RASPUTIN

Written by Vladimir Moss

RASPUTIN

 

     Kerensky said that “without Rasputin, there could have been no Lenin”… This was, of course, an exaggeration: Rasputin was not the cause of the Russian revolution: God would not have allowed the greatest Christian empire in history to fall because of the sinfulness of one man! Nevertheless, slanderous stories about the “elder’s” alleged sexual relationship with the Empress, and of his control of the Russian government through her, undoubtedly had a particularly corrosive influence on the reputation of the monarchy before and during the war, hastening its demise.

     Since the early 1990s there have been attempts to rehabilitate the reputation of Rasputin, notably by the historians Oleg Platonov and Alexander Bakhanov.[1] We can sympathize with these attempts insofar as they are motivated by a desire to protect the reputation of the Tsar and Tsarina, which suffered so much because of their (especially her) friendship with Rasputin. Moreover, it is right to point out that many of those who attacked Rasputin in the dying days of the empire were motivated not so much by a desire to “save” the empire as by mercenary, egoistic and unpatriotic considerations that make their testimony highly dubious.

     However, even after discounting these evilly-motivated testimonies, and taking into account the anti-monarchical bias of such “champions of the truth” about Rasputin as Guchkov and Rodzyanko, the evidence against Rasputin is too great and too varied to dismiss wholesale. In 1995 the historian and dramatist Edvard Radzinsky came into possession of the long-lost file of testimonies to the Extraordinary Commission set up by the Provisional Government in March, 1917 to investigate the truth or otherwise of accusations against the Royal Couple and those close to them.[2] These testimonies, which include some by close friends of Rasputin, such as his publisher Filippov, as well as by others whose integrity and devotion to the Royal Couple cannot be doubted, and by several of his female victims, force us to the conclusion that, barring some of the wildest accusations, Rasputin was “guilty as charged”. Also impossible to reject wholesale are the very extensive police reports on Rasputin’s immoral behaviour. While Bakhanov among others has tried to dismiss even this evidence, Alexander Khitrov is right in pointing out that the police were, after the Tsar himself, the very first victims of the February revolution, and so cannot be accused of simply making up the whole story.[3]

     The Siberian peasant Gregory Rasputin emerged on the scene at the same time as a new, more subtle and sinister threat replaced the revolutionary threat in 1906; theosophy, occultism, spiritism and pornography flooded into Russia.[4] Also sharply on the rise, especially among the peasantry, were Protestant sects, as well as sectarian movements that hid among the Orthodox peasantry like the khlysty. Rasputin was symbolic of this trend, which undermined the foundations of Holy Rus’ just as surely as the anti-monarchism of the revolutionaries 

     After a debauched youth, Rasputin repented and spent some years on pilgrimage, going from monastery to monastery, and also to Athos and Jerusalem, becoming highly religious in a rather supercharged way. In 1899 he married and had children, but in 1902 was recommended by Bishop Chrysanthus of Kazan to the rector of the St. Petersburg Theological Academy, Bishop Sergius (Stragorodsky, the future patriarch). “The latter, in his turn, presented Rasputin to the professor, celibate priest Veniamin, and to the inspector of the Academy, Archimandrite Theophan.” [5]

     In November, 1905, Rasputin met the Tsar for the first time (probably through the mediation of the Montenegrin Grand Duchesses Militsa and Anastasia). The Royal Couple, and especially the Tsarina, had already shown their vulnerability to religious quacks in the affair of the French charlatan, “Monsieur Philippe” of Lyons. At that time Grand Duchess Elizabeth, the Tsarina’s sister had tried to open her eyes to the deception, but without success – she attributed her failure to her sister’s inability to distinguish between the true faith and the condition of religious exaltation.[6]

     St. Elizabeth would also become a strong opponent of her sister’s “second Friend”, Rasputin. But the second Friend had a powerful weapon that the first Friend did not have – his extraordinary apparent ability to heal the symptoms of the Tsarevich Alexei’s haemophilia, a closely guarded secret in the Royal Family and a cause of great anguish to his parents. As Pierre Gilliard, the Tsarevich’s tutor, said: “The illness of the Tsarevich cast a shadow over the whole of the concluding period of Tsar Nicholas II’s reign, and… was one of the main causes of his fall, for it made possible the phenomenon of Rasputin and resulted in the fatal seduction of the sovereigns who lived in a world apart, wholly absorbed in a tragic anxiety which had to be concealed from the eyes of all.”

     General V.N. Voeikov, commendant of the palace at Tsarskoye Selo and a close friend of the Royal Couple until the end, was sceptical about Rasputin from the beginning. But he witnessed to his healing power: “From the first time Rasputin appeared at the bed of the sick heir, alleviation followed immediately. All those close to the Royal Family were well acquainted with the case in Spala, when the doctors found no means of helping Alexis Nikolayevich, who was suffering terribly and groaning from pain. As soon as a telegram was sent to Rasputin on the advice of Vyrubova, and the reply was received, the pains began to decrease, his temperature began to fall, and soon the heir got better.

     “If we take the point of view of the Empress-mother, who saw in Rasputin a God-fearing elder who had helped her sick son by his prayers – much should be understood and forgiven by every Russian devoted to the throne and the Homeland.

     “The help he gave to the heir strengthened the position of Rasputin to such a degree at court that he no longer had need of the support of the [Montenegrin] Great Princesses and clergy. As a completely uneducated man, he was not able or did not want to hide this, and simply turned his back on his benefactors. Then there began denunciations against him; in the Synod they began a case to investigate the life and activity of Rasputin with the aim of demonstrating that he was a sectarian preaching principles harmful to Orthodoxy; while in society they began to speak about him as about a debauchee who cast a shadow on the empress by his appearances at court. The excuse for these conversations was disillusionment in Rasputin, who did not justify the hopes laid upon him.

     “The stronger the campaign of denunciation against the Rasputin coming from the Duma, the more there developed in her Majesty the feeling that it was necessary to protect the man who was irreplaceable for the health of the heir: the influence of the empress on certain appointments can be explained by her desire to distance people who were dangerous to Rasputin from power.

     “Taking full account of all this, Rasputin put on the mask of a righteous man at court, but outside it did not disdain to use the privileges of his position and to satisfy his sometimes wild instincts...”[7]

     D.P. Anashkin writes: “One of the main causes of the Empress’s love toward Rasputin was his ability to ease the heir’s suffering during more than one attack of hemophilia. Let us not judge the doting parents for grasping at any opportunity to aid their son, who himself loved Grigory Efimovich. But again arises the question of this character’s two-faced nature. Did he truly love the Royal Family? If it were so, he would not have discredited them in the eyes of the public by his behavior. Or, if he saw that the situation had gotten out of hand, then he would have quietly withdrawn. Instead, he placed self-assuredness before this. Besides which, sanctity does not signify omniscience. Though sincere [in their affection], the Royal Family misjudged their ‘friend.’

     “It must be noted that the ‘special intimacy of the elder’ with the Royal Family advertised by Rasputin’s admirers is greatly exaggerated. To be exact, there was no ‘special bond’ at all. The Tsar, contrary to commentary of both the pro-Rasputin and the Soviet press, did not place blind trust in Rasputin. In a letter to the Empress, he writes, ‘As far as Rasputin’s counsels, you know how carefully one must regard his counsels.’ As evidence, S. Oldenburg shows in his book, The Life and Rule of Emperor Nicholas II, that in 1915–16 the Sovereign heeded not one of Rasputin’s seventeen recommendations.”[8]

     This judgement is confirmed by the Tsar’s sister Grand Duchess Olga, who witnesses that the real influence of Rasputin on the Tsar was negligible: "Knowing Nicky as I did, I must insist that Rasputin had not a particle of influence over him. It was Nicky who eventually put a stop to Rasputin's visits to the palace. It was again Nicky who sent the man back to Siberia and that more than once. And some of Nicky's letters to Alicky are proof enough of what he really thought of Rasputin's advice..."

 

*

     Of particular significance was the relationship between Rasputin and Archimandrite, later Bishop Theophan (Bystrov).[9]

     Theophan was at first impressed by the peasant, but became disillusioned with him after becoming convinced, from his own observations and from the confessions of his spiritual daughters, that the man was untrustworthy and sexually rapacious. However, the Tsaritsa’s (if not the Tsar’s) faith in the “elder” was unshakeable. She felt in her heart – “which has never deceived me” – that Rasputin was a man of God and that her family and Russia lived through his prayers.

     “After a while,” Theophan testified to the Extraordinary Commission, “rumours reached me that Rasputin had resumed his former way of life and was undertaking something against us… I decided to resort to a final measure – to denounce him openly and to communicate everything to the former emperor. It was not, however, the emperor who received me but his wife in the presence of the maid of honour Vyrubova.

     “I spoke for about an hour and demonstrated that Rasputin was in a state of spiritual deception… The former empress grew agitated and objected, citing theological works… I destroyed all her arguments, but she… reiterated them: ‘It is all falsehood and slander’… I concluded the conversation by saying that I could no longer have anything to do with Rasputin… I think Rasputin, as a cunning person, explained to the royal family that my speaking against him was because I envied his closeness to the Family… that I wanted to push him out of the way.

     “After my conversation with the empress, Rasputin came to see me as if nothing had happened, having apparently decided that the empress’s displeasure had intimidated me… However, I told him in no uncertain terms, ‘Go away, you are a fraud.’ Rasputin fell on his knees before me and asked my forgiveness… But again I told him, ‘Go away, you have violated a promise given before God.’ Rasputin left, and I did not see him again.”

     At this point Theophan received a confession from a former devotee of Rasputin’s. On reading this, he understood that Rasputin was “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” and “a sectarian of the khlyst type” who “taught his followers not to reveal his secrets even to their confessors. For if there is allegedly no sin in what these sectarians do, then their confessors need not be made aware of it.”

     “Availing myself of that written confession, I wrote the former emperor a second letter… in which I declared that Rasputin was not only in a state of spiritual deception but was also a criminal in the religious and moral sense… In the moral sense because, as it followed from the ‘confession’, Father Gregory had seduced his victims.”

     There was no reply to this letter. “I sensed that they did not want to hear me out and understand… It all depressed me so much that I became quite ill. 

     But in fact Theophan’s letter had reached the Tsar, and the scandal surrounding the rape of the children’s nurse, Vishnyakova, whose confessor was Theophan, could no longer be concealed. Vishnyakova herself testified to the Extraordinary Commission that she had been raped by Rasputin during a visit to Verkhoturye Monastery in Tobolsk province, a journey undertaken at the empress’s suggestion. “Upon our return to Petrograd, I reported everything to the empress, and I also told Bishop Theophan in a private meeting with him. The empress did not give any heed to my words and said that everything Rasputin does is holy. From that time forth I did not see Rasputin, and in 1913 I was dismissed from my duties as nurse. I was also reprimanded for frequenting the Right Reverend Theophan.”

     Another person in on the secret was the maid of honour Sophia Tyutcheva, grand-daughter of the famous poet. As she witnessed to the Commission, she was summoned to the Tsar.

     “You have guessed why I summoned you. What is going on in the nursery?”

     She told him.

     “So you too do not believe in Rasputin’s holiness?”

     She replied that she did not.

     “But what will you say if I tell you that I have lived all these years only thanks to his prayers?”

     Then he “began saying that he did not believe any of the stories, that the impure always sticks to the pure, and that he did not understand what had suddenly happened to Theophan, who had always been so fond of Rasputin. During this time he pointed to a letter from Theophan on his desk.”

     “’You, your majesty, are too pure of heart and do not see what filth surrounds you.’ I said that it filled me with fear that such a person could be near the grand duchesses.

     “’Am I then the enemy of my own children?’ the sovereign objected.

     “He asked me never to mention Rasputin’s name in conversation. In order for that to take place, I asked the sovereign to arrange things so that Rasputin would never appear in the children’s wing.”

     But her wish was not granted, and both Vishnyakova and Tyutcheva would not long remain in the tsar’s service…

     It was at about this time that the newspapers began to write against Rasputin. And a member of the circle of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna, Michael Alexandrovich Novoselov, the future bishop-martyr Mark of the Catacomb Church, published a series of articles condemning Rasputin. "Why do the bishops,” he wrote, “who are well acquainted with the activities of this blatant deceiver and corrupter, keep silent?… Where is their grace, if through laziness or lack of courage they do not keep watch over the purity of the faith of the Church of God and allow the lascivious khlyst to do the works of darkness under the mask of light? 

     The brochure was forbidden and confiscated while it was still at the printer's, and the newspaper The Voice of Moscow was heavily fined for publishing excerpts from it. 

     Also disturbed by the rumours about Rasputin was the Prime Minister, Peter Arkadievich Stolypin. But he had to confess, as his daughter Maria relates: “Nothing can be done. Every time the opportunity presents itself I warn his Majesty. But this is what he replied to me recently: ‘I agree with you, Peter Arkadievich, but better ten Rasputins than one hysterical empress.’ Of course, the whole matter is in that. The empress is ill, seriously ill; she believes that Rasputin is the only person in the whole world who can help the heir, and it is beyond human strength to persuade her otherwise. You know how difficult in general it is to talk to her. If she is taken with some idea, then she no longer takes account of whether it is realizable or not… Her intentions are the very best, but she is really ill…” In the spring of 1911, after listening to a report on Rasputin by Stolypin, the tsar thanked him and said: “I know and believe, Peter Arkadyevich, that you are sincerely devoted to me. Perhaps all that you say is true. But I beseech you never again to talk to me about Rasputin. In any case I can do nothing…” [10]

     In November, 1910, Bishop Theophan went to the Crimea to recover from his illness. But he did not give up, and inundated his friend Bishop Hermogen of Saratov, the future hieromartyr, with letters. It was his aim to enlist this courageous fighter against freethinking in his fight against Rasputin. But this was difficult because for a time Bishop Hermogen and Rasputin had been allies in the struggle against freethinking and modernism, and it had been none other than Vladyka Theophan who had introduced Rasputin to Bishop Hermogen, speaking of him, as Bishop Hermogen himself said, “in the most laudatory terms.”

     Unfortunately, a far less reliable person then joined himself to Rasputin’s circle – Sergius Trophanov, in monasticism Iliodor, one of Bishop Theophan’s students at the academy. He later became a Baptist, married and had seven children. In an interview with the newspaper Rech’ (January 9, 1913) Fr. Iliodor said: “I used to be a magician and fooled the people. I was a Deist.” He built a large church in Tsaritsyn on the Volga, and began to draw thousands to it with his fiery sermons against the Jews and the intellectuals and the capitalists. He invited Rasputin to join him in Tsaritsyn and become the elder of a convent there. Rasputin agreed.

     However, Iliodor’s inflammatory sermons were not pleasing to the authorities, and in January, 1911 he was transferred to a monastery in Tula diocese. But he refused to go, locked himself in his church in Tsaritsyn and declared a hunger-strike. Bishop Hermogen supported him, but the tsar did not, and ordered him to be removed from Tsaritsyn.

     When Rasputin’s bad actions began to come to light, Hermogen vacillated for a long time. However, having made up his mind that Vladyka Theophan was right, and having Iliodor on his side now too, he decided to bring the matter up before the Holy Synod, of which he was a member, at its next session. Before that, however, he determined to denounce Rasputin to his face.

     This took place on December 16, 1911. According to Iliodor’s account, Hermogen, clothed in hierarchical vestments and holding a cross in his hand, “took hold of the head of the ‘elder’ with his left hand, and with his right started beating him on the head with the cross and shouting in a terrifying voice, ‘Devil! I forbid you in God’s name to touch the female sex. Brigand! I forbid you to enter the royal household and to have anything to do with the tsarina! As a mother brings forth the child in the cradle, so the holy Church through its prayers, blessings, and heroic feats has nursed that great and sacred thing of the people, the autocratic rule of the tsars. And now you, scum, are destroying it, you are smashing our holy vessels, the bearers of autocratic power… Fear God, fear His life-giving cross!”

     Then they forced Rasputin to swear that he would leave the palace. According to one version of events, Rasputin swore, but immediately told the empress what had happened. According to another, he refused, after which Vladyka Hermogen cursed him. In any case, on the same day, December 16, five years later, he was killed…

     Then Bishop Hermogen went to the Holy Synod. First he gave a speech against the khlysty. Then he charged Rasputin with khlyst tendencies. Unfortunately, only a minority of the bishops supported the courageous bishop. The majority followed the over-procurator in expressing dissatisfaction with his interference “in things that were not of his concern”.

     Vladyka Hermogen was then ordered to return to his diocese. As the director of the chancery of the over-procurator witnessed, “he did not obey the order and, as I heard, asked by telegram for an audience with the tsar, indicating that he had an important matter to discuss, but was turned down.” On receiving this rejection, Bishop Hermogen began to weep. Then he said: “They will kill the tsar, they will kill the tsar, they will surely kill him.”

     The opponents of Rasputin now felt the fury of the Tsar. Bishop Hermogen and Iliodor were exiled to remote monasteries. (Iliodor took his revenge by leaking forged letters of the Empress to Rasputin.) And Vladyka Theophan was transferred to the see of Astrakhan. The Tsar ordered the secular press to stop printing stories about Rasputin. Before leaving the Crimea for Astrakhan, Vladyka called on Rasputin’s friend, the deputy over-procurator Damansky. He told him: “Rasputin is a vessel of the devil, and the time will come when the Lord will chastise him and those who protect him. 

     Later, in October, 1913, Rasputin tried to take his revenge on his main accuser, Bishop Theophan (although by now he had very many accusers). He tried to bribe the widow of a Yalta priest who knew him to say that Vladyka had said that he had had relations with the empress. The righteous widow rejected his money and even spat in his face... 

* 

     Who, in the end, was Rasputin? Bishop Theophan’s opinion was that Rasputin had originally been a sincerely religious man with real gifts, but that he had been corrupted by his contacts with aristocratic society. 

     Archbishop Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Voronezh had a similar opinion. After having tea with him twice, Rasputin “revealed himself as a deceiver and intriguer”.

     But the Royal Couple, “surrounded as they were from all sides by flattery and slanders, decided that love for truth and honourableness remained only in the simple people, and therefore turned to ‘the people’s reason’…   

     “However, they forgot about the most important point in such a choice.

     “I myself was raised in the countryside amidst middle-ranking landowners and close to the people, and I share all the positive declarations about the people’s reason and honourableness. But I insist on my conviction that a peasant is worthy of every respect only as long as he remains a peasant. But if he enters the milieu of the masters, he will unfailingly be corrupted...”[11]      

     It could be argued that Orthodox Russia was destroyed, not only by the overt revolutionaries, but especially by two lay Christians who did not keep their station in life: the peasant Rasputin who did not remain a peasant, and the nobleman Tolstoy who did not remain a nobleman…

 

April 23 / May 6, 2017.

St. George the Great Martyr and Victory-Bearer.



[1] Bakhmatov, Pravda o Grigorii Rasputine (The Truth about Gregory Rasputin), Moscow, 2010.

[2] Radzinsky, Rasputin: The Last Word, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2000.

[3] Khitrov, “Rasputin-Novykh Grigory Efimovich i kratkaia istoria spornogo voprosa o priznanii v RPTsZ ego obschetserkovnogo pochitania, kak pravoslavnogo startsa” (Gregory Efimovich Rasputin-Novykh and a short history of the controversial question of his recognition in ROCOR of his veneration throughout the Church as an Orthodox elder).

[4] Maria Carlson, “No Religion Higher than Truth”: A History of the Theosophical Movement in Russia, 1875-1922, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993.

[5] Alexander Bokhanov, Manfred Knodt, Vladimir Oustimenko, Zinaida Peregudova, Lyubov Tyutyunnik, The Romanovs, London: Leppi, 1993, p. 233. Vasily Marchenko and Richard Betts write: “In 1900 Gregory set off on a pilgrimage that lasted three years. He began his wanderings on the road to Kiev, at whose ancient monasteries and famous caves pilgrims had worshipped for centuries. On the way back he stopped in Kazan. “It was precisely in Kazan that Rasputin’s glory was born,’ witnesses Spiridovich (Rasputin, Paris, 1935, p. 38). Spiritual circles in Kazan saw in him a pious person who had a great spiritual gift. Later they presented him to hierarchs in St. Petersburg. While still in Kiev Gregory Rasputin had got to know the Great Princesses Militsa Nikolaievna and Anastasia Nikolaievna at the podvorye of the Mikhailovsky monastery. They liked Gregory very much, and invited him to Petersburg” (“Bozhij chelovek, starets Grigorij” (The man of God, Elder Gregory), Russkaia Narodnaia Linia, January 3, 2017)

[6] Velikaia Kniaginia Elizaveta Fyodorovna i Imperator Nikolai II (Great Princess Elizabeth Fyodorovna and Emperor Nicholas II), St. Petersburg: Aleteia, 2009, p. 34.

[7] Voeikov, So Tsarem i Bez Tsaria (With and Without the Tsar), Moscow, 1995, pp. 58-59.

[8] Anashkin, “The Real Rasputin?: A Look at His Admirers’ Revisionist History”, Orthodox Life, May 4, 2017.

[9] On this important, but unsung hero of the faith, see Monk Anthony (Chernov), Vie de Monseigneur Théophane, Archevêque de Poltava et de Pereiaslavl (The Life of his Eminence Theophan, Archbishop of Poltava and Pereyaslavl), Lavardac: Monastère Orthodoxe St. Michel, 1988; Richard Bettes, Vyacheslav Marchenko, Dukhovnik Tsarskoj Sem’i (Spiritual Father of the Royal Family), Moscow: Valaam Society of America, 1994, pp. 60-61; Archbishop Averky (Taushev), Vysokopreosviaschennij Feofan, Arkhiepiskop Poltavskij i Pereiaslavskij (His Eminence Theophan, Archbishop of Poltava and Pereyaslavl), Jordanville: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1974 ; Radzinsky, Rasputin, op. cit.

[10] Bakhanov, Imperator Nikolaj II, p. 294.

[11] Khrapovitsky, “Moi Vospominania” (My Reminiscences), Tserkovnie Vedomosti, N 450, in Archbishop Nikon (Rklitsky), Zhizneopisanie Blazhennejshago Antonia (Biography of his Beatitude Anthony), vol. 3, New York, 1957, pp. 8-11.

‹‹ Back to All Articles
Site Created by The Marvellous Media Company