God visits the Russian Aristocracy

Beautiful St Petersburg, gem of the north, was for many years the capital of Russia and the home of the Tsars. Its grand palaces and stately buildings testify to a time when this city was the hub of all that was the finest, grandest and most civilised in all of Russia. Here Russian aristocrats mixed with western European upper classes in French, English, German, and other languages.

Lord Radstock in Russia

Towards the end of the 19th century, Lord Radstock, a British nobleman came to pay the city a visit. As a young Count, he had been involved in the Crimean Campaign where he became very ill and nearly died. The Lord, however, had other plans for him. He healed him and brought him into a new relationship with Himself. Radstock's life was so revolutionised as a result of his conversion that he decided to devote his entire life to spreading the Gospel. He had open access to the upper classes in England, France, and Europe. But his great burden was for Russia and he continued to pray for this land for ten years.

During one of his visits to Paris he happened to meet a Russian aristocrat who was anxious to avoid him. After listening to his account of the Gospel, and God's great salvation in Jesus Christ, she invited him to come to St Petersburg to share this same Gospel with her friends.

For all the religiosity of the Russian Orthodox Church, people were starved for a message of hope and for assurance of salvation. As Princess Lieven noted in her Spiritual Revival in Russia, the Orthodox Church had wonderful rituals that were grand, extravagant and moving. Confession and the Eucharist offered a clean conscience without leading to a break with sin. The possibility of salvation by faith in Christ, fellowship with God and harmony with God's will and purposes were unknown concepts. People were hungry for something that gave them more than ritual and temporary relief.

The home of Princess Lieven

Radstock often preached in a small Anglo-American church on Potchtamskoye, but many of his meetings took place in the grand halls of the aristocracy in St Petersburg. These meetings were quite distinctive as was noted by a cynical reporter from one of the city's newspapers.

In the home of Princess Lieven peculiar meetings are taking place. At the front stands an elderly Englishman who talks passionately about something in English. Next to him stands a young woman who interprets into Russian. Before him sits a most diverse group of people: here a princess, beside her a coachman, then a countess, a doorkeeper, a student, a servant, a factory worker, a baron, a factory owner, all mixed together. Everyone listens attentively, and then kneels with his face down towards the chair and prays in his own words.

These meetings had a tremendous impact upon many. Among those who were converted under this ministry were people like Count Korf, Master of Ceremonies at the royal palace, Vasiliy Pashkov, a retired colonel of a regiment of horse-guardsmen and a rich landowner, a number of the princesses Lieven, Princess Gagarina, the Princesses Galitzin, and others.

In contrast to much of the aristocracy of the day that was corrupt and driven by self-interest and greed, these believers mixed with the poor, the needy, and the disadvantaged.

Memory 1 — A gypsy woman in a prison hospital

[From the memoirs of Elizaveta Tchertkova]

One morning when I entered the ward I was called into a different building where there was woman who was unconscious and seemed to be dying. I came close and found that this unfortunate woman was the coloured unattractive woman to whom I had previously referred to as 'the gypsy'. It seemed to me that she had never paid any attention to what I had read to the others. But, in the instant when her fading glance met mine, she stretched out her arms to me and all I could do was bend over to her and let her embrace me. With unusual force she pressed me close to her on that prison bed, and started to speak louder and louder.

"Madam, do you know where I am going? I am going to Jesus! Your Jesus! My Jesus! Where I have come from you don't know and you couldn't know, and even if you knew you wouldn't be able to understand; from what depths of sin and suffering I have come. But, where I am going — oh! That you do know. I am going to Jesus, who has cleansed me with His own blood, who has opened up His kingdom to me. I am going to Him, who gave the thief on the cross the gift of paradise, the One who forgave the sinner at His feet, who is my Saviour and who said that the angels in heaven rejoice over a sinner such as I who comes to Jesus. How I love Him!

Here she stopped, and glancing at me with some fear, said, "But, madam, there will still be a moment of complete darkness?"

"No, my dear," I answered, "for the Saviour will be there also."

"Oh, yes," she continued, and her face lit up. "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; …"

To my utter amazement she recounted from memory the whole of this wonderful psalm, that she had heard no more than once or twice in the ward during my morning visits. All the women in the ward were sobbing loudly, and I myself, barely keeping back my tears, thanked the Lord for His love for the soul of this poor woman — now no longer poor — and for His amazing mercy to us all. The dying woman repeated all the words of my prayer, closed her eyes, and, worn out, leaned her head back against the pillow….

Memory 2 — Canteen for students

The Pashkovs had a mansion on the Viborskaye side. There Vasiliy opened a canteen where, for a small charge, one could get simple but good food and tea or coffee with milk. On the walls of the canteen were texts from the sacred Scriptures, and the guests were attended by women and girls who were believers.

This service was first set up for students who often didn't have sufficient means for their daily needs. Apart from good food and low prices, they were attracted by the gracious and sweet attitude of those who worked there. One of the men who became a member of the Evangelical Society in Paris many years later, shared how he, of a different faith as a student in those days, loved to go to this canteen, where for 10 kopeks he could get a whole lunch, and for 1 kopek a plate full of buckwheat porridge with butter. Who knows the impact this may have had on some of the educated who later became disillusioned with the government and became involved in the class struggles, in atheism and finally revolution!

Memory 3 — Sewing workshops

The Christian women took over a number of sewing workshops and used them not only to help the needy, but to propagate the Gospel. Alexandra Pashkova and her sister Elizaveta Tchertkova chose a workshop in one part of St Petersburg, and Vera Gagarina took over two workshops. The women were visited in their flats where they did their work, and encouraged by the Christian women.

At Christmas and at Easter, celebrations were organised with presents and food for them and their children. In many of these cases the alcoholic husbands had totally neglected their families. At these celebrations there was singing, the reading of God's Word, and prayer. Once or twice a week the daughters of these workers would come to the workshops to learn to sew. During their work they would listen to the reading of some part of Scripture, or stories that would encourage them in their spiritual life. Some of the Kruze sisters, the princesses Galitzin and princesses Lieven usually helped with the readings.

Exile

Once again the Orthodox Church felt threatened and reacted strongly. The leaders of this movement were labelled 'free thinkers', and were seen as a threat to the Church and State.

Pashkov was exiled but continued to support financially Christian missionaries and workers such as Hudson Taylor, General Booth, and others. He finally died in Italy in 1902.

Korf lived out his days in Switzerland, and was buried in Basel. These men were leaders of the movement for many years and never stopped preaching Christ. Princess Lieven shared this experience of Korf when he was a very old man.

One day in Lausanne, we, together with a mutual friend of ours, were farewelling Korf at the station. We went with him as far as the platform and then left him. Changing our minds, we decided to see if our friend had found a comfortable seat on the train and to see if we could help him in case he needed it. Half jokingly I said to our companion, "Let's have a look. Our dear Count has probably found a 'soul' already to whom he is witnessing about the Lord."

That is exactly what had happened! As we were passing the length of the train we saw the profile through one of the carriage windows of two passengers sitting opposite each other in a lively conversation. One of them was Count Korf. He was holding a little book in his hand that he was apparently offering his companion. That's how it was. He began the discussion, and found in his companion a brother in Christ. He didn't waste time, knowing that there was not much time left!

Need for revival

Granted that this kind of revival is God's sovereign act and visitation based on His timing, should we not be praying for the preparation of the churches for such a visitation?

We read in 2 Chronicles 7:13,

When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people…

Isn't this the spiritual condition of so much of the Christian church around us today? Then the next verse is very relevant.

If my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land… says God Almighty.