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The following paper details one interpretation of Freemasonry’s impact on Russia based on texts available to the non-masonic Russian author. Accurate or not, they represents the current belief of many Russians. The claims made on this page have not been verified and do not represent the researches of this website.
Freemasonry in Russia
From the Grand Orient of France in Russia to the Supreme Council of the Grand Orient of Russia’s People
by Mr. Andrei Priahin, Moscow, Russia
Freemasonry in Russia has undergone three distinct stages prior to the events detailed in this paper. First, from 1731 to 1771, membership was confined to foreigners, a few officers, the guard, and a few statesmen. According to Albert Mackey, the tendency was mystical and the influence on society negligible. During the second period, 1772 to 1794, there were three masonic bodies at work: Yelaguine’s group at St. Petersburg, the Swedish Rite at St. Petersburg, and the National Grand Lodge at Moscow. The third period, 1801 to 1822, marked the lifespan of an irregular Russian Grand Lodge titled "Vladimir to Order," and a new Grand Lodge "Astrea," which ended its career in the turmoil of the attempted Revolution of December, 1825.
The history of Freemasonry in France has been complex and often marked by conflict. Suffice to say that since 1877 the Grand Orient of France has not been recognized by any English speaking Grand Lodge. Lodges constituted or warranted by the Grand Orient of France would have been considered irregular and have enjoyed no recognition status. Although the compiler of the following history is unclear on the issue, this is not a history of regular Freemasonry.
Researchers are directed to Yale University, holders of 158 microfiche of a collection of masonic manuscripts and books of Fedor Fedorovich Mazurin (1845-1898) and Ivan Perfilevich Elagin (1728-1794). The latter served as a secretary in Catherine II’s Cabinet as well as serving as Grand Provincial Master for the Grand Lodge of England. Dr. Ernest Friedrichs' Freemasonry in Russia and Poland [1908] has also recently been translated into English and is available for download as a 248k PDF file; and the Russian company Algosoft has produced a CD-ROM encyclopaedia, Freemasonry and Freemasons: Three Centuries in Russia. Another perspective can be found at <casebook.org/dissertations/freemasonry/russianfm.html>.
The current Grand Lodge of Russia, descended from the National Grand Lodge of France, was constituted in 1995 and enjoys the recognition of most western Grand Lodges.
The history of twentieth century Russian Freemasonry begins in Paris, France, when several French lodges working the Scottish Rite began to accept Russian emigrants in the 1890s. The first Russian to join these freemasons was a philosopher, G.N. Vyrubov. He was followed by the inventor of the electric incandescent bulb, P. Yablochkov and a sociologist, M.M. Kovalevsky. Kovalevsky has been considered a founding father of Russian Freemasonry. The latter was a member of the Parisian lodge, Les Vrais Amis Fideles (The true friends). Together with P. Yablochkov in 1887 they formed Cosmos Lodge No. 288 in Paris which included both Russians and French. (Later it was closed and then revived in 1898). M.M. Kovalevsky’s L'Ecole de Hautes Etudes was opened on November 14, 1901. The Tsarist government were concerned that the school’s activities were interfering with the remittance of money from Kovalev’s banking account in Russia. The Russian government made A.S. Trachevsky and Ye. V. Anichkov return home, or else they would've been deprived of the Russian citizenship. Ye.V. Roberti de Castro was influenced in the same way and, as a result, he left the school and terminated cooperation with M.M. Kovalevsky. After that he was registered as a Russian citizen again.
Under the aegis of Cosmos Lodge, L'Ecole russe des Hautes Etudes or the Higher Educational Centre assisted Russian emigrants in Paris from 1901 to 1904. (Other sources suggest 1900 to 1906.)
The first Scottish Rite lodge, Cosmos, failed to become the center of gathering Russian freemasons because of a concatenation of circumstances. In the late 1880s Yablochkov was absorbed in the preparation of the Russian exposition at the International Exhibition in Paris. S.A. Kotlerovsky (Kotlyarevsky, Kotlyerevsky) was very ill. Kovalevsky was invited to Stockholm, Sweden, to lecture in the local university. De Roberti - 'a curious example of pure Russian mixture of contradicting views of socialism and ideas of Nietzsche, thinking scorn of the ordinary people and adoration of democracy" - was touring Europe and lecturing. Soon Yablochkov died and the lodge was suspended.
Russian professors and masons, such as M.M. Kovalevsky (President), G.S. Gambarov (General Secratary), Ye. V. De Roberti la Serda (Vice-President), professors: M.M. Vinaver, Ye.V. Anichkov, A.A. Isaeyev, M.I. Tamamshev, A.V. Amfiteatrov, M.S. Grushevsky, A.S.Trachevsky, I.Z. Loris-Melikov, I.I. Ivanyukov, conducted classes with non-masons or alleged masons, such as G.V. Plekhanov (founder of the first communist organization in Russia and teacher of V.I. Lenin, later social-democrat), V.I. Lenin, I.I. Mechnikov (world famous microbiologist who worked in the Pasteur Institute in Paris), P.N. Milyukov, and M.I. Tugan-Baranovsky. Among the pupils were a future Minister of Education for the Bolshevik government, A.V. Lunacharsky (at the time he was a member of a French lodge) and the Russian poet, M.A. Voloshin.
The annual school fees were 30 old French francs. The school assets were donated from capital acquired by M.M. Kovalevsky after selling his lands in the Kharkov region. In 1903 the school comprised 400 pupils.
On 29 April 1904 M.M. Kovalevsky and Ye.V. Roberti la Serda resumed their participation in Cosmos Lodge. On 16 May 1905 there were initiated as apprentices: A.V. Amfiteatrov, K. Arkadsky-Dobrenovich, G.S. Gambarov, I.Z. Loris-Melikov, M.I. Tamamshev, A. Trachevsky, and Ye.V. Anichkov. On 30 January 1906 six of these brothers (except for K. Arkadsky-Dobrenovich, I.Z. Loris-Melikov and A. Trachevsky) were initiated into the 2nd and 3rd Degrees of the Scottish Rite by the Worshipful Master of this Lodge, D.R. Nicole (Nathan Finkelstein, a Polish Jew from Romania and a French citizen.
They were also authorized to organize new lodges in Russia. Among other participants were author, A. Amfiteatrov (later in Russia he became Worshipful Master of one of the masonic Lodges), lawyer V. Maklakov (a member of the regular French Rite lodge, L'Avangarde Maconnique since May 8th, 1905, and Russian Ambassador to France in 1917), dramatist V. Vasiliy Ivanovich Nemirovich-Danchenko, lawyer Y. Kedrin (member of the regular French rite lodge Les Enovateurs since June 15th, 1905). Initiation of Russians in the regular French Rite lodges only began in the spring of 1905. Since then they have usually preferred Scottish Rite Freemasonry.
At the same time in Paris there was formed another Russian lodge, Mount Sinai No. 6, working the Scottish Rite. Among the initiated brothers, according to records of M.M. Kovalevsky, one can see M.A. Voloshin (April 1905, also initiated on March 23rd, 1905 in the lodge Travail et Vrais Amis Fideles), S.A. Koltlyarevsky (receiving all three Degrees on May 8th, 1905), and Nemirovich-Danchenko..
Until 1906 there were no masonic lodges in Russia, although there were lodges in Poland and Lithuania. Despite this, in 1905, shortly before the revolution, during the Russian-Japanese War, Czar Nikolai II received an anonymous letter which contained anti-masonic accusations directed at Duke Obolensky and Count Vorontsov-Dashkov, the Lieutenant-general of the Caucasus region who later actually became a freemason. 1.
On October 17th, 1905 Czar Nikolai II declared limited constitutional freedoms. In December of 1906, M.M. Kovalevsky opened Polar Star Lodge in St. Petersburg with the assistance of V. Maklakov of the Constitutional Democrats (Cadets) Party. It was the first permanent freemasons' lodge in Russia, the first Cadets lodge and the first lodge under the jurisdiction of the Grand Orient of France in Russia. 2
Its founding members were such Russian intellectuals as Professors Gambarov, Ivanyukov, Borodin and N.P. Pavlov-Silwanski, physician Zhikharev, Baron Meidel, M.Margulies, P.Ye. Shchegolev, V.S. Nemirovich-Danchenko, G.L. Tiraspolsky, Ye. Anichkov, Colonel V.V. Teplov. The Worshipful Master was Alexey Anatolyevich Orlov-Davydov. Later there was an attempt to turn this lodge into an administrative body, uniting 19 masons holding the 18th Degree or higher. At this time the membership comprised V. Klyuchevsky, S.D. Urusov, I. Loris-Melikov, D. Bebutov, V. Maklakov, V. Nemirovich-Danchenko, M. Margulies, A. Kolyubakin, P. Shchegolev, N.P. Pavel-Silvanski, S.Kotlyarevsky, Ye. de Roberti, I. Loris-Melikov, Orlov-Davydov (since January 1907), Y. Kedrin, N. Bazhenov, G. Meidel and F. Golovin under their Worshipful Master, M.M. Kovalevsky.
On November 15th (28) 1906, Duke S.D. Urusov, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs and Deputy of the First State Duma, organized Resurrection Lodge in Moscow, under the Grand Orient of France. The membership included such notables as M. Kovalevsky, V. Maklakov, N. Bazhenov, Ye.V. Anichkov (from January 1908, when this Lodge actually became active), V. Nemirovich-Danchenko, S. Kotlyarevsky, S.D. Urusov, S. Balavinsky, N. Nekrasov (from 1908), and others under Worshipful Master N.N. Bazhenov.
Also in 1906, N.N. Bazhenov created Astreia Lodge in Moscow (1906 - 1911), working the Rectified Scottish Rite. In 1908, M.M. Kovalevsky, G.S. Gambarov, Ye. V. Anichkov, de Roberti la Sera left Polar Star Lodge to found yet a third Cosmos Lodge working the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite. From that point M.M. Kovalevsky’s influence among freemasons sharply declined. Despite this, both he and his circle remained faithful to Scottish Rite masonry under the jurisdiction of the Grand Orient of France. A total of five Lodges working the Scottish Rite existed in Russia before 1917, including Moscow’s so called "Scottish Shop" and the English Lodges in St. Petersburg under Worshipful Masters Zdanovich and Arkhangelsk. Later, in 1911, the First Convention declared Kovalevsky’s Cosmos Lodge a part of the Grand Orient of Russia’s People, then in 1912 the Second Convention also required "English" Lodges to join.
James Persey (Persitz) published in the right Moscow newspaper Veche (13 November 1908) unrealistic information about a special role that British freemasons allegedly played in the propagation of masonic ideas in Russia. The author reported that they were planning to change the monarchist government with a liberal one. This provocation enabled the police to search the apartment of the Worshipful Master of the English lodge, P.A. Chistyakov, and forbid activities of the lodge. The search coincided with the planned meeting of the lodge and all those present were registered as freemasons in police files.
The two French Rite lodges at that time comprised about 40 persons in total, mainly Cadets, while the rest were trudoviks (labourists) and independent figures like lawyers S. Balavinsky, O. Goldovsky and M. Margulies, Baron G. Meidel, librarian A. Braudo, historians N. Pavlov-Silvanski and P. Shchegolev. The Supreme Council of the Grand Orient of France in Russia consisted of delegates from all the lodges and its chairman, M. Margulies, was elected. These lodges were then brought under the Grand Orient of France in Russia.
From 1907-1909 Russian freemasons didn't object to being under the French jurisdiction. This shortly changed, and after a short struggle for power within the overpoliticized Russian masonic leadership the lodges formally became independent from the Grand Orient of France in 1910. Before doing this they had reluctantly deceived the general public, and some freemasons, having declared their intention to voluntarily close the lodges. This step was aimed at carrying out a political restructuring and electing a new leadership of Russian freemasons.
The idea of introducing these hidden reforms was to safeguard the security of the political wing of the masonic movement in Russia by making it more secret and more flexible, silently influential and militant. It was not considered a violation of the masonic rules because the Russian brothers just implemented the prerogatives once granted them by the Grand Orient of France (Emissaries George Boulet and Bertrand Sincholl). They were given the right to found new lodges without preliminary consultations with and approval of the regular, or seemingly, regular French Rite masonry. The real political situation dictated the necessity of arranging an organization able to control the masses after the revolution.
The new body was considered to be irregular since there were no masonic similarities with only two degrees: Apprentice and Master—except the requirements of secrecy and discipline, and an obligation of secrecy. Like The Grand Orient of France that had initated women since 1774, they also initiated women. For example, Ye. D. Kuskova was a freemason of the higher degrees. Other initiated women were Countess Sophia Panina, poetess Zinaida N. Gippius (wife of writer Merezhkovsky), Ye.P. Peshkova (first wife of Maxim Gorky), and earlier, T.O. Sokolovskaya.
St. Martin and Pasqually’s Rosicrusianism, the Swedenborgian Rite and the Rite of Philalethes would all have played a role in these people’s concept of Freemasonry. Despite their irregularity these Russian freemasons kept fidelity to the Grand Orient of France.
Emissaries of the Grand Orient of Russia inspired Russian brothers to try and take high places in state bodies and diplomatic and military circles. They had their people in the French Embassy (10, French embankment, St. Petersburg), State Council, Progressist block of the State Duma, Cadet, Oktyabrist, Trudovik (Labourist) Parties and factions, Working group of Military Industrial Council, General Staff (after 1915), Moscow State Duma, Commerce and Industry Alliance, the Bar, professorship of St.-Petersburg, Moscow Universities. masons were especially active in IV State Duma where they formed Progressists block (summer 1915) and tried to form the block comprising all opposition parties to eliminate the monarchy in Russia under the control of left liberals and democrats.
Lentente was interested in Russia as a true ally of France in the war with Germany. In this connection some historians suspect the Grand Orient of France of being a puppeteer that inspired Russian brothers to form a Supreme Council of Russia’s peoples and allowing them to simplify masonic ceremonies and rituals to improve political efficiency of Russian masonry at the rank-and-file level. The leading Russian masonic lodge, Polar Star, took an oath of fealty to the Grand Orient of France and its Supreme Council. A copy of this Obligation is photocopied in People and lodges by Nina Berberova.
Lodges under the Grand Orient of Russia formed and worked under the supervision of the Grand Orient of France and its Supreme Council, initially including some members of the left wing factions and party groups, Mensheviks (social-democrats), Socialist-Revolutionaries and the left wing of Cadet Party. (There had been no revolutionaries in the masonic lodges so far. Nina Berberova contends that earlier socialists joined the lodges after being disappointed in socialist ideals. Duke Kropotkin, father of the Russian anarchist movement, mixed illusion with reality, saying that the Russian revolutionary movement found it good and useful to be linked with the masons. In reality masonry before 1910 only united the liberal and conservative members. As later recognized by deputy of the first State Duma Maklakov, we were all against revolution.
This soon changed as soon as the leadership of the masonic movement was usurped by the left wing Constitutional Democrat (Cadets) Party led by N.V. Nekrasov, later a minister of the Provisional government (March - November 1917). The Grand Orient of France in Russia, or, as some researchers call it, the Russian affiliate of the Grand Orient of France, was replaced by the Grand Orient of Russia’s Peoples. Since then, the history of the Russian revolution, as written by V.F. Ivanov in his From Peter I till present days. Russian intelligentsia and masonry (Kharbin, 1938), is a history of the progressive liberal and radical socialist intelligentsia. The history of the progressive liberal and radical socialist intelligentsia is chiefly a history of freemasonry.
Butmi, a correspondent of the newspaper Zemshchina, in the beginning of 1909, reported that Grand lodge Astreia resumed activities in St. Petersburg and many of its members became top ranking officials for the State Council and State Duma. Vilenski Vestnik mentioned that "attention of the curious observers could not but be drawn by both attempts to resurrect Freemasonry, repressed in the country after the defeat of the December 1825 rebellion and by the certain success of this attempt. From January 1, 1908, P. Chistyakov began to publish a bi-monthly edition The Russian Freemason (Svobodniy Kamenshchik). According to its program this journal was dedicated to 'all seeking for genuine Johannic freemasonry consisting of three degrees.'By the end of 1908 after this publication was stopped. In another weekly magazine published by Chistyakov, Rebus , appeared an invitation to join the circle of those who take interest in Freemasonry in the editorial office of the Rebus. The pupose was to learn Freemasonry in theory and practice. P.Chistyakov tried to legalize this circle but the local authorities offered him to suspend legalization.
After the Bolshevik revolution, one of the leaders of the Cadets Central Committee, from 1910 to 1917, Duke V.A. Obolensky told about the secret society he had attended. He pointed out that before February 1917 this organization included one Bolshevik and several Jews among whom none occupied high office.
After finishing restructuring in 1913 the number of members in each lodge of the newly-born Grand Orient of Russia’s Peoples, including a lodge in the State Duma, a lodge consisting of journalists, lodges in both capitals, Kiev, Poltava (or Kremenchug), Kharkov, Odessa (Ukraine), Tver, Samara, Yekaterinburg, Saratov (lodge led by N.K.Averyeno), Nizhniy Novgorod (Russia), Tiflis, Kutaisi (Georgia), Minsk, Vitebsk (Byelorussia), Riga (Latvia), Revel (now Tallinn) (Estonia), Vilno (now Vilnius) and Kovno (now Kaunas, Lithuania) were limited to 12 persons. If there were 14 members they were advised to divide into two lodges of 7 members. Ecxeption was made for the lodge led by L.K.Chermak and Rose Lodge in the State Duma. The total number of lodges made up 28 - 40(42) as a minimum. In St. Petersburg 11 lodges included 95 persons, Kiev (Ukraine) had 7 lodges, Nizniy Novgorod and Moscow had - 2 lodges, the total number of masons under supervision of Supreme Council reached 350-400.
In 1915 the number of lodges already reached 49 (50) and the number of freemasons 600 (excluding those not under the authority of the Supreme Council - Martinists, Philalets, Scottish Rite masons and Supreme Council’s numerous non-initiated activists). But Berberova suggests that there were many more. Her list of freemasons in Russia contains 666 persons. Soviet authors state that there were much less. My opinion is that there were soon more than less, taking in account that the Cadets Party had a membership of 50 thousand and was immediately banned by the Bolsheviks after tat heir victory. It was banned also because the number of member of Cadets was on par with the Bolsheviks. On the other hand, in the French parliament that time 200 of 600 deputies were masons, so in comparison with West Russian masonry was never numerous.
The recording of proceedings in lodges was forbidden. All orders were issued orally. All lodges were strictly supervised by the Supreme Council of Russia’s peoples formed in 1913. Worshipful Masters of Lodges only knew three secretaries of the Supreme Council--Nekrasov, Kerenski, Tereshchenko, its full membership was kept in secrecy. The ruling members of Supreme Council, called also a Convent of freemasons (finally formed by the summer of 1912) usually met not less than two times a month in St. Petersburg and Moscow and the participants of these conferences also were Ambassadors of France and Great Britain Maurice George Paleologue (worked in 1913-1917) and George Buchanan. The meetings of the Supreme Council were held in the homes of P.P.Ryabushinsky, Ye. Kuskova, Prokopovich, Konovalov (his dacha in the suburbs), Chelnokov, Dolgorukov, and Guchkov--in Moscow, the homes of Orlov-Davydov, Fyodorov, Polovtsev, Moeller-Zakomelsky, and Gorky, as well as isolated rooms in two restaurants, Content and Au Daunond in St. Petersburg. After the February revolution broke out the Supreme Council remained secret.
Lady mason Ye. Kuskova wrote to a mason Volsky (15 Nov. 1955): "We had got our people everywhere. Such organizations as Free economics society, Technological Society were penetrated by them from inside." She further added, "up to now the secrets of this organization have not been revealed, despite it was a huge organization. By the time the February revolution had broken out, all Russia was covered by the thick network of the masonic lodges. Many of its members are now here, in emigration, but they all keep silence. They'll be keeping silence until all people who are living in Russia and participated in the masonic lodges pass away."
One of the most influential members of the Supreme Council was Duke V. Obolensky, leader of the St. Petersburg regional council. He belonged to the old and tested masons who went through school of freemasonry in France, in lodges in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other Russian cities. Therefore the ritual and degrees remained of great importance as well as ceremonies and rituals beginning from the certain level of initiation of a mason. Participation in a variety of parties gave Russian masonry an excellent opportunity to act in many directions and in many fields at once. As A.F. Kerensky wrote, We never allowed anybody to erode our solidarity.
There were registered cases when Martinists and masons of other rites also were involved in Supreme Council affairs. Cadet A. Khatisov, mayor of Tiflis, Deputy of State Duma, and 33 degree mason, was asked in 1916 to influence the Grand Duke Romanov Nikolay Nikolayevich (1856-1929) (he was his close friend and also a Martinist) to agree to replace the acting Emperor after the revolutionary. Grand Duke Nikolay Nikolayevich was Commander-in-Chief of Russian Army in 1914-1915.
A list of ministers of the future Provisional government was discussed and agreed beforehand at the apartment of Ye. Kuskova and was just slightly amended in 1916 at the apartment of Duke Lvov and in the suite of the France hotel in St. Petersburg. Approximately half of the places in the provisional government were taken by masons from the Supreme Council of Russia’s Peoples nominated for their posts in the previously compiled list long before 2 March 1917. The first cabinet of the provisional government included nine brothers and only one profane--Pavel Nikolayevich Milyukov. Kerensky was being specially trained for his future post. Some members of the Supreme Council also managed to participate in the new, Soviet (Bolshevik) Cabinet. Some co-operated in the trade organizations of the USSR like Tereshchenko (temporarily) and Nekrasov (permanently).
After the Bolshevik revolution the Supreme Council of Russia’s Peoples was reorganized into "Free Russia" Lodge. Soon it became a society of mutual aid for emigrants. New attempts to revive the organization were made in the beginning of 1918 by freemason A.A. Isayev in St. Petersburg and freemason S.F. Znamensky in Vladivostok in the period of existence there of the independent Far Eastern republic as well as by initiative of N.P. Vasilenko, Worshipful Master of the Kiev lodge Astreia. The Kiev freemasons changed the title of the organization from the Grand Orient of Russia’s Peoples to the Masonry of the Eastern Europe’s Peoples. The members of this lodge were D.M. Odinets, P.P. Skoropadsky, S.V. Petlyura, N.P. Vacard. In Warsaw a freemason of the former Grand Orient of Russia’s People, A.I. Wenzkowski, created in 1918-1919 a replica of the latter. After his death in 1920 this lodge, Truth, was incorporated under the Grand People’s Lodge of Poland.
In the summer of 1919 some members of the former Supreme Council met in Paris and decided to re-create the organization in exile. The conference was attended by A.F. Kerensky, A.I. Konovalov, S.A. Balavinsky, N.K. Volkov, I.P. Demidov, A. Ya. Galpern. The new Supreme Council included among others N.D. Avksentyev, Ya.L. Rubinstein, the new secretary was elected I.P. Demidov. Besides in Paris there was formed a secret lodge, so called Independent Russian Lodge that had its purpose to revive the Grand Orient of Russia’s People. Its membership was V.A. Obolensky , V.M. Zenzinov, A.A. Orlov-Davydov, Ya. L. Rubinstein, A.I. Konovalov, I.P. Demidov, D.N. Grigorovich-Barsky and V.V. Teplov.
The Grand Orient of France never recognize them as regular and never contacted them. As a result of this isolation they soon closed. Some freemasons like A.I. Konovalov, A.A. Orlov-Davydov, N. D. Avksentyev, P.N. Pereverzev joined the French lodges of the Grand Orient of France (French rite) or even the Grand Lodge of France (Scottish rite). The others never joined the freemasons, among them A.F. Kerensky, V.A. Obolensky, Ya. L. Rubinstein, I.P. Demidov, A. Ya. Galpern.
The last lodge of Russian masons in Paris went into darkness early in the 1970s. It included just seven aged members. The minutes of the last meeting contain such words as, "Everything’s told. We're tired! We have nothing to say! We shall all soon die." Such remarks closed the last page of the Supreme Council of the Grand Orient of Russia’s Peoples. Their official purpose had been "moral improvement of its members based on uniting their efforts in the struggle for the political liberation of Russia." As in the beginning of the 19th century, irregular Russian freemasonry was brought low by its infatuation with politics for personal gain while forgetting the eternal and human values.
1. Ye.I. Kedrin, deputy of the First State Duma, noted his masonic membership in The Russian Word, for November 8th, 1908. ^
2. The editorial office of the daily newspaper Strana (The country) - 92, Nevsky avenue. ^


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