placed in the lead­ing tank at the head of the for­ma­tion, the Tsar-Martyr’s icon was present at the bat­tle of Az Zubayr, dur­ing which the tanks of the reg­i­ment dra­mat­i­cal­ly destroyed all four­teen tanks of the oppos­ing force, with no loss­es of their own. It also accom­pa­nied them to Afghanistan in 2012, when the reg­i­ment was deployed to the embat­tled Hel­mand Province. Anoth­er for­mer com­mand­ing offi­cer of the reg­i­ment, Lieu­tenant Colonel Dominic Coombs said:

It’s been to Koso­vo, it’s been to Iraq twice, it’s been to Afghanistan twice, and then any­where we go in the future. When­ev­er we go on oper­a­tions it comes with us and goes and sits next to me wher­ev­er I am. We look after it. We cher­ish it. It’s a great link. And now it’s in Fife, it’s in Leuchars. And we are very proud to have it here.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the reg­i­ment returned to Rus­sia in 2017 when Brigadier Jame­son, the now-retired Colonel Phillips, and two oth­ers vis­it­ed Tsarskoe Selo in order to present the muse­um there with a gift: a repli­ca of a Colonel-in-Chief’s full dress uni­form, much like that worn by Tsar Nicholas. Anoth­er return took place that same year when the reg­i­ment depart­ed from its pre­vi­ous gar­ri­son in Ger­many and returned to Scot­land, bring­ing the icon with them. The reg­i­ment, this unwit­ting bear­er of ancient Ortho­dox tra­di­tions, is now based at Leuchars in the “King­dom of Fife,” to which the clos­est town is, of course, Saint Andrew’s, thus bring­ing us full cir­cle.
It is here in this small cor­ner of Scot­land that the first Apos­tle to vis­it the Russ­ian lands is prayer­ful­ly unit­ed with the last Tsar to rule over them. It is by the inter­ces­sions of these two great saints — the Holy Apos­tle Andrew the First-Called and the Holy Tsar-Mar­tyr Nicholas — that we hope to see the true faith, the Ortho­dox faith — the ances­tral faith of the Scots — con­tin­ue to spread through the nation. It is our hope that the prayers of the last Ortho­dox Chris­t­ian Roman Emper­or may win over that land that his pagan pre­de­ces­sors of antiq­ui­ty could not con­quer and bring the prodi­gal son of Saint Andrew back to the house­hold of faith, along with the faith­ful sons of the Ortho­dox Church­es of Rus­sia, Greece, Roma­nia, and all those that are under the patron­age and pro­tec­tion of the great Apostle.

Holy Apos­tle Andrew, pray to God for us!
Holy Tsar-Mar­tyr Nicholas, pray to God for us!