To the Spirit of God, I Pray and Bow

by Elena Kovshova

Today, relatively few Doukhobors remain in the Republic of Georgia, following mass emigrations to Russia over the past two decades. One of the largest remaining – but least documented – populations of Doukhobors is centered in the town of Dmanisi, formerly known as Bashkichet. In the following article, Russian journalist Elena Kovshova examines the Doukhobors of Dmanisi – the history, philosophy and culture of a disappearing people, rooted in goodness and renowned for their kindess and hospitality. Translated by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff from the Russian journal “Argumenty i Fakty” (No. 4, January 27, 2010).

Dmanisi – the small Georgian town which, in recent times, has become world famous thanks to sensational archeological finds, stores many secrets within itself. Its name is connected not only to the history of early mankind, but also to the destinies of thousands of simple people who, in more recent centuries, appeared in this place.

The history of the Dmanisi Doukhobors is rooted in the depths of the history of the Russian empire, when, in the mid-seventeenth century, Patriarch Nikon, with the support of the reigning [Tsar] Alexei Mikhailovich, introduced church ceremonial reforms intended to correct Russian prayer books to make them consistent with Greek practices, by replacing the two-fingered sign of the cross with the three-fingered sign, and a number of other changes. But the violent methods by which the patriarch implemented the reforms were met by hostile opposition. These actions resulted in the emergence of defenders of the “old belief” who believed that the church had departed from the old rites. Thus arose a religious social movement, whose supporters called themselves Starobryadtsy or “Old-Believers”. Later, they divided into the Popovtsy (“with priests”) and the Bezpopovtsy (the “priestless”) such as the Dukhobory or “spirit wrestlers”.

Elizaveta Bludova proudly displays her handiwork in this rushnik – a traditional Doukhobor handicraft among the Dmanisi Doukhobors.

The movement originated in the second half of the eighteenth century among the peasants of Voronezh, Tambov, Ekaterinoslav and Sloboda-Ukraine provinces. According to the Doukhobors, the world is in eternal struggle, the spirit against the flesh, and desiring brotherhood in the spirit of God’s truth, they renounced the established church dogmas and rites. It was the only way people could protest against the autocratic oppression and hypocrisy of the clergy, who were afraid of losing power, and therefore, followed in the wake of the state.

Naturally, such ideas disturbed the Tsarist government, which saw a direct threat to the state in such opinions. Therefore, an active resettlement policy was undertaken in relation to the Doukhobors. First, they were sent to Tavria province (in the Crimea) on the Molochnaya River (from which the name of the sectarians Molokane is [reputedly] derived), and then they were all expelled to the Caucasus.

Whole families of Doukhobors, with small children in their hands and shackles on their feet, made their way by foot to their places of exile. Some of them thus perished on the road while others arrived in Georgia in the district of Bashkichet, which in Turkish means “the main road”. Indeed, there was no inhabited settlement there, let alone a town; only impenetrable forest through which ran a trade route linking Georgia with Armenia, Turkey and Azerbaijan. Having arrived on this bare ground, the Doukhobors, thanks to astonishing diligence and faith, did not rail at their fate, but began life anew with nothing, hollowing out family dwellings in the ground with stone axes. They spent one year in such dugouts covered with straw, until they built houses in which many of the descendants of those first Doukhobors live to this day.

Each band of the rushnik symbolically represents a particular stage in the life of the Doukhobor woman who makes it.

The house of the Bludovs is more than 150 years old. The rickety stairs, the cracked tree… The seniors cannot afford to repair the house. Nonetheless, the internal furnishing is striking: practically everything, from the wooden furniture and finishing, to all kinds of table-cloths, blankets, mats, bed-covers, is constructed, painted or woven by hand. Every corner of the house exudes exceptional hard work and perfect purity. The [traditional Orthodox] place for icons in the house is [instead] occupied by rushniki – long hand towels which are sacred to each Doukhobor.

Upon marrying, a [Doukhobor] woman should begin to sew such rushniki, although the word “sew” does not accurately reflect the volume of work involved. It is difficult to imagine that it is all done by a single mistress; sewn multi-colored satin ribbons, embroidered satin, cross-stitch, crochet, hand-drawn patterns covered with varnish, combining all the elements in a single composition. And each rushnik, or more accurately, its band, symbolically represents a particular stage in the life of the needlewoman, reflecting her individual perception of the world, the successes and hardships experienced, emotions… Rushniki receive the newborn; they also cover the deceased before burial. Children are not baptized. They themselves perform the funeral service for the deceased, and at the commemoration, borshch (vegetable soup), lapsha (noodles), pastries and vodka are served.

The sunduk (hope chest) is also an indispensable feature for every “marriageable” girl. The father of the bride makes it by hand, and always without nails. On the surface a pattern is burned which is covered with lacquer, and in the corner the initials of the craftsman are put. With such a chest, and its contents, the young wife enters the family of the husband. Incidentally, it is worth noting that the woman begins to sew her “death clothes” as soon as she marries.

Doukhobors do not acknowledge church and traditional religious rites. For example, [the Orthodox custom of] drawing water for a baptism at midnight or taking it from a river, or directly from under a crane. To this day, elements of the Old Russian and Ukrainian languages have survived in the speech of these people, and as a memory of the distant past, the popular legend of the priest who did not actually hold the post, but taught others about the “true path”.

The bands of the rushnik – a Dmanisi Doukhobor handicraft – reflect the individual perceptions, experiences and emotions of its maker.

On Sundays at sunrise, Doukhobors gather in a prayer home. In sequence, one after another, they read psalms, which are transmitted from generation to generation, or else are composed directly during prayer.

God is Spirit / God is a Man, / To the Spirit of God, I pray and bow, / Thus I am a Doukhobor – so Elizaveta Fedorovna Bludova explains the essence of the psalms and teachings.

On a table at Elizaveta Fedorovna’s is an old, but good condition copy of Leo Tolstoy’s book, “Resurrection”. The novel, undoubtedly, has been read and reread many times. Her respect for Leo Tolstoy is particularly vibrant. And no wonder! His sermon on nonviolent resistance to evil, a message of love and forgiveness, liberation from crude ecclesiastical rituals coupled with a call for passive resistance to authority, and the individual spiritual component – is something for which the Doukhobors have suffered! The novel “Resurrection”, with its story of personal spiritual revival, and sharp criticism of the church embodied in the narrative, became one of the reasons for Tolstoy’s excommunication by the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church. But here they honour and remember the great writer who, in the 1890’s, saved thousands of Doukhobors, assisting in their migration from sweltering Cyprus to Canada, whose climatic conditions were better suited for settlement by Russian people.

[Incidentally] few people know that the famous Russian artist Vasily Vasil’evich Vereshchagin drew his painting “Doukhobors Praying” in Dmanisi.

Today, the Doukhobors in Dmanisi are relatively few. The first Georgian President, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, proposed that the Doukhobors return to their historical homeland [of Russia]. On his orders, in 1993-1994, the [Georgian] state bought up Doukhobor houses for quite a good sum. It was then that the bulk of the [Doukhobor] youth went to Tula, Tambov, Lipetsk and Rostov regions. Others – assimilated and began to enter into mixed marriages.

Doukhobor folk patterns etched on a sunduk (hope chest) etched into the wood using pyrography, the art of decorating wood with burn marks from the controlled application of a heated tool.

Vasilisa Minakova, Chairman of the Center for Russian Culture “ISKRA”, represents the average generation of Doukhobors. She combines working as a teacher of Russian language and literature at the Dmanisi primary school with public service. At the center, English and Russian language courses are offered, and whenever possible, attention is paid to urgent problems of the elderly [Doukhobor] people.

Dmanisi has always been distinguished for its kindness and humanity – shares Vasilisa Minakova. “Three years ago, with the support of the head of regional administration Bakuri Mgeladze and the deputy from our area, the president of the pharmaceutical company “PSP”, Kahi Okreashvili, opened a dining-room in Dmanisi for needy pensioners. From 43 people, who make use of it, most of them comprise of single Doukhobors. What the dining-room means to them is self evident. In the name of all participants, I would like to thank not only the initiators, but also the directors of the dining-room Natalia Kavlelashvili, and also the whole collective for their good heart and skillful hands”. With only limited funds, without time-off on holidays, and in spite of frequent stoppage of gas and electricity, they always come out “on top”, they do not turn anyone away without a bowl of soup. There was a time when a total stranger came to the dining-room who had lost his documents; while he was replacing them, he relied largely on the goodness of the collective of this dining-room.

Surrounded by beautiful mountains, reminiscent of the Egyptian pyramids, the River Mashavera and the land, once the promised land of the Doukhobors, stretches the small town of Dmanisi. And in it live a very hospitable, very sweet, kind and hardworking people, those who consider Georgia as their homeland, who love this land, their old homes, small gardens…

These people do not seek attention to themselves: they are not inclined to stand out in front of cameras and give extensive interviews. But they do not decline to, either. So as not to offend. They do not transgress the law of love to one another. And [they desire] only that which is necessary – which is the peaceful sky above, good health, mutual assistance and care for others. From the point of view of the state or from humanitarian organizations, there is no difference – goodness is goodness.

Spirit Wrestlers of Southern Russia

by Maria Kolesnikova

Not many hints remain of Doukhobor culture in Southern Russia. Persecuted in the past for their pacifist beliefs, modern Doukhobors search for an identity in the modern world. The following article by Dr. Maria Kolesnikova examines the Doukhobors of Tselina region, Rostov province as they struggle to maintain their faith, traditions, history and culture in twenty-first century Russia. Reproduced from “Russian Life” magazine ( Sept/Oct 2005).

Few in Russia remember the Doukhobors, the pacifist Russian Christian sect championed by Leo Tolstoy over a century ago. In fact, even the name Doukhobor evokes little reaction.

“It sounds funny. Perhaps it is an evil house spirit?” guessed Mikhail Grishin, 20, an engineering student in Rostov-on-Don. His grandmother, Maria Grishina, 80, a retired schoolteacher, does no better. “Doukhobor sounds like doushegub [murderer],” she said. Natalia Trifonova, a Rostov University professor, knows of the Doukhobors. “But they are all gone now,” she noted. “To find them you should go to Canada.

“In fact, the Doukhobors are not all gone. An estimated 40,000 still live in Russia and the countries of the former Soviet Union. About the same number live in Western Canada, and a few hundred live in the U.S., according to Koozma Tarasoff, a Canadian historian of the Doukhobors and author of 12 books and hundreds of articles about their culture. Scattered around Russia, Doukhobor populations are centered in the Tselina region in Rostov oblast, Cherns region in Tula oblast, near Blagoveshchensk in Amur oblast and the Mirnoye settlement near Bryansk.

Doukhobors (Doukhobory in Russian), literally means “spirit wrestlers.” It was a name bestowed on the sect — which had previously been known as Ikonobory (“icon fighters”) — by a Russian Orthodox Church priest (originally, the epithet was Doukhobortsy — “wrestlers against the Holy Spirit” — and intended as an insult, but the members of the sect changed it to the more positive Doukhobors, which implies a wrestling with the Holy Spirit). The sect has its roots in the 1650s, when Patriarch Nikon’s reforms of the Russian Orthodox Church led to the Raskol, the Great Schism. Some of the schismatics [raskolniks], called Popovtsi (“Priesters”) sought a return to pre-reform traditions, eventually giving way to the movement known as Old Believers. Others, called Bezpopovtsi (“priestless”), argued for dispensing entirely with priests. Some went further still, rejecting icons, sacraments, the divinity of Christ and even the Bible. They became precursors of the Doukhobors, who developed into a distinct religious group by the early 18th century.

Natalia Trofimenko, a Doukhobor who moved to Khlebodarnoye in 1992.

The notion of God within each individual is the cornerstone of Doukhobor belief “This philosophy has no creeds and does not need any Bible, Church, icons, or priests to fulfill its needs,” Tarasoff explained. “From this notion, we support the moral imperative that we cannot kill another human being — because then we would be killing the spark of God in us. The creation of a non-killing society is the essential quest of the Doukhobors.”

Not surprisingly, Russia’s tsars saw such pacifism as a threat, as something that could undermine social order and lead to rebellion. As a result, the Doukhobors suffered through centuries of persecution and three major resettlements. Under Tsar Alexander I, they were moved to Molochnye Vody, on the border between Ukraine and Russia. Under Nicholas I, they were exiled to Transcaucasia, along the border of Georgia and Turkey. There, in 1895, the Doukhobors refused to fight in Russia’s war with Turkey, burning all their weapons in a symbolic protest against war and militarism.

The furious tsar ordered that the Doukhobors be scattered throughout Transcaucasia, “sending the father to one village, the mother to another and their children to yet a different village,” according to Doukhobor lore [oral history]. The Doukhobors pleaded for help. It came from Quakers in the United States, who shared many beliefs with the Doukhobors, most notably pacifism and anticlericalism. And it came from the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, whose own personal philosophy had, by this time, gravitated into non-violence. Tolstoy called the Doukhobors a “people of the 25th century.” The Doukhobors, for their part, called Tolstoy “our father,” after he donated $17,000 from the publication of his book Resurrection to help pay for emigration of some 7,500 Doukhobors to Canada in 1898. Despite this mass emigration, the majority of Doukhobors remained; many moved to Southern Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.

Tselina region, Rostov Oblast

My qust for the Doukhobors takes me to Petrovka, a village in Tselina region, about 100 miles southeast of Rostov-on-Don. In 1921, some 4,000 Doukhobors were permitted to resettle here, establishing 21 villages (consolidated to 11 in the 1950s). Today, there are just six Doukhobor villages. Petrovka is the largest and it is by no means exclusively Doukhobor. Other inhabitants include Russian Orthodox, Armenians and Meskhetian Turks, who fled from Uzbekistan after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Farther into the country, the asphalt road turns to dirt and cows mindlessly collaborate in the creation of a traffic jam. By the time I reach Petrovka, the dirt road has turned to mud.

Regional administrator Lyudmila Nikitina — my guide in Petrovka — offers a disapproving glance at my sandals as she dons her rubber boots. As we splash together through the mud, she explains that Doukhobors still comprise about half of the village’s declining population of 300. “It’s not as good as it used to be,” Nikitina says. “Young people cant find jobs here and they have to leave.”

I examine the streets of Petrovka, looking for traces of Doukhobor culture. Most houses appear to have porches bordered with columns, their whitewashed siding shyly hiding behind trees in the yards. On some, sheds and hen houses share a roof with the house itself. These are traditional Doukhobor homes. Newer ones use brick and have no porches, Some of the houses are well kept; some are shabby; some are deserted. The streets seem empty, with only two or three middle-aged women digging in their gardens. There are few children and men.

We approach one of the women. “You are a Doukhobor, aren’t you?” I ask. She seems proud. “Yes, I’m a pureblood,” she replies. She invites us into her house, to see a typical Doukhobor interior of three rooms with papered walls. “It’s more fashionable today than whitewash, as prescribed by tradition,” she explains. The house has painted floors, several wardrobes made in the 1970s, a television and lots of embroidery. It smells of ripe apples.

Sen (left) and Tatyana Safonova at the Petrovka cemetery.

Our hostess is Tatyana Yuritsina, a social worker in Petrovka. “Doukhobors are the nicest, the most hospitable people,” she says. “Now there are many refugees and many people of different religions here. But we have no trouble with them.”

Yet, life carries on and the Doukhobors are changing. “We used to live without fences,” Yuritsina says. “And the young, they don’t want to follow Doukhobor traditions. Take my daughter. She’s 25, and she won’t listen to me, won’t stick to the tradition.” Yuritsina speculates that her generation may be the last of the “true Doukhobors,” because only older members are clinging to their roots.

Many Doukhobors now marry outside the sect. Yuritsina’s husband Vasily is Ukrainian; she says she met him in Rostov and brought him back to Petrovka. “I don’t mind Doukhobors,” he says. “They are people, just like everyone else. And the religion isn’t important in the long run. You have to believe in God and not sin. That’s all.”

Museum of Doukhobor Culture and Worship

The Museum of Doukhobor Culture and Worship is a small home dating to the 1950s which was turned into a museum in 1991, thanks to a donation from the local collective farm, Lenin Kolkhoz. It has a collection of Doukhobor artifacts and serves as a place of worship for a few of Petrovka’s active Doukhobors.

Today, a dozen Doukhobor women have assembled in the living room, the largest room in the house. Its walls are adorned with embroidered towels and traditional costumes. A table in the far right corner holds a bust of Lev Tolstoy and albums with black and white photographs of community members. On the wall are portraits of two Doukhobor leaders, Lukeria Kalmykova and Peter P Verigin.

The Doukhobor women greet us with a traditional hymn. They are wearing long skirts with fancy, embroidered aprons, colorful blouses and white kerchiefs. Some of their attire comes from their grandmothers; some was adapted from the contemporary clothing bought at a local market. it is the sort of clothing no longer worn in everyday life.

“If you dress Doukhobor style and walk along the streets, people will look at you as if you were a savage,” says Yevdokia Bulanova, 75, a Doukhobor who lives in the village of Khlebodarnoye, five miles from Petrovka.

The women in front of me walked to the museum wearing their regular dresses. They carried their traditional Doukhobor costumes in plastic bags, then changed at the museum, like schoolchildren for a class drama performance. But the reality is that they came here to perform, and they like it.

The oldest surviving Doukhobor house in Petrovka.

Their singing seems to erase years of worry and woe from their faces. They have a certain ethereal solemnity. The words of the hymns are hard to make out, enhancing the impression that they are protecting some hidden truths. But the explanation is more banal. Years of persecution made Doukhobors in Russia drawl their syllables when singing, so that outsiders could not understand their meaning, says Lyudmila Borisova, 66, a choir member and Doukhobor activist. “Canadian Doukhobors sing much faster,” she says, “and one can actually make out the words.” Once they have started, the women do not want to stop. Their singing goes on and on. They forget about their hardships, miniscule pensions, cows that need milking, or water that only runs out of the tap a couple of hours each day.

Petrovka’s Doukhobor choir once was quite well known. Ethnographers came from Rostov and Moscow to record them singing their traditional hymns and psalms. The choir even toured Rostovskaya and neighboring provinces during the 1995-1998 centennial celebrations of Doukhobor heritage. But the choir doesn’t travel anymore. “People are scattered,” Borisova says. “We used to have a big choir, but now maybe only a dozen people remain.” Some left the village, some are too old to travel, and some are dead.

“Young people don’t come to our meetings,” Borisova says. “They are busy working and don’t have time.”

Vera Guzheva, 44, is an exception. Guzheva, who lives in the city of Taganrog, about 170 miles northwest of Petrovka, came to the meeting with her mother, Vera Safonova, who is 77. “My mother is a Doukhobor, but I’m not,” says Guzheva. “Our generation doesn’t even know who we are.”

The other women at the meeting hiss in protest.

“I’ve lived in the city for 25 years, I am not a Doukhobor anymore,” Guzheva responds.

“Who are you then? You are not a Ukrainian, you are not a Belorussian, you are a Doukhobor,” Borisova asserts.

“No one in the city knows the Doukhobors. How will I explain to people who I am?”

“You don’t need to tell them, you just have to know in your soul that you are a Doukhobor,” Borisova says.

After moving to Taganrog, Guzheva had changed to Russian Orthodoxy, thinking it was more convenient than living as a Doukhobor. During her baptismal, the priest corrected her, saying that the right name of the religion she was giving up was Doukhobortsy, not Doukhobors, a fact she didn’t know. “But in my soul I’m a Christian and a Doukhobor,” Guzheva says.

Oral History

Doukhobors in Petrovka nourish Doukhobor legends and revere names like Lukeria Kalmykova and Peter P Verigin. They remember the rituals, and, during their meetings on major holidays — Christmas, Whitsunday, Easter and St. Peter’s Day — they each read a psalm and then all perform a low bow, even though some of the women now need help standing up afterwards. But ask them to explain the essence o their belief and daily traditions, and they may give you a puzzled look.

A traditional Doukhobor bow.

There is an awkward silence when I pose this question while visiting the village of Khlebodarnoye. Yevdokia Bulanova finally speaks. “We have our Zhivotnaya Kniga [Book of Life], and you can read something about it there,” she suggests. “Nadezhda, bring it here.”

Nadezhda Trofimenko, whose home we are visiting, disappears behind the curtain separating the bedroom and living room, and returns with an old, leather-bound book, which she sets down carefully. “This is the principal Doukhobor document, here you’ll find everything,” Trofimenko says.

The Doukhobor Book of Life is the primary written artifact of Doukhobor heritage, which had been transmitted orally before 1899. Compiled by the Russian ethnographer Vladimir Bonch Bruevich while spending nearly a year in Canada transcribing Doukhobor psalms and hymns, the Book of Life preserves Doukhobor oral history and serves as a bible of their faith.

Dr. Vladimir Kuchin, 63, a researcher at Rostov-on-Don’s Anti Plague Institute, has lived in Rostov since 1958. He is a Doukhobor, and in his tiny studio apartment on the city outskirts, he archives a complete collection of the back issues of Iskra — the Canadian published Doukhobor magazine. He also stores trunk-loads of Doukhobor recordings and artifacts, which he has been collecting since 1975. He frequently contributes to local papers and to Iskra, and he said he is thinking about writing a book on Doukhobor heritage. But he must wonder whom he would be writing for. His own brother and sister have expressed no interest in their Doukhobor roots. And his parents, when they were alive, worried about his fervor for Doukhoboriana. “Dear son, why do you need all this?” they used to ask.

Kuchin’s grandparents moved to the Tselina region in 1922. They were in their thirties; his father was 10 and his mother was 8 at the time. At first, people lived in sod houses — 30 people in each home. “Their life was hard, but full of wisdom, patience and good spirit,” Kuchin says. When the Soviet state started putting up collective farms (kolkhozy), the first Doukhobor kolkhoz — Obshy Trud [Joint Labor] was set up in Petrovka, headed by Peter P. Verigin. There followed a kolkhoz named after the military commander Vasily Chapayev, and then six Doukhobor villages were united in another kolkhoz named after Vladimir Lenin. In 1928, Doukhobors in the Soviet Union dropped their stricture against army service.

“There was no other way to survive,” Kuchin says. For the most part, the Doukhobors lived an uneasy peace with the atheistic Soviet State. The government was tacitly permissive toward their religion, as long as the Doukhobors did not openly profess it.

Certainly many Doukhobors were imprisoned and exiled under Stalin. Kuchin recalls one story from Petrovka which reflects the insanity of the times. A villager, Fyodor Tomilin, made a chest for his little daughter’s toys and instruments and decorated it with a newspaper clipping that featured, among other things, a picture of Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky, a prominent Soviet military leader arrested and executed in 1937 on trumped-up charges of treason. Some time later, another villager, Koozma Pereverzev, stopped by to borrow some tools. On his way out, Pereverzev said, “Such a young guy, and already a marshal.” Tomilin had no idea what Pereverzev was talking about. Ten days later, Tomilin was arrested and accused of treason along with Tukhachevsky and his supporters. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Tomilin insisted that he did not have any idea who Tukhachevsky was, and that no one by this name lived in this village. Only after several years in prison, when he saw Tukhachevsky’s photo somewhere else, did he understand what had happened.

Anna Sen (Safonova), center, who helped set up the Museum of Doukhobor Culture and Worship.

In the 1960s, political liberalization allowed the Doukhobors to be open about their beliefs. “I left my home village in 1958, when I entered Rostov State Medical Institute,” Kuchin says. “Even then I didn’t conceal my religion from my friends.”

Unfortunately for the Doukhobors, Kuchin’s example was becoming more typical. The youth left the village for the cities, where they studied, worked, lived, got married and had children. Many married people outside their religion, often assimilating into Russian Orthodoxy. In bigger cities, like Rostov, Doukhobors no longer gather to sing psalms. “Canadian [Doukhobor] visits might stir people up,” Kuchin says. “Some people would meet at Whitsunday, St. Peter’s day, and Christmas.

“Kuchin says he used to go to Petrovka quite frequently, until his father died in 1999. But he does not go any longer. It is too painful. “The things that have been happening since the 1980s and 1990s are incredible and I can hardly find the right words,” he says. “Prosperous Doukhobor villages in Tselinsky and Bogdanovsky regions have become hard to recognize. Suspicious strangers are buying up many homes; other houses are abandoned and falling apart, and yards and gardens are covered in thick weeds.

“The Doukhobor cemetery is also covered with thick grass. There, Doukhobor graves, devoid of tombstones and crosses, are marked only by fences with people’s names. Anna Sen and Tatyana Safonova lead me to the grave of the five settlers who died during the Doukhobors’ first winter in Tselina region. These people are heroes, and a memorial plaque was placed over their grave in the 1960s.

Three years ago, Lyudmila Dorokh, a longtime director of the museum and one of the best singers in the Petrovka choir, told me, “We are losing our identity as a community and the Doukhobor culture here will be gone in several years.” She is gone now, lying in this quiet cemetery. And her prediction is slowly coming to pass.

Certainly there are attempts to preserve Doukhobor culture in Tselina region. Canadian Doukhobors visited the museum several years ago and gave $200 for repairs. Regional authorities provided a tape recorder, so that locals might record Doukhobor psalms. “We are trying to preserve the Doukhobor culture, which is unique,” says Lyudmila Nikitina, the regional administrator. “Once a year, we bring children from the local school to this museum for a history class, to tell them about the Doukhobor faith and traditions. I wish we could do more before it’s too late.”

Goat and sheep herds near Khlebodarnoye. Agriculture is still the main source of income.

On the way back to the village, we meet other women from the Doukhobor museum. They are walking home, carrying plastic bags containing their traditional costumes. They show us a recently built asphalt road, which gives Petrovka a new, better connection with the outside world, for better or for worse.

Last Days of the Georgian Doukhobors?

by Mark Grigorian

Squeezed out by their Armenian and Georgian neighbors in southern Georgia, the remaining members of the Doukhobor religious sect are planning on returning to the land of their forefathers. The following article by Mark Grigorian, foreign correspondent in Gorelovka, Georgia, originally appeared in the Caucasus Reporting Service produced by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, www.iwpr.net. Reproduced by permission.

A large loaf of white bread, which our hostess had just pulled out of the old Russian stove, was lying on the table surrounded by cheese, tomatoes and sour cream. Suddenly a bottle of ‘samogon’, strong Russian homemade alcoholic brew, appeared from nowhere as if by magic.

"Oh no, don’t pour me any," 75-year-old Aunt Niura protested in embarrassment but took the glass and immediately pronounced a toast. `To your health! If your health is strong, then everything else will follow. But if not…’  She was interrupted by her neighbour Nastya, `I just wish that God keeps at least a handful of people here. Because if everyone leaves, what will become of all of this?’ `Let’s drink to our dear little corner, to our mountains…’

That little corner is the village of Gorelovka in the mountains of southern Georgia, home to some of the last members of the Dukhobor sect to remain in the country. Sadly, they may not last long. Almost all have close relatives in Russia and almost all are planning to emigrate. Only fifteen years ago Dukhobors inhabited eight villages, but today the community, which once boasted some 7,000 people, shrank to less than 700.

Dukhobors (the Russian word means `spirit wrestlers’) are ethnic Russians, representatives of a rare Christian Orthodox sect expelled to the Caucasus in the mid-nineteenth century. They do not recognise the church or priests, but believe that each man’s soul is a temple. Dukhobors do not worship the cross or icons and they reject the church sacraments. They believe that Jesus Christ transmigrated into God’s chosen people – the Dukhobors. The life of every Dukhobor should serve as an example for others because love and joy, peacefulness and patience, faith, humility and abstinence, reign in each believer.

In the late 19th century, having become acquainted with the ideas of the great writer and pacifist Leo Tolstoy, the Dukhobors refused to serve in the Russian Tsar’s army. And in 1895 they famously collected together all their weaponry and set fire to it. `The Dukhobors put all the weapons into one big pile and lit it up,’ said Tatyana Chuchmayeva, leader of the Dukhobor community in Georgia. `When the government called in the Cossacks, they stood around the fire holding each other’s hands and sang psalms and peaceful songs. All the time the Cossacks were flogging them with whips.’

Many of those who burned the weapons were punished and around 500 families were exiled to Siberia. However, Tolstoy managed, with the help of English Quakers, to organise the resettlement of Dukhobors to Canada where they were spared military service. Many others stayed in Georgia and survived all the tribulations of the 20th century.

However, life under independent Georgia has proved the biggest test. Two censuses conducted in 1989 and 2002 show that of 340,000 Russians that lived in Georgia in 1989 less than ten per cent – about 32,500 people – remained there thirteen years later. Other ethnic minorities also left.

Fyodor Goncharov, chairman of the Gorelovka village council, said that the first wave of emigration occurred in 1989-1991 when the extreme nationalist Zviad Gamsakhurdia was leader of Georgia. About half of the Dukhobor population left the region.

In the late 1980s, the Merab Kostava Foundation was set up in Tbilisi with the stated aim of making Georgians the dominant ethnic group. They focussed strong attention on the southern province of Samtskhe-Javakheti, where over 90 per cent were ethnic-Armenians and the rest, with few exceptions, were Russian Dukhobors.

The Merab Kostava Foundation bought about 200 of the Dukhobors’ houses and gave these to Georgians. Clothes and funds were provided to the new arrivals.

However, the experiment failed. `They could not endure our living conditions and ran away from here after one year,’ said Konstantin Vardanian, a journalist from the local town of Ninotsminda. `During the first winter they heated their houses with coal and firewood that the foundation had left for them. Then, after they ran out of coal, they lived in one room of the house and pulled up floors in the other rooms and burnt them in stoves. When spring came they all left.’

Local Armenians were alarmed by the Merab Kostava project and one result was that the Armenian Javakh Committee, founded to fight for Armenian rights in Javakheti, also began to buy houses from Dukhobors – just to keep them out of Georgian hands. `It was some sort of competition, really,’ Vardanian said, with Armenians and Georgians vying for the same houses in Dukhobor villages.

At first, Armenians enjoyed being neighbours to the Dukhobors. `Akhalkalaki people always preferred to buy butter, cheese, curd cheese and other dairy products from Dukhobors,’ remembers Karine Khodikian, a well-known Armenian writer originally from the local town of Akhalkalaki. `It was a sign of respect for them, their cleanliness and tidiness.’ But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenians got envious of the Dukhobors and their apparently orderly, calm lives. `Armenians saw that the Dukhobor community in Gorelovka was self-sustaining, they said that Canadians Dukhobors helped it,’ Vardanian said.

Armenians from mountain villages, where living conditions were much worse than in Gorelovka, began to move into the houses purchased by the Javakhk Committee and to buy land. They were joined by immigrants from Armenia who used to live in the city of Gumri and its neighbouring villages – a region almost entirely demolished by the 1988 earthquake. Relations between the Dukhobors and these newcomers was far worse than with their old neighbours.

Enterprising Armenians opened small shops and started producing sour cream, butter and cheese, traditional Dukhobor products. They purchase milk from the Dukhobors, but the latter are very unhappy with the buying prices. `Armenians buy milk in our village,’ said Goncharov. `Then they make cheese out of it, take it to Tbilisi and sell it. They pay us only 30
tetri for a litre (about 15 cents), while we have to pay 70 or 80 tetri just for one litre of fuel.’

Dukhobor villager Sveta Gonachrova said that her neighbours were frightened by the incoming Armenians, `You step outside and get punched in the face.’

Vardanian believes that antipathy between the Dukhobors and Armenians is not the only reason Dukhobors are leaving, but `it contributed’. This new wave of emigration has found help from the Russian authorities.

In December 1998, Russia’s then-prime minister Yevgeny Primakov signed a decree on assistance to the Georgian Dukhobors and the Russian parliament, the State Duma passed a special resolution on the group. The International Organisation for Migration helped with the resettlement, while Georgia’s emergencies ministry provided buses.

In January 1999, community leader Lyuba Goncharova led a large number of her community on a journey whose final point of destination was the Bryansk region of Russia. Many of those left behind are now seeking help from the Russian embassy in Tbilisi to go and join them.

The remaining Dukhobors say they are worried by Georgia’s new president, Mikheil Saakashvili, whom they see as a Georgian nationalist. There are also rumours in the community – denied by Georgian officials – that all non-Georgian schools will be closed. `Saakashvili’s rise to power scares everyone,’ said Chuchmayeva. `Everyone is panic-stricken. People see what is happening in (South) Ossetia and feel scared,’ she added in a reference to Saakashvili’s attempts to restore central authority to that breakaway region.

‘Now they are talking about making all schools switch to the Georgian language… And that scares people. They are terrified that main subjects in schools will be taught in Georgian from 2006 and our children will not be able to study.’

Georgia’s minister for refugees and migration, Eter Astemirova, told IWPR that `the main reason they are leaving, as far as I know, is due to problems with the local Armenian population. There is no basis to their worries about the Georgian language or schools’. Astemirova said the Georgian state was entirely neutral in the affair. Dukhobors are not helped `to leave or to stay’, she said. `If there is a problem, we will try to address it. … So far, I don’t know, because we have no information about Dukhobors.’

The cultural attache of the Russian embassy in Tbilisi, Vasily Korchmar, said another reason for the Dukhobors’ desire to leave is the difficult economic situation in Georgia and its tense relationship with Russia.

Gonachrova agreed that tradition counted for nothing as this community made up its mind. For young people in particular life is better in Russia than in Gorelovka, `We are sorry to leave, but what can one do? There are [proper] conditions for young people in Russia. Discos and all sorts of amusement. We have nothing.’

Russian Roots, An Odyssey

by Dr. Allan Markin

In July of 2004, Dr. Allan Markin and his wife Evelyn of Penticton, British Columbia embarked on a month-long odyssey in Russia, the land of their Doukhobor ancestors. In the following article, reproduced with permission from the Vancouver Sun (October 9, 2004), Allan recounts their experiences of Russian people and places and their exploration of ancestral roots. Mr. Markin observes that as Doukhobors, “part of our hearts will (always) remain in Russia”.

As the creaking Aeroflot jetliner lands at St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport I am reminded of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s words: “forgetting the past is like losing the sight of one eye.”  My wife Evelyn and I have convinced ourselves that we are merely tourists in Russia, but the truth is that our ancestors, some 7,500 Doukhobors, left Russia in 1898/99 to escape religious and political persecution.

Approximately 12,000 Doukhobors stayed behind. This historical heritage haunts many Canadian Doukhobors and compels them to search for their roots in Russia.

Starting in St. Petersburg, our month-long odyssey will culminate in a visit to a Doukhobor village south of Moscow, with many stops along the way.

In “St. Pete,” a tour through the Hermitage Museum leaves us breathless. It is said that the Hermitage contains a collection so vast (nearly 3 million exhibits) that if one were to spend just one minute at each exhibit it would take several years to see the entire collection. A private guide is highly recommended.

Near St. Petersburg, in the town of Pushkin, is the Catherine Palace. This stunning “summer place” presents architectural details and decorations ranging from classical elegance to baroque indulgence. Its “amber room” is a world treasure.

Plundered by Nazis during the Second World War, the “amber room” has been restored to its original grandeur. One stands in awe of its inlaid amber panels and designs, with Florentine mosaics and sculptures, and feasts on the fusion of exquisite art, craftsmanship, decadence, opulence, and aristocratic self-indulgence. It is here that I first begin to understand what motivated my ancestors to shun materialism in favor of a simple, agrarian lifestyle.

Later, at the Peterhof Palace, with its dozens of gilded cascades and fountains inspired by Peter the Great’s wish to build a palace that would rival France’s Palace of Versailles, my sense of ancestral roots begins to deepen in an oddly ironic way.

I am starting to understand why my ancestors moved to Canada, but cannot escape the wonders of St. Petersburg. The great Kirov Ballet at the Mariinskiy Theatre, the glorious architecture along St. Petersburg’s canals, the boisterous Nevskiy Prospect, that grand street of international shops, cafes, street markets, and night life that continues long into the “white nights” of St. Petersburg.

Aboard the cruise ship, Allan poses with a tour guide dressed as “Peter the Great”.

We leave all this behind when we board our river cruise ship, the MV Zosima Shashkov. It will be our floating hotel as we sail along the lakes, rivers, and canals that will bring us to Moscow.

There are many stops along the way. In Petrozavodsk we note that statues of Lenin remain standing, and streets named after famous communist leaders (except for Stalin) have kept their names. A public referendum determined that nothing would be gained by trying to re-write history, so these traces of the former Soviet Union endure.

On the island of Kizhi, a UNESCO  site, we experience the great wooden Church of the Transfiguration, with its twenty-two cupolas (domes). This is just one of many examples of the religious orthodoxy that the Doukhobors broke away from in Russia, which earned them the name “spirit wrestlers”, and resulted in the persecution that caused them to seek safe haven in Canada.

The Church of the Transfiguration at Kizhi.

In Russia one sees many churches and cathedrals. Their icons, frescoes, and elaborate decorations suggest religious self-indulgence. But one has to marvel at the great religious art and architecture in Russia, much of it now in the process of recovery and restoration.

Kizhi also boasts two original 17th Century peasant houses. One contains a ceiling-mounted cradle, a “loolkya” in which an infant would sleep within reach of a mother’s toe that would conveniently rock the cradle at night. This is a very special moment for me; I slept in such a cradle in infancy and early childhood. I’m amazed at how quickly an inanimate artifact can vivify pleasant memories of a distant past.

Allan sitting next to a ceiling-mounted cradle (loolkya) in a 17th century peasant house.

We meet more art when our little ship sails in to Mandrogi, a planned community where some of Russia’s top artists and craftspeople live in an environment devoted to the advancement of traditional arts and crafts. In several workshops I am reminded of Canadian Doukhobor women (my mother among them) who have been producing fine weaving, knitting, and embroidery for more than 100 years.

In Goritsy we are brought face-to-face with current problems plaguing many small Russian communities. Several town drunks meet us as we leave the ship after breakfast. We are moderately fluent in Russian so we walk into “town” and converse with the “locals.”

Old woman in Goritsy. Note the simplicity of her modest home.

An old woman invites us into her modest home and we enjoy a wonderful chat. She was hoping that we were doctors who could help her with her ailing throat. She lives alone, tends to her small garden and prays to the icon in the corner of her kitchen. We leave with a sad feeling; life for old people in Russia is pretty tough these days.

This is emphasized in another village along the Volga, where I am confronted by a limping old woman who declares that “Putin has reduced my pension to 1500 rubles a month, so now I have to beg. If I could do it, I’d put a bullet in his temple myself.” I address her in Russian. When she hears this, she starts to cry. I see my hard-working grandmother’s face, lined and creased by worry and the sun when we lived on subsistence farming in the Kootenays. I have to turn and walk away.

A lonely spire sticks out of the water along the Volga Canal.

Later we sail through the Volga Canal built during Stalin’s rule. The canal was constructed by forced labour and dug entirely by hand, with the loss of some 100 workers daily. Many communities were flooded in the bargain. We sail over some of them. There is little evidence of their existence, but we do pass by a spire that sticks out of the water, a silent reminder of the town that lies beneath.

The Russians have an expression that eloquently describes projects that were constructed at the cost of many human lives. “ Built on the bones,” they say. I am starting to feel grateful to my ancestors for having the foresight and wisdom to move out of harm’s way to Canada.

Allan and Evelyn leaving the cruise ship with Rashid.

This becomes poignantly clear after we arrive in Moscow. Our driver, a Tatar named Rashid, takes us to one of Stalin’s “killing fields” on the outskirts of the city. On a quiet evening, after a summer rain deep in a birch wood, we stand in silence at the site where as many as seventy thousand people were put to death and buried in mass graves.

Across the road is a horse stable that was converted into a prison. It is rumored that Beria, head of the NKVD under Stalin, was held here. Nearby stands an abandoned foundation for an office building. The work had to stop when the excavators began unearthing human remains.

Memorial garden at Stalin’s killing field.

Before us is a large rectangular plot edged with small yellow flowers. This is one of the burial ditches. It is difficult to speak. It is difficult to keep from weeping. I recall stories of my ancestors who were beaten in 1895 after they burned all their weapons to take a stand against war and violence. Some died. Others were banished to Siberia. These too are my roots.

Ironically, when we leave our ship in Moscow, we move to the Hotel Rossija (Hotel Russia), a 2900 room monolith across the street from the Kremlin.  I remember meeting with a regional governor from Siberia on a previous consulting assignment to Russia and hearing him proudly tell me that he and his colleagues stay at the Rossija when in town on “government” business. I recall the “killing fields” and Russian history of the past century; the hotel conveys a malevolent feeling, which is mitigated by the spectacular view of Red Square and the Kremlin from our room.

A view of the Kremlin from the hotel room in Moscow. board the cruise ship, Allan poses with a tour guide dressed as “Peter the Great”.

The wonderful city of Moscow provides more relief from grim thoughts of Russian history. With a daytime population of some 14 million people, Moscow’s squares, monuments, markets, theatres (we enjoyed three Russian plays in top national theatres), shopping complexes, restaurants, fast-food kiosks, museums, and massive traffic jams challenge all the senses.

Fortunately, Rashid negotiates the traffic with skill and daring. We conclude that Vancouver traffic would bore him.  Moscow has three times the number of motor vehicles than it had five years ago and traffic problems are worsening daily.

Still we get around quite well. We visit the Kremlin, the fabulous Tretyakov Gallery of Russian art, and the Borodino Panorama Museum with its spectacular depiction of the battle between Russian troops and Napoleon’s army. We dine at the great Boris Gudinov Restaurant.

Western-style consumerism is flourishing in Moscow. Top international fashions and finest automobiles are everywhere. A “stretched” Lincoln limousine seems to be the “wedding car” of choice. New construction is everywhere. Heritage buildings are being restored. Tour buses are packed from morning to night. There are casinos and nightclubs everywhere. Shoppers crowd the streets and markets.

We chat with many Muscovites. Some think that the “new economy” is just what Russia needs. Others have mixed feelings, and some are very skeptical about the future. I see the crumbling Khrushchev-era apartment blocks and conclude that the future for many Russians is still pretty grim.

At Tolstoy’s estate – Yasnaya Polyana.

It’s almost too much for the senses, so our departure for Yasnaya Polyana, Leo Tolstoy’s estate two and a half hours south of Moscow is a very pleasant change. My sense of “roots” becomes more pronounced knowing that Tolstoy played a major role in arranging the Doukhobors’ emigration to Canada and helping to finance the journey.

Yasnaya Polyana Children’s Home

During our visit to Yasnaya Polyana we discovered an orphanage in desperate need of assistance. The Yasnaya Polyana Children’s Home houses and educates 55 children of all ages. We have established a network of reliable contacts through whom we have been able to send money to help the orphanage purchase school supplies and personal items like toothbrushes for the children’s use. Readers who would like more information about how they could help should contact Allan Markin at 250-493-6150, or by email to: amarkin@shaw.ca.

At Yasnaya Polyana the rest of the trip fades in to the background. Dr. Galeena Alexeeva, a top Tolstoy scholar, takes us on a private tour. We view the house where Tolstoy lived and worked; we stroll the tree-lined walks until we reach his grave, a simple grass-covered mound of dirt on the edge of a ravine. There is a powerful serenity in this place.

Tolstoy’s grave at Yasnaya Polyana.

The dignity of the site, without a monument or grave marker at Tolstoy’s own request, is a poignant illustration of the simple, spiritual life that the great writer  found in his later years. Doukhobors owe much to Tolstoy. Standing at his grave I felt that, in a small way, I was repaying some of the debt.

In Yasnaya Polyana we are delighted to meet Elaine and Alfred Podovilnikoff from Grand Forks, BC. They, along with their children and grandchildren, are building a log home in the village.

“My soul is in Russia,” says Elaine with conviction. “This is something that I simply have to do, not just for me but for my children and grandchildren, so that they will be more fully aware of who they are and where their roots lie.”

 We marvel at Elaine’s and Alfred’s excitement, their ability to laugh at the seemingly insurmountable challenges, and their fervent commitment to their roots.

Elaine Podovinnikoff at log home.

Yasnaya Polyana is near Tula, a city of 700,000 that was the industrial heart of the former Soviet Union’s weapons manufacturing industry. Many of the factories are now closed, but Tula still enjoys its reputation as the home of Tula “praniki,” tasty little cakes that remind one of biscotti with filling. We stop at one of the many roadside stands where these delicacies are sold, later washing them down with generous shots of premium Russian vodka.

Also in Tula we stumble into a “state” store that stocks beautiful shiny black caviar, which is not easy to find in Russia these days. The price is great so we stock up for later feasting.

Our final stop on this “roots odyssey” is Archangelskaya Selo ninety minutes south of Tula. This village is home to several hundred Russian Doukhobors who were forced to flee hostilities in Georgia in the last century.

The village sits in the middle of the vast Russian steppe. Cows and goats roam the streets. A horse-drawn wagon rolls past. Life is agrarian, simple. Mostly older people live here now, although there is a new school and community hall.

The country surroundings remind me of life in rural BC sixty years ago. But the residents don’t seem to mind. They are hospitable to a fault.  Fred Plotnikoff and his Russian wife Paulina treat us to a grand luncheon.  Fred is formerly from the Kootenays and was a school chum of mine at Mt. Sentinel High School in South Slocan. He has taken up permanent residence in Russia and seems very happy with his decision to plant new roots in ancestral soil.

Russian Doukhobors – the Markins – treat their guests to some kvas and song.

I am happy to discover that my namesake lives in the village, but disappointed to learn that he is away. We pay a visit to his home anyway and his parents welcome us. They honor their Canadian guests with a drink of kvas (a fermented concoction whose main ingredient is bread) and a couple of “spirited” Russian folk songs. Singing, it has been said, connects people “heart to heart.” This ancestral Doukhobor link has endured.

All too soon we are back in Moscow and on a Boeing 767 headed for Seattle. We are laden with souvenirs, mementos, memories, and mixed feelings.

One thing is certain, however. Part of our hearts will remain in Russia. On the great Volga; at the Kremlin; on a canal embankment in St. Petersburg eating Russian ice cream. It will be impossible to forget the glorious singing by cantors at the Kostromo Monastery, or being invited to sing Russian folk songs and some old rock and roll with the resident band on the cruise ship.

Cantors singing at the Kostromo Monastery.

Another memory that will linger forever is having dinner with Rashid’s family in their state-issued apartment and feeling his blind teenage daughter’s gentle hands explore my Canadian face. Such experiences, and our exploration of ancestral roots, have added so much value to our Russian odyssey.

This Russian parting expression says it all: “dosvidanya”…until we meet again.

New Israel: Transformation of a Branch of Russian Religious Dissent

by Sergey Petrov

Novyi Izrail’ or New Israel is a small religious movement of Spiritual Christians that emerged in Russia in the late nineteenth century. Its beliefs include the worship of God in spirit and truth, the rejection of traditional Orthodox religious practices and an emphasis on rationalism. The following scholarly article by Russian religious historian Sergey Petrov examines the origins and history of New Israel and investigates the radical reform of the sect undertaken by its most famous leader, Vasily Semenovich Lubkov (1869-1931). One of the principal questions the author addresses is the amazing similarity between the character of the New Israelite movement and that of another Spiritual Christian group, the Doukhobors. This is no coincidence, he contends, as he demonstrates how Lubkov, heavily influenced by the Doukhobors, whom he lived amongst in the Caucasus for a time, consciously and deliberately emulated them, which led to a radical reformation of the New Israelites, and ultimately the immigration of a part of the sect to South America in the early twentieth century.

Introduction

The question of the genesis of the group of Russian religious dissenters called Dukhovnoye Khristantsvo or “Spiritual Christians” as well as the degree and the character of the influence they exerted on each other at different times under a great variety of circumstances has been and remains a somewhat obscure subject. Conjectures and hypotheses concerning the origins of the Spiritual Christians go as far as the alleged links of the Russian sectarians to early Christian heresies, Gnosticism, Manichaenism, medieval Cathars and Balkan Bogоmils. Other scholars saw the phenomenon of the mass dissent among Russian peasantry as the indirect output of the Western Reformation, particularly, the radical movements of Quakers and Anabaptists. Finally, one more group of scholars attribute the appearance and rise of Spiritual Christians to Russians themselves and believe that those dissent movements were born on the Russian soil as a result of re-thinking of traditional Orthodoxy.

Not all of the sectarians known under the umbrella term “Spiritual Christians”, explicitly called themselves that way, although their self-consciousness as those “worshiping God in spirit and truth” as opposed to those practicing “outward” and “fleshly” forms of worship, is obvious. Contemporary researchers of Russian sectarianism usually apply the name to the Khristovschina (“Christ-faith”), Skoptsy (“Castrates”), Molokany (“Molokan”), Dukhobortsy (“Doukhobors”) and Izrail’ (“Israel”) movements, a branch of the latter being the subject of this paper. Orthodox Bishop Aleksii (Dorodnitsyn) of Sumy, who published an extensive article on Israel communities in Eastern Ukraine, based mainly on personal observations of the author, testifies that members of the Israel communities called themselves “Spiritual Christians”.

Early leaders of the New Israel sect (l-r): Porfirii Katasonov, Vasily Lubkov, Vasily Mokshin.  Museo de Los Inmigrantes, San Javier, Uruguay.

The purpose of the present paper is to explore the origins and the history of one of the more recent groups of Spiritual Christians that became known under the name of New Israel, and to investigate the reasons and the meaning of the radical reform of the sect, undertaken by the prominent leader of New Israel, Vasily Semenovich Lubkov (1869 – ca. 1931). One of the questions that will need to be raised in this connection is an amazing similarity between the character and the results of the reforms and the doctrine and practice of a much more renowned sect of the Doukhobors. The relatively high proportion of the scholarly attention to the latter group is explained by the dramatic immigration of the Doukhobors to Canada after a period of severe clashes with the Russian civil authorities with the monetary help of the famous Leo Tolstoy and the British Quakers. The alleged connection and, possibly, a common origin of New Israel and Doukhobors has been a subject of some speculation and considerable controversy in the scholarly discourse. It seems likely, however, that the nature of such a similarity was a conscious and deliberate imitation of the latter by the former that resulted in a thorough revision and amendment of the theory and practice of Lubkov’s organization and finally led a part of New Israelites to the immigration to South America.

Sources

The available literature on New Israel is not at all rich and consists almost entirely of books and articles published in the Russian language. A feature of virtually all of the sources is their tendentiousness or a high degree of subjectivity. The sources of information on the Israel movement can be divided into three subgroups – 1) writings by the sectarians themselves (including texts of the songs), usually incorporated into books produced by outsiders, 2) non-sectarian observers, most of them Orthodox priests or professional anti-sectarian missionaries, and later on Soviet atheist writers who had a clear intention of destroying the sect, with very scarce exceptions when the purpose was to justify the dissidents, sometimes overemphasizing their real and imagined good qualities, and 3) a small group of authors, who tried to come up with a relatively objective and unbiased accounts.

Among the most comprehensive books on the subject is a highly sympathetic account written by Vladimir Dmitrievich Bonch-Bruevich (1873-1955), a socialist scholar of the Russian religious dissent. The book by Bonch-Bruevich under the title Novyi Izrail’ was published in 1911 as Volume 4 of his series of materials on Russian sectarianism and Old Belief . One of the main merits of the Bonch-Bruevich’s book is the great number of original documents it contains, including numerous writings by the New Israel leader Vasily Lubkov and other members of New Israel. The views of Bonch-Bruevich are highly pro-sectarian, for he tended to see Russian religious dissenters as a force of protest against monarchy and the evil social structure of the Russian Empire.

A number of books on Russian sectarians were written by their natural opponents, clergy of the Orthodox church. In spite of the subjectivity, their authors give substantial first-hand evidence concerning the topic. Volumes I and III of Khristovshchina published by a professional Orthodox anti-sectarian missionary Ivan Georgievich Aivazov (b. 1872) consist of court rulings, legal documents, police reports, testimonies given by a wide circle of those involved, examples of the sectarian religious poetry and other materials . Among other books of the Orthodox anti-sectarian writers of special interest for us have been a book on Khristovshchina and Skoptsy (Castrates) by Konstantin Kutepov and a review of all known sects attempted by a priest and church historian Timofei Ivanovich Butkevich. Another priest and missionary, Simeon Nikol’sky, published a theological analysis and a refutation of the Catechism of the New Israel community in 1912.

Journal articles on New Israel, a large number of which appeared at the end of nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century in the church press, especially in Missionerskoe Obozrenie (“The Missionary Review”) and newsletters and bulletins of various church districts (Eparkhial’nye Vedomosti) also contribute to the task of building a broad picture of the origins and development of the New Israel movement, although the main purpose of those articles was to teach parish priests how to fight the sectarians more efficiently.

Semen Dmitrievich Bondar’, an official of the Ministry of Interior Affairs, published a book on a wide circle of dissident religious movements . Bondar’ was commissioned by the Ministry to the South of Russia in order to conduct a research of the sects. The author, apparently did not feel any sympathy towards the sectarians, but his account is characterized by a high degree of diligence and factual accuracy.

The only contemporary attempt to investigate the mechanisms behind the New Israel immigration to Uruguay, was made by a journalist, V. M. Muratov, who published an unbiased and impartial analytical article on the New Israel move to South America.

The New Israel movement entered a phase of decline following the emigration of the part of the adherents of the sect to Uruguay that occurred in 1911-1914 and the establishment of the Soviet regime in Russia, although occasional data on New Israel does occur in the 1930s in the Soviet anti-religious press, for example in Dolotov’s book on church and sectarianism in Siberia and the critical book by S. Golosovsky and G. Krul’, Na Manyche Sviashchennom (“On ‘Sacred’ Manych”) on the New Israelite planned community in Sal’sk district, authorized by the Soviet authorities in the 1920s.

Literature

The most prominent scholar of religion of the Soviet period who wrote about New Israel was Aleksandr Il’ich Klibanov (1910-1994), whose Istoriia religioznogo sektantstva v Rossii (“The History of the Religious Sectarianism in Russia”) is one of the most comprehensive books on the subject. Klibanov conducted a number of field trips, among those a trip in 1959 to Tambov area where the Israel sect originated. Klibanov describes his experiences during that trip in his book Iz mira religioznogo sektantstva (“From the World of Religious Sectarianism”).

The only work on the Israel/New Israel movement published in English is The Russian Israel by Dr. Eugene Clay, a US researcher of Russian sectarianism and Old Belief of Arizona State University. The article contains a brief historical account of the movement along with the tables showing the leadership transfers and partitions within the sect as well as the dates of both ecclesiastical and civil trials of the sectarians.

The purpose and the subject of the present paper necessitated the use of literature on another sect of Spiritual Christians, the Doukhobors. Already mentioned, Obzor (“Review”) by Butkevich contains a fair amount of information on the Doukhobor history and teachings, of course, from the Orthodox standpoint. The part that is of especial interest for the present paper is the original Confession of Faith composed by the Ekaterinoslav Doukhobors. The dissertation The Doukhobors, 1801-1855 by Gary Dean Fry, which gives a concise, accurate and highly objective account of the Doukhobor history, beliefs and living conditions within a broad panorama of the Russian economical, political and ideological context, has also been extensively used.

History

Kopylov and the Fasters

One of the branches of the so-called Spirit Christians in Russia, along with more widely-known groups such as the Khristovshchina (Christ-faith”), Molokans and Doukhobors, was a clandestine movement called Izrail’ (“Israel”) which began in the first quarter of nineteenth century. The group first appeared among the Orthodox peasantry in Tambov province as a reaction against the superficiality of personal spiritual experience within the state-sanctioned church. An official report of the Tambov provincial government of 10 April 1851 stated that the sectarians “call the Christian (Orthodox) faith the faith of the Old Adam, not renewed in the spirit. They consider church sacraments mere rituals” . The founder of the movement was Avakum (also spelt Abakum) Kopylov, a peasant of Perevoz village in Tambov province. Kopylov was an ardent reader of the Orthodox literature, especially Lives of the Saints, and apparently tried to imitate the life of the Orthodox ascetics. He fasted frequently for long periods of time, abstaining from any kind of food altogether. Once, after having fasted for 40 days in a row, he felt he was taken to Heaven in spirit and talked to God face to face. He said God had commissioned him to “study books” in search of salvation and spread this knowledge around. Allegedly, Kopylov then went to the local Orthodox bishop and told him what had happened. The bishop, according to the story, approved of the Kopylov’s experience and gave him a few Orthodox books, among them “On Duties of a Christian” by the Orthodox bishop Tikhon Zadonsky. The story hardly has any factual truth behind it, but it can clearly be interpreted in the sense that Kopylov and his followers saw themselves as Orthodox Christians, although they tried to enhance and enrich their Orthodoxy with strict asceticism, piety and personal experience with the Divine.

Members of the New Israel sect in Uruguay, c. 1914.  Museo de Los Inmigrantes, San Javier, Uruguay.

Kopylov preached celibacy, temperance, abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, meat, fish, garlic, onion and potatoes, and emphasized fasts as an efficient means of spiritual progress. Many of Kopylov’s followers had a “spiritual spouse” from among the members of the group that were assigned by the prophets. Such spouses were supposed to support and comfort one another spiritually. Any sexual intercourse was, nevertheless, forbidden. Kopylov’s followers did not call themselves “Israel”. Rather, they referred to their community simply as postniki (“fasters”), bogomoly (“those who pray to God”), or “The Faith of New Jesus Christ”, according to the evidence brought forward by Aivazov and Butkevich. It is difficult to say, though, how Kopylov himself called his group. In any case, his followers began using both postniki and bogomoly for self-identification rather early, and the term postniki survived until at least 1959 when Klibanov conducted field research in Tambov province. The meetings of the postniki consisted in reading the Bible and Orthodox literature on practical ways of attaining personal sanctity, singing of the Orthodox prayers and songs composed by themselves, revealing the sins of the members and their public confession, and prophecies. At the same time, the followers of Kopylov faithfully attended Orthodox services and very often were a lot more accurate and serious than the average Orthodox people in terms of observance of church rules and generosity towards the priesthood. Even in 1901, followers of Kopylov, being asked by Orthodox clergy about their religious affiliation, answered that they were “Orthodox postniki”.

Soviet scholar Klibanov conducted field research in the Tambov area as late as 1959; that is, when the Orthodox church was completely stripped of all former privileges. In a conversation with a faster, Klibanov learned that the members attended the Orthodox church if they wished. The same person said that fasters observed and revered essentially the same things as the Orthodox, but only in a better, firmer and more complete manner. The main point of their deviance from the Orthodox doctrine was the belief that the priests were not quite worthy since they didn’t live a holy life and, therefore, the sacraments performed by the priests were not as effective as the immediate and unmediated relationship with God at their meetings.

Anti-sectarian Orthodox writers often insisted that the leaders of the Fasters were revered by their followers as incarnations of Christ and the Virgin Mary. There is no evidence that Kopylov saw himself as Christ or a divine figure, but later developments of the theological thought of his co-religionists apparently contain an idea of spiritual christhood. According to the above mentioned Report, published by Aivazov, the sectarians believed that Jesus Christ was a man whom Holy Spirit chose to dwell, therefore everyone who attains grace of the Holy Spirit and is spiritually reborn may be called Christ. On the same basis a woman who is likewise favored with God’s grace and spiritually reborn may be called the Virgin Mary. Notably, the sectarians cited the following assertion from the book by Tikhon Zadonsky to substantiate their argument: “everyone is called by the name of his progenitor”.

Possibly, the concept of incarnate christs becomes a part of the Fasters’ doctrine at a later time. In 1901 Aivazov cites Fasters who openly called their female leaders bogoroditsa (“God-bearer” or “Virgin Mary”) and asserted that there may be more than one christ; although Aivazov’s testimony should be treated with a degree of caution due to his decidedly anti-sectarian bias. In any case, the opinion that the Fasters worshiped their “living christs” instead of the historical Christ, seems to be a misunderstanding. Rather, it can be said that the Fasters saw the divinity of their leaders in terms of a symbolical analogy with the Biblical figures. The real object of their worship, rather, was the Holy Spirit seen as a force and an agent of the divine in the world. The living voice of the Fasters, their songs, bear witness of that, for the Holy Spirit is the permanent theme and hero of practically all the known songs, and not historical figures of distant or recent past, present, or future.

It is interesting to look at the version of the emergence of the movement told by Faster Ivan Seliansky as cited by Klibanov. According to Seliansky, Tat’iana Chernosvitova, the closest collaborator of Kopylov (Bondar’ calls her Kopylov’s spiritual wife , and Kutepov – his bogoroditsa ) initiated the movement. She lived in celibacy, but had a vision of an angel who predicted that Chernosvitova would bear a son. However, the son the angel referred to was not a natural baby, but Avakum Kopylov, who was spiritually born through Chernosvitova’s preaching. Seliansky draws an analogy between that story and the Gospel account of Christ’s birth, saying: “Do you comprehend? You see, it was such a spiritual matter! Sometimes they get confused – he (Christ) was born. Perhaps, Jesus Christ was not born of Virgin Mary, maybe she begot him spiritually.”

In 1834, about 20 years after the movement began, the local government became aware of the activity and influence of Avakum and Tat’iana Chernosvitova, and arrested both of them and one of their followers. They were mistakenly charged with spreading of the Molokan heresy, which was a mass dissent movement and a real dilemma for the local administration at that time. None of the arrested betrayed any of their friends, and no more arrests followed. All three were found guilty in 1838. Avakum was sentenced to imprisonment in one of the Orthodox monasteries “till he repents”, but, being an old man of 82 years, died before the sentence could be fulfilled.

Avakum Kopylov was followed by his son Filipp who changed the teachings of his father by adding sacred dances in the spirit as an expression of joy that the worshipers felt at their meetings. Those dances were called by Fasters themselves khozhdenie v Dukhe (“walking in the Spirit”), and explained as an imitation of King David who danced before the Lord, which might have been borrowed from ecstatic practices of other religious movements of the Russian peasantry. Aleksii Kaninsky, who was a parish priest in Perevoz village, the birthplace of the Fasters, wrote in his article on the religious situation in the village, that Filipp Kopylov visited a number of Orthodox holy sites throughout Russia, and on his way back stayed for a long time in another village in Tambov province, Sosnovka. Sosnovka at that time was a stronghold of the Skoptsy (Castrates) sect, that practiced ecstatic dances (radeniia) at the meetings, so upon return to his native village, Perevoz, Filipp introduced certain customs of the Skoptsy into the teaching of his group . Bondar’ and Aivazov are in agreement that the “walking in Spirit” was an innovation brought about by Filipp after his father’s death.

Another interesting feature of the Faster worship meetings were the so called deistviia, or “actions”. Eugene Clay defines them as “a sermon or prophesy in action” similar to those employed by the Biblical prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel. Those symbolical actions might include crowning a member with a wreath, which meant that he/she lived a pious life, or tying up another member’s eyes which revealed his/her spiritual blindness.

Katasonov and the Israel Sect

Filipp Kopylov’s hired worker and co-religionist, Porfirii (also known as Parfentii or Perfil) Petrovich Katasonov, was at first a member of Filipp’s group, but later on, he split off and founded a separate organization that came to be called Israel. The formal pretext for the separation was, apparently, the introduction of the dances by Filipp, which Katasonov disapproved of as a deviation from Avakum’s tradition. Nevertheless, Kaninsky, Kutepov, Aivazov and Butkevich assert that the real reason was most likely the struggle for the power within the group and the outgoing and energetic personality of Katasonov, who thought he would ascend as a leader on his own. Filipp’s followers remained in the Tambov area, but their movement never grew to be as strong and wide-spread as the clandestine church of the Katasonovites.

Katasonov, who apparently was not nearly as strict an ascetic as Avakum or Filipp, relaxed the dietary rules and let his followers eat and drink anything except meat and alcohol. He also changed the meaning of the institution of spiritual wives, admitting the possibility of sexual intercourse between spiritual spouses under the guidance of the spirit, while sex within official marriage remained formally prohibited. The real innovation brought about by Katasonov was the creation of the regular organizational structure of his church. Because of the mass migration of peasantry from Tambov, Samara and Voronezh provinces to the fertile North Caucasus caused by economical reasons, as well as due to the missionary activities of Katasonov and his followers, the new movement spread rapidly, especially throughout Southern Russia and by the time of Katasonov’s death in 1885 it had up to 2000 local groups. Communities were organized into okruga, districts with “apostles” and “archangels” as their heads. Bondar’ indicates that there was a certain shift towards more critical and even hostile attitude towards the official Orthodoxy. Numerous trials of the members of the Israel sect on the charges of blasphemy took place in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, the Israelites continued to attend the Orthodox church, follow church rituals and worship icons. Many of the Katasonovites, including their leader, didn’t consider it wrong to “repent” and “convert” to Orthodoxy when arrested and put on trial in order to get released.

Symbolical actions, or sodeistviia, continued to be an important part of the meetings. A number of sources (Bondar’, Butkevich, Bishop Alexii Dorodnitsyn) mention that “walkings in the Spirit” were as frequent among the Katasonovites as among the Fasters, which may mean that the disagreement between Katasonov and Filipp Kopylov was essentially not of doctrinal nature, even if the dispute about sacred dances was brought up as a formal pretext for the separation.

The New Israel congregation in San Javier, c. 1930.  Museo de Los Inmigrantes, San Javier, Uruguay.

The Orthodox clergy and people often referred to both Fasters and Katasonovites as khlysty. The latter term can be interpreted either as “flagellants” or as a distorted word Khristy, that is “Christs”. Khlysty was a derogatory name of one of the earliest movements of religious sectarianism in Russia. It appeared in the middle of the seventeenth century and spread throughout the North and central part of the country. Members of that group called themselves God’s People. They believed in the multiple incarnations of Christ, Virgin Mary, apostles and other Biblical figures in living people, practiced asceticism and gathered in secrecy calling on the spirit to descend upon them and move them to dance and prophesy. The Khristovshchina did not recognize any sacred texts and had a very elaborate mythology pertaining to their leaders and their miraculous deeds. Khristovshchina was a secret society and there were quite a few myths and legends associated with their clandestine meetings that circulated within Russian society. They were accused of participating in sexual orgies, flagellating themselves, using flesh and blood of killed babies in their rituals etc. In reality all of those accusations appear to be quite groundless, but the word khlysty came to be used as a strong pejorative and derogatory qualifier to define any religious dissenting group of a secret or ecstatic nature. It was a general tendency among many Russian and Soviet scholars of religious sectarianism to link khlysty with the Fasters and the Katasonovites by default. This view is shared by A. I. Klibanov. However, in spite of the long tradition and certain similarities between the two groups, such a view is very hard to substantiate with provable facts. Most of the sources and literature on the Faster and Israel movements treated khlysty as well. In fact, in some cases (eg. Kutepov) khlysty were the main object of the investigation, while Fasters or Katasonovites were mentioned in the context of the greater discourse devoted to khlysty.

In spite of efforts to give regular structure and doctrinal unity to the denomination, the human factor contributed to the partition and disintegration of the Israelite movement that occurred immediately after Katasonov died in 1885. The enormous emphasis placed upon a person led to the lack of the internal balance and as soon as the gravitational center ceased to exist, the structure could no longer be preserved.

A number of Katasonov’s collaborators assumed power and christhood in different parts of the country. The most prominent among them were Roman Likhachev, who governed the Israel communities in Ekaterinodar (now Krasnodar) region, Petr Danilovich Lordugin of Georgievsk , the leader of the Terek communities (now parts of Stavropol’ krai, North Ossetia and Kabardino-Balkaria), Vasily Fedorovich Mokshin and Ivan Markov in Voronezh, Iakov Kliushin in Stavropol’ and others. Those leaders did not recognize each other as legitimate heirs of Katasonov, although, according to Bondar’, their worship and doctrine remained unchanged.

The Birth of the New Israel Movement

The New Israel movement appeared around 1890 in the Voronezh district in Russia as a branch of Israel or Old Israel, as New Israelites began to call the Katasonovites. Certain aspects of the ideology and practices of New Israel proved to be more appealing to a broader range of people and Vasily Lubkov, who soon became an outstanding leader of the denomination, was by far a more gifted and skilled organizer than the rest of his competitors in other branches of the Israel sect.

The first head of New Israel was Vasily Fedorovich Mokshin, a peasant of Dankovo village in the Voronezh district, who converted to the Israel sect during his stay in the town of Taganrog. Mokshin was charged with spreading the khlysty heresy in 1880 and exiled to the Caucasus. He allegedly repented and returned to his native land in 1883 where he died in 1894. Mokshin, in all probability, did not enjoy a wide recognition as the heir of Porfirii Katasonov, according to Bonch-Bruevich, who cited Lubkov: “elders… did not want to recognize him and did not let people come to him under the threat of damnation, proclaimed him an anti-christ… He rejected the whole Israel, condemned them for the unbelief and began to plant a New Israel”. Mokshin, apparently, understood his mission as uniting the “remnants of Israel” everywhere and first used the term New Israel referring to his followers as opposite to the Old, and unworthy, Israel. Nevertheless, he was never accepted as a leader by the Katasonovites other than in the Voronezh area.

The future leader of New Israel, Vasily Semënovich Lubkov, was born in the town of Bobrov in 1869 into an Orthodox family. By his own account, Lubkov experienced a conversion in 1886 when he was 17 and became an active member of Mokshin’s sect. He was first arrested at the young age of 18 and then exiled to Elizavetinka (sometimes called Akstafa, by the name of the adjacent railway station) in Elisavetopol’  province (now Azerbaijan). An energetic and enthusiastic proselyte, he got to know many people of many faiths, perhaps taking advantage of his job, for he worked as a train conductor and traveled extensively throughout Transcaucasia. It should be noted that Akstafa was a station halfway between the largest cities of the Russian Transcaucasia, Tiflis and Baku.

Vasily Lubkov had a difficult time trying to find a spiritual haven in the land of his exile. He called this land a “desert”, for there was no “fullness of God” there. At first he was welcomed by another exiled Katsonovite, Fedor Kirillovich Poslenichenko, who considered himself a spiritual christ (as well as Adam, Abraham and a number of other Biblical figures) and whom Lubkov eventually condemned as a pretender and a false teacher. The Old Israel group of Poslenichenko is described by Bondar’ and a few original materials pertaining to the group were published by Aivazov. At last, Lubkov met a man who later came to be called “the first-born of Israel”, Andriusha, or Andrei Poiarkov, and a group of people who recognized Vasily as their spiritual guide, was formed.

Finally, Lubkov was summoned to Tiflis, but suspected he would probably be arrested again, so he preferred to flee and hide himself in Doukhobor villages in one of the least accessible parts of Transcaucasia .

Other sources says Lubkov also lived in Ardagan, Kars province, that is, precisely in the area settled by the Doukhobors, although it is hard to define whether Lubkov’s stay at Ardagan refers to the period of his exile or hiding. There is a good reason to believe that Lubkov’s contact with the Doukhobors during his stay in Transcaucasia and the ideas he was exposed to there played an important role in the changes New Israel was to undergo, both doctrinally and organizationally, which will be discussed further on.

Lubkov was still in exile in 1894 when he heard of Mokshin’s death. In order to come back to Central Russia he had to leave the province where he was obligated to reside according to court sentence. Nevertheless, he came back to Voronezh soon thereafter and was acknowledged as the new leader and christ. From then on, Lubkov had to live under constant threat of arrest until the Manifesto of 1905 was published. The Manifesto permitted many groups of religious dissenters to legalize their existence.

The Living ‘Christ’

Before Lubkov was accepted as christ by the communities in Voronezh, he had to withstand his rivals. Two cases of unsuccessful competition with Lubkov within Mokshin’s group refer to the attempts of Ivan Kir’ianov, Mokshin’s “Apostle John” and Gerasim Chernykh, Mokshin’s “Moses”, both of whom had limited success among Mokshin’s sheep in Voronezh district. A researcher of Russian sectarianism, S. D. Bondar’ says about those who followed Lubkov’s competitors: “These were people who were looking for a new “incarnated christ” and could not find one”. As soon as Lubkov learned of these “christs”, he came from Caucasus and “spiritually defeated” both of them, that is, convinced the sectarians that he was the real “christ”. The cases of competition and rivalry within the group were not limited to those two cases, however. Lubkov mentions more opponents in his autobiography. From then on, Lubkov saw his primary tasks as 1) absorbing whatever worthy elements were left of Old Israel; 2) reforming and updating teachings, practices and the structure of his community; and 3) propagating New Israel among the general population in a systematic and regular form.

Contemporary testimonies help us see in detail how communities of Old Israel, deprived of any adequate leadership and often referred by New Israelites as “in ruins”, were shaken and absorbed by the impact of Lubkovites.

The growth of New Israel took place mostly by swallowing up scattered Old Israel groups. The Orthodox missionary and priest Simeon Nikol’sky says: “What is remarkable, “New Israel” spreads only among the khlysty. At least, it is so in Stavropol province. … But even among the khlysty there are doubts about recognition of the “New Israel” heresy. Some of the khlysty in a given village accept the “newlywed christ”, others remain faithful to the belief of their fathers…” . The changes the followers of Old Israel had to accept were too radical for many, who saw Lubkov as literally eliminating the most basic tenets of their faith.

An article by A. Anan’ev published in Missionerskoe Obozrenie (“The Missionary Review”) in 1915, tells a story of a group of Katasonovite communities in Samara province. Ivan Koroviadsky, a follower of the deceased Katasonov, made a considerable and quite successful effort trying to spread the teachings of his admired christ as he understood them. However, one of the basic beliefs of Israel is the doctrine of the living christ, that is, a chief, who is supposed to lead his followers at all times in a very tangible and material manner. Anan’ev writes, describing the preaching of Koroviadsky: “The whole truth consists in the Source of Wisdom, the living God-Christ… The living Christ is always on earth”. That was the point where Koroviadsky ultimately got into an inconsistency. He was not aware of any available and worthy candidate for christhood nor he was quite sure of himself as a christ to step forward and claim it as did the “Apostle John” and “Moses” of Mokshin. He communicated to his fellow-believers the idea of a living christ, but failed at the attempt to show them one. Therefore, his unsatisfied followers started to look elsewhere and when somebody by occasion told them of new sectarians living some 60 kilometers away, they immediately rushed there in their pursuit of a living christ. The attempt was successful; they learned about Lubkov, went to see him, and, finally, left poor Koroviadsky who was unable to show them a real christ. At a joint meeting all the communities established by Koroviadsky condemned their former teacher and joined New Israel.

Lubkov was trying to rethink the history of his movement to present himself as a rightful heir of past leaders. In addition to the portraits of Katasonov found, according to Bonch-Bruevich, in almost any house of the members of Israel , the sectarian iconography was enriched by a triple portrait representing Vasily Lubkov in the center surrounded by Katasonov and Mokshin. Lubkov was also aware of Avakum Kopylov as the initiator of the movement and held him in high esteem , although the personality of Katasonov, the leader of a much larger organization, apparently overshadowed the memory of Kopylov, who remained a figure of local importance.

New Israel farmers harvesting in Uruguay, 1940.  Museo de Los Inmigrantes, San Javier, Uruguay

Lubkov’s Reforms

In spite of opposition, Lubkov succeeded in unifying a considerable portion of the Old Israel communities. Lubkov’s followers came to call him Papa or Papasha, meaning Daddy. At first the New Israelites continued to attend Orthodox churches and kept icons in their homes. They met secretly or semi-secretly and had to use priests’ services to maintain the legality of their births and marriages. The essence of Lubkov’s reform that will be discussed at more length in the next section, was the rationalization of traditional Israel teachings. Reason seemed to occupy a central place in Lubkov’s theological discourse, dietary limitations (except alcohol and tobacco) were lifted, ecstatic manifestations almost disappeared. Bondar’, however, argues, that when there were no Orthodox visitors at the meetings, New Israelites did dance and jump in the traditional ecstatic manner as late as in 1912. Bonch-Bruevich’s book also contains an Epistle written by Lubkov, probably, in 1906. In this epistle, Lubkov gives recommendations and orders mostly pertaining to the family life of his followers and the internal order of the meetings. Among other things, article 11 states: “The meeting must be orderly, with joy, burning love, powerful preaching. Walking in joy (a euphemism for ecstatic dancing – S. P.) is not permitted except at a marriage” . Bonch-Bruevich’s footnote, however, seriously amends the meaning of the cited advice: “In the original this paragraph reads as follows: 11. The meeting must be orderly, with joy, burning love, powerful preaching. Walking in joy is permitted when there are no worldly people and at a marriage.” The paragraph, corrected by Lubkov, demonstrates the ambiguity of the sectarians in this matter. To what extent the sacred dances continued to be practiced among New Israelites, remains disputable, but the fact that the ecstatic component was greatly reduced and marginalized by Lubkov, cannot be doubted.

Another innovation brought about by Lubkov were so called sodeistviia, dramatizations of gospel themes presented publicly. Eugene Clay believes that “these ceremonies were extensions of the symbolic prophetic actions (deistvie), the “sermons in deeds” which originally were spontaneously performed by a prophet before a small congregation”. The sodeistviia were indeed in many ways the hallmarks of Lubkov’s reform. The first sodeistvie, dramatizing the Last Supper of Christ, took place in 1895. Around 800 of Lubkov’s followers gathered to watch and participate. Naturally, Lubkov personified Christ. During that sodeistvie, evangelists, apostles and other members of the New Israel hierarchy were appointed. The second dramatization, The Sermon on the Mount, was arranged in 1900. Lubkov addressed the crowd of his followers with a 5-hour-long speech on God, the soul, life and death and other important matters. The third sodeistvie, called Transfiguration, and the first one after legalization, was presented in 1905 in the town of Piatigorsk in Stavropol province. An eyewitness and a participant of the event, New Israelite N. I. Talalaev wrote: “There were more than 5 thousand people. There was a colonel and with him a squadron of 40 Cossacks with rifles to protect us so that nobody would bother us… Then many of the worldly men believed. All those days Cossacks and gendarmes were protecting us and a huge crowd looked at our assembly which was in the street, in the middle of the day, (of) our open Christian faith called New Israel.” There Lubkov abolished all the marriages the sectarians had entered into according to the Orthodox ritual. Instead, he ordered everyone to find a new spouse from among the members to enter into a new, spiritual marital union. Bonch-Bruevich depicts this “family reform” in a very sympathetic way, emphasizing the idea of the woman’s emancipation and liberation from oppression and mistreatment common in the marriages where the spouses did not love each other, but had to live together because of the legal status of their marriage. Often, when only one of the married couple belonged to New Israel, the other took advantage of the opportunity to have a “spiritual spouse” from among the co-religionists. Thus, many such marriages had been de facto broken by the time Lubkov proclaimed them of no validity. Other authors, like Bondar’, say that this reform was a complete disaster and mention “destroyed households” and “abandoned wives”. The new form of marriage promoted by Lubkov was based upon love alone. For Lubkov and his faithful, such a radical reform was a way of strengthening families, and soon thereafter he announced that divorce was permitted in the sect only once and that it would not be tolerated any longer unless under exceptional circumstances. In 1905 according to the Manifesto on Religious Toleration New Israelites received the right to conduct the registry of civil statistics of their members independently from the Orthodox church and in 1906 Lubkov permitted his followers to remain in marriages that were performed according to the Orthodox rite.

At that time New Israelites returned the icons and other objects of the Orthodox faith to the priests. Lubkov and other New Israelites always pointed out the fact that they returned the icons to the church and not destroyed them.

In 1907 the fourth and the last sodeistvie called “Zion” took place, where a new (and third) concubine of Lubkov (commonly called Mamasha, or Mommy) was presented to the people as the “daughter of Zion”. It should be said that Lubkov’s concubines (he had at least three of them) played an important role in the sect and were revered by the members, although, apparently they did not influence the decision-making in any way. Lubkov’s first Mamasha had a title of Mount Sinai, the second – Mount Tabor, and the third – Mount Zion. The consecutive replacement of Mamashas was considered a symbolical action of great spiritual significance in itself. It meant the progress of Lubkov from one stage to another, even more glorious stage.

The concept of spiritual progress which Lubkov expressed through the exchange of concubines may shed some light on the significance of the new, spiritual marriage that New Israelites were to enter. This spiritual marriage might have been a sodeistvie of a sort, signifying a new phase of spiritual development of the members of the denomination, although this matter certainly requires further research.

The days of the sodeistviia became feast days for New Israel. In addition to the “great feast” celebrated for three days in a row (May 30, 31 and June 1) in the memory of Lubkov’s exile and return, the dates of the three first public actions (February 3, October 20 and October 1) were celebrated respectively as the coming down of Jerusalem, Sermon on the Mount for the 21st century, and the Transfiguration day.

In May, 1905 the first legal Conference of the New Israel communities was convened in the city of Rostov. The Conference adopted the first published document in which the doctrine of New Israel was systematized as required by the law for the purposes of the legalization of the denomination. This document was entitled “The Brief Catechism of the Basic Principles of the Faith of the New Israelite Community” (Kratkii katekhizis osnovnykh nachal very Novoizrail’skoi obshchiny). It was published with the permission of the official censor in 1906 in Rostov.

Building God’s Kingdom

The first attempt to gather New Israelites in one place to live according to their faith dates back to the first years of the twentieth century. Lubkov called them to move to a distant and sparsely populated region of Russian Central Asia, Golodnaia Step’ (the “Hungry Steppe”), but the place apparently justified its sinister name and the experiment soon failed leaving many New Israelites impoverished. The second try of this kind took place in 1908 and the location of the future community chosen by Lubkov appears quite traditional for Russian sectarians; this time his followers moved to Transcaucasia, very close to the former place of Lubkov’s exile, the town of Akstafa. The second attempt was more of a success, and Lubkov himself moved to Akstafa. A New Israelite wrote: “Formerly our brethren were exiled to Transcaucasia, and now, on the contrary, hundreds and thousands of people go (there) voluntarily…”. A total of about 5,000 people followed their leader to build the God’s Kingdom on earth. In 1912 Bonch-Bruevich visited their colonies and was impressed by the relatively high living standards of the colonists and the above average level of their technological advancement. However, Bondar’ mentions bad climate in the new land, and states that some of the colonists preferred to go back home.

In spite of the newly found religious liberty, although rather unstable and fragile, and a tentatively successful colonization effort, Lubkov did not feel he was obtaining exactly what he sought. By 1910 he already thought about leaving Russia altogether and building his Zion in a brand new land. He felt their freedom was not going to last for too long. He wrote to a group of New Israel elders: “…inform all the churches… so that the people would be ready for any incident. The matter is as follows: dark clouds are approaching Israel, the priests and the administration decided to work energetically toward the uprooting of the new sect in Northern Caucasus.” In October, 1910 the Governor of the Caucasus issued a circular letter concerning the activity of the New Israel sect. As a result, in 1910 and 1911 a number of the New Israelite communities were closed down. Most of the Orthodox churchmen and missionaries regarded New Israel as an offspring of khlysty and, as such, not eligible for legalization and not deserving of toleration; an opinion that they vigorously defended and promoted. Occasional arrests of the sectarians resumed. In those circumstances Lubkov decided to move his flock elsewhere and departed for the United States in 1910 or 1911. A group of New Israelites wrote to their friends imprisoned in Voronezh in May, 1911: ” if the freedom given by our Ruler will not be returned, we will have to leave our native Holy Russia for a free country where there is no persecution or oppression on the account of faith.”

According to M. V. Muratov, a journalist who investigated the background, conditions and circumstances of the New Israel immigration, Lubkov who left for North America together with a prominent New Israelite Stepan Matveevich Mishin, could not find anything suitable in Canada or California, the lands in which they took special interest in because the Doukhobors and Molokans, respectively, settled there. Soon Mishin got utterly disappointed with the idea of emigration and left for Russia. Upon return he conveyed his unfavorable opinion to their fellow believers and advised them to stay home. Lubkov, however, was in no mood to give up. He finally reached an agreement with the government of Uruguay that was seeking colonists at that time. The future colony was allotted 25.000 hectares of land and was officially founded on July, 27 1913. The New Israelite immigration continued until August, 1914 when the First World War broke up and put an end to the mass migration. Muratov says the total of about 2000 sectarians moved to Uruguay, which, according to Klibanov, accounted for approximately 10% of the sect membership.

The colony known under the name of San Javier and inhabited mostly by the descendants of the Russian immigrants exists in Uruguay up to this day, but its history knew two waves of re-emigration. A number of the colonists desired to go back for a variety of reasons, from homesickness to dissatisfaction with new conditions to disappointment with Lubkov’s religion. The main engine of the repatriation, though, was the growing disillusionment of Lubkov himself with the new country and the perspectives of building God’s Kingdom in the isolated far-away land. Apparently, the energetic and anxious personality of Lubkov could not put up with the tranquility of a sleepy place where nothing was ever going on.

New Israel congregation in San Javier, c. 1950.   Museo de Los Inmigrantes, San Javier, Uruguay.

The great experiment that was taking shape in Soviet Russia following the First World War and the Revolution, could not leave Vasily Lubkov indifferent and, when he learnt (apparently through his old friend Bonch-Bruevich who became Vladimir Lenin’s personal secretary) about the favorable treatment of formerly oppressed sects by the new Communist government, he made up his mind to go back. A prominent figure among the San Javier New Israelites, Trofim Efremovich Zhidkov, arrived in the USSR in 1923 on a special mission for Lubkov. In 1925 a Conference of New Israel communities in Kropotkin (Krasnodar krai) decided to found a co-operative of fellow-believers and invited the Uruguayan New Israelites to join. At first the Soviet government saw the sectarian co-operatives as similar to state-promoted collective farms and permitted their operation. The district of Sal’sk in Rostov province, a very sparsely populated area, was suggested by the government as a site for sectarian colonies. According to Soviet authors Golosovsky and Krul’, who published a critical book on New Israelite communitarian efforts in the 1920s, about 50% of the population of Sal’sk district (17,500 out of 35,000) were sectarians – Molokans, Doukhobors, Baptists, New Israelites, Adventists and others. In 1925 Lubkov and a group of over 300 re-emigrants went to the USSR. The new colony consisted of a few thousand people from across the USSR and Uruguay and operated as the share-holding company “New Israel”. However, as the political preferences of the authorities changed in the 1930s, the sectarians turned into “enemies of socialism”, their co-operative became a collective farm and was renamed “Red October”, and Lubkov, then a man in his early sixties, was arrested and his further destiny is unknown. Probably, he was exterminated or died in prison. Other sectarian co-operatives and communes shared the same fate. The religion of New Israel continued both in the USSR, semi-legally or illegally, and Uruguay, but the modern history of the sect lies beyond the focus of the present paper.

New Israel and the Doukhobors

Shared Similarities

Although Lubkov was concerned with the task of substantiating and defending his position as a legitimate heir of the past christs, he changed his organization so much that it came to resemble Doukhobors and even Protestants much more than Old Israel. There is considerable disagreement in the sources regarding the alleged ties or shared origin of Israel and the Doukhobors. It should be taken into account that Lubkov himself promoted the idea of a common source that both his denomination and the Doukhobory came from. Bonch-Bruevich upheld this view. Bonch Briuevich says: “Israel and Doukhoborism… are so close to each other, that a person who is not aware of the details of the sectarian opinions, would never tell them apart”. Bonch-Bruevich went as far as to arrange for a meeting of the representatives of New Israel with the Doukhobory in Transcaucasia and noticed that both parties expressed virtually identical opinions on a wide variety of important subjects.

So, it appears that Bonch-Bruevich explained the similarities between the two denominations mostly by their common origin from a hypothetical united church of Spiritual Christians. Klibanov, a Soviet scholar of religion, also could not but affirm those similarities, although his explanation of them differs radically from that of Bonch-Bruevich. Klibanov, following the old tradition of mainstream Orthodox sect classification, linked Lubkov’s followers along with the Katasonovites and the Fasters, with the old Russian Khristovshchina. For him as a Marxist, the main force behind all social changes was economics. In conformity with this view, the Israel sect was viewed as a version of the Khristovshchina, but transformed and changed in order to serve the new capitalist forms of economy better. Klibanov’s opinion of the New Israel/Dukhobor relationship was shaped in accordance with the same logic. Lubkov’s emphasis on “reason” and “free thought” instead of the ecstasy of his predecessors was seen by Klibanov as a reflection of the worldview shared by “small and middle bourgeoisie” that comprised a major segment of the New Israelites, especially their hierarchy. Klibanov, who frequently cites Bonch-Bruevich’s book, gives the following explanation of the similarities with the Doukhobors: “For as much as the masses of New Israelites were getting rid of the ascetic prohibitions of the old Khristovshchina, and the various forms of the mystical ecstasy were being pushed out of their worship, they were approaching the Doukhobors in their religious views”. A real insight into the core of the problem is given in another document cited by Klibanov, a Report sent to the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church by a group of New Israelites in 1909. In that Report the representatives of the sect argued that their denomination had nothing in common with the khlysty, but “in all probability, had a close brotherly kinship with the Doukhobors”. Klibanov stated that the New Israelites so emphatically rejected the idea of their affinity with the Khristovshchina, it was as if they were defending their relation to Adam and Eve against the evolutionary theory with its ape ancestor.

Bondar’, the official who wrote a review of sectarianism, noted, that the matter of the essence and origins of New Israel was “an object of controversy” in the literature on sectarianism. He argued, however, that New Israel as well as other sects of Israel and Fasters were a branch of the khlysty.

The missionaries Aivazov and Nikol’sky unanimously supported the idea of the khlysty character and genesis of the Israel sect, their argument being based primarily on the ecstatic manifestations at the Israel meetings and the idea of the incarnation of Christ in living men.

Butkevich in his Review upheld a view of the Israelites, who he called by a derogatory popular term shaloputy throughout his book, as a separate entity, although sharing many features with the Khristovshchina. Nevertheless, a few pages later, in a chapter about New Israel, Butkevich affirmed that the latter were just a variety of the khlysty, which demonstrates either the force of the mental inertia, or an inaccurate handling of facts.

Eugene Clay of Arizona State University sees the Israel sect as an independent religious movement that grew out of Orthodoxy rather than an offshoot of any other sect of Spiritual Christians. The issue of the New Israel/Dukhobory relationship is not discussed in the article on the Israel sect. However, Clay calls Lubkov a “sincere admirer of the Dukhobors”, which in a way points out to the clue and names the true reason of the New Israel reformation.

History of the Doukhobors

It is appropriate to give a brief account of the Doukhobor history, doctrine and practice in order to evaluate the nature of the changes made by Lubkov. The genesis of the Doukhobors who were among the most prominent and widely-known branches of the Spiritual Christians seems somewhat obscure. There was some speculation on the foreign roots of the sect. Particularly, Quakers were named as the possible originators of the Doukhobors. Fry also believes that certain shared history with the khlysty is possible, although far from being proved.

The birthplace of the Doukhobors was the southern part of Tambov province. According to P. G. Ryndziunsky, a Soviet researcher of anticlerical movements among the Russian peasantry, the emergence of the movement dates back to 1760s. The movement faced considerable persecution and the first trial of proto-Doukhobor sectarians occurred in 1768. However, oppression did not stop the movement and the exiled sectarians spread their views outside their native province, including Ekaterinoslav (now Khar’kov, Ukraine) province, the territory Fry considers the second focus of the movement.

In 1802 the Doukhobors’ plea to be settled in a separate colony was granted by Tsar Alexander. They remained there until 1842 when they were moved to the provinces of Transcaucasia by order of Nicholas I. There they established a quasi-theocratic autonomous entity referred by them Doukhoboria. By the 1890s the Doukhobor sect split into a few fractions, with so-called Bol’shaia Partiia (the “Large Party”) being the most radical. Partly under the influence of Leo Tolstoy and under the charismatic leadership of Petr Verigin, they adapted strict pacifism, vegetarianism, and community of goods that led them to a serious opposition to civil authorities. Finally, in 1899 the majority of the Transcaucasian Doukhobors left Russia for Canada where they still live in the provinces of Saskatchewan and British Columbia. The initial period of their life in Canada was marked by a deep disappointment with Western capitalism and occasional clashes and mutual misunderstanding with Canadian authorities. The first generation of Doukhobors more than once thought about returning to Russia, and tried to reach an agreement on this matter with the Russian state, but the First World War, civil unrest and lack of genuine interest and involvement from the side of Tsarist officials made repatriation impossible. As we saw, the same kind of feeling played out in the case of the New Israelites and their immigration to Uruguay.

So, how and in what sense was New Israel related to the Doukhobors? There hardly was any shared origin: by the time the proto-Israel movement, the Fasters, emerged, the bulk of the Doukhobor community was already far away on the Milky Waters. Besides, which is even more important, the Fasters and Kopylov began as “improved Orthodox”, recognized the Church sacraments, read Orthodox spiritual literature and even sought the ecclesiastic approval while Doukhoborism was a protest movement from the very first days of its existence, fiercely rejecting every form and outward symbol of the official Church. Ryndziunsky cites numerous testimonies of the earliest participants of the movement to this effect, for example: “you should not go to the church, made by hands of men, there is no salvation in it, also you should not worship icons, for those are also painted by the hands of men, nor should you confess your sins and take communion from the priests.”

The Fasters and Old Israel were based upon mysticism and ecstatic worship, while the Doukhobors earned the fame of a rationalistic sect. The Fasters and Old Israel were clandestine movements during the time of oppression and never tried to get legalized even after the policy of religious toleration was proclaimed. The Doukhobors, on the contrary, never made a secret of their convictions, living their faith even under very unfortunate circumstances. The followers of Kopylov and Katasonov had no explicit communitarian aspirations or millenarian ideas of the Kingdom of God. Instead, they understood the Kingdom in strictly spiritual terms. The Doukhobors, in their turn, always emphasized the community and their self-identification as the chosen people led them to a desire to be separate from the world in a literal way. This is not to say that the Israel movement did not have anything in common with other branches of Spiritual Christians. All of them share the ideas of worshipping God in spirit and truth, of primacy of the spiritual content over material form, and either reject Scripture or understand it allegorically. However, the differences are too serious to admit the speculation on some genetic kinship between the two movements.

The New Israel prayer home in San Javier as it appears today.  Museo de Los Inmigrantes, San Javier, Uruguay.

Lubkov’s “Neo-Doukhoborism”

How is it, then, that the New Israel sect of Vasily Lubkov managed in a short time to rid itself of practically all those features that separated the Israel sect and the Doukhobors so that his denomination earned the name of “neo-Doukhoborism”?

There are a number of considerations that allow for an opinion that Lubkov might have consciously attempted to change the doctrine and practice of the sect he governed in order to make it resemble the Doukhobors whom he admired and that he was exposed to such a strong influence during his exile. Of course, this assumption requires separate and thorough research in order to assess the degree and the mechanisms of such an influence, but certain observations concerning the matter will fit the purpose of this paper.

Klibanov believed that New Israel was approaching Doukhoborism gradually in the process of dropping the old ecstatic forms of worship and placing more emphasis on rationalism. Being a Marxist, Klibanov thought that rationalization was necessitated by the development of capitalism which favored rational faith. However, the new capitalist type of economy was no obstacle to the emergence and rapid spread of ecstatic Pentecostalism in exactly the same time period. Besides, the kind of organization New Israel was did not leave much space for natural development, sorting things out etc. It was an authoritarian organization where the word of the “Papa” was the law. Bonch-Bruevich said: “The leader, Christ – that’s who the chief of the organization is. His power is unlimited and absolute”.

The Israel sect takes a peculiar and ambiguous place among other sects of Spiritual Christians. In comparison with their “elder brothers”, Molokans and Doukhobors, the Israelites look weaker and less wholesome for a number of reasons. Lack of a fixed or written doctrine led to disunity, feeble organization created internal disorders, secrecy gave way to rumors and false accusations, absence of positive publicity aggravated the situation and, finally, the association with the “baby-eaters” khlysty stigmatized the sect and deprived it of all opportunities. Vasily Lubkov realized all these things too well and he had to deal with the problem.

Members of the Israel sect, due to the secrecy of their faith and outward Orthodoxy were rarely exiled to Transcaucasia. Even when they were, it was usually done on a case by case basis, rather than en masse. The exiles usually came back to their native lands, as did Katasonov, Mokshin and Poslenichenko. Whereas other sectarians, Molokans and Doukhobors, lived in Transcaucasian provinces as permanent settlers, considering that land their earthly homeland and enjoyed a considerable freedom of worship. Lubkov, who was exiled to Transcaucasia when he was 19 and where he spent a number of years, should have felt quite lonesome spiritually in a place where his co-religionists were not at all numerous, not very well known, and even if known, probably under the shameful name of khlysty. It was difficult for Lubkov to find spiritual companions in Transcaucasia, in spite of the variety of faiths and denominations existing there. Moreover, Lubkov mentions representatives of a number of other branches of Russian religious dissent as people he tried to make friends with, but without any success. “I have been to many meetings, where gather people who look for bliss, all of them are haughty and bad people, as Molokans, Baptists, Pashkovites, Sabbath-keepers, Jehovists, Brethren of Universal Community , Stundists, Jumpers and others.” A rather negative characteristic of Molokans and Baptists that Lubkov met on his way to the place of exile is reiterated elsewhere in his autobiography. Interestingly, the Doukhobors who were quite numerous and prominent in the Caucasus, did not appear on Lubkov’s black list.

According to Bonch-Bruevich, after having been summoned to Tiflis, Lubkov was hiding in the mountainous villages of the Doukhobors with whom he might have established a close relationship. There is also the testimony of the Vladikavkaz missionary I. Kormilin (not supported by any other evidence, though) that Lubkov at some point was a resident of the town of Ardagan in Kars province, that is, right in the area where thousands of the Doukhobors resided. The future leader of New Israel might feel something of an inferiority complex comparing the sad circumstances of the fragmented Israel with the vibrant faith of the surrounding Doukhobors. Besides, the time of Lubkov’s sojourn in Kars province coincided with a rise of the radical movement among the latter of which Lubkov must have been an eyewitness.

Luker’ia Kalmykova, the female leader of Dukhoboria, died in 1886 without having left any direct heir. The matter of leadership and continuity of leadership was crucial for the Doukhobors since their colonies were a state within a state with their own internal rules, security forces, social protection mechanisms, and, last but not least, a communal treasury that was traditionally entrusted to the chief. Petr Verigin, a favorite of the deceased leader, claimed his rights to the throne. At the same time, the closest relatives of Kalmykova, wealthy men with good connections to the regional government, did the same. The majority (generally the poorer people) led by Verigin formed the Large Party, while better off Doukhobors joined ether Middle, or Small, Parties.

Verigin lost the case in the court and the Large Party separated from the rest under the banner of revival and religious radicalism. The Large Party Doukhobors adopted communism and denounced any exploitation, proclaimed vegetarianism and non-resistance. In 1895 the Doukhobor radicals publicly burned all the guns they possessed as a sign of their non-violent stand which provoked brutal repression. In 1896 Verigin asked the Royal family to let his followers settle elsewhere in Russia as a compact group or else permit them to emigrate. In 1899 the Large Party Doukhobors left for Cyprus and then for Canada.

The Doukhobor Influence

Such was the background of Lubkov’s sojourn in Transcaucasia. In his writings, he repeatedly reflected upon those events and brought parallels between the two sects. Lubkov compared Kalmykova with Mokshin, and the situation within Old Israel after Katasonov’s death with the power crisis of the Doukhobors after Luker’ia Kalmykova died. Interestingly enough, he calls Luker’ia by the diminutive Lushechka. To understand what Lubkov really meant by that, we must know that the members of the Israel sect were known for calling their own brethren by diminutive names, a practice unknown among other sects of Spiritual Christians (except Doukhobors). The controversial claims to the leadership among the Doukhobors by Verigin were used to explain the way the christhood was transferred to Lubkov himself, that is, “orally, to a (spiritually) close person”.

The Doukhobor theology was likewise employed by Lubkov. Some of the early accounts of the Doukhobor doctrine found in the “The Book of Life” (Zhivotnaia Kniga) had a form of Questions and Answers. Lubkov quotes almost verbatim from the Doukhobor original, a fact noted by Bonch-Bruevich. In “The New Sermon and the Prophecy of the Holy Israel” written by Lubkov and published by Bonch-Bruevich, the New Israel “Papa” recommended such an answer to a question about the sectarians’ attitude to the church: “Question: Why don’t you respect the (Orthodox) Church? Answer: We respect the holy church… the assembly of the faithful, and your temples and rites are alien to us, we do not expect them to bring salvation.”

The Doukhobor “Book of Life” has almost identical answer to the same question. A piece in the form of Questions and Answers written by Stepan Mishin, a prominent sectarian who traveled with Lubkov to North America, also has a few allusions to the Doukhobor views on the essence of church and the spiritual understanding of baptism. At that, we should remember, that before Lubkov the Israelites never proclaimed the emphatic denial of the Orthodox Church with all its rules, rites and teachings a part of their own worldview.

Matryoshka doll figurines line the streets of San Javier, Uruguay, symbols of Russian culture brought by the New Israel sect.  Museo de Los Inmigrantes, San Javier, Uruguay.

Frequent references to God as “reason” and “mind” and emphasizing the role of reason, reasoning and common sense in Lubkov’s writings surprisingly resemble the highly rationalistic theological opinions of the Doukhobors, who even understood the Holy Trinity as the unity of memory, reason and will. In his short pamphlet “About God”, Lubkov stated that God is a “reasonable Spirit” who chose to dwell in “reasonable souls”, to move humans toward “spiritual growth and consciousness” and let them develop a “reasonable faith”. In the “Handbook of the New Israel Community”, Lubkov stated that the New Israelites recognize only one God, namely “the doctrine of sound reason, which is the spirit of life”. This emphasis on reason, hardly typical of the Old Israel sect, might have been adopted from the Doukhobors, especially from Verigin’s radical branch.

Contemporary observers noticed that the personalities of Verigin and Lubkov had a lot in common. Muratov openly compares both sectarian leaders, characterizing Lubkov as a “man of unusual energy and strong will, never giving up in spite of any obstacles and, like Verigin, taking into account only his own desires”.

The obsession with the idea of community-building also seems to be imported from Transcaucasia. The mystical and otherworldly perspective of the Fasters and Old Israel sect never gave any space to communitarian or millenarian ideas. For them, the Kingdom of God was an otherworldly, although highly desired, spiritual condition of ecstatic joy; something immaterial, rather than literal and tangible, whereas Lubkovites were taught that the Kingdom of God is the “righteous, moral, perfect life of men on Earth” that they were supposed to build.

Finally, the idea of emigration may be regarded as a reflection, probably to a certain degree unconscious, of Lubkov’s wish to be in all aspects equal to the Doukhobors, although apparently the New Israelites were in an incomparably better off position than the Doukhobors at the time they left Russia as it was noted by Muratov.

Summarizing this paper, it should be said that the religious history of humankind knows quite a few examples of amazing and unexpected interference and intersection of ideas and personalities, at times resulting in very remarkable phenomena of the religious thought and practice. However, it is not always easy to uncover and reveal the true nature of such influences, especially when the available historical material appears to be inadequate. This paper is an attempt to shed some more light on the genesis and development of a small Russian religious movement that has hardly ever enjoyed a noticeable amount of scholarly attention. But, being as small as it is, the sect of New Israel and its uncommon history occupies a unique place in the annals of the Russian religious dissent and serves as a good illustration of the hidden force of chance and the great role of personality.

About the Author

A native of Russia, Sergey Petrov has a strong personal and scholarly interest in Russian sectarian religious studies.  He earned a Masters Degree at the University of Calgary and his thesis, Nikolai Il’in and his Jehovists Followers: Crossroads of German Pietistic Chiliasm and Russian Religious Dissent dealt with a Russian millenarian movement of Jehovists, which emerged in 1840s under the direct influence of German Pietistic Chiliasm and, particularly, writings by Johann Heinrich Jung-Stilling. He is currently a doctoral candidate at the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Calgary.  His current work focuses on Russian and Ukrainian Evangelical Christians in Western Canada as a distinct group of religiously motivated settlers, similar to the Doukhobors, Hutterites, and Mennonites.

The Doukhobor Peace Day

by Koozma J. Tarasoff

A centuries-old festival honouring the Apostles Peter and Paul, Peter’s Day (June 29th Old Calendar, July 12th New Calendar) coincides with the birth of Doukhobor leader Peter “Lordly” Verigin in 1859 and the “Burning of Arms” in 1895. Author Koozma J. Tarasoff explores the enormous significance of this “Peace Day” to the Doukhobor movement.

The significance of the Burning of Arms event for the Doukhobors is enormous. It is the concrete act which catapulted the Doukhobors into the international arena. It was a moment when civilization was presented with an alternative strategy of living without resorting to the use of excessive force particularly the barrel of the gun, the bomb, and the deadly missile.

St. Peter’s Day is one of the centuries-old  feast days celebrated by the Russian Orthodox church in honour of the Apostles and martyrs of Christ St. Peter and St. Paul. Doukhobors evolved out of the Orthodox church environment. And while they rejected most of the trappings of the church, it was inevitable that some habits would remain. For example, Doukhobors adopted the practice of standing up at a sobranie with men on one side an women on the other. And many continued to observe certain old church holidays (e.g. Easter, Christmas, and St. Peter’s Day) as natural times in which to come together to meditate, socialize, and have a feast. They argued that participating in any one of these or other external rituals does not negate their inner core values of love, beauty, and the God within.

It was therefore natural for the Doukhobors (at the inspiration of Peter V. Verigin) to choose June 29th (Old Style Calendar; new style is July 11th) to hold a manifestation for peace. This date was at the end of the rebirth season of Spring and the beginning of Summer.  The fact that the event fell on Peter V. Verigin’s birthday is coincidental. Moreover, the centuries-old  custom of naming a child after the Orthodox saint on whose feast day the child was born continued among the Doukhobors in isolated cases. Peter V. Verigin (1859-1924), for example, was born on the 29th of June and was named for the already-important feast day of St. Peter and St. Paul. Thus, the soil for this major happening was well prepared. The manifestation had already been preceded  with the first acts of civil disobedience that year on Easter Sunday by Matvey Lebedev and ten other collegues who refused to do military training. The soil was prepared for a major happening.

Burning of Arms, June 29, 1895

The June 29th event was a historic first. For the Doukhobors this arms burning event is primarily known as Peter’s Day or St. Peter’s Day. However, it ought to be called a Doukhobor Peace Day. Why? Because  this Peace Day is pitched at the wider public if not the world. This symbolic humanitarian act is one of the most remarkable acts that the world has ever known. A group of some 7000 Doukhobors in three areas of the Russian Caucasus on the 29th June 1895 totally refused to kill other human beings regardless of
consequences. This was a new direction for the human race, one that gave hope to the notion of getting rid of militarism and the scourge of war. 

This big idea of these Russian peasants was visionary, revolutionary and non-sectarian. From the message that there is God, love and beauty in every person (in which they moved the divine from the walls and halls of the church as well as the minister and the Bible and relocated it in their hearts), they developed in simplistic fashion  a full philosophy of nonviolence, equality and love. This 1895 event transformed the Russian Spirit Wrestlers into the category of a social movement out of the narrow confines of a sect. They became true pioneers of the spirit. 

We all know that language is not static; it is an organic entity that changes with the times to be more in conformity with the new living meanings of the day. Hence today there is an urgent need for a new  terminology which fits closer the meaning of Spirit Wrestlers and their outstanding action in 1895. For me, the Doukhobor Peace Day is closer to the intended message of our ancestors — and therefore this pregnant title ought to be used as much as possible. Of course, people are free to use Petrov Dien or Peter’s Day if they like. But there is strong rationale to use the more universalistic, the more comprehensive as well as the more accurate designation. In brief, we need to embrace the joyous spirit of the real meaning of the momentous 1895 Burning of Arms event.

Perhaps the Doukhobors were ahead of their time. Perhaps not. It was Lev N. Tolstoy who described the Russian Doukhobors as ‘people of the 25th century’.  I like to look upon the 1895 message as bringing hope to a troubled society today. Guns, bombs, and missiles destroy  the very notion of civilized men, women, and children in society. Getting rid of these diabolical weapons is perhaps the first step to finding a solution to our human problems.

English for Doukhobors: 110 Years of Russian-English Contact in Canada

by Gunter Schaarschmidt

Over the last 110 years, the use of the Doukhobor Russian dialect has been gradually displaced by English among Doukhobors living in Canada. The following article by Gunter Schaarschmidt of the Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies, University of Victoria, examines this trend in the context of “special” or “ritual” language used by the Doukhobors in their religious ceremony. This article is reproduced with the editor’s permission from Nadezhda L. Grejdina (ed.), “Aktual’nye problemy kommunikacii i kul’tury”, Vol. 10. “Sbornik nauchnyx trudov rossijskix i zarubezhnyx uchenyx” (Moskva/Pyatigorsk: Pyatigorsk State Linguistic University, 2009), pp. 30-43. The author observes that, to the extent Doukhobor cultural and spiritual traditions will be maintained in Canada, the question is whether these will be carried out using the vehicle of Russian or English. If it is the latter, can these cultural and spiritual traditions still be considered “genuine”?

1. Introduction

The present paper will deal with a small subtopic in the discipline of sociolinguistics, i.e., the disappearance of “special” language, such as the “ritual” language as used by the Doukhobors in Canada, and its replacement by English special language. Much of what will be said about the former, also applies to the disappearance of the dialect, which is a living testimony of the various contacts the Doukhobors had in their migrations (see, for example, the many lexical items that stem from contact with non-Slavic peoples in Transcaucasia as described in Tarasoff 1963). The Doukhobors emigrated to Canada from Russia beginning in 1899 and settled first in an area near the border between Saskatchewan and Manitoba. In the years 1908 to 1913, a little more than half of them moved to the Kootenay district of British Columbia (Tarasoff 2002:8-14). Figure (1) shows the original Doukhobor settlements in the Province of Saskatchewan and the migration path from there to the Province of British Columbia. (Note: Permission to reproduce the map in Figure 1 from Tarasoff (1982: 100) is herewith gratefully acknowledged.). At the present time, the number of Doukhobors is estimated to be 30,000 with 13,000 residing in British Columbia. Their rate of language maintenance is about 60% (Schaarschmidt 1998:466).

Figure (1)  Map of Community Doukhobors’ Move from Saskatchewan to British Columbia, 1908-1913.

2. Ritual Language

In essence, the Doukhobor psalms and prayers contain the main elements of a tradition that is not otherwise fixed in a written form. These oral works are composed in a very ancient, Russian Church Slavonic form of language that is often no longer comprehensible even to educated members of the community. In the last 40 years, since the inception of compulsory schooling, many of the psalms and prayers have been recorded in written form. Until that time, most of them were learnt by heart and enriched with regional elements, e.g., Ukrainianisms (see Schaarschmidt 1995). The psalms embody a large part of the Doukhobor belief system, somewhat like a basic communal “constitution” (Mealing 1975:51), as, e.g., in the set of ten psalms entitled “From the Common Views of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood”, one of which (No. 5) is given below with an interlinear and a free translation (some of the words have been corrected; it is not clear whether these words were typing errors in Mealing’s work, or whether they were handed down orally in this way and lost some of their grammar). (Note: The transliteration used in this paper is a hybrid of the Library of Congress (LC) system and of IPA. Thus, sh zh ch are retained from LC but c x j from IPA. This will allow a diacritic-free transliteration of Cyrillic.).

Mir     sostoit   iz    dvizhenija; vsë stremitsja k
World consists from movement;   all  strives        to
sovershenstvu i     cherez ètot  process staraetsja
perfection         and through  this  process it strives
soedinit’sja so   svoim nachalom, kak by
to unite        with its       beginning    as   if
vozvratit’ sozrevshij     plod semeni.
to return   having ripened fruit  to seed

“The world is based upon going forward; all things strive for perfection, and through this process seek to rejoin their source, as ripe fruit yields seeds [probably incorrectly in Mealing 1975:53: “as seeds yield ripe fruit”]”.

3. English For Doukhobors

The following constitutes a kind of mini-history of Russian-English contact since the arrival of the Doukhobors in Canada. The historical outline is not exhaustive and ignores many sociolinguistic variables, such as federal and provincial politics with regard to forced schooling, attitudes to Russian language use, and generational differences.

3.1. Anna Tchertkoff’s “English Grammar”

3.1.1. Anna Tchertkoff

More than 100 years ago, Anna Tchertkoff (1859-1927) received a request from the Doukhobors who had emigrated to Canada to write a textbook that would help them and other Russian immigrants learn the English language. She went to work and published such a textbook in her own publishing house in 1900. Anna Tchertkoff was the wife of Vladimir Tchertkoff (1854-1936), an outspoken defender of Doukhobor rights in the Caucasus who after publicizing their plight was exiled from Russia and settled in England in 1897. Together with his wife Anna, he translated, edited, and published Leo Tolstoy’s works. Anna and Vladimir collaborated in founding and running the Free Age Press in English and the Svobodnoe Slovo (“Free Word”) in Russian.

In her preface, Anna Tchertkoff states that the selection of lexical items and phraseological units is based on the needs that the Doukhobors in Canada will have in communicating with their Anglophone hosts. She cautions, however, that the scope and
length of the work (101 pages plus 17 pages of phonetic, orthographic, and grammatical preliminaries) cannot provide an exhaustive listing of words and sentences that a Russian immigrant might require either in Canada or the US. She is also asking readers to send her comments and suggestions that she would like to include in a planned second edition. To our knowledge, such a second edition was never published.

3.1.2. The Pedagogical Variable

Ignoring for the moment the first 17 pages (see 3.1.3. below), the main body of the text has the form of a dictionary or vocabulary lists as well as lists of phrases with the directionality Russian – English. Interspersed in this set of lists are continuous Russian language text segments with interlinear translation and phonetic transcription. The texts illustrate aspects of Canadian geography and culture. As Tarasoff puts it: “they contained propaganda, designed to assist them [the Doukhobors] against the Canadian authorities” (2002:400).

3.1.3. The Linguistic Variable

In what is possibly one of the first contrastive Russian-English analyses, Tchertkoff presents the main differences in the phonology of the two languages. She warns the reader that with her phonetic transcription using the Cyrillic alphabet, it is not always possible to automatically induce the correct pronunciation. Thus the grapheme th has two pronunciations in English, neither of which can be adequately rendered using Russian graphemes. For voiced [δ] she uses the digraph tz, admonishing the reader, however, that “it must not be pronounced as the two separate Russian letters but as one continuant sound, through the teeth, lisping…” (Tchertkoff 1900:v). For the voiceless counterpart [θ], she recommends the Cyrillic letter θ that was in use before the October Revolution. This letter is of Greek origin and originally had the sound value [θ]. However, when Russian adopted the letter, its pronunciation in Modern Greek had already changed into [f], but Russian continued to use it until 1913 primarily in names of Greek origin, such as Theodore (θedorь), even though it was pronounced as an [f].

In the remarks on the English vowel system, Tchertkoff stresses the fact that there can be both long (diphthongized) and short vowels in stressed syllables, which contrasts with the Russian phonological system where vowels under stress are always lengthened (and diphthongized). One problem in her analysis is that she takes the British English pronunciation as a basis, e.g., in words like consume and duty where in most Canadian dialects the u is pronounced [uw], not [yuw].

Standard (Moscow) Russian does not have phonemically relevant [h], so Tchertkoff renders this high-frequency English phoneme with Russian [x]. She points out, however, that “our Little Russians [i.e., Ukrainians] pronounce the letter g as [h]”
(Tchertkoff 1900:ix), forgetting, apparently, that the Doukhobor dialect does exactly the same, i.e., it has phonemic /h/. The problem here is, of course, that the Cyrillic alphabet never had a grapheme for the sound [h], and that written g is used in Ukrainian and Doukhobor Russian to denote both [h] and [g], the latter occurring mainly in borrowings (Canadian Ukrainian developed a special grapheme for phonetic [g]). In any case, a contrastive analysis of the phonological systems of Doukhobor Russian and English would predict that Doukhobor speakers should have no problem with English /h/.

In the last section of her preliminaries, Anna Tchertkoff tackles the definite/indefinite article in English. Russian does not have an article, using mainly word order to fulfill the function of the and a(n). She explains the use of the definite/indefinite article in English in terms of the known/unknown variables, postponing a more detailed analysis of this grammatical problem, and of many others, to the preparation of a second part of the grammar.

3.1.4. The Sociolinguistic Variable

The selection of the lexical items, phrases, and texts in the book is determined by two factors: 1) unlike many other grammars, Tchertkoff’s grammar is not aimed at the educated Russian reader, the leisure traveller, or the business traveller, but at the needs of the 7,500 Doukhobor immigrants in Canada; thus, the language presented is Canadian English; and 2) apart from terminology used in the Doukhobors’ daily work, the grammar concentrates on certain abstract concepts required for them to communicate their belief system and rituals to their hosts. This second factor seems to be at variance with the Doukhobors’ attitude to English. After all, they had come to Canada “to preserve the cultural identity of which their language is an intimate part” (Harshenin 1964:39). Thus, they borrowed from English what was absolutely essential to their work environment, i.e., terms relating to the railroad, the sawmills, gadgets, units of measure, money (see the list compiled by Harshenin 1967:216-30). Furthermore, until the 1930’s the Doukhobors resisted any pressure by the Canadian authorities to send their children to schools and thus expose them to daily English instruction. Perhaps this is the reason why there was never any need for a second edition, or why the planned second part never appeared: the grammar was simply not used by the Doukhobors. However, another reason may be that the Tchertkoffs returned to Russia and settled there in 1909, a move that would have cut their ties with the Doukhobor immigrants in Canada.

3.2. Interference Phenomena

In the late 1930s, a Canadian writer was able to make fun in her diary of the heavily accented English spoken by the Doukhobors, as illustrated in the following passage from her book (O’Neail 1962:104):

Eh-h-h-h, how moch monya! … And now every mawnt’
Eh,          how  much  money       and  now  every  month
we’re gonna   gyet like dot  moch  monya!
we’re   going to get   like  that  much  money
And today mawder-my weell go Nyelson
and  today  mother-my    we’ll    go to Nelson
and buy la-awtsa t’eengs! E-h-h, how lawtsa
and  buy lots of      things    Eh,     how   lots of
weell buy!
we’ll    buy

“Eh, how much money [we received], and now every month we are going to receive just as much money! And today my mother and I, we will go to Nelson and buy a lot of things! Eh, what a lot of [things] we will buy.”

The above passage shows typical Russian phonetic interference phenomena, such as palatalization before front vowels (monya, gyet, Nyelson); rendering short vowels in a stressed syllable as long vowels (mawnt’, t’eengs, mawder); t’ (aspirated) for voiceless th (teengs), and d for voiced th (dotmawder). Syntactically, we note 1) the postpositioning of the possessive, an archaism in Russian but typical of Doukhobor speech (mawder-my); 2) the frequent use of and at the beginning of utterances; and 3) the absence of a preposition in go Nyelson, possibly as a transference from mute Russian bilabial [w] for v before consonants.

When Hazel O’Neail returned to the area in 1962, i.e., 24 years later, she was able to note that “the old accent lingers in some cases, though not nearly as pronounced, and in many I caught not a trace at all. Furthermore, the offensive ‘and’ which used to preface every remark…seems to have disappeared altogether” (O’Neail 1962:141). Today, more than one generation later, only Doukhobors in their eighties and nineties show traces of an accent in English. All others speak a Canadian English of the Western variety, and for most of them English is their first language.

4. Lost Categories

4.1. Language and Culture

The loss of languages is often compared to the decimation and eventual extinction of animal and plant species. For language, changes in environment would mean that, to quote Wurm (1991:3):

the cultural and social settings in which a given language had been functioning,
usually for a very long time, have been replaced by new and quite different ones as
a result of irresistible culture contact and clash, with the traditional language
unsuited for readily functioning as a vehicle of expression of the new culture.

And to continue with Wurm (1991:17): “With the death of a language…, an irreplaceable unit in our knowledge and understanding of human thought and world-view has been lost forever.”

One word of caution that must be heeded by the investigator is whether the loss of linguistic categories follows the loss of the underlying cultural categories, or to put it the other way around, whether linguistic categories are retained in a language long after the underlying cultural categories have been lost. In a language revival process this interrelationship would imply that the revival of linguistic categories entails the revival of the underlying cultural categories.

Thus, in the case of Doukhobor culture, having been removed from Russian society for more than 100 years, many of the set patterns of this society were also removed and supplanted by Anglo-Canadian patterns. The Doukhobors have of course always been a society within a society but through the interaction with the dominant society, have assimilated and/or retained patterns of the latter.

The loss of the dialect reflects the general levelling of dialectal differences in the world’s languages and is therefore as general a process as the loss of lesser used languages. Revival of dialects does occur but in the case of Doukhobor Russian would be made more difficult due to the competition of the dialect with Standard Russian. This entire question must be left to a different investigation (see also below, Section 5).

The loss of a special language, such as Doukhobor ritual language, can only be compared to the loss of other special languages in the world, viz., the loss of Latin in Christian churches, the loss of the scientific functional style in many of the world’s smaller languages (and even some of the major languages), and perhaps the loss of writing systems, such as cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and Mayan. An anthropologist like Mark Mealing rhetorically deplores the rendering of Doukhobor psalms in English: “can the psalms convey their true meanings if they are not heard or read in Russian?” (Mealing 1995:41); he concedes, however, that one can expect to “find something deeply present in such potent texts, even through the mask of translation” (Mealing 1995:41). This view is apparently shared by the younger generation of Doukhobors, i.e., 29 years or younger, who do not support the concept of language being a carrier of culture and belief (Friesen and Verigin 1996: 147).

There is also regional variation in this respect; thus, the 2004 festivities connected with Peter’s Day were conducted primarily in English in Saskatchewan (Note: Private communication by Larry Ewashen, Director of the Doukhobor Museum in Castlegar, BC.), while the same festivities in British Columbia were conducted in Russian. (The author of this paper was present during part of the Sunday festivities (June 27, 2004) on the grounds of the Doukhobor Museum in Castlegar, BC, and can thus vouch for this fact. It must be pointed out, however, that the choice of language in both Saskatchewan and British Columbia is apparently also audience-conditioned, i.e., with a predominantly English-speaking audience, English translations will be used at least in part of the ceremonies in the West Kootenay area as well. It may be worth noting here that the Doukhobor community in the Republic of Georgia has apparently been successful in maintaining both the dialect and the ritual style although the number of persons able to recite the psalms is decreasing there as well (for a recent analysis, see Bezhenceva 2007: 123–139).)

On the basis of translations of Doukhobor ritual texts, we can arrive at a tentative list of lost categories or untranslatable (“cultural substance”) features.

4.2. Psalm No. 166

It will be worthwhile here contrasting an excerpt from psalm No. 166 with its English translation to ascertain just what may have been lost in the translation (the annotation DP stands for discourse particle).

Mladye moi junoshi, vy  projdëte  lesy    tëmnye,
Young   my   youth     you will pass  forests dark
vzyjdite na gory         krutye, pristupite k  morju
climb     on  mountains steep    step up     to sea
chërnomu, stan’te zhe vy   na   Noev   korabl’. bujny
black          board   DP   you onto Noah’s ark        boisterous
vetry  sbushevalis’,
winds  raged
chërno more vskolyxalos’. slëzno  vosplakalis’
black    sea    heaved           tearfully cried out
mladye junoshi pered Gospodom: Gospodi, Gospodi! pochto
young    youth    before   Lord            Lord         Lord        why
dopustil  bujnye     vetry  bushevat’, morskie volny  volnovat’
(you) let   boisterous winds rage           ocean    waves  surge
chërno more kolyxat’, chto nel’zja      projti    v    Tvoj
black    sea    heave      that   impossible to-pass into Your
Erusalim-grad, posmotret’ tam  velik  stolb ognennyj, on zhe
Jerusalem-city   to-view        there great  pillar  fiery           it   DP
vozsijaet ot     zemli i    do neba.
shines      from earth  and to  sky

Notes: Vzyjdite: An archaic form, cf. Standard Russian vzojdëte. The suffix –ite is an imperative suffix not expected in this context. Stan’te: This is an imperative form instead of the expected staneteVozsijaet: Standard Russian orthography has vossijaet.

And here is the translation as taken from Mealing (1995:43-44):

“My young men, you will go on through shadowy forests, you will go up into lofty mountains, you will come to the gloomy sea, you will embark in Noah’s ship. The wild winds were uproarious, the dark sea was stirred up. The young men wept bitter tears
before the Lord: Lord, Lord! Why allow the wild winds to rage, the waves of the sea to billow up, the dark sea to heave? It is impossible for us to come to your Jerusalem-town, there to look at the great fiery pillar, it shines from earth to heaven.”

4.3. What Is Lost

The linguistic features examined in this subsection are 1) those which represent Church Slavonic elements that serve as mnemonic devices in the oral transmission of the psalms; and 2) those which due to their phonetic structure have an alliterative-parallel function and thus do not possess any semantic value.

4.3.1. The Postnominal Position of Adjectives

The postnominal position of adjectives is a normal syntactic rule for French, and yet no one would want to claim that all French translations into English are inadequate. The reason is that a normal syntactic phenomenon in French is translated into a normal syntactic phenomenon in English, i.e., the prenominal position of modifiers. In Russian, however, the postnominal position of adjectives is highly marked, whereas in the Doukhobor ritual style this position is a stylistic possibility for incorporating invariant mnemonic aids. In [the above psalm] text the postnominal position of long-form adjectives is almost the norm, while the short forms are always prenominal, cf. the opposition prenominal vs. postnominal in chërno more : k morju chërnomu and, in one and the same noun phrase, velik stolb ognennyj. (Note: The short-form adjectives are no longer used in an attributive position in Standard Russian, except in fixed idioms, such as sred’ bela dnja “in broad daylight.”). This parallelism is not always symmetric due to grammatical restrictions (mladye junoshi) or onomatopoeic preference (Tvoj Erusalim-grad).

4.3.2. Church Slavonicisms

In the [psalm] text passage above, we find this mixture of styles, on the one hand, in the adjective mladye “young” nom pl vs. Russian molodye; and, on the other hand, in the preposition pered “before, in front of” vs. Church Slavonic pred. This functional interplay of Church Slavonic and Russian forms characterizes not only the Doukhobor ritual style but also Russian poetic style. It may be argued that mladye is a phonetic spelling of molodye with the loss of the vowel in the first syllable, a phenomenon that is common in colloquial speech. The only argument against this is the fact that we are dealing here with the recital of a psalm, i.e., a formal style, in which vowel elision would seem to be prohibited. However, this question merits further study with a wider corpus.

4.3.3. Alliteration and Parallelism

The alliterative parallelism of the verb phrases with the perfective reflexives sbushevalis’vskolyxalos’slëzno vosplakalis’ and the verb phrases with the imperfective infinitives bushevat’volnovat’kolyxat’ is less concerned with the cognitive meaning of the passage in question than its contextual meaning, a feature typical of folklore genres in Russian. That the threefold matchup is not quite symmetric semantically (vosplakalis’ vs. volnovat’) is no doubt due to the conventions of oral transmission of these psalms where for the sake of memorization semantics was sacrificed to phonetics.

4.3.4. Short Form Adjectives Used Attributively

The examples in question in [the above psalm text] are bujny vetrychërno more, and velik stolb ognennyj “large, fiery pillar.” This usage of short form adjectives in an attributive function, as opposed to their restriction to a predicative function in Standard Russian, was a regular feature in Old Church Slavonic and was retained as a marked stylistic feature in poetry and Russian Church Slavonic as well as in the Doukhobor ritual style. The noun phrase velik stolb ognennyj above is semantically equivalent to Standard Russian bol’shoj ognennyj stolb but the rhythm and archaic connotation of the given construction are lost in the Standard Russian phrase and of course in the English translation as well.

5. Conclusion

To the extent that Doukhobor cultural and spiritual traditions will be maintained, the question is whether these will be carried out using the vehicle of Russian or of English. If low language maintenance levels in Russian make it necessary to carry out most, if not all culture-related activities in English, there is the question whether what is being practiced is still “genuine” Doukhobor culture, i.e., can one really speak of maintaining one’s cultural heritage while giving up the language in which it was cultivated for centuries? And, concerning the oral literature, if Russian Church Slavonic is replaced by Canadian English, and if all of hymnody is made available in a written form, certainly the style of singing will change, viz., the creative aspect; the correcting in mid-song; and the duration of ritual speech acts. This will certainly amount not only to a loss of cultural substance but also to an assimilation to the dominant Anglo-Canadian culture. There are many additional questions that need to be addressed in future research. Two of them will be mentioned here but cannot be discussed in detail at this point in time. Doukhobor Russian in Canada generally shares many features with other forms of émigré Russian in North America that are due to “incomplete acquisition” (Polinsky 2006). In addition, structural developments in Doukhobor Russian can serve to “redefine” the notion “Standard Russian” (Andrews 2006). However, Doukhobor Russian in Canada also shows important differences that are due to 1) its largely oral tradition; 2) its relative geographic isolation; 3) its deliberate resistance to the influence of Canadian English; and, last but not least, 4) the influence of Ukrainian during the first generation of settlement in Saskatchewan.

At the present time, English among the Doukhobors must still compete with Modern Standard Russian both in the replacement of the dialect and in the maintenance of ritual language. The dialect is clearly losing the battle against Modern Standard Russian but then the levelling of dialect differences in the world’s languages is widespread. Modernizing the psalms, however, may delay the complete switch to English versions. Recent efforts in this respect have resulted in a modern psalm book (USSC 1978) as well as the ongoing efforts in the Doukhobor monthly Iskra to present many psalms in a Standard Russian form. We hope to address the above questions in more detail in a future study.

A final word needs to be said about the threat of language loss. If, as Ter-Minasova put it, languages are the guardians of a people’s identity (Ter-Minasova 2007:121), then language loss should lead to the loss of identity. It is impossible to conduct a crucial experiment in that respect, that is, to subject half of a linguistic community to language loss, leaving the other half as a control group and then compare the degree of the loss of identity. What we do know, however, is that there is a family of languages, i.e., the First Nations communities in Canada, such as Cree in the Province of Alberta or Salish in British Columbia, that are engaged in an active endeavour of reversing language shift partly as a necessary healing process and a desire to regain their lost identity. It seems that their efforts serve at least as partial support for maintaining the Doukhobor ritual style, perhaps in a “reconfigured” form allowing codeswitching between cognitive structures in English and contextual-mnemonic devices in Russian/Church Slavonic (see also Rak 2004; and Schaarschmidt 2008). There is no agreement to what extent globalization is contributing to the loss of languages. On the one hand, the process of globalization is considered to be the “main despoiler of languages and cultures” (Ter-Minasova 2007:254). On the other hand, the globalization of English has directly led to the disappearance of languages only in those countries where “English has itself come to be the dominant language, such as in North America, Australia and the Celtic parts of the British Isles” (Crystal 1998:18). Crystal’s statement certainly seems to apply to the Doukhobor language which is threatened far more by the local and regional economic situation in British Columbia, Canada, than by the status of English as a global language.

References

  • Andrews, David R. (2006). The Role of Émigré Russian in Redefining the “Standard.” Journal of Slavic Linguistics 14: 169–189.
  • Bezhenceva, Alla (2007). Strana Duxoborija. Tbilisi: Russkij klub.
  • Crystal, David (1998). English as a Global Language. Cambridge (UK): Cambridge University Press/Canto.
  • Friesen, John W. and Michael M. Verigin (1996). The Community Doukhobors: A People in Transition. Ottawa: The Borealis Press.
  • Harshenin, Alex P. (1964). English Loanwords in the Doukhobor Dialect, 1. In: Canadian Slavonic Papers 6, 38-43.
  • Harshenin, Alex P. (1967). English Loanwords in the Doukhobor Dialect, 2. In: Canadian Slavonic Papers 9/2, 16-30.
  • Mealing, Mark F. (1975). Doukhobor Life. A Survey of Doukhobor Religion, History, and Folklife. Castlegar, BC.: Cotinneh Books.
  • Mealing, Mark F. (1995). Doukhobor psalms: adornment to the soul. In: K.J. Tarasoff and R.B. Klymasz (eds.), Spirit Wrestlers. Centennial Papers in Honour of Canada’s Doukhobor Heritage (Hull/Québec: Canadian Museum of Civilization),
    pp. 39-50.
  • O’Neail, Hazel (1962). Doukhobor Daze. Sidney, BC: Gray’s Publishing.
  • Polinsky, Maria (2006). Incomplete Acquisition: American Russian. Journal of Slavic Linguistics 14: 191–262.
  • Rak, Julie (2004). Negotiated Memory: Doukhobor Autobiographical Discourse. Vancouver/Toronto: UBC Press.
  • Schaarschmidt, Gunter (1995). Aspects of the History of Doukhobor Russian. In: Canadian Ethnic Studies 27.3: 197-205.
  • Schaarschmidt, Gunter (1998). Language in British Columbia. In: John Edwards (ed.), Language in Canada (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press), pp. 461-468.
  • Schaarschmidt, Gunter (2008). Code-switching im Sorbischen und im Duchobor-Russischen als eine mögliche Zwischenstufe in der Erhaltung und Revitalisierung von Minderheitensprachen in der EU und in Kanada. Lûtopis 55.2: 109-125.
  • Tarasoff, Koozma J. (1963). Cultural Interchange Between the Non-Slavic Peoples of the Soviet Union and the People of Russian Background in the Greater Vancouver Area. Unpublished term paper (Vancouver: UBC Slavonic Studies).
  • Tarasoff, Koozma J. (1982). Plakun Trava: The Doukhobors. Grand Forks, BC: Mir.
  • Tarasoff, Koozma J. (2002). Spirit Wrestlers: Doukhobor Pioneers’ Strategies for Living. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Legas/Ottawa: Spirit Wrestlers Publishing.
  • Tchertkoff, Anna (1900). Prakticheskij uchebnik anglijskogo jazyka/Russian-English Handbook. London: A. Tchertkoff, “The Free Age Press”.
  • Ter-Minasova, Svetlana Grigor’evna (2007). Vojna i mir jazykov i kul’tur. Moskva: AST/Astrel’/Xranitel’. USCC (1978).
  • Sbornik duxoborcheskix psalmov, stixov i pesen. Grand Forks, BC: Izdanie Sojuza Duxovnyx Obshchin Xrista /Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ (USCC).
  • Wurm, Stephen A. (1991). Language Death and Disappearance: Causes and Circumstances. In Robert H. Robins and Eugenius M. Uhlenbeck (eds.), Endangered Languages (pp. 1–17). Oxford, UK/ New York: Berg.

For More Information

For additional research about the Doukhobor dialect spoken in Canada, see Gunter Schaarschmidt’s articles Four Norms – One Culture: Doukhobor Russian in Canada as well as The Maintenance and Revitalization of Doukhobor Russian in British Columbia: Prospects and Problems.  Read also about his Day-trip to Piers Island: Reminiscing About the Penitentiary, 1932-1935.  Finally, for Gunter Schaarschmidt’s exclusive translations of 19th century German articles about the Doukhobors, see The Dukhobortsy, 1822-1828 by Daniel Schlatter; Passage Across the Caucasus, 1843 by Kuzma F. Spassky-Avtonomov; The Dukhobortsy in Transcaucasia, 1854-1856 by Heinrich Johann von Paucker; Notes from the Molochnaya, 1855 by Alexander Petzholdt; Doukhobors in the Caucasus, 1863-1864 by Alexander Petzholdt; Report from the Caucasus, 1875 by Hans Leder; and Travels in the Caucasus and the Armenian Highlands, 1875 by Gustav I. Sievers and Gustav I. Radde.

Refusal of Military Service

by Gregory F. Vanin

The following is a letter from Doukhobor Gregory F. Vanin to Russian ethnographer Vladimir D. Bonch-Breuvich outlining Vanin’s experience as a young military conscript during the “Burning of Arms” in Russia in 1895. Translated by George Stushnoff and reproduced from the pages of The Dove magazine, Volume 32 (Saskatoon: October 1996), this article is a dramatic and powerful account of the torture and incarceration of Doukhobor conscripts who refused military service as conscientious objectors.

Dear brother Vladimir Dmitrovich,

I will attempt to write about my denial of military service in Russia. I feel the younger generation needs to know that part of our history. This has been written about in the past, but not by me, and the writings were not complete historically and they were not factual. I have now become an old man 74 years of age and all this happened a long time ago – hard to remember it all, where and what happened to me. Nevertheless, I will try to write whatever I can recall, which may be brief but true.

The Burning of Arms, 1895. Painting by Terry McLean.

I will begin when the Doukhobors burnt their weapons in 1895 when I participated in this bloody work at the age of 21. I was already married and it so happened that I also participated in the bloody execution by Cossack whips when Esaul (Cossack Commander) Praga gave his orders in the village of Bogdanovka, to the right and to the left, day and night, sparing no one.

Then they immediately deported us to the village of Goriski where I spent only one and a half months till three military men arrived taking me away without my relatives knowing whereto. They brought me to the Goriski military disciplinary battalion and at this time brought three of my friends here, Shcherbinin, Kinyakin, Makhortov; so we became four and we were told there that our lot was drawn by an elder at the Akhalkalak district and we were required to report for service and so we were to be examined and measured.

We asked them why measure us because we will not serve. Then they forcefully undressed us and did what they had to with us and told us that they will send us to the Ekaterinodarski Vanapski reserve battalion where we will be forced to serve.

They did not allow us to bid farewell to our families and sent us away by convoy. When they brought us there they immediately placed us in different companies. Kinyakin and I into the second company, Shcherbinin into the third company and Makhortov into the first company. For me and Kinyakin, the Sergeant Major at once ordered us to take off our clothes and put on soldiers uniforms. We reply that we would not wear uniforms, we would not even serve. Then they forcefully took off our clothes, put on the uniforms and cut our hair. It was already evening, at nine o’clock the Sergeant Major commanded a prayer service, we sang the Lord’s Prayer, then we were shown our beds where we must sleep. 

We slept the night and in the morning the whole company arose at the same time and went outside for their duties. The two of us remained seated on our beds on one lower bunk and since our own clothing was still with us we put it on and remained sitting. We noticed the Sergeant Major coming straight toward us and laughingly says to us: “What, are you boys ready to go home?” We remain quietly seated, he looks at us and goes away. Then returning abruptly he tells us boys to follow him, the company Commander wants us in his office. We came, he was sitting; we stopped and stood. The commander rose up, looked us over and tells the Sergeant to go and bring the uniforms. Immediately he brought them and laid them in front of us. Then the Commander orders: “Vanin, put on the uniform!” I replied I will not wear the uniform and I will not serve. He started scolding me with bad words and cries at me with all his might, “I will knock your head off” while he pulls a knife out of its sheath and for a long time he shouted at me, stamping his feet on the floor while I stood motionless. Then he turns to Kinyakin and orders him: “Kinyakin, put on the uniform.” He also replied that he will not wear and will not serve. Then he got even angrier and scolded us for a long time but did not hit us, and we didn’t put on the uniforms. Eventually he asked us why we didn’t want to serve our Sovereign. We answered because he teaches people to kill but Christ forbid the killing of people. We believe in Christ and the Sixth Commandment says not to kill.

Saying nothing to us he sat at the table, wrote something and ordered the Sergeant Major to take us away and lock us up in a dark cell and no food but bread and water. He led us away and locked us up. Then after three days they brought Shcherbinin and Makhortov and locked them up. Shcherbinin sat in a row with me and we were able to converse quietly. The prison had a small opening and I heard him groaning, and then he began to explain how they tortured him, forcing him to do gymnastics and to run but he didn’t want to do these and would fall to the ground. They would trample him with their feet, kick him, pressed their knees into him and dropped him over a wooden bar. The uncommissioned officers were horribly nasty to him and from that time he became sick, something inside was injured. But Makhortov was not beaten and we sat in the jail cells for almost a month when they brought here another ten of our young friends from the Kars and Elizavetpol region in 1896 and they were no longer allocated to companies but put us all together in a military jail and through a military court ordered us to proceed under a convoy to a disciplinary battalion.

When they brought us there they locked us up in a stronghold that was guarded both inside and outside both day and night. Sometime before us, Lebedev’s party which had been serving but then refused, were already here in jail and each had already received by 30 lashes with thorny rods, and were forced to learn the ways of war.

They then allocated our group into companies and I, once again, remained here with another friend Chevildeev in the third company. Here, they handled us quite differently, forcefully dressing us in torn and all patched uniforms, took away our own clothing and showed us where we will be sleeping. In the morning two companies woke up and went outside to perform their duties and we two also dressed up and stood in the cell. Shortly an elderly company Commander came straight towards us; with a wide and long beard, appearing very scary, he was called Akinchits. Approaching us, without saying anything, instantly he cried out: “Chevildeev, stand straight, raise your nose”. Poking me with his boot, he yells: “Vanin, hold your head higher, raise your shoulders” while hitting me on the chin. Then he questions us, if we will serve our Sovereign. We replied no, we will not, so he didn’t ask us anything else but turned to the Sergeant Major and directed him to bring the executioners here, while telling us to come into the corridor. 

We went and stood there, noticing two executioners carrying several bunches of thorny branches, bound together in bundles of five – which always are soaked in barrels of water so that they would not break up. Also four soldiers were coming who were going to hold us and two soldiers with guns. The executioners took their coats off, rolled up their sleeves, took into their hands by a bundle of branches – awaiting the command. Then the Commander ordered the soldiers: “first lay down Chevildeev” but to me he said: “but Vanin, you must stand here and watch”. Then the soldiers took Chevildeev and laid him down on the cement floor face down, his hands tied behind his back. Pulled his pants down, revealed his buttocks, sat down on him, two on his head and two on his legs. One soldier with a gun stood at the head and the other at the feet, holding their guns in readiness. The executioners stood one on each side. The Commander then told the Sergeant Major: ” count the lashes, there must be 30 lashes”. He, himself turned away, and walked off a distance, not being able to look upon such a bloody scene. The Sergeant Major in command cried out to begin. And the branches began to whistle in the air. The first one swung to the left, then to the right, then with all his might he struck at the naked flesh, then the other, from the other side, in similar manner with all his might, beating rather occasionally. Blood squirted in all directions, the back, turning blue, began to swell. After that they locked him up in a cold prison cell, this happened in wintertime.

Russian Prison Warden and Guard, c. 1890. Photo by John Foster Fraser.

I stood motionless, paralyzed with fear and looked upon this bloody pitiful scene, while my heart was dying from the horror. Then the Commander approached saying: “Well Vanin, you got scared. You will now serve”. I replied with a trembling voice, “No I will not”. Then he ordered: “Lay this one down too”. I stood motionless, paralyzed with fear and looked upon this bloody pitiful scene, while my heart was dying from the horror. Then the Commander approached saying: “Well Vanin, you got scared. You will now serve”. I replied with a trembling voice, “No I will not”. Then he ordered: “Lay this one down too”. They lay me down the same way and gave me also thirty lashes, hot as fire. Then they lifted me up and started putting my pants on, they would not come on, barely came on, sticking to my bloody flesh. And in the same way they locked me also in the cold prison.

It was like that for all of us that were in that battalion, practically all of us were beaten with the thorny branches in the same way. Except that some got more, some less. And in that battalion there was a church and the priest also fulfilled his disciplinary role by inducing us forcefully so that we would attend their church to pray to God, that our ancestors had already rejected several hundred years ago.

Twice a day, morning and evening, all imprisoned soldiers had to attend church. There were four companies and each company had by 10 Doukhobor boys in it. The commanders marched the soldiers to church, all the soldiers went but we stood still. The priest explained to us that if we called ourselves Christians then we must attend his church. Then the secondary officers and the soldiers would grab us and drag us, while we would cling unto trees that grew there and they couldn’t tear us away, so they would beat our hands with belts, sabers, knives. And so goes the struggle throughout the whole battalion, until they drag us into church, then we stand there doing nothing while they all got down on their knees we just stood. Then the priest would walk through putting the incense under our noses, but we would wave the smoke away with our caps, while he would stare at us in anger.

My God, if you had only seen, dear brother Vladimir Dmitrovich, what they did to us there, even forced us to mix clay (manure). Crawled up to our bellies, made bricks and different other kinds of jobs. We were vegetarians, did not eat meat, but they would not allow such food that we could use. Told us to devour from the same pot that the soldiers eat. So we would come for dinner or supper, sit at the table, put a piece of wormy rye bread into our pockets, go back to the prison and eat it with water, and that’s how we survived. We were so worn out and sick with chicken blindness from a lack of food, barely staying alive. When the first Lebedov party of Doukhobors arrived at the disciplinary battalion, General Maslov didn’t want to have them tortured with thorns but wanted to exile them at once to Siberia. However the local administration – Sub-General Morgunov, Doctor Preobrazhenski and priest Stepanovski and others did not want to exile immediately to Siberia, kept us all in jail and tortured us for a year and a half. They wanted us to give into everything and force us to serve and so we were left barely alive but refused to give in. One of our friends, Mikhail Shcherbinin died there in the disciplinary battalion from the beatings. They allowed us to bury him, so we buried him in Doukhobor tradition. Then they exiled us to (Yakutsk) Siberia for 18 years.

Now the continuation of our history and our experiences in Siberia will be written by others. I am now concluding the writing of my version. Our remaining friends, who struggled for the truth in the disciplinary battalion, are very few, almost all of them have departed into life everlasting.

Your brother,

Gregory F. Vanin
Veregin, Saskatchewan, Canada
April 15, 1947

Paths and Pathfinders

by Polly Vishloff

On October 2, 2004, Polly Vishloff (nee Verigin) was the keynote speaker at “Paths and Pathfinders”, a symposium honouring extraordinary women pioneers of Mission, British Columbia.  During her address, she gave an account of her life as a Doukhobor over the past eighty years.  Polly’s experience highlights the importance of hard work, strong family ties and community roots.  Readers will enjoy her many heartfelt memories and rich experiences.  Her address is reproduced below by permission.

…Thank you for this honour.  When I was asked to speak about my life I wasn’t sure if I could do it, but after I thought about it, I said to myself, “My life is different and I should share my experiences with others.”  So here I am.  It’s not going to be easy to put 80 years into a short talk but I’ll try.

Polly Vishloff speaking at “Paths & Pathfinders: Women Pioneers of Mission, BC” in 2004.

You all know that I am a Doukhobor, but what does that really mean?  So to begin, I have to give you a little bit of history: The name ‘Dukho-bortsi’ which means ‘Spirit Wrestlers’ was given to a group of dissident Russian peasants in 1785 by the Russian Orthodox Church.  The Doukhobors adopted this name because they felt this meant they were struggling for a better life by using only the spiritual power of love, and not by using forms of violence or force.  This was a practical commonsense religion that could help people live a contented, happy life on earth.  But it was more than a religion; it was a way of life, or social movement.  In living together as a closely-knit group for several centuries, they developed many unique cultural customs and traditions.  The Encyclopedia Britannica notes that when Doukhobors were living up to the standard of their faith, they presented “one of the nearest approaches to the realization of the Christian ideal which has ever been attained.”

In Russia the Doukhobors had one leader who was a woman (Lukeria Kalmykova), she took over after her husband died.  She lived in a different village from where the Verigins lived.  She took, into her home, a young man named Peter Vasilyevich Verigin to train him for leadership.  She died 5 years later and he took over as the new leader.

Peter Verigin asked the Doukhobor people to start living cleaner lives.  First he asked them to share their wealth with those less fortunate.  The Verigin family was quite well off.  Then he asked them to quit smoking, drinking and eating meat.  My grandfather was a brother to this man.

Then he asked them to say “NO” to war.  This and other messages were sent by Verigin while in Siberian exile to his followers in the Caucasus through faithful messengers. The ones that were already in military service did just what their leader asked and were beaten.  Many died and the rest were sent to Siberia where the authorities felt they would parish from the extreme cold.  Doukhobor understanding says, ‘we are all God’s people and it is wrong to take a life.’  The faithful in the 3 separate Doukhobor settlements got all their guns together and at the same time on the same day, built huge fires and burned all their guns.  Cossacks and soldiers entered one village and beat those people as they stood around the fire singing.  The date was June 29, 1895.  Many of the faithful were driven away from their homes. 

My grandfather Vasily Verigin – Peter Verigin’s brother – was one of the messengers and knew his life was at stake, but he did it anyway.  When the authorities found out, they were going to shoot him but a follower of Leo Tolstoy heard this.  Leo Tolstoy was a famous Russian author and Doukhobor sympathizer.  This man intervened and my grandfather’s life was spared and he was sent to Siberia instead.  There was a lot of suffering going on due to these bold moves by the faithful.  Leo Tolstoy heard of this and started working to get the Doukhobors out of Russia.  Canada accepted them; Canada needed good workers and that’s what they were.

Doukhobor women feeding workers on farm in Saskatchewan. British Columbia Archives, C-01356.

With financial aid from Tolstoy and a group of Quakers who also supported their non-violent cause, they landed in Canada.  The Doukhobors were given virgin land in what is now northern Saskatchewan and part of the Northwest Territories.  My parents were about 6 years old when the move was made in 1899.  My grandmother on mother’s side was a widow with 5 daughters.  Their lives would have been very difficult had they not been in this community.

In Saskatchewan, the men had to go out and earn money so the resourceful women hitched themselves to a plow and broke up soil for gardens.  In 6 years, they had worked a lot of land and planted crops.  They had built homes, grew flax and made their own oil.  They had a brick plant, flour mill, and brick ovens in which they baked their bread.  At this point, the Government said they had to swear allegiance to the Crown in order to keep their land.  Some did and became know as Independent Doukhobors.  The rest said they serve “God only”.  They had to leave.

This group bought land in British Columbia around Castlegar, Brilliant, and Grand Forks.  Here they planted orchards, built new homes for themselves, built a flourmill and a brick factory.  My Dad was a beekeeper and looked after about 100 beehives.  Everywhere we lived after that, my Dad always had bees.  Later they built a jam factory.

Each settlement had 2 large brick houses (where about 25 people lived) and included a courtyard and a few smaller houses in the back for older people.  The women took turns cooking and everyone ate together.  Everyone shared the steam bath.  Once it was fired up, several men would go in at one time, then women and children would take their turns.

Polly in front of her mother Polly with aunts Dunya Anutooshkin (seated)t Nastya Verigin at Shouldice, Alberta, c. 1927.

Wheat for baking bread and other delicious foods was grown in Saskatchewan which was far away, so in 1915 land was purchased in the foothills of Alberta and several families moved there to grow wheat.  This is the area where my husband grew up.  I don’t know what year my parents got married.  They were living around Brilliant, British Columbia, and after several years, I came into the picture.  Sister Mary was 13, my brother Peter was 6 and then there was me.  I was born on June 25, 1923.  Mom said it was “at strawberry time”.

After the tragic death of Peter Verigin (who was the leader), my parents and about 25 families moved to Alberta under the leadership of Anastasia Holoboff.  I was 3 years old.

There are several other Doukhobor groups. Besides the Independents, some are called Canadian Doukhobors, and the largest group is the Spiritual Communities of Christ, and of course you’ve all heard of the Sons of Freedom.  They make up about 5% of the Doukhobor population.

Under Anastasia’s leadership, a colony was established two miles from Shouldice, Alberta.  There were several other Doukhobor families already farming in this area.  A prayer home was built and Doukhobors from around the area gathered for prayers on Sunday mornings.

In this colony, every family built their own individual homes.  My dad had to be different.  He put in a bay window and that’s where my mother kept her geraniums.  Everyone had a half-acre of land where they planted their own gardens.  There were 2 rows of houses with a street down the middle.  Families with older parents built a small house in back of the larger family home and all meals were eaten together in the main house.  Each backyard not only contained a garden but also a brick or clay oven for baking bread, a steam bath, and an outhouse further back.

There was a lovely spring at the top of the colony property and water was piped down, through the street, with taps placed along it after each 4th house.  Water was brought into the homes by pail and it kept us young people busy.  We had wood stoves, no electricity, and used coal oil lamps.  Young people had to bring in the wood and the coal.

At the very bottom of the street was a water tank and train tracks.  The train, which was both, a passenger and freight train, would stop here and replenished its water supply for the steam engine.  Once in a while, I would go for mail.  In those days girls didn’t wear slacks but I would dress up like a boy in my brother’s clothes and climb onto the train and stand behind the engine and get a ride into Shouldice, pick up the mail and then walk the two miles back home along the railway track.  The colony was three miles from Shouldice by road and sometimes I’d come back that way hoping for a ride but sometimes I’d have to walk the three miles back.

Polly on tractor at her sister Mary’s  farm, Nanton, Alberta, 1940.

Our colony was called “The Lord’s Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood”.  There was a big barn, half for cows and half for horses.  Families took turns milking the cows.  There was a room in this barn where the milk was shared.  Just outside its door was a large metal triangle with a straight rod for striking it.  When the milk was ready for distribution, the triangle was struck and the sound carried throughout the village.  That meant it was time for me to grab a syrup or honey pail and run to get our milk.  The bigger the family, the more milk they got.  When it was time for your family to do the milking, the kids would go from house to house to gather the vegetable and fruit peelings to feed the cows.

At one end of the village was the school.  In summer we went to school barefoot and ran home for lunch.  Parents took turns doing janitor work here, which also included bringing firewood for the central stove.

There was one couple that had no children so they had us kids coming in the middle of the week to teach us songs.  Sunday morning was prayer time and singing at their place for us young kids (our very own Sunday School!).  I loved to sing.  That was at 6:00 in the morning.  Prayers were taught to us at home by parents or grandparents.  I had no living grandparents, so I loved to go to my friend’s place, the Tamilins.  Their grandparents lived in a small house in back and they all had meals together.  And it looked so nice seeing a big family at the table.  That’s when I decided I wanted to have a big family, like six children but I settled for four.

We all celebrated “Peter’s Day” on June 29th.  It was a big picnic by the river and everyone came from all around.  On this day we commemorated the burning of all firearms in Russia.

At school we played softball a lot.  I loved it.  I remember weeding with Mother in the garden and I felt like my back was breaking and it was just so hard for me to weed.  Then someone would come along and say they were organizing a softball game.  I’d ask my mother if I could go and she always said, “Yes” and all of a sudden, everything healed and I would run off to play.

Verigin family. Back L-R: Mary, Peter, and Polly. Front L-R: Peter W. and Polly Verigin, c. 1940.

During the Depression, my dad took a job on a farm to look after cattle.  He was paid $15.00 for that month.  Being vegetarian, we had great gardens and plenty of food.  We grew lots of sunflowers and sitting around and eating them was a great past-time.  Sometimes, we would take something from the garden, like a lettuce, and give it to the conductor on the train and he would let us ride in the coach.  One day while riding in the coach, there were two ladies sitting there looking out the window and saying, “Look at all the sunflowers.  They must have lots of chickens!”  It made me chuckle to myself, because we were the chickens.  Flour came in 98-pound cotton bags, so a lot of our clothing was made from flour sacks.  Nothing was wasted.  Everything was recycled.  We wove rugs from worn out clothing and Mom planted her geraniums in any used tin cans.  That’s where she started her bedding plants also.

After living together on this colony for about 14 years, a lot of people wanted to get out on their own.  That would be around 1940.  I would have been around 17 years old.  My uncle and aunt had a married daughter living in Whonnock and she wasn’t well.  They wanted to help her out and decided to leave the colony and move to that area.  I think they were the first to leave the colony.  My cousin Bill rode his bicycle around the area looking for property.  He happened to be on Dewdney Trunk Road when he saw a place for sale and they bought it.  This property had a house on it that had belonged to Mrs. King, sister to Cecil, Ted, and Jack Tunbridge.

Mother and I came out by train to visit our relatives.  Our tickets were to Vancouver but I told the conductor we were getting off in Mission City.  He called it Mission Junction.  We got off the train and there was no one there to meet us.  I asked the station agent if he knew where the Verigin’s lived and he hadn’t even heard of them.  I began to worry that maybe we’d gotten off at the wrong place.  We’d called it Mission City and here we’d gotten off at Mission Junction.

Then I spotted cousin Bill coming along on his bicycle.  He told us to leave everything at the station and come along with him.  He pushed the bike to Cedar Street with us walking along beside him.  He said, “Now you start thumbing a ride and someone will pick you up.”  He gave us directions on where to go and rode away.  Someone did stop and give us a ride and we arrived at his home before he got there.

Auntie and cousin Peter were in Sardis picking hops.  Within a day cousin Bill had arranged a ride for us and we got to Sardis and were hired on to pick hops too.  What a great opportunity to earn some money.  At home I’d have to go out and do housework and that was not my cup of tea.  Even though hop picking meant long hours of work, I loved it and we had a chance to visit with each other while we worked.

Polly Vishloff (nee Verigin) in Mission, British Columbia, c. 1943.

The following year Dad came to Mission by car and was able to earn some money by picking strawberries.  Now there were 3 other families from our colony living in Mission.  Dad found a piece of property owned by Jack Tunbridge that was not far from Uncle’s place.  It was all bush with a creek running through it and very swampy.  The higher ground was very rocky and there was a gravel pit at one end, close to the road.  The municipality had extracted gravel from this area but it wasn’t good enough and therefore abandoned it.  Dad bought the nine acres for $100.00.  The year was 1940.

Now we had to sell our own house to finance the move to Mission.  The next spring our house sold for $175.00.  We then moved to my sister Mary’s home in Nanton, Alberta.  They were renting a farm there and could use help at harvest time.  In the meantime, Mother and I wove rugs and sold them.  Dad found work on other farms.  At harvest time, Peter and I worked on binders.  That was the way wheat was cut.  The binder tied cut wheat into bundles, and then we lowered the bundles in rows.  We also watched to be sure the binders didn’t run out of twine.  These two binders were pulled by a tractor.

In the fall we were ready to move to our new place.  We came by car and I remember Mom’s spinning wheel tied to the back of the car.  We got a lot of attention along the road.  At that time there was no Hope-Princeton Highway so we came down the Fraser Canyon (which was an amazing experience for people born and raised in the prairies!).  We drove between 20 and 25 miles an hour.  Dad would be driving along this narrow windy trail of a road saying, “Look at the river down below, just look.”  We were all frightened and kept reminding him to watch the road.

And here we were in Mission City and at our Uncle’s and Auntie’s place.  This was November, 1941.  We arrived late in the evening.  Auntie had a beautiful bouquet of dahlias on her table.  I asked here where she got them and she said from her garden.  In Alberta, we had frost two months earlier that killed off all the flowers and I couldn’t believe that they could still be blooming.  Early the next morning, I had to go outside and see for myself and sure enough, they were there.  This was truly the land of opportunity; with berries to pick, canneries, just all kinds of nice ways to make a living.  We lived at our relatives until Dad and brother Peter had cleared some land and partly finished our new house, then we moved into it.  There was still a lot to do inside but by summer, we had moved in.  During this time I picked strawberries, then raspberries and then went to work at the Alymer cannery, which was located along the Fraser River at the Railway Bridge.  I really enjoyed my work there.  The following year Mrs. Lacroix promoted me to supervisor.

My uncle Larry came later with 2 sons and 2 daughters and they built and started the Cedar Valley Store, which still exists.  By now there were over 30 Doukhobor families living in Mission, most of them in the Cedar Valley area.  Later my Uncle Larry and his family moved to Creston.

A few years later, while enroute to Alberta to visit my sister and her family, I stopped in Creston to visit my cousins.  While visiting there, I met John Vishloff.  He had come from Nanton to visit his folks who had moved there from Alberta.  We seemed to have a lot in common and got along very well.  In March of 1947, he came to Mission and we were married in April.

Wedding in Canyon, British Columbia, 1947. (l-r) Agnes and Mary (nee Verigin) Ewashen, John, Polly and Alex Wishlow.

First we lived with his parents in Creston, then came to Mission and lived with mine were I worked for the cannery and John worked for the Coop where they made jam.  We went back to Creston at the end of the season and in April of 1948 our son Paul was born.  Although both my mother and John’s mother were both Midwives, I wanted to be modern and had a doctor and the baby was born in the hospital.

After the summer harvest was over, we decided to move to Mission for good.  There were more opportunities here for John to work.  My Dad said, “I have started building a garage and because John is a handyman, if he wants to finish it, you can live in it.”  Maybe they were tired of us living with them.  John finished building our one room house and we moved in.  We were very happy in this one room house.  At last we were on our own.  Our couch made into a bed at night and there was still room for the crib.  Mother baby-sat Paul while I worked at the cannery.  When Paul was a little over a year old, mom suffered a heart attack and died.  I felt quite guilty about her death because she had been looking after Paul for me while I worked.  I found her death very hard to bear.  But about a year later we were blessed with a beautiful daughter.  We named her Naida, which in Russian, means ‘hope’.  Now we had two cribs in our little one room house, that also had a kitchen and everything else.  I was able to use Mom’s washing machine and we all used their steam bath.

We bought half an acre of land and John built us a 2-bedroom house on it.  It had a kitchen, living room, a small storage room, a bathroom and 2 bedrooms.  John prepared the plans for the house.  I said to him, “We’ll have a bathroom in the house?  That’s just for rich people!”  I’m glad he didn’t listen to me.

Polly, John and son Paul, 1950.

For entertainment, we used to go to a drive-in theatre and the children still remember getting treats.  We always brought along a quart of milk.  Pop was expensive.

John also built a holiday trailer that we pulled with our car when we visited our relatives each summer.  We traveled to Creston and to visit my sister in Alberta.  My brother never married so my sister’s children were the only close relatives that I had and they meant a lot to me.  I still have a very close relationship with them.

Most of the time, John drove to Vancouver to work.  He worked hard because he had to work on our house after he came home from work.  People gathered in homes on Sunday for prayers and everyone sang together.  Even without the modern conveniences that we have now, they still had time to socialize.  Our old leader, Anastasia came over to visit one time and suggested that the Doukhobors buy up some cemetery plots.  That makes me feel good, knowing that my family is all there in one area.

In 1952, our son Lawrence was born and in 1957, Tom was born.  With 4 healthy children we felt so rich, but now the house was getting way too small.

My dad died in January 1959.  We inherited half of his property and now we could build a bigger home.  The municipality said that in order to subdivide, we had to build a road and that’s how Vishloff Street came about.  We built a bigger house and the children helped too.  Maybe that’s why they are such capable adults.  In those days, the building codes were different and we could move into our house long before ‘final inspection’, which we did.  Our window openings were covered with plastic but we had so much more room.  By winter we had installed real windows.

All our children went to Cedar Valley School and came home for lunch.  Both John and I grew up in Doukhobor communities and never felt discrimination.  We didn’t realize that our children could be discriminated against.  There were some tough times for them but they grew up and we’re very proud of them.

Family photo, 1960.  (l-r standing) Lawrence, Paul (l-r seated) Polly, Naida, John and Tom.

When Paul graduated from high school, he went to Abbotsford to get his grad picture taken.  He was walking with a friend and was hit by a car and died instantly.  The driver of the car said he was blinded by lights from an oncoming car.  My greatest consolation was that we had 3 other children.  Because Paul excelled in Chemistry, the school presented a trophy in his memory.  It was won by Glen Randal that year.  They gave this trophy for several more years.

Graduation time was always very painful for us and I was very relieved when all our other children graduated.  But life must go on.  The support we felt from the community was wonderful.  One of our neighbours, Glenys Szabo got me involved in curling.  I loved that sport but always felt a little guilty about the work I should be doing at home, while I was out curling.

I worked at Berryland Cannery in Haney and then started working for the Fraser Valley Record, one day a week.  The women I worked with were just great.  I worked with the paper for 20 years.

One day I told the girls I had some extra time and wanted to do some volunteer work to give something back to this great community.  Margery Skerry steered me to Heritage Park.  There I helped make blackberry jam and quilted.  The quilts were raffled and I made more good friends there.

The children grew up and got married. Naida and Marcel bought my brother’s house next door to us.  It was just wonderful watching the grand children grow up.  Lawrence was a little further away with his 2 boys.  Tom settled across the pond and we saw their children often.  The grand kids would come over and help me kneed bread and roll out dough for some specialty Russian foods we make.  One day Brittany came over to help.  She picked up the rolling pin and held it and I asked, ‘where’s my rolling pin?’ and she said, “I don’t know, I’ve got mine.”  When she was out of flour, she’d say, “I need more powder.”  They moved away later but I was glad I was there for them when they were small.  Peter would come from next-door carrying his blanket, early in the morning.  Most of the time I’d still be in bed.  He’d lay down beside me for a few minutes, then say, “Okay Baba, get up and make kasha.”  He’d have breakfast with us and then go home and have another breakfast.  I can still see in his blue pajamas, wearing his red boots, carrying his blue blanket, his ‘bunnies’.  I grew up without grandparents and I really missed not having them and I really relished my role as grandma, or Baba.

Grandchildren Brittany and Autumn baking with Baba. .

I forgot to mention our pond.  It used to be a swamp and John turned it into a beautiful pond by engineering and building a dam.  When our children were growing up, all the neighbourhood children came to swim in this pond.  It is now more like a wild bird sanctuary with water lilies, ducks, geese, and blue herons.

We suffered another tragedy 3 years ago, when our son-in-law from next door was killed in an accident.  We miss him very much.  Now the grandchildren from next door are all married and gone from here, but I feel a great bond with them all.  One grandson, David, visited recently from Saskatchewan.  He said, “I’ll never forget the Christmases we celebrated here at your place.”  On Christmas Eve, the whole family would come over for a vegetarian meal, sing Christmas carols, and exchange gifts.  At times even Santa would show up.

I am still puttering around keeping myself busy.  We still plant a garden every year, it just keeps getting smaller.  I make jams, borsch and bread.  I also spin, weave, knit and embroider.  I could go on for a long time, but I think I’ve shared enough.

In closing I’d like to say that Doukhobor beliefs about living clean healthy lives seemed radical 60 years ago – we didn’t smoke, drink or eat meat.  When I was a teenager, smoking was very popular, now everyone knows how harmful it is.  We all know excessive drinking leads to no good.  When I was young, vegetarians were unheard of.  Now there are many vegetarians.  There were very few pacifists in this country, then.  But when George Bush was talking about going to war with Iraq, people were protesting not only in the US and Canada, but all over the world.

Polly and John in front of their pond, 2004.

According to my Doukhobor teachings, violence cannot be overcome with more violence; it can only be overcome through understanding and love.  Where there is love, there is God.  Yes, I’m very proud to be a Doukhobor and proud to be living in Mission, where we’ve come in contact with so many wonderful people.

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my life with you.  I would like to end my talk by reading this poem written by Ann Verigin of Grand Forks, British Columbia called ‘I am a Doukhobor’.  Then we will end this presentation by having my friend Vi Popove and my daughter, Naida Motut, sing a Russian folk song.

I am a Doukhobor
I cannot deny there is a higher power
That helps me face every moment and hour
Whose love flows through each man and each flower

I am a Doukhobor
I search for truth and strive for perfection
I believe that Christ showed the perfect direction
For a life of peace a life without question

I am a Doukhobor
In the spirit of love I search for the light
And try to live to the highest sense of right
That I can perceive through the day and the night

I am a Doukhobor
I am a Doukhobor I sincerely feel a love for my brother
And because we all have one heavenly father
It makes sense to me to love one another

I am a Doukhobor
I long for the day when all wars would just cease
When man could continue to toil while at peace
When the love in all people would greatly increase

I am a Doukhobor
I know love is right so I must take a stand
I’ll reach out to my brother, I’ll give him my hand
There is room for us all in the bountiful land

~words by Ann Verigin nee Wishlow ~

Petrofka

by Alex J. Bayoff

In his later years, Alex J. Bayoff (1906-1989) wrote down his memories of growing up in the Doukhobor village of Petrofka near Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan. In clear, simple and sincere style, he depicts the life and times of the village in the context of his family experience.  Originally written as a memoir for family and friends, it is now published for a wider internet audience, by special permission of the family, in this Doukhobor Genealogy Website exclusive.  Readers will enjoy the rich details and vivid memories of the early years of Doukhobor pioneer settlement on the Prairies. Edited by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Author’s Note

After filling our stomachs with a sumptuous supper at the home of Nick and Mary Trofimenkoff, we sat around at the card table for an evening of cards. Conversation drifted from one subject to another. Somehow we started talking about the early Doukhobor villages and I mentioned a few happenings in the village of Petrofka. They seemed to have interested Nick, so he suggested that I write an article about Petrofka. After carrying that idea in my mind, it seemed that the Bayoff family had something to do about it in a small way. Since that was the case, my good wife Daisy suggested that I write a small history of the Bayoffs while Dad was still around, so he could relate the events first hand. I agreed to that.

The facts related in my article are mostly from the memory of Dad, and what I heard previously from Grandpa Dmitry, my Mother and later from my own experience. The story is a true story to the best of my knowledge. Nothing has been added or exaggerated. I have written as I have heard it told to me or as I have experienced it. Also nothing has been taken away to make the story more presentable. I therefore must say in advance that some passages of the story may be looked upon as vulgar. I tried to relate things as it happened, nothing taken away. Therefore if I have offended any of the readers, I humbly apologize. I must thank Samuel Postnikoff and Peter P. Makaroff in relating some of the happenings that I had overlooked.

Early in the spring of 1899 a convoy of wagons left Novo-Troitskoye (Kars province – ed.) in Trans-Caucasia to the nearest railroad station. Seven families left the peaceful village, a home of some 50 families. The train would take them to Batum, a port city on the Black Sea, and then to Canada. It was a sad occasion for the families that were left behind, and a sadder occasion, yet full of hope for the 7 families, all packed and going on a new unknown adventure, leaving their homes and most of their belongings with those who stayed behind. The Bayoff family was one of the seven. Dad was 11 years old. There was his Grandfather Grigory Vasilyevich, who was quite old, yet not too old to be the boss of the family, with full control of the money and how it was to be spent. Next in control were Dad’s Father and Mother, Dmitry and Lukeria. The rest of the family, Uncle Gavril and Aunt Anna were younger than Dad. As I have mentioned before, Dad was 11 years old, not old enough to remember everything and could be too young and have missed some valuable information.

The wagons were loaded with the most necessary articles, such as bedding and clothing, some dishes, etc., and a good supply of dried bread and homemade cheese. They figured they could live on dried bread and cheese and water. They left everything else behind, which was a heart-breaking farewell; leaving a comfortable home, agricultural tools or implements, cattle, sheep, horses, but mostly friends and relatives. There was singing of hymns and a lot of praying, a lot of kisses and a lot of tears. So was the parting with the village of Novo-Troitskoye and friends as the wagons began to move.

Port of Batum, embarkation point for Doukhobor immigrants. British Columbia Archives C-01560.

Dad’s Aunt and her husband, Petro Katasonov, acquired all of the Bayoff property and belongings and drove the wagon with the Bayoffs and their trip supplies to the railroad station. Since there were seven families leaving the village, there must have been seven wagons. It took the best part of two days on the road before they arrived at Erzurum, where they would board a freight train. Sitting on their bundles of belongings, it was far from comfortable, but with a lot of hymns and prayers, they arrived at Batum where they met with the rest of the Doukhobors. There were about 2,000 gathered from most of the Doukhobor villages, meeting in Batum.

A British freighter unloaded a ship load of cattle, and was waiting to pick up the 2,000 Doukhobors. You can only imagine the condition of the ship after the cattle were unloaded. That was to be their home for the next 28 days. They saw a lot of work to be done before they could board the ship. No time was to be wasted. They buckled down, cleaned up every part of the ship, scrubbed everything until the ship looked and smelled as if it had never had cattle on it. They then started the carpentry work. In about two weeks of hard work, the ship was ready. Bunks, tables, benches, dining area, wash rooms, etc. were ready. The crew of the ship Lake Huron was impressed by the workmanship and cleanliness of the Doukhobors, and they were very cooperative in every way they could be. The Doukhobors then wasted no time in boarding the ship.

So with singing of hymns and a lot of praying the ship began to move. The ship stopped in Constantinople for supplies. They were advised to take care of some of their supplies, so the men went and bought as much of the fruit and other items as they thought they may need. Certain items were provided: bread, sugar and hot water. There were rumors that the bread and sugar were provided by the Quakers. There were two Quakers on the boat, one of them was Mr. Elkinton, the other Dad did not remember.

It was pleasant going on the Mediterranean Sea. Sailing was quite smooth as most of the time the shore line could be seen, and the towns and cities as they passed by. As soon as the ship passed Gibraltar, things began to change. The land disappeared and the ship began to roll. The going was slow. They could see smoke in the distance behind them; that smoke turned out to be a ship which would catch up to them, then leave them behind with its smoke disappearing in the distance ahead of them. There were many ships passing them in a similar manner.

Some people began to get sea sick. A lot of the older people spent most of their time in bed, getting up only to have a bite to eat and wash up.

Although the ship rolled violently, Dad says he enjoyed the ride. He said it did not bother him, and he spent most of the day on deck with the young people. However, things were not without trouble; one old man died and had to be buried at sea. Dad well remembers that incident. They put the body in a sack or perhaps wrapped it in a sheet, tied a stone to him and slid him overboard, with their customary funeral by singing and prayer, Somehow the stone worked loose from the body and the body came to the surface. The ship did not stop, and with singing of hymns they watched the body disappear in the distance. Most of the Atlantic was rough. When it wasn’t rough it was foggy, the fog horns blowing a deafening roar, signaling other vessels, should there be any, so as not to collide.

Port of View of Gibraltar from SS Lake Huron, bringing a group of Doukhobors to Canada, 1899. Library and Archive Canada PA-022228.

Eventually word was passed that land would be in sight soon. What a relief! The rolling of the ship began to ease. The older people began to get out of their bunks. What a joy, they were nearly there! They were nearing the Gulf of St. Lawrence when as if by magic everyone perked up, some crying, some laughing, and most everyone praying to God that they were arriving safely. In due time they saw the outline of land, and the buildings began to take shape. That was Halifax.

On arrival at Halifax, they prayed, thanking the Lord for their safe arrival. After going through mountainous waves and fog, it must have been with the help of some divine power that they arrived safe and in good health. Later they learned that the same ship, the Lake Huron, after loading a cargo of lumber destined for England, broke up in the Atlantic Ocean and sank. They were convinced more than ever that the Lord had saved them for the future.

From Halifax, they were taken to an island which they called Quarantine (Grosse Ile, Quebec – ed.). After strict examination, they were pronounced free from any contagious disease, and physically in very good shape. The examining physicians admitted that they never had seen such a healthy group of immigrants as the Doukhobors. After the word was passed ahead, about the cleanliness of the people, the officials mingled quite freely with the Doukhobors and tried to be as helpful as possible. They were then taken to Quebec City by boat. After a rest period they were escorted to the train which was a far cry from the freight cars of Russia. They arrived in Selkirk (Manitoba – ed.) where the Government of the North West Territories equipped the Military Barracks with food and lodging. Here they rested and went shopping, buying whatever they could take without too much trouble. The people were then given a choice as to where they wanted to go. The choices were Prince Albert district or Yorkton. A large portion chose Prince Albert and the events will be described about the Prince Albert group.

At Selkirk the Bayoffs and Popoffs (Makaroffs) bought two horses and a wagon each. There were others, but Dad does not remember who they were. The train stopped at Duck Lake and that was their destination as far as the train ride was concerned. The wagons were loaded with freight and other belongings. Only the very old and weak rode. The rest walked behind the wagons. Those who had no wagons were not left behind. Tents must have been bought in Selkirk, as they certainly were put to use. There were rains and bad weather that spring. The (North Saskatchewan – ed.) river crossing was by Carlton Ferry. Getting out of the river valley, there were hills to cross, and in some cases they had to double up the teams to haul a load at a time.

The party had now reached a hill, called Crown Hill, about four or five miles west of the present Village of Marcelin, which also is adjacent to Windsor Lake School area. This is as far as they could go together, as this was the place from which they spread out to locate their villages. Five groups chose to be near the river: Spasovka (River Hill) was the most northerly; going south Slavyanka, then Uspeniye, then Terpeniye and most southerly Petrofka (Petrovka – ed.). The Haralowka (Gorelovka – ed.) group did not want to go too far, so they located a few miles south of Crown Hill. Pozirayevka and Troitskoye were some distance west of the river.

The Bayoffs and Popoffs (Makaroffs) chose Petrofka. Of course, as will be seen, there were a lot of others in the group, but the story deals mostly with the Bayoff family, with mention of others from the same village,

Doukhobor women digging drainage for a new settlement in the West. British Columbia Archives C-01369.

The elders, my great grandfather was one of them, chose a place about 5 miles south of present Petrofka (Golovinka – ed.). After scouting around, they decided that the brooks were not good enough, so they retraced their steps back north where the brooks seemed much better. In fact one of the brooks (Petrofka Spring – ed.) later became the choice of the present Petrofka picnic grounds, just north of the bridge. That same brook runs through grandfather’s land, just below the picnic grounds.

The location of the village had now been decided upon. Now the big task was erecting buildings. As a temporary measure some people dug into the bank of a hill, making a cave, where they had temporary shelter. Grandfather Dmitry and the boys, my Dad and Uncle Gabriel were very young but helpful. They built a shack and were reasonably comfortable.

My Great-Grandfather Grigory was not satisfied with Petrofka, so the three of them, Grandfather, Great-Grandfather and Dad went south to the vicinity of Borden. They scouted a bit and chose an area which could have been where the present village of Langham is located. They acquired the proper papers for homestead purposes. Grandfather and Dad spent one summer there and did a good piece of breaking. They began to miss their friends they left behind in Petrofka so they packed up and came back to Petrofka.

Now came the task of building. Not all had horses or wagons, so those who had horses and wagons had to help haul logs for the buildings for others. Grandfather worked hard. I do not know how long it took to build. I have lived in that house, which was quite large with several rooms and it had built-in bunks and benches all around the wall. It was a log house, but had a large cellar, an attic and a shingle roof. Although they had only four horses to start with, the barn had room for eight, then there were cows, chickens and ducks. A good well was in the yard. As Dad and Uncle Gabriel grew up and Aunt Anna was getting to be a big girl they had to build another house on the same property, as privacy had to be respected. I also remember a shop was built for blacksmithing. I have seen them shoe horses. Later that shop was used by transient immigrants, Russians who were good smiths and worked there, paying Grandfather a small percentage for the use of the shop and tools. The Bayoff place was like a station, as a lot of Russian newcomers made it their stopping place. Grandfather built two trestles on top of which they would place a log, with one man on top and one on the ground pulling a long saw for sawing planks, beams and joists. The newcomers were happy to earn some money and then move on to look for a place to settle. I have been told, and later witnessed myself, that the homes of Nikolai and Mavra Postnikoff and Styopa Esakin were always open for transients, and there were plenty of them passing through Petrofka. Petrofka was their resting place.

Petrofka established itself fairly fast, after the officials showed them where to start building. The houses sprang up fast. I would not be surprised that some of the houses could have been built from the Bayoff man-powered sawing of planks. The villagers were allowed to measure up their lots. They got together and staked out every lot before the building of their homes. Later came the surveyors who were surprised to see that all the houses were properly placed on their respective lots.

There were a lot of problems. Most of the families acquired horses or oxen. The nearest store was at Borden and that was far away, especially for oxen. Besides they were too busy with field work. The animals were overworked and needed rest. The next town was Rosthern, 22 miles, but crossing the river created a problem. They acquired a boat so they now could cross the river. Not too often, but it did happen, that they walked to Rosthern, and brought their supplies on their backs. Even sacks of flour were brought in that way. They say necessity is the mother of invention. We had some very inventive and capable people in Petrofka. Dad tells me one such man was one of the inventors, or a better word, improviser. This man was John Strelioff. I knew him too as I often played with his son, also called John,

Going for flour in the Rosthern district of Saskatchewan, 1899. British Columbia Archives C-01355.

This man wanted to improve the river crossing. Instead of oars he devised a paddle wheel attached to the boat, and put a crank onto it. According to Bad, by cranking the paddle wheel they could, cross the river in half the time. That was very welcome and worked just fine, but he still had to walk to Rosthern and carry supplies on his back. So he improvised the wheel barrow by using a very large wheel. Dad does not remember where the wheel came from, but the diameter of the wheel was about 4 feet. That made pushing it with a load quite easy, as that size of a wheel rolled easily over small obstructions. John Strelioff actually pushed that barrow to Rosthern and brought a lot more supplies that way instead of carrying them on his back. He also made a bicycle. He used 2 wheels from spinning wheels, made sprockets from a spade and made a chain with links shaped from wire. The bicycle actually worked, but as far as Bad remembers there was no talk of it ever being used to go to Rosthern.

Soon the ferry (Petrofka Ferry – ed.) appeared. Everybody was happy. They could drive to Rosthern by team and wagon. Then buggies appeared which provided a little more speed and comfort. Conditions further improved when Waldheim appeared. It was only 8 miles then. The railroad made it possible to take trips to Saskatoon. Soon after, a grocery and confectionary store opened up, owned by Mr. Eagleson, who also had the Post Office with the title of Petrofka. Petrofka was a fast-growing village so the government, to keep peace among our people, empowered one of the early English speaking citizens as a judge; so we actually had a judge in our village. Dad does not remember the name of the judge, however he did not stay long as there were no disputes, no fights – in other words the judge had nothing to do so he left.

Events were moving rapidly. People became more settled. Russian and Ukrainian immigrants came in larger numbers, stopping in Petrofka to rest and consider their next move. The Bayoffs, Postnikoffs, Makaroffs and Esakins housed a lot of these people. They were all good people. In exchange for their keep they would work a few days sawing planks or work in a blacksmith shop. The shop was kept busy by sharpening plowshares and other iron work. Some of these nice people decided to stay on in our village and became one of us. They married our Doukhobor girls and settled down with them. Just to mention two of them, Peter Dobroluboff married a Kousnitsoff girl, and Stanislav Lostowski married Elizabeth Mitin, a widow.

With the never ending task of survival, with very little money, the building and seeing that there be enough money to feed and clothe the family, the task seemed insurmountable; yet against odds, there was time for socializing, such as it was. Most of them had not experienced the more extravagant upper level of social living, so there was no complaint. They would gather at the neighbor’s house for a talk or a singsong if they were in the mood. That went on when the people moved on to their homesteads, perhaps with a little more enthusiasm, because of the distance between them. Grandpa bought the school house, and had lots of room for visitors; Grandma (Lusha) Lukeria would always provide lunch. Quite often we would go to visit Grandpa and Grandma.

On one occasion, when we arrived at Grandpa’s, we found that we were not the only visitors. There were Salikins. Grandpa and Grandma were very close friends with Tanya and Nicholas. Philip Gulioff was also there. Tanya was a very likable woman, very sociable and usually the life of the party. Philip had a chair by the cupboard. He reached out his hand and began tapping on a tin dishpan. Pretty soon there developed a rhythm to his tapping. Tanya did not waste any time, jumped up, and executed a few graceful steps, approached Grandma, and said, ”come on Lusha, lets show them like we used to when we were young.” Grandma was reluctant at first, but then Philip began tapping with more lively music, at least to them and to me that was music. Philip increased the volume and gusto. It must have been hard for Grandma to resist. There was their chance to live again their young days in Russia. They began to move, and what a performance, their aprons swinging, their hands and arms gracefully swinging, their feet moving gracefully. They moved in a semi circular motion. They were so smooth; they were actually floating, using their arms and hands as in ballet. It did not mean too me much then, but as I think about it, I still can picture that dance. I have seen some ballet dancing, but I have not seen anything so smooth. If you have seen the Russian skaters, then you will see what I mean. They danced apart, but their movement of arms and hands were in perfect unison. You could almost say that the Russian peasants were born with a certain amount of ballet in them.

Grandpa Dmitry and Grandma Lusha Bayoff, Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan.

Lusha and Tanya were grandmothers, but really they at that time were young women even if they were Grandmothers. That was the first time I had seen Grandma Bayoff act this way. Everyone enjoyed themselves. It was a very pleasant visit. The Salikins visited them often, but I have not heard of Grandma and Tanya performing again. Perhaps Philip was not around.

Our young people grew up fast, and with the help of these Russian people soon a football team was formed (soccer ball). Every Sunday there were football games. I remember seeing them play. Dad was a goalkeeper. They even took part in Rosthern Sports day and nearly won one game. They blame the loss on the party the night before.

The first few years during the period of orientation life was hard, especially when one had to carry flour from Rosthern on their backs. So the elders of Petrofka and the other villages decided to build a flour mill. The Petrofka elders, including my Great Grandfather Grigory, foresaw the possibility of a water-driven wheel for supplying the power, and that was one reason they retraced their steps back north and settled at the present sight. It was closer to the creek. This creek (Radouga Creek – ed.) running through Uncle Paul Makaroff’s farm was the ideal location for the mill. It being centrally located between Petrofka and Terpeniye and Troitskoye, although other villages co-operated. The mill was located near Timothy Vereschagin’s home, not far from the present Brookhill School. To create a large enough water head, they dug by hand roughly two miles, more or less, a channel diverting the flow to create a high enough waterfall. They had done a wonderful job, a civil engineering job. It is surprising what necessity can do. The mill was built and put to work. The flow of water was enough to make the mill operational. The capacity of the mill was large enough to supply the need of the community. According to Dad, the mill produced very good flour. Dad does not remember how many years the mill worked, but he remembers that, supposedly, government men came along, removed the grinding stone, and gave them orders not to build another mill, but to buy flour as the other citizens did. If it was the government, I think it was very inconsiderate of them. The mill was destroyed, but the evidence is still there. I well remember, when I went to Makaroff’s to swim with Pete and Joe, the channel was still evident, although in a very deteriorated condition.

There was another mill built, whether before the destruction of the Petrofka mill or later, Dad does not remember. This other mill was built in the village of Troitskoye. It was a steam powered mill. The engine was a stationary one, but on wheels and had to be pulled by horses. Dad remembers one incident during the construction of this mill. There was a Chernoff who seemed to have been in charge of the job. A very capable and meticulous man, whose motto was perfection, for which he took pride and credit. As the story goes, on one occasion he observed that one worker had not been too accurate with his work, so he called out to this worker “this does not look too good, how did you level it”. The worker replied “I have leveled it by eye”. Chernoff was not satisfied; he called, “s— on your eye, use the level”. The order must have been carried out, as the mill was constructed, and produced very good flour. This also did not last long. To the sorrow of the people it was dismantled just like the Petrofka mill, supposedly by government men. Who knows?

We had some very strong men in Petrofka. The river that brought in logs used to flood at times, the large logs being two feet in diameter. To get them out of the river and drag them to shore required a lot of strength. Dad mentions one man, Pete Padowski. I remember him. He was a quiet man, yet a big man. He would drag the log over the bank to where the wagon stood. People asked him why he did not use the oxen. He answered that if he could not drag it over the bank the oxen certainly could not. Besides he saved the oxen to pull the wagon. Later on when the people began to buy cars, Padowski bought a car, and this I saw myself, to change a tire he called his wife to set the block under the axle, as he lifted the car by hand, without a jack.

Doukhobor house, Saskatchewan Colony, c. 1902. Glenbow Archives NA-949-102.

Grandfather Dmitry, with the help of Dad and Uncle Gabriel (Gavril – ed.), built the two houses, the necessary barns, dug a well and built a bath house. According to Dad, it was the second bath house in the village. So it was used by a lot of villagers. The custom was that the women go first to take a bath. They came in a group, as many as the bath house could hold, until all the women had their bath, so some were undressing as some were bathing, as all of them could not get in at once. As the rumor goes Grandpa was there bringing in water, etc., and seeing that the women had everything for their bath. He even washed some of the ladies backs to hurry the process. The first bathhouse was built on Reban’s lot, and was used as a community bathhouse. Families took turns to heat and supply water. Each family provided their own hazel nut brooms for steaming themselves and supplied their own soap.

Well, going back to Grandfather, helping the ladies was not the only good deed he did. He was some sort of a doctor. Usually Sundays, sometimes a visitor would come from another village to have Grandfather let blood. That I have witnessed myself. Grandma would roll up the person’s sleeve, tie a towel on the arm to have a vein stand out, while Grandpa opened up a little black box and produced small gadget which he called a lancet. After setting the gadget, he asked Grandma to hold a can. Pretty soon I heard a little click and I saw blood running out while Grandma caught the blood with the can. I don’t know whether it cured the person of the ailment, but all I know is I got pretty sick watching it. I know that Grandpa never charged anyone for this.

Another person worthy of mention was Mavra (Mavrunya) Postnikoff, wife of the ferryman, Nikolai, nicknamed Starchik. This good woman performed marvelously as a midwife, making deliveries in a large community. As far as I know, her record was that all the babies she delivered have lived. I and brother Pete are credited to her work.

As I have mentioned before, there were two Quakers on the boat. They must have evaluated the Doukhobors from every possible angle. The conclusion must have been in our favor as shortly after the villagers got themselves established, or caught up with the necessary housing, the Quakers contacted our elders and others of the village asking if Petrofka would like to have a school. The majority of the people agreed that it would be desirable to do a little learning at this time, being in a new country. That proved to the Quakers that we were a progressive people and wanted to better ourselves. The buildings were shipped from the U.S. pre-fabricated. The school had two classrooms and the teacherage was a two-story house. Mr. and Mrs. Wood and their daughter must have been the first teachers. Mr. Wood took the adults and Miss Wood the children. Russian classes and singing were given by Herman Fast, the father-in-law of our Mrs. Fast (Mavrunya), her husband being Nicholas Fast. I started in that school before I was five years old. By then there were two other teachers, Miss Martin and Miss Moore. They changed the teachers every year or two. It is understandable that the teachers needed a change, as a Doukhobor village with people who did not speak English does not provide much social life for a teacher. This school was used until the municipality was created, at which time the Government built a new Petrofka school, No. 23, about a mile north of the village.

The Quaker school attracted people from other villages, hoping for some learning. Dad mentions that at this time the housing situation became quite critical, as most of the homes were built just for their own families. Dad said he went as high as grade 3, but Mother said she used up one short pencil. She liked school and advanced quite rapidly, but her girl friends started to call her a “Professor”, so she quit and got married.

As Mothers are, my Mother was a kind-hearted, capable woman. She visualized that education was helpful in many ways, so she started my and Pete’s schooling at home. She instructed us in the Russian language. As I have mentioned before, she attended Russian classes taught by Herman Fast. She must have studied hard because she knew enough to give us a start in our studies. By the time we were 5 years old, both Pete and I knew how to read and write Russian.

Doukhobor village gathering, Saskatchewan Colony, c. 1902.

This Quaker built and sponsored school is credited with giving Dr. Nicholas Zbitnoff, presently of Ukiah, California, his start in schooling. With a lot of courage and fortitude, a lot of hard work and hard times, Dr. Zbitnoff became one of the most respected medical practitioners and surgeons. His education began in Petrofka.

I started English School at the village with my teacher being Miss Moore or Miss Martin. I was somewhere between four and five years old. I was given a slate and a slate pencil. I took this slate with me to the new Petrofka School north of the village. I think slates were used for the first year or two. We had a bottle of water on our desks and a clean rag to wash and dry our slates. We could not wash our slate until the teacher checked our work, thus checking our mistakes if any. The transition to paper was quite rapid. It was more convenient, and not so messy. Sometimes I feel that I should have kept on with the slate. Perhaps I would have been a smarter person.

As human nature goes, our people at times were subjected to ridicule. One such incident worthy of mention happened while a few of our boys were hired during threshing to pitch bundles, or haul sheaves, as a few dollars earned was quite helpful. This was across the river on one of the German families’ threshing outfits. The German people were hospitable. In spite of their good nature and friendliness, there were one or two young boys who were picking on one of our quietest boys. This chap was William L. Strelioff. They could not get him riled up, as he would ignore their picking on him. He would just move away from them. They must have made their minds up to see how much he could take. They did the meanest thing that could happen. One of them piddled into William’s cap. This made our boys very angry. Alyosha Rebin, Paul and Pete Rebin’s father shouted loudly, “We cannot take that, grab your forks and follow me. We must stop that once and for all times”. Alyosha was not a very big man, perhaps 140 pounds, but what he lacked in size, he made up in courage. There were only 3 or 4 of our boys, so with pitch forks in hand they followed Alyosha. The local boys did not feel like giving ground at first, but then changed their minds when Alyosha layed his fork across the back of one of them. They turned and ran with our boys after them, branding two or more of the local boys. The threshing was stopped for that day. The owner of the machine called the police who took everyone to Rosthern. Court was held. What a sight! The branded boys took their shirts off to show the 3 beautiful marks on their backs made by three-pronged pitch forks. The judge charged each one of our boys and the local boys $7.00, told the local boys not to use our boys’ caps for that purpose and told our boys not to use pitch forks for fighting. Dad was one of the pitch fork gladiators. Threshing resumed the next morning. If there was hostility, they did not show it. There was no bad language used and even more friendly relationship prevailed. Threshing season ended without further incident.

As time marched on, changes began to take place. People of Petrofka began to acquire land, mostly around the village. Since most of us had barns by now, they would drive their horses to their farms to work for the day and come back to the village for the night. I used to watch them come home in the evenings about sundown, driving their teams of four horses. To me it was a beautiful sight. Later on, one by one, they moved out of the village completely and started all over on their farms. However, the village did not diminish in size for awhile, as new arrivals had it nice to occupy the vacated buildings. Sundays the farmers would come to the village, either to visit, or just to see their friends and relatives and to play a game of ball, (hilki) or football. As the second generation grew up, bicycles and even cars began to appear. The children enjoyed going to the store to buy candy. Then there was the Post Office. As the older generation became too occupied with their farming, and building, football suffered. The younger generation became interested in baseball. Young people of the other villages began to visit Petrofka just to play and drink some cider at the store. Blaine Lake came into existence, so there was another team to play against. I believe it was in the early twenties that Petrofka had a sports day of their own. There were teams from across the river as well as from Blaine Lake. Big Pete Padowski was at the gate collecting admission to the grounds.

Father John Bayoff holding Alex, Dunya (John’s wife), Gabriel Bayoff. Seated are Dmitry and Lusha Bayoff with Anna Bayoff standing beside her.

The original store keeper, the Eaglesons, moved out because of schooling for their children. The store was then moved to Nick Makaroff’s house with Nick Postnikoff running it. The Post Office remained in Petrofka until most of the villagers moved out to their farms. Then the Post Office was moved 5 or 4 miles west of the village, but still keeping the name. Later when Nick Makaroff went to his farm, he took his store with him. Nick Postnikoff went with the store and stayed there until he died. They also had the Post Office called Radouga. Alex (Lioxia) Strelioff then opened a store in Makaroff’s house for a while, and then moved his store to Robin’s barn, running the store until he died. After that Paul Voykin opened up the store on his farm, 3 miles west of the village.

Sports were not the only hobbies. We also had some very talented people as well as strong and inventive people that I have mentioned before. Petrofka was always famous for its singers. I do not remember too much of the older people, but the younger generation really got the reputation. Under the direction of Samuel Postnikoff, who also was a very good singer, being a soloist at times, he produced a choir from our country boys and their wives that was outstanding in performance. Another cousin of mine, Edward Postnikoff was an outstanding member of the choir taking solo parts at times. I believe they were the nicest group of young boys and ladies that I have heard at that time. They entertained civic organizations in Saskatoon as well as performing on C.F.Q.C. radio.

We also had very prominent people in their respective ways. Fred Lovroff (Postnikoff) through hardship and perseverance became one of the famous artists of that time. His exhibits were shown in most of the important art displays in many countries. Later, Samuel’s daughter, Jeannette, became very prominent in her painting of live art. Our cousin Fred Post (Postnikoff) is another Petrofka product whose paintings of scenery could rank with the best. Another person was my Uncle Peter Makaroff, who became the first lawyer from Petrofka. He was also the first school teacher of the country Petrofka school which I attended. He must have played an important part in the history of Saskatoon, as there was a street named after him. The family of Mike and Grunya Postnikoff were instrumental in having a street named after them. However, the next generation produced a lot of professional people, not only from Petrofka but from most of the other villages as well. There were teachers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, druggists, engineers, dentists, etc.

In a lighter vein, Petrofka even had a pool room, only one table. I do not know how long it was in business or how it faired, as I was too young to realize what it was. It lasted only a few years.

We also had comedians. At this time I will relate one of the many occurrences. It happened one evening when a load of supplies, etc., came in from Rosthern. Naturally wine was one of the items brought in. Then a party had to take place, which was in Nickolai Popoff’s place, a brother of Grandfather Makaroff. As the party was in progress, the host, Nickolai Popoff revealed some important conclusions. Evidently he witnessed one of the bread and wine acts, a religious ceremony in a Mennonite church. There was a plate of bread broken into small pieces and a small jigger of wine. These were passed around the congregation and whoever wished to take part took a piece of bread and wet their lips with the wine. He mentioned how the people were misled, and that a sip of wine would entitle them to a place in heaven. He went on to say that here we drink it by the gallon and even then we are not sure if we be qualified for a place in heaven.

As the municipal school opened up, the school in the village closed up. Grandpa Bayoff bought the school and moved it to his homestead, about a mile north of the village. George Strelioff bought the teacherage and moved it about half a mile north of the village. Besides the house and other buildings in the village, Grandpa Makaroff built a two-story house on the outskirts of the village. Rebins also built their house on the northern outskirts of the village. All others had their farms, some close to and some not so close to the village. Dad built our house about 2 miles north of the village and Uncle Gabriel, still further north.

Pete and Alex Bayoff in the village of Petrofka, c. 1910.

Aunt Anna, who became Mrs. George Postnikoff, moved quite away south west of the village. Eventually every family moved out. Paul Voykin opened a store on his farm about three miles west of the village. The Petrofka Post Office was also moved to a farm west of the village. Sometime later Eli Gulioff opened a store and a barber shop close to the ferry.

So now the Petrofka Bridge carries the name of the once hustling and very active hamlet full of happiness, hard times and good times and some sorrowful. This has been blown away as if by a gust of wind, leaving only the spiritual members of Petrofka’s graveyard to remind us of its existence. Petrofka as well as other villages have done their duty and served their purpose in providing a link between those who came ahead and the new immigrants, keeping them together and helping one another to settle themselves for a new life in a new and strange country. That purpose had been accomplished. At this point it’s worthy of mention, Dad’s saying that we should be grateful to the good Queen Victoria for accepting us, and to our far-seeing elders who had enough courage to organize this move. Also we shouldn’t forget the help we received from Count Leo Tolstoy and the Quakers, and last but not least, to honour our ancestors who, through extreme hardship, brought us into this country where we so far have lived in harmony with other peoples of various races and religions.

We were then settled on the farm, north of the village, building, working the land, raising stock and poultry and gardening. Most of the Sundays we went to the village to mingle with friends and relatives and to see if there was any mail. In a few years of struggle, which included a lot of land clearing, we suddenly found ourselves solvent. The buildings were up, the implements paid for, the mares in foal and the cows heavy with calf. There were a few dollars put away under the mattress. As Dad wanted to increase the horsepower so that we could have two outfits of four animals, he thought he had a bargain on mules. So he bought a team. That is when you have to test your nerves.

They stopped working whenever they felt like it and would not move, no matter what, until they decided to. Something like our present unions, only the unions were justified in going on strike. Who knows, maybe the mules were justified. Dad could not figure that out so he traded them in on a new wagon and a nice new shiny buggy.

Life on the farm was a lot of hard work, as all of our people experienced. We had to do without things that we would have liked. Pete and I were too young to be of much help except to bring the cows from the pasture at milking time. Mother would go out in the field with Dad, who was either fencing or clearing land. One of the quarters had a lot of bush. I have seen Mother drive a team (of horses – ed.) hooked to a tree or bush, while Dad was swinging the axe to chop the roots. In the evening came milking time and supper making, and at bed time Mother would help us wash our feet, as Pete and I went bare footed a lot. Our poor Mothers, how they worked!

Then there were embarrassing times too. Mother tells of one incident when a Mounted Policeman drove into the field where Mother was plowing. She was wearing Dad’s overalls over her dress. The Policeman asked if she was a man or a woman and said “if you are a woman you better pull those overalls off”. Being scared, Mother complied. I do not remember her saying anything, whether she put them on again when the Policeman left.

Doukhobors threshing the grain harvest. Library and Archives Canada PA-022242.

Our yard was about a mile and a half from the bush, approaching the river and at that time it seemed as if it were full of coyotes. Some evenings they become quite musical. It seemed as though they had a whole choir. There were tenors, basses and sopranos. It was not uncommon to see a coyote come into the yard in broad daylight and grab a chicken.

As I have mentioned before, we had acquired a new buggy. The best way to train a horse is to do it when they are two years old. The only suitable horse we had then was a nice two year old stallion. He was quite gentle and well behaved. We used to hitch him up to the new buggy to go to the village for the mail. So one Sunday we took him to the neighboring church. At that time most of the driving was done by horse and buggy, so there were a lot of horses tied to the fence posts. Dad tied our young stallion next to the other horses and we all went into church. During the sermon we were attracted by the shrieking of horses. Dad went out and saw our young horse trying to be playful. Dad immediately moved him over away from the other horses and made sure that he tied him securely. The church service continued then without further interruption.

People as a whole were getting more affluent, so a change was forthcoming. Our neighbors bought a car. Then, as there were a few dollars under the mattress, brother Pete asked Dad to buy a car since the neighbors had one and Pete wanted to be equal. Dad did not want to rush into such an expense and so said, “No, we are not ready for it.” Pete began to cry as he was only 4 years old. Wiping his eyes and whimpering, he said the neighbors had a car so must we. Dad drew his attention to the fact he was small and could not do the work like the neighbors did, and because they had a big family, could earn a lot of money. At this point Pete, still crying, said, “What is keeping you from having a big family?” Dad and Mom took notice of that remark, especially coming from a four year old. After a little deliberation, they took the easy way out and bought a brand new Gray-Dort car.

In 1914 came the war. Dad, as well as other young men was called up, including Uncle Pete Makaroff who had just finished law school. I have heard that while pleading the case of the Doukhobors, Uncle was handled pretty rough by the police. A temporary release was obtained, due to the fact that the crops would soon be ready to harvest. They decided that our boys would be able to harvest the crops. Our people, seeing the seriousness of the situation, organized a meeting on the day of St. Peter and St. Paul, for prayer and to decide what to do. They agreed to send 5 or 4 men to Ottawa to plead our case. This meeting was held on the farm of Uncle Nicholas Makaroff, and was initiated as the first meeting in Saskatchewan in memory of the one held in Russia when they gathered all the firearms and burned them. That was on the day of St. Peter and St. Paul. In the District of Blaine Lake, as far as I know, these prayer meetings were held every year after that. This at times became a very large occasion, sometimes lasting two days. We had visitors from California and other parts of the U.S.A. to help bring back the memory of the first meeting in Russia for the burning of the firearms. Molokans were frequent visitors. At least on one occasion we had visitors from the Quakers.

As mentioned before, at the first historic meeting in Saskatchewan, they agreed to send a delegation to Ottawa. I do not remember if the delegates were elected or volunteered. They were Uncle Nick Makaroff, George Strelioff and the others I do not remember, but could have been from the district of Yorkton. These delegates did a good job convincing the government that we were let into Canada for the development of the North-West Territories. Documents showed that the good Queen Victoria exempted us from military service for 99 years. We were not bothered any more until the Second World War of 1939. At that time, our young men eligible for military service were exempt from it again, provided they did manual work in work camps. One of the camps was located just north of Prince Albert. They allowed one senior person to be with the boys to see that the boys behaved and that they were not abused. Pete was practicing dentistry in Meadow Lake. As he was the only dentist for a large territory, reaching from Meadow Lake all the way to Lenningrad, they decided to let him stay, but he had to pay a portion of his earnings to the war effort.

Group of Doukhobor girls, Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan, 1930. Library and Archives Canada PA-022240.

Now going back to 1918, the First World War came to an end November 11, 1918. Then the Spanish influenza came along. There were only a few people who did not get sick. I do not remember if Grandpa was sick or not. I remember that I was the last one of our family to get it. While I was able to move around, Grandpa would come and we would take the car to visit some sick neighbors. I was 11 years old, just old enough to think I knew a lot. However, I was lucky enough not to get caught by the police. They rode through the country quite frequently.

The two quarter sections of land that we owned were not adjacent to one another. This created inconvenience in moving machinery from one place to another and being a whole day away from home we also had to carry food and water for the midday feeding of the horses. My parents saw a chance to buy a half-section together and so they made a deal with Eli Strelioff, who at that time had an agreement of sale with a Mr. Smith of New York. Dad took over that agreement of sale and so we moved to about three miles south of Marcelin, and about 15 miles from our Petrofka home. The Petrofka property was sold to William Postnikoff who acquired the home quarter; and the other to Fred Dargin. It was in the spring of 1919.

To me at the time it seemed unfair; we had just settled properly at the Petrofka farm and then we had to start from scratch again. Moving is bad enough if you have some place to move to, but on the new farm there was a small 10′ X 12’ shack, one granary, no barn, and as the saying goes, “no nothing”.

Dad and Mother must have had extra strong intestinal fortitude. I had just turned 12 and pitched in with all my might. I missed three years school. It was hard work. We had to put up an addition to the shack, dig a well, build a barn, a chicken house and a workshop. There was more bush than we would have liked, so every spare day we were in the bush. I was old enough to handle a team, while Dad swung the axe.

The first crop, 1919, looked very good, but when we started cutting it, it was so full of rust that you could hardly see the horses in front of you. The yield was very poor. One of Dad’s best friends and neighbors in the village, Pete Reban, insisted that he would like to come all that way to thresh. It was not for the money, but to see where we were. It was a happy occasion in spite of the poor crop year. The two friends, Dad and “Uncle Pete” (we called him Uncle, as Dad and he were so close) had a real pow-wow. Paul was there too and we enjoyed his wit and humor.

There were bad and good years, plus hard work. It was very discouraging. It was hard to hit the right time to sell grain, due to changing markets. On top of that, we had to pay 20 cents exchange on American money. However, we buckled down and in 1925 we had a very good crop. The prices for grain were good. We paid up for the land, bought a new car, a Chrysler Sedan, built a new house and barn, bought another half section of land and were back in debt. Then the Depression began to spread. I started University and Pete, after trying University, switched to Normal School. He taught our home school, Gillies, for six years for $400.00 a year, for which he had to do the janitor work also. That $400.00 he turned over to the family. It was very welcome. Crop failure and quotas did not help any. Seeing no future in teaching, Pete started University again, and in 1940 graduated from the Northwestern University in Chicago and began his practice of Dentistry in Meadow Lake in 1940. He is still there at the time of writing this article, enjoying his retirement, after more than 40 years of practice. He still does work, if you can catch him at home, and he enjoys it. He still attends dental seminars and other dental meetings. He says once a dentist you want to keep abreast of new developments for the sake of knowing.

Group of young Doukhobors, Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan, 1930. Library and Archives Canada C-008888.

As for myself, I too got fed up with the Depression, and went to Minneapolis, where I got my Bachelors Degree in Civil Engineering; at the same time did a year of research work for a Masters Degree in Hydraulics. There were no jobs there either – very discouraging. I got a job in a hardware wholesale at a salary of $18.00 per week. Then I fell in love and got married to Mary Rogich. I moved into Mary’s home. She lived with her Mother and brother. Mary’s Mother was a wonderful woman, kind-hearted and very generous. After about a year I realized that I was not making any headway and I did not feel like sponging on the good nature of Mary’s Mother. Jobs in engineering or other types were non-existent. You got some sort of consideration if you joined the army. That was not for me. In the fall, I persuaded Mary to come to the farm with me. We would not have to pay rent, and at the same time have the best food that nature can give us. Besides I had an interest in the farm. Then when times got better, I could get an engineering job and we could try our luck at it. Mary was a city girl and could not see her way to become a farmer’s wife. It was my duty to provide for my family, and I could not do it for the year we tried in the city. So I decided to stay on the farm and at the same time keep my equity in the farm; she decided to go back to her Mother. It was hard on both of us. We loved one another, but as we have found out, people cannot live on love alone. It was harder on Mary as her Mother was a widow, and. it was Mary’s duty to be with her, or near her. Mary was a wonderful wife, but somehow the conditions were against us. The Thirties were rolling on, so was the Depression, so it would be foolish for me to quit farming to look for another job. I tried.

I concluded that the Depression and hard times was 90% responsible for the breaking up of this my family. We were not the only victims of the Depression. Banks went broke and people lost all their belongings. Many committed suicide. The first job I got was in 1939 when I managed to get on the crew for building a boiler for the Saskatchewan Power Commission. That job paid 25 cents an hour. I lived in the Barry Hotel, ate out and managed to bring some money home.

Then the war broke out and in 1940 I joined the M & C Aviation Co. to design aircraft parts. After the war was over I could get ten jobs. I worked for Underwood and McLellan for several years, then took time out to build four houses in Saskatoon. Just prior to this time I received word that I was divorced from Mary. Then in a few years I re-married Daisy Sawley, who helped me build the four houses. I then went back to surveying, working for Webb and Webster for a few years more. Mother died in 1962. That knocked the energy out of me, so I retired from my engineering work.

Two good things resulted in my varied life. One is that Mary gave us a wonderful Daughter whom we love very much. This is partly the cause of me writing this article, as our Daughter knows very little of my background. The other good thing that happened was when I met Daisy. It is surprising how much can be accomplished when two people pull together. Diana, our Daughter comes to visit us quite often. Daisy and Diana get along very well, so well that I sometimes feel jealous, but I am happy that they get along so well. We thank Mary, Diana’s Mother, from the bottom of our hearts for giving us such a wonderful Daughter.

It would be inconsiderate of me not to mention the help and advice of my loving wife. She gave me encouragement, help and support in writing this article. . She is a true Christian and a Good Samaritan. When Mother was sick, she took her into our home, and looked after her. Now we have Dad, who is harder to look after, Daisy does not complain, and takes things as they come.

There are only three old Bayoff’s left. There will be no more Bayoff’s of this dynasty to carry on. The branch of Uncle Gabriel’s dynasty was terminated when Fred died, leaving three ladies, Olga, Anne and Elsie. If they do have children, they will not carry the name. Of Dad’s, mine and Pete’s branch, most likely Diana will be stuck with writing the last chapter of our dynasty. God Bless her and give her good health and strength, and I hope she is happy being in the family. We also thank Edward and Mary Postnikoff from the bottom of our hearts for taking care of Grandpa Dmitry in his last days, and taking care of his funeral in the best of Doukhobor traditions. Thank you Edward and Mary.

Labor Day of 1983, we went to Manitou Beach (Watrous, Saskatchewan – ed.) for a swim in the pool, as it was closing for the season. Dad enjoyed himself very much. He stayed in the pool for three hours. When he got out he said, “Goodbye pool, I will never see you again”. The pool buildings burned down early that fall and Dad died March 30, 1984.

I am now the official old man (starichok or “elder” – ed.) of my family, even though I do not feel that old. It is just the honorary recognition I must accept.

Alex Bayoff,

Saskatoon, SK., May 1985