Pashkov: "Unity and Truth" in 19th Century Russia
By Konstantin Chernushenko
January 2008

On April 2, 1831 a son was born to military general Aleksandr Vassilievich Pashkov and Elizabeth Petrovna, born Kindiakova. They named him Vassily. 

In the eighteenth century the ancient noble family of Pashkov acquired  tremendous stature in consequence of the marriage of the great grandfather of Vassily Aleksandrovich—Aleksandr Ilich to the daughter of the merchant Miasnikov. This union brought him 19,000 serfs, 4 factories, and what is called “the gilding of the coat of arms.” After several family divisions before the time of Vassily Aleksandrovich’s father, the serfs in the Moscow, Nizhegorod, and Orenburg counties numbered 2150. On the native estate of Krekshino of the Zvenigorod district there remained 1000 tenths of land, and in the Urals there remained a copper melting factory.

Pashkov was educated in the Pazheskii Corps, where he graduated salutatorian in 1849. This was commemorated on a marble slate. He successfully built up his military career: on the 26th of May 1849, he was awarded the office of coronet in the cavalry regiment; in 1850, he was promoted to lieutenant, but on the 28th of May 1853, for health reasons,  he was  transferred from his service with promotion to the  Rotmistr headquarters. On March 23, 1854, Pashkov once more resumed his service in the cavalry regiment with the ranking of lieutenant, but already on the 23rd of April of that same year he was promoted to the Rotmistr headquarters. Three years later on April 23rd he became a Rotmistr. In 1849, he took part in a campaign of the Guards to the western borders of the empire. On November 14, 1857, he was appointed to the secretariat of the Ministry of the military, but on November 26, 1858, he was transferred from his service with promotion to the office of colonel.

With the passing of time, Pashkov began to make appearances as a religious reformer and preacher in the 1870s.

Up until his fortieth year Vassily Aleksandrovich was not at all interested in questions of religion. He treated Christianity with negligence and coldness and lived an ordinary life of worldly concerns.  Pashkov’s conversion occurred in 1874 after the teachings of Lord Redstock, who came to Russia from England at the time, had laid the groundwork. These teachings had arisen from the Calvinist movement and came down to the fact of Jesus Christ having accomplished the salvation of humankind once and for all. And now all who believe in Jesus Christ immediately receive forgiveness of sins and may go out and preach the Holy Scirptures to others. This negated the necessity of church institutions with their mysteries and rites, which in essence separated people from Christ. The Church should be in the hearts of people.

Redstock, who was received with great delight in Saint Petersburg, soon gained many followers among the Petersburg aristocracy. V.A. Pashkov became the head of the new movement, naming himself the successor of Redstock’s work and the organizer of a unique religious community in Russia, a community which rejected the Church and propagated its teachings in the capital and beyond its outer limits. The sisters of Pashkov’s wife supplied his working fund. These were Princess Vera Feodorovna Gagarina (born Countess Palen), who introduced Pashkov to Redstock, and Elizabeth Ivanovna Chertkova. Because of the favorable opinion which Pashkov enjoyed among certain members of high society who had access to considerable personal means, Pashkov was able to organize the spread of evangelical ideas in one fell swoop. So called secret gatherings (only for followers) were held in his home on the Gagarinskaya river bank at the Liteiniy Bridge. Open gatherings were held as well, and information about these was published in the newspapers in order to attract new members. At these gatherings Pashkov did his best not to stray even one iota from the instruction of Redstock, both in his preaching and in his leading of the worship service. In order to attract representatives of the common people to his movement, the colonel of the Guards himself went to preach in cabman’s courtyards, factories, and workshops. The “Pashkovtsi” recognized charity as one of the most important means of spreading their teaching. On the Vyborgsky end of Petersburg Pashkov opened a cheap public cafeteria where ministers had discussions with customers. By means of charity work Pashkov was also able to attract young students to his movement as well. Students who desired to find out more about the teachings propagated by Pashkov could address their questions directly to the trusted Pashkov, from whom they had received a calling card with reference.

In order to facilitate propagation of Redstock’s ideas the movement made active use of the press. The monthly newspaper “Russian Worker” was founded in 1875 under the editorship of M.G. Peiker. The newspaper achieved widespread distribution with its subscription rate of just one ruble per year. Most of the newspaper’s articles and even the printing plates were prepared abroad.

In 1876 the “Pashkovtsi” were presented with an even more effective means of spreading their teaching. On November 4th of this same year the statutes of the “Society for the encouragement of spiritual-moral reading” were established. The society, which was directed by V.A. Pashkov, gained the right to distribute its literature throughout all of Russia at comparably low cost. Within eight years after its establishment this organization had distributed a large quantity of brochures and leaflets promoting the ideas of evangelical Christianity.  Many of these were even translated into other languages.  The society displayed an unusual persistence in the distribution of its publications: its agents and book courriers travelled to all of the expanses of vast Russia.

The relatively long period of Pashkov’s, and that of his companions, “great societal dissent” didn’t encounter much opposition either from the clergy or from the official powers. This could be explained above all by the presence of active Pashkov sympathizers among those in power. A.P. Bobrinskii (one of the leaders of the movement) was the Minister of Communication from 1871-1874, and until 1877 A.E. Timashev, who was married to Pashkov’s sister, occupied the post of Minister of National Affairs. The daughter of the former Minister of Justice, Palen, was among the active supporters of Pashkov.

Thus the reaction of the authorities to the work of the “Pashkovtsi” came only in 1877, when Russia’s government, disturbed by the massive scale and influence of the movement, prohibited the religious gatherings of evangelical Christians, and in 1878, the Church authorities began to admonish Pashkov and his sympathizers to move away from dissent and join the Orthodox Church.

However Pashkov, sensing his support both within the country as well as abroad, had no intention of giving up. In 1880, his polemical correspondence with the rector of the Petersburg clergical academy I.L. Yanyshev, in which he tried to defend his views of protestant character, was published in the capital’s press. (The initiative came from the Bishop Yanyshev, who had known of Redstock’s teachings not only by hearsay, but rather had himself been present when he gave his sermons in Petersburg.)

At this time the pressure from the authorities (in 1880 the clergy of the capital organized an “anti-Pashkov sect” society, and Sunday gatherings were prohibited) forced Pashkov to move the center of his organization to the provinces. His estate Krekshino of the Zvenigorodskii district on the outskirts of Moscow became the new center for the “Pashkovtsi” at this time. There they founded a school where peasants could learn to sing sectarian hymns. Prayer meetings similar to those held in Petersburg took place in Pashkov’s country estate. The most zealous “Pashkovtsi” received monetary gifts. For these purposes a hospital was founded at Krekshino.

Despite the prohibition thereof, in 1880 Pashkov regularly travelled to the capital and held discussions (and in 1883 he held them open to the public.) He rendered financial support to the Ukrainian Stundists and Baptists. In 1881 he made regular trips to visit the Molokans in Novo-Vassilevka (in the Berdianskii district of the Tavricheskaya province), held discussions, took part in worship services, and baptized persons “joining with the Pashkovtsi from the Tambovskii understanding.” He paid the way for a number of converts from among the Molokans to England to receive a blessing and exhortation from Redstock.

In 1882 Georg Mueller arrived from England. It was he who, in the German Baptist church on Fontanka, carried out the baptism of Pashkov himself, an event which turned out to be very important for him (Pashkov had been baptized as an infant in the Orthodox Church.)

In this very year Pashkov financed the publication, through the British Bible Society, of a Russian Bible, canonical in composition with a strictly verified text. Some of the copies of this edition contained wide margins for making notes. This Bible, published on Pashkov’s initiative, served as the model for all the following publications of the canonical Scriptures in the Russian language. In addition Pashkov published a New Testament with Psalms highlighting texts of particular significance for evagelical Christians.

From May 20-22, 1882, in the Ryukenau colony of the Tavricheskaya province an ecumenical conference was held between the Brethren Mennonites and the Baptists. Pashkov sent a letter from the Petersburg community in which he laid out a plea to permit believers from among them to partake of the Lord’s supper, resting on the authority of the baptism which they had received in infancy. The question remained open since the decision was postponed until another time.

In 1883 Pashkov and Korf left for the south of Russia in search of a place for an agricultural community: “Vertograd.” They chose some free plots of land near Simferopol, in the region of the village of Spat and the farmstead of Sofievka. However their idea was not destined to be realized. On May 3, 1883, “The Opinion of the Government Council on the Granting of the Right to Worship to Dissenters of all Confessions” was published. On the one hand this document represented freedom, and yet on the other hand denied it. For it prescribed punishment for proselytizing Orthodox believers. Police surveillance had been set up on Pashkov and his companions.

Pashkov’s fellow workers labored all over Russia. Princess V.F. Gagarina, and the Count and Countess Bobrinskii recruited supporters in Tula; E.I. Chertkova spearheaded the propaganda in the Voronezh province; there were active supporters of the “Pashkovtsi” in Yaroslavl and in Tver. With the goal of uniting his own movement with other sects active in Russia, Pashkov organized cooperation with the Stundists, Baptists, and Molokans. He gave them monetary aid, held negotiations with sect leaders, and attended their meetings.

According to V.G. Pavlov, in 1884 Pashkov was present at the First Baptist conference in Novovassilievka (see: Pavlov V.G., The Truth about Baptists. Chapter XIV.)

On March 24, 1884, an invitation to a conference was composed and sent out. It was hoped that this conference might serve to unite evangelical Christians among the Pashkovtsi, Stundisti, Baptists, the Brethren Mennonites and the Zacharovtsi (see the text of the letter: “The History of evangelical Christian Baptists in the USSR” (page 98-99).) From April 1-5, 1884, Pashkov and his partners conducted the ecumenical conference for Russia’s rationalistic sects of protestant leaning. Receptions were held in their honor in the home of Pashkov, Count Korf, and Princess Gagarina. Foreigners also took part in the work of the conference. The conference was dispersed, and the delegates were arrested and expelled from the capital (witness of V.G. Pavlov, a participant in the events. See: Terletskii G. The Sect of the Pashkovtsi. SPB., 1891. Page 135.)

These latest events overflowed the government’s and the Orthodox Church’s cup of patience. On May 24, 1884, by imperial order the “Society for the encouragement of spiritual-moral reading” was closed. First Count Korf and then Pashkov were summoned to the Ministry of Justice. They were given the choice of either giving their written word to end the distribution of the Gospel, religious-moral brochures, and sermons in any form or else to face the threat of exile from Russia. Pashkov responded to these demands in the following manner: “I would yet give up distributing brochures, since they are the result of the work of common mortals, and thus their effectiveness may be disputable in individual cases. But to give up distributing the Gospel, the holy divine Gospel—that is beyond my strength. I am convinced that a demand of this kind could only be made by people who, for one reason or another, have ruptured every connection with Christianity. For the Gospel, as is well known, is the true teaching of Christ, whom we are obligated to follow.” After this speech Pashkov was ordered to immediately leave Russia and never return. He was given only fourteen days to prepare for his departure.

In that same year, while living as an exile in Paris, Pashkov set forth the principles of his faith in a letter to the Russian ambassador to Paris (see text of the letter: “Spiritual Awakening in Russia,” S. Liven. And History of the evangelical Christian Baptists in the USSR, page 88.)

In 1886 all brochures published by the “Society for the encouragement of spiritual-moral reading” were confiscated.

Vassily Aleksandrovich was allowed to be in his homeland only once more. In 1892 (or, according to other sources, in 1893) Pashkov, receiving the special permission of Emperor Aleksandr III, returned to Petersburg to be with his son, who was suffering from typhus. Finding himself in the capital, he continued to preach. When rumors of the prayer meetings being held in Pashkov’s home reached Aleksandr, he invited him to appear before him, and, expressing his extreme displeasure, declared in conclusion: “Had I known that you had intentions to preach once again, I wouldn’t have allowed you to come for anything. Now go and never again set foot on Russian soil!”

Pashkov continued to support his adherents in the homeland all these years. He supported them through correspondence and, as before, financially. S.P. Liven writes the following about his ministry activities abroad: “Vassily Aleksandrovich Pashkov often preached in France, mostly in the mission of ‘Mac-Cole,’ and zealously distributed the Holy Scriptures among the French. For some time he travelled around the country with an Englishman who was a fellow believer. They travelled in an open caravandrawn by a pair of horses, as the gypsies used to travel.  People gathered in large numbers out of curiosity to hear these two unique foreigners, and this afforded the opportunity to tell many about the Savior. He spent time also in England and sometimes in Germany, where he spoke together with many well-known preachers-evangelists. The majority of preserved letters witness to how much he was appreciated and how much his cooperation was desired. Among the letters there are many which express gratitude from the directors of various missions--from Hudson Taylor, for example, the founder of an especially blessed mission in China, from the founder of the Salvation Army, General Butts, from Pastor Saiens in France and others whom he helped materially and also by personal participation in the work of God.”

Vassily Aleksandrovich Pashkov spent the remainder of his days abroad (Basel, London, Paris.)

He died January 18, 1902. He is buried in a Roman cemetery.


In the book The History of evangelical Christian Baptists in the USSR (M., 1989) the following is written concerning the dates of his life: “1834-1902, and 1832-1901, according to the old style.”

In S.N. Savinskii’s book The History of evangelical Christian Baptists of Ukraine, Russia and Belorussia (1867-1917) the following dates are given on page 145: 1834-1902, and on page 359: 1832-1902.

V. Popov gives the following dates: 1832-1902. These are the more reliable dates, as 1832 is given as the birth year in A.B. Lobanov-Rostovskii’s book, the Russian genealogical book, which was written during Pashkov’s lifetime (T. 2. SPB., 1895. Page 81-82,) whereas the year 1902 is indicated as the date of death by S. Liven, who was present at Pashkov’s funeral,  in his memoirs “Spiritual Awakening in Russia.”

Also, in many sources the place of Pashkov’s death is inaccurately recorded. They write that he died in Paris, whereas he died in Rome.          


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