Russian Freemasonry began and grew in a period of
Russian history similar to that of the present day. The great war
with Sweden, which drew heavily upon the resources of the country,
had just been terminated by Peter the Great, and his sweeping
reforms were bringing great changes to the whole Russian life. The
old culture of Russia was being uprooted, and the dawn of a new
history was just breaking.
While 1995 was the 175th anniversary of the
celebration of the Grand Lodge of Maine, it also marked the rebirth
of the Grand Lodge of Russia for the first time in 173 years. It was
constituted by the Grand Lodge Nationale Francaise on June 24, 1995,
At the suggestion of Grand Master Walter
Macdougal of the Grand Lodge of Maine, this paper has been prepared
to suggest the challenge of considering what Maine Masons can do to
assist in ensuring the survival and growth of Russian Masonry at
Many will be aghast and unbelieving of such a
suggestion. Strong will be the sentiment and pronouncements from
certain quarters that we should do nothing, while others will say do
nothing now but wait and see, and most curmudgeonly of all will be
those who will say wait until they seek us out for recognition.
How long might we have to wait before the Masons
of the Grand Lodge of Russia decide that they wish to be recognized
by the Grand Lodge of Maine? Somehow I suspect that the few brave
Russian Freemasons will have much more on their minds for years to
With no offense to the many Grand Lodges in
Brazil or Mexico, how many Maine Masons know of those various Grand
Lodges or feel a need to reach out to them? With no national grand
lodge in those countries, as here in the United States of America,
Masonic recognition can be very slow in coming and perhaps only then
because it is part of a wave when other grand lodges are doing it.
The Masonic issue for us has to be what can we do
today to help ensure the successful rebirth and growth of
Freemasonry in Russia! Formal recognition and all that good stuff
can and will come in time, Russian Freemasonry succeeds. But if it
does not, when might the light be rekindled?
The Grand Lodge Nationale Francaise with which we
are in fraternal relations has reconstituted Russian Freemasonry. We
could sit in lodge with one of those Russian Freemasons and not be
in violation of our Masonic obligations. So, why not reach out and
correspond, encourage, and assist these Russian brethren if we can?
Would not one of their lodges, or better yet another new lodge,
appreciate receiving a used set of officers' jewels or aprons that
one of our lodges no longer needs? Would one of our lodges be
interested in purchasing two dozen white cloth aprons or gloves as a
gift for one of the lodges? There is much we could do in the finest
tradition of Masonic Brotherhood and Charity.
Getting off the bully pulpit, let us take a brief
look at the history of Freemasonry in Russia. This must be brief and
detached from Russian history that profoundly affected its existence
and demise. Yet, a few lines about the country's leaders are
necessary to start to understand the conditions and circumstances
under which Freemasonry existed.
Today our own Freemasonry is well established
with no fractious bodies and eccentric leaders. Our Freemasonry is
not derived from tablets of orthodoxy existing from time immemorial.
While our system with its concordant bodies functions smoothly and
without question in this day and age, such was not always the case.
This observation is made so that we do not look too askance at the
history of Russian Freemasonry that underwent birth and growing
pains not unlike our own. The albatross for the Russians were their
totalitarian rulers who were the norm for Europe at that time.
Democracy as America brought to the world in 1776 with its
Declaration of Independence was unknown and soon greatly feared. The
French Revolution instilled fear throughout Europe. We must remember
that it is only now that the seeds of true democracy are trying to
catch hold and grow and be pursued to reach their ideals in Russia.
Peter the Great, the reformer, brought about the
Imperial Age of Russia. He was the grandson of Michael Romanov, the
founder of that line which ruled Russia from 1613 to 1917. Peter
opened Russia to the west, embracing its ideas and seeking
association with it. He traveled throughout Europe and sent students
to study and learn its ways. He built a city on the Baltic Sea, St.
Petersburg, better known in our life times as Leningrad, which
became Russia's window to the west. He moved its government there
from Moscow, the historical capital of Russia since the
Peter the Great was co-tsar from 1682 to 1689
with his half-brother; Ivan V. He was but 10 years old when
ascending the thrown from which he solely ruled from 1694 to his
death in 1725.
One Russian tradition has it that Peter became a
Mason on a trip to England and brought it back to Russia. There is
no hard evidence of this and most likely it is but another example
of trying to gain acceptability by reference to association with a
revered leader. It must be remembered that organized speculative
Masonry had only existed in England for eight years before Peter
died. Peter's greatest contribution to Russian Freemasonry is that
he made it possible by opening up Russia to foreign merchants who
settled and traded in Russia.
The most influential group of foreigners in
Russia in the eighteenth century was the Germans from their various
states that were connected with the Romanov family. Also of
significant importance, both to the Masonic order and politically,
were the Swedes who were a dominant political power in Northern
The period following Peter's death until 1762 saw
a series of five leaders who are of no great significance to us
except for their German influence Anne, 1730-1740, was a sister of
Peter the Great, and the widow of the Duke of Courland. Peter III,
1762, a grandson of Peter the Great, was the Duke of
Holstein-Gattorp, and ruled but a few months before being overthrown
in a palace coup and replaced by his German wife, Katherine,
Princess of Anhalt-Zerbst. She would rule until 1796, become known
as Katherine the Great, and cause the first blows to fall on Russian
As with English Freemasonry, little or nothing is
known of the earliest lodges in Russia. They were most certainly in
St. Petersburg and Moscow and were formed by foreigners, English or
Following the birth of speculative Masonry in
London in 1717, grand lodges were formed in Ireland in 1730,
Scotland in 1736, and in various continental countries. Those grand
lodges were wont to appoint Provincial Grand Masters over vast
territories to expand their authority wherever their people settled.
The earliest reliable information about Russian
Freemasonry was the appointment by the Grand Lodge of England of
Captain John Phillips in 1731 as the Provincial Grand Master of
Russia. This would have empowered him to establish lodges in Russia
that would have been ultimately under the control of London. No
further information is known of him or of what he did, although it
is speculated that he was a merchant captain.
The next Provincial Grand Master was General
James Keith who was appointed in 1740 or 1741. He was of a
celebrated Scottish family but made the mistake of supporting
Charles Edward Stuart, Pretender to the Throne of England. He fled
to Spain and eventually to Russia in 1828. He served its leaders
with distinction while attaining the highest military honors. In
1747 he left Russia to serve Frederick the Great of Prussia.
While the earliest Masonic lodges in Russia
generally were formed by foreigners, under Keith Masonry started to
move into Russian society where its members were mostly young
officers from the best families.
In 1756, under Empress Elizabeth (1741-1762), a
daughter of Peter the Great who lead a reaction to foreign
influences, Russian Freemasonry met an obstacle when the Secret
Chancellery of the Empire made an inquiry into what was the
foundation of and who constituted its membership. The inquiry says
first that Freemasonry was defined by its members as 'nothing else
but the key of friendship and of eternal brotherhood'.
Masonry was found not to be dangerous and it was
allowed to continue, although under police protection. Until this
time, Masonry had existed as a fraternal brotherhood of no
exceptional interest to the government except for its foreign
influence. It was under Katherine the Great that Russian Freemasonry
was to bloom with its own national leaders and organization. Under
her, the first suppression of masonry would begin.
prominent Russian Freemason was
Ivan Perfilievich Yelaguin
Senator, Privy-Counselor etc. etc. He belonged to an ancient family
of Russian noblemen and enjoyed the confidence of Katherine the
Great (1762-1796). In June 1771, the Lodge of Perfect Unity was
constituted in Petersburg by the Grand Lodge of England and drew its
members mostly from English merchants who lived there. Many Russian
nobles were also masons and they requested that the Grand Lodge of
England issue a warrant for Yelaguin to be the Provincial Grand
Master in the Russian Empire. This was done and the English system
of Masonry met with great success and growth under his leadership.
In 1770, Yelaguin had been elected Grand Master of the Grand
Provincial Lodge of Russia under the auspices of the Berlin Grand
Lodge, Royal York.
On February 28,
1772, he was appointed by the United Grand Lodge of England as
Provincial Grand Master of the Empire of Russia. Under Yelaguin,
members of the best Russian families joined the craft.
In his memoirs,
Yelaguin described early Russian Freemasonry as rather superficial:
'The worship of Minerva was often followed by the feasts of
Bacchus'. Yelaguin considered of paramount importance the Masonic
teachings of self-knowledge, moral perfection, benevolence, charity
Throughout the 18th century, Freemasonry
developed down several avenues, especially on the Continent and in
Russia. Orthodox Craft-Masonry from England was known as Yelaguin's
System. Its chief rival was the Zinnendorf System, which emanated
from Sweden and came to Russia via Berlin and a Brother George
Reichel. To the three blue lodge degrees the later system added
certain Knightly Degrees, which in Russia were felt to possess some
In 1777, the King of Sweden who came to
Petersburg for the occasion initiated Grand Duke Paul Peter, son and
political adversary of his mother, Empress Katherine, into
Freemasonry. By 1778 the major influence in Russian Masonry was
shifting to Moscow and that of St. Petersburg was declining. This
was at a time when the Craft was faced with warrants from several
different authorities and practiced many differing rites. There was
no unifying national soul to Russian Freemasonry.
Nicholas V. Riasanovsky, in A History of Russia,
writes that during the reign of Katherine the Great, Russian
Freemasonry reached a zenith of about 2,500 members in some one
hundred lodges in St. Petersburg, Moscow and some provincial towns.
He further writes that n addition to the contribution made by
Freemasonry to the life of polite society, which constituted
probably its principal attraction to most members, specialists
distinguish two main trends within that movement in eighteenth
century Russia: the mystical, and the ethical and social. The first
concentrated on such commendable but illusive and essentially
individual goals as contemplation and self-perfection. The second
reached out to the world and thus constituted the active wing of the
The mystical aspect of Russian Freemasonry came
through the Rosicrucians who were Christian mystics and students of
mystical and occult lore. They were sometimes called Martinists;
from the great respect which they at one time held for the teachings
of Louis Claude de St. Martin. At this time the Rosicrucian movement
became dominant in Russian Masonry with one of its leaders being
Nicholas Novikov (1744-1816), who was perhaps the most active
publicist in Moscow. He and I. G. Schwarz were prime movers in the
Moscow period of Russian Masonry.
Mysticism permeated Russia during the reign of
Katherine with St. Petersburg's fashionable society leading the way.
The traditions of Russian Masonry and the Rosicrucian of the 18th
century included the practice of Christian virtues and
self-improvement, philanthropy, Christian mysticism, and opposition
to atheism, materialism, and revolutionary tendencies.
Especially after 1782, I. G. Schwarz in Russia
spread the Rosicrucian movement. He had gained the recognition of
the independence of Russian Masonry from the Swedish system. In July
1782, he attended a Masonic Convention in Wilhelmsbad held by the
Duke of Braunschweig, Grand Master of the Rite of Strict Observance.
He also obtained from German Rosicrucians the authority to promote
the Order in Russia.
In 1783 Schwarz broke from the Duke of
Braunschweig and Russian Masons joined the main body of the
Rosicrucian brotherhood, which became a dominant influence in
Russian Masonry for some time.
The Rosicrucians relied on the Masonic degrees
for a new brother to learn of his vices and shortcomings. He was to
become a better man through instructions in science and ethics while
being delivered from the seven deadly sins of pride, arrogance,
gluttony, lust, greediness, laziness and anger. After he regained
for himself the prelapsarian state of man, he could pursue a mystic
union with God in the higher grades of the order.
In 1784 Schwarz died and the fortunes of Russian
Freemasonry would not survive his loss. A board of three plus two
elected Grand Wardens over saw the Craft and it even developed and
spread into provinces but intrigue and suspicion brought it down.
In the 1780's two other factors played in the
demise of Russian Freemasonry. As Peter III had been very favorably
disposed towards Freemasonry, Katherine was somewhat hostile to any
favorites of her late husband. Since the estrangement from the Grand
Lodge of England, Russian Freemasonry had become too much associated
with German Masonry that was under the leadership of Frederick the
Great of Prussia, archenemy of Katherine.
Katherine's leading political rival was her son,
Grand Duke Paul, who was her open enemy. If he in fact was not a
Mason he was favorably inclined towards the Craft, at least the
symbolic lodges. He was Grand Master of the Knights of Malta that
had a rivalry with the Masonic Templar degrees.
The Masonic Rosicrucian leader, Nicholas Novikov
had a prominent bookshop in Moscow. Following a raid in 1786, books
on Masonry were declared to be more dangerous than those of the
French. This was in spite of a decision by the Metropolitan of the
Russian Church in Moscow that the books, some 461 works, were all
faithful to the church. At this time the schools and hospitals
sponsored by the Masons were taken away from their control.
In 1787 a terrible famine swept over Russia. The
Masons organized the most effectual help for the stricken population
through the efforts of Novikov who formed a society especially for
that purpose. There were fears that some Masons were trying to
acquire popularity among the masses for political purposes through
Prior to 1790, Katherine had presented a front of
being favorable to the teachings of the Enlightenment and of
Voltaire but she became frightened by the French Revolution. Novikov
was supportive of a book by Alexander Radishchev, "Journey from
Petersburg to Moscow," which showed the terrible plight of the
Russian peasants. Radisheckev's call for the reform and emancipation
of the serfs was the final straw and the pendulum swung back from
any liberal views that Katherine had been masquerading behind.
In April 1782, the government prohibited secret
societies but Masonry had not been subject to the regulation. In
1791, the General Governor of Moscow undertook to suppress Masonry.
Novikov was arrested and confined while others received milder
punishments. By 1794, Katherine made it known to her statesmen who
she knew belonged that the Craft did not meet with her approval.
While there was no open prohibition to the Craft many lodges in St.
Petersburg voluntarily closed in compliance with the desire of
Yelaguin issued an order closing all of his
English orientated lodges that had generally opposed the Rosicrucian
With the accession of Paul I to the throne in
1796 he abolished the sentences against Masons which had been passed
on them under his mother's reign. While Masonry remained prohibited,
officially, it existed and even began to increase again. He was
killed in a palace revolution in 1801.
Alexander I, surnamed the Blessed, son and
successor of Paul I, ruled Russia from 1801 to 1825. Under him,
Freemasonry again rose high in the east only to be struck down again
as its members deplored its lamentable condition following years of
weak leadership and as it became a political concern to the Emperor.
The tradition exists that Alexander became a
Mason in 1803 and there is evidence that he was a member of a lodge
in Warsaw. While all secret societies were still banned in Russia,
new lodges began to appear. In 1810 Masonic lodges were officially
allowed and recognized and many bore his name. New lodges not only
appeared in Moscow and St. Petersburg but also in Siberia and the
Crimea. Many military lodges were formed during the Napoleonic wars.
In 1810 the old adherents to the Yelaguin or
English system of Masonry joined with the Rosicrucian Masons to form
the Grand Directorial Lodge of Saint Prince Vladimir of Order as the
unifying body for Russian Freemasonry.
By this time the Craft was growing so fast that
it attracted the vigilant eye of the government who found a willing
informant in John Boeber. He was the leader of the Swedish system of
Masonry that was then the dominating influence in Russian Masonry.
This system was closely akin to the Rosicrucian movement and was
dominated by the "higher degrees." which were strictly Christian in
By 1815 their innate differences lead to its
dissolution and the forming of two Grand Lodges by August 30th. The
Grand Lodge Astrea was the dominant body that initially confined its
interest to the blue lodge degrees and freely admitted members with
diverse backgrounds and interests. The second, the Swedish
Provincial Grand Lodge, was strictly regulated and of less concern
to the government. While the Grand Lodge Astrea had to submit a
constitution to the government for approval to exist, it remained a
concern to the authorities.
By 1820, when the Grand Lodge of Maine was
formed, the Grand Lodge Astrea was composed of 24 lodges but there
was no real strength to it. Lodge ritual work followed one of five
offerings: (1) Hamburg modification of the English ceremonial, (2)
Zinnendorf's rite, (3) rectified Strict Observance rite, (4) Swedish
rite, and (5) Fessler's modified English rite.
In his article, Telepneff did an analysis of the
Astrea lodges and it is clear that its predominant character was
German followed by Russian and Polish. Russian Freemasonry had lost
its national character from the days of Yelaguin. No unifying ritual
further weakened the Craft. It was but a house of cards awaiting a
Over the years, Alexander had grown from a young
forward-looking ruler to reactionary ruler over a suspicious
government. Masonry no longer held a favored position. Russian
Masonry met its betrayer in a strong conservative politician and a
Mason from the old school, Igor A. Kushelev, Lieutenant General and
Senator. He was elected Deputy Grand Master of Grand Lodge Astrea in
1820 even though his ideal was the Swedish System. He found himself
at the head of a body whose members held entirely opposite views
from one another, both from a social or Masonic position. Some held
dangerous political strivings and could become nests of the
This was all too much for Kushelev who sought to
restore the old rules and doctrines, as he understood them even
though his members opposed them. In 1821, he wrote to his Emperor
suggesting that Russian Freemasonry be placed more strictly under
the control of the government or that the Craft be permanently
On August 1, 1822, without warning. Alexander
decreed the closing of all Masonic lodges and all secret societies
in general. This struck as a thunderbolt and the lodges meekly
complied. On August 10th, the last open meeting of Russian Masons
was held. There were isolated cases of lodges continuing to meet in
St. Petersburg and Moscow and even more so in the provinces, but
Russian Freemasonry was broken.
The reign of Nicholas I, 1825-1855, was even more
stringent than the closing years of his father's. On August 21,
1826, he confirmed a decree closing Masonic lodges. This brought
about the abolition of the Craft although secret meetings are known
to have continued until at least 1830.
Masonry returned to Russia in the first quarter
of the 20th century. Unfortunately, these Masons were mostly
involved in the political turmoil of the age as witnessed by the
1905 uprising against the government and the revolution of 1917 that
toppled the last Romanov Tsar, Nicholas II.
Telepneff gives a very good synopsis of Russian
Freemasonry in the first quarter of this century from information
provided from the Russian Assistant Counsel-General in Paris in
1922. I quote for its succinctness: "
At the beginning of 1906 about fifteen Russian,
well-known for their social and political activities, mostly members
of the constitutional-democratic party, joined French Lodges; some
became members of the Grand Orient, but the majority entered two
Lodges under the Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted
Scottish Rite - "Mount-Sinai."
On returning to Russian, they formed two
provisional Lodges, "The Polar Star" in Petersburg and
"Regeneration" in Moscow. In May 1908 both Lodges were solemnly
opened by two members of the High Council of the Grand Orient,
specially sent for that purpose from Paris.
At the same time the Grand Lodge of France
established two Lodges; one in Petersburg "Phoenix", and one in
Moscow. Russian Lodges obtained the right to establish further
Lodges without interference from Paris, and accordingly in 1908 and
1909 two more Lodges were opened: "The Iron Ring" in Nijni-Novgorod
and one in Kiev.
The Russian Government in 1909 discovered the
existence of Masonic Lodges; it also became known to the authorities
that they were of French origin. It was then decided by the Russian
Lodges to suspend work, and this was accordingly done till 1911,
when some of their members decided to renew with due prudence their
activities. One would not call these activities Masonic in any
sense, as their chief aim was purely political: the abolishment of
autocracy, and a democratic regime in Russia; they acknowledged
allegiance to the Grand Orient of France. This political
organization comprised in 1913-1914 about forty `Lodges.' In
1915-1916 disagreements arose between their members who belonged to
two political parties (the constitutional democrats and the
progressives) and could not agree on a common policy; ten Lodges
became dormant. The remaining thirty Lodges continued to work, and
took part in the organization of the 1917 March revolution and in
the establishment of the Provisional Government. Their political aim
being attained, the organization began to decay; twenty-eight Lodges
existed on the eve of the Bolshevic revolution, and since then most
of their members have left Russia.
Writing in the fall of 1922, Telepneff reported
that two Russian Lodges had been formed in Paris under the auspices
of the Grand Lodge of France while a Russian lodge existed in
Berlin, The Northern Star Lodge, under a warrant of the Grand Lodge
of the Three Globes.
Futile attempts to reestablish Russian
Freemasonry met with the mandate of the 4th Congress of the
Communist International in Moscow that required all Communist Masons
to sever their lodge membership. They could not be considered for
important posts in the new reign until two years after their
severance. In 1925 Telepneff wrote that "Masonic activities of every
description have ceased in Russia proper, due to the severe
restrictions imposed by Bolshevist authorities."
Simon Greenleaf, the second Grand Master of the
Grand Lodge of Maine, 1822-1824, compiled a book entitled "Brief
Summary into the Origin and Principles of Free Masonry" from a
series of lectures he gave while he was the District Deputy Grand
Master for the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts in the District of
Maine. He wrote, as regards the character of Masonry, "
Yet still, the fraternity, bound together by the
most solemn obligations, and these strengthened by the remembrance
of the common danger to which they had recently been exposed,
continued to assemble, at the customary periods, for purposes of
charity and brotherly love.
Masonry contained something too excellent and
attractive, and its secrets were too curious and valuable, to be
abandoned on light grounds. It was a strong bond of union. It
possessed a key that unlocked the middle chamber of the heart. Its
secrets always served as letters of recommendation, and to the
present day have continued to entitle their possessor to the
benefits of hospitality and protection. At various periods it has
declined, and sometimes has suffered severe oppression. Despotic
governments have always been afraid of secret assemblies; and all
the governments of Europe have, in their turn, been despotic, and
have enacted laws against such associations. But by persecution,
Masonry has never been suppressed; on the contrary its foundations
have been strengthened. Even in times of war and anarchy its benign
principles have continued their salutary operation on society, and
the order still flourishes with increasing reputation."
The persecution of Russian Freemasonry has been
long and hard but like the Phoenix, the Craft is rising again. With
the collapse of communism and with the greater opportunity of
Russians to travel abroad, some have been exposed to and have
embraced Freemasonry. What an affirmation these brethren bring to
the observations of Grand Master Greenleaf. What an obligation rests
on us to aid their endeavors.
George Dergachev, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge
of Russia, has advised this writer in a letter of April 22, 1996, of
the following. On January 14, 1992, the first regular Lodge Harmony
was constituted in Moscow by the Grand Lodge National Francaise.
This lodge now has 41 members.
September 8, 1993 will be a memorable day in
Russian Freemasonry for three more lodges were constituted by the
Grand Lodge National Franchise; Lotus No. 2 in Moscow with 36
current members; New Astrea No. 3 in St. Petersburg with 19 current
members; and Gamaioun No. 4 in Voronezh with 13 current members.
Voronezh is a city lying south south-east of Moscow on the Voronezh
River shortly before its joining with the River Don. Brother
Dergachev writes, "Most of the Brothers have graduated from the
Universities. Among then there are scientists, journalists,
businessmen, bankers, officers of the Army, Navy, policemen,
engineers, writers, producers and lawyers."
These four Regular Daughter Lodges of the Grand
Lodge Nationale Francaise formed the Grand Lodge of Russian on June
24, 1995. In addition to their Mother Grand Lodge, the Grand Lodges
of Poland, Hungary and New York have recognized them. The Grand
Master and Vladimir Djanguirian, his Grand Secretary, attended by
invitation the Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge of New York
this past May.
While this paper has only quickly hit upon some
of the high points in the history of Russian Freemasonry as provided
by Brother Telepneff, it is hoped that it will make us realize that
the Craft has a long history in Russia. May we realize how it has
suffered at the hands of autocratic and totalitarian leaders. May we
be moved to seek to help our Brothers prevail in their endeavors to
advance Freemasonry in Russia at this time.
The dawn of a new history is breaking in Russian
Freemasonry, may its light never again falter, and may it glow
So say we all for charity.
Almost 75 years later, we can change Sweden to
read the West and Peter the Great to read Gorbachev and YEltsin and
once again, for the third time, have this paragraph accurately
reflect conditions in Russia.