MOSCOW — The head of a Russian Orthodox Church panel looking into the 1918 killing of Russia’s last czar and his family says his statement that it is investigating whether it was a ritual murder has no anti-Semitic connotations.

Father Tikhon Shevkunov said Thursday that he was only talking about the “ritual revenge of atheist Bolsheviks” and never implicated the Jews.

Earlier this week, he said many in the church panel are convinced that the killings were “ritual murder.” That drew an angry response from Russia’s largest Jewish group, which denounced the words as a revival of anti-Semitic myths.

Nicholas II and his family were executed by Bolsheviks in 1918. The speculation that they were killed by the Jews for ritual purposes long has been promoted by fringe anti-Semitic groups.