According to our records, Freemasonry made its entrance into Russia in the year 1731.
In the English constitution book of 1738, Captain John Phillips is mentioned as Provincial Grand Master and General Brother J Keith his successor in office, in 1741, though even as early as from 1732 to 1734, this latter is said to have been at the head of a Lodge in Saint Petersburg,
At that time, it seems like the meetings were held in secret; as there are no accounts of any existing Lodge(s), that is until 1750, when in Saint Petersburg “The Lodge of Silence” worked and in Riga, “The Lodge of Northstar” was also erected.
Under Empress Elizabeth (1740 to 1762), Brother Bober, who was afterward Grand Master, informs us Freemasonry became more in vogue, but the meetings were still seldom, and in secret “in the loft of some out of the way retired house”.
Great zeal and harmony, however, reigned amongst the Brethren of that time.
Emperor Peter III is said to have presented “The Lodge of Constancy”, Consul Selly, Chairman, with a house and himself conducted the masonic work at Oranienbaum.
In 1765, a peculiar masonic system flourished in Russia, known under the name of Melesino rite.
Melesino was (by birth) a Greek and Lieutenant in the Imperial Army.
“He was a man of talent, and could conduct the affairs of a Lodge in four different languages, with equal fluency”.
The rites named after him consisted of the following degrees:
- The three Masonic and four high degrees,
- The dark vault,
- The Scottish Master and Knights Degree,
- The Philosophers degree,
- The Grand Priest of the Temple or the Spiritual Knighthood.
Besides this system, the English one was also practiced and a Grand Provincial Lodge planted in Petersburg also worked on it.
The Freemasons Calendars of 1777 & 78 Give The Following Account of This;
The First regular Lodge, which was established in the vast Empire of Russia, was “The Lodge of Perfect Unity”, constituted in June 1771 in Saint Petersburg.
The Chairman and most of the members were English merchants residing there., which conducted this new institution with great regularity & activity.
As many Russian nobles were Freemasons at the period of the establishment of this Lodge, at their request they received from the Grand Lodge of England in 1772, a warrant for his Excellency Jogn Yelaguin (Senator) making way for him to become the Provincial Grandmaster in the Russian Empire.
The Gentleman exercised his office with such success that many excellent Lodges were erected in Peterburg and other places.
The aristocracy of the Kingdom did not alone aim at the encouragement of the Royal art, but also undertook to fill official posts in the Grand Lodge and in the individual Lodges;
The provincial Lodge, as well as the Grand Lodge, are on the point of erecting a Masonic hall, wherein they may hold their assemblies.
In 1783, twelve working lodges having different rites formed themselves into one Grand National Lodge. Their Grand Master was Yelaguin.
Under Brother Bon Reichel’s guidance, these lodges adopted the documents of the Swedish system; it is not very likely, as is asserted, that Natter brought these deeds with him from Florence, in 1740.
Further accounts of this period (and even later) may be found in a book of travels which says:
“The Russians engaged with violent zeal in the promotion of this association, which required to be checked, the more so, as the real aim was but little regarded, for they preferred occupying themselves with convivial amusements, costly trifles, end even with financial speculations. Hereunder the alluring veil of secrecy, they had an opportunity of killing time, indulging in their taste for show, by adorning the higher and highest degrees, and many found therein the means of filling their empty purses. Inititaits were eagerly consummated, without considering anything but the collecting of fees; jow these were appropriated but little was known”
“This propagation of Freemasonry, though so imperfect exercised an advantageous influence on social life, bringing the different Grades of society into more immediate contact, laying the foundation of that greater social-ability, which is distinguishing and favorable characteristics in the aristocratic Russian, and disseminating principles, which were not without a beneficial effect on the moral character generally”.
Amongst these (the foreign lodges) there were some, which were certainly calculated to win golden opinions for Freemasonry and to work profitable towards the intellectual culture of its members.
The society rose to a fulness of splendor, only attained in England and Sweden.
There was a building erected, entirely according to Masonic views, the existence of the Lodges was generally known;
Institutions in their name were everywhere established: indeed one brother was buried with Masonic honors.
When King Gustavus III of Sweden was present, something very nearly resembling public festivals was arranged, which the King and several of his suite attended.
That Catherine did not distrust this society, is apparent, without her seeming to take any particular notice of it.
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