Charismatic Russian monk, who became a powerful figure in the court of Czar Nicholas II, before the Romanov dynasty was swept aside by the Russian Revolution of 1917. The son of a peasant, Rasputin joined a monastery as a novice at the age of sixteen. As the Orthodox Church established hegemony in Russia, various dissenting sect groups emerged, among them the Khlysty. The Khlysty were supposedly founded in the seventeenth century by Daniel Filippov. They deviated from Orthodoxy in numerous ways. Several different splinter groups developed through the nineteenth century and by the beginning of the twentieth century the Khlysty numbered approximately 65,000 people.
Rasputin came into early contact with the Khlysty, though it is unclear just how dedicated a member he had been. Rasputin married around 1890, but his first son died when only six months old. The tragedy sent Rasputin to a strange hermit named Makary, and subsequently Rasputin became absorbed in scriptures, prayer, and meditation. One day he saw an image of the Virgin in the sky, and Makary told him, "God has chosen you for a great achievement. In Order to strengthen your spiritual power, you should go and pray to the Virgin in the convent of Afon."
The convent was at Mount Athos, in Greece, two thousand miles away, but in 1891, Rasputin made the pilgrimage on foot. Later he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, traveling across Turkey. For the next few years he became a wandering staretz (lay priest). He was widely believed to possess occult power, which made him both loved and feared. He manifested gifts of healing and prophecy. In 1903, he traveled to St. Petersburg, where he met influential churchmen, including the monk Illiodor, who later became a hateful rival. Rasputin's reputation as a prophet and miracle worker spread widely, and he was sought by rich and poor.
In those days, Russian court life and high society were still strongly attracted to the marvels of Spiritualism which had been introduced in the 1860s by Alexander N. Aksakof, and any wonder worker was in great demand. Soon Rasputin came to the attention of the czar of Russia to whom he became an indispensable adviserand healer to the royal family.
Surrounded by the madhouse of tyranny, secret police, bomb plots, crippling wars, and the ruthless suppression of liberty of the Romanov empire, Rasputin, self-absorbed in his own sense of destiny, towered above the sycophants, bureaucrats, and plotters. He treated the czar and czarina with complete familiarity, and they welcomed Rasputin because of the healing powers he supposedly possessed; he seemed to be able to treat the couple's only son, Alexis, who was a hemophiliac. In 1911, tiring of court life, he undertook another pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and during his absence his enemies intrigued against him. In the fall of 1915, when the czar left to take command of the Russian army, Rasputin took on more power as the czarina's chief aide. Rasputin forced many of the cabinet ministers to resign, and he replaced them with his cronies. His enemies, headed by Prince Yussupov, felt he had taken on too much political power and planned his murder.
The day before Rasputin was killed, Czar Nicholas requested his blessing and with curious presence, Rasputin said, "This time it is for you to bless me." Yussupov invited Rasputin to his palace and persuaded him to eat poisoned food and drink poisoned wine. The poison was ineffectual. Thereupon the treacherous Yussupov sang gypsy songs and played the guitar before leaving the room and returning with a loaded revolver, shooting his victim in the back. Other conspirators rushed in clumsily, accidentally switching off the room light. When the light was switched on again, Rasputin appeared dead, but was still alive. Another conspirator shot Rasputin again; the body was dragged from the house and battered with a steel press. But Rasputin was still alive when he was pushed through a hole in the ice on the River Neva. And although his wrists had been bound, he had still managed to free his right hand and make the sign of the cross before drowning. He died December 31,1916.