Khlysty, a sect that splintered off from the Russian Orthodox Church. Grigori Rasputin first heard about it from a seminarian from the monastery of Verkhoture. Verkhoture was a breeding ground for the sectarianism. The monks apparently followed the external rules of Orthodoxy but strictly adhered to the precepts of the sect.
The monks as well as other members of the sect considered the strict rites of the Church meaningless formalities. They were obeyed to avoid trouble with Church authorities. The true sectarians, however, consider that they each bore the true belief of the Orthodox faith. This conviction of faith they only spoke of amongst themselves.
According to the precepts the founder of the Khlysty sect or brotherhood was Danila Filipich. The name means “Men of God,” or the “Khlysty.” Around the beginning of the eighteenth century he instructed his followers to: “Keep my laws secret, entrust them neither to your father nor to your mother, be steadfast and silent even under the lash or the flames; thus you will enter the kingdom of Heaven, and even here on earth receive the bliss of the spirit.”
The greatest strength of the Khlysty sect was drawn from its mystery, and this was why its original leaders insisted that the members strictly obeyed the rules of the Orthodox Church. Often the members were encouraged to be over zealous in their obedience in order not to give the sect away.
Khlysty sectarians taught that the Church’s prayers and rituals were only necessary only for the unawakened. The priests of the Church had missed the true road to God which only the prophets of the secret brotherhood preached. The Church doctrine, which was earthly and lacking in inspiration, clung only to the letter of the law, while the Khlysty teachings were inspired by God. The man, who through grace, was in direct communication with the Holy Spirit no longer needed the laws and ritual forms that the Church devised hinder human reason.
This was the example set forth by Danbila Filipich who before becoming enlightened was a serious student of the Scriptures and other religious writings; but afterwards discarded all of these works and became a seeker of the truth in the “golden book of life.”
One of the basic Khlysty teachings was of the ever-renewing reincarnation of God, or the Lord, in man. This could happen on earth anywhere, and at anytime. The birth at Nazareth, where God became man, was not an isolated event, but was constantly being repeated.
This reincarnation of God in man is only achieved by the total self-denial and submission to the will of the Holy Spirit. This was called the “mysterious death” by which the person dies to all sensations of the flesh, he no longer can sin. He now passes through what was called the “mysterious resurrection. Once the person has underwent this mystical transformation he shares in the divine abilities to heal, prophesy, raise the dead, rescue souls from hell and lead them to heaven. Also on the day of the Last Judgment he can deliver out rewards and punishments.
This man was thought to be God and man together, a new Christ.
Along with this teaching of the reincarnation of God within man was taught that the teachings of the Holy Spirit was often disguised behind the actions of these men and were only recognized by the confirmed believers in the Khlysty sect. Once this reincarnated God appeared as a dumb peasant, Andri Petrov, making meaningless sounds. Again a prophet Radaev was thought to be the reincarnated God. At one time Radaev lived with thirteen women, but the Holy Spirit spoke through him. Once when the Tsar rebuked him, Radaev conscious that God Himself spoke through him boldly answered, “I know no reason why I should do penance. You know my sins, but the grace of God in me you do not know.”
It was from such teachings that the cardinal belief of the Khlysty sect was born, only after a man had sinned greatly could he be truly repentant and pleasing to God. Men and women who tried to lead virtuous lives pride themselves on their virtue. It was asked what could debase such a person more than sin?
The sect banned sexual intercourse in a marriage blessed by a priest because such a marriage which bound a man to his wife was, in their eyes, the grievous sin against the Holy Spirit. The priest’s blessing was also considered the seal of the Antichrist. If a celebrant was married when entering the sect, he was to abandon his wife and his children was to be known as his “sins.”
However, other forms of love were permitted by the Khlysty. Participants were allowed to sleep with partners in “spiritual marriages” but no carnal relationships were to occur between them. There seems to be evidence that physical relationships did occur especially within the Khlysty worship services known as the Radenyi or Arks of the People of God.
In literature the Khlysty sect has been compared to the American Pentecostals, the Snake Handlers of southern America, and the Holy Rollers, but the Khlysty sect also sheared similar characteristics as those of the early Gnostics holding to the teachings of Gnosticism. Like the Khlysty sectarians who held their teachings came directly from God and were not known by the common Orthodox Russians, the Gnostics believed that Jesus shared secret teachings with them which He did not tell the ordinary members of the Christian faith. Both sects ran afoul of the Orthodox Churches, for the Churches could not allow groups of people running out of control spreading heretical beliefs.
The role of sin was important in both sects too. The Gnostics believed man did not sin because of an evil nature, as the ordinary Christians believed, but that man sinned because of ignorance. This ignorance was overcame through “gnois” by which man found salvation. Whereas the Khlysty saw sin as the way to salvation. It was believed that only after sinning could a man be sincerely repentant and pleasing to God. Also, one sect of the Gnostics, the Carpocrates, held a similar view of sin, “the only way to combat lust was with lust,” and “good and evil exists only in the opinion of men, for no man’s life leads to gratification unless all that opposes him is eliminated.” And this lead to the belief that cardinal pleasure in no way tarnished the interior purity or soul of man just as dirt does not tarnish gold.
As with the Khlysty sect sex played an important part in Gnosticism. In fact, the issue of sex divided the celebrants into two separate divisions, the main division which absolutely forbade any form of sex even in marriage, and the libertine groups which the Carpocrates were among that permitted all sexual pleasures especially at their worship services similar to the Radenyi of the Khlysty sect. However, within their sexual regulations each division strived to achieve the same purpose: the prevention of the propagation of children. If children were conceived there was a ceremony to abort them. Such rituals were performed on the principal Gnostic belief that all matter was evil, especially that which man found himself entrapped in. Freedom from this entrapment was believed to be the end of human life. These last beliefs mainly distinguished the sexual practices between the Gnostics and the Khlysty.
One may question how similar ideas or beliefs can emerge repeatedly throughout the centuries. The question seems more meaningful when such beliefs appear strange to a majority of the people who do not share them. One answer might be that the beliefs seem to emerge whenever men attempt to estrange themselves from their genuine nature and natural environment.
Whether all the teachings and practices attributed to the Khlysty sect are true or not it cannot be certain. In the long view the Khlysty sectarians may seem like small groups of people scattered throughout rural Russia, but at the time they had sinister connotations for the Orthodox Church, so to help stamp them out “nameless practices” were attributed to them. This is another characteristic which they shared with the Gnostics, the Christian Church came down on them in a like manner. A.G.H.