In 1805, a “gentleman of the highest respectability” in St. Petersburg, Russia composed a tract entitled “Nekotorye cherty ob obshchestve Dukhobortsev” [“Several Characteristics of Doukhobor Society”]. It was a sympathetic exposition of the religious and social teachings of the Dukhobortsy. Ten years later, the tract was published as an appendix to Robert Pinkerton’s translation of “The Present State of the Greek Church in Russia” by Metropolitan Platon of Moscow (New York: Collins and Col, 1815). Reproduced below, it contains the earliest systematic account of Doukhobor religious doctrine and provides invaluable historic insights into the belief system of our Doukhobor ancestors. Editorial comments and afterword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.
From among the common peasants, who are in general not only illiterate, but strongly attached to the external ceremonies of religion, there sprung up all at once a sect, in the middle of the last century, that not only threw aside all the ceremonies and rites of the Greek church, but who also rejected baptism and the Lord’s supper.
A sect of this description could not long remain unnoticed, or be secure from molestation, both by their neighbours and by government, especially as both were unacquainted with their principles. Accordingly, they suffered from all quarters continual persecution, being constantly exposed to reproach, and not infrequently to imprisonment. In their intercourse with their neighbours, they endured the most abusive language, and other insults; and all were ready to construe every action of their lives in such a way, as to point them out the disturbers of the public peace, and as the offscouring of society.
The higher departments of government judged of them according to the reports of the lower departments; and hence many of them were sent into exile, as if they had been the worst of criminals. In this manner the persecution of the Dukhobortsy continued, with few intermissions, until the reign of the humane and peaceable Alexander I.
Robert Pinkerton (1780-1859), agent of the British and Foreign Bible Society in Russia who translated the 1805 tract.
In 1801, the senators Lopukhin and Neledinsky, being sent to review the state of affairs in the government of the Ukraine (Sloboda-Ukraine province, Russia – ed.), were the first who represented these people to the emperor in a true light. According to their representations, his Majesty granted the scattered Dukhobortsy permission to remove from the governments of Ukraine and Malorus (“Little Russia”, the Ukrainian provinces of Russia – ed.) and to settle at a place called Molochnye Vody, in the government of Tavria. Here the Dukhobortsy formed two settlements in 1804, and their brethren from the governments of Voronezh and Tavria were also permitted to settle along with them.
The name Dukhobortsy was already given to this sect in 1788, probably by the then-Archbishop of Ekaterinoslav Amvrossi, who, by this designation, no doubt intended to point out the heresy contained in their doctrines; for Dukhoborets literally signifies a wrestler with the spirit. Formerly they were called by government Ikonobortsy, on account of their rejecting, with other things, the use of pictures (ikons – ed.) in their worship. But the Dukhobortsy call themselves Christians, and all other people they denominate men of the world.
The origin of this sect is altogether unknown to its present members; for they are in general illiterate, and they possess no written history of the founders of their sect. Their traditionary story affirms, that they are the descendants of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abedriego, who suffered for not falling down to worship the golden image of Nebuchadnezzar. No doubt they intend to intimate by this, that they not only suffer, but are willing to suffer, rather than worship the ikons, or observe the external rites and ceremonies of the Greek church.
The Dukhobortsy, till of late, had been very much scattered in different parts of the empire; seldom could as many of them be found in one place as to form a separate village. But, exclusive of those in the southern provinces above-mentioned, they are dispersed throughout the governments of Caucasus, the Don Cossacks, and Arkhangel’ in Lapland, and even in Irkutsk, and Kamchatka.
They say also that there are many of their members in Germany and Turkey; but that they are more persecuted in Germany than even among the Mohammedans.
The communication which they have with each other is only occasional; as when any of their number travels into distant provinces on business; however, when affairs of importance happen among them, they send some of their members expressly to give information.
Excepting their principles of faith, the Dukhobortsy, in their domestic and social life, may serve as examples to all other sects. In 1792, the governor of Ekaterinoslav, Kokhovsky, in his reports to the general procurator, Vesemskoy, at that time represents the Dukhobortsy as leading most exemplary lives; being sober and industrious, diligent in their occupations, and of good and gentle dispositions. The taxes, and other public obligations, they pay and perform punctually, and in this respect were always before their neighbour peasants; otherwise the agents of government in the villages were ever ready to catch an occasion to harass them. Laziness and drunkenness are vices not suffered among them; so that those who are infected with such sins are excluded from their society.
As soon as we approach, however, and take a view of their creed, we at once see the contrast between it and that of their surrounding neighbours. The Dukhobortsy never enter the national churches, or bow before the pictures in time of prayer; they do not cross themselves, or observe the appointed fasts; they take no part in the joys and corrupt deeds of the men of the world. These are causes sufficient to separate them for ever from the company of the other peasants, and to expose them to continual persecution.
The Dukhobortsy affirm that every external rite, in regard to salvation, is of no avail whatever, and that the outward church, in consequence of her corruption, is now become a den of thieves. On this account, they confess that alone to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, which the Lord gathered by his appearance, which he enlightens, and adorns, by the gifts of the Holy Ghost, and which on this account is the company of the faithful, or of true believers, in all ages.
In this persuasion they frequently have meetings among themselves, but have no stated place appointed for this purpose, as they account every place alike holy; hence these meetings are held in the first convenient place they can find. Neither do they appoint any particular days for this purpose, accounting all days alike. They have, therefore, no holidays, but their meetings are frequently held on the holidays appointed by the church, when other people are not engaged in labour; for if they were to work on the holidays of their neighbours, they say, they should subject themselves to double persecution, and might be represented as disobedient to the laws of the empire.
Each of them is at liberty to hold a meeting in his own house, and to invite such of his brethren as are near him to attend. In such meetings, they always sup together; and should the brother in whose house the meeting is held not be able to provide food sufficient to entertain his guests, in that case they either send themselves, before hand, provisions for this purpose, or bring them along with them.
Being assembled, they salute one another; the men salute the men, and the females the females, by taking each other by the right hand, and thrice bowing and kissing one another; at the same time every one pronounces a short prayer. These three bows and three embraces, they perform in the name of the three one (tripartite – ed.) God, to the purifying of the flesh, and to the rooting out of pride. They take each other by the hand as a mark of their union in love, in calling, in knowledge of judgment, and of the unseen God, who is within them.
In the course of the meeting, they pray one after another, sing psalms, and explain the word of God; but as the greater part of them are unable to read, most of this is performed in their assemblies extemporaneously. They have no appointed priests, but confess Jesus Christ alone to be the only just, holy, pure, undefiled priest, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens; he also is their only Teacher. In their assemblies they instruct each other from the Scriptures; every one speaks according to the grace given him, to the admonishing and comforting of his brethren. Even women are not excluded from this privilege; for they say, “Have not women enlightened understandings as well as men?” They pray standing or sitting, just as it happens. At the end of the meeting they again embrace each other thrice, as at the beginning, and then separate.
What has been said above of their time and place of meeting, regards in particular those Dukhobortsy who are scattered among the villages of the peasants (Orthodox – ed.); but those that are settled at the Molochnye Vody have their meetings in the open air when the weather permits, in two circles, the one of men, and the other of women.
The virtue which shines with greatest lustre among the Dukhobortsy is brotherly love. They have no particular private property, all things are common. After their settling at the Molochnye Vody, they were enabled to put this in practice without any hindrance; for they laid all their private property together, so that now they have one general purse, one general flock, and in their two villages two common magazines for corn, out of which every brother takes according to his wants.
They are also hospitable to strangers, and entertain most of them at the expense of their society, having a house built for the express purpose of accommodating strangers. They are also praised for their compassion to such as are in distress; even the governors of the places where they live have borne testimony to the readiness with which the Dukhobortsy assist their neighbours in affliction. Solomon’s maxim is strictly observed among them, “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast,” Proverbs xii. 10.
Their children are in the strictest subjection to their parents, and, in general, young people among them pay the most profound respect to the aged; though at the same time, their parents and elders do not assume any superior power, as it were, over them, accounting them equal in spirit with themselves.
They have no kind of punishments among them except expulsion from their society; and this takes place only for such transgressions, as prove the person evidently to have lost the spirit of Christianity, since, were such a one suffered to remain among them, he would become a stumbling block to the brethren. But as soon as any of them observes a brother guilty of a transgression, he reproves him for his fault, according to the spirit of the gospel. If this is not laid to heart, he is then admonished before two or more. Should he still remain impenitent, he is finally brought before the whole society; after which, in case of contumacy, he is excommunicated from their society.
Metropolitan Platon of Moscow (1737-1812), author of “The Present State…”. It is unlikely that he wrote the 1805 tract.
It sometimes happens, though seldom, that individuals leave their society without having done any thing to deprive them of its privileges, for no other reason but to have liberty to live as they please; and it has even happened that wives have left their husbands from the same cause. Such they do not restrain; but grant them liberty to depart if they will, and divide with them a share of their common property. But those who are excluded from their society, and also such as leave it, may again be admitted, if they give evidence of their repentance, and quit their sinful courses, of which there have been few instances.
Their occupations are regulated according to the knowledge of individuals among them. Hence, the merchant engages in merchandize, and the husbandman in agriculture. But as the greater part of them are husbandmen, so the cultivation of the ground is their chief employment; and in their estimation, this employment is more honourable than all others.
In their society they have no superior powers, such as magistrates to govern and command; but the society at large governs itself and each individual in it, and they have neither written laws, nor regulations of any kind. Judging according to the spirit of common people in general, it might be expected that the Dukhobortsy would be often troubled with divisions; this however, seldom happens; for at the Molochnye Vody, we find frequently two or three young families all living together in one house.
In respect to the government of their families, the weakness of the female sex, inexperience of youth, and education of children, naturally require the superintendence of age and experience, to preserve order. Hence it naturally follows, that in every family the father is the governor, who is bound to care for the wants of his family, to look after the conduct of his children, to correct their faults, and teach them the law of God. When the father dies, the eldest son succeeds him.
The manner of educating children among the Dukhobortsy is simple, and peculiar to themselves. As soon as a child begins to speak, the parents teach him to get by heart, short prayers and psalms, and relate to him such passages out of sacred history as are calculated to engage his attention. In this manner they continue to instruct their children, till they are of age, in the doctrines of the gospel. When the children have thus learned by heart several prayers and Psalms, they go along with others to their meetings, repeat their prayers, and sing Psalms with the rest. But the Dukhobortsy look upon it as the duty of every parent, not only to instruct his own children, hut also, when opportunity occurs, to teach those of his neighbour also, and to restrain them from folly and sin wherever he observes it.
In this way, the sentiments of the parents are, by little and little, formed in the minds of their children, and are rooted in their young minds by the exemplary conduct of their parents. Hence, it has been observed, that the children of the Dukhobortsy are distinguished among all other children, like stalks of wheat among oats.
1. The chief and distinguishing dogma of the Dukhobortsy is, the worshipping God in spirit and in truth; and hence they reject all external rites as not being necessary in the work of salvation.
2. They hold no particular creed, but only say, in regard to themselves, that they are of the law of God, and of the faith of Jesus. The symbol of faith of the Greek church or the Nicene creed they not only respect, but confess all that it contains to be truth; they merely, however, assign it a place among their common Psalms.
3. They confess one God in three persons (the Trinity – ed.) incomprehensible. They believe that in memory we resemble God the Father, in intelligence God the Son, and in will God the Holy Ghost. Also, that the first person is the Father of light, our God; the second person, the Son of life, our God; and the third person is holy rest, the Spirit of our God. The likeness of the three one God: the Father is height, the Son is breadth, the Holy Ghost is depth. These also they take in a moral sense. The Father is high, and none can comprehend him; the Son is broad in intelligence; and the Holy Ghost is deep, past searching out.
4. The conceptions they have of Christ are founded on the doctrines of the gospel; they confess his incarnation, his acts, doctrines, and sufferings; but in general, they take all this in a spiritual sense, and affirm that all that is said in the gospel must be perfected in us. Thus, Christ must be begotten in us, be born in us, grow up in us, teach in us, suffer in us, die in us, rise again from the dead in us, and ascend into heaven in us; and in these different acts they understand the process of regeneration, or of a man’s being born again. They say, that Jesus himself is, and was, the eternal and living gospel, and that he sent out his disciples to preach himself in the word; for he himself is the word, which is written only on the hearts of those who believe in him.
5. They believe that in God and in his Christ alone salvation is to be found; but that if a man does not call upon God out of a pure heart, even God himself cannot save him.
6. To the salvation of man, unfeigned faith in Christ is absolutely necessary; but faith without works being dead, so also works without faith are dead. True and living faith is a hearty reception of the gospel.
7. With respect to baptism, they say that they are baptized by the word, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as Christ commanded his apostles, saying, “Go ye and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” That this baptism takes place when a man truly repents, and in the sincerity of his heart crieth unto God; then his sins are forgiven him, and his affections are no more set upon the world but upon God. This is the only baptism which they confess for the remission of sins.
Regeneration and spiritual baptism are, in their opinion, one and the same thing. The means of attaining regeneration are a living faith in God and prayer. The marks of the regenerated, or of one’s being baptized from above, are the works of the new man. However, this baptism they hold to have seven degrees: 1st, Baptism for the remission of sins. 2d, Anointing with ointment, that is, the understanding of ointment, or the knowledge of the ways of the Lord. 3d, The understanding the word of the Lord. 4th, The anointing with holy oil, or the unction of prayer. 5th, Spiritual confession. 6th, Spiritual communion. And 7th, the agony of blood, or humility. These seven degrees also signify their union with God. If any one has attained to an union with God, which they place in the seven degrees of spiritual baptism or regeneration, such a one lives in God, and by his spiritual eyes can behold the angels.
They look upon external baptism with water as of no use, and say that it only washes off the impurities of the body.
8. They believe that to every Christian are given two names, one by his parents when he is born, and another by his heavenly Father at his spiritual baptism, according to his works. This last name is unknown on earth, but shall be made known in heaven.
9. Those who confess their sins to their heavenly Father, who is infinitely good and merciful, shall receive the remission of their sins by means of faith and prayer. Those who sin against their brethren among the Dukhobortsy confess their faults before all, and beg forgiveness of those they have offended. They who are known to conceal their sins, are by them accounted great transgressors; if any one after a third admonition does not make confession, they exclude him from their society.
They severely condemn such as call themselves sinners, and who by their feigned confessions, seek after a sort of humility which is founded in pride, or who try by confessions, to excuse themselves; but are not careful to reform their lives. When a man falls, they say, he ought immediately to rise again, ask forgiveness of God with a contrite spirit, and resist with all his might temptations to a similar fall in future.
10. In regard to the Lord’s supper, they say, that they always communicate in the holy and life-giving, immortal and awful mysteries of Christ to the remission of sins, by spiritually and internally receiving into themselves the word of God which is Christ; and such communion, they say, penetrates the judgment of man, through bones and marrow. But the ordinance of communicating of the body and blood of Christ, under the symbols of bread and wine, they do not receive; for they say, that bread and wine enter the mouth, like our common food, and are of no advantage whatever to the soul.
Ivan Vladimirovich Lopukhin (1756-1816), the most likely author of the 1805 tract.
11. They place fasting, not in abstaining from food of any kind, but in abstinence from gluttony and other vices: in parity, in humility, and meekness of spirit. Abstinence from flesh, they say, is of no advantage to the soul.
12. They respect departed saints, but do not invoke them for help, saying, that in pleasing God they benefited themselves, and that we ought only to follow their example. This they call invoking their good works.
They do not, however, consider the actions of those who have pleased God to have been indiscriminately holy.
13. They do not hold marriage to be a sacrament. It is constituted among them simply by the mutual consent of the parties. And as there are no distinctions among the Dukhobortsy of family or rank, so the parents, in general, do not interfere in the marriages of their children. They have scarcely any sort of ceremony on such an occasion; a reciprocal consent, and promise before witnesses that the parties resolve to live together, is sufficient. Sometimes, however, this mutual consent is not made evident till the bride has become a mother. But whenever a man is known to have seduced a woman, he cannot refuse to make her his wife; otherwise he is excluded from their society. Oh the death of one of the parties, the other is at liberty to marry again, even a third time, which, however, seldom happens; for they say Christians ought to subdue their sensual desires.
14. They preserve the memory of their departed friends only by imitating their good deeds; for they neither pray for nor to them. They say, the Lord himself will remember them in his kingdom. But they do not style the departure of a brother out of this world death, but call it a change; and hence they do not say, our brother is dead, but our brother is changed.
They have no particular ceremonies at burial, nor do they mourn over the change of their friends. When the Dukhobortsy lived in persecution, they buried their dead in the common burying places; but since persecution has ceased against them, and they are known, they bury their dead in their own particular burying grounds.
15. They believe in the creation and fall of man, as stated in the Holy Scriptures, that is, that his body is taken from the earth, and that God breathed into him the breath of life. That before his fall his soul was pure and holy, and his body was vigorous and perfect; or, as they express it, he lived in a body of gentleness.
The Dukhobortsy say, that the flesh of man is made of earth, his bones of stone, his sinews of roots, the blood of water, his hair of grass, his thoughts he receiveth from the wind, and grace from heaven. This may explain their common proverb: “Man is a little world” (microcosm – ed.). In regard to the soul of man, they say that the soul is power, power in God, and God in man.
16. Concerning original sin, they believe, that from wicked parents are born wicked children; nevertheless, they affirm, that the sins of the parents do not hinder the salvation of their children; and that with respect to salvation; every one shall render an account to God for himself.
17. In respect to the future state of the righteous, they say that the kingdom is in power, and paradise in words; that the souls of the righteous are in the hands of God, and therefore no harm can come near them. Of the sufferings of the wicked, and of hell, they say, that the souls of the wicked wander in darkness, ever in expectation of sudden destruction, and that hell is founded on wrath.
Of the destination of the soul after death, they say that a man’s actions will either justify or condemn him; and therefore, that the works of men in this world bring every one to his place in the next, in which there is no repentance.
18. With regard to the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked at the last day, with their present bodies, the Dukhobortsy do not determine any thing dogmatically, but leave that event entirely to God.
19. They, in general, conceal their opinions in regard to mysterious points, from those with whom they are not intimately acquainted, and justify themselves by the words of our Saviour, “Cast not your pearls before swine.” They say this is not the time to reveal these things; but that ere long they shall be made manifest unto all.
In like manner, in regard to the second coming of the Saviour, they say, that judging from the events which now take place in the world, we may expect him soon.
20. They do not consider it to be essential to salvation that a man should be a member of their society; they say that it is necessary only to understand the ways of the Lord, and to walk in them, and to fulfill his will, for that this is the way of salvation.
21. The Dukhobortsy call the theatre the school of Satan, where he himself and his agents preside. They compare those who dance either on the stage or in private companies to young geese, which in spring, go out with their dame and frolic upon the green, but still, they say, they are but geese, and have no knowledge of God, and when the frost comes they sit with their heads beneath their wings, and hide their feet from the cold.
22. They are distinguished for the orderly and cleanly manner in which they live; and they say, that it is becoming in a Christian to live in this way. In regard to having the pictures or portraits of eminent men or of saints in our dwellings, they observe that they serve to adorn the house, and are agreeable to the eyes; but, to worship before them, they consider as a mortal sin.
23. Of shaving the beard and making use of tobacco, which some Raskolniks (schismatics – ed.) look on as sinful, they say that as neither the one nor the other makes a Christian, therefore they are both matters of indifference. That if it were proper for them as peasants to shave the beard, they would have no objections to do so.
24. When the Dukhobortsy lived in a concealed manner, necessity obliged them to conform to many of the external usages of the Greek church; but as they paid no internal respect to them, they concealed their real opinions by giving to every article and ceremony of the external service a different name and a spiritual signification; thus, for instance, in regard to the five loaves of shewbread, they called the first, the union of the true faith; the second, unfeigned love; the third, the value of the knowledge of truth; the fourth, the reception of the holy mysteries; the fifth, the enlightener. Being accustomed to express their ideas in this allegorical manner, they give a moral signification to many other objects.
Thus, to every day of the week they give the following denominations by way of short moral lessons.
Monday. Understand the works of the Lord.
Wednesday. The Lord calleth the people to salvation.
Thursday. Bless the Lord all ye his saints.
Friday. Sing praises to the name of the Lord.
Saturday. Fear the judgment of the Lord, that thy soul be not ruined by iniquity.
Sunday. Arise from your dead works, and come to the kingdom of heaven.
The seven heavens they distinguish by the seven following gospel graces. The first heaven is humility; the second, understanding; the third, self-denial; the fourth, brotherly love; the fifth, mercy; the sixth, counsel; the seventh, love, where God himself reigneth. In like manner, these twelve Christian virtues, they denominate the twelve friends. These friends are:
1. Truth. Which saveth man from death.
2. Purity. Which bringeth man to God.
3. Love. Where love is, there God is.
4. Labours. Honourable to the body, and beneficial to the soul.
5. Obedience. The nearest way to salvation.
6. Not judging. The salvation of man without difficulty.
7. Understanding. The first of virtues.
8. Mercy. By the merciful man, Satan himself is made to tremble.
9. Subjection. The work of Christ himself, our God.
10. Prayer and fasting. Which unite man with God.
11. Repentance. Than which, there is no law, and no commandment higher.
12. Thanksgiving. Pleasing to God and to his angels.
He who hath found these twelve friends, they say, is under the guidance of twelve angels, who, at last, will transport his soul to the kingdom of heaven.
As examples of their manner of prayer, we subjoin the two following, from among those which they use in their meetings:
To whom shall I go but unto thee, O Lord; or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend unto heaven, lo, thou art there; if I descend into hell, lo, thou art there; if I take the wings of the morning and fly to the uttermost comers of the sea, there thy hand guides me, and thy right hand shall find me out. To whom shall I go, and where shall I find eternal life, except in thee, my Creator! To whom shall I go, and where shall I obtain comfort, joy, a refuge, and rest to my soul! To whom shall I go, and whither shall I fly from thee, my Lord and my God, for thou alone hast the words of eternal life in thy self? Thou art the fountain of life, and the giver of all good. My soul thirsteth for thee, my heart panteth for thee, O God, my life! I will rejoice in thy most holy name, and in my beloved Lord Jesus. Subdue my heart by him, and may he occupy my whole soul! Let nothing be dearer to me in life than thy most Holy Spirit. Let thy words be sweet unto my taste, and sweeter far to my mouth than the honey comb. Let thy favour ever be more desired by me than gold, and more precious than jewels. – Amen.
What reason have I to love thee, O Lord! For thou art my life; thou art my salvation, my glory, and praise; thou art my treasure, my eternal riches; thou art my hope and trust; thou art my joy and eternal rest. Shall I rather love vain things, or corrupting or ruinous things and things that are false, than thee my real life! Thou alone art my life and my salvation; therefore all my hopes and all my desires, and the panting of my soul are towards thee only. I will seek thee, O Lord, with my whole heart, with my whole soul, and with my whole mind. To thee alone, in the depths of my soul, I cry, to thee alone I will pour forth my supplications. I desire to be wholly in thee, and to have thee in me. I know and confess thee in truth, the one true God and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. In thy light, I shall behold light, and the grace of thy most Holy Spirit. – Amen.
25. The Dukhobortsy, who came to St. Petersburg in the year 1804 to entreat permission of the Emperor for their brethren to settle at the Molochnye Vody, and from whom many of the above particulars were taken, being ready to set out on their return, just on the eve of the festival of the birth of Christ, were entreated to stop and spend the holidays in that city. But they replied: “for us there is no difference of days, for our festivals are within us.” When they were also admonished, after receiving their privileges from government, that they should live in their new settlements in peace, and should not attempt to propagate their opinions in that quarter, they replied, “All that is needful is sown already; now the time of harvest is come, and not the seed-time.” *
* Most of these interesting particulars concerning the Dukhobortsy I have taken from a manuscript account of them in the Russian language, composed by a gentleman of the first respectability in Petersburg. I also perused this manuscript with a Russian nobleman, who, in 1808, was the civil governor of the province of Kherson and was well acquainted with the principles and character of the Dukhobortsy at Molochnye Vody.
The 1805 tract has been acclaimed by many scholars to be the earliest systematic account published about the Doukhobors. Yet in spite of this, its author has yet to be positively identified.
Ostensibly, the tract was published in 1815 as part of the translated works of Metropolitan Platon (Levshin) of Moscow (1737-1812). However, the extreme sympathy of its author towards the Doukhobors would seem to preclude the cleric from being the original writer, given the hatred of the sect by the Orthodox clergy.
There is nothing to suggest that the tract was written by the Doukhobors themselves. The sectarians were largely illiterate and would have been loath to reduce their tenets to writing, lest it become a basis for further persecution. On the contrary, the style and substance of the tract suggests it was composed by someone well educated and highly conversant in the Russian literary language.
The most likely author of the tract is Ivan Vladimirovich Lopukhin (1756-1816), an envoy sent by Tsar Alexander I to investigate the Doukhobors in the southern provinces in 1801. Intellectually, Lopukhin was very receptive to Doukhoborism, and he is cited by several scholars as the “probable” author of the tract appearing in Platon’s volume. In the footnote at the end of the tract, the translator wrote that the “interesting particulars concerning the Dukhobortsi” were taken from a Russian language manuscript “composed by a gentleman of the first respectability in Petersburg.” In 1805, the date of composition assigned to the tract, Lopukhin was a senator, certainly a respectable position, who had first-hand experience with the Doukhobors. And as scholar Svetlana Inikova has observed, he had a motive to write the tract at that time. In 1805, Lopukhin was accused by the Orthodox heirarchy of helping the Doukhobors and of predisposing Tsar Alexander I favourably toward the sect. Right at the time he needed to justify himself, there appeared the “Nekotorye cherty ob obshchestve Dukhobortsev” [“Several Characteristics of Doukhobor Society”], painting the Doukhobors as a religious-philosophical movement completely loyal to the authorities.
In any event, the 1805 tract appended to Platon’s translated volume is generally regarded as a contemporary and accurate, if idealized, description of the Doukhobor faith. During his 1816 visit to Tavria province, the Doukhobors encountered by Robert Pinkerton (1780-1859) vouched for the veracity of the tract, and the Scottish missionary had the satisfaction of hearing them “distinctly state their principles in the very terms” of the document contained in his translation of Platon’s volume.
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