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.
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).