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
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
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.