Doukhobor Collection of James Mavor Available Online

For Immediate Release – June 15, 2008

The Doukhobor Collection of James Mavor, a vast compilation of over 785 documents from the early twentieth century relating to the arrival and settlement of the Doukhobors in Canada, has been added online to the Multicultural Canada website.

James Mavor

James Mavor (1854-1925). LAC PA-126982.

James Mavor (1854-1925) was a preeminent Canadian political economist, University of Toronto professor, writer, social activist and art collector. In 1898, at the request of Petr Kropotkin, Mavor was instrumental in facilitating the Doukhobor migration from Russia to Canada. He continued throughout his life to be a staunch supporter of the Doukhobors following their settlement in Canada.

His collected works consist largely of correspondence, from the initial inquiry by Petr Kropotkin to Mavor in July 1898 to the arrival of the Doukhobors in 1899, and the first years of their settlement in Saskatchewan. Important correspondents include government officials such as Clifford Sifton and James A. Smart of the federal Department of the Interior and W.F. McCreary, Commissioner of Immigration in Winnipeg, and Doukhobor spokesmen and leaders such as Leo Tolstoy, Aylmer Maude, Vladimir Chertkov, D. Khilkov, and Petr Verigin. Subsequent correspondence is mainly concerned with the period 1906-1907 and 1919 when Doukhobor communities were under threat of expropriation of their lands. The collection also contains printed material, including pamphlets and other articles gathered by Mavor on the Doukhobors; Mavor’s own notes and reports, including a daybook kept during his trip to Western Canada in 1899; and photographs of Doukhobor settlements in Canada. Some of the material is in Russian.

Telegraph from Peter Verigin to James Mavor, 1912.

Record from the Doukhobor Collection of James Mavor.

Originally housed for decades in the University of Toronto Library, the Doukhobor Collection of James Mavor was digitized and made available online in May of 2008 through the Multicultural Canada website. It is accessible through search and browse pages that link to an online database. Every record in the database contains the title, name of author, date, subject, summary description, and a link to the associated set of document images. The digitized images reflect the original physical condition of the records. Some of the records are aged and discoloured or have extremely faded ink. Others may have tears, folds, or other markings.

The collection host, Multicultural Canada, is a coalition of Canadian libraries, universities, educational and cultural institutions dedicated to collecting and preserving the historic records of Canada’s diverse cultural groups and providing free and greater access to them online.  The Multicultural Canada website includes digitized collections, learning modules and the Encyclopedia of Canada’s Peoples. 

The online digitized Doukhobor Collection of James Mavor is a tremendous new research source for historians, writers, students, genealogists and anyone interested in the early Canadian history of the Doukhobors.

To access and search the Doukhobor Collection of James Mavor, visit the Multicultural Canada website at: http://multiculturalcanada.ca/node/1523.

New Book Explores Lawlor’s Island Quarantine Station

For Immediate Release – February 19, 2008

Lawlor’s Island is a forgotten island in the entrance of Novo Scotia’s Halifax Harbour, nestled between McNab’s Island and Eastern Passage. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was the site of the only substantial, organized quarantine station on Canada’s Atlantic coast. It was the first landfall for tens of thousands of immigrants, including two thousand Doukhobors in 1899.

In his newly released book, Quarantine: What is Old is New: Halifax and the Lawlor’s Island Quarantine Station 1866-1938, physician and historian Dr. Ian Cameron tells the engaging story of Lawlor’s Island Quarantine Station and its contribution to Canada’s medical, immigration and maritime history.

Cover of Quarantine

Cover of Quarantine.

The story begins in the 19th century, when the port city of Halifax had an understandable fear of communicable diseases such as typhus, cholera, typhoid fever and the plague. Following public demands for government action, the quarantine station on Lawlor’s Island was established in 1866 to protect the population from these threats arriving at the port by ship from all over the world by isolating people there who had, or were suspected of harbouring, infectious disease.

In highly descriptive detail, Cameron explores how, over the next seventy-two years, quarantine practices at Lawlor’s Island reflected the changing face of how Canadians reacted to infectious disease. Initially, there is a period of period of trial and error, and eventually medical science provides an understanding of the disease process and its rational management. As this quest to protect the public from infectious disease evolves, there are countless examples of heroism, tragedy, human folly, cruelty, government foot dragging, egos and partisan politics. Over time, there is progress in communication, transportation, international cooperation and in government response as officials move from unprepared reaction to preparation with regulations, facilities, dedicated personnel and preventative vaccination programs. Finally, there is the inevitability of change as the quarantine station becomes outdated and obsolete, having outlived its original purpose, leading to the closure of the facility in 1938.

In addition to providing insights into the medical practices and dread diseases of the day, Quarantine also traces the fascinating history of maritime commerce and transportation from the heyday of wooden ships sailing reluctantly into the age of steel and steam. Halifax, then as now, was a focal point for global trade, and the book tells the tale of ships that plied the world’s oceans and seaports, transporting goods and human cargo, along with some of the most devastating and debilitating diseases known to mankind. Lawlor’s Island, and the men and women who worked there, were the first line of defence for Canada.

Quarantine is also about the immigrants who left their homes and braved the perils of uncertain passage, crowding and disease. In this regard, Cameron devotes an entire chapter to the Doukhobors, who in January of 1899 disembarked the SS Lake Superior at Lawlor’s Island for twenty-seven days due to an outbreak of smallpox. The arrival of nearly two thousand Russian-speaking immigrants taxed the island’s resources to the utmost. Yet despite cold weather, lack of facilities and other inconveniences, the hardy and resourceful Doukhobors, headed by Count Sergey Tolstoy, together with the practical-minded quarantine officers, cooperated to make their sojourn a success.

Lawlor's Island, Nova Scotia

Photo of Lawlor’s Island, Nova Scotia by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Like every good story, Quarantine has some intriguing characters. As an example, the Doukhobor story is an account of the interplay between two of the most colourful and compelling characters in the book, Count Sergey Tolstoy and Dr. Frederick Montizambert. Additionally, there are the quarantine officers – leaders of drive and vision who got things done, and whose names read like a “who’s who” list of the establishment in old Halifax. Finally, there are the people who were little known but essential: the nursing matrons who lived on Lawlor’s Island and cared for the sick and the shipmasters who quietly and reliably transported patients and doctors in all weather, day and night from Halifax to ships in the harbour to the quarantine station and back again, as well as the many chaplains, stewards, matrons, orderlies, engineers and guards who served on the island.

For those interested in conducting further research, Quarantine is extensively indexed according to: historic figures connected with Halifax and Lawlor’s Island; medical personnel associated with the quarantine service; marine transportation and ships; global seaports; immigration; as well as medical and scientific terminology related to what were known as major and minor diseases subject to quarantine at that time.

Author Dr. Ian A. Cameron

Author Dr. Ian Arthur Cameron.

Cameron, a Professor of Family Medicine at Dalhousie University in Halifax, has had a long love affair with Lawlor’s Island. As he reflects in the book’s introduction, “Islands can be prisons or sanctuaries. They can be firm land after a watery passage or the first glimpse of a new homeland. Lawlor’s Island has been all of these, but what has drawn me back to the island time and again is the decaying wharf on the northeast corner, a large rusting container the size of a box car, the eight grave markers on the north end of the island, the scattered stone foundations over the northern two-thirds of the island, the cistern and the great fallen water tower. What purpose did these structures serve? When were they built? Who was involved?” These are some of the questions he addresses in Quarantine.

It is Cameron’s hope that the book will provide readers with some important lessons from the past and will inform their future decisions with respect to yet undiscovered forms of disease. Should new epidemics threaten to arrive on our shores from around the world, the concept of quarantine may have to be revisited.

It is also hoped that Quarantine will raise awareness about Lawlor’s Island’s importance as a heritage site. At present the island is in an overgrown and dilapidated state. In 2003, Hurricane Juan uprooted many trees adding to the haphazard condition of the old quarantine station. However, remnants of many structures – wharves, foundations, wells, cisterns and sterilization units – can still be seen, along with the remains of the cemetery – the last unmarked resting place for hundreds of souls. Perhaps one day, the various levels of government will see value in acknowledging the importance of this place in the history of Canada and the site can be restored. The old quarantine station deserves to be remembered.

Quarantine: What is Old is New: Halifax and the Lawlor’s Island Quarantine Station 1866-1938 is a 207-page soft-cover book published by New World Publishing (ISBN 1-895814-34-7) and is available at www.newworldpublishing.com and at www.amazon.com and www.chapters.indigo.ca or through special order at any bookstore. Retail price: $19.95.

For additional information about the Doukhobor connection to Lawlor’s Island, see Sergey Tolstoy and the Doukhobors: The Halifax Quarantine by Dr. Ian A. Cameron, The Doukhobors Quarantined at Lawlor’s Island, 1899 by Koozma J. Tarasoff and Lawlor’s Island Revisited by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

More Georgian Doukhobors Move to Tambov

For Immediate Release – January 18, 2008

Another fifty-four settlers arrived in the Russian province of Tambov from Georgia on December 25-26, 2007. All of them are members of the Doukhobor community whose ancestors had been relocated to the Caucasus from Tambov and elsewhere in south and central Russia in the mid-nineteenth century. This was reported recently by the Russian news agency Regnum.

As previously reported (see Georgian Doukhobors Relocate to Tambov, Russia), the first fifty-six Doukhobors from Georgia arrived in Tambov in May and June, 2007. Prior to that, at the beginning of 2007, the leaders of the Doukhobor community petitioned the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin with a request for assistance to resettle its members in Russia. The President endorsed the request and made the appropriate directives to federal and regional authorities.

The Doukhobors were expelled from Tsarist Russia in the 19th century. Photograph by Agnes Montanari.

The relocation of the Georgian Doukhobors is part of Putin’s ambitious six-year program to voluntarily repatriate millions of ethnic Russians residing in the former Soviet republics to the Russian Federation. The resettlement program, announced by the President on June 22, 2006, is intended to help revive flagging economic conditions in Russia and to boost the nation’s high mortality rates and low birthrates.

In the summer, the first Doukhobor repatriates in Tambov began construction of a new suburb to house their families in the village of Malyi Snezhetok in the Pervomaysky district, ninety kilometres north-west of Tambov city. However, they had serious problems paying for building materials because of the high cost of housing. Consequently, federal officials allocated 198 million roubles from the federal budget to assist the Doukhobors up to the end of 2008.

Doukhobor dress and customs have changed little from the 19th century. Photograph by Agnes Montanari.

Provincial officials have also played a significant role in the Doukhobor resettlement. On September 27, 2007, the Tambov regional Duma (representative assembly) enacted changes to provincial programs designed to assist, in conjunction with the federal government, the voluntary resettlement of repatriates living abroad. In large part, the enactments related to the arrival of the Doukhobor community from Georgia since May and June, 2007.

Tambov authorities have assisted the latest Doukhobor arrivals with temporary accommodations in a three-tier school dormitory in Malyi Snezhetok while additional panelboard houses are constructed for them in the new suburb of Novoye. The local market garden and nursery, “Snezhetok Ltd.” has offered employment to the Doukhobors. Expert agriculturalists, they will also be given the opportunity to establish peasant collective farms and individual farmsteads.

It is reported that up to 500 more Doukhobors in Georgia await clearance to relocate to Tambov under the resettlement program. Yet despite the assistance which is offered to them by Russian authorities, the move is still a difficult one, requiring the Doukhobors to uproot and start over again, in a new land, with virtually nothing, as their ancestors had before them. Perhaps it is no coincidence that one Doukhobor psalm teaches “Мир состоит из движения, и все стремится к совершенству” (“the World consists of movement, and all aspire to perfection”).

For subsequent information on the Doukhobor resettlement to Tambov, see the article The Doukhobors in Malyi Snezhetok by Evgeny Pisarev (translated by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff) and also Tambov Doukhobors on Russian News by Drugie Novosti (translated by Koozma J. Tarasoff).

Georgian Doukhobors Relocate to Tambov, Russia

For Immediate Release – July 31, 2007

Fifty-seven Doukhobors have recently resettled from the Bogdanovka region of the Republic of Georgia to the province of Tambov in central Russia. Their families, numbering up to seven hundred and sixty Doukhobors, are expected to join them from Georgia in September. This was reported by the Russian news agency Regnum today.

The Doukhobors have settled in the village of Malyi Snezhetok in the Pervomaysky district, ninety kilometres north-west of Tambov city, the administrative capital of the province. There, they are temporarily housed in a school dormitory, with a small local staff providing the migrants administrative support, including food, lodging and basic necessities, while a new suburb is being built with permanent accommodations for them.

The suburb will be named Novoe (“new”), marking the beginning of the Doukhobors’ new life in Russia. It will consist of two hundred panelboard houses on forty square meter lots for the Doukhobor families. A shop, medical clinic and a retirement home for the Doukhobor elderly will also be built. Construction of the buildings, roads, waterworks and electrical works is scheduled to be completed by the end of this year.

The Doukhobors resettling to Tambov will be offered employment in the local market garden and nursery, “Snezhetok Ltd.” They will also have the opportunity to establish peasant collective farms and individual farmsteads, the Russian news agency noted.

General map of Doukhobor resettlement from the Caucasus to Tambov, Russia in 2007.

The relocation of the Georgian Doukhobors is part of the Russian Federation’s ambitious six-year program to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of millions of Russians residing in former Soviet republics. The resettlement program, decreed by Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 22, 2006, is intended to help revive the Russian economy and compensate for the country’s staggering demographic crisis – high mortality rates and low birth rates are believed to be draining the Russian population of some 700,000 people a year.

The Doukhobors, who are among the first to participate in the resettlement program, have received strong support from Russia’s top political leaders, including President Vladimir Putin, Premier Mikhail Fradkov, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov, Director of the Federal Migration Service Konstantin Romadanovsky and Tambov Governor Oleg Betin. They were deliberately chosen to resettle to Tambov on account of their expertise in agricultural production.

For the village of Malyi Snezhetok, the arrival of the Doukhobors is warmly welcomed. In addition to doubling the population, the Doukhobors will provide a tremendous boost to the local economy, offset an acute labour shortage in the agricultural industry, and help facilitate the improvement and expansion of local infrastructure. The village school, previously slated for closure, will now remain open with the impending arrival of over sixty Doukhobor children.

Having considered several different options for relocation, the Doukhobors chose Tambov on account of its large agricultural sector, temperate climate, steppe geography, and its favourable linguistic, cultural and religious environment. In this regard, the interests of the Doukhobors, the Russian Federation, and Tambov local and provincial administrations coincided.

Under the resettlement program, the Doukhobors are assisted with their travel arrangements and primary accommodation, including the registration of their legal and social status, as well as with jobs, municipal and pension services, preschool, school and professional education, Regnum said. In addition, local and provincial authorities provide administrative support for the Doukhobors, including food, temporary lodging and basic necessities.

An important factor is the cost of housing. While the Russian Joint Stock Company “Tamak” has contracted to construct the Doukhobors’ homes in Malyi Snezhetok, it is not for free. The cost to complete each panelboard house is estimated at a minimum of six thousand roubles per square meter of living space. The Doukhobor migrants do not currently possess the required funds; therefore Russian authorities are developing various repayment schemes for them, including financial grants and compensation and credit facilities.

Notwithstanding this assistance, the resettlement is not without problems. The Doukhobors have encountered numerous legal obstacles in connection with the receipt of visas, the certification of participants in the resettlement program, and with citizenship. In response to this, the representative of the Doukhobor community Ivan Astafurov has voiced his concern over the slow pace at which the Doukhobors are being allowed to relocate with their families to Tambov.

Tambov Governor Oleg Betin recently visited Malyi Snezhetok and toured the suburb construction site. He met with local officials responsible for coordinating the resettlement as well as with the Doukhobors. He assured them that “their resettlement will be aided and supported at the highest levels in the Russian Federation” and pledged to work with local, provincial and federal officials to expedite their relocation.

Tambov is the ancestral home of many of the Doukhobors, whose forebears resettled from there to Tavria in the early 1800’s, and later to the Caucasus in the 1840’s. The province is located in central Russia, along the confluence of the Tsna and Studenets rivers, and borders on Penza, Saratov, Ryazan, Lipetsk and Voronezh provinces. Tambov’s economy is primarily industrial, with major sectors including mechanical engineering, metalworking and the chemical industry. Agriculture is a smaller but still important economic sector; its production focuses on grains, potatoes and sugar beets.

Since 1989, more than 3,000 Doukhobors have relocated from the Caucasus to the provinces of Krasnodar, Stavropol, Tula, Orel, Bryansk and elsewhere in Russia, driven by regional instability, ethnic tensions, land reform, economic hardship, as well as a longing to return to the Motherland. Once the latest resettlement to Tambov is completed, it is estimated that less than one hundred Doukhobors will remain in the Bogdanovka region of Georgia.

For updated information on the Doukhobor resettlement, see the articles More Georgian Doukhobors Move to Tambov by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, The Doukhobors in Malyi Snezhetok by Evgeny Pisarev (translated by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff) and also Tambov Doukhobors on Russian News by Drugie Novosti (translated by Koozma J. Tarasoff).

Georgia: The Last Collective Farm

p>by Olesya Vartanian

Already under pressure from their Armenian and Georgian neighbors, land reform may be the last straw for Georgia’s Doukhobor community as their collective farm – the only one in Georgia left over from Soviet times – is broken up.  The following article by Olesya Vartanian, foreign correspondent in Gorelovka, Georgia, originally appeared in the Caucasus Reporting Service produced by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, www.iwpr.net. Reproduced by permission.

It is only six in the morning, but there is already a commotion outside the house of tractor driver Oleg. Amid angry shouts and obscenities, local residents are vying to be the first to get his three-strong crew and old machinery to mow the hay on their plots.

“They are all flocking in and all of them want to have their hay mown immediately,” grumbles Oleg. “We are working at night too, but we still have no time to please everyone.”

This harvest-time rush is something new for the Russian village of Gorelovka in Georgia’s southern Samtskhe-Javakheti region, near the border with Armenia.

It is a result of the land reform, which started in Georgia in 1992, but reached Gorelovka only this summer. Previously, the farm organized all the mowing — now farmers have to arrange everything themselves and good tractor drivers have more work than they can cope with.

Only after the haymaking had begun did villagers find out they were entitled to land of their own. However, the news upset many villagers, who don’t want to see their collective farm – the only one in Georgia left over from Soviet times – broken up.

Gorelovka is home to a community of Dukhobors, ethnic Russians practicing a rare form of Orthodox Christianity, who were exiled from Russia to the Caucasus in the middle of the 19th century for their pacifist views and doctrinal beliefs.

Fifteen years ago Dukhobors lived in eight villages in this region, but today their community, once nearly 7,000 strong, has shrunk to only a few hundred. (See Special Report: Last Days of the Georgian Doukhobors by Mark Grigorian).

Their Dukhoborets agricultural cooperative, which the Russians still call by its old Communist name, a collective farm, was founded by the Dukhobor community in 1997 to succeed Gorelovka’s Lenin collective farm. It remained faithful to traditions of Soviet-style collective farming.

Only Dukhobors could use the lands of the farm, even though ethnic Russians account for only half of Gorelovka’s population, with Armenians and Georgians forming the other half. Ethnic Armenians and Georgians, who came to live in the village in the Nineties, when Dukhobors started to leave, were not allowed to work in Dukhoborets but still had to buy hay for their cows from the farm.

As in Communist times, the collective farm provided each Dukhobor family with a small plot of land. The crops were divided up between the family and the cooperative, which was the only employer for the Russians and paid its workforce quite well by Georgian standards at around 150 laris (80 US dollars) a month.

The land distribution commission of the local administration has now started to hand out land around Gorelovka. This summer, they stripped the cooperative of almost 5,000 hectares, which was distributed among all the local Armenians, Russians and Georgians, leaving Dukhoborets with only 600 hectares.

“We gave between six and 15 hectares to each Dukhobor family,” said the head of the local administration Azat Yegoyan. “This is quite a lot for one family.”

The head of the land commission, Askanas Markosian, said no particular criteria had been applied when the plots were being distributed. Precedence was given to local farmers, “as they feed the state and have people working for them.”

Auctions will soon be held to sell off the rest of the land.

Most local officials see the collective farm as an unwanted remnant of Soviet times, which leaders of the Dukhobor community were exploiting skilfully to avoid sharing lands with migrant Armenians and Georgians.

But the Dukhobors have been reluctant to give up their common farm and few of them understand what it will mean to have private property.

Dukhobors say the farm is far more than an agricultural enterprise, but something that preserves their communal traditions.

“Since time immemorial Dukhobors have been living as a commune,” explained Lyubov Demina. “People here don’t want to readjust to a new way of life. All the other collective farms in the area were abolished, but we reorganised ours. We did this because we thought that we would live as long as our communal way of life did.”

Like all other Dukhobor families in Gorelovka, Olga Medvedeva’s family still lives in a small peasant’s hut that resembles a Russian 19th-century home. Whitewashed on the outside, the walls of the house are made of dung bricks. The light coming in through small windows rests on patterned embroideries, tapestries and a Russian stove that smells of smouldering coals.

Having washed her hands in the wash-stand, Olga cuts newly-baked bread and puts the generous slices on an old wooden table.

She said she worked milking cows in Gorelovka’s collective farm for 20 years. This year her family was given 10 hectares of land, around the same amount as they had from the collective farm.

“A lot of people used to work on the collective farm, and if a family had a milkmaid and tractor driver, it was a well-off,” she said with sadness in her voice.

Tatyana Chuchmayeva, head of the Dukhobor community, said that 470 local Dukhobors had sent applications to the Russian government to move to Russia. They are being promised free transport, housing and benefits for six months.

“Gorelovka’s Dukhobors are now waiting for the beginning of next year, when the State Duma will start considering resettlement projects from provinces, and then they will know exactly where they will be moved,” said Chuchmayeva.

Olga Medvedeva’s family is among the applicants for participation in the program.

“If everyone goes, I won’t stay here either,” she said. “But it will be a pity, because I’ve spent my whole life here.”

Spirit Wrestlers of Southern Russia

by Maria Kolesnikova

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tselina region, Rostov Oblast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Museum of Doukhobor Culture and Worship

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

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

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

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

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

The oldest surviving Doukhobor house in Petrovka.

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

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

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

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

The other women at the meeting hiss in protest.

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

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

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

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

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

Oral History

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

A traditional Doukhobor bow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russian Roots, An Odyssey

by Dr. Allan Markin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Church of the Transfiguration at Kizhi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allan and Evelyn leaving the cruise ship with Rashid.

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

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

Memorial garden at Stalin’s killing field.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At Tolstoy’s estate – Yasnaya Polyana.

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

Yasnaya Polyana Children’s Home

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

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

Tolstoy’s grave at Yasnaya Polyana.

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

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

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

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

Elaine Podovinnikoff at log home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cantors singing at the Kostromo Monastery.

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

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

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.

The (Almost) Quiet Revolution: Doukhobor Schooling in Saskatchewan

by John Lyons

In British Columbia the long and often violent conflict between the Sons of Freedom and the British Columbia government over schooling diverted attention from the fact that developments among the Doukhobors who lived elsewhere did not parallel those of the Pacific province. The subject of this article by John Lyons, reproduced by permission from Canadian Ethnic Studies (1976, Vol 8, No. 1), is the provision of public education for Saskatchewan Doukhobors. It deals only in passing with the Doukhobors early educational experiences in the old Northwest Territories and the attempts to provide private schools for them; but rather concentrates rather on the period after Saskatchewan became a province in 1905. After surveying some aspects of provincial school policies, the article deals with each of the three Doukhobor sub-sects, the impact of these policies on them and the circumstances surrounding their eventual acceptance of public schooling.

I

Throughout the 1890’s the British settlers in the Northwest Territories attempted to develop a territorial school system that was to their liking. Just as success appeared to be imminent, a new challenge arose. In 1898 the superintendent of education, D.J. Goggin, declared “… one of our most serious and pressing educational problems arises from the settlement among us of so many foreign nationalities in the block or “colony system . . .” He suggested guidelines for the approach to be used in dealing with these newcomers: “To assimilate these different races, to secure the cooperation of these alien forces, are problems demanding for their solution, patience, tact and tolerant but firm legislation.” Between January and June of the following year there arrived in the territories a group which was to test the patience, tact and tolerance of territorial, provincial, and federal governments for decades to come.

These settlers, the Doukhobors, were members of an obscure Russian pacifist sect which had emerged following the religious upheavals in seventeenth century Russia. Rejecting all authority, both spiritual and temporal, and intent upon living a simple agricultural life, the sect suffered exile and repression for their refusal to recognize and obey the Tsar’s government. The group came to the attention of western Europe and North America in 1895 when a new wave of persecution broke out because of their refusal to serve in the Russian army. Canada offered them asylum and, in 1899, with the aid of Russian Tolstoyans and British Quakers, 7,363 Doukhobors settled in three large relatively isolated reserves in Assiniboia and Saskatchewan Territories.

Their long history of persecution in Russia had endowed them with a deep suspicion of outsiders and especially of governments. Despite the assurance of their Russian sponsor, Count Leo Tolstoy, that they would accept public schooling, neither the views of their leader, Peter V. Verigin, nor their own regarding schooling were very clear.

Schooling was not widespread in nineteenth century Russia and those schools which did exist were dominated by the Russian Orthodox Church and the Tsarist government. Such schools were seen by the Doukhobors as agencies of assimilation, bent on destroying their religion and culture. Literacy, however, was not totally unknown among them and attempts were made to provide leaders with some formal schooling. Except for the leaders, schooling was not seen as necessary and the bulk of the group did not appear to be aware of the concerns of either their leaders or Canadian officials.

Despite the concern expressed by Goggin about educating non-British immigrants, little was done about this issue until Saskatchewan achieved provincial status in 1905. The new province on its formation retained the educational structures and policies which had been developed by the government of the Northwest Territories. School districts were formed as the result of local initiative and, once formed, school boards then exercised considerable power. They had the power to enact compulsory attendance by-laws, to permit instruction in “foreign” languages and/or religion (between three and four p.m.) and to employ and dismiss teachers. By these powers and through an effective control of the purse-strings, which allowed them to release or withhold money with little outside control, local trustees had a considerable impact on what was taught, and how it was taught. The provincial government did, however, retain the right to appoint an official to organize school districts in areas where the residents failed to take the initiative on their own.

Although the first such official was appointed in 1906, it was not until two years later, when many Doukhobors were preparing to leave the province, that organizational work began among Doukhobor settlements. In 1907 Joseph Megas, the supervisor of Ruthenian schools, established two schools among the Doukhobors near Rosthern, during his efforts to set up schools in neighbouring Ukrainian areas. Megas’ work among the Ukrainians was so successful that it was expanded and in 1911 he became supervisor of schools in foreign-speaking districts. His initial successes in organizing local school districts in Doukhobor areas were among the Independent Doukhobors of the Saskatchewan Colony, and he was able to report in 1910: “Even the reluctant phlegmatic Doukhobors have awakened and school districts are being organized in their very community settlements at their own request.”

It is doubtful that the “reluctant phlegmatic Doukhobors” he was talking about were members of the “community settlements.” Soon after their arrival in Canada rifts began to appear within Doukhobor ranks. These divisions were caused by many factors including their settlement in three widely separated colonies, the continued Siberian exile of their leader, Peter V. Verigin, the influence of Quakers and Tolstoyans in some of the villages and the general impact of the new land itself. The largest group were those who remained loyal followers of Verigin. This group attempted to preserve the culture and religion that they had developed in Russia. From his exile, Verigin urged his followers to continue their life of communalism, pacifism and vegetarianism, stressing the virtues of hard work and a simple life. After Verigin’s arrival in Canada in 1902 he organized his followers into a vast communal organization, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (C.C.U.B.) and began consolidating them in the “South Colony” near Yorkton. This process was interrupted by the federal government’s abolition of the Doukhobor reserves in 1904 and by the repossession of the bulk of their lands in 1907 when the Doukhobors refused to swear the oath of allegiance required under the homestead act.

Doukhobor student at rough-hewn desk in Hanna Bellow’s school on the Canadian Praries, 1903. Tarasoff Collection, British Columbia Archives.

The Community Doukhobor’s attitude toward schooling at this time is difficult assess. At first the Doukhobors had to depend largely on private efforts for the schooling they received. The schools established by the-Society of Friends (Quakers) near Good Spirit Lake and Petrovka were at first encouraged by Verigin, but the fear soon grew that the real purpose of these schools was the conversion of the Doukhobors’ and attendance declined. Another school, established near Thunderhill in the North Colony by Herbert Archer, an English Tolstoyan, continued to operate and even received C.C.U.B. assistance. By 1905, six years after their arrival in Canada, only two schools had Doukhobor children enrolled; Archer’s school and a public school at Devil’s Lake north of Yorkton.

A second and much smaller group, the Sons of Freedom, challenged Verigin’s leadership soon after he arrived in Canada in 1902, feeling that he was not living up to his own teachings. This group, who tended to be drawn from the poorer settlements in all three colonies, used nude parades and arson as a means of protesting changes which threatened their way of life. Verigin expelled the leaders of this faction from the C.C.U.B. because of their extreme methods of protest, but, despite this, the federal government granted them a share of the remaining Doukhobor land allotments in 1907. When Verigin moved over half of his followers to British Columbia, however, these reactionary elements were left in Saskatchewan. The Sons of Freedom and their sympathizers within the C.C.U.B. remained within the communal system on the prairies acting as a reactionary brake on innovation and opposing any form of accommodation with the larger society.

The third group, including most settlers in the prosperous “Saskatchewan Colony” north of Saskatoon, also rejected Verigin’s leadership. They abandoned communal ownership and took title to their lands giving up membership in the C.C.U.B. These Independent Doukhobors also remained in Saskatchewan when the move to British Columbia occurred. Having already accepted one aspect of Canadian life, private ownership of land, this group was more open than the other Doukhobors to the acceptance of other Canadian institutions.

By 1913 nearly half of Canada’s Doukhobors were still in Saskatchewan. In contrast to those who had moved to British Columbia, almost all of whom were loyal members of Verigin’s Community, the Saskatchewan Doukhobors were divided into three sub-sects, a fact which both assisted and hindered the efforts of those attempting to provide public schooling to the sect. Each Doukhobor sub-sect had its own attitude toward education, which makes the story of their acceptance of public schools rather complex. Because of the powers granted to local school boards, the attitudes of and approaches used by non-Doukhobors complicated the question still further. A review of developments among each group reveals the extent to which education was welcomed, accepted or opposed.

II

In all Independent Doukhobor settlements, the foundations for formal education had been laid prior to the 1907 land seizure by work of dedicated Quakers and Tolstoyans. These early experiences and the tolerant approach of the Saskatchewan government encouraged the Independents to accept public schooling while remaining Doukhobors.

The man largely responsible for bringing public schooling to the Doukhobors in the North Colony area was Herbert P. Archer. An English Tolstoyan who had been the secretary of the pro-anarchist Brotherhood Church in England, he came to Canada in 1899 to become the Community’s English teacher and advisor. In February 1907, Archer and two Doukhobors filed a petition with the Department of Education for the formation of Bear’s Head School District. While the petition proposed to take in five villages, only the Independent Doukhobors appear to have been involved in this move:

We, Doukhobors living in the Swan River Valley, not members of the Doukhobor Community hereby petition to have School Districts formed in our several localities. There are not among us men able to write English and so form Districts according to law; we also do not desire that we wait until the Doukhobor Community organize Districts so that our children may learn English and appoint a Commissioner to manage same.

Once the school district was established, Archer underwent a program of teacher training and received a teaching certificate in order to teach in the school.

Archer was also responsible for assisting in the formation of other school districts in the North Colony. In 1912 when Porcupine School District was formed, the poll sheet showed fourteen names, all Doukhobor and all in favour of the proposal to establish a school. For the next twenty years the school district was administered by an all- Doukhobor school and a Doukhobor secretary-treasurer. The only case of truancy recorded in the district occurred in 1932 when an English resident was charged with refusing to send his children to school.

Herbert Archer was quite successful in establishing public schools among Doukhobor and non-Doukhobor alike in the North Colony area. In addition to teaching school himself, he also served as a school trustee in Bear’s Head School District, as secretary-treasurer for most of the new school districts and as secretary of Livingstone Municipality which he was largely responsible for forming. It was due to the patient leadership provided by Archer that a sizable number of Independent Doukhobors in North Colony were able to integrate into the life of the area. When Archer died in 1916, after nearly twenty years of selfless labour among the Doukhobors of the North Colony, he left behind him a prospering group of Doukhobor-Canadians.

In 1906 the American Quakers re-opened their school at Petrovka among the Saskatchewan Colony Doukhobors. At first, there were only thirteen pupils in attendance but, as Community members moved away, Verigin’s influence declined and their Mennonite neighbours accepted schooling, Doukhobor attendance improved. When Megas’s campaign to form public schools in the area began to bear fruit, attendance declined as pupils began attending schools nearer their homes. The school’s principal, Benjamin Wood, approached the Department of Education to establish a public school and when this was accomplished in 1912 he reported:

Friends (Quakers) having fulfilled the purpose intended, it would be better for them to withdraw and give room to the Doukhobors, who themselves are now well off, to shoulder the responsibilities; for if this be not done now they will lean indefinitely on Friends, so long as Friends will do for them, what they should do for themselves.

By 1912 a school board was elected, and Peter Makaroff, a young Doukhobor, who had studied in Quaker schools in Canada and the United States, was granted a provisional certificate to teach in the new public school.

The pattern of settlement of the Doukhobors in the Saskatchewan Colony was probably a major factor in encouraging education. Doukhobors here were granted only every second section of land and, therefore, came in close contact with many other settlers. One such group, the Mennonites, strongly favoured education and since some of their attitudes, especially regarding pacifism and the teaching of patriotism in the schools, were in accord with those held by Doukhobors, the favourable reception they gave to schooling probably hastened Doukhobor acceptance.

By 1912 the children of most of the Independent Doukhobors in Saskatchewan were attending public schools. The migration to British Columbia relieved the Independents of much of the suspicion of public schooling still held by Community members and made acceptance of these schools much easier. Where trouble did occur it seems to have been due more to the intolerance of the English-speaking settlers than to the intransigence of the Independent Doukhobors. The hostility of the English-speaking settlers was probably due to a combination of factors such as jealousy of the prosperity of these “foreigners”, resentment of their pacifism during World War I or even a conviction that none but British settlers belonged in the country.

Areas where trouble occurred were generally areas of mixed ethnicity. In one area, an alliance of Community Doukhobors who opposed the school because of its cost and English-speaking settlers who resented the control of Independent Doukhobors over it, petitioned the Department of Education to close the school. In another, attempts were made by the non-Doukhobor chairman of the school board to prevent Independents from voting for or acting as trustees because of their military exemption. In another, a group of Doukhobors and Mennonites petitioned the Department of Education to prohibit the singing of patriotic songs in schools. When the offending songs were banned, the Department then received a second petition from non-sectarians, criticizing the Department’s interference in local school affairs. In another district negotiations regarding the formation of the district were held up for three years, with many fears being expressed by apprehensive pro-school English speaking residents that the Doukhobor majority would vote against it. When the vote was held, in 1914, the only negative votes were from other English-speaking settlers. While problems did occur in areas where large numbers of Independent Doukhobors lived, such problems were generally little different from and certainly no more severe than in many other parts of Saskatchewan.

World War I had an impact both on the Community members and on the Independents. The prosperity of the latter during the war-time economic boom led to a number of defections from the C.C.U.B. Verigin tried to prevent this by denouncing the Independents as non-Doukhobors and informing the federal government that they were liable for conscription. The attempt failed when the Society of Independent Doukhobors, which had been formed in 1916, gained government recognition of their military-exempt status. Although school attendance was not compulsory at the beginning of the war, the Independents had generally accepted schooling and those who left the Community at this time followed their lead in this regard. Just as they saw the economic advantages of individual land ownership it is probably that they could also see the economic advantage of schooling for their children. The war itself led to demands for more stringent treatment of aliens and public opinion placed more pressure on groups such as the Doukhobors to conform in such matters as public education.

Doukhobor students attend Hanna Bellow’s Quaker school in Good Spirit Lake District. British Columbia Archives E-7306.

For the Independents, however, such pressure was not necessary. While there were aspects of Canadian society with which they were not in agreement, they generally integrated themselves well into the life of Saskatchewan. By 1914 most Independents had enrolled their children in public schools and by the 1920’s a number of them were employed as teachers in those schools.

The traditionally Independent areas had, by the 1930’s accepted public schooling for two decades. The educational progress in these areas was similar to most other Saskatchewan regions populated by European immigrants. It was with pride that Blaine Lake Doukhobors could say in 1932:

Among the Doukhobors of the Blaine Lake district there are nine public schools, almost entirely under the supervision of Doukhobor trustees and teachers. We have 13 qualified teachers, four doctors, one practicing lawyer, about 12 university students, and approximately 30 high school students all of which proves that we are in favor of having our children educated.

III

Because the village of Veregin was the heart of the C.C.U.B. in Saskatchewan, the history of public schooling there is of particular interest. Developments here seem to illustrate, in many respects, the fears and apprehensions of the Community about schooling and the problems that the closely knit members encountered with their non-Doukhobor neighbours in accepting public schooling.

Initial steps were taken to establish a school district in Veregin in June, 1911. The plan was immediately opposed by the local M.P., L.K. Johnston. He claimed that the Community members would soon move to British Columbia, that the proposed district had “not more than one Canadian born child of school age,” and few Independent Doukhobors, that none of the newly formed school committee were property owners and concluded that there was “no great need of haste in this organization but that the main object is to boom the village rather than to meet necessity.” The department, in the light of Johnston’s comments, prevented the immediate creation of the district. The tentative school board, its secretary-treasurer, and M.W. Cazakoff, the Saskatchewan manager of the C.C.U.B., all wrote to the department refuting Johnston’s arguments. Cazakoff’s position is of particular interest:

. . . Mr. J.K. Johnston . . . has been of the opinion, all along, that this school was unnecessary. He being unmarried, and having no children is trying to deprive our children of an education. Then too, he would be liable to extra taxes, and this he would rather not pay.

Cazakoff stated further that half of the Community members were remaining in Saskatchewan and that at least 60 Community children were in the district.

Three months later Cazakoff again wrote requesting that a school inspector be sent to Veregin to settle the problem of a school site. The problem of the site occurred because the C.C.U.B. offered the school board free land south of the railway where most of the Community children were located, while the English-speaking and Independent settlers were located to the north of the rail line. The question was finally settled in 1913 when the official trustee accepted the Community’s donation of three acres as a school site.

Although Cazakoff had donated land on which the school was to be built, he was not fully in favour of full Doukhobor involvement in public education. Apprehension about complete participation in Canadian society had not disappeared; governments and their agencies were still seen as institutions needed only by the wicked. Before a proper school had even been built in Veregin the official trustee broached the subject of compulsory attendance. Cazakoff wrote to the deputy minister of education:

. . . I do not think it advisable for the government or any school trustees to enforce the compulsory education on the children of the Doukhobors . . . and I might say to you friendly, that if the government enforced compulsory education on the Doukhobors, it would only make trouble for the government as well as the Doukhobors, and would bring no beneficial results.

Realizing the power that a local school board had over attendance laws, Cazakoff began to work for the return to local control. The minister of education was presented with a petition from 80 per cent of the district’s ratepayers, over half of whom were Doukhobors, calling for the re-establishment of a school board. In June, the village councillors complained about the school: “an edifice measuring 14 feet by 16 feet and is at present accommodating 80 scholars, who when in attendance represent another ‘Black Hole of Calcutta’ . . . (It is likely, however, that the bulk of these students were Community children only sent to school to embarrass the official trustee.) In July, another letter from the village of Veregin protested a plan by the official trustee to rent as a temporary classroom the second floor of the pool room, with a low roof, only one small window at each end and which had to be reached by means of a ladder.

Although the Community realized the advantages of local control, when the department finally agreed to the re-establishment of a school board the men Cazakoff recommended as suitable trustees were all non-Doukhobors. When, however, an Independent was elected to the new board, Cazakoff demanded his dismissal. C.C.U.B. leaders were, at this time, still attempting to discredit the Independents and trying, by all means at their disposal, to discourage Community members from following their example.

John A. Kalmakoff, Independent Doukhobor schoolboy, Canora, Saskatchewan, 1915. Copyright Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

In 1917, Saskatchewan passed the School Attendance Act which required all children between the ages of seven and fourteen to attend school and by which the head of the provincial police was appointed chief attendance officer. An amendment to the act the following year allowed the government to seize property to pay the costs of fines and to impose jail terms for chronic offenders. Because the Community held itself and its members aloof from local government, the English-speaking settlers and the Independents ran Veregin schools to suit themselves and in 1917 a truant officer was appointed to enforce the new provincial attendance laws. Although the C.C.U.B. objected to compulsion, Community boys were sent to school. The Community, however, still depended on the provincial government to protect it against local excesses: this trust was not misplaced. In September 1919 Cazakoff wrote to W.M. Martin, the minister of education, for permission for boys to remain at home to help with the harvest. Martin’s reply quoted school law to show that trustees had the authority to excuse children over twelve to help at home but if the local board proved uncooperative that the department would deal with the problem.

Little attempt seems to have been made to enforce this regulation strictly regarding Doukhobor girls. It appears to have been an example of the provincial government overtly bowing to wartime publicly pressure favouring general conformity while covertly continuing a policy of relative tolerance. In 1923 Veregin School Board contacted the department asking how to make community girls attend school, and whether this would be wise considering the additional cost involved. The deputy minister’s reply to this query seems to epitomize the Saskatchewan government’s approach to the whole question of Doukhobor schooling to this point:

It is probably, therefore, that your board should take steps to provide accommodation for these children and compel their attendance when that is provided. In the meantime, the matter may be held in abeyance pending a departmental investigation.

There is no record of this investigation ever taking place.

With the death of Peter V. Verigin in 1924, his son, Peter P. Verigin became the leader of the C.C.U.B. The following year he wrote a letter to his followers instructing them to send their children to the public schools. One author wrote, “A group of 30 to 40 Community children were first marched up to the door of the Veregin Village school in 1926; this was a spontaneous act on the part of the Doukhobor people.” It seems likely that these were the formerly truant Doukhobor girls.

The government’s policy of local control did, however, result in a measure of C.C.U.B. participation in local affairs, if only to protect their own interests. Even after the Community members became involved in local school politics, they found their power limited. Their land was registered as belonging to the C.C.U.B. and, therefore, they were ineligible to vote on money by-laws, but one observer stated “they still demand a vote in all matters and apparently get it.” Government by local individuals known to Community members was more readily acceptable than control by outsiders. Because Doukhobors were acquainted with the operation of village councils within their sect they found little conflict between their opposition to government and the existence of municipal councils or school boards.

The provincial government’s own policies also encouraged the development of Doukhobor trust. The government’s laws gave the Community little cause to feel threatened during this time, and the Doukhobors responded by attending school in increasing numbers. The success of this approach was most evident in 1922. In that year school attendance among all of the immigrant groups in Saskatchewan was sufficiently high enough for the Saskatchewan government to abolish the post of director of education among new Canadians. In 1925, when the new leader Peter Petrovich Verigin recommended that all Doukhobor children should attend schools, almost all Community members in Saskatchewan readily complied. This was the first time that the Community had been given an unequivocal stand in favour of schooling by their leaders. This was a turning point in the sect’s history. The question of public schooling among Saskatchewan’s Doukhobors appeared to have been settled.

The story of the Community’s attitudes toward public schooling in Veregin School District seems to illustrate the approach that C.C.U.B. members adopted in the rest of Saskatchewan. Although they did not oppose schooling, they retained a mistrust of
government involvement which slowly decreased as the province, through its actions, proved to them that it did not intend to use the schools to change their faith. As Doukhobors accepted public schooling, the degree of local control granted to Saskatchewan school districts encouraged them to become involved in the operation of the schools and to shape them to suit their needs.

The attitude of Peter Petrovich Verigin encouraged this development. From the time of his arrival in Canada he praised education. At a meeting in October, 1927 he declared:

Let our Doukhobors become professors, yet Doukhobors, but let not him who received knowledge for the purpose of exploiting the people, rather for the ushering in of the new era and all this we shall begin on this day.

A small number of reactionary C.C.U.B. members still hesitated, however, and it was this group, the Sons of Freedom, that caused trouble over the next decade.

Verigin’s original plans to organize a purely Doukhobor school system failed, but he was successful in promoting public schooling. On his arrival in Canada he was faced with three distinct groups of Doukhobors and he looked on it as his duty to unite them. In the summer of 1928 he attempted to hasten the healing process by creating a new organization, The Society of Named Doukhobors. Hoping to embrace all of the sub-sects, its charter stressed non-violence, marriage based on love, registration of birth, deaths, and marriages, internal settlement of all minor Doukhobor disputes, expulsion of criminals, and the acceptance of public schooling (except where hatred or imperialism were taught.) Community members readily joined, as did a few Independents but the zealots rejected the organization because of its compliance with government regulations.

Doukhobor children – village of Otradnoye, Saskatchewan, c. 1918.  Tarasoff Collection, British Columbia Archives

As members of the Named Doukhobors, Community members were now committed to accept schooling. By the spring of 1930 the school attendance in Veregin was so good that an additional classroom had to be added and only six children had failed to enroll. Five months later the inspector wrote:

During the past ten months pressure has been brought to bear upon the board to secure the attendance of all the children residing within the district. Quite a number of children were to attend for the first time in their lives.

Problems occurred in Doukhobor areas which would not have developed in other school districts. For example, due to the increase in school population an attempt was made to rent space in a neighbouring United Church Hall in Veregin. Doukhobor opposition to organized religion led the board to cancel the move. While this was a minor issue it serves to point out an important aspect in the approach of the province to education. In Saskatchewan, the local school boards were required to take local pressure into account and adjust their actions accordingly. The success of this policy can be seen in the results of the debenture referendum for a new classroom in Veregin in 1931: “The Doukhobors and particularly those termed Community Doukhobors, voted solidly for the by-law.”

One major factor in breaking down prejudice in Saskatchewan was the growing number of Independents. Not only were people leaving the Community because of Peter P. Verigin’s leadership, but starting in 1931 Community lands were being sold to C.C.U.B. members in order to raise money. These people remained members of the Named Doukhobors but ceased to live communally. The religious tenets of some of these individuals remained unchanged but the changed economy increased the contacts with non-Doukhobors and hastened the process of integration. By 1937, when the C.C.U.B. collapsed in financial ruin, both the Independents and the Community members had accepted public schooling and private land ownership. Their fears of Canadian society had diminished enough that they had integrated into it. Government was no longer looked on as necessary only for the wicked, and in some cases Doukhobors had themselves become involved in politics. This development took place in spite of a clash between the Sons of Freedom and the provincial government which occurred in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s.

IV

Saskatchewan, between 1928 and 1937, faced a direct challenge to its educational policies from members of the Sons of Freedom. The sect’s growth in numbers and in militancy after many years of relative calm is undoubtedly due to many factors but it is significant that this period of conflict corresponded to the only time that the Saskatchewan government abandoned the policy of patience and tact which Goggin had recommended. It also corresponded with Peter P. Verigin’s leadership of the C.C.U.B. and J.T.M. Anderson’s term as premier.

From 1905 until 1928 Saskatchewan had been ruled by Liberal governments. These governments had adopted a somewhat tolerant stance towards non-English-speaking immigrants, a position that was not always popular with English-speaking settlers. There were other sources of political dissatisfaction evident in many parts of the province and the Conservative leader, J.T.M. Anderson, was able to capitalize on them and take over the premiership in 1929.

Anderson had been active in the Saskatchewan educational scene for many years; he had been involved in teacher training, served as a school inspector, and between 1919 and 1922 been Director of Education among New Canadians. As early as 1920 Anderson’s political ambitions were evident to some who felt he was using his position for political gain. Although he denied these aims at that time, four years later he became leader of the Conservatives and was elected to the legislature in 1925. The main thrust of his campaign, in the 1929 provincial election, was against sectarianism

The Doukhobors and other Slavic immigrants felt particularly threatened by his campaign. Anderson had little respect for Slavs and in his book. The Education of the New Canadian, had quoted Steiner as follows:

There is in the Slav a certain passivity of temper, a lack of sustained effort and enthusiasm, an unwillingness to take the consequences of telling the truth, a failure to confide in one another and in those who would do them good, a rather gross attitude toward sexual morality, and an undeniable tendency towards anarchy. They have little collective wisdom, even as they have no genius for leadership, scant courtesy towards women, and other human weaknesses to which the whole human race is heir.

Anderson did hold some hope for the future cultural improvement of the Slavic immigrant if the public school system approached the matter properly:

Occasionally . . . where a sympathetic Canadian teacher has been in charge of the public school, a settlement is found where the bright rays of Canadian life have permeated the cloudy atmosphere in which these people live.

These assimilationist ideas formed a major plank in Anderson’s 1929 platform. This platform was also endorsed by the Saskatchewan Ku Klux Klan, which was experiencing a measure of popularity at that time. The Klan drew its support from people of British and Scandinavian background who were concerned about the number of Slavic and French-speaking settlers “who seemed neither capable nor desirous of assimilation.” The program also drew approval from the Orange Lodge and Bishop Lloyd, the Anglican Bishop of Prince Albert who described the takeover by “dirty, ignorant, garlic-smelling, unpreferred continentals.”

Anderson denied any link with the Klan and no direct connection has ever been proven to have existed between his campaign and that of the xenophobes, but the Conservatives “directed into political channels the emotionalism which had arisen out of the social composition of the province and which had been heightened by the Klan.” Certainly in the popular mind the two were connected and in the election in June, 1929 the areas where the Klan was strongest voted Conservative and the areas with concentrations of Catholics and eastern Europeans returned Liberals. The Liberals were reduced to a minority position and three months later Anderson became premier.

Just at the time of the 1928-1929 election campaign Peter P. Verigin, the new C.C.U.B. leader, was attempting to unite all of the Doukhobor factions into the Society of Named Doukhobors. The Named Doukhobors’ acceptance of public schooling came at the same time as the Klan and the Conservatives were attacking “foreigners” and aiming to use the schools as an agent of assimilation. This resulted in a renewed determination on the part of many reactionary Community members – the Sons of Freedom – to oppose public schooling.

Opposition to Community policies was not new in Saskatchewan. Unhappy about the discrepancy between Peter V. Verigin’s life style and his teachings, the Sons of Freedom saw it their duty to lead the sect to the path of “pure” Doukhoborism. To this end they formed a reactionary core of opposition to all innovation, particularly to any government involvement or to any indication of Community acceptance of luxury. Until the 1920’s their activities consisted largely of preaching and of open attacks on Community opulence. The bulk of these Sons of Freedom had been left in Saskatchewan when the migration to British Columbia took place. Because the Saskatchewan government had taken a tolerant and non-coercive approach toward them, until 1928 they caused little difficulty except within the Community itself.

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

The Sons of Freedom had continued to look upon the letters written by Peter V. Verigin from his Siberian exile as the guide to their life. They soon rejected Peter P. Verigin as they had rejected his father, for failing to live up to these high standards. Many of them refused to agree to the reorganization of the C.C.U.B. or to the acceptance of government schools because they saw this as a betrayal of Doukhobor traditions. Accordingly, in June, 1928, the Saskatchewan Sons of Freedom issued an anti-school manifesto, declaring that they would boycott all public schools.

It is difficult to ascertain how effective the Sons of Freedom boycott of schools in Saskatchewan was in the winter of 1928-1929. Long winter holidays, transportation difficulties, a tolerant approach toward truancy, and control by local school boards all delayed a realization of the problems which lay in store. At first the boycott appeared to be quite ineffective and one inspector reported:

The children absented themselves for a few days and then slowly returned until at the present time I do not know of one case close to Veregin where any non-attendance exists. A few cases exist close to Arran and North-East of that village.

By fall the problem had become more serious and reports began to appear of low attendance in other Doukhobor areas. In an election year this boycott was a political embarrassment so in the spring of 1929 Freedomite children were forced to attend schools. That June, schools in Doukhobor areas were struck by arsonists.

The outbreaks in Saskatchewan appear to have been caused by Freedomite apprehensions about the wave of “anti-foreign” sentiment which swept the province during the late 1920’s and by disillusionment with Peter P. Verigin’s leadership. His acceptance of public schooling, increased enforcement of compulsory attendance laws, and the 1928-1929 election campaign convinced the Sons of Freedom that a wave of persecution similar to those they faced in Russia was about to begin. Complicating the issue were problems concerning Verigin’s personal qualities. In spite of his oratorical prowess and his business acumen, Verigin had faults which were evident to his followers as well as to other Canadians. These shortcomings led some disgusted Community members to become Independents and others to join the Sons of Freedom in an effort to purify the movement.

J T.M. Anderson’s distinctly anti-Doukhobor stance seems to have been just what Saskatchewan Freedomites had feared, a fact which initially tended to increase depredations. Between 1929 and 1931, twenty-five schools and much C.C.U.B. property was destroyed. Anderson demanded that the C.C.U.B. underwrite the cost of insurance in Doukhobor areas and threatened to follow British Columbia’s policy of charging the C.C.U.B. for the cost of all depredations unless the fires ceased. When challenged by the Named Doukhobors who maintained that one is innocent until proven guilty he retorted:

If you and your leader are prepared to acknowledge loyalty to our sovereign and country – if you both are prepared to endorse our public school system; if you are prepared to give allegiance to what the Union Jack stands for, then there is no cause for further argument or discussion.

Anderson was not convinced by Verigin’s protestations of innocence in the arson cases and announced that his government would take severe measures: “To discipline foreigners who defied the laws of Canada and the traditions of the people.”

The first move in that direction was an amendment to the School Act requiring all trustees to be able to read and write English and to subscribe to a declaration of naturalization. The federal Conservative government, in order to assist the Conservative governments of British Columbia and Saskatchewan, amended the Criminal Code to increase the penalties for public nudity. In 1933, despairing of other methods, Premier Anderson and Prime Minister R.B. Bennett made an illegal attempt to deport Verigin.

These actions on the part of the government tended to increase anti-government feeling among Doukhobors just at a time when the C.C.U.B. was expelling those who were not living up to the code of conduct of the Named Doukhobors. While at first this increased the ranks of the Sons of Freedom and increased truancy, arson and nudity in Saskatchewan, by 1934 the tide had turned.

The moderation exercised by Saskatchewan civil servants and judges seemed to placate the fears of the Sons of Freedom. The official responsible for the application of the new school laws among Community Doukhobors tended to ignore complaints about trustees not complying with the new regulations as long as they were doing their jobs. Judges in nudity trials granted short sentences to mothers to avoid child-care problems, sentenced most men to only three months and dealt out few three year sentences. Saskatchewan, from the outset, dealt only with the leaders and in this way avoided alienating and challenging large numbers of Doukhobors. The government’s concern to find and punish the guilty parties was most clearly shown in its offer of a reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of school arsonists. No attempt was made in Saskatchewan, to blame all Doukhobors for the depredations.

Since the local ratepayers, Community, Independent and non-Doukhobor alike were responsible for replacing the burned schools, the terrorists enjoyed little support from fellow Doukhobors. When the Saskatchewan Sons of Freedom were released from prison they found themselves expelled from the C.C.U.B. Lacking a rallying point they were forced either to depend on friends and relatives for support or to move to the more hospitable atmosphere of the isolated British Columbia village of Krestova where British Columbia’s Freedomites had settled. The terrorists’ depredations in Saskatchewan, therefore, decreased annually and, in 1937, the collapse of the Community brought them to an end. The presence in British Columbia, both of isolated strongholds and of the opportunity for martyrdom, may have induced Saskatchewan’s Sons of Freedom to move there. Those who remained in Saskatchewan after Anderson’s defeat in 1934 generally integrated into Saskatchewan society. The few Freedomites who remained in Saskatchewan accepted education around this time and suspicions of government diminished to the extent that during World War II no violence occurred. By the late 1940’s when British Columbia was in the throes of renewed Freedomite depredations, Saskatchewan’s Doukhobors had become integrated into all aspects of the life of the province.

Some authors have attributed part of Saskatchewan’s success to the zealot concentrations in British Columbia:

. . . religious opposition to education, the burning of schools, and nude parades, have made their appearance first in British Columbia and a milder form of sympathetic reaction occured in Saskatchewan.

This was not quite so. Until the late 1920’s the Sons of Freedom were concentrated in Saskatchewan. While school burnings did occur in British Columbia in the mid-1920’s there were no similar moves in Saskatchewan where no undue pressure was being placed on the sect. In the later outbreak of trouble, it was in Saskatchewan where the anti-foreign campaign of J.T.M. Anderson and the Ku Klux Klan were having their impact that Freedomite declarations of intention to boycott school, school burnings, and nude parades first took place. These outbreaks between 1929-32 were just as extensive as those in British Columbia.

Saskatchewan’s success in obtaining the cooperation of the Doukhobors in the field of schooling seems to have been due to a number of factors, the most important of which was the tolerant approach of the provincial government. In times of stress the provincial government bowed to public pressure and passed stringent laws but the civil servants and judges in Saskatchewan would appear to have used considerable discretion in their execution and enforcement. The only major exception to this tolerant approach by the government was during the period of Anderson’s government but even his hard-line policies were tempered by the open-minded implementation by local officials and judges.

Probably Saskatchewan, with its large ethnic blocks developed a degree of tolerance that would not have developed in areas with a largely homogeneous population. This tolerance prompted a “go slow” approach which succeeded to a much greater degree than any attempted coercion would have. After the defeat of Anderson’s government and the Liberal return to power, Doukhobor opposition to public schooling largely disappeared.

Undoubtedly the settlement pattern in Saskatchewan also increased the rate of acculturation and integration. The residence requirement of the homestead laws broke down the unity of the Independents in the early years of settlement, especially in Saskatchewan Colony where Doukhobors did not form a solid bloc. The introduction of modern agricultural machinery, by reducing the manpower needed on the farms, tended to have the same effect on the Community members in the 1920’s and 1930’s, a process which was increased by the sale of Community lands to individuals.

Saskatchewan’s faith in the wisdom and ability of local people to handle their own problems was another major factor in its success. Allowing local school boards to deal with the problems of truancy and arson broke down Doukhobor solidarity. Having Independents and Community members deal with the recalcitrant zealots avoided the confrontation with outside government officials which would have served only to increase tension.

important aspect of Saskatchewan government policy which encouraged Doukhobor acceptance of schooling was the policy dealing with individuals as such, not as groups. Independents, who were citizens, were granted full rights of citizenship. Terrorists and lawbreakers were searched out as individuals and punished for their offences and, while the provincial or local government often had to bear the brunt of the cost of their actions, no one except the lawbreaker was held responsible. This policy created confidence in government and encouraged Doukhobor involvement with, and commitment to, such institutions as the public school.

New Israel: Transformation of a Branch of Russian Religious Dissent

by Sergey Petrov

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Literature

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

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

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

History

Kopylov and the Fasters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katasonov and the Israel Sect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Birth of the New Israel Movement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Living ‘Christ’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lubkov’s Reforms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building God’s Kingdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Israel and the Doukhobors

Shared Similarities

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

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

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

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

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

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

History of the Doukhobors

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lubkov’s “Neo-Doukhoborism”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Doukhobor Influence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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