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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

Next: A Laboratory Of Sects

Previous: The Tolstoyans

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