An Unknown Priest and the “Little Father”

Gapon in London 1905

Gapon in London 1905


In 1904, Georgii Gapon, an Orthodox priest, recruited members into his ‘Assembly of Russian Factory Workers’ (Freeze 250). Although the police funded and infiltrated the organization to diminish anti-autocratic sentiment, the organization exposed members to Western ideology. “When in December 1904, some workers at the giant Putilov factory, members of Gapon’s Assembly, were dismissed, with little justification, in what appeared to be an effort to reduce the Assembly’s influence, the organization could not maintain its credibility unless it rose to the defense of the injured parties” (Freeze 251). Facing injustices, Gapon brought the workers under a united vision, inspiring a strike in January 1905. A mass march was organized against the Winter Palace, the home of Nicholas II. The petition of the organizers included demand for higher wages, shorter hours, and “free elections based on direct, universal manhood suffrage” (Freeze 251). Instead of receiving the petition, Nicholas II called for military action against the crowd consisting of men, women and children. January 9, 1905 became known as ‘Bloody Sunday‘ and was the turning point of the public against the tsar.

Despite marching over one hundred people to their deaths, Gapon gained popularity across the world. The press became interested in the man who inspired the strike and the type of change he envisioned. The New York Times published an article on Gapon on 18 Feb 1906. The article provides background on the man who inspired action in Russia. Gapon “turned his organized strikers into revolutionists and determined to make the Czr, by force if necessary, listen to the complaints of the strikers” (New York Times). The New York Times article also suggests the Ministry had promised the striker’s petition would be received without violence or resistance. The article also mentions the surprise of the police when the military took action against the crowds.

Although Father Gapon escaped harm, the whereabouts of Father Gapon became surrounded by mystery. What happened to Gapon? Conspiracy invaded the press in regard to Gapon. On May 14, 1906, the New York Times ran a story titled ‘MAY BE GAPON’S BODY.: Corpse Hanging from a Nail Found in a Villa in Finland.’ The story address the finding of a corpse whose “features resembled those of Gapon, and the clothing corresponded with that worn by the missing labor leader.” The media jumped on the controversial leader, expecting the Russian government to take action against the organizer.

The truth, saturated with conspiracy theories, may never be fully known; however, the change Gapon inspired allowed the Revolution of 1905 take place. ‘Bloody Sunday’ caused the country to turn on Nicholas II, although the petitioned topics were not successfully executed following the Revolution of 1905. Change, as typically seen in history, was not immediate.


Image Citation: “Gapon, the Hero of “Bloody Sunday”.” New York Times (1857-1922), Feb 18, 1906.

Cited Sources:

“Gapon, the Hero of “Bloody Sunday”.” New York Times (1857-1922), Feb 18, 1906.

“MAY BE GAPON’S BODY.” New York Times (1857-1922), May 14, 1906.

Gregory L. Freeze, Russia: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 250-252.