View Full Version : Rasputin - A Man of Mystery

Thursday, October 13th, 2005, 03:34 PM

Grigori Efimovich Rasputin was born a peasant in Povroskoe, a small village in Western Siberia in June of 1872. His father, Efim Rasputin, and mother, Anna, stressed religion in their family life. During this time in Russia and especially in Siberia, there was a large majority of illiterates. However, Rasputin’s father was fortunate enough to have the advantage of a small education in order to read the Bible to his family every night. This act was to have a great impact on Rasputin’s life by leading him towards his future path as a “holy man” and eventually to being a powerful figure in the Russian court of Czar Nicholas II. (Fuhrmann 2)

Grigori Rasputin was said to be gifted with psychic powers from an early age. When Rasputin was eight years old he lost his older brother Dmitry to pneumonia. This tragic event made him fall into a deep depression. His mother, Anna, noted that his mood became unpredictable and his psychic powers had faded from their original strength. However, his powers were proven to his village when one night in his home while he lay in bed, Rasputin heard his father discussing a horse theft in the village with friends. Rasputin climbed out of his bed, then approached and pointed at one man exclaiming that he was the one who stole the horse. Everyone there laughed off Rasputin’s visions, but two of his father’s guests later followed the accused man home and found the stolen horse. (Fuhrmann 4)

Rasputin was a unique individual in his village. He became a heavy drinker early as a young adult. He lived a reckless life and tested all his limitations to see how far he could go and how much he could get away with. He was widely known as a ladies man and most of the young women in his village were attracted to his dark mysteriousness. Despite his womanizing nature, Rasputin fell in love by the time he was nineteen and after six months of courtship he married Praskovaya Dubrovina, a 23 year old woman from a neighboring Siberian village. (Fuhrmann 5)

Even after his marriage to Praskovaya, Rasputin continued some of his wild ways such as getting drunk and causing trouble. One particular event, involving the theft of some horses, placed all suspicion on Rasputin and two of his friends. Although he was not convicted of the charges he was forced into banishment from Pokrovskoe. Rasputin offered an alternative punishment in place however. His father was supposed to make a pilgrimage 260 miles northwest to the Verkoturie Monastery. He volunteered to make the pilgrimage himself up to the monastery. Although at the time, Rasputin was only thinking of this journey as a less severe punishment in comparison to temporary exile, it turned out to be a very influential experience on his life that further led him towards his future infamy. (Fuhrmann 5)

Visiting St. Petersburg

The pilgrimage to Verkhoturie set Rasputin on a new course in life. At the monastery he met Makary, a renowned religious figure in Russia who was a recluse. Before making the journey to the monastery, Rasputin and his wife lost their first son. Makary told Rasputin that this tragedy was a sign from God and that he should return to his village and become a Man of God. He followed these instructions and came back to his village a completely different man. He decided to give up eating meat, drinking and tobacco and prayed continually. His friends and neighbors were confused by his actions and did not know what to make of his strange, new ways. (Fuhrmann 6).

The pilgrimage that had changed Rasputin’s life also introduced him to an odd sect in the Russian Orthodox faith known as the Skoptsy. This sect believed that in order to connect with God one must commit sins. Only through sin and confession could forgiveness be achieved. Simply it was defined as “sin to drive out sin” and perfectly suited Rasputin if he was to reform himself. His past was full of sin and by becoming a monk under this religious sect, Rasputin was able to continue sinning and become a religious teacher who traveled the world all at the same time. (Beéche 1)

Rasputin soon began to travel abroad and he impressed many clergymen throughout his journeys. In 1902 these clergymen recommended that Rasputin travel for the first time to St. Petersburg. He decided to go and once again impressed many religious leaders with his mysterious charm and story-telling ability. (Beéche 1) Rasputin was already well-known in St. Petersburg before he arrived. Along with his preaching experience, travels across the land, and his knowledge of religious scripture, Rasputin also developed the ability to heal. Through teachings of Christian prayer and pagan spells against disease he was able to learn this trait which would later serve as his key to the Russian Imperial family (Radzinsky 46).

In 1903, Grigori Rasputin finally arrived in St. Petersburg and further expanded his group of disciples by impressing members of the Russian upper class. He was described as a starets, that is a “man of God who lived in poverty, asceticism and solitude, offering himself as a guide to other souls in moments of suffering and turmoil” (Massie 193). His supernatural powers were widely talked about among the people and further increased the belief in his abilities. The upper classes labeled him as “a man of God” who was needed in the Church. However, there was still doubt among some people in St. Petersburg who stated that his enemies charged that he “was nothing but cynical, and that he used religion to mask his drive for sex, money, and power” (Hollenbach 1).

Rasputin again visited St. Petersburg in 1905. He met and stayed with a friend that he had acquired from his initial visit to the city. A few days later he was brought to the home of Grand Duke Peter Nikolaievich and Grand Duchess Militsa. They thought of Rasputin as a near saint who was given unnatural abilities by God and respected him in the highest manner, despite his poor background. At this meeting, Rasputin performed one of his widely discussed healing miracles. The dog of the Grand Duke and Duchess was ill and was given only 2 months left to live. Rasputin knelt down beside the dog and prayed for approximately half an hour. When he had finished, the dog became visibly healthier and lived for years after the incident (Minney 42).

Acceptance Into the Imperial Family

The Grand Duke and Duchess were also very close to Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra. At the time the Tsaritsa had an advisor, Dr Phillipe, who discussed God, politics and military appointments with her. When Phillipe left Alexandra he told her “Your Majesty will some day have another friend like me who will speak to you of God.” Upon hearing this, the Grand Duchess was convinced that the man Phillipe spoke of was Rasputin (Minney 44).

The Tsar and Tsarina met Rasputin only a few times between 1905 and 1906. Rasputin did not demonstrate his healing or psychic powers on any of these occasions; however, Nicholas and Alexandra were still quite impressed with him. The royal family were constantly surrounded by conservative, upper class individuals but they “craved simplicity and honesty,” which Rasputin brought them. Many people still looked down upon the interest of the peasant from Siberia but Rasputin had already gained the admiration of the royals. On December 9, 1906, the Tsar and Tsarina had dinner with the Grand Duchess and her sister. That night Nicholas expressed his fascination of the “holy man” in his diary by stating that “all evening we spoke of Grigori” (Fuhrmann 24-25).

In 1904 the Russo-Japanese War began and halfway through, in 1905, Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaievich was born. Both Nicholas and Alexandra were so overjoyed with the birth of their son and the heir to the throne. They had desired a son for so long but instead were blessed with a trend of girls. The Tsarevich was celebrated by all Russians throughout the country. However, Alexei was very sick. Alexandra was a carrier of the hemophilia gene, which was inherited, from her grandmother Queen Victoria. The Tsarina refused to believe that she had passed the disorder to her only son and the recognition of the fact caused her much grief (Minney 44).

Nicholas and Alexandra did not publicly disclose the illness that plagued the Tsarevich. They thought that Alexei would be claimed unfit to ascend the throne if people found out about the constant threat to his health. Alexei had an unhappy childhood due to his disorder. He was unable to run and play with other children his age for fear that he would fall and cause internal bleeding that would be difficult to stop. Due to the level of care that was necessary to provide a comfortable and healthy life to Alexei, a sailor by the name of Derevenko was assigned to watch over him and take care of his needs (Massie 138-139).

Rasputin gained influence in the Imperial family mainly due to the Tsarevich’s ailments. Nicholas was impressed by Rasputin as well; he once said: “He [Rasputin] is just a good, religious, simple minded Russian. When in trouble or assailed by doubts, I like to have a talk with him, and invariably feel at peace with myself afterward.” Alexandra, however, thought of Rasputin as an important figure in her and her son’s life. She completely believed that her former advisor, Philippe, had sent Rasputin to her and to help her overcome the troubles in her life. Rasputin’s healing powers became the key to his influence (Massie 200). Rasputin rose to power through his undeniable ability to relieve Alexei’s pain and suffering due to hemophilia. Whenever the heir to the throne was hurt and his survival was doubtful, Rasputin was able to ease his suffering and guarantee his recovery. This alone increased the Tsarina’s admiration and appreciation of Rasputin and established a place for him in the life of the Imperial family.

One particular incident of healing was witnessed by Alexei’s older sister Tsarevna Olga. In her account of the miraculous event she noted:

“The poor child lay in pain, dark patches under his eyes and his little body all distorted, and the leg terribly swollen. The doctors were just useless…more frightened than any of us…whispering among themselves…It was getting late and I was persuaded to go to my rooms. Alicky then sent a message to Rasputin in St. Petersburg. He reached the palace about midnight or even later. By that time, I had reached my apartments and early in the morning Alicky called me to go to Alexei’s room. I just could not believe my eyes. The little boy was not just alive – but well. He was sitting up in bed, the fever gone, the eyes clear and bright, not a sign of any swelling in the leg. Later I learned from Alicky that Rasputin had not even touched the child but merely stood at the foot of the bed and prayed” (Massie 202).

His miraculous performances with Alexei brought him even more prestige and admiration.

The Corruption and Death of Rasputin

The seemingly humble peasant that Nicholas and Alexandra had welcomed into their lives was now becoming more elegant and rude. He began to dress in expensive and elaborate garments. He also had an increasing number of female followers. He flirted with them often and in front of them all, picked one and led her to his bedroom which the disciples referred to as: The Holy of Holies.” While in the room alone with her he told the woman “You think that I am polluting you, but I am not. I am purifying you.” Rasputin also made advances towards the Grand Duchess Olga and caused controversy in the palace when the governess of the Tsarevnas demanded that he be barred from their rooms since she found him with the girls late at night after they had changed. Nothing inappropriate occurred but it was clearly improper. When the governess suggested this to the Tsarina she was outraged and defended Rasputin. It was the Tsar who was forced to interrupt and support the accusation of Rasputin’s inappropriate presence (Massie 208). This event clearly illustrates the hold that Rasputin had over the Tsarina.

By 1911 the controversy surrounding Rasputin was strong. Despite their former appreciation of Rasputin, the Grand Duke and Duchess who first introduced him to the Tsar and Tsarina exclaimed that they “never wanted to see the devil again.” The Russian Orthodox Church was the first organization to officially conduct an investigation into Rasputin. They received countless confessions from women who Rasputin had taken advantage of and brought this evidence to the Tsarina. She was apparently completely blind to his misdeeds, ignored all warnings, and had the man who brought the complaints to her transferred. Rasputin was again attacked by rumors of a love affair with Alexandra. Another monk named Iliodor saw Rasputin as a friend. He soon learned of Rasputin’s transgressions and urged him to change his ways. However, once Iliodor found out that Rasputin had tried to seduce and then rape a nun he was outraged and made Rasputin swear to leave women and the royal family alone. This promise was not fulfilled (Massie 210-213).

No matter what evidence was brought to the Imperial family about Rasputin’s crimes, it was not believed. His influence over the Tsar and Tsarina made them see him as a saint. Alexandra herself refusing to believe any rumors stated that “he is hated because we love him.” She was mistaken and was biased; she failed to recognize the evil in the man that she regarded as a saint. Pierre Gilliard, Alexei’s tutor, said “The fatal influence of that man [Rasputin] was the principal cause of death of those who thought to find in him their salvation” (Massie 214).

In 1915, during World War I, Tsar Nicholas II decided to take over command of the troops on the Eastern Front. It is said that Rasputin suggested this in order to leave the Tsarina to rule Russia and through her he knew he could influence the nation. He was right. During this time Alexandra valued his advice. Previously he was able to have people appointed to power, and he now had the power to remove all from their positions who opposed him as well. His influence was continually growing (Columbia).
Rasputin’s influence began to chip away at the Imperial government. The people had no faith in autocratic rule anymore and the main cause was Rasputin and his control over the Tsarina. Something needed to be done to remove Rasputin from his dangerous position of power.

On December 16, 1916, Prince Felix Yussupov invited Rasputin to his home one night to meet his wife, Irina. This meeting was much more than it seemed though. It was part of the plot to murder Rasputin. Yussupov and his conspirators all wanted to remove Rasputin’s control over the Imperial family and had chosen that night to poison him. They put the poison into cakes which Yussupov served to Rasputin. The cakes had no effect so he was served poison in his drink and still there was no sign of impending death. It was getting late and the conspirators wanted to get it over with. Finally Yussupov decided to shoot Rasputin. After the shot was fired into his back, Yussupov bent over the body to see if the job had been accomplished. Amazingly, Rasputin sprang to his feet and attacked Yussupov. He managed to get away from Rasputin and run upstairs. Rasputin followed him and the prince fired four more shots at him, hitting him twice, once in the shoulder and the other is said to have hit his head. Rasputin finally fell on the ground unable to get up, but he was still grinding his teeth. Yussupov then took up a club and beat the body until the only color to be seen was red. The conspirators then rolled Rasputin in a blue curtain and dropped his body into the Neva River (Minney 194-195). An odd fact about this murder is that when the body was found and examined, the cause of death was established as drowning, revealing that he was still alive when dumped in the river, since he breathed water into his lungs.

Rasputin Today

Even today there is controversy over Rasputin and his role in Russian history. A current debate in the Russian Orthodox Church over whether Rasputin and Ivan the Terrible should be canonized is creating arguments among the people. Those in favor of the canonization say that Rasputin’s reputation was tarnished by his political opponents and by Jewish citizens who wanted to remove his influence from the court. They also distribute pamphlets on the positive aspects of Rasputin and his “bodily wounds and a ferocious death from the Jews” (Strauss).

Those members of the Orthodox faith who are against the canonization of Rasputin and Ivan the Terrible promote the misdeeds that the two infamous figures have committed. They label Rasputin as a “mad monk” who was a womanizer that had purely selfish motives with his influence in the Russian court (Strauss).

Rasputin was an illiterate peasant who was able to find a way through the classes of Russian society and become an honored advisor to the Imperial family. His ability to impress and charm, combined with his rumored “healing powers,” led to the creation of an important role in society for him. The Tsarina Alexandra greatly admired and became attached to him because of his talent of healing the Tsarevich Alexei’s pain. Alexandra was known to have great influence over her husband, Tsar Nicholas II, who was considered a weak Tsar. Rasputin took advantage of her influence over the Tsar and used his influence over the Tsarina to indirectly manipulate the Russian court.

Some believe that Grigori Rasputin did not have any real “healing power” instead he developed a skill for hypnosis. He is said to have used hypnosis on Alexei, not healing his wounds, but subliminally convincing the Tsarevich that there was no pain and thus stopping the bleeding (Massie 200). Although this theory can never be proven, it offers insight into the mystery of Rasputin’s rise to power. There are many theories that dispute Rasputin’s skills of curing the hemophiliac child. Medical research has uncovered new information that was not known at the time about the disease, especially that of the sufferers ability to recover very quickly. Rasputin may have been a man of God who was brought to the Russia royals with an intention to aid, advise, and heal, however, he may also have been a fraud who wanted nothing more than to escape trouble, get out of Siberia and selfishly acquire power to influence Russia.

Source (http://it.stlawu.edu/%7Erkreuzer/phetzel/rasputin1.html)