A Siberian hermit and wanderer whose influence on the Tzar Nikolai II directly lead to Bolshevik revolution, Rasputin is widely considered to be the most controversial figure of the 20th century Russia. A holy man on a quest to find God, anti-Christ sent to push Imperial Russia to the brink of destruction or just a smart peasant who used 19th century obsession with occult to place himself on top of the greatest Empire in the world; There are many sides to the story of Grigory Rasputin.
However, his significance and legacy remain undeniable, his legend dark, yet, as thousands of modern-day nightclubs in Russia carrying the name ”Rasputin” prove, just as unexplainably appealing as it was 100 years ago.
Early life of Grigory Rasputin
In 1869., Grigory Rasputin was born in Pokrovskoe, Siberia. As a child, he was the talk of village due to his peculiarity and alleged healing and clairvoyant abilities. After being falsely accused of theft, Rasputin got into a conflict with the authorities; In order to avoid punishment, he hid into a monastery. That would become a life changing decision, as he would meet Makary there, a hermit who encouraged him to pursue extreme religious and spiritual exploration.
Makary was a старец, a wandering mystic who previously served as an adviser for royal family, but eventually embarked on a spiritual journey to Siberia. Influenced by Makary’s words, Rasputin’s life-long visions intensified, as he kept seeing a reoccurring image of Казанская Богоматер (Icon ‘’Lady of Kazan”- Holy Protectress of Russia). Interpreting visions as a message, he left the monastery and started a life of старец, wandering for the next 5 years in search for God.
Life as a wanderer
Without changing his clothes or bathing and barely eating anything, Rasputin reached the Holy Mount of Athos, the pillar of Ortodox Christianity. He became well known, and his reputation inside the religious and occult circles grew enormously. Yet, there was a group from Pokrovskoe which claimed his newfound spirituality was not a result of Christianity, but involvement with Siberian sect called Хлысты (Khlysti). Notorious for their practices, Khlysti were considered anti-Christian, dangerous and Satanist. Rituals that consisted of dancing into trance, chanting, speaking in foreign languages, howling and taking part in orgies were strongly opposed to everything Ortodox.
These claims would later prove to be true, as a cult Rasputin will start in Petrograd will be largely based on Khlysti rituals and symbolisms. Upon his return from Greece, Rasputin’s visions became stronger than ever; He kept seeing images of royal family and St. Petersburg which he took as a sign that his destiny was somehow bound to Romanov’s and the capital. He had no choice but to again embark on a journey.
Adviser to Romanov’s and cult leadership
By 1904., everyone in Petrograd have heard of a strange Siberian mystic. Monks and priests were lining up to meet him, and the Great Bishop Hermogen proclaimed him a living saint. Aristocracy, on the other hand, was both excited and repulsed by a man with bad odor, long beard and ‘’hypnotizing, wolf-like eyes’’. Bishop arranged for Rasputin to meet Tzar and Tzarina, as he was well aware of their search for anyone who could cure their only son and heir’s illness. During their meeting, Rasputin claimed to know exactly what’s wrong with Tzarevich and asked to see him. Tzarevich Alexei was in a critical condition and unconscious; Tzarina allowed Rasputin to see her son out of desperation. A short touch and prayer over the limp body of young Prince would eventually engrave Rasputin’s name forever in the Russian history. A day after his visit, Alexei woke up seemingly healthy; Within a few weeks, Rasputin became the closest adviser and confidante to Romanov’s. They believed him to be a holy man, and granted him with privileges that were unheard of. Visiting the palace at any time, having free sexual access to Romanov daughters and whispering into Tzarina’s ears regarding political and state affairs were just a few of them. In no time, it became obvious that Romanov’s were not ruling Russia anymore-Rasputin was. Nikolai II, weak willed and submissive man, was never fit to be an Emperor in the first place; Tzarina Alexandra was neurotic and permanently worried for her only son’s ill health. The act of healing Tzarevich granted Rasputin a complete control over Romanov’s, and turned reputation of Tzarinism into dust.
During this time, Rasputin hosted many gatherings in his flat; they were attended by high society women attracted to the occult. These gatherings included sexual relations and severe beating of women Rasputin performed in order to ‘’take their sin onto himself’’. Marks of Khlisty sect were all over his rituals, and also their well known phrase ‘’Commiting a sin in an honour of God is the only way to be forgiven for previous sins’’. Gossip about these strange rituals spread quickly, and urged Bishop Hermogen to lock Rasputin into a monastery, beat him with a cross and claim he was no longer a man of God, but of Satan. Rasputin managed to escape and tell Tzarina what happened; Bishop was banished immediately. However, Bishop fled to Finland and orchestrated attack on Rasputin during his visit to Pokrovskoe. There, a woman stabbed him in the city market, but he managed to survive the assassination attempt.
WW1 and death
In hospital, Rasputin heard of Sarajevo assassination and possibility of Russia entering WW1. He wrote numerous letters to Tzar urging him not to go to war, as he had visions of great tragedy and loss. Drunk on newfound popularity, Tzar ignored Rasputin and proceeded with warfare plans. By the time Grigory returned to St. Petersburg, Nikolai was already on the front; This provided him with a chance to, de facto, take Tzar’s place. In the next few years, Rasputin put up and took down Ministers, Government officials and commanded Russian actions on the front by whispering them into Alexandra’s ear, who’d forward them to Nikolai as her own advice. All of his political decisions were based on self-interest, and Russia was on a brink of collapse. Members of high society concluded the only way to preserve Tzarinism was to assassinate Rasputin.
During the last year of his life, Rasputin lost his abilities to see visions and heal. This is documented in his letter to Tzarina in which he wrote that his end is near, and his murderer will be a member of her family. He also wrote that 2 years into his own death, she and her family will also be assassinated too. Rasputin’s assassination finally took place on 17. Dec, 1916., in the palace of Felix Yusupov, Tzarina’s cousin. Other conspirators included Duke Dmitri Pavlovich and Purishkevich. After inviting him for dinner, Yusupov offered Rasputin cyanide poisoned wine and cakes; A few hours later, Grigory was alive and well. This caused Yusupov to panic and reach for a revolver from which he fired 3 shots into Rasputin. Wounded but alive, Grigory jumped out the window, and crawled through the snow. Conspirators shot him in the back and head many times, but couldn’t kill him. Terrified and desperate, they tied severely wounded Rasputin and took him to Neva river. They made a hole in the frozen river and pushed alive Rasputin into it. His body was found 2 days later with a bullet hole in his forehead and lungs filled with water, which meant he was still alive when tossed into a river. Furthermore, Rasputin’s prophecy about the death of Romanov’s came true, as they were brutally assassinated less than a year later. The inability of conspirators to assassinate Rasputin, his single-handed destruction of Tzarinism and occult, unusual religious practices granted him a reputation of Russia’s anti-Christ and symbol of evil that remains talked about until this day.