Some notes on
The Legend of Theodore Kuzmich
By Metropolitan Andrew
The Emperor Alexander I was the first son of Emperor Paul I. He was the favourite of his grandmother Catherine the Great and was groomed by her to be the next Emperor, since from the reign of Peter I to that of Catherine II the succession depended on the will of the Sovereign rather than birth. Because of Catherine’s manifest preference for her grandson, the relations within the Imperial Family were strained to say the least.
Paul upon accession to the throne published the Fundamental Law of Succession, which for the first time since Peter I provided for an orderly transfer of power. He also initiated other reforms in the Empire, some of which were not at all to the liking of powerful people in the Capital. These formed a conspiracy to assassinate the Emperor. To this end, they convinced Grand Duke Alexander Pavlovich that he and the other members of the Imperial Family were in mortal danger. They got an agreement form the Grand Duke that in the case of the abdication of the Emperor, he would agree to assume power. The conspirators promised that the Emperor would not be harmed which was the only way that they could get an agreement in principle from Alexander. Now, all historians agree that Alexander must have known the character of his father well enough to know that he would never quietly abdicate and retire to the country. In fact, on the night of March 11, 1801 o.s. he was murdered in the Michael Fortress, because he refused to sign the act of abdication presented to him by the conspirators. Alexander was crowned and began a brilliant reign. However, there runs a dark streak through all his years on the throne. He had a deep and abiding sorrow which never completely left him. He was tormented by guilt for the death of his father.
As the years past, Alexander turned more and more to religion [not all of it Orthodox] and he spoke of the burdens of office. In the autumn of 1824, one of the worst floods in the history of St. Petersburg left 600 people dead and thousands of homes destroyed or ruined. As the Emperor stood on an eminence surveying the devastation in tears, an old man walking by said “God is punishing us for our sins.” The Emperor said “No, not for our sins but for mine.” The sin was his, unforgotten and unexpiated – parricide. At the same time the Empress was lying sick in the Winter Palace with a pulmonary disease.
In the Spring of 1825 Alexander began a tour of the Empire which included many of the scenes of is youthful triumphs. With 20/20 hindsight, historians say that he was taking leave of his old haunts in preparation for – death? By the time Alexander returned to the Capital, Elizabeth Alexeievna was much worse. Her temperature was now constant and she was coughing up blood. The doctors recommended a change of climate and the Emperor, for no logical reason chose Taganrog, a small sea port town with few amenities and inferior climate to that of the neighbouring Crimea.
Early in the morning on August 31 Alexander left the Winter Palace for the last time and made his way to St. Alexander Lavra, where he stood through the Liturgy praying with tears. After Liturgy the Emperor visited the cell of a holy elder and then made his way to Taganrog. Arriving on Sept. 13, he began to prepare for the arrival of the Empress. She arrived on Sept. 23. They settled into a quiet life, Alexander taking a few side trips. During one such trip a soldier who had come with a message or the Emperor was killed in an accident, and was buried in the town. It has been suggested that it was his body which was used to fake the Emperor’s death.
On November 5 the Emperor returned form ride complaining of feeling ill and suggesting that he may have caught a touch of Malaria. From this point on we have very few documents concerning events in Taganrog, because Nicholas Pavlovich, upon taking the throne, destroyed much of the material relating to his brother’s reign, including the letters sent to the Empress Dowager from Taganrog. What does remain is contradictory and suggest that some cosmetic surgery was done on the reports after the death/disappearance of the Emperor. Be that as it may, on November 19, 1825 Alexander passed from the pages of history.
The account of the autopsy is revealing. Everyone reports that the body was decaying at an unusually fast rate. And the doctors were all reported as having been smoking during the process which is shocking in itself but doubly so if this were really the body of the Emperor, the anointed of God. Believers in the legend hold that the cigar smoke was intended to mask the smell of decay from the body used to replace the Emperor. The body was kept as cold as possible during the entire trip to St. Petersburg, yet it continued to decompose at a great rate, and was never displayed to the public, a most unusual thing. When the Empress Dowager finally saw the body late at night she is reported to have said, “ ‘Yes that is my Alexander.’ Almost as thought she were trying to convince herself.”
The following paragraphs are taken from the Imperial Legend by Alexis Troubetzkoy, to which the reader is referred for the most complete discussion in English of the mystery surrounding the death of Tsar Alexander I and the appearance of St. Theodore Kuzmich.
The Life and Death of Feodor Kuzmich
ONE CHILLY SEPTEMBER DAY in 1836, a stranger astride an impressive white horse rode into the Siberian town of Krasnoufimsk, in Perm province. A tall, balding figure, with a full gray beard, he was a man in his fifties or early sixties and modestly dressed in a peasant’s black tunic and trousers. He made his way to the blacksmith’s shop and asked to have his steed reshod. Then as now, strangers in provincial Russian towns invariably aroused curiosity, and the blacksmith made little attempt to disguise his interest in the distinguished-looking visitor standing before him. The bearing and manner of speech of this solitary horseman were those of a refined gentleman, yet his ordinary dress was that of a common peasant. As he set about his work, the blacksmith engaged the visitor in idle banter. Where had he come from? Where was he headed? What was his business?
The stranger responded evasively and volunteered little helpful information, obviously not anxious to talk. The blacksmith pressed more aggressively but received little satisfaction; he continued at his forge. Before long, a small crowd had filtered into the shop, as much to enjoy the warmth of the furnaces as to satisfy their curiosity about the new arrival. They listened attentively to the exchange and, perceiving that the stranger seemed to be deliberately hiding something, they grew suspicious. Perhaps the fellow was on the run. Perhaps he was wanted by the law. After some dispute among themselves, they forcefully hustled him off to the police station for questioning. Try as they might, however, the authorities were no less successful in finding out anything meaningful about the man, who volunteered nothing. He told the police that he had no recollection of his past, but he knew his name to be Feodor Kuzmich. It was not that he was really suffering from amnesia, but that he was unwilling to reveal his true identity to the police. He also informed them that he was homeless and that the horse belonged to him. The irritated officials persisted in their questioning and even threatened him with the whip. In those days the laws governing vagabondage were inordinately harsh. Kuzmich nevertheless steadfastly maintained his silence.
When all else had failed, the exasperated police stripped Kuzmich of his tunic and, according to the law, beat him soundly with a birch rod. He received twenty strokes and was sentenced to exile near Tomsk, a few hundred miles deeper into Siberia.
On April 8, 1837, Feodor Kuzmich arrived from Perm to join the 43rd Exile Settlement at Bogotolsk, near Tomsk. This time he came by cart and foot; his horse had been sold to settle his account with the Perm innkeeper, with whom he had lodged before being sent into exile. The long and arduous passage was shared with prisoners of every sort, including thieves and murderers. But the elderly man endured the trip patiently without complaint, even offering encouragement to the weaker prisoners. When they arrived, Kuzmich was assigned to work in a vodka distillery, to which he assented without complaint. From the outset, a warm relationship developed between the newly arrived exile and the plant’s administration. The distillery’s director treated him especially well, with considerable deference; this workman, he had decided, was no ordinary person. After the first few weeks of hard toil, no further demands were made of him and he was excused from compulsory labor. Factory staff and colleagues showed equal consideration. Everybody liked the reclusive gentleman, who got along readily with one and all. Within the distillery’s precincts, Kuzmich spent nearly five years, living in relative solitude.
In 1842, for reasons unrecorded, Feodor Kuzmich was moved to another exile settlement at Beloyarsk, where he eventually took up residence in a small hut, generously constructed for him by a Cossack named Simeon Siderov. Within a few months, Kuzmich had developed a local following. Attracted by his ascetic mode of life and good education, people gravitated to him for every conceivable reason, mostly to ask questions and to seek advice and spiritual comfort. On the one hand, he enjoyed receiving visitors but in small doses and mostly when it suited him. On the other hand, his burgeoning popularity denied him the privacy and seclusion he so desired. Eventually it became such a problem that he left Siderov’s cabin and Beloyarsk and moved on.
For the next fifteen years, Kuzmich moved from one place to another. From Beloyarsk he traveled to Zertsaii, thence to the gold-mining center at Enyisei, and eventually to the secluded banks of the Tchuivin River. Later he relocated into the deep taiga near the village of Korobeinikov, where he spent a few months, following which he moved on to Krasnaya Rechka. In all, Feodor Kuzmich spent almost three decades in the greater Tomsk area. They were searching years, during which he seemed never fully satisfied. His constant moves suggested that he was in quest of an elusive something, or perhaps escaping from some invisible force.
Wherever he traveled or settled, the local populace invariably took to him. Peasant children in particular were attracted to him, and he freely instructed them in grammar, history, geography, and religious knowledge. With adults, he held religious discussions and recounted colorful events of national history the old man was well versed in the details of various battles. His followers were especially captivated by his vivid accounts of life in St. Petersburg. By his piety and simplicity and through the sympathetic counsel he freely offered, Kuzmich earned the warm affection of those around him. As in his earlier years in Beloyarsk, visitors of every sort sought spiritual counsel from him or simply asked for practical advice. At first he appeared genuinely to welcome his callers, but as time went on it became increasingly clear to the people that the starets required privacy and seclusion. A tacit understanding was eventually reached, and before long people ceased imposing on the old man’s hospitality.
The longest time Kuzmich spent in any one place was in Krasnaya Rechka. There a wealthy peasant named Ivan Latyshov took an exceptional liking to him and generously erected a small cabin for him. As in his previous places of domicile, the poor, the lonely, and those in need of advice or moral support came to him, initially out of curiosity, but before long out of affection and a sense of deference. The starets received everyone equally warmly, and shared whatever food happened to be at hand. He was especially fond of children, whom he continued to teach, and who frequently brought him flowers.
When visitors did call, the starets was invariably polite, although on rare occasions he showed flashes of irritation. Once, for example, a couple of workmen were sent to repair a broken window frame in his cabin. The carpenters set about their work noisily while Kuzmich remained at his table inside the hut. Twice he asked them to be less noisy, to no avail. Finally, he raised his voice and ordered them to do as he bid, adding threateningly, “If only you knew who I am, you would not dare aggravate me this way! “
Among the regular visitors whom Kuzmich received were two elderly sisters living nearby, who noted that the old man was particularly attached to St. Alexander Nevsky, the patron saint of Tsar Alexander. An icon of St. Alexander hung in Kuzmich’s cell, and each year on August 30 the starets made a point of marking the saint’s feast day. One year on that day the sisters baked sweet cakes, which they took to him. The starets seemed pleased to receive the women and was openly moved by their attentions. He sat them down at the little table to share the cakes, and in the course of conversation he enthusiastically told of the massive celebrations that took place in St. Petersburg on St. Alexander Nevsky’s Day. The women listened attentively, enthralled by the colorful details of the large crowds massing the streets, the spectacular fireworks, and night-time illuminations decorating the city. Kuzmich assured them that such festivities gave much pleasure and happiness to the Tsar.
One incident that provoked comment related to the visit paid by Count General Pyotr Kleinmikel to Krasnaya Rechka. From earliest days, the count had been one of Alexander’s closer friends and advisers. By 1825, he had risen to become one of the most influential officials in the country, serving as Arakchey’ev’s chief of staff. During an extensive inspection tour of Siberia, the general stopped off at Krasnaya Rechka and visited the local hospital. As coincidence would have it, Feodor Kuzmich, whose health had always been sturdy, was at the time suffering an illness that required hospitalization. He therefore happened to be in the hospital during Kleinmikel’s visit, which was something of a state occasion for the staff and patients. When the inspecting party entered the ward where Kuzmich was lying, the physicians were upset to see the starets turn his face to the wall and cover himself with a blanket, as though trying to avoid eye contact with the honored guest. Until then, Kleinmikel had been greeted by one and all with the warmest Siberian hospitality. Now, it seemed, he was ignored, if not insulted. Why had Kuzmich acted so churlishly? It was so uncharacteristic of him. One can only surmise that he might have feared the general would recognize him. Given the more than thirty years that had elapsed since Alexander’s death, it was highly unlikely that Kleinmikel would have known the patient, but Kuzmich was doubtless taking no chances.
On another occasion in Krasnaya Rechka, three peasants called on Kuzmich and, no doubt having been taken by rumors concerning the possible imperial origin of the starets, bluntly asked him, “Little father, is it true that you are the Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich [Alexander’s younger brother]?” The starets crossed himself and blurted out without thinking, “Thank God, I’m not. He’s shorter than me, not very handsome, and has a pug nose.”
At the end of October 1858, Kuzmich made his final move. From Krasnaya Rechka he relocated to the outskirts of Tomsk itself. Earlier in his wanderings, he had met and was befriended by a merchant named Khromov. The kindly businessman offered to settle the starets on his country property just outside the city, where he proposed to build him a cabin, or rather a cell. Kuzmich gratefully accepted the generous proposal and soon found himself in his new quarters, where he lived out his final years.
During those years, Khromov’s guest aged rapidly. When they had first met, Kuzmich was still tall and broad-shouldered, a handsome man with delicate features, his deep blue eyes sparkling with kindness. Now he was nearly bald and sported a graying beard. The merchant was taken by the man’s gentle, reserved manner and by his thoughtfulness and generosity. A considerate person, but oh so secretive never speaking of his past or of himself. The old man soon captured a place not only in Khromov’s heart but in those of his family as well. But why so guarded? Who was he really? The “vagabond” was obviously a cultured person who possessed the sort of tact one could hardly expect to find in an ordinary peasant. Might there be something dark in his past? Surely such a man should have the initiative and wit to secure honest work, and make something of himself. Perhaps, thought Khromov, he had sometime in the past committed a crime or serious transgression and now, in his declining years, was destined to wander the vast country, knocking on monastery doors for food and shelter.
From the start, the relationship between Kuzmich and the Khromovs was familial, and soon the starets became something of a fixture in the household. An especially close friendship blossomed with the merchant’s young daughter, Anna, and she was always welcome at the old man’s cabin, where the two spent hours in discussion. Over time, Anna recorded many anecdotes and incidents concerning the family’s enigmatic guest, which, if we take them at face value, and there is no reason we shouldn’t, comprise a valuable record of the starets during that period.
The mode of Kuzmich’s life was simplicity itself. His dress invariably consisted of a peasant’s full-length chemise of crude linen, loose trousers of the same cloth, thick white stockings which he changed daily and hard leather shoes. His hut was a single room with a tiny vestibule leading outdoors, a sort of mudroom, in which hung a heavy winter overcoat. The cell itself measured eleven and a half by fourteen and a half feet and was sparsely furnished, containing only a rough wooden table with two or three chairs and a cot with wooden slats that served as a mattress, together with a pillow and a heavy quilt. In addition, there was a small stove, a couple of benches, and a shelf. On the table lay a Bible and prayer book, and a wall shelf contained a collection of religious books. On another wall hung a crucifix and a display of icons with a votive lamp that burned day and night. The two small windows provided little light; in freezing winter, however, the room was warm and cozy. Visitors invariably remarked on the tidiness and cleanliness of these spartan quarters.
Among Kuzmich’s belongings was a chest containing writing materials and packets of papers that he scrupulously concealed from all but his most trusted visitors, such as the Khromovs. He wrote many letters, but always behind a locked door. Few people were aware of the extent of his contact with the world at large, an aspect of his life Kuzmich guarded jealously. Letters were received and sent; unfamiliar visitors came and went, often bearing a parcel or an envelope. Khromov tells us that on one occasion he and members of his family overheard Kuzmich speak with his visitors in a foreign tongue, which he presumed to be French.
The starets arose early in the morning but did not emerge from his cell until well into the day. Weather permitting, he spent as much time as possible outdoors, usually working the garden or tending his bees. At night he slept fitfully, with long hours given over to prayer. The old man dined sparingly and simply mostly hard biscuits, vegetables, and water. Occasionally he ate some fish or meat that was offered to him, which he consumed with indifference. “You see,” he declared to one visitor, “I’m not a rabid vegetarian! “
Even by the time of Kuzmich’s move onto the Khromov property, the staret’s notoriety had already spread throughout the region. The inhabitants were now drawn to him in ever greater numbers. An aura of sanctity seemed to envelop him. “The saintly old man of Tomsk,” they called him. One longtime resident of Tomsk, V. Dolgoruky, recounts the following prophetic story that circulated in Siberia at the time. On an especially cold midwinter day, Kuzmich asked one of Khromov’s workmen to report to his master in Tomsk and request additional firewood. Without hesitation, the obliging merchant dispatched his servant back to the starets with the message that firewood would be arriving shortly. Khromov then ordered another employee to load up a cart and make the delivery. The delegated servant, enjoying the warmth of his own hut, was displeased with the order but grudgingly carried out the task, all the time cursing his lot, his master, the starets, and the two-and-a-half mile journey ahead of him. But when he arrived at Kuzmich’s cell, the old man informed him that the wood was no longer required.
“What do you mean, you don’t need the wood?” protested the exasperated workman.
“From you, I won’t accept the wood,” replied the starets. “You bring the logs with resentment and anger. As you loaded your cart, you swore and cursed me.” And the old man repeated to the dismayed deliveryman every word that he had uttered in Tomsk before departure. The awe-struck workman fell to his knees and pleaded for forgiveness, which was readily given and the wood accepted. Real or apocryphal, the story reflects the way the people regarded their starets.
Anna Khromov relates how she and her father once called on Kuzmich, who, on seeing them approach, exited his cell and asked if they would kindly wait for a few moments until his guests left. The two distanced themselves from the cabin and patiently bided their time. The “few moments” turned into an hour, then two, before they finally saw Feodor Kuzmich emerge from the cabin together with a young woman and an officer in a hussar’s uniform. The starets escorted the couple for some distance and, as “they were leaving,” recalled Anna, “it appeared to me that the hussar kissed the old man’s hand, something he never permitted anybody to do.” It is surmised that the mysterious hussar whom the Khromovs observed that afternoon was none other than the Tsarevich, Alexander II. In his work on Alexander I, Prince Vladimir Bariatinsky provides solid evidence that the heir at one time did visit Feodor Kuzmich, who, if the Legend is true, would have been the young man’s blood uncle.
Another extremely intriguing incident was related in Anna’s diary. As Kuzmich awaited the construction of his cell, he was provided a room in the Khromov house for a brief period. One evening, as was their wont, the family was gathered around the dining room table, listening to the younger daughter read aloud. Kuzmich’s room was adjacent, its door ajar. The girl had chosen to read from a newly published work on the reign of Alexander I. She came to a passage that read, “Emperor Alexander turned to Napoleon and said to him…,” and she quoted a statement Alexander was alleged to have made when the two emperors met. Suddenly an angry voice was heard to cry out, “I never said that!” At first nobody understood where the voice had come from, but then they all rushed into the starets’s room, where they found him “on his knees in submissive prayer.”
The historian Grigory Vasilich tells of Kuzmich’s attachment to a young orphan girl called Alexandra, who often visited him, frequently bearing fresh berries, mushrooms, or other little presents.
At an early age she was adopted into the large family of a priest, a certain Father Polikarp, who lived not far from Kuzmich’s cabin. While on a walk with her brothers, Alexandra, then twelve years of age, first saw the starets and immediately wanted to run up to him. The boys held her back, arguing that it wasn’t for her to bother the stranger, and that at any rate the old man would never speak to her. A few days later as Alexandra emerged from the forest where she had been alone picking bilberries, she again spotted the starets. Without hesitation, she ran up to him, held out her basket, and said, “Grandfather, would you like some berries?”
Kuzmich smiled tenderly, clasped her head in his hands, and kissed her forehead. Tears welled in his eyes perhaps he was touched by the child’s impetuosity and purity, or possibly from some memory that the unexpected encounter dredged up from the past. It didn’t take long for the old man and the girl to bond, and before long they were spending many days together. Alexandra helped Kuzmich work the garden and delighted in helping him clean his cell. The old man taught her reading and writing and gave her lessons in history, geography, and religion. The girl was enchanted by the stories her friend told of far-off countries and places, of the monasteries he had visited and of holy sites and pilgrims.
Alexandra was a religious girl, which no doubt helped cement the incongruous relationship. Over the years, the girl’s admiration for the starets developed into a profound affection, obviously reciprocated by the old man. At age twenty, Alexandra announced her intention to make a pilgrimage to the holy places of Russia. Her brothers did all they could to dissuade her from such an uncertain and possibly perilous undertaking, urging her instead to seek a husband. Kuzmich, however, encouraged her. “Wait,” the starets advised, “there’s plenty of time to marry; none of these people is worthy of you. When you marry, it will be to a fine officer.”
Plans for the trip went ahead, and Kuzmich worked out a detailed itinerary for the girl. He counseled her on which monasteries to visit, what people she might turn to for hospitality, and gave her all sorts of practical advice on the do’s and don’ts of travel. Years later, Alexandra recalled an exchange that took place during those planning sessions. At one point, in her exuberance, she asked the starets how she might arrange to see the Tsar when she was in Russia. “You really want to see the Tsar?” asked Kuzmich. “Of course, father,” Alexandra exclaimed, “how can one possibly miss seeing the Tsar? Everyone speaks of the Tsar, the Tsar, the Tsar… but what sort of person is he really like?”
“Wait,” replied the starets. “Perhaps in the course of your life you’ll have a chance to meet more than one Tsar. God willing, you will speak with him and then you’ll see that tsars are human like everyone else!”
Alexandra bade farewell to her family and to her beloved starets and set off on her lengthy pilgrimage. In Kiev, she visited the sacred Kievo-Pechersky Monastery, which since 1051 had been Russia’s foremost monastic and religious center. While in that ancient capital city, Alexandra also called on Countess Osten-Sacken, to whom she bore a letter of introduction from the starets. The countess was much taken by the new arrival and hustled her off to their country home at Kremenchuk, to introduce her to her husband, Count Dimitry Erofeyevich, a much-decorated general who later became one of the heroes of the Crimean War. It is reported that he and Feodor Kuzmich exchanged letters, although no hard evidence of any such correspondence has been found. After the count died, his wife returned to Kremenchuk and opened the secret box in which her husband had locked his most valued papers; presumably, Kuzmich’s letters might have been there. However, she discovered the box empty; evidently someone had already opened it and managed to remove the contents. Nothing else in the house was reported missing. It is also possible, of course, that the count himself had removed the contents. But it is equally feasible that the same forces responsible for the destruction of material related to the Taganrog death were at work here, in Kremenchuk. The apparent connection between Alexander I Osten-Sacken, and Kuzmich is tantalizing. A further interesting aside: for decades, Count Osten-Sacken steadfastly refused to attend memorial services for the emperor.
Both the count and countess were delighted to receive the Siberian girl and persuaded her to stay on with them for a while; Alexandra dallied for several months. During her stay at Kremenchuk, Emperor Nicholas I happened to be touring the region and was a guest of the Osten-Sackens. The couple informed him of Alexandra’s presence in the house and he asked to see her. The young pilgrim was brought before him, and in the company of their hosts a leisurely conversation took place between the Tsar of Russia and the Siberian peasant girl. The emperor queried her on her life there, on her family, and on Feodor Kuzmich. Alexandra answered the sovereign’s questions enthusiastically and with childlike naiveté, often causing him and the Osten-Sackens to chuckle with delight. “Well,” said the Tsar at one point, turning to his hosts, “you’ve certainly got a daring young girl in your house.” To this, Alexandra shot back, “What’s there to be afraid of? I’ve got God on my side… and also, the powerful prayers of Feodor Kuzmich are with me. Besides, you’re all very kind people.” At this spontaneous cri de coeur, Nicholas became pensive and softly commented, “Feodor Kuzmich is indeed a holy man.”
As he left, Nicholas asked Osten-Sacken to give Alexandra a pass – a laissez-passer – and told the girl that if ever she got to St. Petersburg, she should come to the palace. “Present the pass and nobody will stop you.”
Alexandra never did get to St. Petersburg, but sometime later she returned to Siberia, to the relief and embrace of her anxious family. She lost little time in calling on Feodor Kuzmich, who received her enthusiastically. Over the next few days, the girl related to him the details of her adventures. During one of the sessions, Alexandra records, “I observed him with intense care and blurted out, ‘Father Feodor Kuzmich, how greatly you resemble the Emperor Alexander Pavlovich!’ No sooner had I said this than his face changed. He rose out of his chair, his eyebrows contracted menacingly, and he looked sternly upon me. ‘And how do you know? Who prompted you to say that to me?’ I became frightened.
“‘Nobody prompted me. In Count Osten-Sacken’s study I saw a full-length portrait of Alexander Pavlovich. The thought then, as now, came to me that not only do you look like him but you even hold your hands as he did.’ The starets made no reply but simply moved away into the entry hall, apparently overcome by emotion.”
Five years later, the Russian historian Lev D. Lubimov tells us, Alexandra made a second pilgrimage to Russia, and again Kuzmich gave her letters of introduction. One of the people upon whom the girl called directed her to the monastery of Valaam on Lake Ladoga, north of St. Petersburg, an enormous lake navigated by capital vessels. By chance Alexandra found herself on the same ship as the Empress Maria Alexeyevna, wife of Alexander II, who was also traveling on a pilgrimage to the island monastery. The empress learned of the Siberian girl’s presence on board and invited her to her cabin; the two were closeted together for a long time in conversation. If one does not question the authenticity of this report, then it might well be asked why a reigning empress would not only deign to receive a simple Siberian girl in her stateroom but would also engage her in extended conversation. Maria Alexeyevna must have been aware of some connection between the girl and Feodor Kuzmich.
Years later, again in Russia, Alexandra met a dashing officer, Major Fedorov. The two fell in love, married, and raised several children. The prophecy of the starets was thus realized, and Alexandra never returned to her Siberian roots.
The substance of what we have on Feodor Kuzmich, particularly his various movements from place to place, comes from civic records studied by historians such as Grand Duke Nikolai Mikhailovich, Vladimir Bariatinsky, Lev Lubimov, Anatol Kulomzin, and others. Fleshing out the starets’s life is possible only through memoirs and anecdotes of his contemporaries -what they themselves recorded or related to others, who in turn set it down.
We come now to where we began with Kuzmich. By late January 1864 the starets was nearing his end. His breathing grew increasingly labored; it was evident that he was suffering great pain, and he appeared totally wasted. By January 31, his eyes remained closed, but his lips occasionally moved in silent prayer. Late that afternoon, a small crowd of people filtered into the cell to be with their beloved recluse. just before eight o’clock, it became evident that the end was truly at hand. In the silence of the darkened cell, the weeping assembly held candles and prayed. Kuzmich awoke.
Standing at his side was his kindly benefactor, Simeon Khromov. As the old man steadily weakened, the merchant gently persisted in the matter of his true identity. Kuzmich determinedly deflected the questions, steadfastly refusing to divulge anything. And then at last, pointing to his chest, he murmured, “Here ties my secret.” And with those enigmatic, intriguing words, he died.
As the body was being washed in preparation for burial, Khromov removed from around the neck a small, stained cloth sachet, which was attached to a leather cord. It was evident that, whatever it was, Kuzmich had carried it on his person for years, wearing it much as one might one’s baptismal cross. On prying open the packet, Khromov discovered a yellowed scrap of paper on which was written a message in numbered cipher. A few recognizable words appeared on it, as well as the initials A and P. The puzzled Khromov retained the relic but made no secret of its existence. Some years later the scrap of paper was given to the authorities in St. Petersburg and was eventually photographed and examined by a succession of experts, including Grand Duke Nikolai Mikhailovich. But try as anyone might, for over sixty years the message defied decoding. Finally, in 1927, two cryptographers, one in Riga and the other in Belgrade, working independently of one another, almost simultaneously broke the code and uncovered the secret. The message read:
Anna Vasilievna: we have discovered an incredible flaw in our son. Count Pahlen informs me of Alexander’s participation in a conspiracy. We must hide tonight, wherever it is possible.
St. Petersburg March 11, 1801 
Thus ends the chapter on the life and death of the Starets.
There were many tales of the opening of the grave of the Emperor, included one that reports that the Soviets opened the grave and found it empty. This was told frequently during the 60’s and 70’s of the last century; but there is no record of such a proceeding in the archives, making it highly unlikely that the story is true. Soviets were meticulous record keeper. It is next to impossible that they would have failed to make a record of the opening of an Imperial grave, and they would have had no reason to hide the fact that the grave was empty. Therefore we can make no assertion about the state of that grave. However Theodore Kuzmich’s grave was opened some years ago by the present Abbot of the monastery in which it is located and he found that it had been opened at some point in the past and portions of the relics had been removed. No record was made of this and no one knows what became of the relics. But it looks very much like someone was trying to make identification difficult.
As mentioned above, the reports of the doctors do not agree among themselves, even giving wildly varying times of death. And their diaries are silent about the eight hours between the death of the Emperor and the evening when the men got to their rooms, “…nothing worthy of note appears to have occurred – almost as though on purpose.” And the autopsy was insufficient, irregular and contradictory. Troubetzkoy gave copies of the autopsy to three leading pathologists, withholding the name of the deceased. All three said that there was not sufficient evidence to give a cause of death, though one did say that there was nothing in the report to indicate that the subject had died of either malaria or typhoid, which are the two diseases most often advanced as the cause of Alexander’s death.
Of the two chief physicians Tarasov never attended the annual memorial service held in the chapel of the Winter Palace on November 19. He always seemed to have some excuse for not attending until his friend, Vasili Sergeievich Arseniev , a high ranking official at the court of Alexander II informed him of the repose of Theodore Kuzmich. The next November 19, in full uniform, he attended the Panakhida. Wylie the other physician left a very large estate upon his death – larger than one would expect from a person of his rank. The conclusion is that he was rewarded by the Crown for some extraordinary service [such as helping Alexander I fake his own death and substitute another body for his own?].
There is a story which I have heard many times from many people, among whom was Princess Vera Constantinovna the daughter of Grand Duke Constantine Constantinovich the Poet. I can not now recall whether or not she said that the person involved was her father, but that was my impression. At any rate she certainly believed the story and believed firmly that Alexander I and Theodore Kuzmich were the same person. The story as given below is from Troubeztkoy’s book.
In 1874 Mikhail Nikolayevich Galkin–Vraski the State Secretary was reporting to the Tsar Alexander III Alexandrovich. Among the subjects he covered was the rumour that the Elder Theodore Kuzmich was in fact Alexander I. Alexander Alexandrovich sat in silence for a moment and then pointed behind him with his hand. There on the wall were two large portraits in gold frames, one of Alexander I and the other of Nicholas I. Between the two was a small portrait of Theodore Kuzmich.
The way I have most often heard the story and the way Vera Constantinovna told it to me, the official notices a portrait of the Elder among the portraits on the Emperor’s desk and remarks on it. The Emperor then say’s, “Yes all my predecessors are here.” This story makes more sense if the person speaking with the Emperor were Constantine Constantinovich. A member of the Family would be far more likely to receive such a response than would a State official, however much trusted. There may, of course be two different events which have been reported.
But aside form all reason and argument there is something about this legend that makes most people believe it. I don’t think that I personally have ever met anyone who doesn’t believe it. As one writer put it, there is something that speaks to the heart and says that thus it must be and no other way. But even if one rejects the legend, there can be no doubt that Theodore Kuzmich, whoever he was, was an extraordinary and saintly man. He was in fact canonized by the Moscow Patriarchate [in 1984 I think].
 The note appears to be addressed to Paul’s mistress, Anna Vasilievna Gagarina. Her apartment was in Mikhailovsky Castle. [There is some question about the exact relationship between Paul I and Anna Vasillievna. She and the Empress were always on good terms, and it has been plausibly argued that Paul I and Anna Vasillievna’s relationship was infact platonic. F.A.]