Epp, Claas (1838-1913)
Claas Epp Jr., minister: born 9 September 1838 in Fürstenwerder, Prussia, the seventh of eleven children of Claasz Epp (1 January 1803, Schoensee, Gross Werder, Prussia - 21 January 1881, Russia) and Margaretha (Klaassen) Epp (21 July 1800, Fürstenwerder, Gross Werder, Prussia - 10 October 1873). Claas married Elisabeth Jantzen (5 September 1836 - 13 January 1913) on 4 January 1862. She was the daughter of Abraham Jantzen (1797-1876) and Maria (Wall) Jantzen (1808-1882). Claas and Elisabeth had twelve children, but most did not survive to adulthood. Claas died 19 January 1913 in Ak-Metchet, Khiva, Turkestan.
His father was the mayor of Fürstenwerder, Prussia and played a prominent role in the last (1853 f.) Mennonite emigration from Prussia to Russia; he was deputized to lead it, and authorized by the government of Russia to supervise it. He traveled over the country to select a site for settlement, and was one of the first who emigrated in 1853. In the founding and laying out of Hahnsau, the first and oldest Mennonite colony in the Volga region, he took a leading part and settled here with four sons.
Like his father, Claas had a pronounced gift for leadership and was in many respects an attractive personality, although at times he showed ruthless severity. At first he did not succeed in acquiring a leading position. However, in agriculture he was successful. When he immigrated to Central Asia he owned, in addition to his land in Hahnsau, three farms in the village of Orlov.
In the 1870s Claas Epp began to stress in private circles the imminent end of the age, the return of Christ, and the particular calling of the Mennonites, to whom God had promised an open door (Revelation 3:8-10), in order to prepare a place of refuge (Revelation 12:14) for the other believers in the Christian church fleeing the Tribulation. When the Russian Mennonites faced the decision of their government (1870) to cancel the special privileges of the Mennonites, including military exemption, and most of them considered emigration to America in the West, Epp proclaimed that deliverance would be found in the East, an idea not original with him but coming from Jung-Stilling and others.
In his booklet published in 1877, Die entsiegelte Weissagung des Propheten Daniel und die Deutung der Offenbarung Johannis, which appeared in three editions and was distributed free at his own expense, in which he incorporated the ideas of Jung-Stilling, Ernst Mühes, and Peter Christoph Clöter, Epp ventured to set dates so definitely that he could not help becoming discredited. Here a new epoch opened for Claas Epp: lacking the humility necessary to admit his error, but rather trying to retain his adherents by a series of new interpretations, became a false leader instead of merely a man in error. He claimed for instance that his own little flock of followers was the "Philadelphia" church of the Revelation, before which the open door was set. Finally in 1880, at the close of the period of transition to the new regime in Russia when compulsory alternative service was to be inaugurated he led a small group from the Am Trakt settlement on one of the most visionary and tragic adventures in all Mennonite history, an exodus to the wild, unknown, barren land of Turkestan in the heart of a Muslim population to meet the Lord and inaugurate the Millennium (known as the Great Trek). Another group led by Elder Abraham Peters of the Molotschna undertook a similar move at the same time. The result was the establishment of the Mennonite settlement at Aulie Ata in Turkestan. In Aulie Ata the group divided, most remaining under the saner leadership of Elder Peters, while Epp took a smaller group in 1881 farther on, first to Bokhara, and finally to Ak-Mechet in the Khanate of Khiva, where they settled in 1882.
Epp's fanaticism grew constantly, guided by dreams and visions. He now claimed to be one of the two witnesses to the ushering in of the Lord's appearance on earth. A fellow minister, excommunicated by him, now became the Red Dragon of Revelation, whose expulsion was celebrated annually by the church. Soon Epp was to meet Elijah in the skies and with him ascend to heaven bodily. The time was actually set for the event, and the faithful gathered to bid Epp farewell as he stood behind an altar dressed in ascension robes. The day set for Christ's appearance was 8 March 1889, later changed to 1891. The climax came when Epp claimed to be the Son of Christ, the fourth person of the Trinity.
By this time most of Epp's followers, disillusioned, had left him, but a handful remained steadfast almost to the end. Finally the remnant excommunicated him.
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Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (1887): 15 f.
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Smith, C. Henry. The Story of the Mennonites, 3rd ed. Newton, KS: Mennonite Publication Office, 1950: 455-462.
Wiebe, Dallas. "A Mennonite Apocalypse, Claas Epp's Timetable for the Second Coming." Apocalypticism and Millennialism, Shaping a Believers Church Eschatology for the Twenty-First Century. Studies in the Believers Church Tradition. Kitchener: Pandora Press, 2000: 222-235.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, p. 234. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Bartsch, Franz and Richard D. Thiessen. "Epp, Claas (1838-1913)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. April 2005. Web. 23 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/E6595.html.
APA style: Bartsch, Franz and Richard D. Thiessen. (April 2005). Epp, Claas (1838-1913). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 23 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/E6595.html.