Grigory Rasputin

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Rasputin, Gregory Efimovitch (1869-1916)

Charismatic Russian monk, who became a powerful figure in the court of Czar Nicholas II, before the Romanov dynasty was swept aside by the Russian Revolution of 1917. The son of a peasant, Rasputin joined a monastery as a novice at the age of sixteen. As the Orthodox Church established hegemony in Russia, various dissenting sect groups emerged, among them the Khlysty. The Khlysty were supposedly founded in the seventeenth century by Daniel Filippov. They deviated from Orthodoxy in numerous ways. Several different splinter groups developed through the nineteenth century and by the beginning of the twentieth century the Khlysty numbered approximately 65,000 people.

Rasputin came into early contact with the Khlysty, though it is unclear just how dedicated a member he had been. Rasputin married around 1890, but his first son died when only six months old. The tragedy sent Rasputin to a strange hermit named Makary, and subsequently Rasputin became absorbed in scriptures, prayer, and meditation. One day he saw an image of the Virgin in the sky, and Makary told him, "God has chosen you for a great achievement. In Order to strengthen your spiritual power, you should go and pray to the Virgin in the convent of Afon."

The convent was at Mount Athos, in Greece, two thousand miles away, but in 1891, Rasputin made the pilgrimage on foot. Later he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, traveling across Turkey. For the next few years he became a wandering staretz (lay priest). He was widely believed to possess occult power, which made him both loved and feared. He manifested gifts of healing and prophecy. In 1903, he traveled to St. Petersburg, where he met influential churchmen, including the monk Illiodor, who later became a hateful rival. Rasputin's reputation as a prophet and miracle worker spread widely, and he was sought by rich and poor.

In those days, Russian court life and high society were still strongly attracted to the marvels of Spiritualism which had been introduced in the 1860s by Alexander N. Aksakof, and any wonder worker was in great demand. Soon Rasputin came to the attention of the czar of Russia to whom he became an indispensable adviser and healer to the royal family.

Surrounded by the madhouse of tyranny, secret police, bomb plots, crippling wars, and the ruthless suppression of liberty of the Romanov empire, Rasputin, self-absorbed in his own sense of destiny, towered above the sycophants, bureaucrats, and plotters. He treated the czar and czarina with complete familiarity, and they welcomed Rasputin because of the healing powers he supposedly possessed; he seemed to be able to treat the couple's only son, Alexis, who was a hemophiliac. In 1911, tiring of court life, he undertook another pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and during his absence his enemies intrigued against him. In the fall of 1915, when the czar left to take command of the Russian army, Rasputin took on more power as the czarina's chief aide. Rasputin forced many of the cabinet ministers to resign, and he replaced them with his cronies. His enemies, headed by Prince Yussupov, felt he had taken on too much political power and planned his murder.

The day before Rasputin was killed, Czar Nicholas requested his blessing and with curious presence, Rasputin said, "This time it is for you to bless me." Yussupov invited Rasputin to his palace and persuaded him to eat poisoned food and drink poisoned wine. The poison was ineffectual. Thereupon the treacherous Yussupov sang gypsy songs and played the guitar before leaving the room and returning with a loaded revolver, shooting his victim in the back. Other conspirators rushed in clumsily, accidentally switching off the room light. When the light was switched on again, Rasputin appeared dead, but was still alive. Another conspirator shot Rasputin again; the body was dragged from the house and battered with a steel press. But Rasputin was still alive when he was pushed through a hole in the ice on the River Neva. And although his wrists had been bound, he had still managed to free his right hand and make the sign of the cross before drowning. He died December 31,1916.


Bolshakoff, Serge. Russian Nonconformity. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1950. Reprint, New York: AMS Press, 1973.

Fülop-Miller, René. Rasputin; The Holy Devil. New York: Viking Press, 1928.

Klibanv. A. I. History of Religious Sectarianism in Russia (1860s-1917). Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1982.

Rasputina, Maria. My Father. London: McClelland/Cassell, 1934. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1970.

Vogel-Jorgensen, T. Rasputin: Prophet, Libertine, Plotter. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1917. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1970.

Wilson, Colin. Rasputin and the Fall of the Romanovs. London: Arthur Barker, 1964.

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Grigori Efimovich Rasputin

The Russian monk Grigori Efimovich Rasputin (1872-1916) gained considerable influence in the court of Czar Nicholas II.

Grigori Rasputin was born in the Siberian village of Pokrovskoe. His conduct in the village became so infamous that Bishop Anthony of Tobolsk commissioned the village priest to investigate it, with the result that the case was handed over to the civil authorities. In the meantime Rasputin disappeared into the wilderness of Russia. He wandered over all Russia, made two pilgrimages to Jerusalem, and roamed both in the Balkans and in Mesopotamia.

On Dec. 29, 1903, Rasputin appeared at the religious Academy of St. Petersburg. According to Illiodor, a student for the monkhood, Rasputin was a man who had been a great sinner but was now a great penitent who drew extraordinary power from his experiences. As such, Rasputin was welcomed by Theophan, inspector of the academy and, for a time, confessor to the Empress. Another of his early supporters was the vigorous bishop of Saratov, Hermogen. He soon had more powerful backing by one of the principal adepts of fashionable mysticism in St. Petersburg, the Grand Duchess Militsa. In St. Petersburg, Rasputin became a social favorite.

Rasputin was highly recommended to the royal family by Militsa and her sister Anastasia. It was the illness of the Czar's son, Alexis, that brought Rasputin to the palace. The date of Rasputin's entry into the palace is fixed by a note in the Czar's diary. He wrote on Nov. 14, 1905, "we have got to know a man of God—Grigori—from the Tobolsk Province."

Rasputin was able to stop Alexis' bleeding. Mosolov, an eyewitness to Rasputin's healing power, speaks of his "incontestable success in healing." Alexis' last nurse, Teglova, writes, "Call it what you will, he could really promise her [the Empress] her boy's life while he lived." Nicholas II was by no means always under Rasputin's influence. Dedyulin, at one time commandant of the palace, expressed to Nicholas his vehement dislike for Rasputin; the Czar answered him: "He is first a good, religious, simpleminded Russian. When in trouble or assailed by doubts I like to have a talk with him, and invariably feel at peace with myself afterwards." Rasputin had greater influence on Empress Alexandra. He was a holy man for her, "almost a Christ."

At his first meeting with Nicholas II and Alexandra, Rasputin addressed them as if they were fellow peasants, and his relationship to them was as if he had the voice of God. In addition, Rasputin represented for the Czar the voice of the Russian peasantry. He informed him about "the tears of the life of the Russian people." Rasputin abhorred Russian nobility and declared that class to be of another race, not Russian.

Rasputin had experienced success in several of the big salons and took a peasant's delight in enjoying this world of luxury and extravagance. He made a point of humiliating the high and mighty of both sexes. There is not an iota of truth in the easy explanation that was so often given that Rasputin became the tool of others. He was far too clever to sell himself to anyone. Rasputin was showered with presents without his asking. On many occasions he took from the rich and gave to the poor.

Rasputin had already become a concern to the chief ministers. When Stolypin's children were injured by the attempt on his life in 1906, Nicholas II offered him the services of Rasputin as a healer. At his interview with Stolypin, Rasputin tried to hypnotize this sensible man. Stolypin made a report on Rasputin to the Emperor. In 1911 Stolypin ordered Rasputin out of St. Petersburg, and the order was obeyed. Stolypin's minister of religion, Lukyanov, on the reports of the police, ordered an investigation that produced abundant evidence of Rasputin's scandalous deeds. From this time on, the Empress detested Prime Minister Stolypin. After Stolypin was assassinated, the Empress brought Rasputin back to St. Petersburg.

Beletsky, the director of the police department, reckons that "from 1913 Rasputin was firmly established." Kokovtsev states that Rasputin had no political influence before 1908 but that he was now "the central question of the nearest future." Rasputin was constantly saying to the Emperor, "Why don't you act as a Czar should?" Only the autocracy could serve as cover for him; and he himself said, "I can only work with sovereigns." The strong movement for Church reform and the call for the summons of a Church council, which had accompanied the liberal movement of 1907-1910, had been opposed by Rasputin with the words "there is an anointed Czar," a phrase which constantly recurred in the Empress's letters. Rasputin was assassinated by a group of Russian noblemen on Dec. 31, 1916, in an endeavor to rid the court and the country of his influence.

Further Reading

A full study of Rasputin is by René Fülöp-Miller, Rasputin: The Holy Devil, translated by F. S. Flint and D. F. Tait (1928). An engaging if sensational and unreliable account is by Colin Wilson, Rasputin and the Fall of the Romanovs (1964). Rasputin is discussed in a useful background work by Bernard Pares, The Fall of the Russian Monarchy (1939). □

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Rasputin a person exercising an insidious or corrupting influence, especially over a ruler or governor; from the acquired name (lit. ‘debauchee’) of the Russian monk Grigory Yefimovich Novykh (c.1865–1916), mystic and influential favourite at the court of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. This influence, combined with his reputation for debauchery, steadily discredited the imperial family, and he was assassinated by a group loyal to the tsar; the murder was first attempted by poison, to which he proved impervious, and he was finally shot.

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Rasputin ★★★ Agoniya 1985

The longcensored and banned film of the story of the mad monk and his domination of the royal family before the Russian Revolution. Petrenko is superb. First released in the United States in 1988. In Russian with English subtitles. 104m/C VHS . RU Alexei Petrenko, Anatoly Romashin, Velta Linne, Alice Freindlikh; D: Elem Klimov; W: Semyon Lunghin, Ilya Nusinov; M: Alfred Shnitke.