Explore the intriguing biography and complex thoughts of Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin, a Russian religious adventurer and political figure of the early 20th century. From his Siberian origins to his controversial influence in the Russian court, delve into Rasputin’s life story, his unorthodox beliefs, and the myths that surrounded him during a pivotal period in Russian history.
Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin; Russian religious adventurer and political figure : b. Pokrovskoye, near Tyumen, Siberia, c. 1873; d. St. Petersburg (now Leningrad), Russia, Dec. 30-31, 1916.
A typically enterprising Siberian, Rasputin at an early age became aware of his unusual talents and suspected that he was destined for a religious calling. Meanwhile, he lived a dissolute and carefree existence, torn by a yearning for perfection but unable to abandon his carousing. His debauchery was punctuated by periods of soul searching, during one of which he married a peasant girl, by whom he subsequently had four children.
About 1895, Rasputin began a decade of wandering, trying to discover his mission. He learned to read and write at this time. Becoming dissatisfied with traditional Orthodoxy, he constructed an eclectic faith suited to his purposes. Sin, he said, was in the person and not in the acts he committed. The perfect man could do anything and yet not sin. Such views permitted Rasputin to indulge himself while asserting claims to holiness. He was cautious, seeking to appear as a practicing member of the Russian Orthodox Church, but he was probably sincere in his belief that somehow his views on morals did not clash with Orthodox dogma. Among friends he established a reputation as a man of God, a popular spiritual adviser. In this role he won the admiration of certain ecclesiastical and social circles in St. Petersburg. These people, knew that the imperial couple, Nicholas II and Alexandra, were receptive to appeals and advice from a man of God. The sponsors who effected Rasputin’s introduction at court in 1905 hoped that they could control him once he had won the confidence of the ruler. The czar accepted him, but only in the limited role of speaker of soothing religious sentiments.
During the next five years, Rasputin slowly won the respect of the empress. Between 1909 and 1913 he became involved in several religious and political controversies, and his name was mentioned in the press. It is from this period that many of the myths about him date. The veneration of his original supporters turned to hatred. While he always boasted of his alleged power at court, he had no need to inflate his reputation ; his enemies did this for him, assigning him a role as an evil genius who dominated the government. In the capital he acquired a reputation as a dealer in petty business and political favors, and he had influence with several high-ranking church dignitaries who were his friends, although the rest of the clergy and hierarchy reviled him. His apartment was the scene of much activity among persons who thought that he possessed great political power. He did have contacts with important politicians, but his ability to dispense patronage and to impress his will on the government was (and is) vastly overrated. When Alexandra, armed with what she claimed was the divinely inspired wisdom of Rasputin, sought to play a more active role as adviser to her husband, Nicholas turned aside most of her suggestions until the last days of the reign, when no honest politician wanted to serve a government that was obviously falling into ruin. Then, in desperation, the czar was forced to accept candidates recommended by the empress, even though in one case he knew that the man suffered from fits of insanity.
A careful examination of the available documents on Rasputin’s alleged influence in the government reveals that his role in a number of appointments was either minor or nonexistent. The chief political impact of his presence was felt in the climate of opinion among conservatives. Already concerned about the inability of the government to protect the national interest during World War I, they were soon scandalized by the stories they heard about Rasputin, known widely as an intimate of the rulers. As a result, they tended to stand aside in confusion while the government struggled with its political enemies. In fact, it was a group of persons representing the highest nobility, the royal family, and the far right in the Duma that eventually murdered Rasputin, hoping by this act to save the dynasty by destroying the albatross around its neck.