An Orthodox Social Gospel in Late-Imperial Russia
Kenworthy, Scott M.
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On Sunday morning, 9 January 1905, 150,000 workers and their families marched from various parts of St. Petersburg and converged upon the Winter Palace to present a “Most Loyal and Humble Address” to tsar Nicholas II asking him to improve the conditions of the workers. The marchers sang hymns and carried icons and crosses, and were led by a Russian Orthodox priest, Father Georgii Gapon, resembling a religious procession more than a labor demonstration. The workers, led by Gapon, believed in the benevolence of the Tsar, the batiushka (“little father”), and that he would listen to their troubles and help them. The day before, however, the government had ordered the march be cancelled and posted 12,000 troops in the city to prevent the marchers from reaching the palace, while Nicholas II had left Petersburg to spend the weekend at the suburban palace in Tsarskoe Selo. As the first group of marchers converged upon the Narva Gates, troops opened fire upon the unarmed crowd, killing forty and wounding hundreds. In other parts of the city soldiers also attacked the marchers, culminating in the attack on a large crowd that approached the Winter Palace in the afternoon. In all, some 150 people, including women and children, were killed. That infamous day, known as Bloody Sunday, destroyed the popular myth of the benevolent tsar and initiated two years of chaos, strikes, and violence known as the Revolution of 1905, which nearly brought the regime to its knees and forced it grudgingly to make significant concessions, above all the move toward establishing a constitutional monarchy with the October Manifesto and the Duma.