Nearly a century has passed since he walked amongst the living, but people still ask, “Who was Rasputin?”
Grigori Yefemovich arrived in St. Petersburg in 1903. His strange appeal introduced him to circles of society to which no peasant ever rose. It’s hard for anyone living now to understand how remarkable Rasputin’s story really is.
A Russian living in the early 1900s would have found changing his status impossible and undesirable. In Russia, if you were born a peasant, you would die a peasant and wanting to do anything else was abnormal. They were far beneath the notice of the Romanovs; to the royals, they knew they were nothing more than a part of the landscape – like a tree or a horse. The concept of a peasant with influence over the Tsar was definitely distasteful. If anyone did have visions of powerful peasants, they certainly would not have selected Grigori Yefemovich as the man to lead them into the future.
Before he was a starets, or holy man, he was a well-known troublemaker in his village who had acquired a string of convictions for petty crimes. Rasputin did not trouble with hygiene and his lewd conversation disturbed men and women alike. He had a wife and children in Siberia, who did n0t interfere with his pursuit of any woman he encountered, whatsoever.
Who would want to hook up with Rasputin, you ask. Everybody! Rasputin had mojo.
Russian women of the peasant and aristocratic classes were irresistibly attracted to the monk, and threw themselves at him at every opportunity. Pictures of Rasputin in no way convey that he actually lived during the Gilded Age, but somehow we have to reconcile the picture of the peasant monk, with dirt caked under his fingernails, welcomed into the grandest palaces in Russia.
And the Empress Alexandra’s gratitude to Rasputin and insistence on keeping him nearby gave rise to rumors about their relationship that persist to this day.
Some believe, as the Tsarina did, that Rasputin was a saint. Others believe he was possessed by Satan. Proponents of both theories cite the same evidence in his improbable life and legendary death as proof of their claims. Whichever side you espouse, you most likely agree that Grigori Yefemovich was no ordinary man.
Alexei continued to have episodes, the doctors gave up the case as hopeless again and again. But Rasputin would somehow save him every time. His deeply frightened mother insisted on keeping the monk nearby. The Tsar was not as devoted to Rasputin as Alexandra, but he refused to upset his wife by banishing the monk, as his advisors begged him to do.
The monk’s philosophy that encouraged and required sin would have guaranteed he garnered attention – even without his unlikely friendship with the imperial Romanovs. A sample:
Certainly our Savior and Holy Fathers have denounced sin, since it is the work of the Evil One. But how can you drive out evil except by sincere repentance? And how can you sincerely repent if you have not sinned?
Rasputin’s lechery, his bragging, and his influence over the tsarina was a toxic combination. Society in St. Petersburg – by then called Petrograd – whispered scandalous stories about the monk. Ignorant of Alexei’s illness, people attributed Rasputin’s constant presence to their suspicion that he was Alexandra’s lover.
Rasputin’s personal life was enough to give him a place in history, but his death cemented his status as a legend. What other turn of the century priest has his own disco song?
Want to know more about Rasputin? Check out some additional posts about the Mad Monk.