Vladimir Michael Gelesnoff Memorial Part Three

Faithful Laborers

 (adapted from volume 13, number 2 of Unsearchable Riches magazine) 

In Memoriam

Vladimir M. Gelesnoff, 1877-1921


THE ANSWER was found in an investigation of the time periods in Scripture, which are associated with future judgment. It did not elude his keen scrutiny that, if there could be a forever and ever, then forever itself cannot connote endlessness.

So important did he deem these investigations that he made a special journey of several hundred miles for a few hours’ consultation with his fellow editor, who was on a ranch not far from San Jacinto, California. The country was mountainous and highly mineralized, with hot springs and full of interest to a nature lover and geologist, such as he was. But so intently was his mind fixed that he seemed to see and hear nothing of the world around, and we climbed a lonely trail in order to be alone and counsel together regarding these great truths and their publication in the magazine. The time was too short, so, some months later, he invited us to spend a month with him at San Diego, in order to search into the matter more fully. We both had some idea what it would cost and we dreaded the taking of any ill-advised step. As it was, the magazine did not meet its actual expenses and there was still much truth which we wished to present to our readers.

When, some months later, he began his articles on the ages, it soon stirred up a storm. A large proportion of our subscribers would not even consider it and many dropped their subscriptions.


Meanwhile, as there was to be a conference at Calvary Baptist Church, in Los Angeles, he was given a place on the program. His audiences were most enthusiastic. He was called upon to deliver several special addresses beyond what had been printed on the announcements. He made many friends, some of whom continued faithful to the end.

He had now reached the most critical crisis in his ministry. Far from robust, with no resources worth mentioning, with a magazine which did not even pay its expenses, he weighed the matter carefully and did not flinch. We consulted seriously as to whether we should give up the work entirely or go on and give out the truth. We decided to go on, but, a little later, as the condition of his wife’s health did not allow her to keep on with the clerical work and it became imperatively necessary to economize on the printing, the publication and printing was undertaken by the associate editor, who was a printer by trade. In this way, the work managed to survive even though the opposition to his ministry and magazine became more and more pronounced.

His hands were strengthened, at this juncture, by two notable series of articles on the great truth which he had espoused. One was by his close friend, Alan Burns, entitled “Human Destiny.” The other was an analysis of the Eonian Times. Both are now found in the booklet “All in All.”

These added the witness of two others to his testimony. The great truth of the ultimate salvation and vivification of all mankind, and the reconciliation of the universe, for which he had dared all, was gradually established on such a firm scriptural basis that it could not be shaken.


The fondest dream of the alchemist is to transmute a base metal into gold. Should Mr. Gelesnoff succeed in this, how would it compare with the transmutation of the base god of Christendom from a sentimental weakling into the sovereign God of love, out of Whom, and through Whom, and for Whom the universe exists? He created evil and can not only cope with it but will banish it when it has wrought His will. He will use it to transform His innocent creatures into reconciled enemies. It provides the channel for the outflow of His affection.

Having discovered God’s ultimate purpose for the universe, his later studies, though interrupted by suffering and service, led him into the highest theme of revelation–the nature of God Himself. Though he privately expressed his dissatisfaction with the tenets of theology on this subject, he left no record of his findings.

For many years he had made a close study of the Hebrew Scriptures, especially the Minor Prophets. Sunday after Sunday he continued his fascinating discourses, condensed accounts of which he prepared for the magazine. At the very last he expressed his regret that he had not sufficient strength to finish a manuscript on the prophet Habakkuk, on which he was working at the time.

In the hope that someday the CONCORDANT VERSION would include the Hebrew Scriptures, he did considerable preparatory work of a critical nature, correcting and revising Pike’s Hebrew Lexicon. His comparison of Hebrew with Assyrian, especially the proper names, led him to several important conclusions regarding the formation of Hebrew words and the use of the quiescent letters, which much simplified the derivation of the words and reduced their number.


When Mr. Gelesnoff came to Los Angeles, Prof. Melville Dozier was conducting a Bible class every Sunday morning, to which he invited various speakers. He invited Mr. Gelesnoff, and so fully was his ministry appreciated, that he was tacitly given the place of permanent teacher. This he held to the end, his place being temporarily supplied by others of like mind when he was ill or away from the city. The following is an appreciation from the pen of Prof. Dozier:

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.


The only extensive journey in the interest of the truth, which he undertook on the Pacific Coast was a visit to the Northwest, where he spoke at a Chautauqua and other assemblies. This awakened considerable interest, especially in Seattle.

Sometime after Mr. Gelesnoff came to Los Angeles, he was called to San Francisco, where he remained for some months quietly and diplomatically straightening out the tangled threads of an exceedingly unfortunate business undertaking, in which he himself had had no part whatsoever, but which involved two people connected with his family, and some men in Russia, France, and this country. Even though he had been cruelly disinherited, he bore no malice, and his nature was too finely organized to endure seeing those he loved in distress. The detective work alone connected with this distressing affair involved the risking of his very life.

But, having the assurance that he was doing what was right, he undertook every problem connected with the intricate affair with the same quiet fearlessness that so characterized him in everything. To the great relief of his close friends who knew his physical condition, he succeeded in adjusting the whole matter, in a satisfactory manner to all concerned, without making the strenuous trip to Russia and other parts of Europe. The heavy work, the financial strain, and the anxiety connected with the whole affair proved to be too much for his strength, and he suffered a severe breakdown in health almost immediately after he returned to Los Angeles. Later, when one of his friends expressed regrets that a whole year of valuable time had been lost from his research work, Mr. Gelesnoff replied, “Yes it was hard, but it was God’s way of sending me to some of those men with His message even though it put me under a cloud for a while.”

After he came to Los Angeles he had several serious illnesses and the anxiety connected with his wife’s condition told on him considerably. However, notwithstanding his own acute physical suffering and his increasing anxiety concerning his wife, he engaged in assaying and other work and lectured regularly on Sundays most of the time.

Mrs. Gelesnoff passed away suddenly in 1916. Mr. Gelesnoff, in a critical physical condition, was taken to the home of old friends of his family. He underwent a dangerous surgical operation. His case was most skillfully handled by the operating surgeon, Dr. A. B. Cecil, and Mr. Gelesnoff always felt that he owed a debt of gratitude to this truly scientific and large-hearted man.

Several months later Mr. Gelesnoff plunged into his research work in the field of electro-chemistry but was greatly handicapped because so many chemicals were unobtainable on account of the war. He continued his studies in Hebrew and prepared a considerable part of the Hebrew lexicon which he expected to publish at some later date. This lexicon, he planned should be much more concise than any published heretofore, and should be such that it could be used by the layman in checking for himself the errors that have crept into the English translations of the Old Testament.


In the midst of this work, he was again stricken down with a very critical illness. This time he was operated upon by the well-known orthopedic surge Dr. C. P. Thomas, to whose skill, accuracy, and speed in the performance of the very difficult operation, Mr. Gelesnoff felt that he owed the saving of his life. The character of the operation was such that his recovery was slow and painful and called for all the patience and endurance of which his noble nature was capable.

After he recovered he married Mary Cameron Bertrand, who had been more or less associated with him in some of his work.

Six months after his operation Mr. Gelesnoff was again pursuing his studies and working in his laboratory, where he completed the work spoken of in the former pages of this article. His indomitable courage and energy were rewarded in that he had the immense joy and satisfaction of perfecting a few of the many processes and inventions that had originated as dreams in his brain, and of having demonstrated some great principles, fraught with tremendous possibilities which should open, up to future generations a vast field for endeavor and research.

In summing up Vladimir Gelesnoff’s short life one may say it was a very strenuous one and work was done under difficulties and discouragements. He suffered from loneliness for his family, for even the occasional correspondence was very formal and he saw only two members of the family after he left Russia. The accidents that he met with from time to time exacted a terrible toll of physical suffering. However, the sympathy which throughout his life, he craved, was never failing during the last years of his life, and he often said that the loyal and loving support he received at all times helped to sustain him through those great physical trials which fell so heavily upon him.

When he put forth his ideas on the nature of the atoms of chemical substances, they were at first greeted with ridicule and branded as visionary, and that by those who should not have ignored the fact that all ideas originate as visions; that the transition from the visual to the actual stage is brought about by patient research, application, and intelligent hard work.

But his confidence in his own results was not to be shaken by that kind of criticism which is based on reverence for tradition, nomenclature, and classification, nor was he disturbed by those who called him names and thought they had met his arguments. His attitude toward his opponents was open-minded, firm, and uncompromising. He knew most of the modern languages and the literature and scientific works of them. He knew Greek and Hebrew and their literature. He would discuss frankly not only the fundamental reasons for positions assumed, but attitudes, methods of thought, and varieties of experiments. His simple and incisive language displayed his clear grasp of a question whilst the spirit of animation of his conversation combined with the restraint imposed by a rigid adherence to strictly logical reasoning, and his complete laboratory demonstrations had a marked influence in eventually winning recognition for applied science from those who held ever so strongly to the old standards. Just before his death, he came into the full sunshine of the enthusiastic support of most of his opponents by the truth and talent which were in him.

After his back was injured he was unable to do the heavy work that had been in a measure lucrative. He not only endured his physical suffering and that occasioned by his opponents but was always handicapped by a lack of money with which to carry on either his literary or his scientific work. It was only by the strictest economy that he was able to accomplish what he did.

Just as he had received some recognition for applied science and was in a position where he was warranted in anticipating the early realization of a good competency he was stricken with ptomaine poisoning. A complication developed and he went very low. He rallied, but one relapse after another during the months which followed exacted an inexorable toll of physical suffering. This he bore with wonderful patience and Christ-like resignation, his only comment being, “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 him in pain asked him if it was worthwhile to live and suffer the way he did. His face lighted up, and his voice grew firm, as he replied, “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.” He did not want to leave this world till he had revealed what lay within him. It seems as if the measure of his soul was his ability to disregard hindrances and concentrate his energy on achievement. He was calmly resolute in duty, brave in conflict, patient in suffering, keeping to his chosen pathway and neither swerving from it nor loitering in it. And the suffering which overshadowed these last months did not sully the brightness of his intellect or dull the keenness of his perception.

It was in his belief in the final adjustment of all things, his wide knowledge of science, and still more his original vision of nature and of God, that at least in part we find the secret of the serenity, the healthy objectiveness and the courage of Vladimir Gelesnoff’s life.

During the last years of his, life his scientific discoveries brought him into association with men of high standing in the State. Melville Dozier, Jr., an engineer at the head of the State reclamation service, took an active interest in his work and proved a faithful friend during his last days in San Francisco. He has written the following tribute:


Unfortunately for me, my acquaintance with Mr. Gelesnoff was entirely too brief for I knew him but one short year, the last that he was spared to us in person, but his influence will continue to the end in the minds and lives of those who were permitted to listen to his wisdom and his teachings. I esteem it a privilege to have known him and a blessing to have enjoyed his regard and friendship, and shall always treasure and revere his memory.

The life of Mr. Gelesnoff was a short one as reckoned in years, for he was in his early forties at the time he was taken, but his varied experience (which covered a considerable portion of the globe), the vast amount of information which he had gathered, his habit of continual study, and his remarkable mental capacity gave him a breadth of vision which few men attain. His presence and manner were quiet, gentle, retiring, and dignified, yet he did not hold aloof those who knew him, but rather placed one at ease, for he was always ready to give out information from his storehouse of knowledge to anyone who desired it. In his character and life simplicity attained its highest virtue.

To an unusual and remarkable degree, Mr. Gelesnoff combined the knowledge and understanding of the scientific laws of nature with a well-balanced and sound interpretation of the laws of God and of the teachings of Christ, and in his own life he united the spiritual and practical, in fact, he made the spiritual practical. In chemistry, and particularly in some of its more intricate ramifications he had few peers anywhere, and probably no superiors. His originality along this line amounted to genius.

But his research into the spiritual realm was as thorough, as deep, and as penetrating as that into the scientific world. The forcefulness of his logic enabled him to successfully instruct and guide others, both in religious and scientific studies. His religious writings which fortunately are available are such choice specimens of English, and his rhetorical elegance is so pleasing that it is apparent that he was worthy of a high place in the literary world as well as in the scientific and spiritual.

During the last years of his all too short life, Mr. Gelesnoff quietly and bravely fought against a physical disability which was the result of a railroad accident. The suffering which he endured at times was beyond all comprehension, except to those who were in daily touch with him, and it was only his powerful will and determination which kept him from going long before his Master finally claimed him. But in his suffering and extreme illness he was still a teacher and a leader, for his beautiful patience when suffering and in excruciating pain was an example and a lesson which cannot but leave a deep and lasting impression on all of those who came in contact with him.
While not demonstrative, yet Mr. Gelesnoff was always thinking of the welfare of others, never of self, and devising ways for advancing the welfare of humanity. During the last year of life, and when his suffering was most intense, he was away from most of his associates, and most of his friends, yet he maintained a cheerfulness and hopefulness to the very end; nor did he even in his extreme weakness and illness cease his study and research, for it was not only his habit, but his life, to work and to endeavor to attain results, which he felt would benefit mankind. This attribute was shown, when some years ago, he was asked in a letter why he continually worked long hours and did not permit himself the leisure and recreation which so many other men take, his reply, characteristic and beautiful, was the following:


Said the Ant, “Oh yes, you’re pretty
With your light and gauzy wings,
But it seems an awful pity
That you don’t do useful things.
I’ll admit that you’re a beauty,
And you live a life that’s free;
But you never ’tend to duty,
And you’ll perish presently.”

Said the Butterfly “You never
Seem to have a bit of fun,
And your life’s one long endeavor
And your work is never done.
Why not flit like me? Why cherish
Duty in such plodding style?
Be a sport, and if you perish
Well, at least you’ve lived awhile!”

So they talked to one another,
Argued on to beat the band.
But they did not “get” each other
For they could not understand.
This plain axiom I utter
That the Ant must work, not play,
And the Butterfly must flutter,
Just because they’re built that way.
Sacramento, Calif.

Personally, he was one of the most lovable of men. His extraordinary fund of general, as well as special information, his keen sense of humor, his poetic imagination, his sensitiveness to the thoughts and feelings of others made him a delightful companion. Looking for the best in others he gave the best of himself. His gentle sympathetic nature and unfailing courtesy gave him a wide circle of warm friends, and he won the loyalty and affection of those who came in close association with him. He was a man of integrity, and in the highest sense exemplified the scholar and the gentleman. His real nobility was that of brain and heart. People turned instinctively to him not for counsel merely, but for instruction in the deeper things of God, and for the inspiration which men seek only from the purest and most loving of their kind. He was unswerving in his purpose, unremitting in his labor, never depressed or appalled by its requirement, and fruitful, in accomplishment. He was strong and forceful in his character, with a zealous love for truth. He made a very definite contribution to his generation and left a name which will long be revered.

His work took his hours but it did not take his heart. His devotion to his home, his wife, and his sister-in-law was his very life compared to which his business, his love of his books, and even his research work were of much less account. To understand him at all one must have known him in the home. During his last long illness, his thoughts were ever of his loved ones, and he did not wish to be a burden.

In a terribly weakened condition, he was taken to Dr. Albert Abrams, in San Francisco. To his unbounded delight, he found in this great scientist-inventor, and benefactor of mankind, a man who held many of the same views with reference to the nature of the atoms of chemical substances as he himself held. When he learned that Dr. Abrams had worked out, and was using the electronic system, for diagnosis and treatment of disease, he felt that he had found a man who could really put him on his feet again. Dr. Abrams took the deepest interest in his case and Mr. Gelesnoff improved very rapidly. At the end of six weeks treatment, he was able to get on his feet to do a little scientific work and had begun to do some writing again when severe colds became epidemic. He took one and it seemed to settle in the delicate tissues of the abdomen. Peritonitis set in and he suffered intensely for days. After the pain ceased he grew weak and at the end of a month, the brave fight ended. In the early hours of the morning of October third, 1921, he entered into rest. A simple funeral service was held in San Francisco and after cremation, the ashes were taken to Los Angeles for burial.


Good night, beloved brother in Christ and in the Lord! We sorrow, yet not as the world sorrows, for we shall meet thee in the morning, transfigured into the glorious likeness of our Lord. Thy sufferings are o’er. Thy warfare is ended. Thou hast kept the faith. Thou hast fought the good fight. Poor thyself, thou hast made many rich, and who shall measure thy reward?

Good night! To thee was granted the highest boon that heaven has for mortal man–to suffer for His sake Who bled upon the accursed tree. Thou art written on our hearts as one who dared to stand for God and for His truth, even though it meant a martyr’s life. Good night!

A. E. Knoch

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