1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Rasputin, Gregory Efimovitch

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1922 Encyclopædia Britannica
Rasputin, Gregory Efimovitch
See also Grigori Rasputin on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

RASPUTIN, GREGORY EFIMOVITCH (1871-1916), Russian monk and court favourite, was born in 1871 in the village of Pokrovskoe, near Tyumen, in the province of Tobolsk, Siberia. He was the son of a poor peasant whose disorderly behaviour resulted in his being given the name of Rasputin, meaning “debauchee.” He received no education, and till the end of his life was unable to write properly. He spent the first part of his life till the age of 33 in his native village; he married in 1895 a well-to-do girl, Olga Chanigoff, and they had two daughters and a son. In 1904 Rasputin resolved to change his mode of living. He left his family and devoted himself to religious exercises, declaring to his people that he was inspired by God. His passionate nature, his great physical strength, and the superstitious atmosphere in which he had been brought up, gave an unexpected direction to his religious exaltation. He adopted the views of the sect known under the name of “Khlysty,” the leading idea of whose teaching was that salvation could be achieved only by repentance.

“Sin in order that you may obtain forgiveness” — was the practical rule which he drew from this doctrine. “A particle of the Supreme Being is incarnated in me” he told his hearers. “Only through me you can hope to be saved; and the manner of your salvation is this: you must be united with me in soul and body. The virtue that goes out from me is the source of light, the destruction of sin” (E. J. Dillon, The Eclipse of Russia). This extravagant and dangerous teaching, which resulted in practice in the most wild orgies, not only created for Rasputin immense popularity and the reputation of a holy man among his fellow-peasants, but opened before him the doors of some of the most fashionable Russian houses and even those of the Imperial Palace. Looking for new experiences Rasputin left his native village, and made long pilgrimages to various holy places, and even went to Mount Athos and Jerusalem. He spent some time in different monasteries and applied himself to the study of holy books, but his lack of elementary education reduced the results of his labours almost to nothing. He only retained by heart some incomprehensible passages, and often used them in his prophecies. He had, however, a strong magnetic power, the influence of which was recognized by his bitterest opponents.

In 1907, during a stay in St. Petersburg, Rasputin was introduced to the Archimandrite Feofan, rector of the Theological Academy and confessor to the Empress, who took an interest in the story of his conversion. The Archimandrite, with the assistance of the Grand Duchesses Militza and Anastasia, presented Rasputin at court, and he produced a deep impression on the Empress and Emperor. The mystic atmosphere which always prevailed at the Russian court, and which was especially strengthened by the disasters of the Japanese War, the internal troubles in 1905, and the constant fear for the health of the Tsarevich, created a convenient background for the appearance of such a man. His disdain for all rules of good behaviour, his dark prophecies, and, above all, the eventual improvement in the health of the Grand Duke Alexis, which more than once seemed to result from his influence when medicine was ineffectual, created an exceptional position for him with the Empress. Disgusted with the Russian intellectual classes and the bureaucracy, she saw in Rasputin the representative of the mass of peasantry, the only sure support of orthodoxy and autocracy, specially sent by God to save the heir to the throne and preserve the dynasty. Rasputin took advantage of this belief, and did his best to persuade the Empress that his fate was closely tied with that of the imperial family. The example of the court was followed by a large section of the upper class, and many doors were opened for the “Saviour,” as the Empress used to call him. For some time Rasputin was satisfied by this side of his social success, and at first he did not interfere in politics. But his activity was felt in church questions. His friendship with the famous monk, Heliodor, and the Bishop of Saratov, Hermogen, which resulted in a complete rupture between them and in a series of scandals, had a painful echo in the country. The appointment of Varnava, an illiterate peasant and a friend of Rasputin, to be Bishop of Tobolsk in 1911, and the extraordinary servility with which the Holy Synod followed the wishes of the favourite, provoked a strong opposition among all classes of society. The most prominent upholders of orthodoxy demanded a complete reorganization of the Russian church, and denounced the servile attitude of the Holy Synod. Guchkov, the Octobrist leader, in a famous speech delivered at the State Duma, made direct allusions to the nefarious influence exercised by Rasputin. But the influence of the “Saviour” was too strong to be checked by any expression of feeling in the country, and Rasputin triumphed over all his enemies.

An unsuccessful attempt to kill him, made by a certain Guseva in 1914, incited by the monk Heliodor, only strengthened his influence, which became especially powerful during the two last years of the imperial regime. No important nomination was made without his approval, and the most unexpected people rose to the highest offices as result of his interference. Rasputin was too ignorant to have any opinion on political questions: he was in most cases an instrument of the reactionaries. Numberless stories of the debauchery practised at the court, in which the name of Rasputin was coupled not only with some of the court ladies but even with that of the Empress herself, became a common topic of conversation in all classes of Russian society. At length a supreme effort to free the Empire and the dynasty from his influence was made by a small group of men of the highest social position, which included the Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlovich, Prince Yussupoff and M. Purichkevich. Rasputin was invited to a supper at the Yussupoff Palace on Dec. 15 1916, and shot dead, after an attempt at poisoning him with a strong dose of cyanide potassium mixed with wine had not produced the desired effect. His body was thrown under the ice of a canal. The death of Rasputin was a terrible shock to the Empress; she transferred his body to the park of Tsarskoye Selo, where a special chapel was erected, and came every night to pray on his grave. The Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlovich was sent to Persia to join a fighting column. Yussupoff was ordered to leave Petrograd, and interned in his estate. Purichkevich, protected by his immense popularity in the army and by his title of member of the Duma, returned to his work on the front.

(P. Vi.)