Rasputin: Mystic and Controversy in Russian History

Grigori Efimovich Rasputin has been called a Russian mystic among other things, he was also call a «Holy Devil» by Iliodor (Sergei Trufanov) the monk-priest of Tsarytsin. Much which is known about the early life of Rasputin may be more legend than fact, because to the Russian peasants he was a hero, their man. One thing is certain, though, he was a product of his Siberian culture. His height was 6’4».


Facts. Who Was and What did Rasputin do

Just bits of information are known about Rasputin’s early life. One story is that his father was sent to Siberia as a criminal. While being a carter, transporter of passengers and cargo, for the government he got drunk and his horse ran off; the man ended up in Siberia for horse stealing. He eventually was freed, got property by working as a carter and raised a family. The exact year the birth of his son Grigori is unknown. It seems to be between 1862 and 1875. His elder sister Maria, who is said to have been an epileptic, drown in a river. His older brother Dmitri fell in a river while the two boys were playing. Grigori jumped in to rescue him and they were both pulled out by a passerby. Afterwards Dmitri took pneumonia and died which greatly affected his younger brother. This seems true because Rasputin named two of his – children Maria and Dmitri.

There are only indications of Rasputin’s paranormal powers during childhood. One is that he loved animals, especially horses. He loved playing in his father’s stable. He would climb upon the horses’ backs, touch them with his hand and cheek. With an invented child’s language he would talk to them. Of these incidences he eventually would tell the young Tsesarvich Alesha to comfort him.

Only one incidence, whether fact or legend, of Rasputin’s exceptional powers seems to be recorded. As was the habit in Siberian villages like Pokrovskoe, Rasputin’s home, most inhabitants would meet in homes in the evening. On this night the gathering was in the home of Rasputin’s parents. The boy was sick but he heard the low conversation concerning the theft of a horse. Soon the boy got up in his nightshirt and pointed to one of the guests declaring him to be the thief. His parents were embarrassed, but after the gathering broke up some of the villagers who were curious at the boy’s words went to the man’s property to later see him with the stolen horse. The next morning many returned to the house of Rasputin’s parents making the sign of the Cross and saying invocations to the Mother of God and Saint George as they marvelled over the boy’s power.

Rasputin later told of playing and fighting with the village children, but he would never steel anything because he always knew when someone else stole something and thought everyone possess this power.

At the proper age Rasputin became a carter like his father. Then at thirty-three he had a passenger who drastically changed his life. This passenger was a seminarian novice who was returning to the monastery Verkhoture. On the way he introduced Rasputin to the sect of Khlysty. He convinced Rasputin to remain at the monastery and learned the teachings of the sect. Rasputin did so, and saw his mission in life.

After his stay at the monastery of just three months Rasputin felt his mission in life was to teach the Khlysty doctrines to the Russian people. Before leaving the monastery Rasputin visited its holy starets. When arriving at the man’s abode within a distant forest the Orthodox priest Father Makari told Rasputin that he had much yet to learn of the earth. He should leave his family, wife, children and possessions. God had called him.

Rasputin rejoiced at hearing the Elder’s words, this was a dream he had since childhood, to devote his life to God. Although it must be pointed out this dream did not stop him from being a normal boy. He fought with other boys of Pokrovskoe, it is said, he himself admitted playing tricks on others. It is reported he tumbled with girls and drank vodka at the age of fifteen.

But, Rasputin hurried home to bid farewell to his wife and family. His wife and father took it in the spirit that he had been called by God to do this. For years he roamed as a vagabond living among the peasants, some who were «Old Believers» and fought against reforms in the Orthodox Church. During his journey he learned the heart of Russia.Also he took part in their worship services called the Radenyi.

Also during this journey rumors began to spread about this man who seemed to performed miracles of healing the sick and preached strange and new teachings. Other rumors were that he had attracted a group of women disciples around him. Still other rumors had it that he slept with many of his followers. Some of these women would later become his disciples who joined Rasputin within his Holy of Hollies in St. Petersburg.

Upon his return to Pokrovskoe Rasputin completely abandoned his wife, children and father. He lived in a secret cellar for nights and days. When his wife and father descended the steps they found him always praying, asking God’s forgiveness on his knees. His lamentations rose to roars and then sank to cries and he repeated hundreds of times «Lord have mercy on us.» His body shook and trembled and then relaxed. Often his father and wife found themselves compelled to kneel with him and participate in his ritual.

Rasputin became the cellar preacher after first being visited by an old peasant who was on the local church council. He along with the whole village was curious about the returning Rasputin. He descended the cellar steps not knowing what to expect after hearing the lamentations from a distance. The man was determined to discover what was going on, and when he emerged from the cellar he was a changed man. His servant took one look at the man’s serene face and recognized the change in his master.

The servant spread this news throughout the village and on the succeeding days other villagers descended into the cellar chamber. Many were suspicious because he had played pranks on them as a boy, they also knew he has chased the girls and drank. But they all emerged the same way as the church councilman. The meanings of Rasputin’s new doctrines mainly took hold with the women and young girls who quickly spread them not caring about the teachings of the Orthodox Church.

Such were the activities until the village priest Father Petr became so upset that he went to see the cellar preacher himself. Many of his parishioners saw him triumphantly enter the cellar. They heard the terrifying voice of Rasputin and then saw the priest emerge from the cellar again appearing to have been totally shaken out of his wits. Added to this was the humiliation of his parishioners seeing him in such a state.

By the time Father Petr had returned home he had regained his composure and formed an opinion that the thundering voice that had came down upon his so unmercifully had been the voice of the Antichrist. He knew if he had not left when he did, he would have became one of its victims as had so many of his parishioners. It was then he wrote a letter to his bishop describing everything he knew of Rasputin’s past life and finally accusing him of teaching the heresy of Khlysty. The priest asked that legal action be taken against the false prophet.

Soon the Bishop and his commission appeared in Pokrovshoe. They were going to investigate the whole matter. All that were called to testify testified to Rasputin’s holiness, calling him a holy man. Even old peasants’ testimonies were included. The Bishop and other commission members were about to end their interrogation when Father Petr jumped up crying that all the people testified as they did because they were under Rasputin’s influence.

In order to determine whether this was true the commission sent Father Petr and a policeman to the preacher’s cellar. Upon entering it and finding Rasputin devotedly praying on the ground, the policeman, being also of peasant descent, was so moved that he fell to his knees saying, «Father Grigori, forgive me my sins.»

When the story of the policeman’s miraculous conversion spread through the village Father Petr had to admit defeat and the commission went home. But, Rasputin’s fame quickly spread through the neighboring land. He quckly became known as Father and a starets.

Rasputin’s first recognized appearance among Orthodox Churchmen was at a Siberian Academy of Theology. He was in a discussion with a group of seminarians when their teacher and the academy’s rector Father Feofan entered the room unnoticed. The seminarians had already recognized how easily Rasputin grasped the Holy Scriptures while they toiled over their books studying their meanings.

Soon, with all the students eagerly listening, Father Feofan and Rasputin were discussing sin. Father Feofan mentioned that Rasputin had said that «sin is indispensable before God.» Then the priest inquired how could that be when the Savior and the saints of the Orthodox Church had denounced sin as the Devil’s work.

Rasputin replied, addressing the priest as «little father,» our Savior and the church fathers did denounce sin as being the work of the Evil One, but, Rasputin went on to ask, how can sin be erased without sincere repentance? And, sincere repentance only comes after one has sinned.

Rasputin paused a minute and then continued in a thundering voice of an angered peasant to say: Take away your Scriptures and your useless pondering over them. Accept life as it is, as God gave it to us. Stop worrying about where sin comes from, and how many prayers a man must say to escape it, or how long he must fast. Sin, and then you can truly repent. But, if after doing all these things sin still lurks in your heart, prayers do no good. You still remain a hypocrite. The filth must be gotten rid of. «…do you hear, little father? Only then will your savour be well pleasing to the Lord.»

Father Feofan did not reply immediately, he seemed to be gathering strength to make a reply. His seminarians silently watched him. His reply did not come though. He tried making one, but when seeing Rasputin he stumbled, he seemed only to repeat himself, his sentences were disconnected. He became dizzy, Rasputin’s eyes seemed the only fixed points around him. The other man’s words seemed to thunder down on him, making his body tremble.

When the priest regained his composure Rasputin did not appear to be the horrible monster that he just had seemed to be. The priest was hearing him say, «Yes, little father, that is correct, you speak the truth.»

Following this meeting both Father Feofan and his students shared doubts. The doubts of the students centered around their studies. They questioned, was all their studying worth the effort. This peasant who had spoken to them came closer to the living word than they had, and maybe ever would come.

Father Feofan’s doubts were of a more serious nature, they concerned Rasputin himself. If he was a holy man how could he speak so blasphemously about sin? Was his words part of the divine truth, or was the man the Devil emissary? Father Feofan hoped this matter would be settled at the next morning’s meeting between Rasputin and the bishop.

Bishop Hermogen was not take in by Rasputin’s saintliness but liked his peasant attitude. He immediately saw this man could help the Orthodox Church which was fighting the tendency toward westernization. He visualized Rasputin as being able to influence his fellow peasants as well as serving political purposes.

Hermogen’s first step was to introduce Rasputin to the monk- priest of Tsarytsin, Iliodor. He was the church orator of Russia. The meeting occurred in the monk’s cell. He had been praying, intending to see how long his visitors would patiently wait. Although he finished praying he felt he had been intruded upon, for this he forever held Rasputin in both admiration and distrust. All three men eventually went to the Central Committee to get Rasputin seated. Late in the session when a member spoke against Rasputin’s admission Iliodor felt himself wanting to side with the member, but at the same instance he experienced similar sensations of dizziness as Father Feofan had and against his will voted with the Committee to seat Rasputin.

Rasputin and Alexandra

Current as well as historical Russian events soon placed Rasputin in the limelight of politics. The marriage of Nicholas II and Princess Alexandra of Hesse occurred shortly before the death of his father Alexander III.

Many considered Nicholas II, or Nikolai as he was called, a weak tsar. Whether this was true or not is still debatable. The political climate in Russia was unstable, to say the least, at the time of his succession at the age of twenty-three. For decades Russia had been riding the roller-coaster of more freedom toward democracy for the peasants and away from totalitarianism. Nicholas II’s grandfather, Alexander II, pretty much started the political climate of unrest by starting referendums for more peasants’ rights. After seeing his father assassinated Alexander III reversed the political policies and established more totalitarian policies. Hating all ideas of reforms he established «land captains» in every rural areas who acted as sinister police agents dealing ruthlessly with any type of revolutionary action. Many attempts were made on his life. Finally he was injured in a train bombing and died shortly afterwards.

This was the Russia which Nicholas II inherited. Much of the time he and Tsaritsa Alexandra, who had been nicknamed Sunshine as a child and still called her by her husband, resided at their private resident of Tsarskoe Selo. There were several reasons for this. According to one biographer of Rasputin the couple were very much in love, they always considered their marriage an extended honeymoon. This fact itself would influence Russian politics. Also, Tsaritsa Alexandra was from a German, Protestant country which did not set a bit well with her mother-in-law. The Tsaritsa converted to the Russian Orthodox religion upon her marriage, but the result was that there evolved two courts within the palace; her court, and the inner-court of ladies devoted to her mother-in-law. The Tsar and Tsaritsa naturally were more comfortable at Tsarskoe Selo. The Tsar conducted all the possible business that he could from there.

The couple had two daughters but no son, or tsesarevich, who would be the heir to the Empire. Then the Tsesarevich Alexei was born. Soon it was discovered the boy was a hemophiliac and there was no cure. Alexandra knew she had given the disease to her son, one of her uncles had suffered from it. Her daughters were not affected, she was told, the mother could only give the disease to a male child. This fact weighed heavily upon her.

Alexei childhood was miserable. He was unable to run and play like other children, especially his older sisters. He was always cautioned against doing things because the slightest bump or bruise would start him bleeding internally which might last for days, or might not stop at all. This annoyed him. He was always asking why he could not play like others. His parents gave him every safe thing they thought of that he might play with, but he still was unhappy sitting among the toys but not being able to play like a normal child.

A special attendant was assigned to guard the boy, a faithful sailor named Derevenko. But even Derevenko’s alert attention was not always enough to guard against the boy’s natural tendencies. According to one story, Derevenko and the child’s nurse had taken Alexie to the park and the boy suddenly jumped up, making a careless movement and fell backwards. The sailor was instantly there to catch the boy in his arms, but the damage had been done.

When undressed in bed his little body showed blue swellings, indicating internal hemorrhaging which was so dangerous to his life. The bleeding continued for three days with the Tsaritsa at his bedside seeing him in agony. The doctors were called but they could not help the sick child.

Then late one night when the Tsaritsa, in night clothes, was sleeping close to her son there was an unnoticed knock on the door of the room. It was the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, affectionately called Stana, entered. She comforted the Tsaritsa and then quickly told her that Alexei would soon be healed and the Tsaritsa would even win the love of the court ladies.

The Tsaritsa anxiously desired to know how this would happen. The Duchess explained to her a holy man had arrived in the capitol. She explained he had attended mass in the church of John of Cronstadt. The Duchess assured her he was a holy man, because at the beginning of the communion service Father John had stopped and said to the mostly women communicants, «Stop! to-day we have a worthier among us who must first partake of Holy Communion–the simple pilgrim who stands there in your midst.»

The Duchess explained she herself had intended to go to that mass but had not because of an unexpected visitor, but other ladies told her of the incident. They described Rasputin and said he seemed more holier than Father John and possessed more divine power than the doctors attending the Tsesarevich.

The Tsaritsa was not convinced immediately. There had been others who tried to cure the Tsesarevich and failed. Some had been physicians whom the Tsaritsa and Tsar knew had tried helping the boy not only for the sake of Russia but for their own ambitions. So there was cause for skepticism. But later, the Grand Duchess told of the God-fearing, middle-classed widow Bashmakova came ahead of Father Grigori telling of the sick he had healed within his own village and other miracles he had performed. She assured the Empress the this holy man was a true Russian. Father Feofan had brought Rasputin to the palace to meet her and her husband, he had also met the Tsar who liked him.

The Tsaritsa knew this for the Tsar had previously informed her. He was also glad that Stana had comforted the Empress as she and her sister Militsa only could. Knowing the Tsaritsa understood this the Grand Duchess continued by saying she had told Rasputin of the sick Alexei and he said, «Just tell the Empress not to weep any more. I will make her youngster well again! Once he is a soldier, he will have red cheeks again.»

The Grand Duchess also reminded the Empress of what one of her son’s physicians, M. Philippe, had told her as he left when unable to help the child anymore: «He prophesied that God would send you a new friend to help and protect you.» She assured the Empress that Rasputin was the promised friend.

Two nights later the friend came. Secretly he enter through a rear entrance of the palace to avoid notice of all the guards. He was brought by the Grand Duchess who was a frequent visitor at Tsarskoe Selo. They went to the nursery quarters where the Tsar and Tsaritsa were waiting. As was his peasant custom Rasputin vigorously embraced and kissed them both.

He then knelt and prayed at the sacred icons in the corner of the room. Then he went to the child’s bed and made the sign of the cross over him. The feverish child wh