by Nikolai Gavrilovich Vysotsky
Between 1767 and 1769, peasant sectarians were discovered in Tambov and Voronezh who rejected the Orthodox Church, priests, icons and all church ritual. An official investigation ensued, in which ecclesiastic authorities tried to ascertain when the sectarians had rejected Orthodoxy, the specific sect to which they belonged, their beliefs, and the names and locations of their leaders. Although they were not referred to as such, the sectarians were, without a doubt, members of what would later be known as the Doukhobor sect. The following article recounts the investigation and reveals that Doukhoborism, which had emerged decades earlier in Tambov and Voronezh, was already a fully formed religious sect in the 1760s with a distinct organizational structure, mature set of beliefs, a fully developed order of worship and behavioral norms. Reproduced from Nikolai Gavrilovich Vysotsky’s article, “Novye materialy iz rannieishei istorii dukhoborcheskoi sekty” Russkii arkhiv, g. 52, t. 1 (1914: 66-86, 235-61) as republished in P.N. Maloff, Dukhobortsy, ikh istoriia, zhizn’ i bor’ba (1948: 36-46). Translated by Vera Kanigan, with additional translation and editing by Jack McIntosh, for the Doukhobor Genealogy Website. Afterword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.
According to researchers, Doukhoborism became known as a sect relatively late, around the middle of the 18th century. By that time it was already a society that had set itself apart with a more or less definite set of beliefs.
However, if one looks up the historical information on which the researchers base their assertion, it turns out that this information pertains mainly to the last quarter, and not the middle of the 18th century. Up to now, researchers had at their disposal almost no information dealing with the earlier period of the sect’s history.
Now we have an opportunity to fill this gap to some extent. We were successful in finding fresh archival material about the history of Doukhoborism relating specifically to the first quarter of the second half of the 18th century [i.e. 1750-1775].
The materials that we have found concern “apostates” from the faith who had appeared within the present-day boundaries of Voronezh and Tambov Provinces; these are significant documents for the history of Doukhoborism. They contain much information that lead to answers that differ from hitherto accepted views about the beliefs of the Doukhobor sect in the earliest period of their existence known historically, how the authorities – both church and civil – treated the Doukhobors, what measures were attempted to root out sectarian error, what were the methods used to spread Doukhoborism, who were the leading personalities in that period, how large was their following, etc., etc.
1767 Report of the Bishop of Tambov
On May 29th, 1767 a report was received by the Holy Synod [the highest ecclesiastical council governing the Russian Orthodox Church] from Tambov Bishop Feodosii (Golosnitsky), stating that in the village of Zhidilovka, in Kozlov district, persons were brought before the administrative law enforcement authorities who had departed from true devout worship and had fallen “into some kind of new sect that was unknown to him”; such sectarians in this village already numbered up to twenty-six people, both male and female. Moreover, the following persons undoubtedly belonged to the same sect: Kirill Petrov, tserkovnik (lay clergyman) of the village of Goreloye, and six odnodvortsy (smallholders) of the village of Lysye Gory.
Since, according to information in possession of the Holy Synod, the individuals indicated by Bishop Feodosii had not been registered as belonging to the Raskol (Schism), the Holy Synod, in response to this bishop’s report, sent him a decree instructing the Right Reverend Feodosii to carry out a thorough investigation to ascertain from what time these sectarians had begun to stray from true piety [i.e. Orthodoxy], of what specific sect are they followers, who had enticed them into it, where their teachers are located, and whatever else is relevant, granting him at the same time the right to render a decision in accordance with the regulations of the Holy Fathers and the decrees of Her Imperial Majesty [Empress Ekaterina II]. The Right Reverend Feodosii was ordered to make a detailed report to the Holy Synod of his actions in this matter.
Feodosii (1723-1786), Bishop of Tambov and Penza.
1768 Investigation and Detailed Report of the Tambov Bishop
The investigation prescribed by the Synod took a rather long time to carry out. It was only in 1768 that the Right Reverend Feodosii presented to the Synod his detailed report on the results of this investigation.
In his report, the Tambov bishop brought to the attention of the Synod that “the aforesaid odnodvortsy, both churchgoers and other like persons, altogether forty in number, listed by name and by gender, being dispatched from the Kozlov Voevoda (Military Governor’s) Chancery and the Tambov Provincial Chancery, accompanied by a deputy appointed from the aforesaid provincial chancery, were interrogated separately in the Consistory Office [the main diocesan administrative and judicial organ in the Russian Orthodox Church].”
These interrogations once again confirmed what the Right Reverend Feodosii had already reported to the Holy Synod: all the persons questioned proved to be apostates from Orthodox faith; during the interrogations they were subjected to admonishment [i.e. mild counseling and reproach] through a priest skilled in teaching; however, in spite of that, they did not repent of their error; in particular it became apparent during questioning that:
1st – That they, abandoning true piety, had joined the aforesaid sect in 1767, and along with their households believe in the true living God, in the Holy Blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, creator of heaven and earth, and they believe just as they recite in the Apostles’ Creed; however, they bow down to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit not bodily, as others do, but in spirit and in truth;
2nd – God’s Law, bequeathed in the Ten Commandments, they accept and revere, except for what is written therein about revering images painted on tablets [i.e. icons], which they do not accept, and do not revere, and do not bow down to them; moreover, in them supposedly there is nothing divine or sacred, and they are all made by human hands;
3rd – They believe in the Most Pure Mother of God, and confess and esteem Her, only instead of bowing down bodily they are submissive, both before Her and before the Apostles, Prophets and all Christ’s saints, whom they alone supposedly revere;
4th – They do not believe in the Cross of Christ, and do not bow down to it or revere it, as (they say) it was made of wood by human hands, whereas they worship the Cross, that is the Word of the Lord for which our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified and by which He was raised from the dead;
5th – The sign of the cross made with three fingers on oneself they reject, because (they say) there is no salvation in making that sign, but they cross themselves with the Word of the Lord, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen;
6th – They do not attend our Orthodox Church, and do not accept all the sacraments, rituals, and prayers, because (they say) the aforesaid church and all it contains was built by human hands, and there is no salvation of any kind in the sacraments, rituals and prayers performed therein; moreover the aforesaid sacraments have been fabricated by human hands, and are not from God, and are preached by priests who indulge in drunkenness, foul language, and noisy squabbling, whereas they say they wish to go to a church not made by human hands, a catholic, apostolic assembly of the saints (about which according to them the Lord said this: you are the temple of the living God; I will dwell in you, and walk among you, and I will be your God), and to receive Christ’s sacraments created from God Himself and this communion to receive also and confess in the presence of a priest whom they themselves will choose, one who has been ordained by God, and who receives the word from God’s lips;
Of these in the Consistory Office, the odnodvorets Andrei Popov said that it is written: God the Father is memory, God the Son is reason, God the Holy Spirit is will; while the tserkovnik Kirila Petrov declared, referring to the Holy Eucharist, that he does not believe in it or that the bread turns into the body and the wine the blood, but his belief is that bread comes from wheat, and grape wine, kvass and water simply exist; also that he does not believe in the Mother of God and the Holy Saints, but merely respects them and rather than bowing down to them is obedient to them.
Having set forth the essence of the doctrine espoused by the sectarians, the Right Reverend Feodosii went on to declare that without a directive from the Holy Synod, he considered it impossible for himself to make a final decision on his own in this case. In his opinion it would be fitting for these sectarians to be brought before a civil court and there be “thoroughly investigated by a true interrogation” [presumably torture during interrogations], in view of the fact that in the Consistory they display stubbornness and not only do not answer the questions posed to them, but in general do not want to speak at all, and if they do speak, it is only to abuse and criticize the Orthodox Church, her Sacraments, the Holy Cross and sacred images; for such lack of respect they properly deserve in the first instance civil punishment (in accordance with Paragraph 1, Chapter 1 of the Ulozhenie (Law Code) and Paragraph 3, Chapter 1 of the Voinskii Artikul (Military Code), and thereupon also excommunication from the church in accordance with Paragraph 16 of the Dukhovnyi Reglament o delakh episkopskikh (Spiritual Regulation on Episcopal Matters)).
Ulozhenie, Par. 1, Ch. 1
“If there will be member of another faith, regardless of which faith, or even if he is Russian, who would blaspheme the Lord God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, or that Most Pure Lady who gave birth to Him, our Mother of God and Virgin Mary, or the Holy Cross, or His Holy Saints, he is to be strictly investigated by any and all means; let him be investigated as to this straight away and this blasphemer, once exposed, executed and burned.”
Voinskii Artikul, Par. 3, Ch. 1
“Whoever heaps abuse on God’s name, despises that name and service to God and God’s Word and the Holy Sacraments, and is thoroughly exposed in this, whether this was committed while drunk or sober, his tongue is to be burned out with red-hot iron, and then he is to be beheaded.”
Dukhovnyi Reglament o delakh episkopskikh, Par. 16
“If someone manifestly blasphemes God’s name, or Holy Scripture, or the Church, or is clearly a sinner who is unashamed of his acts and, even more, boasts of them, or neglects regular repentance for guilt and the Holy Eucharist for more than a year, or does anything else with manifest abuse and mockery of God’s law, such a one, if he remains obdurate and proud after repeated punishment, will be judged deserving only of execution (i.e. anathema), for not merely for sin is he deserving of anathema, but for manifest and haughty contempt for God’s judgment and Church authorities that presents great temptation to weak brethren, and because such a one exudes the foul odour of godlessness.”
In the opinion of the Tambov Bishop, not only those who persist in their sectarian errors should be brought to civil court, but also those who have already abandoned them and returned to the Orthodox Faith, as the latter may render great assistance in obtaining thorough disclosure of the truth concerning these sectarians. Of the individuals subjected to interrogation, only one has left the sect and returned to the bosom of the Orthodox Church: Efrem Mzhachev, an odnodvorets of the village of Ranino, who, probably influenced by admonitions, has started attending church and has begun to pray using the sign of the cross with his hand and bowing in the customary manner. The Tambov bishop was referring to this odnodvorets when he pointed out the need to send persons who had converted from sectarianism to Orthodoxy for the purpose of having a thorough investigation of the truth.
While declining to make an independent determination in the case of the sectarians who had been discovered, the Right Reverend Feodosii requested the Holy Synod to give him guidance both on how to proceed in this matter as well as how generally to act if apostates such as those who had been interrogated began to appear again in his eparchy [ecclesiastical jurisdiction].
As for the sectarians who were taken in for investigation and held under guard, all of them, after questioning, were sent off by the Right Reverend Feodosii to the Tambov Provincial Chancery, where they were to be kept under guard until the ensuing issuance from the Holy Synod of an authoritative decree. However, he sent the man who had returned to Orthodoxy, the odnodvorets Efrem Mzhachev, for confession to Troitsky Monastery in Kozlov.
Presentation by the Tambov Provincial Deputy
The Holy Synod had not yet considered the above-cited report from the Right Reverend Feodosii, when it received a new official document that had direct and immediate relevance to the case of the Tambov sectarians.
On November 17th in the same year Vasily Vedeneev, a deputy of Tambov Province, came to the Holy Synod with a “presentation” stating that he was forwarding for the consideration of the Synod a declaration sent to him signed by priests: Boris Poluektov, of the Zavoronezh suburb of the city of Kozlov, Stefan Vasil’ev of the village of Ranino, and Leontii Ivanov and the deacon Sila Osipov of the village of Zhidilovka; this declaration, in their names and those of selected odnodvortsy and their comrades, report the apostasy from the Orthodox Faith of many of their parishioners, listing them by name and at the same time reporting that the very same sort of apostates from true piety [i.e. Orthodoxy] have also appeared in other places. Reporting about this, the ecclesiastical individuals named requested Vedeneev to declare this matter to the higher authorities.
During their consideration of this “declaration”, the Holy Synod took note of the fact that therein were named many of the same persons mentioned by the Right Reverend Feodosii in his report. It was thus clear that both cases involved essentially the same phenomenon. Therefore the Synod did not attribute to this “declaration” separate significance, but instead attached it to the report of the Right Reverend Feodosii, for which a special decree had already been prepared by the Synod.
Special Decree of the Holy Synod, 1768
Soon this decree was signed by the members of the Synod and sent to the Tambov bishop. The content of the decree was as follows:
As in the report of Bishop Feodosii it was not clear whether the Right Reverend himself had admonished the sectarians, the Holy Synod ordered as follows: those odnodvortsy and the tserkovnik who had departed from true piety, in anticipation of their correction, be again subjected to admonition, first by teacher-priests, and then by the Tambov Bishop himself; this admonition be carried out in the presence of the Tambov Voevoda (Military Governor) or a person designated by him; all the sectarians held in the Tambov Provincial Chancery to be freed from being under guard on condition that they not absent themselves from Tambov before their case is decided and that they be unable to absent themselves, and that when they are summoned for this admonition, they appear without any sort of resistance; beyond that, in order that under no circumstances they might lead anyone astray into their sect, both the Tambov Bishop and the local Provincial Chancery were to keep a strict watch; the Right Reverend Feodosii being obliged to deliver a thorough report without delay on the results of the admonition to the Holy Synod; the tserkovnik Kirill Petrov, until the upcoming decision on his case, was ordered held at the Consistory under strict supervision; Efrem Mzhachev, the odnodvorets who had returned to Orthodoxy, was ordered released without delay from the Kozlov Troitsky Monastery and that he be appropriately received into the Orthodox Faith, but in view of the fact that because he had abandoned his own true piety and that of his fathers by following the sect of those odnodvortsy, he was deserving, by virtue of the regulations of the Holy Fathers, of having to perform strict penance; yet nevertheless, in consideration of his voluntary and sincere repentance and conversion, the aforesaid penance is reduced in measure, and so he is ordered for only one whole year on all Sundays and holy days to go to the church of God for prayer and to bow to the ground, and to make confession on all fasting days, but he is not to be admitted to the Holy Sacraments during this year, except in case of a death, and upon the completion of this period he is to be released from this penance.
This determination of the Synod was communicated by means of decree not only to the Tambov Bishop, but also to the Tambov Provincial Chancery, whereas the Senate was sent a vedenie (memorandum): “May [the Senate] be favourably disposed to be informed …”. This vedenie was recorded December 22nd, 1768.
The Tambov Bishop’s Response to the Decree, 1769
The aforesaid decree was received by the Right Reverend Feodosii on January 15th, 1769. The Tambov bishop set about immediately to fulfill its instructions, and already on March 24th he sent a report in response, saying:
“Not only those named who are held in the Chancery, but also in addition, according to cases submitted and by their own admission having been determined to be in the same sect, one hundred and fifty-one persons, or overall, male and female, up to two hundred and thirty-two persons, according to the investigation through the Tambov Provincial Chancery and according to their submission from the deputy assigned to them from that Chancery, Tambov Invalid Detachment second lieutenant Mikhail Oduevtsov; repeatedly they were admonished from the Word of God in this deputy’s presence, in the first instance by those appointed: the priest Alexander Poliansky, the sacristan of the Tambov Cathedral, Alexei, and other clergymen, and then also by myself in the presence of the appointed Tambov Voevoda, Collegiate Councillor Cherkasov and in the presence of numerous other former noblemen, also before and after them, but the aforesaid apostates not only would not listen to or accept true admonition from the Word of God, what is worse, they affirmed their false beliefs, those mentioned in their testimony presented by me to the Holy Governing Synod, as being true.
Moreover, some of them, up to ten in number, were found even earlier to be in the same apostasy; in 1765 the odnodvorets Semyon Zhernoklev testified in the Streletskaya suburb of Tambov that in March of that year he had traveled to the home of the above-named Goreloye tserkovnik Kirila Petrov for instruction in holy writ, where present from the same village were the odnodvorets Larion Pobirokhin (who has not been tracked down after taking flight), along with others, up to eight in total; and the aforesaid Pobirokhin was sitting behind a table in the front corner while the rest were all standing before him singing from the Bible, specifically the 14th chapter of the book of the prophet Zechariah; “the days of the Lord are coming, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in the midst of you,” and also various psalms from the Psalter, specifically which ones he – Semyon – cannot recall. When they had finished singing psalms, the aforesaid Pobirokhin, contrary to the Holy Church interpreted for them these psalms, at which time he said that he had never found anywhere in the Scripture that people should bow down to wooden, copper, silver, golden, or stone images, but should bow down to man, because he was created in the image and likeness of God. And then all the declared persons of different ranks, including himself – Zhernoklev – at the command of the aforesaid Pobirokhin, as they began to lie down to sleep right at midnight, each in turn came up to Pobirokhin, bowed twice to him at his feet and kissed him on the mouth, and then, yet again for the third time bowing to the ground, went away; when they got up in the morning, they repeated this kissing and bowing. Moreover, all of them by his order always refer to him as “Radost’” (Joy); why – he, Semyon, does not know, but, he says, when somebody comes into the house and the aforesaid Pobirokhin is present, they never pray to God, but just as soon as they enter the hut, they fall at his feet and kiss him on the mouth, with which, he says, he – Semyon – at their insistence, also fully complied. And although then the others, aware of his non-denial, even swore that they are in the Orthodox Faith, as Christian duty commands, and will do nothing like that person who has given evidence hostile to the church, but now they have again even departed from that oath, as it turns out that they, of course, as was presented by myself previously to the Holy Governing Synod, in accordance with their false beliefs, maintain and propagate their peculiar worship and elect their own peculiar priests.
And as a great number of them are now having an influence in different places, they are in a convenient position to covertly entice others into the same error, as to which there is no way that they can be kept under observation. For this reason, the Right Reverend Feodosii concluded his report, presenting the above by means of this report most respectfully for the Holy Synod’s most favourable consideration as to what to do with such apostates, I beg most humbly that I be furnished with an authoritative decree that the aforesaid tserkovnik Kirila Petrov, who has been held at my Consistory under guard, in accordance with the communication sent to me February 26 of this year from the Voronezh Governor, be taken to him in Voronezh, according to a special order for him about this matter, via a specially dispatched messenger, in chains.”
1769 Report of the Bishop of Voronezh and Elets
This report from the Tambov Bishop was received in the Synod on April 21st; however, on the previous day, April 20th, a secret report arrived in the Holy Synod from Tikhon (Malinin), Bishop of Voronezh and Elets – a report whose content was very closely related to the case brought up by the Tambov Bishop. From this report it comes to light that the same kind of apostates from the Orthodox Faith had also penetrated into Voronezh eparchy, where they also attracted the attention of the church and civil authorities. The Right Reverend Tikhon wrote as follows:
Tikhon (1724-1783), Bishop of Voronezh and Elets, later canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church as St. Tikhon of Zadonsk.
By the decree of Her Imperial Majesty sent by Your Excellency to me, your most humble servant, it was ordered with respect to the following opponents of the Holy Church who had been found to be in the city of Voronezh: Stepan Kuznetsov and his accomplices of the village of Tishanka, Dvortsovaya Bitiutskaya district, including the peasant Ignat Danilov, also known as Balychev, who works for the local factory man Vasily Tulinov, that in the presence of the deputy appointed by the Voronezh Provincial Chancery, they be investigated here in the Consistory in the proper manner, finding out firstly from what time they abandoned true piety, by whom exactly were they enticed therefrom, and in specifically which sect were they instructed, and where their aforesaid teachers are to be found, and how many of them are brought to light by this investigation, in the first place this is to be reported, and upon completion of the investigation, what appropriate punishment is decided upon for their opposition to the Holy Church, in accordance with the law, with thorough reporting of all evidence and with opinion appended, to be presented to Your Excellency without delay and to await a decree concerning the aforesaid.
However, last year, on December 29th, 1768, a secret communication sent to me by Major-General Maslov, Cavalier and Governor of Voronezh province informing that (he said), the said house-serf of the factory man Tulinov, Ignat Balychev, had been sent to him, the Governor, kept in custody by him for dissent against the Orthodox Faith, along with an order to him, the Governor, by Her Imperial Majesty, in consideration of this, promptly and fittingly to make a determination as to how (he says) in relation to such corrupters of faith, by virtue of Your Holiness’s decree, it has been ordered, in the presence of a deputy appointed by the Provincial Chancery, for me to investigate, and said Balychev to be subjected to individual inquisition and the conclusion of these cases sent herewith, it has been requested, regarding their stubborn dissent against the Orthodox Faith, to investigate expeditiously and when finished to report on all of them clearly explaining everything relevant and what punishment will be appropriate for their crimes, an extract to be sent to him, the governor, as soon as possible for submission to Her Imperial Majesty.
And then, in response to the reports sent by me, it was announced by the Governor in communications on February 6th and 10th of this year, 1769, that for the indicated investigation he had appointed as deputy the Governor’s Assistant, Court Counsellor Popov, to be present two days a week, that is, Tuesday and Friday; he was in the office from the 13th of February and commenced the investigation, with the opponents of the Holy Church and corrupters of the Orthodox Faith, by virtue of the above-mentioned decree sent by Her Imperial Majesty from Your Holiness; the investigation began on the appointed days and although it was carried out, the said debauchees were not forthcoming about by whom precisely they had been enticed and instructed, and where their teachers are to be found.
In their answers they revealed very little, but even during their interrogation and admonition in the office they have demonstrated no little severity, stubbornness and disrespect, and covering up their teachers, among other things declared contradictorily: some had supposedly taught themselves from books; others allegedly heard things in church, and others thought about it and came to the judgement that God dwells in temples not built by human hands and takes no pleasure in the work of human hands; one is not to make for oneself handmade images: the image of God is the human soul; true worshippers worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Lord seeks such worshippers; confess to God in Heaven; I am the Living Bread, and if you eat of this bread, you will live forever; He did not offer salvation from a handmade and soulless God. And that they belong to the following sect, namely:
1st – They believe in the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, they pray and worship God in spirit and in truth;
2nd – To no services of the Church of the Greek confession do they go, but instead gather with one another for prayer in their homes, where they sing together and recite psalms from the Psalter, the Lord’s Prayer, and they regard their assembly as the church not built by human hands;
3rd – They do not bow down to holy images either painted on boards or other things or cast, and they do not regard them as sacred, but instead revere persons, and therefore bow to one another, and kiss;
4th – They do not go to priests for confession, but confess to their Heavenly Father;
5th – The Holy Sacraments, that is, the Body and Blood of Our Saviour, performed in churches of the Greek confession in the form of bread and wine, they do not receive and do not regard them as the true Body and Blood of Our Saviour, but as ordinary bread and wine, and instead of taking the Holy, Immortal and Life-Giving Sacraments, they keep to the Word of God and carry out His commandments.
6th – They do not cross themselves, and, without replacing it with anything, regard it as a shchepot’ [a play on words, meaning either a pinch (as in “a pinch of salt”) or the sign made by the middle and index fingers held together, as in making the sign of the cross]; instead they cross themselves by word alone in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit;
7th – They keep the Sacrament of Baptism thusly: when a baby is born, he should remain unbaptized until he comes of age, so that when he comes of age he will be baptized by the Holy Spirit, that is by repentance for the remission of sins, meekness, humility and patience;
8th – They do not regard priests ordained by the laying on of hands by church hierarchs as genuine priests, but recognize as true priests those ordained by carrying out the works of Christ Himself;
9th – All those favoured of God they esteem as saints, but they do not bow down to their images or their relics, for they do not regard bodies of the dead as sacred things;
10th – One of them, Stepan Kuznetsov, explained that among people who have been married by priests ordained by the laying on of hands by hierarchs, as false priests (he says), their weddings are regarded as illegitimate, but in accordance with their (he says) true worship the husband should choose for himself a bride on the basis of love and having taken her in the presence of witnesses live with one another according to the Law of God;
11th – In its departure from the faith of the Greek confession, according to the kind of sect to which they belong, they have not instructed anyone and supposedly nobody except those confined with them, and they do not know persons in other places of the same sect; however, on the contrary, on March 17 of this year, there arrived at the Consistory at the time of the visitation, odnodvortsy and women, seven named persons in all, living in the city of Voronezh, who announced that they are one in agreement and common doctrine with the prescribed persons, the eating-house proprietor Stepan Kuznetsov and his accomplices, and asked to be held together with them under investigation in the Consistory in the presence of the deputy of the Holy Church; thus through the said persons, openly declaring themselves to be followers of the corrupters of the Orthodox Faith, have exposed the lie told by those who testified that they do not know of anyone belonging to such a sect in other places; and henceforward, both with regard to their accomplices and more so their teachers, investigate them for their many instances of stern and stubborn behaviour and disrespect committed during interrogation and admonition and in conducting this investigation it has been impossible to obtain the desired results.
In consideration of such circumstances my Consistory has been ordered and I have confirmed that the following steps be taken:
1st – Everything concerning what which is described above is be presented to Your Holiness most humbly begging that such measures be undertaken, in view of the circumstances promulgated above, to bring said opponents of the Holy Church and perverters of the Orthodox Faith to inquisition by priests and teachers for thorough, most prompt and successful investigation, to provide me with an authoritative decree, and while the aforesaid is pending, not to suspend the said investigation but on predetermined dates, to carry it out, and this will be done;
2nd – To His Lordship the local Governor here to report secretly (and it has been so reported), as to whether he would also deign to present on his own behalf to the appropriate authority as to the aforesaid, and to inform me concerning the response he receives to this representation;
3rd – To send to the Voronezh Provincial Chancery (and it has been sent), a memorandum to the effect that the Chancery would see fit, as to the aforesaid, to draw up an authenticated document certifying that the opponents of the Holy Church who had arrived in the Consistory, Kuznetsov and his accomplices, have been registered by decree as belonging to the Schism, and when they are proven to have been registered, that my Consistory be informed of this; if they are not registered, they are to be sent immediately to said Consistory for investigation. Most humbly bringing this matter to Your Holiness’s attention, I await from Your Holiness an authoritative decree concerning the above situation.”
Special Decree of the Holy Synod, 1769
Having heard the cited reports of the Tambov and Voronezh Bishops, the Holy Synod made the following determination: “Having made copies of the promulgated reports sent by the Tambov and Voronezh hierarchs, to report to the Governing Senate indicating what will be done; and from the Holy Synod to confirm just such a warning and abhorrence of this far-away debauchery to the Tambov and Voronezh Right Reverend Bishops, instructing that in those localities where the said deviants from the Holy Church are located, the priests strictly and in a proper manner see to it that other Orthodox folk will not be infected with the same sort of error by them, and if the priests in those places have demonstrated little skill in doing this, said priests should be transferred to other churches, seeking out worthy priests to appoint in their stead; and at the same time to confirm as regards said priests that if, in spite of all their efforts, such depravity were to be discovered anew, each of those priests should immediately inform his own bishop, and these eminences are to report to the Holy Synod without delay.”
The “transaction” was dispatched by the Synod to the Senate on May 5th, 1769, and received the very same day.
1769 Senate Decree
Thus, the Senate had already received two “transactions” of the Synod regarding deviants from the Orthodox Faith: those of December 22nd, 1768 and May 5th, 1769. These “transactions” were heard by the Senate on May 20th, 1769 and at that time the Senate’s decision on this matter was made. We cite it here verbatim in view of its importance in the subsequent history of the sect, with the unavoidable repetitions this entails. (These repetitions have been omitted here in order to shorten this article, but in such a way that nothing is lost. P. M. [Peter Maloff].)
It has been decreed: Although the above-registered raznochintsy (people of miscellaneous ranks) in accordance with Chapter 1 of the Ulozhenie (Law Code) and Paragraph 3, Chapter 1 of the Voinskii Artikul (Military Code) have, on account of their deviation from true piety and abuse of the true faith [i.e. Orthodoxy], rendered themselves liable not only to the severest punishment, but even to the death penalty, however, according to church custom based on Holy Writ, it is left for sinners to acknowledge their own sin, and those who have not confessed are granted time to recognize their error and repent, therefore, considering that said persons, being of a base nature and upbringing, and by virtue of their shallow-mindedness and superstition, and equally, their ignorance, are not as likely to be brought to a realization of the truth by fear of death as by other means and by being allowed time, and beyond that, in accordance with the unparalleled kindness and mercy of Her Imperial Majesty, their sentence ought, in accordance with law, to be rescinded; and, in view of our present war with the Turks and the need for soldiers, when not only profligates such as these, but even the very children of the Holy Church and true sons of the fatherland are sacrificing their lives, and so that these ignorant men, having yet time to repent of their crime, might be led into the unity of the Holy Church with all pious Christians living in the unambiguous Law of God – the Governor of Voronezh is instructed:
1st – If among them there are some of the male gender who up to now remain in their delusion, then without regard for old age, starting with fifteen-year-olds, all without exception are to be sent to Lieutenant General Vernes [Wernes], now stationed at the renovated Azov and Taganrog fortresses. Having ascertained who among them is able to perform military service, he will assign them to military troops stationed there, and those unfit for military service, as labourers for fortification work, as much as possible without letting them stay together in the same locations or work teams, and with precautions taken to prevent them from communicating there with one another about their false beliefs and spreading their “delights”, as to which they are to be kept under strict watch.
2nd – That their minor male children, fifteen years of age and under, that is, up to the age of fifteen, be sent out to garrison schools to learn Russian reading and writing and, as they come of age, equally with other children of soldiers attending those schools, they be distributed according to ability among the regiments; while those fifteen and under are to be sent for upbringing to a Siropitatel’nyi dom (foundling home), but all of those on the poll tax roll for the settlements from which said offenders come are not to be included in recruitment rosters because they up to now have been tolerated in those settlements without them having been reported; moreover, as they are legally liable to suffer the death penalty, and have been spared from that only by the kindness and mercy of Her Imperial Majesty; such persons are not eligible to be counted in this reckoning; and consequently,
3rd – Their property, that is their grain – on hand, threshed and sown – cattle, domestic buildings and so on, all such having been inventoried, seeing to it meanwhile that all the above is not scattered and looted by their fellow residents or by the miscreants themselves through others, is to be sold at public auction, and the land at those settlements where they lived is to be divided among the rest of the residents of those places who, in their stead, until a future revision, bear the burden of responsibility, and the proceeds of the sale are to be used for the dispatch, escort, and feeding of those offenders and their children as far as the destination chosen at his gubernatorial discretion; and then,
4th – The wives of those criminals who have persisted in their error may remain with their husbands on the same basis as other soldiers’ wives, remaining in their own husbands’ care, but only on condition that they on no account remain in their previous places of residence; while widows and young girls who have come of age and have been taken to other settlements are to be dispersed in the care of other odnodvortsy and peasants who are devout and living a good life so that as the latter make use of their labour in their homes they will endeavour to lead the aforementioned persons away from their error and bring them back into unity with the Holy Church, and then by the measure of the merits and inclinations of each one, to give them in marriage in different state settlements to such as wish to take them, and if nobody desiring them is to be found in the state settlements, then let them be given in marriage to other raznochintsy who abide in the true faith; those among their minor children who have not come of age, in accordance with the above proscription, are to be sent to a Siropitatel’nyi dom, and as for the most elderly women and those young girls who are unsuitable for marriage and cannot be accepted into care, a list of names with detailed information on their status is to be sent to the Senate; and finally,
5th – If, in addition to the persons mentioned, there prove to be others of the same sect or criminals of similar sort, the governor is to deal with them in the same manner as has been ordered for these offenders, but the Senate is to be given advance notice. Also, orders relating to this matter are to be sent to the Governor of Voronezh, the Military College, the Main Palace Chancery, and to the Board of Guardians of the Moscow Foundling Home, and for information, in addition to the Holy Synod, notification to the Moscow Departments of the Senate, and a humble report to Her Imperial Majesty.
The Fortress of Azov, where in 1769, Tambov and Voronezh sectarians were sentenced to serve as military recruits and as labourers for fortification work on account of their Doukhobor faith and beliefs.
The following is a summary of the somewhat complicated events surrounding the official investigation of sectarians in Tambov and Voronezh provinces in 1767-1769 set out above.
On May 29, 1767, Bishop Feodosii of Tambov and Penza reported to the Holy Synod the discovery of twenty-six sectarians in the village of Zhidilovka and six in the village of Lysye Gory by civil authorities. Although the sect was unknown and new to the Bishop, Orthodox authorities in Tambov and Voronezh had already investigated a similar heresy in 1765.
The Holy Synod responded by instructing the Bishop to carry out a thorough investigation to ascertain when the sectarians had rejected Orthodoxy, the specific sect to which they belonged, the names and locations of their leaders, and anything else relevant, and report back to them.
Thereafter, Bishop Feodosii undertook a lengthy investigation of the matter. The sectarians (who by this time had increased from thirty-two to forty) were dispatched, first to the Kozlov Military Governor’s Chancery and the Tambov Provincial Chancery, and then to the Tambov Ecclesiastical Consistory where they were held for interrogation. During the interrogations, the sectarians displayed a marked stubbornness, refusing to answer the questions put to them, and when they did speak, displaying open contempt for their interrogators. Despite admonishment, all (except one) of the sectarians refused to repent of their heresy. They were remanded to the Tambov Provincial Chancery pending direction from the Holy Synod.
Bishop Feodosii made a report of his investigation to the Holy Synod in late 1768. He declined to make an independent determination in the case, and requested the Holy Synod to give him guidance on how to proceed on the matter. He voiced his opinion however, that the sectarians should be brought before a civil court, be thoroughly investigated by true interrogation (presumably involving torture) and subjected to civil punishment (which ranged from strict penance to execution by burning or beheading) followed by excommunication from the Church.
In the meantime, on November 17, 1768, a Deputy of the Tambov Provincial Chancery, on behalf of clergy and churchgoers from the city of Kozlov and villages of Ranino and Zhidilovka, presented the Holy Synod with a list of apostates from the Orthodox faith who had appeared in those places. Many of those named were also named in Bishop Feodosii’s report.
On December 22, 1768, the Holy Synod issued a decree ordering Bishop Feodosii to once again subject the sectarians to admonition, first by teacher-priests, and then by himself, in the presence of the Tambov Military Governor. The sectarians were then to be released from the Tambov Provincial Chancery on the condition that they not absent themselves from Tambov before their case was decided, and under no circumstances were they to lead anyone else into their sect. The one sectarian who returned to Orthodoxy was ordered to perform strict penance for a year.
On March 24, 1769, Bishop Feodosii reported to the Holy Synod that, upon further investigation, 232 sectarians had been discovered in Tambov province, including those already held in the Tambov Provincial Chancery. Ten of the sectarians had been interrogated as long ago as 1765 for the same heresy. Despite repeated admonitions, conducted in accordance with the Holy Synod’s decree, they all remained obstinate and refused to renounce their beliefs. The Bishop concluded that the sectarians had spread to such a degree that they could not be kept under observation, and requested that the Holy Synod authorize him to dispatch those held in the Tambov Ecclesiastical Consistory to the Voronezh Governor in chains.
The Holy Synod had no sooner received Feodosii’s report when, on April 20, 1769, it received a report from Tikhon, Bishop of Voronezh and Elets about the discovery of several members of the same sect in the city of Voronezh and the village of Tishanka. He reported that the sectarians had been dispatched, first to the Voronezh Provincial Chancery, and then to the Voronezh Ecclesiastical Consistory, where they were interrogated in the presence of the Deputy of the Voronezh Provincial Chancery. When questioned, they demonstrated no little severity, stubbornness and disrespect to their interrogators and revealed very little about their faith. They were joined by seven more people who declared themselves to belong to the same sect and asked to be held together with them in the Consistory. Despite admonitions, they all refused to recant their beliefs.
In his report, Bishop Tikhon asked the Holy Synod to authorize him to bring the sectarians to inquisition by priests and teachers for a thorough, prompt and successful investigation. They were held in the Voronezh Ecclesiastical Consistory pending the Holy Synod’s response.
On May 5, 1769, in response to the reports of Bishops Feodosii and Tikhon, the Holy Synod issued a decree ordering that priests in localities where the sectarians were located “strictly and in a proper manner” ensure that other Orthodox peasants were not infected by the same heresy. New cases of the heresy that arose were to be immediately reported to the Holy Synod.
On May 20, 1769, the Senate, having reviewed the Holy Synod’s investigation, issued a decree sentencing those Tambov and Voronezh sectarians who refused to confess their errors and repent to civil punishment. Men over fifteen years of age were to be sent to the Azov and Taganrog fortresses as military recruits, or if unfit, as labourers for fortification work. Their wives were permitted to join them there. Widows and unmarried girls were to be dispersed among Orthodox families in other settlements. Boys aged five to fifteen were to be sent to garrison schools, while children under five were to be sent to orphanages. The sectarians’ property was to be sold at auction and the funds thus raised sent on to their present location. Other members of the sect, upon discovery, were to be dealt with in the same manner.
In light of these events, a number of observations can be made about the official investigation of Tambov and Voronezh sectarians in 1767-1769:
First, the sectarians under investigation were, without a doubt, members of what would later be known as the Doukhobor sect. In this period, the sect had still not given itself a specific name; its members referred to themselves as “people of God” and “sons of God”. They only accepted the name “Doukhobor”, which was given to them derisively by Orthodox clergy, decades later. Many of the sectarians named in the investigation appear in subsequent historical records listed as Doukhobors.
Second, by the 1760s, the sect already had a well-developed set of beliefs. Based on the responses given by Doukhobors under questioning, their doctrine included the following: they believed in a true living God, whom they worshipped in spirit and truth; they believed in the Holy Trinity, the Father Son and Holy Ghost, which they represented as Memory, Reason and Will; they believed in God’s law bequeathed in the Ten Commandments; they did not attend the Orthodox Church but instead gathered with one another for prayer in their homes, where they sang and recited psalms; they rejected all sacraments and rituals as there was no salvation in such manmade things, and instead sought communion directly with God, who dwelt in every person; similarly, they refused to revere or bow down to icons and the Cross of Christ, as these things were manmade, but instead revered persons, and thus bowed to one another and kissed; they rejected the priesthood for its drunkenness, foul language and noisy squabbling and looked upon those carrying out the works of Christ as true priests; they did not go to priests for confession, but confessed to God directly; they refused to make the sign of the cross with three fingers as the Orthodox did; and they did not worship the Mother of God, Apostles, Prophets or Saints, but respected them as those favoured by God. These responses represent one of the very earliest documented expositions of Doukhobor beliefs.
Third, by this time, Doukhoborism was a fully formed religious sect with a distinct organizational structure (consisting of leaders, teachers, homilists and rank-and-file members), a mature dogma, a fully developed order of worship (at their meetings, they sang psalms, the teacher would interpret them, and at the end of the service they would sing again, bow twice to one another, kiss one another on the mouth, and bow a third time) as well as distinct behavioral norms.
Fourth, it is evident that the sect did not emerge in Tambov and Voronezh in the 1760s, but had arisen in these provinces several decades earlier. A review of the historical evidence shows that Doukhoborism was being actively disseminated in these provinces as early as the 1730s and 1740s. For years, members of the sect concealed their affiliation to avoid attracting the attention of their neighbours. It was only during the events of the 1760s that the sect garnered official attention.
Fifth, although the sentences imposed by the Senate in 1769 affected the upper echelons of the sect and its most active members, it did not affect the majority of rank-and-file members, who continued to conceal their beliefs. Membership in the sect in the eighteenth century cannot be readily tallied, since most Doukhobors remained underground. Scholars contend, however, that there were, without question, far more Doukhobors in Tambov and Voronezh provinces at the time than the numbers discovered by Bishops Feodosii and Tikhon during their investigations.
Sixth, the descendants of those Doukhobors sentenced to serve in Azov and Taganrog fortresses in 1769 were permitted, thirty-six years later in 1805, to join their brethren being resettled along the Molochnaya River in the Melitopol district of Tavria province. Historical records indicate that these included members of the Petrov, Vorob’ev, Pichugin, Strelyaev, Plotnikov, Suzdal’tsev, Kuznetsov and Astafurov families, amongst others.
For a comprehensive scholarly analysis of the 1767-1769 official investigation of sectarians in Tambov and Voronezh provinces, as well as newly discovered archival information relating to the Doukhobor sect during this period, see Russian ethnographer Svetlana A. Inikova’s article, “The Tambov Dukhobors in the 1760s” in Russian Studies in History, Vol. 46, No. 3 (Winter 2007-8), pp. 10-39.