January 20, 2018

Leo Tolstoy on the Mystery Behind the Identity of Saint Feodor of Tomsk

In the autumn of 1825 Tsar Alexander I traveled south to winter in the town of Taganrog. Within months news reached Saint Petersburg of his death from malaria. Almost instantly rumors began to spread as to what had really happened to the tsar. Within the royal family, stories abounded, even into the twentieth century and beyond the Russian Revolution. Rumors have long suggested that Alexander I staged his death in 1825 and became the holy man Feodor Kuzmich, also known as Feodor of Tomsk. A theory was that he wanted forgiveness for any role he may have played in the assassination of his father Pavel I in 1801, or in benefiting from the work of others in slaying the tsar. It was known that Alexander had considered abdicating the throne to become a hermit. When a soldier with a striking resemblance to the Emperor died after running the gauntlet, it was supposed that his body had been substituted for the Tsar’s. The facts of the case have never been determined.

Leo Tolstoy himself explored the rumors in a fictional diary titled Posthumous Notes of the Starets Feodor Kuzmich. From an entry in his diary we know that Tolstoy contemplated writing a short story based on the legend as early as 1890. Between 1891 and 1894 he made an outline; he did not begin to work on it until 1905. Though fragmentary and incomplete, Posthumous Notes of the Starets Feodor Kuzmich anticipates his own attempt to become a hermit, but his celebrity prevented him from doing so. Among other things, he wrote:

"Even when monk Feodor Kuzmich was alive - he came to Siberia in 1836 and lived for 27 years in various places there - there were strange rumors about him that he was hiding his real name and position and that it was Emperor Alexander I. After the monk's death these rumors only spread and became stronger. Not only common people believed them but many from the elite, including the royal family of Tsar Alexander III.

The reasons for these rumors were the following: Alexander died unexpectedly, he did not suffer from any disease before, he died far away from home in the remote place of Taganrog, and when he was put in the coffin many who saw him, said that he changed a lot, this is why the coffin was quickly sealed.

It was known that Alexander said and wrote that he wanted so much to leave his post and to stay away from this world. And one more fact which is less known is that in the official statement where Alexander's dead body was described there was a line that his back and bottom were of dark red color and it was hardly possible to be a true description of the body of the emperor.

Back to Kuzmich and why he was thought to be Alexander. First of all the monk's height and appearance was so much like the emperor's, that people (especially servants who confirmed Kuzmich was Alexander) who saw Alexander or his portraits have found them really identical.

The age was the same, the same kind of round shoulders.

Secondly, this Kuzmich who used to say that he was a homeless man who does not remember his family, knew foreign languages and was in a noble way gentle with others which clearly meant that he was a person with a high position in society.

Thirdly, the monk never told his name and position to anyone but sometimes he clearly behaved in a way he was higher than other people.

Fourthly, before his death he destroyed some papers but one sheet remained, it was a coded message signed with the initials A. and P. (which supporters of the theory see as standing for Alexander Pavlovich, his name and patronymic).

Fifthly, despite all his faith, he never fasted. When an archpriest tried to persuade him to follow his duty as a believer, he said: 'If I had not confessed the truth about myself, the heavens would have been surprised, if I had confessed it, the earth would have been surprised.'

Whatever was hidden behind the hermit Feodor, the drama of that life is profoundly familial with deep and intimate connections to the national soul... Should historical evidence fail to connect Alexander with Kuzmich, the legend lives in all its beauty and sincerity."