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

ho 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