Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Credit Where Credit is Due

Steve ( is correct when he says that I was the chairman of the committee responsible for drafting the statement on same-sex marriages. I must give credit where credit is due. The bulk of the statement was written by Fr. David Moser; with additional input and direction from Fr. Ken Bracey. The proposed draft was then modified by well-taken comments from Fr. Peter Perekrestov and Fr. James Baglien. Of course, I got my $0.02 worth in! But I cannot take credit for the work of all the clergy who gathered, and who gave their consent to the issuance of this statement.

Finger Bones, DNA, and the Relics of the Romanovs
Earlier today, I came across a news article (here)
in which a research team from Stanford University has given ammunition to those who do not believe that the relics are actually those of the martyred Romanov royal family. The ostensible reason is that the DNA match is "too good to be true."

The 1994 study by Peter Gill and Pavel Ivanov used both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA in making their determination. The Stanford team claims that the DNA strings were "too long and too perfect to have come from such old bones." To these researchers, this was a sign of a contaminated sample. The Stanford team also did research using samples taken from the finger bone of the Grand Duchess Elizaveta, which relic had been kept by Bishop Gregory (Grabbe). The study noted that the DNA from this relic did not match any of the Romanov bones. Here again, there was raised the question of contamination.

Once upon a time, I had a pretty good science background (B.Sc. in Zoology; M.S. in Environmental Studies, with a scientific core of classes). But I must admit that I wonder about the Stanford study. Can someone please explain to me how contamination leads to a positive result? I would think it would be the opposite. As for the failure to match the DNA from the finger bone, well, we need to remember that the Grand Duchess Elizaveta was Romanov by marriage, not by birth. It is true that she is the sister of the Tsarevna Alexandra; and so there should be a high degree of correlation between their nuclear DNA; and both some correlation to the nuclear DNA of the children. Also, there should be a good match at the level of the mitochondrial DNA for the sisters, and the children of the royal family -- but none of these tests would identify Tsar Nikolai's remains. That would require Romanov DNA.

The jurisdiction in which I serve -- the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia -- canonized the Royal Martyrs in 1981. The Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate canonized the royal family in 2000. We don't need relics to do so. What's the deal here? Is someone somewhere trying to call the canonization into question by challenging the DNA?

(By the way: this article contains an experiment on my part; to try to link to a news story. Let's see how well I did...)

I haven't found out yet how to set things up for you to click a "comment" highlight on this page. You can always send your comments to me at my email address. I'd like to hear from you.

Spelling Note
I've been banging away at typewriters for as long as I can remember; over 40 years. If you see "teh" it usually means "the" -- and unless the context specifically requires "fro", you should read "for." I doubt I'm ever going to successfully retrain my fingers...