The Divine Men
The origin of this sect seems to be lost in the mists of the past.
Some connect it with the teachings of Vishnu, some with mysterious
practices of antiquity; but the "divine men" were certainly children of
the Slavonic soil.
Those who seek for resemblances may find certain analogies between
these adepts of "virginal virginity," or of "the great garden of the
Tsar"--for both these names were applied to the
--and the _adamites_ or
_aryanists_; for eager minds seeking supreme salvation are apt to meet
upon the great road that leads to deliverance.
The rather sarcastic name of _chlysty_ (or flagellants, by which they
were also known) indicates one of the methods used by them in their
desire to please the Lord.
A life-and-death struggle, lasting for some centuries, took place
between Russian orthodoxy and this sect whose socialistic ideas
threatened to overthrow the aristocratic dogmas of the official church.
The real founder of the sect was a man named Philipoff, who lived about
the middle of the seventeenth century. According to him, Jesus Christ
was only one of many Christs who have come to the succour of humanity
during the course of ages. The divine spirit incarnates in men of high
morality, so that Christs appear and disappear, living with and among
us from time to time.
The chlysty, therefore, might always have one or more Christs among
them; but all were not of equal standing. Some were great and some
Philipoff was convinced that he was the great Christ, having the right
to choose the twelve Apostles and the Holy Mother. By degrees he came
to think himself God the Father, and adopted a "divine son" in the
person of a peasant named Sousloff, who succeeded him as leader of the
sect after his death.
Another "Christ," named Loupkin, who bestowed the title of "Holy
Virgin" upon his wife, Akoumina, gave a great impetus to the growth of
the sect. His followers proclaimed him their spiritual Tsar, and
received him everywhere with imposing ceremonies. He allowed his feet
and hands to be kissed and obeisances to be made to the "Virgin." As a
result of his propaganda many prominent members of the orthodox church
were won over.
On the death of Akoumina, the rôle of Holy Virgin was taken by the
Canoness Anastasia, of the convent of Ivanoff, and as time went on many
of the aristocracy of Moscow and other parts came to swell the ranks of
the believers in the "living Christs."
Philipoff's doctrines differed to some extent from those of Loupkin.
Branches of his church were to be found in most of the Russian
provinces, and as time went on these emancipated themselves and became
independent, and many new "Christs" made their appearance. In 1903,
nearly every Russian province was said to be seriously affected by the
doctrines of the "divine men."
Apart from the secondary articles of faith which differentiated the
churches, their main principles may be epitomised as follows:--
There are seven heavens, and the seventh is the Paradise of the "divine
men." There dwell the Holy Trinity, the Mother of Jesus, the
Archangels, and various Christs who have visited our planet. It is not
a question of material bodies, but of spiritual principles. God
incarnates in good men whenever He feels it to be necessary, and those
who are chosen for this divine honour become Christs. The Christ of
the Gospels died like all the rest. His body is interred at Jerusalem,
and his resurrection only meant the deliverance of his spirit. His
miracles were merely symbolical. Lazarus was a sinner; Christ cured
him and made him a good man; hence the legend of the raising from the
dead. The Gospels contain the teachings of the Christ of that epoch,
but the Christs of our time receive other teachings appropriate to the
needs of the present day.
The orthodox religion of Russia is a material religion, lacking the
Spirit, whose presence is only to be found in the creed of the "divine
men." In order that their truth shall triumph, these latter may belong
nominally to the official religion. They may even attend its churches,
but must leave their souls on the threshold. A "divine man" must guard
his soul from the "infidels," the "wicked," the "voracious
wolves"--thus were the orthodox believers designated. The human soul
was created before the body. (A "divine mother," questioned as to her
age in a court of law, declared that though her body was only seventy
years old, her soul had lived through nearly as many centuries.)
Metempsychosis was one of their beliefs. Souls change their
habitations, and work upwards to supreme perfection. That of a Christ
on earth becomes an angel after death; that of an imperfect man
requires repeated incarnations. The body is the source of evil, and
the soul the source of good. The body, therefore, with all its
instincts and desires, must be dominated by the soul. "Divine men"
must abstain from meat and alcoholic drinks, and also from marriage in
the material sense. By a singular misapprehension of the idea of
dominating the body, they looked upon marriage as a spiritual
institution, believing that the soul of a man who had lived with his
wife in any but a fraternal relationship would enter that of a pig
after his death, and that children coming into the world through
marriage were the joy of Satan. But love between men and women should
exist outside the bonds of marriage, the sins of the flesh being then
redeemed by the virtues of the spirit. Adultery was thus tolerated,
and even held in high honour, by many branches of the sect, who
believed that the vulgar relations between the sexes were thus
spiritually purified, and that men and women who loved under these
conditions were like the doves and turtle-doves favoured by heaven.
They avoided having children, and abortion was not only tolerated but
Rasputin, who borrowed largely from the doctrines of the "divine men,"
made great use of this strange idea of "spiritual love" in bringing
about the triumph of debauchery in the highest ranks of Russian society.
The multiplicity of "Christs" caused some regrettable
misunderstandings, and at times actual duels took place. The
difficulty was resolved, however, by some of the churches in admirably
simple fashion--for, in spite of all, many of these strange people were
inspired by the Gospel teachings. The opponents exchanged blows, and
he who longest continued to offer his cheek to the other was considered
to have proved himself a superior Christ.
The _chlysty_ were divided into sections, each having its angels, its
prophets, and its Christ. They met in their "Jerusalem," which was
usually a cellar, and their services took place at night, the
participants all wearing white robes. The ceremonies consisted chiefly
of graceful movements--first a solo dance, then evolutions in pairs,
after which a cross would be formed by a large number of dancers, and
finally the "dance of David" took place, in imitation of the Biblical
King before the Ark. The dancers then fell exhausted to the ground,
their tired bodies no longer opposing the manifestation of their souls,
and the prophets and prophetesses gave voice to divine inspirations.
Once a year the "high ceremonial" was held. A tub filled with water
was placed in the middle of the room, and lit up by wax candles, and
when the surface of the water became ruffled the ecstatic watchers
believed God to be smiling upon them, and intoned in chorus their
"We dance, we dance,
And seek the Christ who is among us."
In some of the churches this ceremony concluded with the celebration of
On account of its numerous ramifications, the sect presented many
divergent aspects. The _teleschi_, following the example of Adam and
Eve in Paradise, performed their religious rites in a state of nature;
and there were other branches whose various dogmas and practices it
would be impossible to describe.