I’ve been reading this book, which is a compilation of autobiographical writings of Archbishop John (Shahovskoy) of San Francisco, and came across the following little-known (so I asked two people who should have known and they didn’t…) story.
I particularly closely knew Olga Alexandrovna [Romanova]. Of her remembrances, the biggest impression was made on me by her story of the hard conditions for the royal children in the family of Alexander III. The children of the emperor of all Russia were strictly raised, in a certain domestic asceticism and (strange to say) quite often went hungry. This is how Olga Alexandrovna explained it to me. Sitting at the table at the last places, the children were brought food after everyone, and they did not manage to eat all that they had taken when the plates were removed. Besides that, they were not allowed to eat anything between the common meals. The children suffered from the desire to eat but were not able to eat anything. The grand duchess retold how one day her brother Nicky, the future emperor Nicholas II, ate the contents of his baptismal cross. All the children of the imperial family were given a cross upon baptism, in which was a piece of the Cross of Christ, embedded in mastic (a glue like substance). Well, wanting to appease his hunger, the little boy Nicky, not understanding, of course, what he was doing, opened his cross and ate its contents with the piece of the Life-creating Cross. There is a striking symbol in that story.