Among The Miracle-workers

The pilgrims and "workers of miracles" who wander through Russia can

always find, not only free lodging, but also opportunity for making

their fortunes. Their gains mount, often, to incredible figures, and

the faith and piety that they diffuse have both good and bad aspects.

There are places, for instance, like Cronstadt, which, at one time

inhabited mainly by drunkards, became before the war a "holy town."

Apart from
Father Ivan and his peculiar reputation, there were hundreds

of other pilgrims who, though quite unknown on their arrival, soon

gained there a lucrative notoriety.

One of these was the _staretz_ (ancient) Anthony, who in three or four

years amassed a considerable fortune. His popularity attracted

representatives of all classes of society. People wrote for

appointments in advance, and went in order of precedence as to a

fashionable doctor. It was quite common to have to wait ten or fifteen

days for the desired interview. In Petrograd, where the population

belonged half to the twentieth and half to the sixteenth century,

Anthony was quite the mode. The _salons_ literally seized upon him,

and, flattered and fondled, he displayed his rags in the carriages of

fashionable women of the world, while the mob, touched by the spectacle

of his acknowledged holiness, gave him enthusiastic ovations. His

journey from Petrograd to Cronstadt was a triumphal progress. The

crowds pressed around him and he walked among them barefooted, in spite

of this being expressly forbidden by law. Finally, however, the police

were roused, and one fine day he set forth at the government's expense

for the "far-off lands"--of Siberia.

Cronstadt, town of drunkards and of miracle-workers _par excellence_,

boasted about two hundred _staretz_. The most famous among them were

the four brothers Triasogolovy--Hilarion, James, Ivan and Wasia.

The crowds, who had formerly visited Cronstadt only on Father Ivan's

account, became ever greater, and were divided up among the various

saints of the town, one of the most popular being Brother James, who

undertook to exorcise demons.

His methods were simple. A woman once came to him, begging to be

delivered from the numerous evil spirits that had taken possession of

her soul. In view of their numbers, Brother James felt it necessary to

have recourse to heroic measures. He rained blows upon the penitent,

who emitted piercing shrieks, and as this took place in the hotel where

the "holy man" was living, the servants intervened to put an end to the

sufferings of the "possessed" one. But Brother James, carried away by

enthusiasm in a good cause, continued to scourge the demons until the

woman, unable to bear more, broke the window-pane and leapt into the

street. Crowds gathered, and the Brother, turning to them, prophesied

that shortly he would be--arrested! Thereupon the police made their

appearance and removed him to the lock-up, and the crowds dispersed,

filled with admiration for Brother James, who not only coped with

demons, but actually foretold the evil that they would bring upon him.

In addition to the genuine visionaries, there were many swindlers who

took advantage of the popular credulity. Such was the famous pilgrim

Nicodemus, who travelled throughout Russia performing miracles. In the

end the police discovered that he was really a celebrated criminal who

had escaped from prison.

But Nicodemus was, as a matter of fact, better than his reputation,

for, in granting absolution for large numbers of sins, his charges were

relatively small. He is said to have assured whole villages of eternal

forgiveness for sums of from twenty to a hundred roubles.

Frequently some out-of-work cobbler would leave his native village and

set forth on a pilgrimage in the character of a _staretz_; or some

"medical officer," unable to make a living out of his drugs, would

establish himself as a miracle-worker and promptly grow rich. When one

_staretz_ disappeared, there were always ten new ones to take his

place, and the flood mounted to such an extent that the authorities

were often powerless to cope with it. Persecution seemed only to

increase the popular hysteria, and caused the seekers after truth to

act as though intoxicated, seeing themselves surrounded by a halo of