Question: "Who was Grigori Rasputin and what impact did he have on Christianity?"

Answer: Grigori Rasputin (1839—1917) was a religious mystic and self-proclaimed holy man who gained the confidence of the Romanov family (Tsar Nicholas) and exerted great influence over them. He was one of the most influential and divisive figures of the final days of the Russian Empire. Many of the details about Rasputin are in dispute, and some are no doubt exaggerated, but what follows is generally accepted as true.

Rasputin was born a peasant in Siberia. It seems that much of his early life was spent seeking some form of spiritual enlightenment. He traveled to various holy sites and spent time with people of various religious beliefs. In time he came to believe that the way to gain intimacy with God was through sin. He traveled throughout Russia as a “holy” man, mystic, and “monk,” although he was not a member of any monastic order. He claimed to be able to heal and predict the future. He gained a significant following, all the while sinning to excess.

Rasputin was a large, imposing figure, about 6’3” (compared to Tsar Nicholas, who was 5’5” and Vladimir Lenin, who was 5’4”). According to the French ambassador, Rasputin once claimed to be the savior of Russia, saying, “Despite my terrible sins I am a Christ in miniature” (quoted in Rasputin: The Saint Who Sinned by Brian Moynahan, Random House, 1999, Chapter 1). Rasputin was given to alcohol; he was crude and debased, disheveled, unwashed and foul-smelling—traits that he claimed were proof of his holiness. At the same time Rasputin was described as charming and seductive. He was openly immoral, sleeping with his women followers.

Eventually, Rasputin was introduced to the royal family of Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra Romanov. Their son Alexi suffered from hemophilia, and, although the details are sketchy, the Tsarina came to believe that Rasputin could heal him. Thus, he was welcomed into the court and began to exert influence over the imperial family.

When Russia entered World War I, Rasputin was against the nation’s involvement and tried to convince Tsar Nicholas to withdraw. Many of the Russian nobles did not trust him and began to look for ways to remove him from his position of influence. Although popular with many, Rasputin was a divisive figure and wildly unpopular with many others. When Nicholas left St. Petersburg to lead the war effort, Rasputin began to exert more influence, even firing government officials. There are rumors that he seduced the Tsarina as well.

Finally, the Russian nobility had had enough of Rasputin and decided to kill him. First, he was fed cake laced with poison, but that seemed to have no effect. Then he was shot and left for dead, but when the would-be murderers returned several hours later, Rasputin was attempting to escape from the house, so they shot him again several times. (Some reports indicate that he may have been stabbed as well.) Finally, to make sure he was dead, the assassins tied him up and threw him in the icy Neva River. Several days later, his body was recovered. By some accounts, an autopsy revealed that he had water in his lungs, which would indicate that he was still alive when he was thrown into the water.

Rasputin is not someone who is normally thought of as having any significant impact upon Christianity. His popularity, like that of any false teacher, revealed that many were looking for something to fill a spiritual void. Unfortunately, this spiritual void in Russia may have contributed to the popular acceptance of Bolshevik ideology. Additionally, Rasputin’s divisiveness and unpopularity with many Russians may have contributed to the rejection of the Tsar in favor of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. If that is the case, then Rasputin may have given an unwitting boost to the communist revolution. Communism ultimately brought tremendous persecution to genuine believers in Russia and what would become the Soviet Union. In paving the way for the future persecution of Christians, Grigori Rasputin did have an impact on Christianity.