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
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, in Moscow.
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 this time.
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 come.
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
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 mid-thirteenth century.
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
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 Europe.
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 Freemasonry.
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
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
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
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.
The first prominent Russian Freemason was Ivan
Perfilievich Yelaguin (1725-1794), 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
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
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 and virtue.
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 mysterious knowledge.
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
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
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
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 their charity.
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
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 Katherine.
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 character.
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
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 strong
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 "Illuminati."
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 closed.
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
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 -
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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