Early Days as a Monk
It’s believed that Rasputin first left home for religious and or spiritual purposes around 1892, but he returned frequently to his hometown to attend to his familial obligations. Nicholas Monastery in Verkhoturye in 1897, Rasputin became a changed man, according to accounts. He began to go on longer and longer pilgrimages, possibly reaching as far south as Greece. However, it’s important to point out that the ‘holy man’ never took vows to become a monk, making his name, “The Mad Monk,” a misnomer.
During these years of pilgrimage towards the end of the 19th century, Rasputin began to develop a small following. He would travel to other towns to preach and teach, and when he returned to Pokrovskoye he allegedly had a small group of people with whom he would pray and perform ceremonies. However, elsewhere in the country, especially in the capital, St. Petersburg, Rasputin remained an unknown entity. But a series of fortunate events would change that and propel Rasputin to the forefront of Russian politics and religion.
The self proclaimed ‘holy man’ was a mystic and had a powerful personality, one that easily allowed him to affect those around him, usually making them feel quite at ease and safe around him. Whether or not he was truly a man gifted with magical talents is a matter for the theologians and philosophers to argue about, but it can be said that he commanded a certain aura of respect when he walked the earth.
Russia at the Time of Rasputin
To understand the story of Rasputin and why he has become such an important figure in Russian and world history, it’s best to understand the context in which he lived. Specifically, Rasputin arrived in St. Petersburg at a time of tremendous social upheaval in the Russian Empire. The Tsarist government, which ruled as an autocracy and upheld a system of feudalism that dated back centuries, was beginning to crumble. The urban middle classes, which were developing as a result of the slow process of industrialization that had taken place throughout the 19th century, as well as the rural poor, were beginning to organize and seek out alternative forms of government.
This, plus a combination of other factors, meant that the Russian economy was in steady decline by the beginning of the 20th century. Tsar Nicholas II, who was in power from 1894-1917, was insecure about his ability to rule what was obviously a crumbling country, and he had made many enemies amongst the nobility who saw the state of the empire as an opportunity to expand their power, influence, and status. All of this led to the formation of a constitutional monarchy in 1907, which meant that the Tsar, for the first time ever, would need to share his power with a parliament, as well as a prime minister.
This development seriously weakened the power of Tsar Nicholas II, although he retained his position as head of the Russian state. Yet this temporary truce did little to resolve the instability going on in Russia, and when World War I broke out in 1914 and the Russians entered the fight, revolution was imminent. Just one year later, in 1915, 9the war had taken its toll on the weak Russian economy. Food and other crucial resources became scarce, and the working classes grew weak. Tsar Nicholas II took control of the Russian army, but this probably made the situation worse. Then, in 1917, a series of revolutions, known as the Bolshevik Revolution, took place, which ended the Tsarist autocracy and paved the way for the formation of the United Soviet Socialist States (USSR). While all this was taking place, Rasputin managed to become close to the Tsar, and he eventually became a scapegoat for his political rivals as they sought to weaken Nicholas II and improve their own position in society.