Vladimir Michael Gelesnoff

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Count Vladimir Michael Gelesnoff was born October 19, 1877 in Firenze, Florence, Italy, the son of Michael and Helen Mabel Gelesnoff. When he was two years of age, his mother returned to the family home in Moscow, Russia.


He had four sisters and two brothers. His mother came from aristocratic British and Italian ancestry, although many of her family lived in Russia. His ancestry on his father's side dates back to 1425, Tartar leaders who accepted Christianity, and baptized and received into the Greek Church at Moscow, under Grand Duke Basil II. Vladimir's father was a member of Russian nobility, and served in the Imperial Council, during the reign of Czar Alexander III.


Before being sent to school, he had learned to speak Italian, French, German and Russian. Vladimir was fifteen when he entered the University of St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1892, under the supervision of his father in spite of a busy career as a government official. The eldest brother was educated as a naval engineer, the second brother as a military engineer, and it was determined Vladimir would enter the diplomatic service. One of his professors, the "great Mendeleef" convinced Vladimir's father to do scientific work in addition to his government studies. He learned to speak eight languages, and read twenty-one. He also "showed considerable facility in the arts of poetry, music and painting.

From a memorial to him on Concordant.com, "While pursuing his studies in history and economics at college and seeing conditions as they were in his travels during summer vacations, he became greatly agitated over existing social and economic conditions in various countries at that time. As frequently happened, he was called upon one evening, to entertain at dinner some of the University professors, while his father was unexpectedly detained by his official duties. During the course of a conversation Vladimir unburdened his mind to these mature men, the elder of whom replied, “My boy, have you not learned that this world at this minute, is just where God wants it to be?”


At the age of seventeen, while studying the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures in his father's library, "the love of God in the marvelous work of Christ burst upon his spirit." When Vladimir graduated from the university he refused to subscribe to the tenets of the Greek Orthodox Church and, as his father had died earlier of pneumonia, those responsible for administering his father's estate took opportunity to disinherit him, informing him that he was "too democratic to remain with his family in Russia". In standing for his convictions he lost his family fortune and social position.


He set out with just enough money to take him to Italy, and entered the Army in 1897, serving in two of its departments, and served in the Sicilian campaign. "While in this campaign, a machine gun exploded, killing men and officers around him, and inflicting a number of serious wounds on his body. For months after this he suffered agonies in a military hospital." After he recovered he was stationed in Rome, where he attended classes at the University of Rome, and was called to serve as an interpreter for the King of Italy for a high official of the Russian government who was ill. This incident led to opportunity to transfer from the normal army to special government work that involved greater foreign travel including what introduced him to America. In 1900, he was living in Naples, Italy, and emigrated to the United States from Genoa on the Cita di Torino.


In 1901, Vladimir resigned from his position and took one with a firm headquartered in New York City in the form of engineering work, which utilized his training in botany, physics and chemistry. Vladimir worked out the first viable solution for separating platinum and palladium from ores containing both without vitiating either one or the other. He also worked out and perfected formulas and apparatus for making nine precious stones without using the common commercial method of fusion, but instead using chemicals, devices with osmotic pressure, and an electric furnace. He invented solar rechargeable electric batteries for laboratory use, and many other inventions in the field of electrochemistry using natural methods.

Early Ministry

Throughout his career in electrochemistry he was higly sought in New York and elsewhere as a Bible teacher, he was said to "combine the rare qualities of a great Bible scholar and an unpretentious layman, because of his helpfulness of thought and because of his gentle, Christ-like spirit. He was not the whirlwind or the fire, but the still small voice, as he was said. He spoke with biblical authority, and a true explorer into the depths of Scripture, and "brought to his public teaching the accuracy of the writer and the enthusiasm of one who is dealing freshly with constantly enlarging visions of truth."

When asked concerning his quiet method of teaching he would reply, “I would rather get one man to think than get a thousand excited.”


On August 17, 1903, Vladimir met and married Miss Mary Ernestine Cesan, a devout Christian, in Agawam, Massachusetts. Mary was born about 1878 in Tane Pellice, Italy, the daughter of Daniel and Marie (Savay) Cesan. She died on October 31, 1916, in Los Angeles, at the age 38, having had health problems, and he later remarried Mary Cameron Bertrand.

Brethren Influence

New York is where he came into touch with the so-called Brethren, there is mention in his memorial about the 125th Street meetings in a letter between J. Glasgow and a Bro. Knoch, regarding Gelesnoff's death, reflections on a meeting under Gelesnoff. Glasgow had the complaint that often within the Brethren in search of bread, they received a stone, but "what a joy it was to go to his meetings and listen to his ministry of the word of Christ". He "broke the bread of life for us in such a way that our hungry souls were satisfied and we rejoiced in spirit."

Further reflections from 125th street from J. Glasgow:

"I can well remember the first meeting in 125th street that I had the privilege of going to. All throughout that day I was conscious of the presence of the Lord and knew that He was going to be with His servant. I also remember telling one of the older Brethren, whom I met in the meeting (as we were both in early) that we were going to have a message from the Lord that night that would make our hearts rejoice, and as we sat there waiting for the time to come for the meeting to begin, what liberty of spirit there was and how easy to speak to the Lord in prayer! And then when he came in and walked up to the front platform in his quiet gentle manner and took his seat, what a stillness fell upon the meeting! Everyone seemed to hold their breath. There was not a sound until he gave out the opening hymn. And as I listened to the message that night I was filled with joy, and I believe all were blessed. The portion of the Word that he spoke from was John 5:6: “Wilt thou be made whole?”

It was within the Brethren that Gelesnoff was befriended by Alan Burns, a fellow Bible teacher and writer. Knoch added, "His passion for the Bible–evidenced in his way of concentrating his hearers attention on THE BOOK–appealed to every heart that throbbed in sympathy with its divine Author. It was soon apparent to those who heard him speak that he did not come before them to talk about himself, or his experiences. Nor did he seek to entertain his auditors with humorous incidents. Indeed, the writer has known how much he discountenanced mission. First, last, and all the time “God’s Word FIRST” was the dominating note of his introduction to New York Christians–a note sustained all through his ministry there and elsewhere."


It was while ministering the Word at a prayer meeting at Fulton Street that he wrote some small pamphlets.

  • "Book of Job"
  • "Lord's Prayer"
  • "Where is the truth concerning the Church?" that caused some controversy.
  • "The Great Commission"
  • "Five Great Prophetic Periods"

Many of Vladimir's books and pamphlets are available at Pilkington and Sons including:

  • "The Ages in the Scriptures"
  • "The Pathway of Faith"
  • Book commentaries on Galatians, Acts, Esther, Lamentations, Job, Ecclesiastes, Matthew, and the Minor Prophets.

TheHeraldofGodsGrace also contains an article of Vladimir's (originally from Concordants) entitled "The Purpose of God"

A.E. Knoch

Adolph Ernst Knoch, also associated with the Plymouth Brethren in his younger years, wrote a pamphlet "On Baptism" and it was sent to Dr. Ethelbert W. Bullinger, the editor of "Things To Come", a London publication, with the thought of publishing it, who announced it as part of a new series. This announcement was seen by Theo. B. Freeze, a friend of Vladimir's who obtained a copy of the manuscript, Dr. Bullinger made plates of the type, and Vladimir published it in pamphlet form.

Alan Burns

It was while in New York at the Brethen assembly (125th Street possibly) that he met Alan Burns, and they ministered and wrote together. Alan edited a paper called "Grace and Glory" which Vladimir contributed to in its short run.

Unsearchable Riches

After "Grace and Glory" ended, he started a magazine called "Unsearchable Riches". The purpose was towards recovery of truth, and was one of depth.

Further ministry

"The Pathway of Faith" has a condensed report of a series of lectures given at Fulton Street in 1906. A review of this book by a Moody writer can be found at Volume 9 of The Institute Tie

While holding meetings in a Canadian town, a minister came to him at the close of the service to express his appreciation of the address. He said, “You have given us solid meat, but you know, we preachers must use spices.” To this he gave the characteristic reply: “My brother, herein is the trouble; we have devoted altogether too much time to the preparation of spices and have neglected the meat.”

In February 1905 he spoke in Buffalo, in March he addressed the Park Street Church of Boston. In 1906 he lectured the Marble Collegiate Church in New York. In the summer of 1908 he gave lectures on the Old Testament at the Northfield Conference.

One of the Canadian towns Vladimir ministered in was in Galt, Ontario, according to the June 29, 1907 issue of The New York Daily Tribune, in regard to his series of "Gospel exposition meetings" for the "last three weeks", and a general announcement that he was to "resume services tomorrow at Pennel Hall, Lenox avenue and 127th street, at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. On Thursday evening he will give the usual Bible exposition at 8 o'clock".

The London "Christian" of September 24, 1908 said, "Among the is Mr. V. Gelesnoff, of New York. A Russian by birth, Mr. Gelesnoff is deeply versed in Holy Scripture, and for some years past has been in growing request for addresses on the teaching of God’s Word. It is understood that in the near future he will be more free to respond to requests to conduct meetings in series."

The Evangel and Bible Study Movement

"This consisted of a committee organized with the object of providing courses of systematic Bible instruction, evangelistic meetings and special services to meet the spiritual needs of the churches."


It's apparent that some of Bro. Gelesnoff's associates were read out of the Brethren meetings, and he received affliction in connection with his pamphlet "Where is the truth concerning the Church" that questioned some of the tenets of baptism, which brought various controversial articles in response. In 1909, he moved his headquarters to Hennepin, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and spent considerable time lecturing in that area, as well as Galt, Paris, Toronto, and a number of cities and towns in Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

The July 3, 1909 issue of "The Standard" advertised the 15th Northwestern Bible Conference in the auditorium of the First Church, Minneapolis, Minn., Aug. 8-22. Dr. F.W. Farr, of Philadelphia, was to give thirteen addresses. Rev. A.N. Hall of Oklahoma was to give eight addresses on "Redemption as Illustrated in Exodus". Dr. A.J. Frost was to give ten lectures on Hebrews. And "Vladimir Gelesnoff of Russia" was to give seven addresses on "The Real Christ".

Northwestern Bible School

He taught in the Northwestern Bible School until doctrinal differences caused a severance, and he continued teaching his classes in a private house, which continued thru the writing of his memorial.

San Diego

In 1910, Vladimir had a serious accident in which his back was injured in the "region of his kidneys". Mrs. Gelesnoff was also having health problems so they opted to move to a warmer climate, and San Diego was chosen. While there, he did some work in chemistry, but "devoted most of his time to Bible study and teaching, as well as gospel preaching."

Los Angeles

While still living in San Diego, he was invited to be part of a conference at Calvary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. After moving there, around 1912, Prof. Melville Dozier (1849-1936), who served 22 years as vice-president of what is now known as UCLA, invited Vladimir to a Bible class he conducted on Sunday mornings of various speakers, and was promoted to the position of a permanent Bible teacher which he retained until he died.

Dozier wrote this tribute: "In our journey through life we come in contact with many characters of widely different attributes. To some we are instinctively drawn as by a magnetic power that instills confidence, sympathy and fellowship; by others we are instinctively repelled with a sense of revulsion, or held at arm’s length by a conscious lack of a unity of spirit.

Of all men with whom the writer has been associated, the subject of this brief sketch, Vladimir M. Gelesnoff, possessed the most varied, the most unique and the most lovable qualities of mind and spirit. A scholar, a poet and a teacher, he was yet as gentle as a woman and as diffident as a child. Beneath a calm and placid exterior flowed a deep stream of thought, penetrating in its analysis and as rigid as steel in its logic. A master of many languages, both ancient and modern, the literature of the world and of the centuries was at his command.

A profound scientist, especially versed in the mysteries of chemistry, he pursued original investigations the results of which caused his friends to wonder in amazement, and revealed the power to revolutionize much of modern accepted scientific thought; yet he kept the secrets of his discoveries largely to himself when he might have startled the world by their revelation, so deeply rooted in his being was the rare quality of modesty.

A varied experience in life was his, yet one that always struggled against some opposing influence which kept his marvelous genius from asserting itself in a way that would command and rivet public attention. His mind was so absorbed in profound reflection, and his spirit so in love with the peace and quiet of study and investigation, that he preferred and sought the obscurity of private life, the fascination of the library and of the laboratory.

His entire being was saturated with spiritual fervor, and it was along the lines of Biblical study and exposition that he accomplished the most valuable and most enduring results.

His power of analysis exceeded that of any man of whom I have any knowledge; and this power, combined with his familiarity with the original texts of Scripture, his deep spirit of reverence for God’s Word, and his unwavering moral courage, made him a teacher of revealed religious truths whose equal I have never met.

Yet the very forcefulness of his expositions, carrying conviction, as they did, to the mind of those who gave sincere and candid thought to his teaching, aroused the antagonism of those who prefer to cling blindly to the errors of a man-made theology, and he was made the victim of a denunciatory criticism as unchristian as it was unsound and illogical. But none of these things moved him in his firm and uncompromising adherence to the literal and unvarnished significance of God’s revelations, and he died as he had lived, a devoted disciple of the Truth that had made him free.

By nature an athlete, and engaged in early manhood in occupations requiring physical vigor and endurance, he had the great misfortune some years ago to meet with serious injury in a railroad accident. This unfitted him in great measure for physical activity during the remainder of his life and was the ultimate cause of his death. But, while it greatly hindered his power of achievement in the ordinary walks and business of life, it did not cloud his brain or dampen his spiritual ardor and love of study; and the fruits of his labors along these lines will live to bless humanity for all time.

Mr. Gelesnoff combined the natural instincts of a true gentleman with the excellence of genuine culture and the grace of an unassumed modesty. He was a loving husband and a steadfast friend, and, though a martyr to continuous and excruciating pain, he was unremitting in his devotion to the God Whom he loved and revered, and, in the strength of a clear conscience, he breathed the pure air of mental and spiritual freedom to the end."

Later Life

After he came to Los Angeles he had several serious illnesses, along with anxieties about his wife's deteriorating health, although he continued to preach most Sundays. Mrs. Gelesnoff passed away suddenly in 1916. Mr. Gelesnoff then underwent a dangerous surgical condition by Dr. A.B. Cecil, and he recovered. He then resumed his electro-chemistry research but many chemicals were unobtainable due to War rationing. He also continued preparation of a concise Hebrew lexicon intended to be used by those checking errors in English translations of the Old Testament.

During one of his last illnesses he remarked, "I would like to finish my work if the Lord would only give me a little strength." Two months before the end, a friend seeing his pain asked if it was worthwhile to live and suffer as he did. His face lighted up, and his voice grew firm, and said, “I don’t let myself think of the suffering, I have so many interesting things to do, I’d like to live a thousand years.”


Vladimir died on October 3, 1921, with a funeral service in San Francisco, and after cremation the ashes were taken to Los Angeles for burial. He was 43.

Also See

  • The Interior report on September 29, 1910 of a fall meeting of Presbytery of Winnebago at Marshfield September 13, 1910, moderated by Rev. H.C. Postlethwaite, where twenty-three ministers and eight elders were enrolled. This conference included "three strong Bible studies" by "Count Vladimir Gelesnoff of Minneapolis", as well as the closing meeting.