The Inspired Seers

The official clergy, finding it incumbent on them to defend the

articles of the orthodox faith, were themselves frequently swept away

by the storm of religious mania. Before the war the fortress of

Solovetzk sheltered quite an army of these harmless rebels, who,

troubled by the general desire for human perfection, had ended in

blasphemy. Especially from the monasteries were they recruited. It

seemed as though their
ouls were violently assaulted by devils, like

those of the anchorites of olden days. Monks and nuns alike were

equally discontented, equally eager to uproot evil, whether real or

imaginary, by seeking out new ways of salvation.

One such was the unfortunate Israïl, originally head of the monastery

of Selenginsk, later a prisoner at Solovetzk. He preached eloquently

and fervently the renunciation of property, and persuaded his mother

and sisters to abandon their worldly goods and devote themselves to the

service of the Virgin. "To a nunnery!" he cried, with all the

conviction of Hamlet driving Ophelia from this world, and they sang

psalms with him and went to conceal their misery in a convent. Then,

with a staff in his hand, he traversed Russia, and visited many

_staretz_, or holy men. They taught him "the beginning and the middle

of the end which does not exist," but poor Israïl was still conscious

of an emptiness in his heart. In the pursuit of truth he retired to a

virgin forest on the banks of the river Schouïa, near the desert of

Krivoziersk, and remained there for years engaged in prayer, until at

last, touched by such piety, the Lord gave peace to his soul.

Surrounded by holy books, he practised meditation, and God manifested

His love by sending him visions and dreams which, coming direct from

Heaven, promised salvation to himself and to all who should follow him.

In one dream he saw a great temple above the cave where he was praying.

Millions of people sought to enter it, but could not, and shed bitter

tears of disappointment. One man alone could approach the altar. It

was Israïl, the beloved of the Lord. He went straight through the

great doors, and all the rest followed him.

The holy man then decided that he must act as guide to his fellows who,

like himself, were possessed by the fever for eternal salvation. He

knew how to distinguish between dreams sent by heaven, and those

emanating from the infernal regions.

It was a great day for the new religion which was to be born in the

desert of Krivoziersk when the Father Joseph came to join Israïl, the

tale of whose glory by this time resounded throughout the whole

neighbourhood. They remained on their knees for whole weeks at a time,

praying together. Israïl painted sacred pictures, and Joseph carved

spoons, for the glory of the Lord. An inexplicable emotion filled

their souls; they trembled before the Eternal, fasted, and shed

scalding tears; then, overcome by fatigue, fell fainting to the ground.

Israïl beheld the heavens descending upon earth. They had no dread of

wild beasts, and, disregarding the need for food or sleep, they thus

dwelt far from the haunts of men, in the light of Eternity.

One day Israïl rose abruptly in an access of religious frenzy, climbed

a hill, saluted the East three times, and returned radiant to his


"The burden which lay at the door of my heart," he cried, "the burden

which hindered my spirit from soaring heavenwards, has disappeared!

Henceforward the Kingdom of Heaven is in me, in the depths of my soul,

in the soul of the Son of my Father!"

He proceeded to share this kingdom with the brothers Warlaam, Nikanor,

and others who had been "touched by the finger of God." Unbelievers

were gradually won over, and a community was formed whose members lived

on prayers and celestial visions, and obeyed the rules laid down for

them by Israïl. The sick were cured by his prayers, and the

incredulous were abashed by the holiness of his appearance.

His fame spread, and ever greater crowds were attracted, so that while

the faithful rejoiced in the triumph of "the belovéd," Israïl himself

deemed the time to be ripe for his promotion in the ranks of sanctity.

He proclaimed himself to be Jesus Christ.

On Holy Thursday he washed the feet of his disciples, blessed the bread

and wine, and distributed it to the assembled believers.

But, alas, by this time dreams of a strangely sensual nature had seized

upon him, and seemed to pervade his whole being.

In one of these dreams he found himself in an empty temple, and on

approaching the altar, perceived a dead woman lying there. He lifted

her up, and as he touched her she showed signs of life. Suddenly,

slipping from his grasp, she leapt upon the altar, and, radiating

heavenly beauty, threw herself into his arms. "Come, come, my spouse!"

she said. "Come, that I may outpour for thee the wine of my love and

the delights of my Eternal Father!"

On hearing these words from the Queen of Heaven, Israïl dissolved into

tears. He was filled with boundless rapture, and in his excitement

could not forbear from sharing this joyful experience with his


His Golgotha was drawing near. The new religion was openly denounced,

and rigorously suppressed. The apostles were imprisoned, and the Jesus

Christ of Krivoziersk was sent for to the town of Kostroma, that he

might give account of himself, his visions, and his crimes. Ultimately

he was condemned to a spell of confinement, and forced to perform the

most humiliating duties. His asceticism, his many virtues, his fasting

and prayers, the love which God had manifested for him--all were

forgotten, and Israïl, who had held the Queen of Heaven in his arms,

was in future obliged to clean out the stables of the monastery of

Makariev, to light the fires, and prepare the brothers' baths for them.

The "beloved of the Lord" fully expected to see the earth open and

engulf his impious judges in its yawning depths--but no such thing

happened. His spirit grew uneasy, and, taking advantage of the Russian

Government's appeal for missionaries to convert the Siberian peoples,

he set forth to preach his own religion to them instead of that of

Tsarism. Arrived at Irkutsk, he sought first of all to save the souls

of the chief authorities, the Governor-General and the Archbishop. But

his efforts beat in vain against the indifference of these high


"Happy are those who follow me," he assured them, "for I will reveal to

them the secrets of this world, and assure them of a place in my

Father's kingdom."

However, they did not heed him, and horrified at such lack of faith,

Israïl presented the Governor-General with a formal document on "the

Second Coming of Our Saviour Jesus Christ." Still the souls of his

contemporaries remained closed to the revelation, and while he

meditated upon their blindness and deplored their misfortune, he was

suddenly seized by their equally faithless representatives and

transported to the farthest limits of the country.

There he found many of his old disciples, and proceeded to form the

sect of the "inspired seers." He taught them with all earnestness that

they would shortly see the Lord, Saint Simeon, and the Queen of Heaven,

and soon after this, when in a state of ecstatic exaltation, they did,

as by a miracle, behold God surrounded by His saints, and even the

Infant Jesus.

But a new era of persecution was at hand for Israïl. Heaven was

merciful to him, but the powers of the earth were harsh. However, the

more he was persecuted, the more his followers' ardent belief in his

"divinity" increased, and their enthusiasm reached a climax when the

police had the audacity to lay hands on "the son of the Lord." But

Israïl was quite unmoved by the fate of his earthly body, or by the

prospect of earthly punishment. His soul dwelt with God the Father,

and it was with the profoundest disdain that he followed the

representatives of evil.

During the trial his disciples loudly expressed their belief in him,

and what seemed to strengthen their faith was the fact that Israïl,

like the Divine Master, had been betrayed by a "Judas." They believed

also that his death would be followed by miracles.

Israïl himself desired to be crucified, but Heaven withheld this

supreme grace, and also denied his followers the joy of witnessing

miracles at his graveside. The Holy Synod contented itself with

sentencing him to lifelong imprisonment at Solovetzk.

We may add that the founder of the "inspired seers" left, at his death,

several volumes of verse. Unhappy poet! In the west he might have

been covered with honour and glory; in the far north his lot was merely

one of extreme unhappiness.