New Year’s Among the Early Doukhobors

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

As we approach the eve of the New Year’s, it is a timely opportunity to examine how this cultural holiday was traditionally celebrated by our 18th and 19th century Doukhobor forebears in Russia.

Ancient Russian Folk Holiday

For centuries in Russia, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day (collectively New Year’s or Novy God) has been celebrated as a folk holiday on January 13/14 under the Old (Julian) Calendar.

Many of the traditions and rituals associated with this celebration dated back to pre-Christian, pagan times, and centred around house-to-house visiting by groups of young people, costumed as characters from folk tales, as well as the preparation and sharing of special food and drink.

When Doukhobors openly rejected the Orthodox Church and its teachings in the late 1700s and early 1800s, they discarded many folk holidays and religious feast days as being unnecessary and superfluous. Interestingly, however, they continued to observe Novy God as a holiday, maintaining many ancient South Russian folk customs associated with it. These customs are described below as follows:

House to House Visits

On New Year’s Eve, Doukhobor children would gather together and go from house to house in their village, chanting the following greeting as they went:

Сейим сейим посиваем
Новый год устриваем
А вы наши люди
Чего либо дайте
Хуч у хату позавите
Хуч на двор унасите.

Seeds, seeds we are sowing,
We are celebrating the New Year
And you, our people,
Give me something,
Invite us into your home,
Or bring it outside.

As they chanted this greeting, they ‘sowed’ seeds around each room in the house, trying hard to throw some onto the bed as this was thought to bring prosperity to the household. The house was not swept until the next morning, so as not to ‘sweep out’ the prosperity. Villagers warmly welcomed these youthful ‘sowers’ into their homes, offering them kalachi (a type of sweet bun), pirohi (baked pies) and other sweets.

Adults got together together to make cheese vareniki (dumplings), the traditional dish for New Year’s festivities. At nightfall, the villages were aglitter as children walked up and down the village street carrying homemade torches they called ‘candles’ or ‘lanterns’ which were in fact long sticks with rags tied to one end dipped into paraffin oil and lit.

Moleniye

Early New Year’s morning, between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m., villagers attended moleniye (prayer meetings) held at their meeting house or one of the village dwellings. There, they would eat bread and drink water, while giving thanks to God for these necessities of human existence. After giving thanks, one villager would state his or her views on the moral life and exhort his brethren to a closer adherence to the teachings of Christ, and then another would do the same.

After the prayer meeting, the villagers would disperse to their own homes, where an extra amount of prayers and psalm-reciting was undertaken.

One particularly noteworthy psalm recited on New Year’s Eve was as follows:

Новый год бежит – во яслях лежит, О, Кто? – Отрока благого нам небо дало. О, чудо! Как время было, – места не было родить чистой девице – Богородице. О, где – В Вифлееме граде, в нищенском доме, спокойном. Идите прямо – укажут вам. О, кто? – Иосиф старенький, Богу миленький, пут вам скажет. Пастушки Его перед Творцом смиряются; ангелы поют, Царя ведают, строят, дары. Воспоем и мы песню новую, Христову, Будешь похвален, ото всех прославлен, с девой со пречистой, с матерью со Чристовой. Кто не внушался, тот человеком остался не вем. Богу нашему слава.

A new year has begun – [a child] is lying in a manger. Oh, who? Heaven has given us a blessed Son. Oh, miracle! When the time came, there was no place for the pure virgin – the Mother of God – to give birth. Oh, where? In the town of Bethlehem, in a poor home, a peaceful one. Go there now – someone will show you. Oh, who? Old Joseph, who is dear to God, will tell you the way. Shepherds humble themselves before the Creator; angels sing, acknowledging the King, bringing gifts. Let us also sing a new song, a song for Christ. And You will be praised and glorified by all, with the purest virgin, the mother of Christ. One who is not filled with awe [by this], remains an ignorant person. Glory to our God. (Translated by Natasha Jmieff).

Festivities & Rituals

Later that day, the young people would masquerade as gypsies, and would go houses to house chanting as they went, and were treated with cakes and vodka. The festivities and socializing would then spill over into the street: villagers in their best holiday dress would stroll about the village, and the children and young people would go sleigh-riding in brightly painted and harnessed horse-drawn sledges.

Young Doukhobor maidens also performed ancient divination rituals (such as taking a pail of water beside their bed, hanging a lock on the door handle, putting a key under their pillow or baking and eating an overly-salty bun) so as to conjure up images and glimpses of their fate, particularly that of their future husbands.

Early Celebration in Canada

Doukhobors continued to observe these traditional New Year’s festivities after their arrival in Canada in 1899, at least initially. The major difference was that after 1894, the followers of Peter Vasil’evich Verigin abandoned meat-eating and vodka-drinking altogether.

Also, in 1903, they moved their observance of New Year’s from January 13/14 under the Old (Julian) Calendar to December 31/January 1 under the New (Grigorian) Calendar.

At a 1908 all-village congress held by the Doukhobor Community in Nadezhda village, Saskatchewan, Peter V. Verigin, in an effort to simplify and modernize Doukhobor ceremony and ritual, set aside the traditional Doukhobor festivities associated with New Year’s. Thereafter, among Community Doukhobors, the holiday was formally shorn of most folk custom and external ceremony.

Traditions Maintained

However, not all traditional New Year’s customs were set aside by Doukhobors.

Among those Doukhobors living independently on the Prairies, the tradition of going outdoors with a lit torch to welcome in the coming year was maintained by at least some families, well into the 1950s and 1960s. Meanwhile, in the Kootenay and Boundary regions of BC, the tradition of ‘sowing seeds’ (Сейим сейим посиваем) existed in some village settlements well into the 1950s and 1960s, and indeed, even into the 1980s. Many families in BC continued to recite the psalm, “A New Year has Begun” (Новый год бежит) to the present day. Finally, many Doukhobor families throughout Canada still cook vareniki on New Year’s.


Bibliographic Sources

  • Chernoff, Katherine, Calgary, AB. Correspondence with writer re: Kootenay Doukhobor New Year’s customs, December 31, 2023;
  • Inikova, Svetlana, “Holidays and Rituals of Doukhobors in the Caucasus”;
  • Ivanits, Linda J. Russian Folk Belief (Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 1989);
  • Konkin, Evseyevich Konkin to Bonch-Breuvich, Vladimir Dmitr’evich correspondence dated February 12, 1909 in Bonch-Breuvich, Vladimir D., Zhivotnaia kniga dukhobortsev (Winnipeg: Union of Doukhobors of Canada, 1954;
  •  Nelson Daily News, January 15, 1910;
  • Osachoff, Linda, Canora, SK. Correspondence with writer re: Prairie Doukhobor New Year’s customs, January 5, 2021;
  • Poogachoff, Polly (Kalmakoff), Kamloops, BC. Correspondence with writer re: Kootenay Doukhobor New Year’s customs, December 31, 2023;
  • Slastukin, Katie, Grand Forks, BC. Correspondence with writer re: Boundary Doukhobor New Year’s customs, December 31, 2023;
  • Verigin, Elmer, Castlegar, BC. Correspondence with writer re: Prairie Doukhobor New Year’s customs, January 5, 2021; and
  • Walton, Lorraine (Saliken), South Slocan, BC. Correspondence with writer re: Kootenay Doukhobor New Year’s customs, December 31, 2023.
Image: Konstantin Aleksandrovich Trutovsky, “Christmas Carols in Little Russia, 1864. Saint Petersburg State Russian Museum collection.

Kut’ya – A Traditional Doukhobor Christmas Recipe

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

Kut’ya (Cyrillic: Кутья) (pronounced: KOOT-yah) is a cold wheat porridge/pudding, sweetened with honey, traditionally made by Doukhobors in Russia and the Caucasus at Christmas for centuries. It is customarily served on Christmas Eve, following the evening prayer meeting, to family and friends.

The following Doukhobor recipe for Kut’ya was shared with the writer by Vasily Stroyev and family, formerly of Troitskoye village, Bogdanovsky region, Georgia, now living in Markevichevo village, Shiryaevsky district, Odessa region, Ukraine.

Ingredients

3 cups wheat4 tablespoons brown sugar
½ to 1 cup poppy seeds1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup honey¼ teaspoon salt
Ground nuts, raisins or diced fruit if desired

Instructions

  1. Clean the wheat by spreading it on a plate and removing any green kernels, foreign seeds, chaff, etc. Rinse it well in a colander. Soak the wheat in 6-8 cups of fresh water overnight for approximately 8 hours.
  2. Cook the wheat.
    a. Stovetop: add 6 cups of water and wheat to pot and bring to a boil. Skim the residue off the top. Turn to low heat, cover and simmer for 4-5 hours, stirring frequently and adding more water as needed.
    b. Slow Cooker: add 6 cups of water and wheat to slow cooker. Cook on high heat for half an hour, then reduce to low heat and cook for 6-8 hours.
    The wheat will expand as it cooks to approximately twice its volume. It is done when the kernels burst open and the white germ appears. Drain off excess water in a colander.
  3. Place poppy seeds in a small bowl and pour 1 cup of boiling water of it. Let it sit for 15 minutes then drain. The poppy seed may then either be ground or added whole to the wheat.
  4. In a large measuring cup, combine honey (can be melted in the microwave), brown sugar, vanilla and vanilla with 1 cup of boiling water. Stir until honey is completely dissolved. Add to wheat mixture and stir thoroughly.
  5. Add ground nuts and/or diced fruit if desired to wheat mixture.
  6. The wheat mixture should be porridge- or pudding-like in texture. Cool in refrigerator. Serve either hot or cold. Makes 10-12 cups/servings.

Notes

The making of Kut’ya at Christmas is a millennia-old Orthodox tradition practiced throughout the former Russian Empire. When the Doukhobors openly rejected the Orthodox church in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, they discarded many Orthodox customs and traditions. However, they continued to make Kut’ya at Christmas, modifying and imbuing the practice with their own religious meaning and significance. Learn more about the historical, religious and cultural aspects of Christmas Among Doukhobors.

When the Doukhobors first arrived in Canada in 1899, they initially continued to make Kut’ya at Christmas. However, at an All-Doukhobor Congress at Nadezhda village, Saskatchewan in December 1908, Peter V. Verigin, in an effort to simplify and modernize Doukhobor ceremony and ritual, and to focus on its wholly spiritual aspects, set aside many of the folk traditions and festivities formerly associated with Christmas, including Kut’ya making. Thereafter, the recipe eventually fell into disuse and was forgotten by many – but by no means all – Canadian Doukhobors. The Doukhobors who remained in Russia and the Caucasus continue to make Kut’ya to this day.

Let us revive this centuries-old, traditional Doukhobor recipe!

Image Credits: Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Categories
Historical

Paska – A Traditional Doukhobor Easter Recipe

By Jonathan Kalmakoff

Paska (Cyrillic: Паска) (pronounced: PAH-skah) is a round, egg-enriched sweet bread, traditionally made by Doukhobors in Russia and the Caucasus at Easter for centuries. It is customarily served on Easter Sunday, following the morning prayer meeting, to family and friends.

The following Doukhobor recipe for Paska was shared with the writer by Vasily Stroyev and family, formerly of Troitskoye village, Bogdanovsky region, Georgia, now living in Markevichevo village, Shiryaevsky district, Odessa region, Ukraine.

Ingredients

flour (2 kg initially; more as needed)sugar (600 grams)
warm milk (1 litre)salt (1 teaspoon)
eggs (10)yeast (30 grams dry/100 grams fresh)
melted butter (600 grams)raisins (200 grams)
icing sugar (10 table spoons)vanillin (4 grams)

Instructions

  1. Sift flour so that it is well saturated with air.
  2. In a bowl, add 8 tablespoons of flour. Add in the yeast and 4 teaspoons of sugar, along with a little warm milk.  Mix yeast mixture well, cover bowl with a tea towel and put in a warm place for 15 minutes.
  3. In another bowl, pour in the egg. (If making icing under Step 11, pour in egg yolks only, and separate egg whites into a different bowl and put in fridge to chill.). To the eggs, add the salt and start beating, gradually adding the sugar to get a lush, creamy texture that leaves a light pattern behind.
  4. In another bowl, combine the rest of the milk and flour.  Slowly beat in the egg yolk/sugar mix. Add in the yeast mixture (once it has sat for 15 minutes), then the melted butter.
  5. Begin kneading the dough mixture, adding in the vanillin. While kneading, add up to 100-200 grams of additional flour, if necessary, to ensure a soft, smooth elastic texture (however, do not add too much!). Continue to knead the dough thoroughly for up to 40 minutes.
  6. Once kneaded, cover the bowl of dough with a tea towel and put in a warm place to rise for 1 ½ hours. The dough will be yellowish in colour because of the volume of eggs used.
  7. In the meantime, while the dough is rising:
    • Rinse the raisins with water, drain, then place on a tea towel to dry. Once dry, dust the raisins with two tablespoons of flour; and
    • Grease 10 large coffee tins (or other cylindrical baking tins) with butter.
  8. Once the dough has risen, stretch it out on a countertop (dusted with flour), add in the raisins and knead/roll until the raisins are evenly distributed.
Raw paska dough in tin forms. Image: Vasily Stroyev.
  1. Divide the dough into roughly 10 equal parts. Roll each part into a ball and place into a coffee tin; each ball should fill approximately half of the tin. Cover the cans loosely with a towel and leave for 20 minutes until the dough slightly rises out of the tins.
  2. Put tins in oven preheated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 35 minutes. Then take out tins and place on countertop on their sides, turning them from time to time, as they cool over 15 minutes. They should then be easily removed from tins.
Baked paska, removed from tins, cooling on tray. Image: Vasily Stroyev.
  1. This next step is optional, as Doukhobor paska did not traditionally have icing. Beat the chilled egg whites together, then add icing sugar and whip well until it is a thick, frothy consistency. Optional: add a dash of lemon or orange juice to taste. Then, using a spatula, add icing mixture generously to the top of each of the completely cooled loafs. Optional: add sprinkles to the top of the icing mixture before it hardens. Allow the icing to dry well before serving.  
Doukhobor paska with decorative icing added. Image: Vasily Stroyev.

Notes

History

The making of Paska at Easter is a millennium-old Orthodox tradition practiced throughout the former Russian Empire. When the Doukhobors openly rejected the Orthodox church in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, they discarded many Orthodox customs and traditions. However, they continued to bake Paska at Easter, modifying and imbuing the practice with their own religious meaning and significance. Learn more about the historical, religious and cultural aspects of Easter Among Doukhobors.

In the Doukhobor South Russian dialect, the bread is called Paska (Паска), which is also its name in Ukrainian. In modern Russian it is called Paskha (Пасха).

Unlike Orthodox Russians and Ukrainians, who braid the loaves or imprint them with crosses and other religious symbols, Doukhobor loaves are left plain and unadorned. This is a very important religious and cultural distinction that reflects Doukhobor iconoclast beliefs.

When the Doukhobors first arrived in Canada in 1899, they initially continued to bake Paska at Easter. However, at an All-Doukhobor Congress at Nadezhda village, Saskatchewan in December 1908, Peter V. Verigin, in an effort to simplify and modernize Doukhobor ceremony and ritual, and to focus on its wholly spiritual aspects, set aside many of the folk traditions and festivities formerly associated with Easter, including Paska baking. Thereafter, the recipe eventually fell into disuse and was forgotten by many – but by no means all – Canadian Doukhobors. The Doukhobors who remained in Russia and the Caucasus continue to bake Paska to this day.

Additional Baking Tips

Some Canadian Doukhobor users of this traditional recipe have suggested the following tips and tricks:

  • Combining Ingredients: It may be less cumbersome to follow a common bread recipe method of ‘proofing’ the yeast mixture separately, but combining and mixing the rest of the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, vanillin, raisins) together at once.
  • Tins: Coffee tins or cylindrical baking tins must be very well greased or else lined with parchment paper to avoid sticking. Cylindrical spring-form pans with detachable bottoms and openable sides may work best.
  • Fill the tins between 1/3 and no more than 1/2 with dough balls to avoid significant overflow.
  • Recipe Size: This is a large recipe that makes the equivalent of about 5 dozen buns. Consider halving the recipe ingredients for a smaller amount.
  • Cooking Time and Temp: Although the loaves may be browned on top, they may not be thoroughly baked inside. Consider baking instead at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 40-50 minutes.

Let us revive this centuries-old, traditional Doukhobor recipe!

Categories
General

Christmas Among the Doukhobors

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

For over three centuries, Doukhobors have celebrated Christmas, a festival commemorated annually by Christians across the globe. As we once again make ready to do so, it is essential to remind ourselves how this holiday is understood in Doukhobor religious philosophy, how it differs in key aspects from that of other Christian denominations, as well as the Doukhobor cultural and folk traditions associated with Christmas.

Orthodox Christmas

Since the introduction of Christianity to Russia in 988 AD, Rozhdestvo Khristovo or ‘the Nativity of Christ’ (Christmas) was celebrated by the Orthodox Church to remember the birth of Jesus Christ. It was traditionally observed under the Julian (Old) Calendar, which ran thirteen days behind the Gregorian (New) Calendar, putting it on January 7th rather than December 25th when it is now commonly observed.

To the Orthodox, Jesus Christ was the divine Son of God incarnate, born to the Virgin Mary by immaculate conception through the Holy Spirit. That is, he was considered the literal, supernatural embodiment of God on earth, having taken on human body and human nature, who performed miracles, cured the sick and raised the dead.

The Orthodox celebration of Rozhdestvo Khristovo was preceded by a forty-day fast, during which meat, dairy products and eggs were not eaten, and parishioners engaged in prayer and charity. When the festival finally arrived, church attendance was compulsory by law.[i] On the evening of Christmas Eve, parishioners attended the church liturgy service, whereafter they went home and ate a meal of twelve meatless dishes. That night, they returned to church for an all-night vigil to observe Jesus’ birth. After hours of standing (the Orthodox church had no seats) and praying, the priest led a procession out of the church, with the parishioners carrying icons and candles led by the priest burning incense in a censer. They circled the building until midnight, after which they returned home. On Christmas morning they once again returned to the church to attend the nativity liturgy service after which they went home for feasting and merriment.

Winter Doukhobor village scene. Joseph Elkinton, “The Doukhobors: Their History in Russia, Their Migration to Canada” (Philadelphia: Ferris & Leach, 1903).

Doukhobor Repudiation of Orthodox Christmas

During the mid to late 1700s, while the Doukhobors were still living among Orthodox Russians, they outwardly continued to celebrate Rozhdestvo Khristovo in the obligatory manner. Some went to church for appearances’ sake; while others made excuses to not attend at all. At home, they observed the festival with simple moleniye (‘prayer meetings’) followed by visits among fellow believers.

However, by this time, Rozhdestvo Khristovo had already acquired an inner, spiritual meaning and significance among Doukhobors that differed substantially from that of their Orthodox neighbours, and which was founded on dramatically different ideas concerning God and Christ.

They ceased to believe that the Christmas fast offered any spiritual advantage to the soul; for true fasting was not in abstaining from food but from vice and gluttony. Attending the church at Christmas was not essential to salvation, for they believed the ‘true’ church was not built by human hands – it was spiritual, invisible and within us. The priest’s conduct of Christmas mass was unnecessary, for they understood the Spirit of God resided in the soul of every person and could be directly understood and interpreted – without need of an intermediary – by listening to the voice within.  

Indeed, Doukhobors came to view the Orthodox observance of Christmas – with its complex and elaborate ritual, Slavonic chanting, burning of incense, lighting of candles, bowing and crossing, as well as the resplendent robes of the priest and the richly adorned church with stained glass windows, gold candelabras and crucifixes, icons, sacred relics and ornately decorated domes – to be a contrived, outward sensory and material experience that served only to distract from a true, inner spiritual understanding of the holiday.

What is more, they believed that the Orthodox depiction of Christ’s birth and existence as something ‘mystical’, ‘superhuman’, ‘supernatural’ and ‘otherworldly’ was an artificial embellishment introduced by the church in order to mystify and confound its followers as to his true nature.

Doukhobor household in winter. Joseph Elkinton, “The Doukhobors: Their History in Russia, Their Migration to Canada” (Philadelphia: Ferris & Leach, 1903).

Christ and Christmas as Understood by Doukhobors

According to Doukhobor belief, Jesus was neither immaculately conceived nor born of a virgin, nor was he the literal Son of God incarnate in human flesh. Rather, he was an ordinary mortal man, born to an ordinary woman named Mary. In the physical sense, Jesus was no different from other men. In the spiritual sense, however, God chose Jesus as his anointed one by endowing him with divinely-inspired, extraordinary spiritual intelligence in his soul, lucid and enlightened beyond that of his fellow man.[ii]  Because of this, Jesus was able to attain the highest, purest, most perfect understanding of God’s Law, and was therefore the Son of God, a man, but not God himself.

Doukhobors believed that Jesus’s enlightened teachings and life revealed mankind’s true meaning and purpose, which was to fulfill God’s Law – to love God with all of one’s heart, soul and mind, and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. God’s Law was manifested in Jesus through his loving attitude toward other people.[iii] The role of his followers, Doukhobors believed, was to emulate Christ by living, as he did, according to God’s Law, to strive to follow his example, and thus be saved through their own works.[iv]

For Doukhobors, then, Christmas marks the day when the world was given a child to lead the world through God’s Law to peace on earth – good will among men. Doukhobors celebrate it as a sign of honour and glory for Jesus Christ.[v] We observe this occasion during all the days of our life as we endeavor to emulate him in our own actions.[vi]  

Doukhobor Christmas Customs in Russia

Once Doukhobors openly rejected the Orthodox Church and its teachings in the late 1700s and early 1800s, they discarded many Orthodox feast days as being unnecessary and superfluous. However, they continued to celebrate Rozhdestvo Khristovo as an important holiday in accordance with their own beliefs and interpretations. In doing so, they adapted some of the Christmas holiday rituals and customs from the Orthodox, imbuing them with new meaning and significance.

Both during their settlement along the Molochnaya River near the Sea of Azov (Molochnye Vody) from 1801-1845 and in the Caucasus (Zakavkaz) from 1841-1899, Doukhobors are recorded as having celebrated Christmas over a three day period commencing January 6th, being Christmas Eve under the Old (Julian) Calendar.[vii]

On Christmas Eve, the men performed their daily agricultural chores while the women cleaned the house and baked, cooked and prepared food for the upcoming Christmas feast.[viii] At dinner, Doukhobor families ate twelve meatless dishes, a tradition retained from Orthodoxy, which might include any of the following dishes: borshch (cabbage-based soup), vareniki (boiled dumplings with savory fillings), lapshevniki (‘baked noodles’), pyure iz fasoli (‘mashed beans’), rybnyi kholodets (pickled fish), kvashenye ogurtsy (pickled cucumbers), kartoshniki (‘mashed potatoes’), pyrohi (‘baked savory pies’) and pyroshki (‘baked sweet tarts’), bliny (‘pancakes’), holubtsy (‘cabbage rolls’), kvashenaya kapusta (‘sauerkraut’), vinaigrette (‘salad’), kasha (‘rice porridge’), uzvar (homemade fruit juice), and always, kutya (a boiled wheat dish sweetened with honey).[ix] In the evening, grandmothers recited psalms while the family gathered to listen.[x] 

At midnight on Christmas Eve, Doukhobor villagers assembled at a common dwelling or prayer home to hold a moleniye (‘prayer meeting’).[xi] The Christmas moleniye traditionally began with the Doukhobor psalm, Narodilsya nam Spasitel (‘Our Savior was Born’)[xii] which reads as follows:

“Our Savior is born, an Enlightener to the whole world. Sing praises to Him. All the world glorifies Him eternally. Rejoice ye, prophets who have the power of prophesizing, those who are with their oath! The Savior is coming at the last moment. Sing praise to Him, in joyous sweet songs, sing and play to Him. A star is travelling from the East to the place of the new-born prophet. The angles are singing in unison, expressing their love with the sound of their voices. Animals announce with their voices to the shepherds that a miracle has happened. There are clear signs announcing the birth of Christ. Three Wise Men bring Him the most precious gifts; gold frankincense and myrrh. The Father of the future ages offers you rich gifts. He came here to redeem the poor mankind. Eternal God was born and has taken human flesh. Glory be to our God.”[xiii]

Early Christmas morning, Doukhobor villagers again gathered for moleniye to worship, then returned home.[xiv]  The adults would not eat breakfast and would carry out their morning chores.[xv]  Children were given nuts or fruit as a special treat.  Throughout the afternoon, Doukhobors would stroll through the village streets, singing psalms and greeting friends and neighbours,[xvi] with the following customary greeting: Na zdorov’ye! (‘To Health!’), to which the customary reply was Slava Bohu! (‘Thank God!’).[xvii] 

Later, the entire family would sit down to enjoy Christmas dinner, which typically consisted of the same dishes enjoyed the night before; however, meat dishes such as roast goose, chicken or pork were also included.[xviii] In the evening, the adults would visit or host relatives and friends while the young people enjoyed themselves at vecherushki (‘parties’).[xix]  Often, the young people would dress up and masquerade about the village, an ancient Russian folk custom.[xx]

The third and final day of the Christmas celebration (today, Boxing Day) was spent in much in the same manner – with merry visiting, singing and feasting throughout the village.

Winter open-air Doukhobor prayer meeting. J. Elkinton, “The Doukhobors: Their History in Russia, Their Migration to Canada” (Philadelphia: Ferris & Leach, 1903).

Doukhobor Christmas Commemoration in Canada

These Christmas traditions continued to be practiced, without change, through the 20th century to the present day by the Doukhobors of Gorelovka, Georgia and surrounding villages. However, among the Doukhobor followers of Peter Vasil’evich Verigin, several significant changes were made to the Christmas celebration after 1887. 

First, in November 1894, those Doukhobors stopped eating meat in accordance with the teachings of Verigin, then in exile in the Russian Far North, brought back by his messengers to his followers in the Caucasus.[xxi]  Thereafter, no meat (including fish) was consumed as part of the Christmas feasting.

Second, following their migration to Canada in 1899, the Doukhobors initially continued to celebrate Christmas as they had in Russia, over a three-day period according to the Julian (Old) Calendar. In January 1901, the Swan River Star reported, “The Doukhobors appear to know how to celebrate Christmas. Their feast lasted three days and commenced on Jan. 6. They still use the old style of counting time.”[xxii] However, by 1903, the Winnipeg Free Press reported that “they have disregarded the Russian and adopted the Canadian calendar and are beginning to observe Canadian holidays and festivals.”[xxiii] Thereafter, the Doukhobors celebrated Christmas twelve days earlier in accordance with the Gregorian (Old) calendar, on December 24-26.  

Third, at an all-village congress of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood held in Nadezhda village, Saskatchewan in December 1908, Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin, in an effort to modernize and simplify their worship, discarded many of the traditional rituals, psalms and feasts observed by the Doukhobors.[xxiv] Thereafter, Christmas continued to be observed within the Community, however, the celebration was paired down from three days to a day and a half, with worship services still held on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, but with the feasting and revelry reduced to a more modest scale befitting that of Christ’s followers.[xxv] Some of these changes were also adopted by Independent Doukhobors who left Verigin’s Community, to greater or lesser degrees.

In the years that followed, new psalms and hymns were added to the existing repertoire of those traditionally sung during Doukhobor Christmas moleniye [xxvi] while the foodstuffs enjoyed at their Christmas feast varied according to local availability and economic conditions.[xxvii] However, the essence of the traditional Doukhobor Christmas celebration, as it evolved in the late 19th and early 20th centuries continued to be observed by many Canadian Doukhobors well into the 1950s, and indeed, to the present.

Doukhobor villagers assembled outdoors in winter. Joseph Elkinton, “The Doukhobors: Their History in Russia, Their Migration to Canada” (Philadelphia: Ferris & Leach, 1903).

Conclusion

Although there was none of the ubiquitous commercialism associated with Christmas today, including notions of gift-giving, Santa Clause, Christmas trees and outdoor light displays, Christmas as traditionally understood and celebrated by Doukhobors was and is a most meaningful and anticipated event.


After Word

Publication

A previous version of this article was originally published in:

Doukhobor Christmas Prayer Service

To experience and participate in a traditional Doukhobor Christmas prayer meeting, contact your nearest Doukhobor society or organization to find in-person dates and times or whether online streaming of services are available.

Traditional Doukhobor Kut’ya Recipe

To prepare traditional Doukhobor Kut’ya like that mentioned above, see the following Doukhobor Kut’ya Recipe. This recipe was adapted from that shared by Doukhobor Vasily Stroyev and family, formerly of Troitskoye village, Bogdanovsky region, Georgia, now residing in Markevichevo village, Shiryaevsky district, Odessa region, Ukraine.


End Notes

[i] In Imperial Russia, receiving the Orthodox sacraments and attending church on Sundays and feast days was compulsory by law: see for example, M. Raeff, Imperial Russia, 1682-1825 (Michigan, University of Michigan, 1971); D. Longley, Longman Companion to Imperial Russia, 1689-1917 (New York: Pearson Education Limited, 2000).

[ii] Regarding the Doukhobor belief in Jesus, born a man, see: Bonch-Breuvich, Vladimir Dmitr’evich, Zhivotnaya Kniga Dukhobortsev (St. Petersburg: V.M. Volf, Sib. Nevskiy Pr., 1909), Psalms 1 (Q/A 3), 7 (Q/A 10), 12 (Q/A 6 and 8, 64, 71, 73, 85, 88, 94 and 375.

[iii] Regarding the Doukhobor understanding of Jesus as a keeper of God’s Law, see: Zhivotnaya Kniga, ibid, Psalms 2 (Q/A 14, 15 and 16), 4 (Q/A 7), 5 (Q/A 17), 7 (Q/A 11 and 12), 8 (Q/A 24, 25, and 26), 9 (Q/A 24), 47 (Q/A 1) 59 (Q/A 4), 185, 373 and 374.

[iv] Regarding the Doukhobor understanding of salvation through emulating Christ, see: Zhivotnaya Kniga, supra, note ii, Psalms 1 (Q/A 1), 2 (Q/A 31, 71), 3 (Q/A 79), 5 (Q/A 44), 9 (Q/A 45), 11 (Q/A 56), 14 (Q/A 5), 65, 67, 69, 74, 96, 137, 157, 170, 176, 192, 210, 217, 227, 229, 237, 277, 300, 311, 316, 319, 320, 333, 375, 384, 385 and 415.

[v] Zhivotnaya Kniga, supra, note ii, Psalm 383.

[vi] Ibid

[vii] Novitsky, Orest Markovich. Dukhobortsy: Ikh Istoriia i verouchenie (Kiev, 1882) at 254-255.

[viii] Stroev, Vasily (Tula, Russia), correspondence with the writer, November 25, 2020.

[ix] Stroev, ibid; Svetlana Inikova., Holidays and Rituals of Doukhobors in the Caucasus (Doukhobor Genealogy Website); Linda Osachoff (Canora, SK), correspondence with the writer, December 18, 2020.

[x] Stroev, supra, note v.

[xi] Stroev, ibid; Inikova, supra, note vi; Goncharova, Lyubov. Malaya Sibir’ – Duhoboriya. (Bryansk, 2012 at 278); Lyubov Goncharova (Moscow, Russia), correspondence with the writer, December 20, 2020.

[xii] Народился нам Спаситель, Goncharova, ibid.

[xiii] Vladimir Dmitr’evich Bonch-Breuvich, Book of Life of Doukhobors (Translated Version by Victor O. Buyniak) (Saskatoon, Doukhobor Societies of Saskatchewan, 1978), Psalm 340.

[xiv] Stroev, supra, note v; Inikova, supra, note vi.

[xv] Inikova, ibid.

[xvi] Novitsky, supra, note iv; Stroev, supra, note v; Inikova, supra, note vi.

[xvii] Stroev, ibid.

[xviii] Stroev, supra, note v.

[xix] Inikova, supra, note vi.

[xx] Inikova, ibid.

[xxi] Grigory Verigin, Ne v Sile Bog, a v Pravde. (Paris, Dreyfus, 1935), chapter 10.

[xxii] Swan River Star, January 9, 1901.

[xxiii] Winnipeg Free Press, April 6, 1903.

[xxiv] Minutes of Community meeting, 1908 December 15, Nadezhda village. (SFU Item No. MSC121-DB-025-002); Letter from Peter Vasil’evich Verigin to Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy dated February 2, 1909 in Gromova-Opulskaya, Lidia, Andrew Donskov, and John Woodsworth, eds. Leo Tolstoy–Peter Verigin Correspondence (Ottawa, Legas: 1995) at 87-88; Letter from Ivan Evseyevich Konkin to Vladimir Dmitr’evich Bonch-Breuvich dated February 12, 1909 in Zhivotnaya Kniga, supra, note ii.

[xxv] Wendy Voykin (Castlegar, BC), correspondence with the writer, December 18, 2020.

[xxvi] For example, some of the Doukhobor psalms and hymn traditionally sung at Christmas moleniye in Brilliant, British Columbia include: Psalms: Chistaya Deva Mariya; Rechyot Khristos Uchenikam Svoim; Vysoko Zvezda Voskhodila. Hymns: Kto v ubogikh yaslyakh spit; Nyne vse vernye v mire likuyut; Dnes’ my likuem v kupe vospevaem; Vot Spasitel’ s nebes k nam soshyol; Vnov’ Khristos narodilsya; Vspomnim te slova Khrista; Tikhaya noch’, divnaya noch’; Khristos v Tebe dusha nashla ( New Year’s to the tune of Auld Lang Syne).  Very special thanks to Mike and Mary Kanigan of Ootischenia, BC for sharing this list with the writer, via Wendy Voykin.

[xxvii] For instance, it is doubtful whether the Doukhobors had the luxury of enjoying all the foodstuffs mentioned for their Christmas feast during the hardships of their early settlement in Saskatchewan after 1899 and in British Columbia after 1908.


Rediscovering the Lost Burning of Arms site in Azerbaijan

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

It is a familiar and cherished story – one retold by generations of Doukhobor Canadians for well over a century.

It was midnight on June 29th 1895 – the feast-day of Saint Peter – when over seven thousand Doukhobors in the Caucasus region of Russia – followers of Peter Vasil’evich Verigin – gathered all the firearms in their possession, heaped them onto a pile of kindling, doused it with kerosene and lit it aflame.  As these weapons of death and destruction twisted and melted in the bonfire, the Doukhobors gathered round and sang hymns of non-violence and universal brotherhood.  It was a peaceful mass demonstration against militarism and violence.  But it was met by violent reprisals and brutal retaliations by the Tsarist government.  Hundreds of Doukhobors were summarily arrested and imprisoned, while thousands were exiled from their homes to distant lands for their so-called act of ‘rebellion’.  The ‘Burning of Arms’, as this event became known, would become a seminal moment in Doukhobor history.

The Burning of Arms, a painting by Michael M. Voykin, Castlegar, BC (1974).

Students of Doukhoborism are generally aware that the Burning of Arms did not happen in a single place.  Rather, it was coordinated simultaneously in three different regions of the Caucasus where the Doukhobors had settled: in Akhalkalaki district, Tiflis province in what is now Ninotsminda region, Georgia; in Elisavetpol district and province in present-day Gadabay region, Azerbaijan; and in Kars region in modern Turkey.

However, while the precise location of the Georgian Burning of Arms site has remained widely known and frequently visited by touring Canadian Doukhobors to the present day, the corresponding locations of the Azerbaijani and Turkish sites had long since passed out of living memory among modern descendants. They are not identified in any modern history or text.

Thus, when I had the opportunity to visit the Doukhobor villages in Azerbaijan in July of 2015, I couldn’t resist the challenge of trying to locate the site of this momentous historic event in that region! 

Prior to departing on my trip, I carefully surveyed the published literature and found several important clues that would prove critical to identifying the location of the site. 

Countryside on the northwest outskirts of Slavyanka. The hill in the background is known among local Doukhobors as Orlov Bugor or the ‘Eagle Mound’. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

First, in his 1964 memoir, Ispoved’ starika dukhobortsa: vospominaniya o pereseleniy dukhobortsev v Kanady (‘Confessions of a Doukhobor Elder: Memories of the Resettlement of Doukhobors to Canada’), Vasily Vasil’evich Zybin recounted the following details about the Burning of Arms in the district of Elisavetpol (translated from Russian):

"Ivan E. Konkin passed on to all the Doukhobors [Verigin's] directions that to be a Doukhobor meant not to be a soldier; and not to be a murderer not only of human beings, but even of animals. Whoever has weapons at home, anything concerned with killing, be it swords, daggers, pistols, rifles – all were to be placed on a pile in one place and burned, secretly, so that our non-believing Doukhobors would not cause us harm. Everything was collected at a spot three versts from the village of Slavyanka. There are mineral waters there, and water is always bubbling out of the ground; it is sour, as pleasant as lemonade. Near that spring a small fruit tree orchard had been planted, and in the middle of the orchard a summer house, raised about three feet from the ground, had been erected. This was according to the instruction of our former leader, Peter Larionovich Kalmykov, who lived in Tiflis Province.”

Second, friend and fellow Doukhobor writer D.E. (Jim) Popoff reminded me that another passage about the Burning of Arms in Elisavetpol could be found in Grigori Vasil’evich Verigin’s 1935 memoir, Ne v sile Bog, a v pravde (‘God is not in Might, but in Truth’), in which he wrote (translated from Russian): 

“In Slavyanka, the place for the burning of the weapons was selected about two miles away from the village. There was a grove there with some fruit trees planted a long time ago. This grove was well fenced and kept in good order by the Doukhobors. All the Doukhobors went there often in the summertime, performed the Divine Liturgy and had lunches, so that the grove was kind of a sacred place. The bonfire was placed in the proximity of that grove, over a thousand feet aside from it.  This was all done quietly and neatly, despite the fact that there were guards there who were supposed to report to the government if anything happened.”
Highway at the northwest outskirts of Slavyanka. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

These two accounts, each written by a first-hand witness to the Burning of Arms in Elisavetpol, were remarkably consistent.  Both identified that it took place: near Slavyanka, the largest of four Doukhobor villages in the district; at a spot three versts (an Imperial Russian unit of measure equal to 2 miles or 3.2 kilometers) from the village; near a grove of fruit trees.  Zybin also mentioned a mineral spring with slightly sour water nearby, while Verigin referred to it as a ‘sacred’ place of worship.

Taken together, these clues provided me with the distance from the village to the site, two geographic features in its immediate vicinity; and that it was a place of religious significance to local Doukhobors.  I now felt I was equipped and ready to try to locate the actual site, once I got to Slavyanka!

Before long, I was on my way, accompanied by eight other Canadian Doukhobors.  Over the course of three weeks, we visited former and present Doukhobor sites throughout the Caucasus.  As the ‘resident historian’ of the group, I shared my knowledge about many of the sites we visited.   For their part, the other tour participants shared my enthusiasm and excitement about visiting these sites, steeped in such history and significance!  In particular, Andrei Conovaloff, a Molokan from Arizona with a keen interest in Doukhoborism, actively assisted me in photographing and filming many of these places.  

View of Slavyanka from the main highway. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

After spending two weeks travelling in Turkey and Georgia, experiencing many adventures along the way, we finally made our way into Azerbaijan.  We arrived in Slavyanka, once the largest Doukhobor village in the Caucasus, now home to over three thousand Azeris, with less than a hundred Doukhobors remaining.  It was a lush, green oasis amid the dry grassy hills, with handsome houses all tidy and in good repair and an air of general prosperity.  After settling into our hotel, a clean, newly-constructed building overlooking the town, we piled into our tour bus and set out to explore Slavyanka.  No sooner did we reach the town centre, then we came across Grisha Zaitsev, a tall, lanky, friendly Doukhobor in his fifties who was genuinely excited to meet us.

View of Slavyanka from the main highway. The hill in the background is known by local Doukhobors as Kosavyi Bugor or the ‘Slanted Mound’. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

After mutual introductions and much spirited discussion between Grisha and our group, I asked him if he knew where the Doukhobors had burned their guns, over a century ago.  “I do not know what you mean,” he replied.  I went on, with other tour participants assisting, to explain the events of the Burning of Arms to him.  It quickly became apparent that he was not aware of the event.  This surprised me at first, given its tremendous significance to Canadian Doukhobors.  However, I quickly realized that Grisha and the other Doukhobors who remained in Slavyanka were descendants of the Small Party, whose members had never participated in the Burning of Arms.  Simply put, it was not a part of their own history; thus the memory of this event was not kept among them.

The writer beside a local Azeri (left) and Grisha Zaitsev (right). © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Undeterred, I changed my line of questioning from the ‘event’ itself to the ‘site’ where it took place.  I began by asking Grisha if there was a fruit grove – a very old one – on the outskirts of the town.  “There are many groves in Slavyanka,” he affirmed, “Which one do you mean?”.  I recognized I needed to be more specific.  I then asked him if any of the orchards were located near a mineral spring.  “Oh yes,” Grisha responded matter-of-factly, “we have two such springs – the Nizhnyi Narzan (‘lower mineral spring’) and the Verkhnyi Narzan (‘upper mineral spring’).  “Aha!” I thought to myself, now I was getting somewhere!  But which of these springs was ‘the’ site I was specifically looking for?  I asked Grisha if the Slavyanka Doukhobors held moleniye (‘prayer meetings’) at one of the springs.  “I do not know about that,” he replied.  “You need to ask Masha”, he said, “she will know the answer.”  Hot on the trail of a new lead, our group piled into our tour bus, together with Grisha, who directed us to the house of the eldest remaining Doukhobor in Slavyanka.

View of Maria Strelyaeva’s house in Slavyanka, whitewashed with light blue trim in the traditional Doukhobor fashion. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Several minutes later, we arrived at a typical ‘Doukhobor’ dwelling with sharp-pitched roof, verandah with decorative wooden beams, whitewashed walls and sky-blue trim along the eaves, verandah, door and window frames.  Maria (‘Masha’) Strelyaeva, the matron, was outside tending her flower garden.  She was a stern-looking diminutive woman in her late seventies.  However, her eyes lit up as soon as Grisha introduced our group and explained who we were.  After several minutes of friendly conversation, I explained, with others assisting, that we were looking for the site where our ancestors had burned their guns, over a century ago.  Like Grisha, Maria had no specific knowledge of this event.  I explained to her that it had taken place near a fruit grove and mineral spring, a short distance from the town, at a sacred place for local Doukhobors.  Maria paused to contemplate what I had told her.  I pressed on, asking her if the Slavyanka Doukhobors had gathered for moleniye at one of the two springs on the outskirts of the town.  This immediately struck a chord with her.  “Of course,” she answered without hesitation, “our people used to gather at the Verkhnyi Narzan to celebrate Troitsa (‘Trinity Sunday’).  I can take you there, if you wish.”  Once more, we piled back into our tour bus, this time accompanied by both Grisha and Maria. 

Canadian visitors and local neighbours at Maria Strelyaev’s home. (L-R): Brian Ewashen, Jarred Arishenkoff, Lisa Siminoff, Andrei Conovaloff, Alex Ewashen, the writer, Lyuba Konkina, another girl of mixed Azeri-Doukhobor parentage, Maria Strelyaeva, Verna Postnikoff, Linda Arishenkoff, Grisha Zaitsev. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Maria directed our bus towards the southwestern outskirts of Slavyanka.  Our road followed a rocky and nearly-dry river bed.  “Kizilchak”, said Maria, pointing to the river, “that is what our people call it”.  I would learn that it was a Doukhoborization of the original Azeri name, Gyzyl Chai, meaning ‘Golden River’.  Pointing upriver, she went on, “Even before the Revolution, our Doukhobors followed the Kizilchak to Verkhnyi Narzan.  There we celebrated Troitsa, with prayers, singing and meals.”  This holiday was observed by Doukhobors on the seventh Sunday after Easter.  She went on to explain that Slavyanka Doukhobors continued to celebrate it during the Soviet era, in secret, until the Fifties or early Sixties.  I asked Maria whether the Slavyanka Doukhobors also celebrated Petrov Den’ there.  “No, we did not” she replied.  I would learn that after the Burning of Arms, the Small Party in Slavyanka ceased commemorating Petrov Den’ because of its association with that event, and celebrated Troitsa as their major holiday instead.

Kizilchak – the river valley leading southwest from Slavyanka to the ancient grove and mineral spring where Elisavetpol Doukhobors traditionally gathered to celebrate their festivals. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Within minutes, our tour bus came to a jarring halt at our destination.  On one side of the road, to our right, sprawled lush, park-like grounds with well-kept groves of trees and carefully-tended gardens.  It was a veritable oasis paradise!  Maria explained that it was a resort hotel and spa complex, developed several years earlier by an Azeri businessman.  “But many of the trees here are much older than that,” she observed, “They were planted by our Doukhobors over a hundred years ago.”  I asked her if there were fruit trees here, and she nodded in affirmation.  If the trees here were indeed that old, I thought excitedly, then this could very well be the ‘grove’ described by Zybin and Verigin!  Such a place of great natural beauty would have been a prominent landmark amidst the surrounding expanse of treeless grassy hills then, as it still was today.

Part of the ancient grove beside the Verkhnyi Narzan spring. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

To our left, between the road and the Kizilchak, was the mineral spring – Verkhnyi Narzan.  It was surrounded by a small group of Azeri men and boys busily filling plastic containers with water.  Evidently, it was a popular and well-used drinking source.  As we disembarked from our tour bus, Grisha and Maria gestured and encouraged us to take a drink from the spring, which we did.  The water that bubbled out of the ground was incredibly cool, refreshing and invigorating!  It was carbonated, with a slightly sour taste.  As if on cue, Maria explained, “In the old days, our people called this spring Kvasok, because its water tastes sour like kvas” (a fermented drink popular in Russia).  I recalled in that moment that Zybin had described the spring water in similar terms, as being “sour, as pleasant as lemonade”.  Was this not the spring he had described?

The mineral spring traditionally known by Doukhobors as Kvasok, today known as Verkhnyi Narzan. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

I hiked up a hill overlooking the spring and grove and surveyed the surrounding landscape.  It was indeed a breathtaking view! The flat-bottomed valley of the Kizilchak abounded with fields of wheat, cabbage, potatoes and corn, along with herds of sheep grazing on the surrounding hillsides.  Gazing down at the small crowd of locals and tourists below, it was easy to imagine several thousand Doukhobors assembled there, over a century earlier, praying and singing as they destroyed their weapons, while their Tatar and Armenian neighbours observed from a distance in wonder. 

The writer atop the hill overlooking the ancient grove and Verkhnyi Narzan spring (not visible, left). To the left lies the Kizilchak. To the right, the ravine known by local Doukhobors as Kinzhal’naya Balka (‘Dagger Gulley’), and behind it, Kosavyi Bugor. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

It was an exhilarating moment.  This sacred, beautiful place seemed to match Zybin and Verigin’s description in every respect.  Here stood an ancient grove of trees, alive since the time of the Burning of Arms.  And here issued a mineral spring with sour but pleasant waters.  Here, also, Doukhobors historically gathered to pray and celebrate religious holidays. 

View of the ancient grove and Verkhnyi Narzan spring from atop the hill. Behind them lies Sukhorukova Balka (‘Sukhorukov Ravine’) named for a local Doukhobor family. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

I paused to consider the distance from this site to Slavyanka.  Using satellite mapping, I calculated a distance of one and a half kilometers to the town outskirts.  This alarmed me at first, as it fell markedly short of the three kilometers stated by Zybin and Verigin.  However, it occurred to me that Slavyanka had significantly expanded over the past century.  Its present outskirts were not the same as they had been in 1895.  With this in mind, I recalculated the distance from the site to the oldest section of Slavyanka, at its centre.  Remarkably, it was a little over three kilometers, just as Zybin and Verigin had recorded!   

Satellite image showing Verkhnyi Narzan lying 3 km from the centre of Slavyanka. ZoomEarth.

Surely, I thought, this was the very place where the Elizavetpol Doukhobors had destroyed their weapons!

However, before I could definitively say so, I had to rule out the possibility that the other spring – the Nizhnyi Narzan – was the Burning of Arms site.  Based on the descriptions by Zybin and Verigin, it had to be either one or the other! 

After thoroughly enjoying the serenity and spiritual ambience of the Verkhnyi Narzan and adjacent grove and gardens, we eventually boarded the bus and made our way back to Slavyanka.  After saying our farewells to Maria and Grisha, we went for dinner and made plans to visit the other spring the next day. 

View of the Slavyanka hills at dusk from our hotel. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Back at my hotel room that night, I was unable to sleep.  My mind raced with excitement at the prospect of having rediscovered a ‘lost’ site of enormous importance to our Doukhobor heritage.  As I lay in bed, gazing at the hills of Slavyanka out my window, the morrow could not come soon enough! 

The following morning our group gathered for breakfast and then visited two Doukhobor cemeteries in Slavyanka, one established in the early 20th century and a much older one established in the 19th century. At the latter site, we found a memorial stone engraved by the first Doukhobor settlers in Slavyanka in 1844 with the following psalm (translated from Russian):

"Eternal memory of our righteous forefathers named Doukhobors. We bow to them, to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. For they saved our souls, and continue to do so, in their meekness and humility. For the sake of truth it pleased God and our sovereign to gather us to the Promised Land in Tavria guberniya in 1805. But in 1844, we were resettled to Transcaucasia, Tiflis guberniya, the village of Slavyanka. And whoever else remains alive and hears of this story, should not desist from continuing these deeds to the end."
Memorial stone at the old cemetery, engraved by the first Doukhobor settlers in Slavyanka in 1844. The age-worn engraving was replaced with a sheet metal inscription in 1967. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

From the cemeteries, we made our way to the spring known as Nizhnyi Narzan

This second spring was located in the northeastern outskirts of Slavyanka.  Beside it stood a row of one hundred large walnut trees which, local Doukhobors advised us, were the remnants of a much larger grove planted by Doukhobors in the mid-19th century, but which several years ago had been cleared by Azeri businessmen to build a restaurant and hotel. 

This potentially complicated my task of identifying the Burning of Arms site, since both springs in Slavyanka were situated beside ancient groves!  However, while the grove at Verkhnyi Narzan was comprised of fruit trees, (which accorded with Zybin and Verigin’s accounts), this grove contained only nut trees.  

A row of one hundred walnut trees planted a century and a half ago by Slavyanka Doukhobors near the Nizhnyi Narzan spring. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

From the walnut grove, we walked down a steep ravine to the Nizhnyi Narzan spring. I learned that several years earlier, an Azeri-owned commercial bottling facility was established here, which produced the now-famous ‘Slavyanka 1’ bottled mineral water, sold throughout Azerbaijan. 

We drank from the spring waters.  It was carbonated, refreshing and… distinctly sweet.  There was no hint of sourness, like that we had tasted at Verkhnyi Narzan, and as Zybin had recorded.

View of the Nizhnyi Narzan spring on the northeast outskirts of Slavyanka. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

I also recalled, from my conversation with Maria Strelyaeva the day before, that there was no tradition of Doukhobors gathering at this spring to hold moleniye or celebrations, unlike the Verkhnyi Narzan. Indeed, the undulating terrain of the site would have made a mass gathering difficult.

Finally, using satellite mapping, I calculated the distance from Nizhnyi Narzan to the oldest section of Slavyanka.  It was only 600 meters from the town centre; nowhere close to the three kilometers recorded by Zybin and Verigin.

Satellite view showing Nizhnyi Narzan lying 600 m from the centre of Slavyanka. Zoomearth.

I was now convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Burning of Arms site described by Zybin and Verigin could not be the Nizhnyi Narzan spring. It could only be Verkhnyi Narzan spring we visited the previous day!

We went for lunch at the nearby hotel resort and then departed from Slavyanka. As our tour bus made its way to the Azerbaijani-Georgian border, I reflected on the significance of the discovery (or more aptly, rediscovery) I had made.

The lush, serene grove and Verkhnyi Narzan mineral spring was the site of a truly momentous event in Doukhobor history – the Burning of Arms by the Doukhobors of that region on June 29, 1895. Forgotten for a hundred and twenty years, it would once again be known among their descendants.

Upon returning to Canada, I would share my discovery through historical articles, gazetteers and interactive maps in the hopes that other Doukhobor Canadians might one day too visit this sacred, beautiful and historic place for themselves.

The writer at Slavyanka road sign at town outskirts. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

After Word

This article was originally published in the following periodical:

  • ISKRA Nos. 2141, August 2019 (Grand Forks: Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ).
The popular ‘Slavyanka’ premium bottled mineral water from the Nizhnyi Narzan spring, sold throughout Azerbaijan. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Petrov Den’ (Peter’s Day)

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

As we make ready to celebrate Petrov Den’, a quintessential Doukhobor holiday, it is important to remind ourselves of the many rich layers of spiritual, cultural and historical meaning that have come to be associated with it over the past three centuries. I would like to briefly share some of the various traditions connected to this day.     

Commemoration of Apostles Peter and Paul

While the holiday is commonly known among Doukhobors today by its shortened Russian name – Petrov Den’ (Петров День) or ‘Peter’s Day’ – its actual formal, full name is Den’ Petra i Pavla (День Петра и Павла) or ‘the Day of Peter and Paul’ (Zhivotnaya Kniga, Psalm 383). 

It commemorates the apostles Peter and Paul, leaders of the first generation of Christians, founders of the Christian church, and widely considered the two most important people (after Jesus) in the history of Christianity.  According to ancient church tradition, the apostles were executed and martyred by Roman authorities on the same day – June 29th according to the (Old) Julian calendar – July 12th according to the (New) Gregorian calendar.

According to this tradition, the apostle Peter came to preach in Rome in 64 A.D., where he was arrested and crucified head down. The apostle Paul was also executed in Rome in A.D. 65, but since he was a Roman citizen, he could not be executed on the cross, and was beheaded instead.

Ancient Orthodox Festival

The holiday was not created or conceived by the Doukhobors.  Rather, it owes its origins to a much older tradition inherited from the Orthodox Church.    

For over a millennium since the introduction of Christianity in Russia in 988 A.D., the day of Peter and Paul has been one of the great festivals of the Orthodox Church. It was considered a day of mandatory church attendance, where Russian peasants attended an all-night vigil on the eve, and a liturgy service on the morning of the feast-day.  The Orthodox priest offered prayers to the apostles, who were venerated by the church as saints.  Afterwards, the people held feasts, while young people assembled to play games, sing and enjoy themselves in the villages.    

Russian Orthodox icon depicting the apostles Peter (left) and Paul (right).

During the mid to late 1700s, while the Doukhobors were still living among Orthodox Russians, they also outwardly celebrated Peter and Paul’s Day in the traditional manner. Some Doukhobors went to church for appearances sake; others avoided going altogether, having already rejected the physical church in favour of the ‘inner church’ within themselves; nonetheless at home they celebrated with prayer meetings, followed by visits to family and friends.

However, by this time, the Day of Peter and Paul had acquired its own distinctive spiritual meaning and significance among Doukhobors.

A Remembrance of Suffering for Faith

After Doukhobors openly rejected the Orthodox Church and were permitted to settle together at Molochnye Vody (‘Milky Waters’) near the Crimea in the early 1800s, they ceased to celebrate most Orthodox feast days, as they neither venerated saints nor invoked them in prayers, but simply respected them for their good works.  Nonetheless, they continued to commemorate the Day of Peter and Paul in their own way, as they held these apostles in particular respect.

The Doukhobors’ admiration for Peter and Paul is reflected in the Zhivotnaya Kniga (‘Living Book’), where the apostles are mentioned in several psalmy (Psalms 6, 144, 302) and stishki (“verses”) as ‘martyrs’ who ‘hold the keys’ that ‘unlock the souls’ of the righteous and which ‘open the gates’ to God’s heavenly kingdom. 

It was the apostles’ martyrdom for their faith and their victory of spirit over flesh which the Doukhobors considered worthy of emulation, and which evoked memories of their own suffering at the hands of Orthodox and Tsarist authorities in the late 18th century, when they were arrested, imprisoned, tortured and mutilated, had their property and children confiscated, and were banished to the furthest reaches of the Empire.  Thus the holiday became a day of memoriam of those Doukhobor martyrs who, like the apostles Peter and Paul, had endured suffering and hardship for their beliefs.    

Name Days

An Orthodox tradition which some Doukhobor families retained after breaking away from the church was the practice of naming a child after the saint on whose feast day he or she was born; at least those saints whom the Doukhobors continued to commemorate.  Hence, in many cases, when a male Doukhobor child in Russia was born on or around the Day of Peter and Paul, he received one or the other name.   

Seasonal Changes in Nature

In addition to its religious significance, the Day of Peter and Paul was associated in pre-Christian Russian folk tradition with the occurrence of seasonal changes in nature.  In particular, it marked the beginning of summer haying among the agrarian peasantry.  In Russia, the Doukhobors traditionally began haymaking the day after the festival.  Mowing the hay with scythes was primarily the men’s responsibility, but women also helped.  The hay was then gathered into stacks or stored in haylofts until it was needed in the winter.  It was a very important activity for the Doukhobors, being agriculturalists, as they needed sufficient hay to feed their livestock during the long winters.  Hence, this gave the festival additional significance among them.      

Doukhobors cutting hay on the Canadian prairies, in the same manner as they had in 19th century Russia. BC Archives C-01388.

Sacred Places of Celebration

In the early 19th century on the Molochnaya, the Day of Peter and Paul was typically celebrated in the village of Terpeniye.  Doukhobors from surrounding villages gathered there the morning of the festival to hold a large mass moleniye (‘prayer meeting’).  The moleniye was held either inside the Sirotsky Dom (‘Orphan’s Home’) or, if weather permitted, outside in the courtyard in front of this building.  After, they held an outdoor banquet in the scenic park-like grounds of the Sirotsky Dom, with its well-tended orchards, beautiful springs and fountains.

The sacred grove on the outskirts of Slavyanka village, Azerbaijan where Doukhobors of that region traditionally gathered to celebrate Petrov Den’ and where they burned their firearms in 1895. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

During the late 19th century in the Caucasus, the Doukhobors chose a central location in each of the districts they settled, where people from the surrounding villages would congregate to commemorate the festival.  These were often places of tremendous natural beauty, which over time, came to be viewed as sacred or holy places in their own right. 

  • in Tiflis guberniya (‘province’) in what is now Georgia, they met on the flat, rocky plateau above the cave-like grotto known as Peshcherochki near the village of Orlovka. It was a favorite place of Doukhobor leader Luker’ya (‘Lushechka’) Kalmykova to spend time in quiet reflection.
  • in Elisavetpol guberniya in present-day Azerbaijan, they gathered at a sacred grove (svyashchennaya roshcha) on the outskirts of Slavyanka village, which had a well-ordered and carefully-tended orchard, a summer pavilion where visiting Doukhobor leaders stayed, and a mineral spring with carbonated, slightly sour water that tasted refreshingly like kvas.
  • in Kars oblast (‘region’) in modern Turkey, they met on a high, wide plateau that overlooked the surrounding plains and villages. Known as Krasnaya Gora (the ‘Red Hill’) it was situated next to a valley with a myriad of small springs that nurtured a grove of trees that, according to Doukhobor tradition, were planted by Christ and the apostles.
The high, wide plateau near Terpeniye village in Turkey were Doukhobors of that region traditionally celebrated Petrov Den’ and where they burned their firearms in 1895. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

In each of these sacred places, the Doukhobors of the Caucasus assembled and held moleniye.  Afterwards, they would spread about their blankets and have an outdoor picnic.

Association with Leaders

During the second half of the nineteenth century, the Day of Peter and Paul came to be closely associated with two much-revered Doukhobor leaders, as it was the name day of both.   

Peter Ilarionovich Kalmykov, born on June 29, 1836, led the Doukhobors of the Caucasus from 1856 to 1864.  Despite his short rule, he was much-beloved and renowned for his dynamic personality, force of character and feats of bravery, for which he was nicknamed Khrabryy, meaning the “Brave”. 

19th century Doukhobor leader Peter Ilarionovich Kalmykov. Courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

The second Doukhobor leader by this name was, of course, Peter Vasil’evich Verigin, born on June 29, 1859. After 1886, Verigin became leader of the ‘Large Party’ of Doukhobors in the Caucasus.  In 1887, Verigin was exiled to Shenkursk in Arkhangel’sk guberniya in the Russian Far North, then in 1890 he was transferred even further north to Kola on the Barents Sea.  Later, in 1894, he was transferred to Obdorsk in northwestern Siberia.  Throughout his exile, Verigin emphasized a return to traditional Doukhobor pacifist beliefs and issued secret teachings and counsel to his followers in the Caucasus, through trusted messengers. 

Doukhobor leader Peter Vasil’evich Verigin (1859-1924) whose name day coincided with Petrov Den’. BC Archives C-01443.

Burning of Arms

It was through one such communique that, in 1895, Verigin bade his followers to collect all the weapons that were in their possession and on June 29th, burn them in a large bonfire doused with kerosene in a mass renunciation of violence and militarism. This dramatic demonstration was carefully and deliberately timed to correspond with the Day of Peter and Paul because of its deep religious symbolism among the Doukhobors.

His instructions were carried out simultaneously in each of the three regions of the Caucasus where his followers traditionally assembled to celebrate the festival. As their guns burned and melted, the Doukhobors gathered around the bonfire, prayed and recited psalms and sang hymns of universal brotherhood.

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The rocky plateau above the Peshcherochki near Orlovka village, Georgia, where Doukhobors of that region traditionally celebrated Petrov Den’ and where they burned their firearms in 1895. © Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

In the regions of Elisavetpol (Azerbaijan) and Kars (Turkey), the Doukhobor ‘Burning of Arms’ occurred with minimal government intervention.  However, in the region of Tiflis (Georgia), local Tsarist officials viewed the burning as an act of civil insurrection and rebellion, and the fiercest punishments were at once applied. 

Two squadrons of mounted Cossacks were dispatched, posthaste, to the Peshcherochki to pacify the protestors and quell the civil disorder.  Once they arrived, the Cossacks charged the praying crowd of men, women and children, slashing through them with whips.  Many were brutally beaten and some severely injured when they were trampled by horses.  The dazed and bloodied Doukhobors were then forcibly herded to Bogdanovka for questioning.

In the days that followed, Cossack troops were billeted in the Tiflis Doukhobor villages, where they ravaged the homes of the Large Party, taking food, smashing furnishings, beating males and raping females without check or rebuke. Four thousand, five hundred of them were then banished, without supplies, to poor Georgian villages in oppressively hot and unhealthy climates, left to scrape by as best they could, or survive on whatever charity the local Georgians and Tatars dared give them under threat of arrest. Many perished in exile.

The Burning of Arms was a seminal event in the history of the Doukhobor movement; one that has become indelibly and permanently connected with the celebration of Petrov Den’ to this day.

Sketch by William Perehudoff published in Koozma J. Tarasoff, Pictorial History of the Doukhobors (Modern Press, Saskatoon: 1969) at p. 48-49.

After the Large Party of Doukhobors immigrated to Canada in 1899, those Doukhobors who remained in the Caucasus became split on their observance of Petrov Den’. Members of the Middle Party (who recognized Verigin as their spiritual leader but declined to accept his more radical teachings) continued to observe the holiday as before. However, members of the Small Party (who refused to accept Verigin’s leadership) abandoned the holiday altogether, given its association with Verigin, and thereafter celebrated Troitsa (‘Trinity Day’) as their major summer festival.

In Canada

Upon immigrating to and settling in Canada, Doukhobors continued to observe Petrov Den’ in much the same manner as they had in Russia.  From 1899 to 1938, both those belonging to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood and those who lived and farmed as Independents commemorated the event with a moleniye, often followed by a social gathering and picnic.

The locations where they congregated to celebrate Peter’s Day often varied depending on the facilities available, the needs and circumstances of the particular group, and of course, the state of the weather.

Petrov Den’ gathering of Independent Doukhobors at Devils Lake, June 29, 1928. BC Arc
Arhives C-01364.
  • At Devil’s Lake SK, Independent Doukhobors gathered at a lug (‘clearing’) on the north shore of the lake. After 1916, members of the Buchanan Doukhobor Society also gathered at their meeting hall in the nearby village of Buchanan, SK.
  • At Veregin SK, CCUB members met at the ornate prayer home in the village, afterward picnicking in the tree grove beside the building to the west.
  • In Pelly SK, Independents assembled on the south shore of the Swan River, 4 miles northeast of the village beside the Doukhobor-built steel truss bridge. After 1936, members of the Pelly Doukhobor Society also met at their meeting hall half a mile east of the village.
  • In Kylemore SK, Community Doukhobors met at a lug (‘meadow’) on the northwest shore of Fishing Lake near the Arishenkoff village.  After 1954, members of the Kylemore Doukhobor Society also met at their prayer home in the village of Kylemore. 
  • At Blaine Lake SK, Independent Doukhobors erected a large tent at a lug (‘meadow’) near Pozirayevka cemetery, a mile and a half east of the town. After 1931, members of the Blaine Lake Doukhobor Society also met at their brick meeting hall in the town.
  • At Lundbreck, AB, CCUB members met atop the hill known as Safatova Gora beside Bogatyi Rodnik village. After 1953, members of the United Doukhobors of Alberta were also held in the prayer home built in the village of Lundbreck.
  • In Grand Forks BC, gatherings occurred at the Sirotskoye meeting hall. On at least one occasion in the 1930s, an open-air mass moleniye was held at Saddle Lake, where Peter P. ‘Chistyakov’ Verigin gave an address from a boat on the lake to his followers gathered on the shore.
  • In Brilliant BC, Community Doukhobors often gathered at the trading store/warehouse; although in some years after 1927, an open-air mass moleniye was held at Verigin’s Tomb, from which Chistyakov addressed his followers gathered below.
  • In Ootischenia BC, such Community gatherings were typically held at either the Belyi Dom meeting hall, or else the lug (‘meadow’) on the banks of the Kootenay River.   
  • In Thrums BC, Independent Doukhobors gathered at the brick meeting hall built there.
  • This is by no means an exhaustive list.
Peter P. ‘Chistyakov’ Verigin addresses followers from Verigin’s Tomb at the annual Petrov Den’ commemoration at Brilliant, British Columbia, June 29, 1931. BC Archives C-01924.

Upon its formation in 1938, the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ in British Columbia ceased to actively celebrate Peter’s Day in favour of Declaration Day, a new event celebrated annually by members of that organization in August.

However, other local Doukhobor societies from across Western Canada (including the Benito Doukhobor Society, Pelly Doukhobor Society, Kamsack Doukhobor Society, Veregin Doukhobor Society, Canora Doukhobor Society, Buchanan Doukhobor Society, Watson Doukhobor Society, Langham Doukhobor Society, Blaine Lake Doukhobor Society, Saskatoon Doukhobor Society, United Doukhobors of Alberta, Canadian Doukhobor Society and others) continued to commemorate Petrov Den’ throughout the 20th century and 21st century to present.

Closing

It is perhaps because of its many rich layers of meaning and significance that Peter’s Day, in contrast to other traditional festivals, remains one of the popular and enduring celebrations among Canadian Doukhobors to this day.

And as we commemorate this day through fellowship, prayer, food and song, let us also reflect on the achievements and impacts of the Doukhobor people in the name of peace and faith.   

Petrov Den’ celebrations among Independent Doukhobors at their meeting hall in Thrums, British Columbia, June 29, 1934. BC Archives C-01413.

Celebration of Petrov Den’ by members of the Blaine Lake Doukhobor Society at their prayer home in the town of Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan, c. 1952. Courtesy Albert Popoff.

After Word

This address was originally presented by the author at the following Petrov Den’ commemorations:

  • National Doukhobor Heritage Village, Veregin, Saskatchewan. June 29, 2018; and
  • Blaine Lake Doukhobor Prayer Home, Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan, June 30, 2019.
Peter’s Day picnic held in Veregin, Saskatchewan in the tree grove north beside the prayer home, following the singing of psalms and other religious observances, June 29, 1964.

Bibliographic References

  • Bonch-Breuvich, V.D., Psalms 6, 144, 302, 383 in Zhivotnaia Kniga Dukhobortsev (Winnipeg: Union of Doukhobors of Canada, 1954);
  • Inikova, Svetlana A. Holidays and Rituals of Doukhobors in the Caucasus (Doukhobor Heritage);
  • Ivanits, Linda J. Russian Folk Belief. (Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 1989); and
  • Popoff, Eli A., Stories from Doukhobor History (Grand. Forks, B.C.: Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ, 1992).

Easter Among Doukhobors

By Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

This weekend we celebrate Easter, a festival commemorated by Christians across the world. As we do so, it is important to remind ourselves how this holiday is understood in Doukhobor religious thought and teaching, and how it differs in significant respects from that of other Christian denominations; the Doukhobor folk customs and traditions connected to Easter; and the significant historic events associated with its celebration.

Orthodox Easter

Since the introduction of Christianity in Russia in 988 AD, Paskha (Пасха) or ‘Easter’ was celebrated by the Orthodox Church as a holiday in remembrance of the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. It was traditionally held (on the first Sunday after the spring equinox and full moon with dates varying year-to-year) according to the Julian (Old) Calendar then used in Russia, which fell one or five weeks later than the Gregorian (New) Calendar.

Among the Orthodox, Jesus Christ was considered the incarnation of God the Son, the second person of the Trinity. That is, the Orthodox considered Christ the literal supernatural embodiment of God on earth, having taken on a human body and human nature. His suffering and death on the Cross, the Orthodox believed, was followed by his actual, physical, bodily resurrection. This concept of events formed the foundation of the Orthodox faith, and its belief that Christ’s death and resurrection were part of God’s plan for man’s salvation and redemption through Christ’s atonement for man’s sin.

The Orthodox celebration of Paskha was preceded by twelve weeks of Lent, during which the faithful fasted and practiced repentance, forgiveness and prayer. When the festival finally arrived, it was considered a day of mandatory church attendance, where believers attended a midnight service on the eve which abounded in ornate ritual and ceremony. It began with a procession out of the church building, with the faithful carrying icons and candles led by the priest burning incense in a censer. The procession circled the building and returned to the closed front doors, where the priest read from the Gospel. The faithful then re-entered the church and continued the service of Easter matins, which were entirely sung. This was followed by a divine liturgy, with singing and readings by the priest, and concluded with the sacraments of the holy communion.

Following the church service, Orthodox Russians celebrated Paskha with feasts and merriment along with the exchange of colored eggs, traditionally dyed red with onion skins. Among the Orthodox, Easter eggs traditionally symbolized resurrection and new life, while the red colouring symbolized the blood of Christ on the cross.

Easter among Doukhobors

During the mid to late 1700s, while the Doukhobors were still living among Orthodox Russians, they also outwardly celebrated Paskha in the traditional manner. Some Doukhobors went to church for appearances sake; others avoided going altogether, having already rejected the physical church in favour of the ‘inner church’ within themselves; nonetheless at home they celebrated with prayer meetings, followed by visits to family and friends.

However, by this time, Paskha had acquired an inner, spiritual meaning and significance among Doukhobors that differed substantially from that of the Orthodox, and which was founded on dramatically different ideas concerning the nature of Jesus Christ, the Resurrection, and the basis of man’s salvation.

Jesus Christ

In order to understand the Doukhobor concept of Jesus Christ, it is first necessary to discuss the Doukhobor notion of the Trinity.

Doukhobors rejected the Orthodox dogmatic concept of the Holy Trinity (i.e. one God coexisting in three separate persons) as being incomprehensible and counter to any rational understanding. Instead, they likened the Trinity in metaphorical terms to God the Father represented by our ‘Memory’, God the Son represented in our ‘Reasoning Conscience’ (𝘴𝘰𝘷𝘦𝘴𝘵’) and the Holy Spirit represented by our ‘Will’. Doukhobors believed these qualities to be God-given and thus divine. The Doukhobor concept of the Trinity is described in the Zhivotnaya Kniga (‘Living Book’) in Psalms 1 (Q/A 5), 3 (Q/A 89), 5 (Q/A 42 and 49), 6 (Q/A 12), 11 (Q/A 68), 64 and 65.

Regarding Christ, Doukhobors rejected the concept of the immaculate conception and that God the Son was literally and supernaturally embodied in human form in Mary’s womb. They considered this to be an artificial embellishment introduced by the established church in order to mystify and confound believers as to Christ’s true nature. Doukhobors instead believed that Mary was simply a woman, who like any other woman, gave birth to an ordinary mortal man, in this case, Jesus of Nazareth. The Doukhobor belief in Jesus, born a man, is found in the Zhivotnaya Kniga in Psalms 1 (Q/A 3), 7 (Q/A 10), 12 (Q/A 6 and 8, 64, 71, 73, 85, 88, 94 and 375.

Doukhobors believed that God chose Jesus as his anointed one by endowing him with the divine quality of ‘Reasoning Conscience’ of the highest degree. Possessing extraordinary spiritual intelligence in his soul, lucid and enlightened beyond that of his fellow men, Jesus was able to attain the highest possible understanding of God’s Law. Since Jesus attained the highest, purest and most perfect form of ‘Reasoning Conscience’ possible for a man, and ‘Reasoning Conscience’ was ‘God the Son’ in the Doukhobor metaphorical sense of the Trinity, thus, Jesus was a Son of God.

According to Doukhobor belief, Jesus’s enlightened teachings and life revealed mankind’s true meaning and purpose, which was to fulfill God’s Law – i.e. to love God with all of one’s heart, soul and mind, and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. God’s Law was manifested in Jesus through his loving attitude toward other people. The Doukhobor understanding of Jesus as a keeper of God’s Law can be found in the Zhivotnaya Kniga in Psalms 2 (Q/A 14, 15 and 16), 4 (Q/A 7), 5 (Q/A 17), 7 (Q/A 11 and 12), 8 (Q/A 24, 25, and 26), 9 (Q/A 24), 47 (Q/A 1) 59 (Q/A 4), 185, 373 and 374.

The Resurrection

Like the Orthodox, Doukhobors believed that Jesus was crucified by his oppressors and that he suffered and died on the cross. The Doukhobor account of Jesus’s death by crucifixion is relayed in the Zhivotnaya Kniga in Psalms 1 (Q/A 14), 8 (Q/A 15, 29), 71, 89, 114, 141, 204, 208, 212, 253, 349, 350, 357, 359, 361, 362, 363, 366, 367, 372, 391, 400, 404, 410 and 415.

Also like the Orthodox, Doukhobors believed that on the third day after his crucifixion, Jesus was resurrected. However, they rejected the idea that his resurrection was literal and physical (bodily), as this defied logic and common sense. Instead, Doukhobors believed that Jesus’ resurrection was metaphorical: he rose again spiritually in the hearts of righteous people and continues to be resurrected to this day in those who follow his teachings. This Doukhobor understanding of the Resurrection is reflected in the Zhivotnaya Kniga in Psalms 8 (Q/A 11), 14 (Q/A 6), 80, 112, 132, 189, 217, 312, 339, 349, 352, 361, 362, 367, 383 and 410.

Salvation

While the Orthodox believed that Jesus died to atone for our sins and in so doing, earned our salvation, Doukhobors reject this notion entirely. For Doukhobors, the idea that his death served as some kind of ‘divine bargain’ for the salvation of others was contrary to the very essence of his teachings. Rather, Doukhobors understood salvation as being attained through the emulation of Jesus, by living, as he did, according to God’s Law and thus earning our redemption through our own good works. That is, for Doukhobors, the essence of Christ (i.e. Reasoning Conscience) exists in the soul of every person awaiting only recognition; and those who respond to the Christ within and strive to follow his example will be saved. This Doukhobor concept of salvation is found in the Zhivotnaya Kniga in Psalms 1 (Q/A 1), 2 (Q/A 31, 71), 3 (Q/A 79), 5 (Q/A 44), 9 (Q/A 45), 11 (Q/A 56), 14 (Q/A 5), 65, 67, 69, 74, 96, 137, 157, 170, 176, 192, 210, 217, 227, 229, 237, 277, 300, 311, 316, 319, 320, 333, 375, 384, 385 and 415.

The Meaning and Significance of Easter for Doukhobors

In light of the Doukhobor concepts of Christ, the Resurrection and Salvation, what is the significance of Easter among them?

Doukhobors understand Jesus to have been born, to have lived, and died in the flesh. His soul, the perfect embodiment of divine Reasoning Conscience, is eternal. He arose in spirit and continues to arise in those who follow his teachings (i.e. true Christians), not in word but in deed. Paskha (‘Easter’) for Doukhobors is thus the celebration of Jesus Christ’s spiritual resurrection within each of us. The Doukhobor celebration of this ‘New Easter’ is described in the Zhivotnaya Kniga in Psalms 6 (Q/A 66), 14 (Q/A 14), 86 and 383.

Doukhobor Easter Customs in Russia

Once Doukhobors openly rejected the Orthodox Church and its teachings in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, they discarded many Orthodox feast days as being unnecessary and superfluous. However, they continued to celebrate Paskha as an important holiday in accordance with their own beliefs and interpretations. In doing so, they adapted some of the Easter holiday rituals and customs from the Orthodox, imbuing them with new meaning and significance.

Strashnaya

Unlike the Orthodox, the Doukhobors did not fast during Lent except in a spiritual sense. However, they were very scrupulous in their attempts to refrain from sinning, both verbally and in deed, during Strastnaya Nedelya (‘Holy Week’), or Strashnaya as it was called among Doukhobors, which preceded Paskha.

Velikaya Pyatnitsa

On Velikaya Pyatnitsa (‘Good Friday’), the women of each Doukhobor village dyed eggs with onion peels and baked Easter cakes. The folk custom of coloring Easter eggs was borrowed from the Orthodox, but its symbolic meaning was reinterpreted by Doukhobors as a way to “celebrate the joyful resurrection of Christ and to glorify the name of God”: Zhivotnaya Kniga, Psalm 14 (Q/A 6). There is historical evidence of this practice among the Doukhobors of Tavria guberniya (‘province’) in what is now Ukraine in the early 19th century, as well as in the Caucasus in the late 19th century.

Paskhal’noye Voskresen’ye

During the night that preceded Paskhal’noye Voskresen’ye (‘Easter Sunday’), Doukhobors would assemble for a moleniye (‘prayer meeting’).

In the early 19th century, Doukhobors in Tavria guberniya gathered in the village of Terpeniye to hold the Paskha prayers. The moleniye was held either inside the Sirotsky Dom (‘Orphan’s Home’) or, if weather permitted, outside in the courtyard in front of this building.

In the latter 19th century, after being exiled to the Caucasus, the Doukhobors chose a central location in each of the three districts in which they settled, where people from the surrounding villages would congregate to commemorate Paskha.

  • in Tiflis guberniya in what is now Georgia, they met on the flat, rocky plateau above the sacred cave-like grotto known as Peshcherochki near the village of Orlovka.
  • in Elisavetpol guberniya in present-day Azerbaijan, they gathered at a sacred grove (svyashchennaya roshcha) on the outskirts of Slavyanka village, which had a well-ordered and carefully-tended orchard, a summer pavilion where visiting Doukhobor leaders stayed, and a refreshing mineral spring.
  • in Kars oblast’ (‘region’) in modern Turkey, they met on a high, wide plateau that overlooked the surrounding plains and villages. Referred to as Vozle Verbochek (‘beside the pussy willows’) it was situated next to a grove of trees planted, according to Doukhobor tradition, by Christ and the apostles.

When greeting one another at Easter, 19th century Doukhobors would proclaim: “Khristos voskres!” (“Christ has Risen!”), a phrase borrowed from Orthodox tradition. Among Orthodox believers, the customary response was: “Vo istinu Khristos voskres!” (“Truly, Christ has Risen!”). However, Doukhobors subtly adapted this response to say instead: “Vo istinnykh Khristos voskres!” (“In the righteous, Christ has Risen!”) meaning that Christ has risen among his true believers (in the spiritual sense).

At the end of the prayer meeting, it was customary for Doukhobors to then wish each other a Happy Easter by kissing three times and exchanging colored eggs.

In some villages, such as Gorelovka, it was also customary for Doukhobor women to take Easter cakes known as paska (a round, egg-enriched sweet bread made with raisins) to the Sirotsky Dom and hand them out to the old people after prayers.

After the Easter moleniye, it was also customary for Doukhobors to visit their local cemeteries and visit the graves of deceased relatives, putting colored eggs on the graves, to pray for them and to revive their memory.

Yet another Doukhobor tradition, dating back to pre-Christian Russian tradition, was to put a few dyed eggs into the barn for the khozya (‘master’), as some called the fairy tale spirit said to inhabit it; others referred to it as domovoy.

Doukhobor children in each village would play with the colored eggs they received, rolling them along grooves during the Easter festivities.

Doukhobor Easter Commemoration in Canada

Doukhobors continued to observe these traditional Easter festivities after their arrival in Canada in 1899, at least initially. The major difference was that after 1903, the Doukhobors moved their observance of New Year’s from the Old (Julian) Calendar to the New (Grigorian) Calendar.

At a December 1908 all-village congress held by the Doukhobor Community in Nadezhda village near Veregin, Saskatchewan, Peter V. Verigin, in an effort to simplify and modernize Doukhobor ceremony and ritual, set aside many of the folk traditions and festivities formerly associated with Easter. Strashnaya and Velikaya Pyatnitsa were no longer actively celebrated as part of the Easter celebration. However, a special moleniye continued to be held on the Sunday of Paskhal’noye Voskresen’ye to commemorate Easter.

Also, a new Easter salutation evolved into use in Canada at the moleniye on Paskhal’noye Voskresen’ye:

  • Greeting: “Slava Hospodu (“Glory to God). Response by those gathered: “Slavim, blahodarim Hospadu za Yevo Milost’ (“We glorify and thankfully gift Him with blessings for His grace.)
  • This new greeting was followed by the traditional Doukhobor Easter greeting described above.

Two other greetings were developed by Doukhobors in Canada that reference Christ’s spiritual resurrection; however, they are not associated exclusively with Easter. At every moleniye, the following greetings are given in the form of an exchange between the two sides (men and women) gathered. These are as follows:

  • Greeting: “Slaven Bog proslavilsya!” (“Our praiseworthy God has been given His due recognition!”).  Response: “Velikoye imya Gospodnee i slava Evo po vsey zemle!” (“Great is the name of the Lord (God), and His honor is felt throughout the world!”).
  • Additional Greeting: “S prazdnikom vas, s svetlym Khristovym Voskreseniem!” (“Greetings to you this day, commemorating the day of Christ’s resurrection, which gave light to the world!”)

Significant Historic Events

No discussion of Easter would be complete without mentioning the seminal historical event associated with this holiday: the Doukhobor repudiation of military service.

On Easter day in 1895, Doukhobor conscripts then in active duty in the Russian Imperial Army carried out a series of protest actions in accordance with the careful instructions of their exiled leader, Peter Vasil’evich Verigin, as communicated through his loyal messengers.

When the commander of the company arrived and congratulated his soldiers on the Easter holiday, saying: ‘Christ has Risen’, each Doukhobor soldier answered: ‘In the righteous, Christ has risen’ rather than the customary Orthodox response of ‘Truly, Christ has risen’. Following this, each Doukhobor soldier advised his commander that he believed in Christ in deed, and would be serving Christ by denying and rejecting all violent regimes. He then handed the officer his rifle, saying ‘this is why I ask you to accept this rifle from me because all this is unnecessary for me and contradicts my consciousness and the spiritual feeling of my soul.’

It was the Doukhobor conscript Matvei Vasil’evich Lebedev who carried out this action first, and his brave endeavor became known to the whole regiment and everyone questioned: What happened to him? Some soldiers assumed he went insane, while others whispered, quietly and cautiously, that he was correct in his actions. For taking this courageous stand, Lebedev was tortured, beaten and put into a punishment cell, where he was not given food except for bread and water.

Others, empowered by Lebedev’s example, followed and soon almost 60 Doukhobor conscripts in active service (at the time) in the Caucasus returned their arms and equipment. They were all arrested, beaten, tortured and put into isolation away from the other soldiers. A number died from this cruel and inhumane treatment. Finally, they were sent to the disciplinary battalion at Ekaterinograd Fortress where they underwent additional punishment and inhuman cruelties. In the years that immediately followed, over 180 Doukhobor conscripts took this action. They were all exiled for a term of 18 years to the isolated and remote Yakutsk region in Eastern Siberia.

The actions of the Doukhobor army conscripts during Easter of 1895 set off a much wider protest within Doukhobor society against violence, killing and militarism, which would culminate with the Burning of Arms, later that same year.

Conclusion

As we once again commemorate Easter, celebrating Christ’s spiritual resurrection within us, today and every day, let us once more proclaim in our hearts and to each other: Khristos voskres! … Vo istinnykh Khristos voskres!


After Word

Publication

This article was originally published in the following periodical:

  • ISKRA No. 2161, April 2021 (Grand Forks: Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ).

Doukhobor Easter Prayer Service

To experience and participate in a traditional Doukhobor Easter prayer meeting, contact your nearest Doukhobor society or organization to find in-person dates and times or whether online streaming of services are available.

Traditional Doukhobor Paska (Easter Loaf) Recipe

To prepare traditional Doukhobor Paska (Easter loaf) like that pictured and mentioned above, see the following Doukhobor Paska recipe. This recipe was shared by Doukhobor Vasily Stroyev and family, formerly of Troitskoye village, Bogdanovsky region, Georgia, now residing in Markevichevo village, Shiryaevsky district, Odessa region, Ukraine.

Traditional Doukhobor Easter Egg Decorating

To prepare simple, traditional Doukhobor Easter eggs like those pictured above: (1) Take half a cup of crushed, dried onion peels (outer brown husk, not onion itself) and boil in 2-3 cups of water until tea-like in colour. As the peels boil they will dye the water a reddish-brown hue. Add more or less water for desired hue. Remove peels while continuing to boil the dyed water. (2) Briefly soak small leaves of any herbs or greenery (dill, parsley, thyme, etc.) in separate bowl of water for 1-2 minutes. (3) Press a wet leaf firmly against each unpainted, raw egg, securing tightly around egg with thread. Add a leaf to both oblong sides of egg. (4) Immerse raw, wrapped eggs in boiling dye water for 6-8 minutes until hard-boiled. Then remove and cool. (5) Once cooled, remove thread and leaves. There should be a white, undyed imprint of the leaf. (6) Arrange decorated eggs for display and/or enjoy them as part of your Easter meal! This technique was shared by Doukhobor Mila Kabatova, formerly of Troitskoye village, Bogdanovsky region, now residing in Tbilisi, Georgia.


Bibliographic Sources 

  • Bonch-Breuvich, Vladimir D., Zhivotnaia kniga dukhobortsev (Winnipeg: Union of Doukhobors of Canada, 1954);
  • Inikova, Svetlana A., Holidays and Rituals of Doukhobors in the Caucasus (Doukhobor Heritage: www.doukhobor.org);
  • Ivanits, Linda J. Russian Folk Belief (Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 1989);
  • Konkin, Evseyevich Konkin to Bonch-Breuvich, Vladimir Dmitr’evich correspondence dated February 12, 1909 in Bonch-Breuvich, Vladimir D., Zhivotnaia kniga dukhobortsev (Winnipeg: Union of Doukhobors of Canada, 1954;
  • Manitoba Free Press, “Doukhobors Will be Canadians”, April 6, 1903;
  • Minutes of Community meeting, 1908 December 15, Nadezhda village. (Simon Fraser University, Doukhobor Collection, Item No. MSC121-DB-025-002);
  • Novitsky, Orest M., Dukhobortsy. Ikh istoria I verouchenie (Kiev: 1882);
  • Poznikoff, Liza, correspondence with writer re: Easter greetings, April 1, 2021;
  • Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ, “About Our Faith” (U.S.C.C. website: uscc-doukhobor.org);
  • Veregin, Barry, correspondence with writer re: Easter greetings, April 12, 2021;
  • Verigin, Peter Vasil’evich to Tolstoy, Lev Nikolayevich correspondence dated February 2, 1909 in Gromova-Opulskaya, Lidia, Andrew Donskov, and John Woodsworth, eds. Leo Tolstoy–Peter Verigin Correspondence (Ottawa, Legas: 1995) at 87-88; and
  • Voykin, Wendy, correspondence with writer re: Easter greetings, April 1, 2021.

Feature Photo Credit: Traditional Doukhobor Easter paska loaves and easter eggs by Mila Kabatova, formerly of Troitskoye village, Georgia, now residing in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Holidays and Rituals of Doukhobors in the Caucasus

by Svetlana A. Inikova

Traditionally, the life events, family and culture of Doukhobors were all shaped by the holidays contained in the Doukhobor calendar. Many were borrowed and adapted from the Orthodox Church. Others were deeply rooted in Russian folk belief. In this Doukhobor Genealogy Website exclusive, Russian ethnographer and archivist Svetlana A. Inikova explores the holiday rituals and customs of the Doukhobors in the Caucasus, based on her ethnographic expeditions and field research among the Doukhobors of the Republics of Georgia and Azerbaijan. Translated from the original Russian by Koozma J. Tarasoff. Edited by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff. Published by permission.

Introduction

Holidays had already been celebrated for a long time when Christianity was introduced to Russia. They provided people with an opportunity for rest, merrymaking and at least a brief respite from burdensome daily tasks. Holidays were also very important in that they coincided with the occurrence of annual changes in nature, such as the succession of seasons or the sun’s changing position in the sky. They served as reference points that clearly identified the beginning of particularly important events, such as turning cattle out to pasture, sowing time for specific crops, haymaking and harvesting. During the winter and early spring holidays, ancient Russians performed divinations hoping to accelerate the awakening of nature. During the spring and summer they prayed to their gods to grant them a bountiful harvest, whereas in the autumn they took stock of the field work that had been accomplished and thanked the spirits of the fields for their generosity.

When Christianity was introduced in 988 AD, the Church strove for the longest time to have certain folk holidays and rituals, such as Maslenitsa (“Butter Week”), abolished. Holidays that coincided with Christian celebrations were accepted by the Church, but vested with a meaning that served its purpose. Semik (“Festival of the Birch”) for instance, was a pre-Christian holiday in honour of vegetation which almost coincided with the Christian festival of Troitsa (“Trinity Sunday”). Rituals associated with the two holidays intertwined so closely that it has become impossible to distinguish between them, even though in some areas of Russia the holiday has retained its ancient name, Semik. Paskha (“Easter”) is another example. It was instituted by the Christian Church as a holiday in remembrance of the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. Yet Easter is also closely associated with the widespread tradition of dying eggs and, in Russia, rolling them on the ground, along grooves, and even playing with them. The egg has been a symbol of rebirth since ancient times and by rolling eggs on the ground, people hoped to increase the fertility of the soil. Many rituals and traditions have lost their profound meaning and have become simple games or pastimes. Hence, for example, most people do not realize that by eating a pancake during Maslenitsa they are actually consuming the symbol of the sun.

In this article I would like to describe the holidays celebrated by the Doukhobors and their associated rituals, some of which are still practiced today.

Doukhobor Holidays in the Early Nineteenth Century

Before settling in Molochnye Vody (“Milky Waters”), the Doukhobors lived among Orthodox Russians and celebrated the same traditional folk festivals. Some Doukhobors went to church for appearances only, others avoided going altogether; nonetheless at home they celebrated Orthodox holidays with prayer meetings that were usually followed by visits to family and friends, while young people assembled to play games, sing and enjoy themselves in the village.

After they had settled in Molochnye Vody, the Doukhobors continued to celebrate the festivals of the Orthodox Church that were common to all Christians throughout Russia, i.e. Rozhdestvo hristovo (“Christmas”), Khreshchenie (“Epiphany”), Paskha and Troitsa, although each village also observed a patron holiday of its own which usually lasted for three days filled with festive merrymaking.

Thus, the villagers of Goreloye in Molochnye Vody chose Frol and Lavr as their patron saints, celebrating their feast day, Frolov Den’, on August 18. The Doukhobors of Bogdanovka, on the other hand, preferred Vasily the Great as their patron saint, celebrating his feast day, Vasil’ev Den’, on January 1. Also, the inhabitants of Efremovka observed November 8, the day of the Archangel Mikhail, Mikhailov Den’, as their patron holiday. The Doukhobors continued celebrating these holidays even after they had settled in the Caucasus, with the sole exception of the village of Rodionovka, which had no holiday of its own, neither in Molochnye Vody nor in the Caucasus.

While living in Molochnye Vody, the villagers of Troitskoye celebrated Troitsa in a particularly big way, whereas after establishing themselves in the Caucasus, they chose Nikolai the Wonderworker as their patron saint, honouring him on December 6. After relocating to the Caucasus, the villagers of Tambovka revered the Kazanskaya (“Our Lady of Kazan”), commemorating her feast day, Den’ Kazanskoi Bogomateri (“Day of our Lady of Kazan”) on October 22, instead of that of Nikolai the Wonderworker, who had been their patron saint in Molochnye Vody.

Kirilovka was a village in Molochnye Vody that celebrated its holiday, Pokrov (“Intercession and Protection of the Holy Virgin”) on October 1. In settling in the Caucasus, the villagers of Kirilovka merged with the villagers of Spasskoye from Molochnye Vody to form a single village which chose Pokrov as its joint holiday. In this case, the villagers of Spasskoye forsook their own holiday, which was Rozhdestvo Khristovo, for Pokrov.

The village of Terpeniye, the Doukhobor capital in Molochnye Vody, was renamed Orlovka when its inhabitants moved to the Caucasus, although they continued to observe Den’ Kazanskoi Bogomateri until the 1920’s, at which time they chose to observe Zheny Mironositsy (“Sunday of the Myrrhbearers”) or Zheny for short, as their patron holiday.

As they settled in the Caucasus, the Doukhobors founded new villages. Doukhobor elders recall that Lukeria Kalmykova, their beloved leader, “bestowed” certain holidays upon them.

Doukhobor Holidays in the Caucasus

We shall now give a systematic description of the holidays celebrated by the Doukhobors of the Caucasus throughout the calendar year.

The cycle of winter holidays or Sviatki (“Holy Days”) as it was called by Orthodox Russians, began with Rozhdestvo Khristovo, which used to be celebrated on December 25 according to the old-style calendar, and has been celebrated on January 7 after the new-style calendar was introduced following the Russian Revolution. The new-style calendar differs from the old one by 13 days.

On Christmas Eve, Doukhobors ate the traditional kut’ya (a dish prepared with boiled wheat kernels sweetened with honey); then around midnight they would assemble for worship. On Christmas Day adults would not eat breakfast and would perform their daily chores so that the entire family could sit down to enjoy Christmas dinner. It was a holiday when adults would visit family and friends while young people would enjoy themselves at vecharushki (parties of Doukhobor youth). In Rodionovka, young people would dress up and masquerade about the village. In fact, masquerading during the winter holidays was an ancient custom practiced in old Russia. The Christmas festivities lasted only one day. Christmas is still celebrated by Doukhobors in the Caucasus, although at the present time only elders attend worship on Christmas Eve, whereas for the young people it has become an occasion to get together and enjoy themselves.

All Doukhobor villages celebrate Novyi God (“New Year’s Day”). The village of Bogdanovka originally worshipped its patron saint day, Vasil’ev Den, on January 1. Eventually, however, this holiday merged with Novyi God and, unlike other villages, New Year’s festivities in Bogdanovka lasted not one but three days, during which friends and family from surrounding villages would come to visit.

In most villages on New Year’s Eve, children would go from house to house “sowing” seeds around the rooms, trying hard to throw some onto the bed as this was thought to bring prosperity to the household. The house was not to be swept until the next morning, so as not to sweep out the prosperity. Villagers welcomed the “sowers” warmly, offering them kalachi (a type of sweet bun) and pirogi (a type of pie). The children, in turn, would chant as they “sowed”:

We wish you a Happy New Year,
As we sow, sow. sow.
Loosen up your purse strings,
Spare us a few coins.

Sometimes they would add:

Lord, do produce for the Traveller,
For the Passer-by
and for the Greedy Soul.

Adults would get together and make cheese vareniki (dumplings), which was the traditional dish for Novyi God festivities. At nightfall, the villages would glitter with a thousand sparkles: it was children walking down the village streets carrying homemade torches they called “candles” or “lanterns”, which in fact were long sticks with rags tied to one end that had been dipped into paraffin oil and lit up.

The following day, on January 1, the young people would masquerade as gypsies and, while going from house to house, repeat quite a different refrain that was both humorous and foreboding:

Lady Bounty – spare a dumpling.
If you can’t spare a dumpling,

give me some pie.
Won’t give me pie,

I’ll grab your bull by the horns,
Your mare by the forelock,

take them to the fair,
And sell them for a few kopecks.

They were also treated to cakes and vodka. The festivities would then brim over into the street: people in holiday dress would stroll about the village, and children and young people would go sleigh-riding in horse-drawn sledges which the Doukhobors were reputed for. The sledges were brightly painted and each sledge owner would display his most colorful harness.

Like thousands of young girls throughout Russia, Doukhobor maidens performed divination rituals on New Year’s Eve and on all the following evenings until Khreshcheniye. They sought to divine their fate and, more specifically, get a glimpse of their future husbands. There was an array of divination rites they could chose from. For instance, a young girl might take a pail of water, hang a lock on the handle and put the key under her pillow so as to conjure up in her dreams a vision of her future husband who would come for a drink of water; or else she might bake an overly salty bun and eat it at bedtime so that her fiancé might bring her some water to quench her thirst. Young Doukhobor girls would also get together in a barn and chase sheep. Should a girl catch a ewe, it was thought that she would marry a young man; should she catch a ram, it was thought that she would marry a widower. One of the most popular divination rites was throwing a shoe over the yard gate: the direction the shoe toe pointed in as it fell was the direction the maiden would take to find her husband.

No one “sows seeds” anymore, nor do the young people dress up as gypsies. However, on New Year’s Eve in the streets of Gorelovka, children still light “candles” and adults still gather to enjoy the traditional vareniki prepared by the women.

When the new-style calendar was introduced in Russia in 1918, Doukhobors started celebrating the New Year twice: on January 1, according to the new style, as well as on January 14, according to the old style.

The Doukhobors have always celebrated Khreshcheniye and still do at the present time, commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit onto the Son of man, the day divine grace was bestowed onto Jesus Christ in his human incarnation. On the eve of January 6, the Doukhobors would assemble for prayer, then on the way home, each person would try to draw some water from a well, river or spring; as this water was considered blessed, therefore endowed with purifying powers, it was sprinkled around the house, the barn and the stable; it was used in washing up and was also given to drink to the sick.

The next holiday was Maslenitsa, or Maslena, as the Doukhobors called it. It was preceded by Nedelya Sviatykh Praotsev (“Forefathers’ Week”), a time to commemorate ancestors and make traditional blini (pancakes). According to Doukhobor custom, the first pancake went to the household dog because it was believed that “man was eating the dog’s share”, a saying that stems from an old Russian legend. According to the legend, long ago, wheat plants had grain filled spires descending all the way to the ground. However, people did not treat bread with the respect it deserved. When God saw how people squandered bread, he decided to punish them by taking it away. Having grasped an ear of wheat with his hands, he began shelling it. Suddenly, when there were just a few grains left on the very top of the ear, a dog howled plaintively. God took pity on him and left him a few kernels. The Doukhobors have always had a very respectful attitude towards bread. It was considered a sin to throw out a piece of bread or to brush off bread crumbs onto the floor.

For the Doukhobors, Maslena began on Saturday and lasted for three days. Neighbors would go visiting, wishing each other a “Happy Maslena”. In certain villages it was customary to masquerade during this holiday. Mothers would sew special pockets onto their children’s belts so they could fill them with tasty kalachi given to them by housewives as they went from door to door, offering greetings.

On Sunday, young people would organize horse-drawn sleigh ride parties. Sunday evening was Proshchenoe Voskresen’e (“Sunday of Forgiveness”) when Doukhobors in groups of five to ten people would go to the homes of elders and bowing low three times beg for the forgiveness of their sins. Or they could say: “Forgive us our sins on this Sunday of Forgiveness”. And the elders would answer: “The Good Lord will forgive your sins”, then all would embrace as evidence of forgiveness. The hosts would either set the table or give the visitors some treats to take along and the group would then go to the next home.

Chistyi Ponedel’nik (“Pure Monday”) marked the beginning of Lent for Orthodox Russians. Although the Doukhobors did not observe Lent in the religious sense, they retained the name of this holiday for the last day of Maslena. In Rodionovka, Chistyi Ponedel’nik was a time to “grieve”: the villagers were sorry to see Maslena come to an end; they would eat and drink the leftovers from the holiday festivities. In the village of Spasovka, it was customary “to rinse one’s mouth” on Chistyi Ponedel’nik, whereas in Troitskoye, the first guest to enter a home was made to sit on a coat turned fur-side-out and forced to eat, as it was believed that if the guest ate well, it would be a good year for the hosts with respect to their cattle. In Novo-Gorelovka in the province of Elizavetpol, the villagers would pitch in and fry eggs together.

Nowadays, people still get together for Maslena to enjoy themselves and eat the traditional blini, although the festivities are much more modest than in the past.

There existed in Russia the age-old tradition of “ushering in the spring” on March 9. In order to hasten the arrival of warm weather, children would fling up into the air soroki (sweet buns baked in the shape of magpies). According to the Orthodox calendar, March 9 was the Day of the Forty Martyrs or Soroki as it was popularly called (soroki means both “magpies” and “forty”). In all the villages, Doukhobor women made soroki buns. They placed buttons, kopecks and other small objects into the dough, each time making a wish related to the well-being of their cattle. Later, as they ate the “little magpies”, the villagers had fun guessing what the future held for their cattle and poultry. For instance, it was believed that if a kopeck stood for a cow, the cow of the person eating the bun with the kopeck would give him plenty of milk; someone else might be lucky with his chickens, sheep or other animals. Soroki was not considered an important holiday and therefore it was a workday as usual. Today the younger generation of Doukhobors have no idea what the “little magpies” were.

March 25 was Blagoveshcheniye (“Annunciation”), a very important holiday when no one worked in all of Russia. It commemorates the announcement made to the Virgin Mary by the archangel Gabriel that she would give birth to the Son of God. It was considered a sin for anyone to work on Blagoveshcheniye, even though many people, including the Doukhobors, made a point of not celebrating the holiday in the religious sense. There was a saying that on that day “birds do not nest, maidens do not braid their hair”. On that day, Doukhobors usually assembled for worship. Women and young girls would dress up in new clothes that they would have made especially for the occasion.

Verbnoye Voskresen’e (“Palm Sunday”), the Sunday preceding Easter, was not celebrated in the religious sense, although it was a tradition for young people to call on their neighbors very early in the morning; if they found anyone of their peers still in bed, they would “whip” him or her with a pussy willow rod while reciting the whole time:

Pussy willow rod,
Whip him till he weeps.
The pussy willow’s whipping,
Not me.

Mothers would pretend to whip their young children with pussy willow rods while reciting this verse. The very same rods were later used for turning cattle out to pasture for the first time after the winter.

Doukhobors usually tried to send their cattle to pasture for the first time in the spring on the feast day of St. Egorii on April 23, Egorov Den’. However, because of the rigorous climatic conditions that prevailed where they lived in Georgia, that event was generally postponed until May. In Russia, St. Egorii was the patron saint of horses. Therefore, on Egorov Den’, all Russian peasants, including the Doukhobors, would let their horses rest, brush them down, pamper them and feed them well. This tradition has long since been consigned to oblivion.

Easter has always been one of the most important Christian holidays in Russia. During Strastnaya Nedelya (“Holy Week”), or Strashnaya as it was called, which precedes Paskha (“Easter Sunday”), Orthodox Russians were particularly devout in their observance of Lent which commenced on Chistyi Ponedel’nik and lasted for seven weeks. The Doukhobors did not fast as such during Lent; however, they were very scrupulous in their attempts to refrain from sinning both verbally and in deed during Strashnaya.

On Velikaya Pyatnitsa (“Good Friday”), women dyed eggs with onion peels and baked Easter cakes. During the night that preceded Paskha, Doukhobors would assemble for prayer, then wish each other a Happy Easter by kissing three times and exchanging eggs. In the village of Gorelovka, women would take Easter cakes to the Sirotsky Dom (“Orphan’s Home”) and hand them out to the old people after prayer. On Paskha, everyone went to the cemetery to put eggs on the graves of relatives and visit the graves of deceased Doukhobor leaders, to pray for them and to revive their memory. These rituals are still very much alive today and Easter prayer meetings are the most attended of all.

Another Doukhobor tradition was to put a few dyed eggs into the barn for the khozya (“master”) as some of them called the fairytale household spirit; others referred to it as domovoi. Children would play with the eggs, rolling them along grooves during the three days of Easter festivities.

A week after Easter Caucasian Doukhobors celebrated Krasnaya Gorka (“Glorious Hill”), a very old Russian folk festivity that originated in pre-Christian times. Villagers treated each other to eggs left over from Easter or else they dyed the eggs. At the beginning of the 20th century, this festival lost its original meaning and became a holiday for Doukhobor children and young people. Parties were thrown for children where they played with eggs and ate fried eggs. Young people would get together; girls would pitch in and make fried eggs, while the young men took care of beverages. It has been several decades now that the holiday has not been celebrated.

The second Sunday after Easter was Zheny Mironositsy, or Zheny, and was considered a holiday for women. People of all ages would get together and make the traditional fried eggs. In the 1920’s, Zheny became the holiday of the village of Orlovka instead of the festival of Den’ Kazanskoi Bogomateri. This occurred after the departure of some Doukhobors from Orlovka to Canada and later, Rostov, after which many Doukhobors from Gorelovka settled in Orlovka but refused to commemorate the Kazanskaya. The village then opted for Zheny as its holiday, even though some people continued to worship the Kazanskaya. In the past, Zheny celebrations lasted three days, whereas now the holiday is observed very modestly, if at all.

Seven weeks after Easter, all Doukhobor villages celebrated Troitsa, a festival that lasted for three days in honour of the Holy Trinity: God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Doukhobors used to say. “Trinity is when God descends onto the ranks of the righteous who are his Apostles. The first day, Jesus Christ appeared to the Apostles; he spent the second day consolidating his Throne, bestowing wisdom onto his Apostles and the power to resurrect the dead and give sight to the blind; the third day, they prayed and then went to preach in the name of the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

After worship, on Troitsa, Doukhobors usually went to the cemetery to pray on the graves of their deceased leaders. During the first two days of the Troitsa holiday, they greeted each other with the words “Happy Trinity”, whereas on the third day, which was the last, they would say “Farewell”, bidding farewell to the holiday. Doukhobors still celebrate Troitsa, the elders assemble for prayer, while the young assemble to enjoy themselves. To mark spring and summer festivals, and particularly the Troitsa holiday, young people usually got together somewhere on a hillock, in a clearing or a hollow to sing and dance, keeping out of sight of the stern elders. There were also places where young people from several villages would meet so that young men could court the girls.

The next major holiday observed by Doukhobors was Petrov Den’ celebrated on June 29 in commemoration of the saints Peter and Paul. It was celebrated throughout Russia and held particular significance for Doukhobors, as it was the name day of two outstanding Doukhobor leaders: Petr Ilarionovich Kalmykov who died in 1864 and Petr Vasilyevich Verigin who became leader of the “Large Party” of Doukhobors after the 1887 schism. It was for this reason that in 1895 the followers of Petr Verigin chose to burn their arms on Petrov Den’ to protest against war and violence. Thus this day soon became a holiday in memory of those who had been persecuted, having endured extreme trials and tribulations on account of their faith.

After 1895, Petrov Den’ was celebrated only by Doukhobors belonging to the “Large Party”, comprised of Doukhobors from all villages except for Gorelovka. They would assemble under the cliff where the arms burning had taken place, pray by the piously revered peshcherochki (“little cave”), a place that was particularly cherished by Lukeria Kalmykova, their beloved leader who passed away in 1886. Then they would spread about blankets and have a picnic. At present, Petrov Den’ is celebrated on July 12 according to the new-style calendar. Very few people, for the most part elderly women from the neighboring villages of Orlovka and Spasovka, still gather around the peshcherochki.

Frolov Den’, the feast day of St. Frol and Lavr, or simply Khrol as the Doukhobors call it, was the patron holiday of the village of Gorelovka, which used to be celebrated for three days. An important prayer meeting took place at the Sirotsky Dom on August 18, which marked the first day of the holiday. Later that day, Doukhobors would go visiting or welcome visitors from neighboring villages. Khrol was considered to be the holiday of matchmaking and launched the season when young men could send in matchmakers. In other villages, however, matchmaking began on the holiday of Pokrov.

Pokrov, celebrated on October 1, was the holiday adopted by the Doukhobors of Spasovka and those of Novo-Pokrovka in Kars, province. Doukhobor elders explain that this holiday was instituted in honour of the Holy Virgin who bestowed her protection upon people by covering them with her Holy Mantle.

As matchmaking rituals traditionally took place during the holiday of Pokrov, marriages began to be celebrated on Den’ Kazanskoi Bogomateri on October 22, after all field work had been completed. This was a holiday instituted by the Orthodox Church in honour of the Kazanskaya, the icon of Our Lady of Kazan. For Doukhobors, however, it acquired a different meaning: it was a day of remembrance for the warriors who had fallen during the siege of Kazan. Den’ Kazanskoi Bogomateri was the patron holiday of Tambovka as well as the villages of Orlovka, Novo-Spasovka, in Elizavetpol province, and in Novo-Troitskoye, in Kars province until the 1920’s.

The villagers of Rodionovka, which is located in the vicinity of Tambovka on Lake Paravani, did not have a holiday of their own. They too adopted Den’ Kazanskoi Bogomateri as their patron holiday.

For three days, beginning on November 8, Mikhailov Den’, the village of Efremovka honoured its patron saint, the archangel Mikhail. A month later, on December 6, the village of Troitskoye celebrated Nikolin Den (“St. Nikolai’s Day”) in honour of its patron saint, Nikolai the Wonderworker, or Mikola as he was called. According to the ethnographer V.D. Bonch-Bruevich, the Doukhobors of Troitskoye stopped commemorating Nikolin Den’ after the Burning of Arms and in protest of the subsequent persecutions of Doukhobors, because Nikolai or Mikola also happened to be the first name of the tsar, Nicolas I. Troitskoye, however, reinstated its holiday when the Doukhobors belonging to the Large Party left for Canada.

Conclusion

It was predominantly during the autumn and winter, when field work was completed, that Doukhobor holidays were celebrated with festivities as social gatherings, parties, merrymaking in the streets and sleigh rides. It was then that people had time to enjoy themselves. Moreover, the new harvest and freshly prepared food supplies enabled Doukhobors to set a lavish table for their guests. People unfamiliar with the customs and rituals of Doukhobors of the Caucasus often had the erroneous impression that they were generally austere villagers, opposed to all forms of merriment. In actuality, the Doukhobors did enjoy festivities, although elders say that when they were young, the old people would chide them and forbid them to play musical instruments and dance; then in the same breath and with the greatest pleasure they reminisce of times they would get together and, in spite of everything, humming a dance tune, they would dance in a hollow or in someone’s house. It can be said that the Doukhobors always worked hard and enjoyed themselves just as intensely.

Editorial Note

To Ms. Inikova’s detailed and scholarly work must be added several holidays, celebrated by Doukhobors in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Caucasus, but evidently no longer observed or remembered at the time that she conducted her field research. These have been documented by the editor Jonathan J. Kalmakoff from Doukhobor oral tradition, toponymy and from ethnographer V.D. Bonch-Bruevich’s collection of Doukhobor psalms, songs, hymns and prayers.

Vosneseniye (the “Ascension”) was an important Christian holiday in Russia. Observed on the Thursday after the fifth Sunday after Easter, it commemorates Christ’s bodily ascent to Heaven in the presence of his disciples, following his resurrection. It was a holiday celebrated by the village of Efremovka. When Doukhobors from this village left for Canada, they named one of their new villages Vosneseniye in remembrance of this holiday.

In July, during haying time, the Doukhobors of Rodionovka village celebrated Lushechkin Pokos (“Lushechka’s Mowing”) or Kalmykov Pokos (“Kalmykov’s Mowing”) as it was also called. It was a thanksgiving festival associated with Doukhobor leader Lukeria Kalmykova, who visited the village annually at this time. People came from near and far to join the festivities. Everyone pitched in to help prepare the feast, which consisted of shishliki (a Caucasian dish prepared with marinated lamb), vareniki and slivnyi halushki (dumplings made with prunes, eaten with melted butter). Large cast iron pots and kettles were assembled to cook the food. Also, as the village was located on Lake Paravani, large quantities of fish were caught using barkasi (large fishing barges), then prepared by boiling them, allowing them to cool and then gel in large wooden tubs. After much eating, singing and thanksgiving, it was the custom for the men of the village to take their wives or girlfriends and dunk them in the lake.

On July 20 according to the old style, the Doukhobors of Slavyanka village in Elizavetpol province celebrated Ilyin Den’  in memory of St. Ilya (Elijah), the 9th century BC Hebrew prophet who proclaimed God’s judgment and retribution. In Russian folk belief, thunder, fire and lightening were believed to be the special provenance of Elijah, and people expected thunderstorms and rain each year on his feast day.

Uspenie (the “Assumption”) was a holiday celebrated by Christians throughout Russia on August 15 according to the old style. It commemorates the Virgin Mary’s passage into Heaven following her death. It was a holiday celebrated by the village of Troitskoye as well as the village of Terpeniye in Kars province. When Doukhobors from these villages left for Canada, and later Rostov, they named several of their new villages after this holiday.

Finally, it should be noted that in Canada in the early 1900’s, the celebration of traditional holidays was abolished by Doukhobor leader Petr Vasilyevich Verigin, who considered them to be unnecessary and superfluous to the spiritual development of his followers. The exception was Petrov Den’, which continued to be celebrated by Doukhobors who left Verigin’s communal organization in Canada to become independent farmers. 

For a comprehensive calendar of the Doukhobor holidays and festivals discussed in this work, click here.

About the Author

Dr. Svetlana A. Inikova is a senior researcher at the Institute of Ethnography and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.  Considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Doukhobors, Svetlana has conducted extensive archival research and has participated in several major ethnographic expeditions, including field research among the Doukhobors of Georgia and Azerbaijan in the late 1980’s and 1990’s and a North American ethnographic expedition on the Doukhobors in 1990.  She has published numerous articles on the Doukhobors in Russian and English and is the author of History of the Doukhobors in V.D. Bonch-Bruevich’s Archives (1886-1950s): An Annotated Bibliography (Ottawa: Legas and Spirit Wrestlers, 1999) and Doukhobor Incantations Through the Centuries (Ottawa: Legas and Spirit Wrestlers, 1999).

For more online articles about the Doukhobors by Svetlana A. Inikova, see Spiritual Origins and the Beginnings of Doukhobor History as well as Leo Tolstoy’s Teachings and the Sons of Freedom in Canada.