Who was Father Gapon?

Father Gapon (wearing cross)
Father Gapon (wearing cross)

A blog post is not enough to answer that question, but I needed to find out some of the basics after hearing his name in class. I have studied Russia and the incident of Bloody Sunday multiple times since middle school, mostly in passing, but I had never heard that name until this past week. It seemed to me that in order to understand Bloody Sunday I needed to learn more about Father Gapon.

I read two New York Times articles one from August of 1905 entitled “Russia in Revolution–More Confessions of a Revolutionaire” in which featured an account of the events preceding January 22nd, 1905. According to records and witnesses, Gapon, who had been enlisted by the Ministry of the Interior to organize workers into peaceful meetings, had given into the rebellious voices in the workers meetings. He took a message to the Minister of the Interior requesting a meeting with Czar Nicholas II. When he went back to talk to the workers he told them that they would approach the palace peacefully but if need be fight the soldiers in order to speak to the Czar. He believed if it came to a fight many of the soldiers would take the protesters side and if the Czar would not see them that there would be a revolution.

How accurate is this account? According to Gapon he was not turned against the government at the very end. The New York Times published another article on February 18, 1906, more than a year after Bloody Sunday, “Gapon, the Hero of ‘Bloody Sunday'” a review of Gapon’s autobiography written when he was living in London. Gapon says he never was truly believed the current system in Russia worked. From the time he was a young priest he ignored the state controlled aspect of the Orthodox Church eventually causing the government to send him to a re-education camp. He was loyal to the Czar but wanted him to change the system. Unlike the account in the previous article, Gapon claims that he connected with the revolutionaries early on and organized them into a formidable group. This claim is matched in the Freeze text. Gapon’s account of the events of Bloody Sunday are interesting, including the fact that two policeman were shot trying to defend the protesters and the procession was led by a huge picture of the Czar, he stayed through several rounds of fire from palace troops, and it is common opinion that it is nearly a miracle that he got out alive. Through the bullets Gapon pleaded with his followers not to give up although many fled.

Any way you tell it, it is certain that Gapon’s actions led to the eventual demise of the Romanov dynasty and czarist Russia. A fitting quote from the review of Gapon’s autobiography that indicated the end for Nicholas II, after many shots were fired at Gapon’s peaceful procession the men around Gapon looked at each other and agreed “‘There is no longer any Czar for us!'”.




New York Times  “Russia in Revolution–More Confessions of a Revolutionaire”–http://ezproxy.lib.vt.edu:8080/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/96527837?accountid=14826


New York Times  “Gapon, the Hero of ‘Bloody Sunday'”–http://ezproxy.lib.vt.edu:8080/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/96601455?accountid=14826

5 thoughts on “Who was Father Gapon?

  1. I thought your analysis of Father Gapon was extremely well researched. The comparison of the two articles was a great way to figure out differing opinions and accounts of his actions and his role in the tragedy. Another topic I found fascinating in this was the assertion that Father Gapon was sent to a re-education camp because of his refusal to accept the combination of church and state. It brings up an important issue in many historical contexts, which is the issue of freedom of speech and how far the government is willing to go to intervene on that freedom.

  2. Ben, this is a pretty interesting read. I too feel like Father Gapon’s name does not come up nearly as often as expected. I also had no idea that at the front of his peaceful procession, he had a portrait of the Tzar. The post left me with a few questions though. Did the church, who was usually loyal to the Tzar, support the actions of Fr. Gapon and his march? You mentioned the reeducation camp he had to attend, but did this have any real influence on him down the road? This was a great read!

  3. Father Gapon was a fascinating figure in history, and his actions and charismatic leadership had a profound impact on early 20th century Russia. It is interesting to read about Gapon’s experience in his own words and to compare it to the other stories about Bloody Sunday. I wonder what kind of role he would have played in the 1917 revolution, had he still been alive?

  4. This is a wonderful post. You did a great job of engaging with sources to show differing views of Bloody Sunday and Father Gapon. It might be interesting to look into how other contemporary Church figures felt about the Tsar and his regime. Was Gapon alone in his feeling that the system wasn’t working well or did he have support from others in the Church?

  5. I had never heard of Bloody Sunday or Father Gapon before taking this class and this blog post really helped me understand what it was! It’s interesting to read about him and his charismatic leadership during this time because that’s not something I typically think of when the word “revolution” comes to mind.

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