MODERN SAINTS AND SEERS
TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH OF
WILLIAM RIDER & SON, LTD.
CATHEDRAL HOUSE, PATERNOSTER ROW, E.C.
THE FOREST OF ILLUSIONS
"Listen within yourselves, and gaze into the infinity of Space and Time. There resounds the song of the Stars, the voice of Numbers, the harmony of the Spheres."—HERMES TRISMEGISTUS.
In these days the phenomenon of religion, which we believed to have receded into the background of human life, is reappearing among us, more vigorous than ever. The four years' desolation into which the world was plunged has rendered the attraction of "the beyond" irresistible, and man turns towards it with passionate curiosity and undisguised longing. The millions of dead who have vanished from mortal sight seem to be drawing the present towards the unsounded deeps of the future. In many cases their loss has taken all joy and colour from the lives of those who survive them, and tear-stained faces are instinctively turned towards the portals of the Great Mystery.
Occultism is triumphant. In its many different forms it now emerges from obscurity and neglect. Its promises excite our deepest thoughts and wishes. Eagerly we examine the strength of the bridge that it has built between this world and the next; and though we may see our hopes slip down between the crevices, though we may find those who have been disappointed in a more despairing state than before—what matter? We still owe thanks to occultism for some cherished moments of illusion.
The number of its followers increases steadily, for never before has man experienced so ardent a desire for direct contact with the Unknowable. Science will have to reckon with this movement which is carrying away even her own high-priests. She will have to widen her frontiers to include the phenomena that she formerly contemned.
The supernatural world, with its abnormal manifestations, fascinates modern humanity. The idea of death becomes more and more familiar. We even demand, as Renan happily expressed it, to know the truth which shall enable us not to fear, but almost to love, death: and an irresistible force urges us to explore the depths of subconsciousness, whence, it is claimed, may spring the desired renewal and intensification of man's spiritual life.
But why is it that we do not return to the old-established religions? It is because, alas, the Great Agony through which the world has passed has not dealt kindly with any form of established faith. Dogmatic theology, which admits and exalts the direct interference of the divinity in our affairs, has received some serious wounds. The useless and unjustifiable sacrifice of so many innocent lives, of women, of old men, of children, left us deeply perplexed. We could not grasp the reason for so much suffering. Never, at any period in the past, have the enemies of humanity and of God so blasphemed against the eternal principles of the universe—yet how was it that the authors of such crimes went unpunished?
Agonising doubts seized upon many faithful hearts, and amid all the misery with which our planet was filled we seemed to distinguish a creeping paralysis of the established faiths. Just at the time when we most had need of religion, it seemed to weaken and vanish from our sight, though we knew that human life, when not enriched and ennobled by spiritual forces, sinks into abysmal depths, and that even any diminution in the strength of these forces is fatally injurious to our most sacred and essential interests.
Attempts to revive our faith were bound to be made sooner or later, and we shall no doubt yet witness innumerable pilgrimages towards the source of religion.
The psychology of the foundations of the spiritual life; the mysterious motives which draw men towards, or alienate them from, religious leaders; the secret of the influence exercised by these latter upon mankind in the mass—all these things are now and always of intense interest. Through the examination of every kind of disease, the science of medicine discovers the laws of health; and through studying many religions and their followers we may likewise arrive at a synthesis of a sane and wholesome faith. The ever-increasing numbers of strange and attractive places of worship which are springing up in all countries bear witness to man's invincible need to find shelter behind immediate certainties, even as their elaborate outer forms reflect the variety of his inward aspirations.
In the great forest of ecstasies and illusions which supplies spiritual nourishment to so many of our fellow-humans, we have here confined ourselves to the examination of the most picturesque and unusual plants, and have gathered them for preference in the soil of Russia and of the United States. These two countries, though in many respects further apart than the Antipodes, furnish us with characteristic examples of the thirst for renewal of faith which rages equally in the simple soul of an uncultured peasant and in that of a business man weary of the artificialities of modern life.
Many of us held mistakenly that our contemporaries were incapable of being fired to enthusiasm by new religions, whose exponents seemed to us as questionable as their doctrines. But we need only observe the facts to behold with what inconceivable ease an age considered prosaic and incredulous has adopted spiritual principles which frequently show up the lack of harmony between our manner of life and our hidden longings.
The religious phenomena which we see around us in so many complex forms seem to foreshadow a spiritual future whose content is illimitable.
Such examples of human psychology, whether normal or morbid, as are here offered to the reader, may well recall to mind some of the strangest products of man's imagination. The tales of Hoffmann or of Edgar Allan Poe pale before these inner histories of the human soul, and the most moving novels and romances appear weak and artificial when compared to the eruptions of light and darkness which burst forth from the depths of man's subconsciousness.
These phenomena will interest the reader of reflective temperament no less than the lover of the sensational and the improbable in real life.
PREFACE: THE FOREST OF ILLUSIONS
THE SALVATION OF THE POOR
A. THE ORGANISED SECTS
I. THE NEGATIVISTS II. THE WHITE-ROBED BELIEVERS III. THE STRANGLERS IV. THE FUGITIVES V. THE SOUTAIEVTZI VI. THE SONS OF GOD VII. THE TOLSTOYANS VIII. THE SPIRITUAL CHRISTIANS IX. A LABORATORY OF SECTS X. THE DOUCHOBORTZI XI. THE MOLOKANES XII. THE STOUNDISTS XIII. THE MERCHANTS OF PARADISE XIV. THE JUMPERS AND THE HOLY BROTHERS XV. THE LITTLE GODS XVI. THE FOLLOWERS OF GRIGORIEFF XVII. THE NAPOLEONITES XVIII. THE DIVINE MEN XIX. THE RELIGION OF RASPUTIN XX. THE INSPIRED SEERS XXI. THE RELIGION OF SISTER HELEN XXII. THE SELF-MUTILATORS
B. THE NON-SECTARIAN VISIONARIES
I. THE BROTHERS OF DEATH II. THE DIVINITY OF FATHER IVAN III. AMONG THE MIRACLE-WORKERS
C. THE RISING FLOOD
I. THE MAHOMETAN VISIONARIES II. THE RELIGION OP THE POLAR MARSEILLAIS III. THE RELIGION OF THE GREAT CANDLE IV. THE NEW ISRAEL V. CONCLUSION
THE SALVATION OF THE WEALTHY
A. RELIGION AND ECONOMY
I. THE MORMONS, OR LATTER-DAY SAINTS II. THE RELIGION OF BUSINESS III. THE ADEPTS OF THE SUN OF SUNS
B. RELIGION AND MIRACLES
I. THE CHRISTIAN SCIENTISTS II. SCHLATTER, THE MIRACLE-MAN
THE DEPTHS OF THE SUBCONSCIOUS MIND
I. SECTS IN FRANCE AND ELSEWHERE II. THE RELIGION OF MURDER III. THE REINCARNATIONISTS' PARADISE CONCLUSION
MODERN SAINTS AND SEERS
THE SALVATION OF THE POOR
A. THE ORGANISED SECTS
The tragic death of the monk Rasputin made a deep impression upon the civilised world, and truth was lost to view amid the innumerable legends that grew up around his life and activities. One leading question dominated all discussions:—How could an individual so lacking in refinement and culture influence the life of a great nation, and become in indirect fashion one of the main factors in the struggle against the Central Powers? Through what miracle did he succeed in making any impression upon the thought and conduct of a social order infinitely superior to himself?
Psychologists are fascinated by the career of this adventurer who ploughed so deep a furrow in the field of European history; but in seeking to detach the monk from his background, we run the risk of entirely failing to comprehend the mystery of his influence, itself the product of a complex and little understood environment. The misery of the Russian people, combined with their lack of education, contributed largely towards it, for the desire to escape from material suffering drove them to adopt the weirdest systems of salvation for the sake of deliverance and forgetfulness.
The perception of the ideal is often very acute among the uneducated. They accept greedily every new "message" that is offered them, but alas, they do not readily distinguish the true from the false, or the genuine saint from the impostor.
The orthodox clergy of the old Russian regime, recruited under deplorable conditions, attained but rarely the moral and intellectual eminence necessary to inspire their flock with feelings of love and confidence; while, on the other hand, the false prophets and their followers, vigorously persecuted by official religion, easily gained for themselves the overwhelming attraction of martyrdom. Far from lessening the numbers of those who deserted the established church, persecution only increased them, and inflamed the zeal of its victims, so that they clung more passionately than ever to the new dogmas and their hunted exponents.
These sects and doctrines, though originating among the peasantry, did not fail to spread even to the large towns, and waves of collective hysteria, comparable to the dances of death of the Middle Ages, swept away in their train all the hypersensitives and neurotics that abound in the modern world. Even the highest ranks of Russian society did not escape the contagion.
We shall deal in these pages with the most recent and interesting sects, and with those that are least known, or perhaps not known at all. Beginning with the doctrines of melancholia, of tenderness, of suffering, of exalted pietism, and of social despair—which, whether spontaneous or inspired, demoniac or divine, undoubtedly embody many of the mysterious aspirations of the human soul—we shall find ourselves in a strange and moving world, peopled by those who accomplish, as a matter of course, acts of faith, courage and endurance, foreign to the experience of most of us.
These pages must be read with an indulgent sympathy for the humble in spirit who adventure forth in search of eternal truth. We might paraphrase on their behalf the memorable discourse of the Athenian statesman: "When you have been initiated into the mystery of their souls you will love better those who in all times have sought to escape from injustice."
We should feel for them all the more because for so long they have been infinitely unhappy and infinitely abused. Against the dark background of the abominations committed by harsh rulers and worthless officials, the spectacle of these simple souls recalls those angels described by Dante, who give scarcely a sign of life and yet illuminate by their very presence the fearful darkness of hell; or those beautiful Greek sarcophagi upon which fair and graceful scenes are depicted upon a background of desolation. These "pastorals" of religious faith have a strangely archaic atmosphere, and I venture to think that my readers will enjoy the contemplation of such virgin minds, untouched by science, in their swift and effortless communings with the divine.
The mental profundities of the moujik exhale sweetness and faith like mystic flowers opening under the breath of the Holy Spirit. In them, as in the celebrated Psychomachy of Prudence, the Christian virtues meet with the shadows of forgotten gods, Holy Faith is linked to Idolatry, Humility and Pride go hand in hand, and Libertinism seeks shelter beneath the veils of Modesty.
This thirst for the Supreme Good will in time find its appeasement in the just reforms brought by an organised democracy to a long-suffering people. Some day it may be that order, liberty and happiness shall prevail in the Muscovite countries, and their inhabitants no longer need to seek salvation by fleeing from reality. Then there will exist on earth a new paradise, wherein God, to use Saint Theresa's expression, shall henceforth "take His delight."
The most propitious and fertile soil in which collective mania can grow is that of unhappiness. Famine, unjust taxation, unemployment, persecution by local authorities, and so on, frequently lead to a dull hatred for the existing social, moral and religious order, which the simple-minded peasant takes to be the direct cause of his misfortunes.
Thus it was that the Negativists denied everything—God, the Devil, heaven, hell, the law, and the power of the Tsar. They taught that there is no such thing as right, religion, property, marriage, family or family duties. All those have been invented by man, and it is man who has created God, the Devil, and the Tsar.
In the record of the proceedings taken against one of the principal upholders of this sect, we find the following curious conversation between him and the judge.
"I have none."
"In what God do you believe?"
"In none. Your God is your own, like the Devil, for you have created both. They belong to you, like the Tsar, the priests, and the officials."
These people believe neither in generosity nor in gratitude. Men give away only what is superfluous, and the superfluous is not theirs. Labour should be free; consequently they kept no servants. They rejected both trade and money as useless and unjust. "Give to thy neighbour what thou canst of that of which he has need, and he in turn will give thee what thou needest." Love should be entirely free. Marriage is an absurdity and a sin, invented by man. All human beings are free, and a woman cannot belong to any one man, or a man to any one woman.
Here are some extracts taken from some other legal records. Two of the believers were brought before the judge, accompanied by a child.
"Is this your wife?" the judge inquired of the man.
"No, she is not my wife."
"How is it then that you live together?"
"We live together, but she is not mine. She belongs to herself."
Turning to the woman, the judge asked:
"Is this your husband?"
"He is not mine. He does not belong to me, but to himself."
"And the child? Is he yours?"
"No, he is not ours. He lives with us; he is of our blood; but he belongs to himself."
"But the coat you are wearing—is that yours?" demanded the exasperated judge.
"It is on my back, but it is not mine. It belonged once to a sheep; now it covers me; but who can say whose it will be to-morrow?"
The Negativists invented, long before Tolstoi, the doctrine of inaction and non-resistance to evil. They were deceived, robbed and ruined, but would not apply to the law, or to the police. Their method of reasoning and their way of speaking had a peculiar charm. A solicitor who visited one of the Siberian prisons reports the following details concerning a man named Rojnoff. Arrested and condemned to be deported for vagabondage, he escaped repeatedly, but was at length imprisoned. The inspector was calling the roll of the prisoners, but Rojnoff refused to answer to his name. Purple with rage, the inspector approached him and asked, "What is your name?"
"It is you who have a name. I have none."
After a series of questions and answers exchanged between the ever more furious official and the prisoner, who remained perfectly calm, Rojnoff was flogged—but in spite of raw and bleeding wounds he still continued to philosophise.
"Confess the truth," stormed the inspector.
"Seek it," replied the peasant, "for yourself, for indeed you have need of it. As to me, I keep my truth for myself. Let me be quiet—that is all I ask."
The solicitor visited him several months later, and implored him to give his name, so that he might obtain his passport and permission to rejoin his wife and children.
"But I have no need of all that," he said. "Passports, laws, names—all those are yours. Children, family, property, class, marriage—so many of your cursed inventions. You can give me only one single thing—quietness."
The Siberian prisons swarmed with these mysterious beings. Poor souls! Their one desire was to quit as soon as possible this vale of injustice and of tears!
THE WHITE-ROBED BELIEVERS
Sometimes this longing for a better world, where suffering would be caused neither by hunger nor by laws, took touching and poetic forms.
About the month of April, 1895, all eyes in the town of Simbirsk were turned upon a sect founded by a peasant named Pistzoff. These poor countryfolk protested against the injustices of the world by robing themselves in white, "like celestial angels."
"We do not live as we should," taught Pistzoff, an aged, white-haired man. "We do not live as our fathers lived. We should act with simplicity, and follow the truth, conquering our bodily passions. The life that we lead now cannot continue long. This world will perish, and from its ruins will arise another, a better world, wherein all will be robed in white, as we are."
The believers lived very frugally. They were strict vegetarians, and ate neither meat nor fish. They did not smoke or drink alcohol, and abstained from tea, milk and eggs. They took only two meals daily—at ten in the morning, and six in the evening. Everything that they wore or used they made with their own hands—boots, hats, underclothing, even stoves and cooking utensils.
The story of Pistzoff's conversion inevitably recalls that of Tolstoi. He was a very rich merchant when, feeling himself inspired by heavenly truth, he called his employes to him and gave them all that he had, including furniture and works of art, retaining nothing but white garments for himself and his family. His wife protested vehemently, especially when Pistzoff forbade her to touch meat, on account of the suffering endured by animals when their lives are taken from them. The old lady did not share his tastes, and firmly upheld a contrary opinion, declaring that animals went gladly to their death! Pistzoff then fetched a fowl, ordered his wife to hold it, and procured a hatchet with which to kill it. While threatening the poor creature he made his wife observe its anguish and terror, and the fowl was saved at the same time as the soul of Madame Pistzoff, who admitted that fowls, at any rate, do not go gladly into the cooking-pot.
The number of Pistzoff's followers increased daily, and the sect of the "White-robed Believers" was formed. Their main tenet being loving-kindness, they lived peacefully and harmed none, while awaiting the supreme moment when "the whole world should become white."
For the rest, the white-robed ones and their prophet followed the doctrines of the molokanes, who drank excessive quantities of milk during Lent—hence their name. This was one of the most flourishing of all the Russian sects. Violently opposed to all ceremonies, they recognised neither religious marriages, churches, priests nor dogmas, claiming that the whole of religion was contained in the Old and New Testaments. Though well-educated, they submitted meekly to a communal authority, chosen from among themselves, and led peaceful and honest working lives. All luxuries, even down to feminine ornaments or dainty toilettes, were banned. They considered war a heathen invention—merely "assassination on a large scale"—and though, when forced into military service, they did their duty as soldiers in peace-time, the moment war was in view it was their custom to throw away their arms and quietly desert. There were no beggars and no poor among them, for all helped one another, the richer setting aside one-tenth of their income for the less fortunate.
Hunted and persecuted by the government, they multiplied nevertheless, and when banished to far-away districts they ended by transforming the waste, uncultivated lands into flourishing gardens.
A sect no less extraordinary than the last was that of the Stranglers (douchiteli). It originated towards the end of 1874, and profited by a series of law cases, nearly all of which ended in acquittal. The Stranglers flourished especially in the Tzarevokokschaisk district, and first attained notoriety under the following circumstances.
A large number of deaths by strangling had been recorded, and their frequency began to arouse suspicion. Whether they were due to some criminal organisation, or to a series of suicidal impulses, the local police were long unable to decide, but in the end the culprits were discovered.
Were they, however, in reality culpable?
The unfortunate peasants, after much reflection, had come to the conclusion that death is not terrible, but that what is indubitably to be feared is the last agony—the difficult departure from terrestrial life. They decided, therefore, to come to the assistance of the Death Angel, and, when any sufferer approached the final struggle, his neighbours or relatives would carry him off to some isolated spot, tie up his head firmly but kindly in a cushion—and soon all was over.
Before, however, they had recourse to such drastic measures, they would inquire from the wizards (or znachar) of the district, doctors being almost unknown, whether the invalid still had any chance of recovery, and it was only after receiving a negative reply that the pious ceremony took place. We say "pious" because there is something strangely pathetic in this "crowning of the martyrs," as the peasants called it. Arising in the first place from compassion, the motive for the deed was, after all, a belief in the need for human sacrifice. The invalid who consents to give up his life for the honour of heaven accomplishes thereby an act of sublime piety; but what merit has he who dies only from necessity?
The corpses were buried in the forest and covered with plants and leaves, but no sign was left that might betray them to the suspicious authorities. When a member of the community disappeared, and the police made inquiries, they always had the greatest possible difficulty in finding his remains. Sometimes even his nearest relations did not know where the "saviours of his soul" had hidden him.
But there was one thing that marked the discovery of a dead Strangler. His body never bore any trace of violence, and as dissection always proved, in addition, the existence of some more or less serious disease, the sham "murderers" were eventually left in peace. A small local paper, the Volgar (April, 1895), from which these facts are taken, reports that several actions brought against them ended in their acquittal.
Lord Avebury recounts that certain cannibal tribes kill those of their members who have reached the stage of senile decay, and make them the substance of a more or less succulent repast. These savages act, no doubt, whether consciously or unconsciously, from some perception of the misery and uselessness of old age, but the Russian peasants cannot be compared to them. The Stranglers are not moved by any unconscious sentiment. Their belief is the logical application of a doctrine of pessimism, whose terrible consequences they have adopted, although they know not its terminology. What is the life of a moujik worth? Nothing, or nearly nothing. Is it not well, then, to accelerate the coming of deliverance? Let us end the life, and, snapping the chains that bind us to mortals, offer it as a sacrifice to heaven! So reason these simple creatures, inexorable in their logic, and weighed down by untold misery.
The suffering of a people nourishes the spirit of rebellion, enabling it to come to birth and to survive. There are some religious sects based exclusively upon popular discontent. The biegouny, or Fugitives, did nothing but flee from one district to another. They wandered throughout Russia with no thought of home or shelter. Those who joined the sect destroyed their passports, which were considered a work of Satan, and adopted a belief in the Satanic origin of the State, the Church and the Law. They repudiated the institution of marriage, the payment of taxes, and all submission to authority. Their special imagery included, among other things, the devil offering a candle to the Tsar, and inviting him to become the agent for Satanic work upon earth. Sometimes their feelings led them to commit acts of violence; one, for instance, would interrupt divine service; another would strike the priest. A peasant named Samarin threw himself upon the priest in a Russian church, forced him away from the altar, and, having trampled the Holy Sacraments under foot, cried out, "I tread upon the work of Satan!"
When arrested and condemned to penal servitude for life, Samarin was in despair because the death sentence had not been passed, so sure was he that he would have gone straight to heaven as a reward for his heroic exploit.
The Soutaievtzi (founded in 1880 by a working-man of Tver, named Soutaieff) scoffed at the clergy, the ikons, the sacraments, and military service, while upholding the principle of communal possession. They very soon became notorious. Soutaieff travelled all over the country preaching that true Christianity consists in the love of one's neighbour, and was welcomed with open arms by Tolstoi himself. He taught that there was only one religion, the religion of love and pity, and that churches, priests, religious ceremonies, angels and devils, were mere inventions which must be rejected if one wished to live in conformity with the truth.
As to Paradise, when all the principles of love and compassion were realised upon earth, earth itself would be Paradise. Private ownership being the cause of all misery, as well as of crimes and lies, it must be abolished, together with armies and war. Further, Soutaieff preached non-resistance to evil, and the avoidance of all violence. One of his sons, when enrolled as a conscript, refused to carry a rifle. Arguments and punishments had no effect. He proved that heaven itself was opposed to the bearing of arms by quoting the Gospel to all who tried to compel him; and in the end he was imprisoned.
Neither did Soutaieff allow that a man should be judged by his neighbour. "Judge not, that ye be not judged," was his motto, and his life filled his followers with enthusiasm, and many besides with astonishment. This uncultured peasant, who had the courage to throw on the fire the money he had earned as a mason in St. Petersburg, who carried the idea of compassion to such lengths that he followed thieves in order to give them good flour in place of the bad that they had stolen from him by mistake—this simple-minded being, whose only desire was to suffer for the "truth," possessed without doubt the soul of a saint and a visionary.
THE SONS OF GOD
The "sons of God" held that men were really gods, and that as divinity is manifested in our fellows and in ourselves, it is sufficient to offer prayers unto—our neighbours! Every man being a god, there are as many Christs as there are men, as many Holy Virgins as there are women.
The "sons of God" held assemblies at which they danced wildly, first together and then separately, until the moment when the women, in supreme ecstasy, turned from the left, and the men from the right, towards the rising sun. The dance continued until all reached a state of hysterical excitement. Then a voice was heard—"Behold the Holy Spirit!"—and the whole company, emitting cries and groans, would pursue the dizzy performance with redoubled vigour until they fell to the ground exhausted.
Their sect originated in the neighbourhood of a great hill, where dwelt a man named Philipoff with his disciples. He had retired there to work against the influence of anti-Christ, and it was there that God appeared to him, and said, "Truth and divinity dwell in your own conscience. Neither drink nor marry. Those among you who are already married should live as brothers and sisters."
Women were held in high esteem by the "sons of God," being venerated as "mothers or nieces of the Saviour."
The numerous admirers of Count Tolstoi will find in his writings some derivations, whether conscious or unconscious, from the principles elaborated by many of the Russian sects. The doctrine of non-resistance, or inaction, the abolition of the army, vegetarianism, the defiance of law, and of dogmatic Christianity, together with many other conceptions which either scandalised or enraptured his readers, were already widespread among the Russian peasantry; though Tolstoi was able to give them new forms of expression and an original, if disquieting, philosophic basis.
But even as the products of the earth which we consume return to earth again, so do ideas and doctrines ever return to the source from which they sprang. A great reformer usually gathers his ideas from his environment, until, transformed by the workings of his brain, they react once more upon those to whom they actually owed their origin.
Renan has traced very accurately the evolution of a religious leader, and Tolstoi passed through all its logical phases, only stopping short of the martyrdom necessary ere he could enter the ranks of the prophets.
Imbued with the hopes and dreams that flourished all around him, he began, at a ripe age and in full possession of his faculties, to express his philosophy in poetic and alluring parables, the hostility of the government having only served to fire his enthusiasms and embitter his individual opinions. After first declaring that the masters of men are their equals, he taught later on that they are their persecutors, and finally, in old age, arrived at the conclusion that all who rule or direct others are simply criminals!
"You are not at all obliged to fulfil your duties," he wrote, in the Life and Death of Drojine, 1895, dedicated to a Tolstoyan martyr. "You could, if you wished, find another occupation, so that you would no longer have to tyrannise over men. . . . You men of power, emperors and kings, you are not Christians, and it is time you renounced the name as well as the moral code upon which you depend in order to dominate others."
It would be difficult to give a complete list either of the beliefs of the Tolstoyans, or of their colonies, in many of which members of the highest aristocracy were to be found.
"We have in Russia tens of thousands of men who have refused to swear allegiance to the new Tsar," wrote Tolstoi, a couple of years before his death, "and who consider military service merely a school for murder."
We have no right to doubt his word—but did Tolstoi know all his followers? Like all who have scattered seed, he was not in a position to count it. But however that may be, he transformed the highest aspirations of man's soul into a noble philosophy of human progress, and attracted the uneducated as well as the cultured classes by his genuine desire for equality and justice.
Early in June, 1895, several hundreds of verigintzi (members of a sect named after Veregine, their leader) came from the south of Russia to the Karsk district. The government's suspicions were aroused, and at Karsk the pilgrims were stopped, and punished for having attempted to emigrate without special permission. Inquiries showed that all were Tolstoyans, who practised the doctrine of non-resistance to evil on a large scale. For their co-religionists in Elisabethpol suddenly refused to bear arms, and nine soldiers also belonging to the sect repeated without ceasing that "our heavenly Father has forbidden us to kill our fellowmen." Those who were in the reserve sent in their papers, saying that they wished to have nothing more to do with the army.
One section of the verigintzi especially distinguished themselves by the zeal with which they practised the Tolstoyan doctrines. They reverenced their leader under the name of "General Tolstoi," gave up sugar as well as meat, drank only tea and ate only bread. They were called "the fasters," and their gentleness became proverbial. In the village of Orlovka they were exposed to most cruel outrages, the inhabitants having been stirred up against them by the priests and officials. They were spat upon, flogged, and generally ill-treated, but never ceased to pray, "O God, help us to bear our misery." Their meekness at last melted the hearts of their persecutors, who, becoming infected by their religious ardour, went down on their knees before those whom they had struck with whips a few minutes before.
THE SPIRITUAL CHRISTIANS
The Slavonic atmosphere exhales an intense longing for the ideal and for heaven. Often a kind of religious ecstasy seems to sweep over the whole length and breadth of the Russian territories, and Tolstoi's celebrated doctrines reflected the dreamy soul of the moujik and the teachings of many Russian martyrs. It would, however, be a mistake to suppose that it is only the peasants buried in the depths of the country who provide favourable soil for the culture of the religious bacillus. It is the same with all classes—merchants, peasants, labourers and aristocrats.
The working-classes, especially those of the large towns, usually offer more resistance to the influence of religious fanatics, but in Petrograd and Moscow they are apt to follow the general current. Lack of space forbids us to study in all their picturesque details the birth and growth of religious sects in these surroundings. We must confine ourselves to one of the more recent manifestations—that of the mysterious "spiritual Christians."
In 1893, a man named Michael Raboff arrived in St. Petersburg. Peasant by birth, carpenter by trade, he immediately began to preach the tenets of his "spiritual Christianity." He became suspect, and with his friend Nicholas Komiakoff was deported to a far-distant neighbourhood; but in spite of this his seed began to bear fruit, for the entire district where he and Komiakoff were sent to work was soon won over to the new religion. The director himself, his wife, and all his workmen embraced it, and though the workshops were closed by the police, the various members distributed themselves throughout the town and continued to spread Raboff's "message." Borykin, the master-carpenter, took employment under a certain Grigorieff, and succeeded in converting all his fellow-workers. Finally Grigorieff's house was turned into a church for the new sect, and an illiterate woman named Vassilisa became their prophetess. Under the influence of the general excitement, she would fall into trances and give extravagant and incomprehensible discourses, while her listeners laughed, danced and wept ecstatically. By degrees the ceremonial grew more complex, and took forms worthy of a cult of unbalanced minds.
At the time when the police tried to disperse the sect it possessed a quite considerable number of adherents; but it died out in May, 1895, scarcely two years after its commencement.
The "spiritual Christians" called themselves brothers and sisters, and gave to Raboff the name of grandfather, and to the woman Vassilisa that of mother. They considered themselves "spiritual Christians" because they lived according to the spirit of Christianity. For the rest, their doctrine was innocent enough, and, but for certain extravagances and some dangerous dogmas borrowed from other sects, their diffusion among the working-classes of the towns might even have been desirable. Sexual chastity was one of their main postulates, and they also recommended absolute abstention from meat, spirits, and tobacco. But at the same time they desired to abolish marriage.
When the police raided Grigorieff's workshops, they found there about fifty people stretched on the ground, spent and exhausted as a result of the excessive efforts which Raboff's cult demanded of them. At their meetings a man or woman would first read aloud a chapter from Holy Scripture. The listeners would make comments, and one of the more intelligent would expound the selected passage. Growing more and more animated, he would finally reach a state of ecstasy which communicated itself to all present. The whole assembly would cry aloud, groan, gesticulate and tear their hair. Some would fall to the ground, while others foamed at the mouth, or rent their garments. Suddenly one of the most uplifted would intone a psalm or hymn which, beginning with familiar words, would end in incoherency, the whole company singing aloud together, and covering the feet of their "spiritual mother" with kisses.
A LABORATORY OF SECTS
We will now travel to the south of Russia, and examine more closely what might be called a laboratory of sects, or in other words a breeding-ground of religions whose idealism, whether foolish or sublime, is often sanctified by the blood of believers, and descends like dew from Hermon into the midst of our busy civilisation.
The mystical tendencies of the popular soul sometimes develop in a fashion little short of prodigious, and to no country do we owe so many remarkable varieties of religious faith as to that portion of Russia which lies between Kherson and Nicolaiev. There is seen in full activity the greatest religious laboratory in the world; there originate, as a rule, the morbid bacilli which invade the rest of Russia; and there do sects grow up like mushrooms, only to disappear with equal rapidity.
An orthodox missionary named Schalkinsky, who was concerned especially with the erring souls of the region of Saratov, has published a work in which he gives a fantastic picture of the events of quite recent years. He was already the author of several books dealing with the sect of the bezpopovtzi, and his high calling and official position combine to give authority to his words.
When we consider the immense variety of these sects, we can easily imagine what takes place in every small village that becomes possessed of the craving for religious perfection. Prophets, gods and demi-gods, holy spirits and apostles, all kinds of saints and mystics, follow thick and fast upon one another's heels, seeking to gain the ascendancy over the pious souls of the villagers. Some are sincere and genuinely convinced believers; others, mere shameless impostors; but all, manifesting the greatest ardour and eloquence, traverse the countryside, imploring the peasants to "abandon their old beliefs and embrace the new holy and salutary dogmas." The orthodox missionaries seem only to increase the babel by organising their own meetings under the protection of the local authorities.
Some of the sectarians will take part in public discussions, either in the open air or in the churches, but most of them content themselves with smiling mockingly at the assertions of the "anti-Christian faith" (i.e. the orthodox official religion). With the new regime conditions may undergo a radical change, but in former times religious doubts, when too openly manifested by the followers of the "new truths," were punished by imprisonment or deportation.
Sometimes the zeal of the missionaries carried them too far, for, not content with reporting the culprits to the ecclesiastical authorities, they would denounce them publicly in their writings. The venerable Father Arsenii, author of fifteen pamphlets against the molokanes, delivered up to justice in this way sufficient individuals to fill a large prison; and another orthodox missionary crowned his propaganda by printing false accusations against those who refused to accept the truth as taught by him.
In a centre like Pokourlei, which represented in miniature the general unrest of the national soul, there were to be found among the classified sects more than a dozen small churches, each having its own worshippers and its own martyrs. An illiterate peasant, Theodore Kotkoff, formed what was called the "fair-spoken sect," consisting of a hundred and fifty members who did him honour because he invented a new sort of "Holy Communion" with a special kind of gingerbread. Another, Chaidaroff, nicknamed "Money-bags," bought a forest and built a house wherein dwelt fifteen aged "holy men," who attracted the whole neighbourhood. Many men in the prime of life followed the example of the aged ones, and retired to live in the forest, while women went in even greater numbers and for longer periods. Husbands grew uneasy, and bitter disputes took place, in which one side upheld the moral superiority of the holy men, while the other went so far as to forbid the women to go and confess to them. One peasant claimed to be inspired by the "Holy Ghost," and promenaded the village, summer and winter, in a long blouse without boots or trousers, riding astride a great stick on which he had hung a bell and a flag, and announcing publicly the reign of Anti-Christ. In addition the village was visited by orthodox missionaries, but, as the Reverend Father Schalkinsky naively confesses, "the inhabitants fled them like the plague." They interviewed, however, the so-called chiefs of the new religions, who listened to them with gravity and made some pretence of being convinced by the purveyors of official truth.
The religious ferment of South Russia was due to some special causes, its provinces having served since the seventeenth century as lands of exile for revolutionaries of all kinds, religious, political and social. Dangerous criminals were also sent there, and a population of this nature naturally received with open arms all who preached rebellion against established principles and doctrines.
About the year 1750, a Prussian non-commissioned officer, expatriated on account of his revolutionary ideas, appeared in the neighbourhood of Kharkov. He taught the equality of man and the uselessness of public authority, and was the real founder of the douchobortzi, who believed in direct communion with the divinity by aid of the spirit which dwells in all men. The sparks scattered by this unknown vagabond flared up some time later into a conflagration which swept away artisans, peasants and priests, and embraced whole towns and villages.
The beliefs of the sect were that the material world is merely a prison for our souls, and that our passions carry in themselves the germs of our punishments. Nothing is more to be decried than the desire for worldly honour and glory. Did not Our Lord Himself say that He was not of this world? Emperors and kings reign only over the wicked and sinful, for honest men, like the douchobortzi, have nothing to do with their laws or their authority. War is contrary to the will of God. Christ having declared that we are all brothers and sisters, the words "father" and "mother" are illogical, and opposed to His teachings. There is only one Father, the Father in Heaven, and children should call their parents by their Christian names.
Except for these leading tenets, their doctrine was variable, and they not only gave rise to about a hundred other sects, but were themselves in a continual state of evolution and change. At one time it was their custom to put to death all children who were diseased in mind or body. As God dwells in us, they said, we cannot condemn Him to inhabit a body that is diseased. One leader of the sect believed himself to be the judge of the universe, and terrorised his co-religionists. Another ordered all who betrayed the doctrines of the sect to be buried alive, and legal proceedings which were taken against him and lasted several years showed him to be responsible for twenty-one "religious murders."
A sect of considerable importance, that of the molokanes, owed its origin to the douchobortzi. It was founded by a sincere and ardent man named Oukleine, about the end of the eighteenth century. Moloko means milk; hence the name of the sect, whose adherents drank nothing else.
Improving upon the principles of liberty professed by the douchobortzi, the molokanes taught that "where the Holy Ghost is, there is liberty"; and as they believed the Holy Ghost to be in themselves they consequently needed neither laws nor government. Had not Christ said that His true followers were not of this world? Down, then, with all law and all authority! The Apostle Paul states that all are equal, men and women, servants and masters; therefore, the Tsar being a man like other men, it is unnecessary to obey him.
The Tsar has ten fingers and makes money; why then should not the molokanes make it, who also have ten fingers? (This was the reply given by some of them when brought up for trial on a charge of manufacturing false coinage.) War is a crime, for the bearing of arms has been forbidden. (It is on record that soldiers belonging to the sect threw away their arms in face of the enemy in the Crimean War.) One should always shelter fugitives, in accordance with St. Matthew xxv. 35. Deserters or criminals—who knows why they flee? Laws are often unjust, tribunals give verdicts to suit the wishes of the authorities, and the authorities are iniquitous. Besides, the culprits may repent, and then the crime is wiped out.
The molokanes have always been led by clever and eloquent men. Uplifted by a sense of the constant presence of the Holy Ghost, they would fall into ecstatic trances, fully convinced of their own divinity and desiring only to be transported to Heaven.
Of this type was the peasant Kryloff, a popular agitator who inflamed the whole of South Russia at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Intoxicated by the success of his oratory, he grew to believe in his own mission of Saviour, and undertook a pilgrimage to St. Petersburg in order to be made a priest of the "spiritual Christians." Poor visionary! He was flogged to death.
Another molokane leader was one Andreieff, who long preached the coming of the prophet Elijah. One fine day, excited by the eloquence of his own discourses, he set forth with his followers to conquer the "promised land," a rich and fertile district in the neighbourhood of Mount Ararat, but accomplished nothing save a few wounds gained in altercations with the inhabitants. On returning to his own country, he was deported to Siberia for having hidden some dangerous criminals from justice.
As the number of molokanes increased, they decided to emigrate en masse to the Caucasus. Their kind actions and enthusiastic songs attracted crowds of the poor and sick, as well as many who were troubled by religious doubts. At their head marched Terentii Bezobrazoff, believed by his followers to be the prophet Elijah, who announced that when his mission was accomplished he would ascend to Heaven to rejoin God, his Father, Who had sent him. But alas, faith does not always work miracles! The day being fixed beforehand, about two thousand believers assembled to witness the ascension of their Elijah. By the prophet's instructions, the crowd knelt down and prayed while Elijah waved his arms frantically. Finally, with haggard mien, he flung himself down the hillside, and fell to the ground. The disillusioned spectators seized him and delivered him up to justice. He spent many years in prison, but in the end confessed his errors and was pardoned.
Many other Elijahs wished to be transported to heaven, but all met with the same fate as Bezobrazoff. These misfortunes, however, did not weaken the religious ardour of the molokanes. A regular series of "false Christs," as the Russians called them, tormented the imaginations of the southern peasantry. Some believed themselves to be Elijah, some the angel Gabriel; while others considered themselves new saviours of the world.
One of these latter made his debut in the role of Saviour about 1840, and after having drained the peasants of Simbirsk and Saratov of money, fled to Bessarabia with his funds and his disciples. Later he returned, accompanied by twelve feminine "angels," and with them was deported to Siberia.
But the popular mind is not discouraged by such small matters. Side by side with the impostors there existed men of true faith, simple and devout dreamers. Taking advantage of freedom to expound the Gospel, they profited by it for use and abuse, and it seemed to be a race as to who should be the first to start a new creed.
Even as the douchobortzi had given birth to the molokanes, so were the latter in turn the parents of the stoundists.
This sect believed that man could attain to perfection of life and health only by avoiding the fatigue of penance and fastings; and that all men should equally enjoy the gifts of Nature, Jesus Christ having suffered for all. Land and capital should belong to the community, and should be equally divided, all men being brothers, and sons of the same God. Wealth being thus equalised, it was useless to try to amass it. Trade was similarly condemned, and a system of exchange of goods advocated. The stoundists did not attend church, and avoided public-houses, "those sources of disease and misery." The government made every effort to crush them, but the more they were persecuted, the more they flourished. The seers and mystics among them were considered particularly dangerous, and were frequently flogged and imprisoned—in fact, the sect as a whole was held by the Russian administration, to be one of the most dangerous in existence. It originated in the year 1862, and from then onwards its history was one of continuous martyrdom.
Like the molokanes, the stoundists refused to reverence the ikons, the sacraments, or the hierarchy of the orthodox church, and considered the Holy Scriptures to be simply a moral treatise. They abominated war, referring to it as "murder en masse," and never entered a court of law, avoiding all quarrels and arguments, and holding it to be the most degrading of actions for a man to raise his hand against his fellow. All their members learnt to read and write, in order to be able to study the Scriptures. They recognised no power or authority save that of God, refused to take oaths, and protested against the public laws on every possible occasion. Their doctrine was really a mixture of the molokane teachings and of Communism as practised by the German colonists, led by Gutter, who settled in Russia about the end of the eighteenth century and were banished to New Russia in 1818.
Strengthened by persecution and smacking of the soil, it was no wonder that stoundism became the religion par excellence of the Russian moujik, assuming in time proportions that were truly disquieting to the authorities.
THE MERCHANTS OF PARADISE
Side by side with these flourishing sects whose followers could be numbered by millions, there existed other communities, founded upon naive and child-like superstitions, strange fruits of the tree of faith. The members of one of these believed that it was only necessary to climb upon the roofs in order to take flight to heaven. The deceptions practised on them by charlatans, the relentless persecution of the government, even the loss of reason, all counted for nothing if only they might enjoy some few moments of supreme felicity and live in harmony with the divine! To experience such ecstasy they despoiled themselves of their worldly goods, and gave away their money to impostors in exchange for pardon for their sins.
The famous sect called the "Merchants of Paradise" was founded by a peasant, Athanasius Konovaloff. Together with his son Andrew, he preached at Osikovka, from 1885 to 1892, the absolution of sins in return for offerings "in kind." There was need for haste, he declared. Time was flying, and there were but few vacant places left in Paradise. These places were of two kinds—those of the first class, at ten roubles each, which enabled the purchaser to repose upon a celestial sofa; and those of the second class, at five roubles, whose occupiers had to spend eternity seated upon footstools. The credulous peasants actually deprived themselves of food in order to procure their places.
In 1887, a man who was much respected in the village sold his crops, and went to buy himself one of the first-class places. His son heard of it, and was in despair over this lavish expenditure of ten roubles. Why, he demanded, could not his father be content with a second-class place, like so many of their neighbours?
The dispute was brought into the courts, and the old man loudly lamented the criminal indifference of his son.
"In my poor old age," he cried, "after having worked so hard, am I to be condemned to sit for ever on a footstool for the sake of five roubles?"
Then, addressing his offspring—"And you, my son, are you not ashamed so to disregard the future life of your parent, who maintained you throughout your childhood? It is a great sin with which you are burdening your soul."
Places in Paradise were promised not only to the living, but also to those who had omitted to secure them before departing on their eternal journey. The relatives would apply to the prophet, who fixed the price according to the fortune left by the deceased.
A curious ceremonial always accompanied the payment of money to Konovaloff. It was first placed upon the ground; Konovaloff would lift it with his teeth and lay it on the table; and it was finally put in his pocket by his son, Andrew. He was also assisted in his operations by two old women.
THE JUMPERS AND THE HOLY BROTHERS
The Jumpers, or sopouny, founded by one Petroff, considered it their duty to blow upon one another during Divine Service. This arose from a misinterpretation of the ninth verse of the fortieth psalm. It was also their custom to pile benches one upon another and pray from the top of them, until some hysterical female fell to the ground in a religious paroxysm. One of those present would then lean over her and act the scene of the resurrection. Petroff was a great admirer of King David, and would sing his psalms to the accompaniment of dancing, like the psalmist before the Ark. His successor, Roudometkin, reorganised the Jumpers, and gave their performances a rhythmic basis. Foreseeing the near advent of the Saviour, he caused himself to be crowned king of the "spiritual Christians" in 1887, and married a "spiritual" wife, though without discarding his "material" one. His successors all called themselves "Kings of the spiritual Christians," but they had not the authority of poor Roudometkin, who had been removed to prison in Solovetzk.
We may class with the Jumpers the Holy Brothers, or chalapouts, who believed in the indwelling presence of the Holy Ghost. They were visionaries of a more exalted kind, and often attained to such a state of religious enthusiasm that in their longing to enter heaven they climbed to the roofs of houses and hurled themselves into space.
THE LITTLE GODS
The sect of the "little gods," or bojki, was founded about 1880 by a peasant named Sava. Highly impressionable by nature, and influenced by the activities of at least a dozen different sects that flourished in his native village (Derabovka, near Volsk), Sava ended by believing himself to be God.
Though naturally aggressive, and of an irascible temperament, he soon became as serious as a philosopher and as gentle as a lamb. His intelligence seemed to increase visibly. He discoursed like a man inspired, and said to the inhabitants of Derabovka:—
"If there be a God in Heaven, there must also be one on earth. And why not? Is not the earth a creation of Heaven, and must it not resemble that which created it? . . . Where then is this earthly God to be found? Where is the Virgin Mary? Where are the twelve apostles?"
The dreamer wandered about the village, uttering his thoughts aloud. At first men shrugged their shoulders at his strange questions. But he continued to hold forth, and in the end the peasants gathered round him.
It was the sweetest moment of his life when the villagers of Derabovka at last found the deity who had been sought so eagerly. For whom could it be, if not Sava himself? . . . Thus Sava proclaimed himself God; gave to his kinsman Samouil the name of Saviour; to a peasant-woman of a neighbouring village that of the Virgin Mary; and chose the twelve Apostles and the Holy Ghost from among his acquaintance. The nomination of the latter presented, however, some difficulties. The Holy Ghost, argued the peasants, had appeared to Jesus by the river Jordan in the form of a dove, and how could one represent it by a man? They refused to do so, and decided that in future all birds of the dove species should be the Holy Ghost.
The authorities began to seek out the "gods," as they were called locally. Samouil was arrested and charged with being a false Saviour, but defended himself with such child-like candour that the tribunal was baffled. The movement therefore continued, and was indeed of a wholly innocent nature, not in any way menacing the security of the government, and filling with rapture all Sava's followers.
It was the custom of the "little gods" to gather in some forest, and there to hide the "Virgin Mary" in a leafy glade, and await her "apparition." Sava himself, and Samouil, the "Saviour," would be concealed close at hand, and she would emerge from her hiding-place in their company. The lookers-on then gave vent to loud cries of joy, and all united in glorifying the goodness of Heaven. The "Virgin" wore on these occasions a rich and beautiful robe in which all the colours of the rainbow were blended. The company would gather round her, while the "Apostles" reverently kissed her feet. Sacred hymns were then sung, and the worshippers dispersed filled with unbounded ecstasy.
THE FOLLOWERS OF GRIGORIEFF
The forms taken by religious mania are not always as harmless as in the case of the "God Sava." Ivan Grigorieff, founder of the Russian Mormons, began by preaching that God created the world in six days, but by degrees he came to attack established religion as well as the existing social order. According to him, the molokanes were "pestilent," the douchobortzi were "destroyers of the faith," and the chlysty were "mad cattle." There was only one truth, the truth of Grigorieff!
The Bible should be interpreted "according to the spirit," and as the Apostle Paul had said that Christ was to be found in those who believed in Him, then Grigorieff could be no other than Christ. He went to Turkey, returned in the role of "Saviour," and preached the necessity for a "spiritual life." Several women were chosen to share his life and that of the twelve "Apostles" whose duty it was to "glorify" him.
Passing from one hallucination to another, he insisted on a general cessation of labour. "Work not," he said, "for I will be gentle and merciful to you. You shall be like the birds who are nourished without need to till the earth: Work not, and all shall be yours, even to the corn stored away in the government granaries."
And so the peasants of Gai-Orlov left their fields unfilled, and cultivated nothing save hymns and prayers. They seemed to be uplifted as by some wave of dreamy, poetic madness. Even the unlettered imitated Grigorieff in composing psalms and hymns, some specimens of which are to be found in Father Arsenii's collection. They breathe an almost infantile mysticism.
"The dweller in heaven, The King Salim, Saviour of the world, Shall descend upon earth. The clouds flee away, The light shines. . . ."
"We will climb the mountain, It is Mount Sion that we climb, And we will sing like angels."
When Grigorieff's mind began definitely to fail, and, forgetful of divine service, he passed his time in the company of his "spiritual wives," doubt seized upon the members of his church, and they composed a melancholy psalm which was chanted to Grigorieff by his "Apostles."
"Father, Saviour, Hope of all men . . . Thou gavest us the spark, The spark of faith. But to-day, little father, Thou hidest the light, Thou hidest the light. . . .
Our life is changed. We weep for thy faith, Lost and deranged, We weep for thy holy life. Upon the Mount Sion There grew a vine of God. . . ."
Grigorieff appeared to be touched, and replied with a psalm which explained, in rhymed couplets, how the Holy Ghost (that is to say, Grigorieff) was walking in a garden when brigands appeared, and tried to carry him off—an allusion to some of his followers who had caused dissension by proclaiming themselves to be "Holy Ghosts." But the sun descended upon the Garden of Paradise, the celestial garden . . . and so on.
One day, however, "Anti-Christ," in the person of a travelling magistrate, descended upon Gai-Orlov and carried off Grigorieff. He was sent to prison, where he died of poison administered by one of his "spiritual wives," who was jealous of her rivals. But his teachings did not die with him. His work was continued by the peasant Verestchagin, with the help of twelve venerable "apostles."
Imagination can scarcely conceive of some of the strange forms under which the thirst for religious truth in Southern Russia was revealed. In this great laboratory of sects, all the dreams of humanity had their more or less "inspired" representatives. Even the smallest town was in the same case as, for example, the prison of Solovetzk, which was usually inhabited by large numbers of sectarian leaders. A Mr. Sitzoff, who spent some time there, has published a description of this modern Tower of Babel.
It harboured, among others, a douchoboretz; a "god" of the Sava persuasion, with his wife, representing the "Holy Ghost"; a chlyst, who rotated indefatigably round a tub of water; a captain who claimed the honour of brotherhood with Jesus Christ; a man named Pouchkin, who supposed himself to be the Saviour reincarnated; a skopetz who had brought a number of people from Moscow to be initiated into the sect of the Russian eunuchs; and the staretz Israil, a famous seer, who desired to found a "Church Triumphant" among the inhabitants of the prison.
These ardent reformers of religion made a terrible uproar during the hours for exercise, each one wishing to convert the rest, and frequently the warders had to intervene, to save the terrified "Holy Ghost," for example, from the "brother of Christ" or the prophet Elijah.
Before taking leave of these and other equally bizarre products of the "great laboratory," we must mention the sect of the Napoleonites, some few members of which were still to be found recently in Southern Russia. William Hepworth Dixon, who visited the country in 1870, claims to have met some in Moscow, and according to him they were then rapidly increasing in numbers.
The douchobortzi and the molokanes were deeply impressed by the advent of Napoleon the First. It seemed to them that a man who had taken part in so many heroic adventures must be an envoy of the Deity. They conceived it his mission to re-establish the throne of David and to put an end to all their misfortunes, and there was great joy among the "milk-drinkers" when the "Napoleonic mystery" was expounded to them by their leaders. It was arranged to send five molokane delegates to greet the "heavenly messenger," and five old men set forth, clad in garments white as their beards. But they arrived too late. Napoleon had left Russia after the disaster of 1812, and when the molokanes tried to follow him they were arrested on the banks of the Vistula and thrown into prison.
The popular imagination, however, refused to abandon its idol, and the idea of Napoleon ascending into heaven continued to arouse much enthusiasm. Many of the Napoleonites lamented the wickedness of his enemies, who had driven him out of Russia, thus depriving mortals of a saviour from on high.
At their meetings they spoke of Napoleon's heroic exploits, and knelt before his bust. It was said that when he entered Russia a star had appeared in the sky, like that which heralded the birth of Christ; that he was not dead, but had escaped from St. Helena by sea and was living in Irkutsk; that one day the heavens would be torn open by a great storm, and Napoleon would appear as leader of the Slavonic people; that he would put an end to all discord and, surrounded by angels and brave soldiers, would re-establish justice and happiness on earth to the sound of trumpets.
"The hour draws near!" This cry of supremest hope was ever upon the lips of the members of the Napoleonite church.
But to become almost God was a promotion of which the "little corporal" had surely never dreamed!
THE DIVINE MEN
The origin of this sect seems to be lost in the mists of the past. Some connect it with the teachings of Vishnu, some with mysterious practices of antiquity; but the "divine men" were certainly children of the Slavonic soil.
Those who seek for resemblances may find certain analogies between these adepts of "virginal virginity," or of "the great garden of the Tsar"—for both these names were applied to them—and the adamites or aryanists; for eager minds seeking supreme salvation are apt to meet upon the great road that leads to deliverance.
The rather sarcastic name of chlysty (or flagellants, by which they were also known) indicates one of the methods used by them in their desire to please the Lord.
A life-and-death struggle, lasting for some centuries, took place between Russian orthodoxy and this sect whose socialistic ideas threatened to overthrow the aristocratic dogmas of the official church.
The real founder of the sect was a man named Philipoff, who lived about the middle of the seventeenth century. According to him, Jesus Christ was only one of many Christs who have come to the succour of humanity during the course of ages. The divine spirit incarnates in men of high morality, so that Christs appear and disappear, living with and among us from time to time.
The chlysty, therefore, might always have one or more Christs among them; but all were not of equal standing. Some were great and some small!
Philipoff was convinced that he was the great Christ, having the right to choose the twelve Apostles and the Holy Mother. By degrees he came to think himself God the Father, and adopted a "divine son" in the person of a peasant named Sousloff, who succeeded him as leader of the sect after his death.
Another "Christ," named Loupkin, who bestowed the title of "Holy Virgin" upon his wife, Akoumina, gave a great impetus to the growth of the sect. His followers proclaimed him their spiritual Tsar, and received him everywhere with imposing ceremonies. He allowed his feet and hands to be kissed and obeisances to be made to the "Virgin." As a result of his propaganda many prominent members of the orthodox church were won over.
On the death of Akoumina, the role of Holy Virgin was taken by the Canoness Anastasia, of the convent of Ivanoff, and as time went on many of the aristocracy of Moscow and other parts came to swell the ranks of the believers in the "living Christs."
Philipoff's doctrines differed to some extent from those of Loupkin. Branches of his church were to be found in most of the Russian provinces, and as time went on these emancipated themselves and became independent, and many new "Christs" made their appearance. In 1903, nearly every Russian province was said to be seriously affected by the doctrines of the "divine men."
Apart from the secondary articles of faith which differentiated the churches, their main principles may be epitomised as follows:—
There are seven heavens, and the seventh is the Paradise of the "divine men." There dwell the Holy Trinity, the Mother of Jesus, the Archangels, and various Christs who have visited our planet. It is not a question of material bodies, but of spiritual principles. God incarnates in good men whenever He feels it to be necessary, and those who are chosen for this divine honour become Christs. The Christ of the Gospels died like all the rest. His body is interred at Jerusalem, and his resurrection only meant the deliverance of his spirit. His miracles were merely symbolical. Lazarus was a sinner; Christ cured him and made him a good man; hence the legend of the raising from the dead. The Gospels contain the teachings of the Christ of that epoch, but the Christs of our time receive other teachings appropriate to the needs of the present day.
The orthodox religion of Russia is a material religion, lacking the Spirit, whose presence is only to be found in the creed of the "divine men." In order that their truth shall triumph, these latter may belong nominally to the official religion. They may even attend its churches, but must leave their souls on the threshold. A "divine man" must guard his soul from the "infidels," the "wicked," the "voracious wolves"—thus were the orthodox believers designated. The human soul was created before the body. (A "divine mother," questioned as to her age in a court of law, declared that though her body was only seventy years old, her soul had lived through nearly as many centuries.) Metempsychosis was one of their beliefs. Souls change their habitations, and work upwards to supreme perfection. That of a Christ on earth becomes an angel after death; that of an imperfect man requires repeated incarnations. The body is the source of evil, and the soul the source of good. The body, therefore, with all its instincts and desires, must be dominated by the soul. "Divine men" must abstain from meat and alcoholic drinks, and also from marriage in the material sense. By a singular misapprehension of the idea of dominating the body, they looked upon marriage as a spiritual institution, believing that the soul of a man who had lived with his wife in any but a fraternal relationship would enter that of a pig after his death, and that children coming into the world through marriage were the joy of Satan. But love between men and women should exist outside the bonds of marriage, the sins of the flesh being then redeemed by the virtues of the spirit. Adultery was thus tolerated, and even held in high honour, by many branches of the sect, who believed that the vulgar relations between the sexes were thus spiritually purified, and that men and women who loved under these conditions were like the doves and turtle-doves favoured by heaven. They avoided having children, and abortion was not only tolerated but encouraged.
Rasputin, who borrowed largely from the doctrines of the "divine men," made great use of this strange idea of "spiritual love" in bringing about the triumph of debauchery in the highest ranks of Russian society.
The multiplicity of "Christs" caused some regrettable misunderstandings, and at times actual duels took place. The difficulty was resolved, however, by some of the churches in admirably simple fashion—for, in spite of all, many of these strange people were inspired by the Gospel teachings. The opponents exchanged blows, and he who longest continued to offer his cheek to the other was considered to have proved himself a superior Christ.
The chlysty were divided into sections, each having its angels, its prophets, and its Christ. They met in their "Jerusalem," which was usually a cellar, and their services took place at night, the participants all wearing white robes. The ceremonies consisted chiefly of graceful movements—first a solo dance, then evolutions in pairs, after which a cross would be formed by a large number of dancers, and finally the "dance of David" took place, in imitation of the Biblical King before the Ark. The dancers then fell exhausted to the ground, their tired bodies no longer opposing the manifestation of their souls, and the prophets and prophetesses gave voice to divine inspirations.
Once a year the "high ceremonial" was held. A tub filled with water was placed in the middle of the room, and lit up by wax candles, and when the surface of the water became ruffled the ecstatic watchers believed God to be smiling upon them, and intoned in chorus their favourite hymn—-
"We dance, we dance, And seek the Christ who is among us."
In some of the churches this ceremony concluded with the celebration of universal love.
On account of its numerous ramifications, the sect presented many divergent aspects. The teleschi, following the example of Adam and Eve in Paradise, performed their religious rites in a state of nature; and there were other branches whose various dogmas and practices it would be impossible to describe.
THE RELIGION OF RASPUTIN
The career of Rasputin provides one of the most disquieting chapters in the history of sexual and religious emotions, and furnishes remarkable proof of the close relationship which exists between these two sides of human life, to all appearances diametrically opposed.
The supposed monk had undoubted hypnotic powers, and through his success in sending people to sleep in his native Siberian village (in the neighbourhood of Tomsk), he earned the reputation of being a "holy man." As they had never heard of either suggestion or hypnotism, the Siberian peasants were all the more impressed by his miracles. Before long he decided to make use of his mysterious power on a larger scale, and departed for St. Petersburg, where the news of his exploits had preceded him. The Tsarina, who suffered from insomnia, sent for him, and—thanks also to certain qualities which it is best not to specify—Rasputin's fortune was made in a day.
The village of his origin had an undesirable reputation, for its inhabitants were loose-livers, and the scandal of the surrounding countryside. But even in this environment the monk's family had made themselves conspicuous by their low and unmentionable customs. The young Gregory, known by the diminutive of Gricha, began his exploits at a very tender age, and earned the sobriquet of Rasputin, which means "debauched." He was mixed up in all kinds of dubious affairs—for instance, thefts of horses, the bearing of false witness, and many acts of brigandage. He was even sentenced more than once to be flogged—a penalty of which the local law-courts made generous use in those days. One of his boon companions, a gardener named Vamava, later became Bishop of Tobolsk through his influence.
But the time came when Gricha thought it well to abandon his small misdoings, and take up a more lucrative trade. He discarded his peasant costume, and adopted a robe similar to that worn by monks. Grave and serious, declaring that he was ranged "on the side of the Lord," he went about begging importunately, on the pretext of wishing to build a church. In this way he succeeded in amassing a very considerable sum of money, and subsequently founded a new sect whose bizarre nature surpassed that of any others that had recently seen the light.
Its chief doctrines were borrowed from the chlysty, with some modifications to suit the decadent atmosphere of the Russian Court. It taught that none could be saved without first having repented; and none could repent without first having sinned. Therefore to sin became a duty, and it may be imagined how full of attraction was this "religion of sin" for those who had neither the will nor the desire to practise virtue.
Rasputin began proceedings in his native province. He was a marvellous preacher, and easily attracted many followers, though some of the forms taken by the new religion were indescribable. The believers of both sexes were in the habit of assembling in an open field, in the midst of which a bonfire was lighted. They would form a chain and dance round the fire, praying for their sins to be forgiven, as they had repented of them. Gradually the fire would die out, and the leader then launched his command—"Now, my children, give yourselves up to sin!" The sequel may be left untold, but truly the saturnalia of ancient Rome grow dim before the spectacle of the ceremonies established by Rasputin.
His hypnotic practices, combined with the attractions of his "religion," only served to augment his popularity, and, burdened with past glory, he arrived in the capital to win the favour not only of ladies of high degree, but also of many prominent members of the established church.
Father John of Cronstadt, whom he first visited, was deeply impressed when Rasputin revealed to him the extent of his "intimacy with the Lord," and introduced him to the Archbishop Theophanus, almost as great a celebrity as himself.
Finding it impossible to establish the Siberian practices openly in St. Petersburg, Rasputin made great use of hypnotism. The fascination that he wielded over all in his vicinity gave authority to his words, and he devoted himself to exorcising the demons that slept in the bodies of the pretty sinners of high society. In this, scourging played a considerable part, and as all sorts of illnesses and unsatisfied desires were attributed to the "demons," the number of cases treated by the "holy man" was almost incalculable.
Even the prelates whom Rasputin ousted from their positions in some cases still continued to believe in him after his death. The Bishop Hermogen, whom he disgraced at Court, declared, the day after the assassination, his conviction that Rasputin possessed "a spark of godhead" when he first arrived in Petrograd.
THE INSPIRED SEERS
The official clergy, finding it incumbent on them to defend the articles of the orthodox faith, were themselves frequently swept away by the storm of religious mania. Before the war the fortress of Solovetzk sheltered quite an army of these harmless rebels, who, troubled by the general desire for human perfection, had ended in blasphemy. Especially from the monasteries were they recruited. It seemed as though their souls were violently assaulted by devils, like those of the anchorites of olden days. Monks and nuns alike were equally discontented, equally eager to uproot evil, whether real or imaginary, by seeking out new ways of salvation.
One such was the unfortunate Israil, originally head of the monastery of Selenginsk, later a prisoner at Solovetzk. He preached eloquently and fervently the renunciation of property, and persuaded his mother and sisters to abandon their worldly goods and devote themselves to the service of the Virgin. "To a nunnery!" he cried, with all the conviction of Hamlet driving Ophelia from this world, and they sang psalms with him and went to conceal their misery in a convent. Then, with a staff in his hand, he traversed Russia, and visited many staretz, or holy men. They taught him "the beginning and the middle of the end which does not exist," but poor Israil was still conscious of an emptiness in his heart. In the pursuit of truth he retired to a virgin forest on the banks of the river Schouia, near the desert of Krivoziersk, and remained there for years engaged in prayer, until at last, touched by such piety, the Lord gave peace to his soul. Surrounded by holy books, he practised meditation, and God manifested His love by sending him visions and dreams which, coming direct from Heaven, promised salvation to himself and to all who should follow him. In one dream he saw a great temple above the cave where he was praying. Millions of people sought to enter it, but could not, and shed bitter tears of disappointment. One man alone could approach the altar. It was Israil, the beloved of the Lord. He went straight through the great doors, and all the rest followed him.
The holy man then decided that he must act as guide to his fellows who, like himself, were possessed by the fever for eternal salvation. He knew how to distinguish between dreams sent by heaven, and those emanating from the infernal regions.
It was a great day for the new religion which was to be born in the desert of Krivoziersk when the Father Joseph came to join Israil, the tale of whose glory by this time resounded throughout the whole neighbourhood. They remained on their knees for whole weeks at a time, praying together. Israil painted sacred pictures, and Joseph carved spoons, for the glory of the Lord. An inexplicable emotion filled their souls; they trembled before the Eternal, fasted, and shed scalding tears; then, overcome by fatigue, fell fainting to the ground. Israil beheld the heavens descending upon earth. They had no dread of wild beasts, and, disregarding the need for food or sleep, they thus dwelt far from the haunts of men, in the light of Eternity.
One day Israil rose abruptly in an access of religious frenzy, climbed a hill, saluted the East three times, and returned radiant to his companion.
"The burden which lay at the door of my heart," he cried, "the burden which hindered my spirit from soaring heavenwards, has disappeared! Henceforward the Kingdom of Heaven is in me, in the depths of my soul, in the soul of the Son of my Father!"
He proceeded to share this kingdom with the brothers Warlaam, Nikanor, and others who had been "touched by the finger of God." Unbelievers were gradually won over, and a community was formed whose members lived on prayers and celestial visions, and obeyed the rules laid down for them by Israil. The sick were cured by his prayers, and the incredulous were abashed by the holiness of his appearance.
His fame spread, and ever greater crowds were attracted, so that while the faithful rejoiced in the triumph of "the beloved," Israil himself deemed the time to be ripe for his promotion in the ranks of sanctity. He proclaimed himself to be Jesus Christ.
On Holy Thursday he washed the feet of his disciples, blessed the bread and wine, and distributed it to the assembled believers.
But, alas, by this time dreams of a strangely sensual nature had seized upon him, and seemed to pervade his whole being.
In one of these dreams he found himself in an empty temple, and on approaching the altar, perceived a dead woman lying there. He lifted her up, and as he touched her she showed signs of life. Suddenly, slipping from his grasp, she leapt upon the altar, and, radiating heavenly beauty, threw herself into his arms. "Come, come, my spouse!" she said. "Come, that I may outpour for thee the wine of my love and the delights of my Eternal Father!"
On hearing these words from the Queen of Heaven, Israil dissolved into tears. He was filled with boundless rapture, and in his excitement could not forbear from sharing this joyful experience with his disciples.
His Golgotha was drawing near. The new religion was openly denounced, and rigorously suppressed. The apostles were imprisoned, and the Jesus Christ of Krivoziersk was sent for to the town of Kostroma, that he might give account of himself, his visions, and his crimes. Ultimately he was condemned to a spell of confinement, and forced to perform the most humiliating duties. His asceticism, his many virtues, his fasting and prayers, the love which God had manifested for him—all were forgotten, and Israil, who had held the Queen of Heaven in his arms, was in future obliged to clean out the stables of the monastery of Makariev, to light the fires, and prepare the brothers' baths for them.
The "beloved of the Lord" fully expected to see the earth open and engulf his impious judges in its yawning depths—but no such thing happened. His spirit grew uneasy, and, taking advantage of the Russian Government's appeal for missionaries to convert the Siberian peoples, he set forth to preach his own religion to them instead of that of Tsarism. Arrived at Irkutsk, he sought first of all to save the souls of the chief authorities, the Governor-General and the Archbishop. But his efforts beat in vain against the indifference of these high dignitaries.
"Happy are those who follow me," he assured them, "for I will reveal to them the secrets of this world, and assure them of a place in my Father's kingdom."
However, they did not heed him, and horrified at such lack of faith, Israil presented the Governor-General with a formal document on "the Second Coming of Our Saviour Jesus Christ." Still the souls of his contemporaries remained closed to the revelation, and while he meditated upon their blindness and deplored their misfortune, he was suddenly seized by their equally faithless representatives and transported to the farthest limits of the country.
There he found many of his old disciples, and proceeded to form the sect of the "inspired seers." He taught them with all earnestness that they would shortly see the Lord, Saint Simeon, and the Queen of Heaven, and soon after this, when in a state of ecstatic exaltation, they did, as by a miracle, behold God surrounded by His saints, and even the Infant Jesus.
But a new era of persecution was at hand for Israil. Heaven was merciful to him, but the powers of the earth were harsh. However, the more he was persecuted, the more his followers' ardent belief in his "divinity" increased, and their enthusiasm reached a climax when the police had the audacity to lay hands on "the son of the Lord." But Israil was quite unmoved by the fate of his earthly body, or by the prospect of earthly punishment. His soul dwelt with God the Father, and it was with the profoundest disdain that he followed the representatives of evil.
During the trial his disciples loudly expressed their belief in him, and what seemed to strengthen their faith was the fact that Israil, like the Divine Master, had been betrayed by a "Judas." They believed also that his death would be followed by miracles.
Israil himself desired to be crucified, but Heaven withheld this supreme grace, and also denied his followers the joy of witnessing miracles at his graveside. The Holy Synod contented itself with sentencing him to lifelong imprisonment at Solovetzk.
We may add that the founder of the "inspired seers" left, at his death, several volumes of verse. Unhappy poet! In the west he might have been covered with honour and glory; in the far north his lot was merely one of extreme unhappiness.
THE RELIGION OF SISTER HELEN
Sister Helen Petrov, of the convent of Pskov, declared in a moment of "divine illumination" that the Church had no hierarchy, that priests were harmful, that God had no need of intermediaries, that men should not communicate, and should, indeed, absolutely refrain from entering churches.
It was the vision of an inspired soul, or of a diseased mind—for the two extremes may meet. A pure religion, based upon the direct communion of man's spirit with God, free from false and artificial piety, having no churches or ceremonies, but exhaling the sentiment of brotherly love—what a "vision splendid" is this, so often sought but never yet attained!
In the age preceding the birth of Christ many of the finer spirits were already rebelling, like Sister Helen, against the use of agents between the human soul and God. Simeon the Just, Hillel, Jesus, son of Sirach, and many others, like Isaiah of old, besought men to cease importuning God with offerings of incense and the blood of rams. "What is needed," they said, "is to have a pure heart and to love virtue." No one, however, succeeded in formulating this teaching in so sublime a fashion as Christ Himself. For what is pure Christianity, as revealed by Him, if not the divine aspiration towards Heaven of all men as brothers, without fetters of creed and dogma, and without intermediaries?
In the name of the Divine Messenger, Sister Helen protested against the errors of men. She reproached them with their sins and their mistakes. But though the same teachings eighteen centuries before had brought about a moral renaissance, repeated by Helen they only caused untold miseries to descend upon her head. Driven from the Church and threatened with a prison-cell, her heart grew bitter within her, and her once pure spirit was clouded over.
A vision came to her, in which she learnt that the end of the world was drawing near, Anti-Christ having already made his appearance.
"We must prepare for the Last Judgment," she declared. "All family life must be renounced, wives must leave their husbands, sisters their brothers, and children their parents. The Day of God is at hand!"
After being expelled from the convent, the beautiful Helen—for she was beautiful when she first gave herself to God—carried her sacred message to the simple-minded peasants. By them she was understood and venerated, and their admiration filled her with ecstasy.
Two priests and several other nuns were attracted by the reports of her sanctity, and came to join her. She still repeated that Anti-Christ was already upon earth, and that the end was near. One day she saw him face to face and tried to kill him, for the glory of Heaven, but he escaped. However, she remembered his appearance, and was able to describe him to her followers.
"He is no other," she said, "than Father John of Cronstadt who, although a great worker of miracles, is in fact an evil genius in the service of Satan."
And all her hearers rejoiced, and paid homage to Helen's clairvoyant powers. Their enthusiastic adulation, together with the conviction of the love Christ bore her, threw the good sister into a frenzy of intense excitement, until she, who formerly had only desired to ameliorate the lot of mankind, suddenly perceived in herself an incarnation of the divine. But she sought, nevertheless, to resist the idea, and said to her followers, "I am only a poor daughter of the Lord, and He has chosen me to spread the truth about His sufferings, and to proclaim the great punishment of mankind—the end of the world."
She spoke with such emotion that her hearers, visualising the agony to come, shed tears abundantly, and prayed and fasted. But now the prophetess had another vision, for on the night before Good Friday Christ Himself appeared to her.
"Weep not, Helenouchka (little Helen)," He said. "The end of the world approaches for the wicked, and for those who knew Me not—the pagans, Jews, and priests. But you, my faithful Bride, shall be saved, and all who follow you. On the day when the world is darkened and all things crumble into ruins, the true kingdom of God shall dawn for the beloved children of heaven."
Another time Helen was overcome with joy because her heavenly Spouse visited her by night.
"Dost thou not see," said the divine Lover, "with what brilliance the sun is shining, how the flowers are opening, and every face is illumined with joy? These are the 'last rays' bidding farewell to life. But thou, Helen, shalt peacefully enjoy the raptures of love. On the appointed day thy celestial Spouse, accompanied by His angels, shall come to rescue thee, and thou shalt dwell with Him three hundred years."
One of the priests who had adopted Helen's religion composed numerous hymns in her honour, and these were chanted in chorus by the believers. The opening line of one which was sung to greet her when she awoke each morning, ran as follows: "Rejoice, Saint Helen, fair Bride of Christ, rejoice!"
Poor Saint Helen! She was not allowed to enjoy her heavenly idyll for long. Just when the new religion promised consolation to so many, the believers and their prophetess were delivered up to the rigours of the justice of this world, which called down upon their heads in turn the catastrophe of the "day of judgment."
The thirst for perfection, the ardent desire to draw near to God, sometimes takes the form of an unhappy perversion of reason and common sense. The popular soul knows no hesitation when laying its offerings upon the Altar of the Good. It dares not only to flout the principles of patriotism, of family love, and of respect for the power and the dogmas of the established church, but, taking a step further, will even trample underfoot man's deepest organic needs, and actually seek to destroy the instinct of self-preservation. What even the strictest reformers, the most hardened misanthropists, would hardly dare to suggest, is accomplished as a matter of course by simple peasants in their devotion to whatever method of salvation they believe to be in accordance with God's will. Thus came into existence the self-mutilators, or skoptzi, victims, no doubt, of some mental aberration, some misdirected sense of duty, but yet how impressive in their earnestness!
The sect having been in existence for more than a century ought perhaps to be excluded from our present survey; but it has constantly developed, and even seemed to renew its youth, so merits consideration even if only in the latter phases of its evolution.
The skoptzi were allowed, at the beginning of the twentieth century, to form separate communities, and the life of these communities under quite exceptional social conditions, without love, children, marriage or family ties, offers a melancholy field for observation. Indeed, these colonies of mutilated beings, hidden in the depths of Siberia, give one a feeling as of some monstrous and unfamiliar growth, and present one of the most puzzling aspects of the religious perversions of the present age.
After being denounced and sentenced, and after performing the forced labour allotted to them—a punishment specially reserved for the members of sects considered dangerous to orthodoxy—the skoptzi, men and women alike, were permitted to establish their separate colonies, like those of Olekminsk and Spasskoie.