Mystic Peasant Who Ruled Czar

Herman Bernstein

New York Sun/January 7, 1917

Gregory Rasputin, the Latest and Strangest of the Fortune Tellers, Fanatics and Charlatans Who Have Swayed the Destinies of the Russian Empire at Home and Abroad During the Reign of Nicholas II.

A NEW sensation has come from Russia.

Russia has long been furnishing new sensations to the world, weird happenings in medieval settings, grotesque and grim tragedies.

While the rest of the world kept advancing Russia stood still. While the Russian people, yearning for light and liberty, have produced works which constitute the pride of Russia, the Russian autocracy, even though it had a constitution and parliament forced upon it, has clung to medievalism with all its picturesqueness, its quaintness, its cruelties and its horrors.

For the third time in the last few years the story of the death of Rasputin has reached America. This time it is apparently true.

The story of Gregory Rasputin is unique even among the strange stories of the monks, mystics and fortune tellers who surrounded the Czars of Russia and influenced their decisions in matters of vital importance to the Russian people.

To the average intelligent American reader it may be inconceivable that a great empire like Russia, a people that has given to the world great men and women in literature, in art, in science and in music, that has brought forth some of the noblest and bravest martyrs for freedom, should be ruled in this age through the influence of charlatans, fortune tellers, weather prophets, mad monks and illiterate peasants. But when it is recalled that only a few years ago the medieval ritual murder myth was staged in the ancient city of Kiev in the form of the Beilis affair, when it is recalled that only a few years ago pogroms wore organized in many cities and towns, it ceases to be surprising that the ruler of the Russian Empire should be influenced and guided by all sorts of “saints” and prophets, charlatans and madmen, healers and soothsayers, who appeal to him upon religious grounds.

Those who know anything at all about Russia today are aware of the fact that some of these powers behind the throne have made and unmade members of the Russian cabinet and heads of the Holy Synod, and have caused the downfall of premiers.

The list of soothsayers und fortune tellers and healers who have directed to a great extent the home policies of the Russian Empire and even influenced the course of Russia’s attitude toward foreign affairs during the reign of Nicholas II is long Indeed.

The most conspicuous among these ere Klopov, an insignificant functionary whom the Czar entrusted with special investigations; Demchinsky, the father prophet, who was discredited by scientists and branded as a charlatan; Ukhtomsky-Aslatsky, who fired the Czar’s imagination with ideas of his great historical mission; Pere Philippe, the hairdresser of Marseilles, spiritualist and healer; a girl named Gulatzky, who was the Czar’s favorite adviser for a time; Bezobrazov, who was raised from titter obscurity and made secretary of state; Father John of Cronstadt, the mad monk Iliodor and Gregory Rasputin.

The strangest of them all was undoubtedly Philippe, the barber of Marseilles, who used to call for the Czar the spirits of his ancestors and ask their advice concerning family matters and affairs of state. As long as he remained in the palace of the Czar Philippe was the most powerful man in Russia, and his influence in affairs of the gravest importance was greater than that of the premier or other members of the cabinet. Without his approval nothing was done by the Czar.

But Philippe grew too bold in his deceptions one day and he was replaced by the Gulatzky girl. During the Russo-Japanese war she predicted that Russia would meet with defeat unless the Czar himself went to the front. The Czar was on the point of taking the girl’s advice, but Count Witte, Kuropatkin nnd Pobyedonostseff dissuaded him with great difficulty and he remained at home.

Bezobrazov and Alexeyev, the latter appointed viceroy at Bezobrazov’s suggestion, were practically responsible for the outbreak of the war between Russia and Japan

Father John of Cronstadt appeared upon the scene at a time when intrigues were being engineered for the purpose of causing the Czar to divorce Alexandra Feodorovna because she had brought him no male heir to the Russian throne. Father John told the Czar of a newly discovered saint in the desert of Sarov and suggested a royal procession to the desert. The head of the Synod approved the suggestion and a royal procession was organized to visit the resting place of St. Seraphim.

Suddenly, after a few years of secrecy as to the real influences controlling the Czar, the name of Iliodor, the “Mad Monk,” was mentioned. This young monk became notorious for his daring harangues against the progressive elements in Russia, against the revolutionists and the Jews, whom he denounced with vitriolic venom, calling upon the populace to start massacres. Stories of his attacks upon high dignitaries of the State and the Church reached this country at the time.

He defied the Holy Synod and ignored the commands of the Procurator; he travelled about Russia preaching arrogantly against the Church, and at the same time incited the mob to riots and to massacres. Liberal Russia was puzzled. No one could understand why this firebrand was permitted to carry on his propaganda of anarchy.

Victor Obninsky, a prominent member of the first Duma, one of the ablest men in the Constitutional Democratic party, in his important book, entitled “The New Order In Russia,” published in Moscow in 1909, said this of Iliodor:

“The events of 1905 did not separate the State from the Church. In the practical twentieth century life did not bring forth in Russia any clergy who were not afraid of independent views, and the types of Nikon and Philippe have degenerated into the Iliodors and the Vostorgovs.

“After the dispersion of the first Duma the Synod prohibited the clergy from touching in their sermons upon any question relating to the political condition of the country. The circular of the Synod on this subject stated that in case the people desired to hear from their priest as to whether the conditions of the peasants would be ameliorated, the priests should arrange private discussions, pacifying the population, telling the peasants that the Czar understood the needs of the peasantry and would improve their condition before long. The manifesto announcing the dispersion of the Duma was to be read with an appropriate explanation.

“Nevertheless, the churches were turned into political arenas. Bishop Nazary of Nizhni Novgorod ordered the tolling of the bells in all the churches of that city on the day the Duma was closed, and sermons were delivered in which the Jews were attacked. In the town of Kilya, government of Bessarabia, the priest Gerashenko in his sermon declared that the Jews organized the revolution, are organizing the assassinations and are planning to murder the real Russian deputies. The Union of the Real Russians will adopt harsh measures and will destroy the Jewish Government.

“Another notorious priest, the founder of a sect, lectured in St. Petersburg on ‘The Jews in general and pogroms in particular.’ In that lecture he made the point that the Jews were making pogroms against themselves and he saw in such pogroms the finger of God, who punished the Jews for their sins against the Government.

“But the record of fanaticism and bigotry was broken by the notorious Iliodor, the idol of the sanctimonious salons of St. Petersburg, who was feared by the governors and police inspectors of the regions in which this turbulent instigator of massacres appeared. Finally the archbishops themselves began to ask for the removal of the fanatic, but in vain. Instead, Iliodor was placed in the very home of the man who complained against him, Anthony of Volhynia. Then Iliodor went to Rostov on the Don, where a massacre of Jews occurred immediately after his sermon on September 14, 1907.

When Iliodor commenced to attack the dignitaries of the Church who endeavored to interfere with his propaganda the only bishop who upheld him was Germogen, another reactionary who also became notorious in connection with pogrom propaganda. No one understood how the young monk in the face of such powerful opposition was received by the Czar. The press of Russia devoted much space to Iliodor’s weird, eccentric talk, but no one knew at that time that Gregory Rasputin, the illiterate Siberian peasant, the new favorite of the Czar, was behind Iliodor.

Rasputin und Iliodor became intimate friends. Rasputin had hoped to make his influence over the Czar permanent through his relations with the “Mad Monk.” He was illiterate and he wanted someone who could write out what he regarded as his religious philosophy of life. He also wanted Iliodor’s assistance in his plans to become the official father confessor to the Czar.

For some time Rasputin and Iliodor were close friends. Through Rasputin’s efforts the “Mad Monk” was received in audience by the Czar and by the Empress. Ho met them only once, for a brief time, and they spoke to him mainly about Rasputin.

The struggle for power and the desire to replace Rasputin in the favor of the Czar turned Iliodor into Rasputin’s arch enemy. Knowing of a number of Rasputin’s escapades, Iliodor resolved to expose the “saint” Rasputin in the hope that he would be called to take his place as spiritual adviser to the Czar. But Rasputin was the abler and the cleverer of the two, and notwithstanding the assistance of Bishop Germogen Iliodor failed in his efforts to shake the confidence of the Czar and the Czarina in Rasputin. Iliodor was thrown into prison. He escaped from Russia on the day of the outbreak of the war, clad as a woman, and thus saved himself from the hand of Rasputin, which was ‘stretching’ out to crush him completely.

Gregory Rasputin, who reigned in the palace of the Czar about thirteen years, was a man of powerful physique, of extraordinary willpower, cunning and daring. All his acts, however immoral, he defended from a religious point of view.

In his youth he was known as a drunkard. He had a criminal record and served n term in jail many years ago. After that he left his home and disappeared for a long time. He came back “reformed.”

He said that religion had changed his life. He became a pilgrim. He walked through various parts of the Russian empire begging for bread and for shelter.

The story of the reformed Siberian peasant spread through Russia and finally reached the Czar through some of the ladies of the court who had met him. Rasputin was invited to the palace. His quaint religious viewpoints made a profound impression upon the Czar and the Czarina and his influence commenced little by little to dominate the Russian empire.

Paul Milukov, the leader of the Constitutional Democratic party in the Duma, made the following statement several years ago from the tribunal of the Duma:

“Gregory Rasputin, the ‘new one,’ is the same man who recommends Premiers and removes Procurators of the Synod, who helped Iliodor against the Synod ad the Synod against Iliodor, and the man who is helped by Rasputin always wins.”

One of the most characteristic instances showing to what extent the Czar was influenced by this corrupt and illiterate peasant “saint” occurred in connection with the death of Count Leo Tolstoy and the resolution of the church on that occasion. The Czar made public the resolution prepared for him, praying God to be merciful to the Christian just departed. The reactionary press of Russia song the Czar’s praises, but somehow the Czar was not pleased with the order issued by the Holy Synod forbidding the traditional religious service at the Tolstoy funeral.

He was not quite sure that the church had taken the right course in the matter. Instead of consulting the foremost dignitaries of the church or the synod, he sent for his friend Rasputin, who was in Siberia at the time in his home village.

Gregory Rasputin, who not only preached immorality but who was attacked on several occasions by women he had deceived, was summoned to Tsarskoe Selo to advise the Czar with regard to the attitude of the Russian church toward the excommunication of Leo Tolstoy. A fellow passenger of Rasputin’s in the Siberian train relates the following conversation which took place while Rasputin was hastening to the Czar:

“This is not my first visit to Tsarskoe Selo,” said Rasputin. “It is true the members of the court party do not like me. But I pay no attention to them. I am supposed to visit the man nurse or tutor of the Czarevitch, but I am ushered into the Czar’s room.

“I drink tea with the Czar and Czarina, and we always talk a great deal. The Czar has now sent for mo to discuss whether the priests have acted properly in prohibiting a religious ceremony at the Tolstoy funeral. The Czar thinks it was foolish.”

Later, when this passenger became better acquainted with Rasputin, he asked: “Tell me, is it true that you are doing all the nasty things we hear about you and read in the newspapers?” Rasputin smiled and said: “About half of it, of course, is a lie, but then—we are all human.”

And he laughed again.

The ablest and at the same time the most reactionary publicist in Russia, M. Menshikov, characterized Rasputin in the following account of his career, which was suppressed by the Russian Government:

“I know Rasputin, and I can speak about him from my own impressions. Zazonoff, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, brought this ‘saintly old monk’ to me when he was at the height of his glory a few years ago. The ‘old monk’ dined with me, and we had a long discussion about the affairs in Russia in general and about himself in particular.

“At first he appeared to me as a rather youthful peasant of about 40, neatly dressed. His face was that of a drunkard and his restless eyes, his low voice resembled those of a monastery servant or a psalmist. His speech was abrupt and he used at times mysterious expressions.

“At first I was surprised that such a half savage peasant from Siberia could not only find his way to St. Petersburg but that he could find a welcome reception at the homes of the very highest society. After having spoken to Rasputin I convinced myself that he knew how to produce an impression. He is a natural philosopher coming from the depths, almost illiterate, but well learned in Scripture, a man who talks about religion like a gramophone record and endowed with natural enthusiasm.

“Some of his sayings impressed me for their originality and oven for their depth. Thus the oracles of old spoke in a state of delirium—there was something absurdly wise in his enigmatic words. Some of Rasputin’s ideas seemed to me to be near the stoic and ascetic philosophy and his characterizations of some priests and high dignitaries struck me as very keen and correct.

“The first impression made upon me wns a good one. I thought he was a cunning peasant, but naturally religious, capable of making people wake from their lethargic sleep as far as faith was concerned. But I did not like so much his fancy boots and the fact that he was going from my house to call on a certain lady.

“ ‘I should very much like to remain in your house,’ he said to me, ‘but I have been invited to go there and I must go.’

“I was also surprised that Rasputin kissed ladies’ hands on bidding them good-by. A rather strange saint, I thought, one of those that occasionally make their appearance in fashionable drawing rooms. I had heard some of my friends praising Rasputin, but soon various strange stories about Rasputin reached me.

“Then Rasputin lost the confidence of the well known Bishop Teofan, who had first patronized him. A certain prominent lady even went to Siberia for the purpose of investigating the stories about his mode of life, and found evidence to corroborate them. The Left newspapers branded him as a swindler and charlatan such as the world had not seen before, and at one time it seemed as though his influence had waned. Suddenly he came back to me last summer from Jerusalem.

“This time he was no longer dressed quite so neatly as before. He told me about a tree that Lot had planted, and added that the cross upon which Christ was crucified was made of that same tree.

“Gregory needed the legend of the tree of Lot to prove to me that, although Lot was a sinner, his sin was forgiven, as Christ was crucified for us and thus redeemed all the sins of the world. Gregory needed this in order to answer my question:

“ ‘Is it true, Gregory that you do not lead a very pure life?’

“He answered evasively: ‘The people are slandering me. They are telling many falsehoods about me.’

“He added that perhaps he was a sinner, that all people were sinners, but that it was necessary to understand things properly

“One day Bishop Germogen said to Gregory Rasputin: ‘So you know, Gregory, I used to look upon you as upon a holy man; now I regad you as an enticing serpent! I forbid you to enter the home of an orthodox family!’

“Gregory felt offended at this, but paid no heed to the bishop’s words. When the question arose at the Holy Synod as to having Rasputin ordained as a priest Bishop Germogen rose up against him, and it was at this point that the bishop had his downfall.

“The almost illiterate dissolute monk proved to be a great power in these days of the twentieth century, when we are entertaining lords and gentlemen, scientists and authors in St. Petersburg.

“The Svit, a reactionary journal, in commenting upon the Germogen-Rasputin affair, said of the new favorite of the Czar and the widow of Grand Duke Sergius:

“ ‘This Rasputin, or, as he is called today, ‘the New One,’ should be excommunicated by the church. Rasputin introduces new confusion into our church life.’

“The fallen idol of the Czar, Iliodor, came to St. Petersburg to help Bishop Germogen against the Synod. Upon meeting the newspaper men at the station he lifted his cane and said:

“ ‘This is the first time that I have come to St. Petersburg with a stick. One must fight his enemies first with the cross, then with the first and finally with a stick.’

“His stick bore the following inscriptions:

“ ‘The union of the Russian people’ and ‘A safe pillar of law and order.’”

The number of the victims of Rasputin’s debauchery is large, the stories told about him in Russia make the Boccaccio stories pale into insignificance, and his wild orgies in the company of prominent women have been known to many people in Russia, even though the Russian press was not permitted to publish accounts of them.

It is understood that Rasputin was prominently connected with the negotiations for a separate peace between Russia and Germany. The reactionaries and Black Hundreds, whose organ, the Russian Banner, was nicknamed during the war “The Prussian Banner,” have bent every effort to influence the Czar to conclude a separate peace. The Liberals and Progressives resisted this attempt both in the press and in the Duma.

Well informed Russians who have recently come from Petrograd tell the following story about Rasputin, the Grand Duke Nicholas and the Czar.

This happened when the Grand duke Nicholas was in his glory, when the Russian campaign in Galicia was successful.

The Czar was discussing the war with Rasputin. The Siberian “saint” urged a separate peace. Just at that time the Grand Duke entered. The Czar remarked:

“Even Rasputin is in favor of a separate peace with Germany.”

“Is that so?” said Grand Duke Nicholas. “Even Rasputin wants a separate peace with Germany?”

He called Rasputin aside and said to him:

“Is it not enough that you are demoralizing everybody in this court? Do you want also to interfere with the foreign relations of the Russian Empire?” and he struck him a blow on the cheek.

The “saint” mumbled something indistinctly, then said he wanted to come to see him and explain just what he had meant. The Grand Duke replied:

“If you come to see me I’ll have you hanged.”

The details of what followed are not known, but the result was this: Several months afterward the Grand Duke was transferred to the Caucasian Mountains and relieved of his duties as the head of the Russian forces.

The account of the end of Rasputin, as cabled from Petrograd, is as vague and strange as the life of the “saint.”

The Retch of Petrograd, the organ of the Constitutional Democratic party, is enumerating the names of important officials, members of the Cabinet, who owe their appointment to the patronage of the illiterate “saint” Rasputin, said:

“His counsel was asked in every matter and nobody was asamed to receive from his hand what he wanted to get. But the main thing is not Rasputin himself, but the conditions which made his career possible and allowed such a man to play such an exceptional part. His role was such, in short, that it made it necessary for every resolution recently passed in the Duma to contain the phrase ‘dark forces.’”

Perhaps in the adjustment that is to follow the end of this war it will become impossible for a great people and a great empire to be dominated by such medieval forces as were typified y Philippe, the barber of Marseilles, and the “Mad Monk” Iliodor and the illiterate and corrupt “saint” Rasputin. Perhaps the spirit of Tolstoy, Turgenev, Solovyov, the real masterminds of Russia, and the hundreds of thousands of men and women who are sacrificing themselves for a liberated and regenerated Russia will be permitted to assert itself in that great land.

(Source: Library of Congress, Chronicling America, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030431/1917-01-07/ed-1/seq-55/)