Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin
10, 1869 - December 16, 1916), also known as the 'Mad Monk' was not a monk,
but a starets
, or religious pilgrim, who was believed to have been
a faith healer. He can be considered one of the more controversial characters
in 20th century history, although Rasputin is viewed by most historians
today as a scapegoat. He played a small but extremely pivotal role in the
downfall of the Romanov dynasty that finally led to Bolshevik victory and
the establishment of the Soviet Union.
Rasputin played an important role in the lives of the Tsar Nicholas
II, his wife, the Tsarina Alexandra and their only son, the Tsarevich Aleksey,
who was a hemophilia patient and suffered from a lot of pain.
The name Rasputin in Russian does not mean "licentious", as is
often claimed. It may bear the connotation of "mud", as in rasputitsa
-- "mud season" (i.e., "rainy season"). However, most historians agree
that his name signifies, roughly, a place where two rivers meet, which
describes the area from which the Rasputin family originates. It is said
that Rasputin tried to have his name changed to the inconspicuous "Novykh"
("New Man") after his first pilgrimage to the Holy Land, but this is a
subject of dispute. In fact, "Rasputin" is a not-uncommon surname, and
does not have a "disgraceful" meaning, as the contemporary Russian writer,
Valentin Rasputin, would be quick to explain.
Rasputin, whose date of birth is a matter of dispute (generally ranging
from 1869 to 1871), was born into a Siberian peasant family in the Tyumen
district. He was regarded as the last resort of the desperate Tsar and
Tsarina. They had tried everywhere to find a cure for their son and in
1905 asked the charismatic peasant healer for help. He was said to possess
the ability to heal through prayer, and he was indeed able to give the
boy some relief. Skeptics have claimed that he did so by hypnosis, in spite
of the fact that during a particularly grave crisis, Rasputin, from his
home in Siberia, was able to ease the suffering of the tsarevitch (in Saint
Petersburg) through prayer.
He was called "Our friend" by the tsar, a sign perhaps of the trust
the family put in him. Especially on Alexandra he had a considerable personal
and political influence. They considered him to be a man of God and a religious
prophet. Their relationship can also be viewed in the context of the very
strong, traditional, age-old bond between the Russian Orthodox Church and
the Russian leadership.
Rasputin in the meantime became a controversial figure, leading a scandalous
personal life with his mostly female followers from the Saint Petersburg
high society. Furthermore, he was frequently seen picking up prostitutes
and often drank himself into a stupor. According to Rasputin's daughter,
Maria, Rasputin did "look into" the Klystii sect, and rejected them. While
the Western world is particularly interested in the sexual aspects of this
sect (supposedly tied to a belief that one can obtain humility only by
debasing oneself), Rasputin was particularly appalled by the belief that
grace is found by harming one's body. Like most Orthodox Christians, Rasputin
was brought up with the belief that the body is a sacred gift from God.
(Attaining divine grace through sin seems to have been one of the central
doctrines that Rasputin preached to (and practiced with) his inner circle
of society ladies). The idea that one can attain grace through sin is not
secret. It is also understood that sin is an inescapable part of the human
condition, and the responsibility of a believer is to be keenly aware of
his sins, and willing to confess them, thereby attaining humility.
During World War I he became a focus of accusations of unpatriotic influence
at court; the unpopular Tsarina was of German descent, and her confidante
Rasputin was accused of being a spy in German employ. Nobles in influential
positions around the tsar as well as some parties of the Duma, the Russian
parliament, clamoured for his removal from the court of the tsar.
Prince Felix Yussupov, an important member of the elite of Saint Petersburg,
finally took the lead in the decision to murder Rasputin. On the night
of 29/30 December 1916 (16 December according to the Julian calendar that
was still used in Russia at the time), Yussupov invited Rasputin to his
palace on the pretext of his wife Irina needing his attentions as a healer.
In a dining room in the palace basement, the Prince plied his guest with
poisoned wine and cakes; when the Siberian peasant failed to die, he and
his co-conspirators repeatedly shot Rasputin in the chest, back and head,
and beat him around the head with a dumb-bell handle. They then tied the
purported corpse into a sheet and dropped it through a hole in the ice
into the river Neva, where the sturdy peasant finally drowned, having drifted
under the ice, still fighting to free himself.
Within three months Nicholas II and the Romanov dynasty were overthrown;
within 19 months the tsar and his family were all dead.
The contemporary press as well as sensationalist articles and books
that were published in the 1920s and 1930s (one of them even by Yusupov,
Rasputin's main murderer) turned the charismatic peasant into something
of a 20th-century folk myth. To Westerners, Rasputin became the embodiment
of the purported Russian backwardness, superstition, irrationality and
licentiousness, and an object of sensational interest; to the Russian Communists,
he represented all that was evil in the old regime and had been overcome
in the revolution. Yet to the ordinary Russian people, he remained a symbol
of the voice of the peasantry, and many (Russians) to this day reject the
myths, honoring the man. In fact, after the fall of the Communist government,
key documentation was discovered, and the Church considered canonizing
Rasputin as a martyr. This, obviously, is in conflict with what is stated
by the writer of the paragraph below, presumably written about certain
documents that were written for the express purpose of demonizing Rasputin
to justify his murder. Unfortunately, a number of things will remain in
dispute until all the documentation is verified and released.
Since the end of Communism in Russia in the 1990s, some Russian nationalists
have tried to whitewash Rasputin's reputation and use the powerful 20th
century archetype that he has become for their own end. New evidence that
has surfaced since the end of the Soviet Union, however, clearly refutes
their claims of his saintliness.