Father Gapon stood outside on the hard-packed snow, his black priest robes billowing in the bitter wind. He rolled up the sheet of parchment that he carried like precious artifact. He looked around at the thousands of supporters surrounding his small church. “What a pity we have to go out in such cold.” He thought to himself as he looked at the huddled mass of onlookers, many of them young women and children. He stroked his beard before lifting up his hands, “Peace be upon you my children! Today we take our grievances to the Tsar! This chelobitnaya will be heard. The Tsar will make redresses, and we will have what we want!” He paused to take a breath in the cold wind, but as he did so another voice broke out.
“We will have better working conditions! It’s time we stopped working in the hell-holes!” And then another.
“Yeah, it’s time we got an eight hour work week!”
“And universal suffrage!” Another voice added.
Father Gapon held up his hands again and the crowd quieted down. “Yes, my friends, it’s time to go to the Winter Palace.” And with that the crowd began to march. Some started to run off to the side, others formed in line with Father Gapon as they started their march to Nevsky Prospekt and from there to the winter palace.
It was Sunday, January 9, 1905 by the old Gregorian reckoning of time. And Father Gapon was a little worried by the lack of movement on the streets. As they turned street corners the streets yielded into more and more empty space. Fresh coats of untouched snow were all that stood in their way on their march to the palace. He knew that most of the city had joined in on the strike to the factory workers, but he didn’t think the whole city had joined the movement for a Tsarist petition, but then again the people were dissatisfied.
They rounded the last corner to Nevsky Prospekt and began their march down the large, long street. But they were no longer alone. At the far end of the street Father Gapon could make out the sound of horses. And in a moment’s time they could see each other. One group of huddled, and cold masses led by the lone father in his billowing black robes, the other, a large group of Cossacks, the Tsar’s personal palace guard. Off in the distance, Father Gapon could make out the words of the guard. They were yelling for them to go home. The Tsar was not at home in the palace. They must disperse or they would be fired upon. Their rebellious acts would be punished.
Father Gapon stopped and considered the words. They knew that the Tsar was in his palace the day before. Had he really left? Was this all just a hoax? He tried to calm the agitated crowd a little, but it seemed to be too late. The crowd surged past Father Gapon, and he could tell the Cossacks had had enough. They fired shots into the crowd and charged flashing their bright sabers, staining them that dark, blood red. The crowd burst and dispersed. People ran screaming and running pell-mell from the onslaught, but the disaster continued. Those who had already been struck down were trampled again and again by the merciless iron hooves of the horses. Father Gapon ran to a mother near him, gasping in agony. She had been run through with one of the Cossack’s sabers. He could do nothing for her. He closed his eyes and held her tight, her blood spilling over, staining his robe with a dark maroon tinge. He tried to comfort her, to give her a blessing, but she was gone. He made the sign of the cross and looked up. The scene had cleared, the Cossacks had gone on spurring the people to their homes. What was left behind was a massive scene of carnage. Hundreds of people lay dying. The snow, so fresh and white before, lay stained and beaten.
News of the attack soon reached Moscow from St. Petersburg. The Tsar, the father of Russia, had ordered an attack on his own people coming to him for redress. The act was unforgivable. The consequences undeniable. 1905, the year the monarchy of Russia began to crack, the first year of revolution, and the beginning of the end. It would take another 12 years, but revolution would prevail, Nicholas II had sealed his fate. The Bolsheviks and Menshiviks were on the rise, and it would be the latter that would attract young Kolya at the age of 17 in 1906, because Menshiviks were too moderate, like his father.