[St. Pachomius Library]

Fr. George Gapon

XIX/XX Centuries
At the beginning of the XX Century, Fr. George Gapon was among the most prominent of Russia's reformist clergy, noted for his extraordinary personal generosity as well as for his efforts to create active Orthodox charitable organisations. However, he was by many accounts emotionally unstable, and had a scandalously close friendship with an orphan girl who eventually became the widowed priest's de facto second wife and bore him a child. In January of 1905, Fr. Gapon led a religious-political procession of workers through the streets of St. Petersburg; besides their icons and sacred banners, the marchers carried a petition calling upon their "father" the Emperor to improve working conditions and, more radically, to establish an elected democratic government. The violent response of police and Cossack soldiers when the march reached the Winter Palace led to over a hundred fatalities; "Bloody Sunday" was the start of the 1905 Revolution.

Fr. Gapon himself survived the violence at the Winter Palace and fled to Geneva. Expelled from the clergy, he attempted to make himself the leader of the Revolution; when that failed, he tried to serve as a mediator between the revolutionaries and the government. Like many figures of the Russian Left, his relationship to the Okhrana or secret police was highly ambiguous, and he found himself caught between the Terrorists and the authorities, trusted by neither. In March of 1906 he was brutally murdered (hanged for spying) by his revolutionary colleagues.

Fr. Gapon's religious sincerity has frequently been denied, and the imperial government suspected his charitable activities were from the start fronts for subversion. Modern biographers, however, tend to view him as a genuine religious radical who hoped to play a Philaret-like role in Nicholas II's court as the Emperor's conscience and the people's spokesman.

Norman Hugh Redington


Return to St Pachomius Library.