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.

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.

The Pavlovtsy

by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

The Pavlovtsy were a group of peasant sectarians primarily from Pavlovka and surrounding villages in the Sumy district of Kharkov province that arose in 1886. Professing Stundist and Tolstoyan beliefs, they were above all influenced by the teaching of Prince Dmitry Alexandrovich Khilkov (1858-1914). Their religious views brought the Pavlovtsy into frequent conflict with church and state authorities. They maintained close ties with the Doukhobors in the Caucasus with whom they shared much in common. From 1899 to 1912, over 40 Pavlovtsy belonging to the Dudchenko, Ol’khovik, Matveyenko, Surzhik, Tverdokhleb, Turchin, Prokopenko, Koshcheyenko, Eremenko, Sukhochev, Teterenko and Sereda families settled among the Doukhobors in the Kamsack district of Saskatchewan. Those Pavlovtsy remaining in Kharkov suffered persecution and exile. The following timeline by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff outlines the history of the Pavlovtsy and their overlapping connections with the Stundist, Tolstoyan and Doukhobor religious movements.

1860s

 

German Baptist missionaries hold Bible studies and prayer meetings in South Russia, attracting many local Russian peasants to their faith. Since the Bible meetings are often one hour in length, these converts are called “Stundists” after the German word stunde for “hour”. By the 1870s, Stundism, characterized by evangelism, Bible study, good works, egalitarianism, pacifism and a rejection of the Orthodox Church, spreads rapidly across South Russia. 

Prince Dmitry A. Khilkov (1858-1914)

1877-1878

Prince Dmitry Alexandrovich Khilkov, Lt. Col. of the Guard leads a Kuban Cossack regiment during the Russo-Turkish War. He undergoes a profound spiritual crisis after killing a Turk in combat. He is quartered in Doukhobor villages on the Caucasian Front. Having come to abhor violence, he is impressed by the Doukhobors’ pacifism and humanity. He concludes that Doukhobor beliefs and practices are closer to the teachings of Christ than the beliefs of the Orthodox Church.

1884

Greatly influenced by Doukhobor teaching, Khilkov relinquishes his military career and returns to the family estate at Pavlovka in Kharkov province to put his new-found ideals into practice. From 1884 to 1886, he distributes his 1160 acre estate among the village peasants, retaining a 19 acre plot for himself. He proceeds to live and work as one of the peasants. At first highly suspicious of his intentions, the peasants are won over by his integrity and genuine desire to do them good. Neighbouring landowners are alarmed by Khilkov’s sympathy for the peasants and interference on their behalf in local disputes. Khilkov gains the reputation of one who “lives fully in accordance with the Gospel and who often quarrels with priests”. Following Khilkov’s example, several peasants cease to attend Orthodox Church and return their icons to the priests, saying that they are no longer needed.

1886

Khilkov makes the acquaintance of Count Leo N. Tolstoy whose writings on spiritual Christianity, pacifism and non-resistance to evil make him a kindred spirit. While Khilkov has come to his views independently of Tolstoy, he is now widely regarded as a Tolstoyan. Impressed by Khilkov’s example, other Tolstoyans arrive at Pavlovka to live and work among the peasants. One of these  is Semyon P. Prokopenko, a young barrister’s assistant in Sumy who leaves to work the land as a peasant. Others include brothers Mitrofan and Ivan S. Dudchenko, landowners in Sumy who redistribute their lands and leave to live among the peasants.  

  

1886-1890

Through Khilkov, Tolstoyan literature is widely distributed in the locality. There is already a strong body of Stundists in the area, who readily receive Tolstoy’s works as valuable spiritual reading. Professing an admixture of Stundist and Tolstoyan beliefs, the peasant sectarians of Pavlovka and outlying villages such as Rechki, Yastrebennoye, Postolni and others, become known as the Pavlovtsy

1890 March

Civil and ecclesiastical authorities view Khilkov’s influence as a threat to the established order. Khilkov is summoned before the Governor of Kharkov and informed that his presence in the country can no longer be tolerated and that he should move to the city. Refusing to oblige, he is threatened with exile for inciting the peasants and fomenting revolution. An official investigation charges Khilkov and twenty Pavlovtsy peasants with “falling away from Orthodoxy”. 

1891 July

The Pavlovtsy are placed under strict police surveillance. Ivan S. Dudchenko living in Pavlovka and Ivan V. Ol’khovik of Rechki are identified as peasant leaders. Anti-Pavlovtsy placards and pamphlets are widely distributed in the locality. Orthodox missionary work among the Pavlovtsy intensifies. 

Pavlovtsy leaders Nikolai I. Dudchenko (standing) and his father Ivan S. Dudchenko (sitting), Kharkov, c.1893

1892 February

Khilkov is exiled to the Caucasus for five years for spreading “anti-religious propaganda”. He settles in Bashkichet in Tiflis province where he again encounters Doukhobors. Several Tolstoyans including Semyon P. Prokopenko and Nikolai I. Dudchenko follow Khilkov into voluntary exile in 1893. Prokopenko, Dudchenko and those who are not exiles travel widely, circulating forbidden Tolstoyan literature among the Doukhobors. Local authorities are gravely concerned about the effect of Tolstoy’s “anarchical and seditious doctrines” on the Doukhobors, who are already in a state of religious and social unrest.

1894 July

A State decree outlaws Stundism as a “particularly dangerous sect” and bans all Stundist meetings. From this time onwards, the Pavlovtsy in Kharkov are subject to every kind of harassment: meetings are broken up and participants physically abused and fined, they are not permitted to visit one another or work together nor are they permitted to be employed. In September, four leading Pavlovtsy are exiled to Vologda. In November, sixty Pavlovtsy families refuse to swear the oath of allegiance to the new Tsar, Nicholas II.

1895 Easter

Sixty Doukhobor military conscripts are imprisoned, tortured and exiled for refusing to bear arms. In June, Doukhobor settlements in the Caucasus demonstrate pacifism by burning firearms. Local authorities respond with beatings and exile of 4,600 Doukhobor civilians. Moreover, three hundred Doukhobor military reservists are exiled for turning in their service papers. Khilkov writes to Tolstoy about the Doukhobor “Burning of Arms” and the brutal repression by local authorities. Shocked by the atrocities, Tolstoy initiates an international campaign to aid the persecuted Doukhobors. 

Count Leo N. Tolstoy (1828-1910)

1895 October

Pavlovtsy military recruit Petr V. Ol’khovik of Rechki refuses to bear arms, following the Doukhobor example. On route to exile in Siberia, he converts Kiril A. Sereda, a soldier from a neighbouring village in his escort. They settle in Yakutsk among Doukhobors exiled from the Caucasus for refusing military service. Several more Pavlovtsy refuse military service the following year in 1896.

1896

Authorities in the Caucasus blame Tolstoyan “agitators” for the growing militancy of the Doukhobors. For his involvement, Khilkov is transferred to a new place of exile in Estonia under much stricter conditions. 

1896 August

Pavlovtsy peasants Ignaty V. Ol’khovik, Anton Tverdokhleb, Yakov Surzhik, Mitrofan M. Matveyenko and Osip Turchin of Rechki are exiled to Warsaw province for three years. This follows an unsuccessful attempt to banish them in 1894 which failed because the village assembly was not empowered to pass a sentence of banishment on religious grounds.

1897

The Letters from the Peasant Petr Vasilyevich Olkhovik are published in London by Tolstoyan Vladimir Chertkov. The “Letters” outline Ol’khovik’s and Sereda’s refusal of military service “to fulfill Christ’s teaching” and are widely circulated among Russian pacifists and religious dissenters.

Rechki peasant Mefody K. Matveyenko

1897 August

 A State decree outlaws Tolstoyism as a “particularly dangerous sect”. As both Stundists and Tolstoyans, the Pavlovtsy find themselves in an impossible situation, outlawed on two counts.

1898 May

Khilkov is permitted to settle abroad in England and thereafter acts as one of the chief agents in the resettlement of the Doukhobors in Canada. He leaves for Canada in August and travels extensively, seeking out the best sites for settlement, liaising with government officials and accompanying the immigrants to their new homes, a task which occupies a whole year. 

1898

Ethnographer V.D. Bonch-Bruevich writes under pseudonym Ol’khovsky, probably coined from the name of Pavlovtsy exile Petr V. Ol’khovik. He assists the Tolstoyans in coordinating the mass resettlement of Doukhobors from Russia. He sails to Canada with the Doukhobors in 1899 and spends a year among them recording their oral tradition, psalms and folklore. Following his return to Russia, he maintains ongoing ties with Stundists, Tolstoyans and Doukhobors.

1899 January

Restrictions placed on the Pavlovtsy have become so severe that their condition is likened to solitary confinement. In these circumstances, the only hope seems to be to follow the Doukhobors’ example and emigrate. Thirty-eight Pavlovtsy families petition the Governor of Kharkov for permission to emigrate. Writing from Switzerland, Khilkov advises them to put off their departure until the following spring, but concedes they may be immediately better off in Canada, free from police harassment. Khilkov writes to Tolstoy, outlining cost of trip to Canada and recommending a route through Libau – Hull – Liverpool – Canada. Tolstoy is opposed to the emigration, believing that it is better for them as Christians to endure hardship than to flee from it. Undeterred, the Pavlovtsy begin their preparations, selling their land and possessions.

1899 June

Pavlovtsy Semyon P. Prokopenko and family sail to Canada with the Doukhobors aboard the SS Lake Huron. They settle in the Doukhobor village of Kamenka in the Kamsack district of Saskatchewan.

1899 July

A State decree allows Pavlovtsy to emigrate to Canada. Permission is granted under the same conditions as the Doukhobors: no conscription-age men can go; emigrants must pay their own way; and they are not allowed to return – under penalty of exile to remote areas. By March 1900, the State reverses its position: only those not eligible at all for military service – old men, women and children – are allowed to leave. Tolstoyans attempting to assist the Pavlovtsy emigrate are threatened with imprisonment. The mass emigration of Pavlovtsy does not materialize, however, there are still some individual emigrations.

S.S. Palatia passengers at Ellis Island, New York in 1899. Anton Tverdokhleb is lying in the extreme right of the first row. Ignaty Ol’khovik is sitting directly behind in the second row. Yakov Surzhik is standing second from the right in the fourth row.

1899 July

Pavlovtsy exiles Ignaty I. Ol’khovik, Anton Tverdokhleb and Yakov Surzhik emigrate to Canada directly from exile in Warsaw province. They sail aboard the SS Palatia via Hamburg and New York. They settle in the Doukhobor village of Kamenka, Saskatchewan. 

1899 July – September

Pavlovtsy Evgeny Sukhochev of Pavlovka emigrates to Canada and settles in the Doukhobor village of Kamenka, Saskatchewan. There he establishes a school in his house for the Doukhobor children of the village.

1899 September

Pavlovtsy exiles Mefody K. Matveyenko and Osip Turchin along with Tolstoyan Alexander Bodyansky emigrate to Canada. They sail aboard the SS Vancouver via Liverpool and Quebec. They settle in the Doukhobor village of Kamenka, Saskatchewan. Bodyansky assists in the settlement of the Doukhobors on the Canadian prairies. 

1900 January-March

The Pavlovtsy settlers in Kamenka keep a large library of religious and philosophical books. It is a rarity among the Doukhobors and becomes a highly prized source of information, knowledge and inspiration. One such book, “The Golden Grains”,is given to Ivan F. Sysoev, a child from the neighbouring village of Nikolayevka.  This gift of literacy enables Sysoev to learn to read and inspires him to later become one of the greatest Doukhobor poets in Canada. As well, the Sysoev family, being excellent singers, compose melodies to the poems contained in the book which become popular throughout the Doukhobor villages.

1900 June

Ignaty Ol’khovik, Anton Tverdokhleb, Yakov Surzhik, Osip Turchin, Evgeny Sukhochev and thirteen Doukhobors appear in the US Federal Census at Squaw Valley, Siskiyou County, California.  They obtain work there as woodcutters for extra income, returning to Saskatchewan later that year.

1901 March

Pavlovtsy Semyon P. Prokopenko, Ignaty I. Ol’khovik and five unnamed “brethren” (probably Tverdokhleb, Surzhik, Turchin, Matveyenko and Sukhochev) appear in the Canada census residing in the Doukhobor village of Kamenka, Saskatchewan.

1901 September

A party of 13 Pavlovtsy immigrants – the wives and children of Matveyenko, Turchin, Ol’khovik and Tverdokhleb emigrate to Canada.  They sail aboard the SS Lake Megantic via Liverpool and Quebec. Reunited with their husbands and fathers, they settle in the Doukhobor village of Kamenka, Saskatchewan.

1901 September

Pavlovtsy Nikolai I. Dudchenko emigrates to Canada. He sails aboard the SS Parisian via Liverpool and Quebec. He settles in the Doukhobor village of Kamenka, Saskatchewan.

1901 September

The Pavlovtsy remaining in Kharkov fall under the influence of radical Stundist preacher Moisei Todosienko who proclaims the imminence of the Last Day when all authority will be overthrown and the Kingdom of God established. Three hundred Pavlovtsy in a state of religious excitement destroy an Orthodox school and church in Pavlovka. Confronted by police and Orthodox villagers, one is killed and many are severely beaten. The Pavlovka district is sealed off and placed under a strict police regime. In January 1902, sixty-eight Pavlovtsy are put on trial. Severe sentences are handed down: four are given prison terms while forty-five are exiled to hard labour in Vladivostok, Siberia for periods of up to fifteen years. 

1902 June

Pavlovtsy exile Mitrofan M. Matveyenko emigrates to Canada. He sails aboard the SS Parisian via Liverpool and Quebec. He reunites with his family and settles in the Doukhobor village of Kamenka, Saskatchewan.  

1902 August

Pavlovtsy peasant Ivan N. Sereda of Rechki emigrates to Canada. He sails aboard the SS Tunisian via Liverpool and Quebec. He first settles in the Doukhobor village of Kamenka, Saskatchewan where he changes his name to Sardoff. He later travels to North Dakota and California as a labourer, eventually homesteading in Wainright, Alberta in 1907.

1901-1903

Nikolai I. Dudchenko and Semyon P. Prokopenko write to Khilkov and Bonch-Breuvich from Saskatchewan. The Pavlovtsy immigrants provide rare, detailed, critical descriptions of Doukhobor village settlement, interrelations, economic organization, etc.

1904 January

Leo Tolstoy writes to Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin in Saskatchewan about the plight of the Pavlovtsy remaining in Kharkov, a “deeply religious people suffering on account of a momentary distraction”. In February, Verigin sends Tolstoy five hundred roubles on behalf of the Doukhobors to assist the Pavlovtsy “who have been condemned to penal servitude for refusal of military service”.

1904-1905

The Pavlovtsy settlers in Saskatchewan – the Dudchenko, Matveyenko, Ol’khovik, Surzhik, Tverdokhleb, Turchin and Prokopenko families – take up individual homesteads in the district south of Kamsack. They obtain loans from the Doukhobor community to purchase supplies, equipment, etc.

Ignaty V. Ol’khovik family, Kamsack district, Saskatchewan c. 1914

1905 August

Pavlovtsy exile Petr V. Ol’khovik, Kiril A. Sereda and 182 Doukhobors arrive in Canada from Siberia aboard the SS Southwark. Sereda settles among the Independent Doukhobors of the Pelly district of Saskatchewan. Ol’khovik settles with a group of “Yakutian” Doukhobors in Brandon, Manitoba.

1906 April

Pavlovtsy settler Anna I. Ol’khovik marries Doukhobor Nikolai M. Antifaeff in Swan River, Manitoba. The wedding is performed by Methodist clergyman Rev. John E. Lane and is the first Doukhobor marriage consecrated in accordance with Canadian law.

1907 February

The Pavlovtsy settlers establish the Charkoff School District No. 1738 south of Kamsack, named after their home province. The Pavlovtsy settlers also establish a cemetery for their “Russian settlement”. 

1907 September

The Petr V. Ol’khovik family, along with forty “Yakutian” Doukhobors resettle to Los Angeles, California.  One year later, the Ol’khovik family permanently resettles in Vancouver, British Columbia. 

1909 January

Pavlovtsy peasant Osip A. Teterenko of Rechki sails to Canada aboard the SS Laura via Hamburg and New York. He settles in the Kamsack district of Saskatchewan. Upon his arrival he changes his name to Tetoff.

1911 July

Pavlovtsy Spiridon E. Koshcheyenko and family of Pavlovka sails to Canada aboard the SS Ausonia via Southampton. They had been exiled for ten years in Vladivostok, Siberia for their part in the Pavlovtsy uprisings of 1901. They settle in the Kamsack district of Saskatchewan.

1912

Pavlovtsy settler Kiril M. Matveyenko marries Doukhobor Tanya L. Lebedoff in the Kamsack district in a traditional Doukhobor wedding ceremony.

1912 July

Pavlovtsy Ivan S. Dudchenko and family of Pavlovka sails to Canada aboard the SS Teutonic via Liverpool. They had been exiled for ten years in Vladivostok, Siberia for their part in the Pavlovtsy uprisings of 1901. They settle in the Kamsack district of Saskatchewan.

1912 August

Pavlovtsy peasant Anton I. Eremenko of Postolni sails to Canada aboard the SS Teutonic via Liverpool. He settles in the Kamsack district of Saskatchewan. Upon his arrival he changes his name to Eremenkoff.

1912 November

Anton Tverdokhleb resettles in Musselshell County, Montana, USA. Soon after he changes his name to Hardbread.

Gravesite of Nikolai I. Dudchenko (1868-1916). Inscription reads:  “His Religion – Tolstoy”. Courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff.

1916 January

Nikolai I. Dudchenko dies in a train accident. Nicholas Street in the Town of Kamsack is named in his honour. Articulate, literate and fluent in English, Dudchenko acted as spokesman and representative of the tiny Pavlovtsy settlement in Saskatchewan.

1918

Disillusioned with life in Canada, the families of Ivan S. Dudchenko, Semyon P. Prokopenko and Spiridon E. Koshcheyenko return to Russia. They initially settle in Ussurisk in the Russian Far East.

1918 December

The Kiril A. Sereda family appears in the Independent Doukhobor census residing in Kamsack, Saskatchewan.

1924 May

The family of Osip Turchin resettles to Detroit, Michigan, USA.

1926

The Petr V. Ol’khovik family along with forty Independent Doukhobor families resettle on a collective farm near Melitopol, Ukraine. Their aim is to help their Motherland establish the new life following the Revolution. In 1928, the young men receive calls to serve in the army following the institution of universal military service in the Soviet Union. Being pacifists, the families refuse military service and return to Canada in 1928.

Petr V. Ol’khovik family, Melitopol, Ukraine c. 1926

1930 December

The families of Kiril A. Sereda and Kiril M. Matveyenko appear in the Named Doukhobors of Canada membership list residing in Kamsack, Saskatchewan.

1937 May

The family of Kiril M. Matveyenko appears in the Named Doukhobors of Canada membership list residing in Kamsack, Saskatchewan.

1939 November

The family of Mitrofan M. Matveyenko appears in the Kamsack Doukhobor Society membership list.

Bibliography

  • Camfield, Graham P. “Aleksandr Khilkov: the Bolshevik Prince”. Unpublished article manuscript.
  • Camfield, Graham P. “From Tolstoyan to Terrorist: The Revolutionary Career of Prince D.A. Khilkov, 1900-1905” in Revolutionary Russia (London: Frank Cass, Vol. 12, No. 1, June 1999, pp. 1-43).
  • Camfield, Graham P.  Prince D. A. Khilkov: a Biography. Unpublished manuscript, British Library of Political and Economic Science.
  • Camfield, Graham P. “The Pavlovtsy of Khar’kov Province, 1886-1905: Harmless Sectarians or Dangerous Rebels?” in The Slavonic and East European Review (London: The Modern Humanities Research Association for the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, Vol. 68, No. 4, October 1990, pp. 692-717).
  • Chertkov, Vladimir, Pis’ma Petra Vasilevicha Ol’khovika, Krestianina Kharkovskoi Gubernii, Otkhazavshagosa ot Voinskoi Povinnosti v 1895 godu (London, 1897).
  • Donskov, Andrew (ed), Leo Tolstoy – Peter Verigin Correspondence (Ottawa: Legas 1995).
  • Gusev, N. N. “Pavlovtsy”, Ch.1, Russkaia Mysl’, No.7, 1907, pp.40-71.
  • Inikova, Svetlana A., History of the Doukhobors in V.D. Bonch-Breuvich’s Archives (1886-1950’s) (Ottawa: Legas Publishing, 1999).
  • Klibanov, A.I. History of Religious Sectarianism in Russia (1860s-1917) (Toronto: Pergamon Press, 1982).
  • Manitoba Free Press, “Swan River Wedding” (April 6, 1906).
  • Spinning Stories: A Woven History, Kamsack, Togo, Veregin, Runnymede, Cote. (Kamsack: Kamsack History Book Committee, 1988).
  • Woodcock, George and Ivan Avakumovic, The Doukhobors (Ottawa: Carleton Library, 1977).
  • Woodsworth, John, Russian Archival Documents on Canada: The Doukhobors: 1895-1943, Annotated, Cross-referenced and Summarized. Catalogue No. 2 (Ottawa: Carleton University, 1996).

Special thanks to Graham P. Camfield, Assistant Librarian of the British Library of Political and Economic Science in London England for his invaluable help and for generously sharing his unpublished manuscript material on the Pavlovtsy. This is a work in progress. If readers have any additional information with respect to the Pavlovtsy settlers in Saskatchewan and their descendants, please email the authorJonathan Kalmakoff.

Doukhobors: An Endangered Species

by Dr. John I. Postnikoff

The following is an excerpt from an address given by Dr. John I. Postnikoff at the Postnikoff Family Reunion held in Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan in 1977. Now, decades later, more than ever, his speech forcefully captures the dilemma of assimilation and cultural change challenging Doukhobors today. Reproduced from the pages of MIR magazine, No. 16 (Grand Forks, BC: MIR Publication Society, May, 1978).

…At this point, I would like to share with you some observations on our role in present and future society, and mention some facts about minority groups in general. An outside observer in our midst would be hard pressed to detect any difference between us and a group of Anglo-Saxon Canadians. I recognize the fact there may be some here from other racial backgrounds.

1. We are absolutely fluent in the English language, in fact, much more so, than in Russian. Why am I speaking in English this morning? Well, it is a great deal easier, believe me.

2. Our dress is non distinctive, call it North American. The ladies are not wearing embroidered shawls, the men are not exposing their shirt tails, and not wearing sheep skin coats. 

It was not always so, however. Our dress, speech and mannerisms are a far cry from our forefathers, who disembarked on Canadian soil in 1899. They were immigrants from Russia, members of a sect which emerged into history around the middle of the 17th century. They called themselves “People of God” or “Spiritual Christians”, implying that adherents of other sects or churches were only false Christians. The name Doukhobor, like other names treasured afterwards, was first used in anger and derision by one of their opponents, the Archbishop Serebrenikov of Ekaterinoslav in 1785. It means Spirit Wrestlers, and was intended by the Orthodox Archbishop to suggest they were fighting “against” the Holy Ghost. Its followers changed the meaning, claiming they fought “with” the spirit of God which was within them.

Allow me to skip one hundred years of history, marked by good times and bad times, persecutions and migrations, and bring you to the year 1886. Following the death of Lukeria Kalmykova (affectionately known as “Lushechka”) a major struggle developed between Lukeria’s brother Mikhail Gubanov and her apparent successor Peter Verigin concerning leadership of the group and control of the Orphan Home assets valued at roughly one million rubles. The quarrel split the sect into two factions. Those acknowledging Verigin’s spiritual leadership became known as the “Large Party”.

Since the government officials were in sympathy with Gubanov, Verigin was exiled to Siberia. This strengthened his position and his followers now regarded him as a martyr. While in exile, he met disciples of Tolstoy and became acquainted with his literature. As subsequent events proved, this had a profound affect on his outlook. He began to indoctrinate his subjects in peasant communism, pacifism, and defiance of government.

Doukhobor Leader Peter “Lordly” Verigin.

One of his directives, delivered by loyal messengers, pertained to military service, which later resulted in their expulsion from Russia. All loyal followers were not to bear arms, and to show they meant business, destroy all their weapons, which were in ample supply. This directive was obeyed, all muskets were placed in one big pile, doused with kerosene, and put to the torch.

Such a display of defiance was not to pass unnoticed by Tsar Nicholas II and his officials. Punishment, suffering, and persecution followed, which made headlines in the Western World. Quakers in England and United States, Tolstoy in Russia, rallied to their aid, and it can safety be said that without their moral and financial support, migration to Canada would never have been a reality.

Canada was suggested as a safe haven by Peter Kropotkin, a Russian anarchist living in England. Contacts were made with the Canadian Government, which appeared sympathetic. A group headed by Aylmer Maude, Prince Khilkov, and Doukhobor delegates Makhortoff and Ivin, were delegated to find a suitable locality for resettlement. They were directed to Edmonton, where twelve townships consisting of 572 square miles were available. The party agreed this would be an ideal site, returning to Ottawa to finalize the arrangements, An obstacle however was placed in their path by the Conservative opposition and the plan did not reach fruition.

I am going to ask you to stretch your powers of imagination and consider for a moment, what kind of Doukhobor society would have evolved if the chain of circumstances had been different than what actually took place:

1. Suppose there was no opposition to the block settlement near Edmonton, and all of the 7,000 plus immigrants were allowed to settle in this area and initiate an experiment in religious communism.

2. Verigin was allowed to leave Russia, accompany his subjects to Canada and be the first to step on Canadian soil. 

3. Land ownership was acquired without the controversial Oath of Allegiance.

How would this ethnic group, tightly knit by blood ties and cultural bonds, succeed in this experiment? Would a society have emerged like the Hutterites and Mennonites, agrarian in nature, committed to self sustenance and isolation from neighbours? Such an arrangement, of course, is an attempt to form a state within a state, a Dukhoboria. Would we have fared better under this arrangement? Conflict arises whenever a minority group is pitted against a dominant majority. Interaction between them, by its very nature, is competitive and is marked by hostility at many points. I have a feeling, no concrete evidence, just a feeling, that internal dissension coupled with external pressures would have been too much for many independent souls, like my grandfather. They would have “packed it in” and set up an Independent existence on available homesteads. The venture would have collapsed like it did in British Columbia years later. Back to reality however:

1. Peter Verigin did not arrive in Canada from his Siberian exile until 1902.

2. Land was not available in one block. Settlers were split into three groups, two in the Yorkton area and one in Prince Albert. Free from Verigin’s leadership, the Prince Albert group especially were already beginning to feel at home in their new surroundings. 

3. The Canadian Government insisted on registration of vital statistics and the Oath of Allegiance as a prerequisite for land ownership. This resulted in a mass migration to British Columbia under Verigin’s instigation. Many chose not to leave and remained in Saskatchewan, including most of the Prince Albert group. They accepted the Oath of Allegiance and became independent operators on their newly acquired homesteads.

Why did some stay behind rather than move to British Columbia? Perhaps they had second thoughts about collective ownership and all its ramifications. The offer of free land, even with strings attached, was a temptation hard to resist. They came from the land, they loved the soil. To them, it was a means of livelihood and economic independence. They began to clear the land and build log dwellings with sod roofs.

Tasting independence, a luxury long denied them, they came in contact with immigrants of Anglo-Saxon, Irish, Ukrainian and Polish origin. From this point, precisely, forces of assimilation, began to alter old patterns which had been in existence for decades.

Children were enrolled in public schools where they came in contact with students of different racial origin. In school they were exposed to a new language, different from the one spoken at home. For those not destined to take up farming as an occupation, it was a natural and easy step to High schools and Universities. In a short space of time, a community which knew only agrarian skills for hundreds of years had a new breed in its midst. This was a change of major proportions. Lawyers, engineers, school teachers, doctors, dentists, nurses, accountants etc., arrived on the scene, fluent in English, different only in name. Along with their agrarian cousins, they willingly accepted all that modern technology had to offer: cars, tractors, combines, television and radio. The Russian tongue was heard less frequently and in most homes English became the language of choice.

The basic dogma of our religion became a lively issue during the First and Second World Wars, more so in the Second. I can recall mother telling me when the late Peter Makaroff was conscripted in the First World War, how the Doukhobors rallied to his aid. They threatened not to harvest their grain if Peter was taken into the army, so the government did not press the issue. In the Second World War, some of our young men did alternative service under army supervision, but there was no persecution such as experienced in Tsarist Russia. Can it be Doukhobors perform best under pressure, and a crisis of major proportions might make us realize that out cultural identity is slipping away? In peace time, the issue tends to fade into the background as it does not affect our day to day activities. In other words, “the shoe is not pinching”.

After 80 years in Canada, what is the present state of affairs? We have to admit, we are in a retreating situation. I think we are all in agreement on this point. Our language has fallen into disuse; few remain who can speak it fluently. Our prayer homes are empty; many of the former worshippers are throwing in their lot with other faiths, Baptists, Mormons, Pentecostals, Jehovah Witnesses, United Church. Our young people are exchanging their marriage vows in other faiths.

Granted, the Doukhobor Community in Saskatoon is expert in making large crusty loaves of bread in outdoor ovens during exhibition week. We still like our borshchpirogi and blintsi. Outside of this, little remains. What I am really saying is we are not a healthy ethnic group with our heritage at our fingertips.

The number of Doukhobors claiming membership in the sect is declining at an alarming rate especially in the last years. Let us look at some figures from Statistics Canada:

Year Quantity
1921 12,674
1931 14,978
1941 16,898
1951 13,175
1961 13,234
1971 9,170

A drop of 4000 in the last 10 years. Geographical distribution per 1971 census is as follows:

Province Quantity
Newfoundland 5
Nova Scotia 10
New Brunswick 20
Quebec 220
Ontario 175
Manitoba 130
Saskatchewan 1,675
Alberta 200
British Columbia 6,720
North West Territories 10

If we estimate the number in Canada from this stock around 20,000 plus, more than half have left. Another suitable topic for my talk could be: “Lost, 10,000 Doukhobors”. We are one of the few religious groups experiencing a decline. Some examples to substantiate this in round figures:

Denomination 1921 1971
Baptists 422,000 667,000
Mormons 19,000 66,000
Hutterites & Mennonites 58,000 168,000
Pentecostals 7,000 220,000
Jehovah Witnesses 6,500 174,000

I am going to ask you once again to stretch your imagination. Assume a hypothetical situation, a gifted individual with our ethnic background arrives on the scene. He or she possesses the organizing ability of Kolesnikov, and like Lushechka, has charisma and personality. Sincere and trustworthy, he makes enough of us realize, like the whooping crane, we are an endangered species on the verge of extinction, and if we are going to salvage anything from the wreckage, we had better do something about it. There is no time to lose. He draws our attention to George Woodcock’s statement in the May 1977 issue of MIR, “unless there is a change in your attitude towards the practical things of social existence, Doukhoborism will not survive as it has existed in historic times”.

His message gets through to enough interested sympathizers. They form a committee (it seems to get anything done, you need a committee). Their terms of reference: to survey in depth, the Doukhobor dilemma and formulate a plan of action that might have some hope of reviving our cultural heritage. You will agree they have their work cut out for them. It will require tact, diplomacy, the patience of Job, and the wisdom of Solomon. They are well aware their proposals must appeal not only to all age groups but also to those who have left the sect. Hopefully they may be enticed to return. As assimilation has progressed at a faster rate in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Vancouver than in Grand Forks and the Kootenays, the situation in these areas will have to be looked at more closely.

What are the factors which give authenticity to minority groups in general? Basically only three: language, religion, and folk arts. Take these away, a minority group could hardly perform the tasks necessary for survival or train the next generation in its way of life.

The importance of language is best expressed in the 1970 Report on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. I quote: “The significance of language retention in the over all question of cultural retention is one of the most important working assumptions of this study. Language is an essential expression of a culture. Although it is noted, some groups do retain distinctive cultural traits despite their disappearing native language, (as in the case of the Acadians in the Maritimes, and Canadian Jews) the commission felt in most cases the original cultural traits survive only partially after the adoption of the dominant language. They almost disappear after several generations. Thus culture and language cannot be dissociated”.

When our Committee surveyed the language situation, this is what they discovered. Very few people remain who are fluent in Russian. Those left who came from Russia and first generation Canadians have a good working knowledge; second and third generation Canadians will not get a good score. Why has the language fallen into disuse? Because there is no economic need for it. Nearly all of us earn our bread and butter with the use of English. It is the only language we use at work. Language is like a garden; a garden requires constant attention, watering, cultivating, spraying. Neglect it and weeds take over. Language is the same. Fluency is only maintained by constant use.

Russian – the traditional language.

A similar pattern runs through all minority groups. A survey on non official languages in Canada, came up with this finding: “Fluency decreases rapidly from generation to generation. It drops sharply in the second generation and is almost non-existent in the third and older generations”. In five Canadian cities, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver among the Ukrainians, it was found 63.6% were fluent in the first generation, 18.9% in the second, dropping to .7% in the third. That is, only 7 out of 1000 knew their ethnic tongue. We would not score any better. Needless to say, the survey ended on a discouraging note. However these recommendations were put forward by the Committee. First, it is mandatory all who have a knowledge of Russian speak it in the home and other appropriate places. I asked one of my cousins if he and his wife spoke Russian. His answer was “only when we have an argument”. It seems Russian uncomplimentary words pack a more forceful punch than their English counterparts. Secondly, school boards would be approached to include Russian in the curriculum with some subjects taught in that language. Thirdly, intermarried families pose a problem. I might be unpopular for suggesting the “other” partner be encouraged to learn Russian. My wife, Audrey, mastered fifty pages of grammar, but could not continue when her teacher failed to show up for classes.

The Committee found a divergence of opinion when it tackled the problem of divine worship. Furthermore, many suggestions were charged with emotion and prejudice. I must admit my knowledge of our worship service is meagre and I have to rely on my childhood recollections here in Blaine Lake and one year in British Columbia. One thing that stands out in my memory: no individual was designated to take charge of the service; the lot usually fell to the most able orator. If the situation has changed here and in British Columbia, I apologize for my remarks. It was not only an occasion for worship, but pertinent business matters were discussed. To my dear grandmother, it was also a social occasion, she never left for worship without her supply of roasted sun flower seeds in her home-made pouch, and she must have raised the blood pressure of many a speaker trying to deliver his message above the crackle of sunflower seeds.

The Committee were amazed at the number of problems that confronted them in devising a form of worship acceptable to meet the needs of modern Doukhobor Canadians. Who will assume responsibility for religious instruction? Will we delegate one individual on a full time or part time basis, and how will he or she be paid? What will be his or her official title? Priests are anathema. He or she will require credentials. He or she would be expected to possess a basic knowledge of theology in order to express religious truths to a fairly sophisticated congregation. Dwelling only on past exploits of our forefathers, noble as they are, would soon empty the church.

What about the Bible? Pobirokhin rejected the Bible, believing it to be a source of dissension among Christians. Silvan Kolesnikov used the New Testament. Can this be a reason why many have left our ranks, many who have come to regard the Bible as a source of inspiration and spiritual truths about our Master, do not see a Bible in our prayer homes?

What about music? We have not allowed musical instruments in our prayer homes; the only music has been choral rendition of psalms and hymns. Choral psalms would have to find a place in our liturgy; although they are complex and difficult to understand, they are unique and steeped in tradition. Prayer homes will be a place where our young people exchange their marriage vows. A modern bride will not be content unless she can walk down the aisle to the strains of Wagner’s Wedding March played on the organ.

What priority will be given to Christian education for children? There has not been an organized plan of instruction to teach Bible stories and religious precepts to our youth. This was done in the home. Regular church attendance in adulthood must be initiated in childhood.

It has been suggested a scholarship be made available to an enterprising student willing to specialize in that branch of anthropology dealing with preservation and perpetuation of folk arts. Perhaps he could arouse sufficient interest to initiate a cultural museum which could serve as a focal point for preserving our past heritage. The building would have an auditorium where family reunions such as this could meet and get acquainted with their “kith and kin”.

Participation in ethnic organizations has been regarded an important means by which language and culture are maintained. In fact, the Royal Commission research reported a positive correlation between a sense of ethnic identity and participation in ethnic organizations.

I have discussed some of the problems that face us if we are to restore and preserve our heritage. Are we equal to the task? Frankly, I am pessimistic. Too much water has gone under the bridge; we have probably passed the point of no return. I would like to be an optimist, but the hard facts militate against it. My reasons are: 

1. We are not sufficiently motivated. Motivation comes from a deep conviction that a certain goal must be achieved irrespective of cost. We are not that committed. It would take a great deal of energy and sacrifice to implement the proposals suggested. This would encroach on our lifestyle, and too many of us are set in our ways. We experience no job discrimination, or social isolation.

2. We are outnumbered, twenty-two million against ten thousand. Wherever we turn, culture of the dominant majority confronts us, which in fact, we have adopted. Quebec, with a population of four million, finds the French language is threatened by the dominance of English.

3. We are a house divided, splintered into groups. We do not present a united front. How could a Son of Freedom, an Orthodox and and Independent reach a consensus on their religious philosophy?

4. Our form of worship has not been updated to keep up with the times. Our principle precept, noble and virtuous, is not an urgent problem. Should there be a war, it is inconceivable that conventional weapons would be used, where we will be asked to bear arms. Heaven preserve us from another Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

What about the future? I’m going to make a prediction, knowing full well prognostication is fraught with danger. Doukhoborism as a viable cultural entity, fifty years hence, will cease to exist in the three Prairie provinces. We are witnessing its demise. Only major surgery and blood transfusions will revive it. Canadians, with Russian surnames, will be here, but there will be no common bond to unite them. Heirlooms, family albums, and long playing Russian records will be treasured as antiques, but the culture which gave them birth has been laid to rest with the spinning wheel and the bronze axe.

In British Columbia, specifically in Grand Forks and the Kootenays, total assimilation is meeting resistance. The younger generation are taking concrete steps to preserve their language and traditions. The new cultural centre in Brilliant is an asset in their favour. Still the tide is against them. Cultural identity in cities is difficult to preserve. Fred Samorodin in his article in MIR, March 1977, estimates there are 4,000 souls of Doukhobor background in Vancouver, only thirty-two claim membership in the Union of Young Doukhobors. 

The idea is expressed that migration back to Russia will save the group. Such a panacea is too fantastic to merit consideration. Can you see Communist Russia accepting a religious group on our terms? We would be strangers in the land where our forefathers trod. If the “be all and end all” of our life in Canada is the preservation of our heritage, then migration was a wrong move. Verigin rendered us a disservice. We should have fought it out with the Tsar. Our leader should have realized, once he brought his subjects to “Rome” they would “do as the Romans”.

Our problem is not unique, this is history of minority groups, repeating itself. Minority groups came into existence five thousand years ago with the development of a state or a nation. Only a state with the apparatus of government, can extend law and order over sub groups, who neither speak the same language, worship the same gods, nor strive for the same values. The Aztecs of Mexico, the Maya of Yucatan, the Inca of South America, once they became minority groups, disappeared with time, to become a name only.

What about the future? We should be filled with remorse in allowing a beautiful language, rich in poetry and prose to fall into disuse. We are not taking advantage of the opportunities in Russian studies presented by our higher institutions of learning. In this regard, we are the losers and great is our loss.

However as Christians, I believe Christ is calling us to be more wide awake than ever. Firstly, we must find peace within ourselves and brotherly love towards our neighbour. As Christians, we are called to make our Community a better place to live, and take action on such issues as: the preservation of our environment; violence on television; pornography; the plight of the underprivileged here and abroad; and discrimination in any form.

Above all, let us preserve the spirit which guided our forefathers in their exodus from tyranny to freedom. Observing the 6th Commandment “Thou shalt not kill”, they were loving their neighbour as themselves. Thank you.

Sketch of a Doukhobor Prisoner in Siberia

Commentary by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

The following is a drawing from an artist’s sketchbook, unknown and unavailable for over a century, of a Doukhobor prisoner in Siberia. The discovery of this rare work will be of particular interest to those researching the exile of Doukhobor military conscripts who refused military service in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Russia following the historic Burning of Arms. The following is a discussion of the drawing by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

The drawing is by the famous artist-painter Boris Vasilyevich Smirnov (1881-1954), whose Soviet works are found in many Russian and foreign museums and galleries, but whose pre-Revolutionary drawings are almost unknown. It was drawn in 1904 when the artist was deported as a political prisoner along the Great Siberian Highway by the Tsarist regime. It is one of a collection of ninety-nine rare drawings and watercolors by Smirnov at the Novosibirsk State Museum of Regional History and Folklife. The collection was acquired from the artist in 1950.

The drawing uses rich black charcoal heightened with white on grey paper and measures 29.5 by 22.3 centimeters. It bears an inscription with the artist’s name as well as the date it was drawn. On the obverse, it bears an inscription with the title Arestant – Dukhobor (“Doukhobor Prisoner”). The drawing is a bust of the subject in profile facing forward.

Smirnov depicts his subject in a realistically informal pose, with hair slightly disheveled and coat unbuttoned. The prisoner’s expression is at once thoughtful, plaintive and resolute, a man who has paid the price of faith with unwavering courage and humanity. It is presumably this intensity of expression which drew the artist’s attention to the subject.

Regrettably, Smirnov did not record the name of his subject. It is known, however, that the artist sketched the drawing at the prison for exiles in Irkutsk, Siberia. This prison was an étape, or stopping place, for Russian convicts and exiles on their way to their destinations. It can therefore be deduced that the prisoner was one of the over one hundred Doukhobor military conscripts exiled from the Caucasus, via Irkutsk, to Yakutsk, Siberia between 1896 and 1905 for refusing military service.

Perhaps there are family researchers – grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the Doukhobor exiles in Siberia – who might be able to identify this Doukhobor prisoner who, while en route to exile in distant unknown lands, humbly agreed to pose for Smirnov over a century ago. It is intriguing to think that there might be literally hundreds of his descendants living in Canada today.

This article was reproduced by permission in ISKRA No.1978 (Grand Forks: Union of Spiritual Communities in Christ, 2006).

A Doukhobor Wedding Dress

by Leslee Newman

In 1867, a wedding dress was handmade and worn in a traditional Doukhobor wedding ceremony in the Caucasus, Russia.  Thereafter, it was carefully preserved and passed down through the generations.  Today, over one hundred and forty years later, this historic garment is part of the extensive collection of Doukhobor artifacts held at the Saskatchewan Western Development Museum.  The following commentary, reproduced by permission from the Saskatoon Sun, April 25, 1999, outlines the story of the dress from its origins to present.

Within sight of Mount Ararat, which according to the Bible was the resting place of Noah’s ark, Onya Kabaroff and Fedyor Perehudoff pledged their union. The young Doukhobor couple began their life together in 1867. Half a world away in North America, four provinces joined to form a new country, Canada. Onya (Anna) and Fedyor (Fred) could not have known that they would someday leave their small village in the Russian province of Georgia to make this new country their home.

Anna’s mother began to prepare for her daughter’s wedding long before the special day. She spun flax into thread, wove the thread into cloth, sewed the cloth into a full length dress. The dress has long sleeves, with gathering so fine at the wrists and neck, and embroidery so delicate, that it challenges you to imagine producing such work by the light of a flickering flame. A hand-woven geometric-patterned band decorates the hemline.

The blue woollen apron also was made from hand-woven cloth. After washing and carding, the wool was spun, then woven into a fine cloth. The apron was gathered at the waist. The hem was decorated with a colourful woven band and hand-knit lace.

Dress worn by Onya Kabaroff on her wedding to Fedya Perehudoff in 1867 in Russia.

The short, padded vest was hand-sewn from cotton. Since cotton was not a cloth that could be produced at home, it was likely purchased on a rare trip to a large trading centre. All items must have been lovingly prepared by Anna’s mother for her daughter’s hope chest.

Thirty-two years after their marriage, Anna and Fred made the heart-wrenching choice to leave their home and travel with 7,500 others of Doukhobor faith to Canada. Leo Tolstoy, the well-known Russian writer, sponsored Doukhobor immigration to what is now Saskatchewan, financing the trip with proceeds from his book Resurrection. The Quakers, another pacifist group, also came to their aid.

Anna’s wedding dress was packed and made the long journey from Russia to the tiny village of Ospennia, 15 kilometres southeast of Blaine Lake in what was then, Canada’s North West Territories.

It is likely that Anna wore her dress on Sundays and special days like the annual June 29th commemoration of the Burning of Arms. On that day, a large tent was set up to house the people who gathered for prayers, songs and ceremony.

Firm in their belief in the commandment “Thou shalt not kill,” Doukhobors rejected the call to serve in the Russian military. On June 29, 1895 they collected their weapons and burned them. Thousands were punished with death or exile. Doukhobors have commemorated June 29th faithfully since that time.

On Anna’s death in the 1930s, the dress was handed down to her daughter, Dasha (Dora) Postnikoff. When Dora died, Anna’s dress went to Dora’s daughter Agatha. It was donated to the Saskatchewan Western Development Museum by Anna’s granddaughter, Agatha Stupnikoff, on behalf of the Postnikoff family.

“The people then tried very hard to accept the Canadian way of life, so they switched over to Canadian dress quite early. Anna’s dress came out only on special occasions,” recalled Agatha.

“Doukhobour people come from all walks of life. It isn’t a nationality, it’s a belief,” Agatha explained as she mused about the exodus from Russia her grandparents joined in 1899. They were not young people, both in their fifties when they came to Canada, with the strength of their belief sustaining them through hardship.

Agatha Stupnikoff’s sensitivity to her family’s story and Doukhobor history was shared by her husband Sam. Motivated by their desire to preserve these cherished garments, they consulted family members, then offered the wedding outfit to the Saskatchewan Western Development Museum.

Ruth Bitner, WDM Collections Curator, accepted the donation with gratitude, stating “Despite the fact that people from so many different cultures made Saskatchewan their homes, the WDM has few examples of traditional clothing. Costumes like this are a tangible reminder of personal journeys, leaving the familiar culture of the homeland for an unknown future in faraway Saskatchewan.”

For More Information

The Saskatchewan Western Development Museum (WDM) is the museum of social and economic history for the Province of Saskatchewan. It is a network of four exhibit branches in the cities of Moose Jaw, North Battleford, Saskatoon and Yorkton. For more information about the WDM, its programs, events, exhibits, and the many Doukhobor artifacts in its holdings, visit the WDM web site at: www.wdm.ca.

Forced Doukhobor Schooling in British Columbia

by William Janzen

Historically, Doukhobors had not emphasized formal education. They were concerned that schools would lead their children away from their community life and religious ideals. Also, their view of ‘the God within’ made it less important. Despite these views, in Saskatchewan, the entry of Doukhobors into the public school system went relatively smoothly, in part due to its localized nature, the leniency of civil servants in enforcing attendance requirements, and the openness of the largely Independent Doukhobor population towards education. In British Columbia, however, the Doukhobors’ stronger communalism and greater hesitancy about the larger society, combined with the rigid approach of the provincial government, produced dramatically different results. The following article by William Janzen examines the forced schooling of Doukhobors in British Columbia. Reproduced by permission from his book, “Limits on Liberty, The Experience of Mennonite, Hutterite and Doukhobor Communities in Canada” (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990), it examines three distinct periods: 1909-1913, 1914-1927 and 1927-1959.

1909-1913: Acceptance, Rejection, and a Commission of Inquiry

The story of the Doukhobors and public schools in British Columbia is complex. Virtually all the Doukhobors who moved there belonged to the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood. As such they had both a stronger communalism and a greater hesitancy about the larger society. The approach of the provincial government was different, too. British Columbia had had a public school system since the 1870s. It even had an attendance requirement, though it applied only to children aged 7-12, and only if they lived within three miles of a school accessible by public roads. Also, the system operated under a central Council of Public Instruction with relatively little scope for local boards. This circumstance tended to bring school issues into the arena of provincial politics even though it might have been possible to resolve them locally.

The Doukhobors’ first contact with British Columbia’s school system came soon after they arrived in 1909. By 1910, some who lived close to public schools discovered that their children were expected to attend. They then complied without complaint. In 1911 the school district of Grand Forks built the Carson school near Doukhobor lands to accommodate more Doukhobor children. Soon thereafter the Doukhobors, who were quickly becoming established in their new settlements, built a school right on their land near Brilliant. It opened in 1912 as an official public school with an all-Doukhobor board and an enrolment of forty-eight pupils. The teacher, Beulah Clarke Darlington, spoke highly of the Doukhobors and of the experience in general. In a letter to a local newspaper she stated: ‘It is a relief to find people with no pretense who are willing to work with their hands, and who show, by the wonderful development of that country, that they are capable of working with their brains as well; who are content with simple pleasures and who keep a right outlook on life because they are not striving after wealth or trying to attain a position in society which is worthless when procured.’ The Doukhobors were very pleased with Darlington as a teacher. They planned to expand class-room facilities for the coming year and encouraged Darlington to bring some of her friends also to serve as teachers.

Then, suddenly, there was an interruption. The schoolchildren were withdrawn, not to return until four years later. A major reason was the arrest of five Doukhobors who had been sentenced to three months in prison for failing to register a death. The chief constable for the Grand Forks area met with Peter V. Verigin and was informed that the Doukhobors, at a large meeting, had decided not to register births, deaths, and marriages even though the law required it. When the constable reported this information to the attorney-general he was told: ‘You may inform Mr. Verigin … that the laws of British Columbia must be obeyed … and … will be strictly carried out, without any favour being shown to him and members of his Society.’ The Doukhobors then sent a letter, dated 16 July 1912, addressed to ‘The Government of British Columbia,’ to explain their position. They said: ‘We believe that the favourable adorable power is ruling all the world and endeavour to be written in eternal life book, and propose ourselves obligation to live quietly and to employ honest labour on the earth, so as to get substance. All the human race registration we calculate unnecessary. We can say, briefly, our religion confines on two commandments to be gentle and to employ agriculture.’

Doukhobor children in flax field, Grand Forks, BC, circa 1920. British Columbia Archives C-01745.

The public, which at first had welcomed the Doukhobors for contributing to the economic development of the area, now became more critical. Newspapers pointed out that they were not taking the oath and that they were not co-operating fully with the 1911 census. Local citizens expressed concern that the Doukhobors were becoming numerous, that they might ‘swamp the community,’ and ‘that it would be impossible for them to be assimilated.’ In response, the Conservative government led by Premier Richard McBride appointed a royal commission to make a broad inquiry. The person chosen for the task was William Blackmore, a newspaper editor from the nearby town of Nelson.

When Blackmore came to the Doukhobor community, later in 1912, he was welcomed in an elaborate way. The Doukhobors showed him their orchards, sawmills, and other prospering enterprises, and talked of their plans for further development. They also invited him to their religious assembly, where the children sang for him. In one such ceremony, a young boy stepped forward and said: ‘We’ve been attending school during the eleven weeks it was in session, but we no longer wish to go to school again, because the teacher, though very kind, belonged to the people who had put our friends in prison.’ Blackmore stayed with the Doukhobors for almost four months and held long public hearings. He also made a trip to their settlements on the prairies. At the end he produced a report that was extensive and remarkably sympathetic to the Doukhobors but it did not relieve them from the responsibility of abiding by the established laws of the province.

Regarding their refusal to register births, deaths, and marriages, Blackmore stated: ‘They will not register because they desire to remain unmolested in their communal life. They want no interference, as they call it, which means no intrusion of any kind. They claim that birth and death are the acts of God, and call for no cognizance on the part of man; and as to marriage, they take the high ground that it is purely a matter between the contracting parties.’ Blackmore also found that the Doukhobors feared that registration would somehow lead to military service. In their own words they said: ‘The registration intimately… tied …with religious faith … we wish to be citizens of all the world, and do not wish to register our children in the Royal Crown Government books … We are not refusing to give knowledge of increase or decrease of our Doukhobor Community people in ten or five years once. But to enter in your register books we will never do it. Because we calculate we are already registered in the Book of Life before Him the Founder, which is called Eternity.’

Regarding public schools, Blackmore found that the Doukhobors were concerned that ‘education was likely to make the children discontented with the life of cultivation of the soil followed by their parents,’ and ‘separate the children from their parents and from the customs and habits of the Community.’ He reported further that the women had said that ‘among them crime was unknown, and that, whereas among educated people poverty existed, no Doukhobor ever suffered for want of food or clothing; so … while the laws spoken of were needed for other people, they did not think they were required among the Doukhobors.’

In a statement of their own, the Doukhobors listed three reasons for their objection to the public schools:

1) The school education teaches and prepares the people, that is children, to military service, where shed harmless blood of the people altogether uselessly. The most well educated people consider this dreadfully sinful such business as war, lawful. We consider this great sin.

2) The school teaching at the present time had reached only to expedience for the easy profit, thieves, cheaters, and to large exploitation working-class laborious on the earth. And we ourselves belong to working-class people and we try by the path of honest labour, so we may reap the necessary maintenance, and to this we adopt our children to learn at wide school of Eternal Nature.

3) The school teaching separates all the people on the earth. Just as soon as the person reached read and write education, then, within a short time leaves his parents and relations and undertakes unreturnable journey on all kinds of speculation, depravity and murder life. And never think of this duty, respecting his parents and elder-ones, but he looks opposite, turning themselves, enslaving of the people, for theirs own licentious and insatiableness gluttony … educated people, swallow down all the national peoples … the people suffer from not having land even a piece of daily bread … we distinctly understand instruction of Christ, we holding on to Community life and we calculate all the people on earth are our brothers.

These three objections — that education in public schools leads to militarism, that it is not practical, and that it alienates people from one another, thus militating against community life — were to be referred to again and again in the following half-century as the controversy continued.

In his report, Blackmore spoke positively of how the Doukhobors themselves provided for the education of their children:

It must not, however, be supposed that, because this misguided people refuse elementary education for their children, they do not give them the best home training.

The children are intelligent, respective, and observant. The home life is almost ideal. They are taught all the cardinal virtues with which most of us, as children, we acquainted, but which are now too often regarded as old-fashioned — such as obedience, reverence, industry, and thrift; and it is not a little to the credit of their parents to find that the chief objection that they entertain to education is the fear that secular teaching may undermine the religious spirit.

Blackmore also praised their capability as agriculturalists, their irrigation system, their large orchards, and the other enterprises that they, as the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, had collectively developed. Blackmore stated:

It is not out of place at this point to comment on the wonderful success that has attended the fruit-growing operations of the Doukhobors. To them it was a new industry. They had never been engaged in it before coming to British Columbia. Yet, today, if you were to go through their orchards, you would find that they are the cleanest, the best-kept, the heaviest-cropped of any in the district…

In addition … the Doukhobors have manifested a spirit of enterprise at Brilliant by putting in a splendid concrete reservoir capable of holding 1,000,000 gallons of water, and from this reservoir the water is being piped all over the Settlement. It is to be used both for domestic purposes and irrigation.

The reservoir will be supplied partially from a creek in the mountains, and partially by an immense pumping plant which the Doukhobors have erected … on the banks of the Kootenay River. This is the largest pumping plant in British Columbia …

Besides the farming industry, the Doukhobors have established sawmills on all their properties, which are used chiefly to convert the timber into building material …They have also a good brick-making works at Grand Forks, which is producing a high-class brick, commanding a ready sale. This brick is being used in the new Government Buildings at Grand Forks, which is a fair testimony as to its quality.

While recommending that the Doukhobors should be required to obey provincial laws, Blackmore cautioned against ‘drastic steps … to force their immediate compliance,’ stating that ‘persecution is fuel to the flames of fanaticism. Withdraw the fuel, and the fire will die out.’ He suggested a policy of ‘patience with the people’ and ‘pressure on their leaders’ and that, ‘if it is found necessary to resort to prosecution and conviction ensues, it is desirable that the punishment should take the form of fines rather than imprisonment.’ Prison sentences, he felt, might nurture a martyrdom complex. He also recommended that to facilitate the registration of births, deaths, and marriages, a member of the Doukhobor Community be appointed as a sub-registrar. And to facilitate matters in the schools he said that ‘Russian teachers could be employed in conjunction with Canadian teachers, and that the curriculum be modified so as to include only elementary subjects.’ He also suggested that a permanent Doukhobor agent be appointed to serve somewhat like an Indian agent.

Most of Blackmore’s observations and recommendations were such that a mutually satisfactory compromise might have developed. But the Doukhobors’ disposition towards a compromise was drastically set back because, at the very end of the report, Blackmore recommended that their exemption from military service be cancelled. This suggestion was most upsetting to the Doukhobors. They had questioned Blackmore about the possibility of war between Britain and Germany, about the probability of Canadian involvement, and about the status of their exemption. Now they felt confirmed in their suspicion that there was a connection between registration, school attendance, and military service.

1914-1927: Pressing Community Doukhobors to Accept Schools

While Blackmore’s final recommendation disappointed the Doukhobors, the generally moderate tone of his report disappointed the authorities. Supported by local citizens, officials soon discarded his counsel for patience. They rejected a Doukhobor offer that for vital statistics, they check the Community’s records. The public wanted compliance with the existing law; to gain evidence for prosecutions they exhumed bodies and raided a village. Naturally, this approach was upsetting to the Doukhobors. Regarding the schools, the Doukhobors were now also concerned about a recently introduced program of military drills and rifle shooting. The Department of Education had started the program in order to foster ‘the spirit of patriotism in the boys, leading them to realize that the first duty of every citizen is to be prepared to defend his country.’

Early in 1914, when Doukhobor children were still not in school, the government prepared itself for an unusual course of action. It enacted the Community Regulation Act, which made the Doukhobor Community, that is, the CCUB, liable for an infraction committed by any member. The act referred particularly to infractions relating to vital statistics, school attendance, and the Health Act. It authorized officials to seize, without warrant, the goods and chattels of the Community in order to cover fines not paid by individuals. In one sense, holding the Community liable was understandable. The Doukhobors, as individuals, had little property while as a Community they had a sizeable amount. Nevertheless, as a form of collective punishment this law was a departure from Canada’s tradition of justice. More seriously, the law defined a Community member as any person who, on the oath of one witness, had been found on or about Community lands. This meant that even if the Community expelled trouble-making individuals, which it did on occasion, it could still be liable for the actions of such individuals. Obviously, the Community was extremely vulnerable.

As the authorities became more threatening, some Doukhobors, apparently against the advice of Peter V. Verigin, responded with a threat of their own. They sent a long list of grievances to Attorney-General Bowser and then said: ‘The [Community] Doukhobors, of whom there are six thousand members, are planning beforehand in this case, to all take off what clothes still remaining on them after the plunder they have been subjected to in Saskatchewan, take them and throw them into the faces of your officials in Nelson and Grand Forks, and leave themselves stark naked on the very street of the town. This will be a good illustration to show the attitude taken by the government officials in regards to Doukhobors.’ The attorney-general replied that if the clothes came off the law against indecent exposure would be enforced.

As the confrontation became increasingly intense several non-Doukhobors tried to intervene. Blackmore continued to counsel moderation in the columns of his newspaper. A lawyer from the town of Nelson wrote to the attorney-general: ‘I contend that the Grand Forks people are not playing the game square as far as these people are concerned. They welcomed them to their midst and took their money for the land, and now, when they have made a success of agriculture in that district, they want to drive them out.’ A CPR superintendent urged the government to seek a compromise so as to avoid ‘injury to the religious convictions of the Doukhobors.’ A.E. Miller, inspector of schools, was cautious, too. He predicted that ‘any attempt to enforce attendance will be met with opposition.’ Others, however, supported the action of the government. A group of Quakers from Pennsylvania who had earlier supported the Doukhobors now said: ‘The sooner the Commune is broken up, the sooner will be real progress amongst these simple, misled people.’

For a time the trends pointed towards a harsh confrontation. A.E. Miller was instructed to warn the Doukhobors that ‘the refusal to comply with the requirements as to education would mean the breaking up of their community.’ In August 1915 the attorney-general issued instructions to enforce the Community Regulations Act. At that point, however, certain technical obstacles were noticed. The property, until 1917, was registered in the name of Peter V. Verigin, not in the name of the Community. Also, school attendance was compulsory only if people lived within three miles of a school, accessible by a public road. Most roads in the Doukhobor settlements were private.

Before these legalities could be tested a compromise was reached. On 20 September 1915 the attorney-general promised a delegation of Doukhobors that no military training would be forced upon their children and that they would be excused from religious exercises. The Doukhobors in turn promised that their children would return to both the Carson and the Brilliant public schools. As a result, a period of co-operation followed. The Doukhobors built nine additional public schools although these were administered not by local boards but by an official trustee appointed by the government. At one point, in the 1920-1 school year, the enrolment rose to 414, which was more than 80 per cent of those eligible, although attendance was little more than 50 per cent. Inspector Miller, following a policy of caution and patience, did not press for full attendance.

This co-operation lasted for several years, but soon after the First World War there were strains related to the Doukhobors’ exemption from military service and to their prosperity. In February 1919 a meeting of returned soldiers in Nelson demanded that all Doukhobors be deported to Russia and that their lands be given to veterans. A meeting of citizens declared its support for the veterans and at one point twelve ex-soldiers went to Verigin to force their demands upon him. Apparently Verigin then signed an agreement to turn over the Doukhobor lands to the Soldiers’ Settlement Board but a few days later he wired Arthur Meighen, the minister of the Interior, that he had signed under duress. Meighen, the Conservative who according to George Woodcock ‘consistently proved fairer to the Doukhobors than his Liberal predecessor Frank Oliver,’ ruled that the Soldiers’ Settlement Board had no right to carry out expropriations.

Group of Doukhobor schoolchildren at Brilliant, BC, circa 1920. British Columbia Archives D-01929.

The soldiers’ claim to the land was thus nullified but the general criticism of the Doukhobors continued, leading some Doukhobors to withdraw their children from school. However, a 1920 amendment to the Public Schools Act broadened the compulsory attendance provisions and authorized the construction of schools on the lands of the Doukhobor Community and at its expense. Also, Inspector A.E. Miller, under whose patient supervision things had worked reasonably well, was replaced by E.G. Daniels, who began to press for better attendance. In December 1922, the Grand Forks school board took legal action against eight cases of truancy. Fines were imposed and when they were not paid, some CCUB property, meaning Doukhobor Community property, was seized. However, before it could be sold, Community officials intervened and paid the fines.

In April 1923, Inspector Daniels pressed further. Fines of $50 each were levied on six parents. When they were slow in paying, a large truck, used by the Community for farm work, was seized. Again the Community paid the fines. But soon after, in May 1923, a school building was destroyed by fire. In the months that followed a total of nine schools in the Brilliant area were destroyed, the burnings in each case coinciding with an attempt on the part of the police to seize property in payment of fines.

The burning of schools was a relatively new type of action on the part of the Doukhobors. There were some acts of civil disobedience in their history, and a few times some Doukhobors had destroyed property as a way of witnessing against materialism. However, this more widespread destruction of property was a departure from their tradition. It also created a new dynamic among the Doukhobors. Those who committed these acts were a very small minority. Verigin and other Community leaders publicly declared that the Community as a whole had nothing to do with the burnings and that many of their children were still attending school. At one inquiry a teacher of a burned school testified that the Community Doukhobors had, ‘instead of burning schools, been guarding them and that the destruction has been the work of a small but fanatical element among them.’ The authorities, however, did little to apprehend the guilty individuals. Instead, they followed the orientation of the Community Regulation Act and held the Doukhobor Community liable for the depredations.

While dissociating themselves from the acts of destruction, the Doukhobor Community leaders also charged that School Inspector Daniels was using undue compulsion in pressing for attendance. They warned that if the prosecutions continued, they would not be able to guarantee the safety of other schools. In a letter to the minister of Education, dated 17 May 1923, the Doukhobors said:

It is apparent that the government is only seeking an excuse to create a quarrel with the Doukhobors, on the basis of the school issue.

Doukhobors are fanatics — so the English say, but what can we term the action of Mr.
Daniels? This is more than fanaticism. What compels them to take such measures when the school question is so favourable, and the people are living peacefully, working and cultivating their own holdings … You are only expert at ruining peaceful residents and plundering the proletariat…

There is a saying: ‘One fool can roll a stone off a mountain top into a river, but ten wise men, try as they may cannot take it up again”. Mr. Daniels rolled this stone down, although it’s not yet of very large proportions. He too must salvage it from the nether regions before it is too late.

The tension continued and in April 1924 Verigin’s own house was destroyed. He then appealed to the premier for protection and offered to provide the names of the twenty to thirty arsonists. To his surprise, there was little interest in his offer. The government, instead of seeking to apprehend the guilty individuals, levied special taxes on the Doukhobor Community in order to pay for destroyed property. On 24 October 1924, in an even more drastic event, Peter V. Verigin was killed in a train explosion, along with eight other people. The reason for the accident was never established. Many blamed the ‘fanatical’ Doukhobors but some Doukhobors thought that the Canadian government had killed him just as Russian governments had exiled their earlier leaders.

It was a traumatic time for the Doukhobors. The authorities continued to enforce the law with prosecutions, fines, and the seizure of Community property. Before long most of the Doukhobor children who had been in school were withdrawn. In April 1925, a police inspector, 10 deputies, and 100 citizens forced their way into Community warehouses and seized $20,000 worth of goods, according to the Community’s estimate. This response was unusually severe. But then, suddenly, things changed. Peter P. Verigin, the new Doukhobor leader, who would soon be coming from Russia, sent word that ‘all children should be sent to school and no protests held until he arrived.’ The Doukhobors complied and a three-year calm followed.

In summer 1925 the Doukhobor Community built five new schools and in the next few years it erected several more. When Peter P. Verigin arrived in September 1927 he said he wanted the Doukhobors to have the best possible education while retaining their religious faith. He also had plans to set up private Doukhobor schools. To assist in this matter he had brought along Paul Biriukov, a friend of Tolstoy. Provincial authorities, however, turned down the private school proposal so the effort was redirected into Russian-language classes after regular school hours, and into choirs and other cultural activities. Peter P. Verigin’s acceptance of public schools settled the question for a majority of the Community Doukhobors. Those who were not persuaded gradually became known as the Sons of Freedom.

1927-1959: Forcing School on the ‘Sons of Freedom’ Doukhobors

When Peter P. Verigin arrived in 1927, the Sons of Freedom numbered only a few hundred. Indeed, they were not a fully distinct group, However, their activities and their numbers were about to increase. In January 1929, when most Doukhobor children were in school, this group withdrew its children and announced that they would not be returning. This event resulted in ten arrests, which in turn led to a nude demonstration. Verigin who, in an earlier appeal for unity, had described the Sons of Freedom as ‘the ringing bells who cleared the way for the movement’ now disowned and denounced them. In a press release to newspapers dated 6 February 1929, he stated: ‘Please take notice that the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, Limited, had nothing to do and will never have any connection with these people and with their dirty insolent violence, and all their stupid, childish actions, such as unclothing to the skin … these persons do not belong to the membership of the Community. The Community is not taking any responsibility for their actions materially or morally and moreover the Community refuses to consider such persons as brothers and to have any connections with them.’

In March 1929, the Sons of Freedom issued a letter addressed to ‘the Executives of all Countries: Judges, Government Inspectors, Police and all other servants of man-made laws,’ which stated:

The time has come to reveal… why we reject the Government schools and their orders. We are conscious of our history, and denote it by saying that Christ was the first Doukhobor. We are the direct Spiritual descendants of the Apostles of Christ and his followers, the so-called Christian martyrs of this time. It was the same kind of Government as the Canadian, that crucified Christ two thousand years ago … Take our Government school education; people are so hypnotized by it that they do not see that its results are demoralizing. The present Government schools are nurseries of militarism and capitalism … If there are men to be found among educated people like George B. Shaw, Tolstoy, Tagore, Gandhi, and many others, these men received enlightenment through Spiritual Regeneration, heeding the voice of Christ, and if such men are to be given honour, it was not attained by college education. Our whole history is marked by cruel persecutions by the churches, governments and capitalists. These persecutions are on account of our loyalty to Christ’s teaching and our uncompromising refusal to submit to any Authority but God’s.

In summer 1929 there were numerous acts of property destruction. In most instances it was property used by the Community Doukhobors. On 29 June three schools that the Community Doukhobors had built in 1925 were burned. In August three more schools, a flour mill, and a warehouse belonging to the group were destroyed. When two men were arrested, demonstrations involving nudity followed. As a result fifty-five men and forty-nine women were convicted for indecent exposure. Their sentence was six months at the Oakalla Prison Farm in New Westminster. It was the first mass imprisonment. Some of the prisoners’ children were held in custodial care by the province until the parents were released.

In February 1930 those who had been imprisoned were released but they now found that they were no longer accepted as members of the Doukhobor Community. They were expelled. But some Doukhobors in the ‘branch communes,’ especially in the poorer ones, welcomed them. This action led Verigin to withdraw all loyal Community Doukhobors from those areas, thus creating a more complete separation between the Sons of Freedom and the Community Doukhobors. This separation, however, did not prevent the acts of property destruction. However, to the consternation of the Community Doukhobors, the police were still not eager to apprehend the guilty individuals or to protect the community’s property. Peter P. Verigin now complained: ‘The police are standing and looking… what is the use of building schools when they are burning and dynamiting them faster than we can build them.’ The Community Doukhobors wanted the Sons of Freedom removed from their property and offered to pay the cost of a government investigation into the problems. The government instead continued with its policy of holding the Community liable for the destruction of property while arresting individuals who participated in nude demonstrations.

The provincial authorities were strengthened when the federal government, in August 1931, changed the Criminal Code so as to provide ‘a mandatory penalty of three years’ imprisonment for nudity in a public place.’ Because prison terms longer than two years are served in federal penitentiaries, the three-year penalty brought some financial relief to the provincial government. It also helped provincial politicians to project an image of ‘getting tough’ on the Doukhobors. However, lengthening the prison term was not effective as a deterrent to the nudity problem. The demonstrators wanted to make a religious witness, and the longer imprisonment could only enhance the martyrdom they sought. Instead of the demonstrations diminishing, they became larger. One participant later spoke of them in this way: ‘You see the (zealots) refused to pay their taxes, refused to comply with the ownership regulations; they just refused … and had written a kind of appeal to everyone to the effect that the time had arrived when we must take this ownership from Caesar and give it back to God … It was a wonderful sight. I doubt if this planet had ever seen anything like it… It was a protest against land ownership and all ownership — against the Caesar’s injustice that he has taken the cosmic property into his own hands.’

In spring 1932, in a second mass imprisonment, approximately 600 men and women were convicted for nudity and given three-year prison sentences, to be served on Pier’s Island, forty miles from Victoria, where special facilities had been erected. As the train carrying the convicts departed from the Kootenay Valley, the Doukhobors sang the hymns of their martyred forefathers. For them it was a spiritual pilgrimage.

Doukhobor Penitentiary on Piers Island, BC, 1934. British Columbia Archives G-00058.

No less significant than the imprisonment of the parents was the placement of their 365 children in orphanages and industrial schools in Vancouver and Victoria. Clearly, the children had to be cared for while their parents were in prison but the authorities also hoped that by exposing the children to a new environment their attitudes would change. It turned out that the children did not stay the full term. After one year, when a delegation of Independent and Community Doukhobors approached authorities with an offer of taking the Sons of Freedom children into their homes, it was accepted on the condition that they would attend public school. When the parents were released, between October 1934 and July 1935, the children were reunited with them. But it appears that few attitudes had changed. A 1947 study found ‘that some of these children are actively participating in the quasi-anarchistic activities of the present day.’

In the following years the school situation continued to be a public concern. An inspectors’ report for 1935/6 stated: ‘In the community schools and in those schools in which there is a major proportion of Doukhobors, no great progress has been made in Canadianizing this people. The persistence of the Doukhobors in maintaining their identity as such and in resisting Canadian influence is as strong as ever. While the children seem to be happy at school, they quit at the earliest possible date and at the present time there are many of school age who, supported by their parents, are defiantly absenting themselves from school.’

In 1939 the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation suggested that real Canadian homes ‘radiating the best in our Canadian mode of life’ be placed among the Doukhobors in order to help them to establish intimate contacts with ‘lovable Canadians’ and thus overcome their prejudice. Two years later, the Teachers’ Federation stated that ‘the supervision and administration of all Doukhobor schools should be vested in a single official, a trained and experienced educator of vision, initiative and wide sympathies, whose contacts with the Doukhobors will justify affection and confidence, and that it would be part of wisdom to entrust such a man with authority to adjust the curriculum.’ Some years later the federation recommended that teachers for the schools among the Doukhobors be chosen with special care, that they be given a wide liberty to adapt the curriculum to the needs of the Doukhobors, and that attendance be enforced consistently but only with fines and not with prison sentences.

For most of the Second World War period, 1939—45, the Sons of Freedom were relatively quiet. The attacks on the property of the Doukhobor Community ceased in 1938 when that body went into formal bankruptcy, having suffered from the depression, poor management, and government unwillingness to let the Community benefit from programs set up to assist industries affected by the depression. With this collapse, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (CCUB) was renamed the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ (USCC). But the war and the disappearance of much Community Doukhobor property as a target did not keep the Sons of Freedom quiet for long. In 1944, there was a demonstration in which ‘women’s clothes and jewelry were burnt as symbols of the vanity of modern civilization.’ Soon after, the house of John J. Verigin, who had succeeded Peter P. Verigin as leader of the Community Doukhobors, was burned. From then until 1947 there were over 100 acts of destruction. Most of these were directed against other Doukhobors as a protest against their prosperity and materialism but some involved public property, including a CPR station, a bridge, and schools. The USCC condemned the destruction and John J. Verigin publicly asked for police protection for his followers.

To deal with the continuing problem, the government of British Columbia, in September 1947, appointed Judge H. Sullivan to conduct an inquiry. In the public hearings that followed, one person confessed to having committed twenty-five acts of vandalism in the preceding twelve years, the largest being the 1943 burning of the $400,000 jam factory at Brilliant, long owned by the Community Doukhobors but taken over by the government in 1939. This person explained: I believe that this was necessary to wake up our brothers from materialism, which is the main source of patriotism.’ One person wrote to Sullivan that ‘schools, forced upon the Doukhobors by the government, were destroyed by fire because schools are propagators of a false conception of civilization, patronizing the beast, militarism.’ Others came to the hearings and created ‘an epidemic of true and false confessions, of accusations and counter-accusations that brought an atmosphere of pseudo-religious hysteria into the courtrooms.’ After four months of hearings Judge Sullivan was exasperated. He felt it was useless to continue ‘until the crazy people are put in the mental asylum and the criminals locked up in the penitentiary.’ As for Doukhobor children, they should be educated with a view toward assimilation, he said. His brief recommendations did not, however, lead to a program of action.

Meanwhile, the nude demonstrations and acts of property destruction continued. In summer 1950, over 400 Sons of Freedom were in jail for nudity and arson. By now another commission was at work. The president of the University of British Columbia had agreed, at the request of the attorney-general, to assemble a group of social scientists for a more thorough study. Chaired by anthropologist H.B. Hawthorn, the study lasted two years and involved twelve researchers. Their lengthy report, like the Blackmore report of 1912, showed considerable sympathy and respect for the Doukhobors but called also for compliance with the laws. As a matter of strategy, it recommended ‘a balance of pressures and inducements.’ Claudia Lewis, one of the social scientists engaged in the study, advised against removing children from their parents. Instead, schooling should be made more acceptable to the Doukhobors. She suggested that Doukhobors be included on local boards, that the practices of saluting the flag and singing patriotic songs be discontinued, that some teaching of the Russian language and music be included, that the reading program be modified to include excerpts from Tolstoy, and that some aspects of the social studies program be changed, too. Notwithstanding these proposals for change, the report did not rule out prosecution as a way of dealing with cases of habitual truancy.

As with the moderate Blackmore report of 1911, the Hawthorn report was not followed, at least not immediately. The government that had commissioned the study was defeated in the 1952 election. The Social Credit party that came to power was in a minority situation at first, so in 1953 it went back to the people to get a majority. In doing so, ‘getting tough with the Doukhobors’ became a priority. The Social Credit party received the desired majority and, on 9 September 1953, 148 Doukhobor adults were arrested and imprisoned for parading nude near a school. They were taken to Vancouver in a train that had been especially prepared for them. There, the next day, a court was convened in a community hall and all those arrested were sentenced to three years at the Oakalla prison.

In addition, 104 children were loaded into buses and taken to New Denver, an old mining town, where the buildings of an old sanitorium served as their dormitory. The dormitory was surrounded by a high wire fence and the government invoked the Children’s Protection Act to make them wards of the Provincial Superintendent of Child Welfare. Occasional police raids on Sons of Freedom settlements brought in more children. In one such raid, seventy police officers entered the small village of Krestova before dawn and seized forty children. According to one mother’s account:

On January 18th [1955] at eight o’clock, in the morning my little son awoke me and come to lie down beside me as though he knew it would be the last time. Then all of a sudden we heard a loud banging on the door, we thought it would break. Three RCMP officers came in and went straight to the bed waving the clubs in their hands in front of me and my child, and they said: ‘How old is the boy?’ We told them he is only six years old. The boy started to cry and begged us not to take him, but they said: ‘Get him dressed or we’ll take him in his underwear.’ So, I dressed my little son for the last time, and he was taken from us who is not even school age. Only a mother who has gone through the same thing will know what it means to have the dearest ones taken from her.

A total of 170 children passed through the institution in its six-year history. They attended the regular public school in the town of New Denver, while evening and weekends were spent in the dormitory. Parents were allowed to visit their children two Sundays per month but they had to procure special passes. In protest most chose to see their children through the fence outside.

Understandably, the New Denver project attracted considerable controversy. Civil libertarians protested the brutality of a government that would separate children from parents in this way. Journalists wrote numerous stories about it. One reported on the death of a Doukhobor woman found hanging from a beam in her home. A nearby note from her nine-year-old daughter at New Denver said: ‘Mommy, I am lonesome for you – come and visit me. I love you. Goodbye.’

The government also publicized its point of view. It stated that it was ‘the birthright and privilege of every Canadian child to receive an education’ and that because the Sons of Freedom refused to send their children to school, the government had no alternative. It pointed out also that of the 12,500 Doukhobors in the province only about 2500 belonged to the Sons of Freedom group and that of these only about forty-six families continued to refuse to send their children to school.

For their part, the Sons of Freedom lodged a complaint with the United Nations under the Genocide Convention, which condemns the forcible transfer of children from one group to another. They also, in 1957, challenged the government’s action in the courts, arguing that the question was one of freedom of religion. However, Judge Sidney Smith did not accept that argument. In what became known as the Perepolkin case, he said:

I, for my part, cannot feel that in this case there is any religious element involved in the true legal sense. It seems to me that religion is one thing: a code of ethics, another, a code of manners, another. To seek the exact dividing line between them is perhaps perilous but I absolutely reject the contention that any group of tenets that some sect decides to proclaim form part of its religion thereby necessarily takes on a religious colour. I turn to the affidavit relied on by the appellants:… the objection to public schools is that they interpret history so as to glorify, justify, and tolerate intentional taking of human and animal life or teach or suggest the usefulness of human institutions which have been or can be put to such purposes … that public schools ‘expose their children to materialistic influences and ideals’… that Doukhobors object to education on secular matters being separated from education on spiritual matters.

This clearly to my mind involves the claim that a religious sect may make rules for the conduct of any part of human activities and that these rules thereby become … part of that sect’s religion. This cannot be so

At one point during the six-year detention of children some thirty Doukhobor women went to see Dr Campbell, British Columbia’s deputy minister of Education. Campbell told them that if they would agree to send their children to school, they would be returned. ‘We can’t change the laws of the country,’ he explained. The Doukhobor women replied:

‘We can’t change the laws of God either,’ The other Doukhobors, even though they had often sought to dissociate themselves from the Sons of Freedom, were sympathetic to them in this situation. They, too, appealed to the government but without success. Eventually, in 1959, when the parents appeared before a judge in Nelson and promised that their children would attend the regular public school, the children were returned to their homes.

Visiting Day between a wire fence for a Sons of Freedom Doukhobor schoolgirl and her parents at New Denver, BC, circa 1950.  www.newdenversurvivors.tk.

This Doukhobor encounter on education stands out for its length and its harshness. Essentially, the British Columbia government forced the Doukhobors to comply with its regulations. Some observers have argued that the government had no alternative, that the ongoing destruction of property, belonging either to the government or to other Doukhobors, reflected a way of life that, though religiously based, was prone to violence and simply could not be accommodated, and that it was natural to look to education – forced if necessary – as a long-term solution.

A closer analysis shows, however, that there could have been significant accommodations at a number of points. The government could have accepted the 1912 Doukhobor offer to take information about vital statistics from the Community’s record books and not exhumed bodies. It could have pursued the individual arsonists much more vigorously and focused less on those engaged in nude demonstrations. It could have removed military drills, flag-saluting ceremonies, and other activities from the schools much earlier. It could have incorporated Russian-language classes, Tolstoyan literature, Doukhobor music, and certain Doukhobor concerns about the teaching of history into the curriculum. It could have continued the lenient policy of Inspector A.E. Miller and not pressed for full attendance. It could have followed the moderate course recommended by Blackmore in 1912, by the Teachers’ Federation in 1939, and by the Hawthorn Committee in 1952. The government could have given the Doukhobors a broader educational liberty. Repeatedly, it chose not to do so. Ewart P. Reid wrote in 1932 that ‘much of the Doukhobor opposition to public schools arose not because of school per se … but because of the course content and methodology employed. Many of these difficulties arose because of the educational theories and practices … dividing children into grades, or using military drill … competitive tests and comparative grading … teaching history with military and political orientations, and refusing to allow the teaching of Russian did nothing to make schools more palatable, even to the Independent Doukhobors.’

The government’s policy of pressing ahead without making accommodations divided the Doukhobors, making their experience similar to that of the Mennonites. Some yielded, albeit reluctantly, while others became more determined in their resistance. Unlike the conservative Mennonites, the Doukhobors did not emigrate, though they did consider this option. Instead, they simply withheld their children from the public schools. Some engaged in nude demonstrations and a small number, probably no more than 200, destroyed buildings and other property. Regarding the underlying reasons for this behaviour, one analyst wrote in 1973 that ‘while Freedomite nude parades and destruction of Community property may have been attempts to convert Independents and Community members, incendiary attacks on schools and other non-Doukhobor property were clearly a response to attempts to enforce registration laws and compulsory education … They reacted … against what they viewed as an attempt to destroy their way of life and the faith of their children … also against the Independent and Community members’ acceptance of the forces of acculturation.’ According to this interpretation the violence was, at least to a large extent, the result of the provincial government’s refusal to accommodate a distinctive Doukhobor way of life.

In probing the reasons for the British Columbia government’s refusal to accommodate the Doukhobors there, certain similarities to developments affecting Mennonites and Doukhobors on the prairies emerge. Like the early settlers on the prairies there, the Doukhobors of British Columbia were appreciated for their contribution to the economy when they first arrived. But when the primary concern shifted from the frontier economy to social development there was no longer as much room for non-conforming groups. Also, as on the prairies, when the authorities pressed for social integration they defined religion in narrow terms and liberty on an individual basis. The narrow definition of religion in British Columbia is indicated most clearly in the Perepolkin case where it is suggested that the schooling of children is not a religious matter. The individualistic interpretation of liberty was indicated when the government defended the New Denver forced-schooling effort by saying, essentially, that the future liberty of the Doukhobor children required it.

Other explanatory factors lie in characteristics peculiar to British Columbia. Its educational structure was unusually centralized. Local school units had relatively little authority. Hence, developments in one locality could be used by politicians at the provincial level to project a ‘get-tough’ image. Also, the British Columbia educational system was unusually uniform. Unlike most other provinces, it had never had to accommodate a French-Catholic minority. Further, the approach of holding the Doukhobor Community liable for infractions committed by individuals was most unusual. It meant that law-enforcement agencies could impose fines and other punitive actions against the Community instead of looking for the guilty individuals. Community leaders were willing to help the police in identifying the individuals but the authorities showed little interest in their offers of assistance. The resulting atmosphere was poisonous, both among Doukhobors and between the government and those Doukhobors who wanted to be law abiding. If the Doukhobors could be treated as a community for purposes of liability, should they not also have been treated as a community for purposes of rights?

To say that the government of British Columbia could have been much more accommodating is not to say that accommodation would have solved all the problems. It must be conceded that there were some unusual and difficult elements among the Doukhobors. The actions by some Doukhobors to destroy the property of others, as a way of protesting against materialism and alleged departure from a true Doukhobor way of life, were a serious and persistent problem. It was probably necessary for the government to use some coercive measures in dealing with these developments but if it had granted the Doukhobors a broader educational liberty earlier on, the coercion required would probably have been much less.

Schools of the Boundary: The Doukhobor Schools

by Alice Glanville

The settlement of Doukhobors in the Grand Forks area in 1909 brought about unique, often complex challenges to public education in British Columbia’s Boundary District.  The following article, reproduced by permission from “Schools of the Boundary: 1891-1991” (Merritt: Sonotek Publishing Ltd: 1991) reveals the history and the people behind “reading, writing and ‘rithmatic” in the isolated, one-room Doukhobor schools of the region, including Outlook School, Spencer School, Fruitova School, Carson School and Kettle River North School. Opposition, conflict and eventual compliance are all part of the story that, in many ways, represents the evolving role of education among this group of Russian non-conformists. 

The Doukhobors arrived in the Grand Forks Valley in 1909 after the loss of their land on the prairies. Those who came wanted to continue the communal way of life which was being challenged in Saskatchewan. They refused to swear the Oath of Allegiance which was a requirement in order to retain their land.

Their move to British Columbia, however, did not bring an end to their conflict with the authorities. The law required that children between the ages of seven and fourteen attend school and they were told that they must obey the law.

As early as 1912, Peter Verigin, the spiritual leader of the Doukhobors, had a school built on communal land at Brilliant in the West Kootenays. A commitment to formal education, however, was not part of their culture and they would withdraw their children from school to help at home. They would leave school at the age of twelve or thirteen because their labor was needed. Early leaving age was common not only with the Doukhobors but with most pioneer families.

Doukhobor children in flax field, Grand Forks, BC, circa 1920. British Columbia Archives C-01745.

Theirs was an oral education, learning psalms and hymns combined with a practical knowledge of farming and craftsmanship. According to the Blakemore Report of 1912, they were also concerned that education might lead to an assimilative process which they felt would be a threat to their communal way of life.

The basic objection to Canadian schools has been an ideological one. The most significant tenet of the Doukhobor faith has been pacifism and the schools, they felt, put too much emphasis on the glorification of war.

Certainly some justification for this concern could be found in the schools. In 1909, Lord Strathcona established a fund to support physical and military training in the schools. The Strathcona Trust Fund continued until the 1940’s and although the physical exercises underwent many changes over the years, the pacifists expressed their concern for this type of training. Some of the history books and the observance of Remembrance Day also reinforced their suspicion of the school system.

In 1915, Attorney General Bowser guaranteed that no paramilitary nor religious education would be forced on the children. Peter Verigin promised to enroll enough pupils to fill the schools that then existed. This compromise solution lasted fairly satisfactorily until 1922. The compliance was never complete since not all children attended school and some of those enrolled had irregular attendance.

Grand Forks Gazette, 1921: “The Minister of Education states that there is a total of 53 children of school age in the Doukhobor settlement of Grand Forks. According to the Dominion registration which took place in June 1918, 237 children were registered as being under the age of 16.”

The following article, “Doukhobors in the Boundary” by V. Novokshonoff, L. Reibin and M. Obedkoff, published in the Fourth Boundary Historical Report describes the early years of Doukhobor education:

“No special outfits were worn by the children when they went to school. Both boys and girls up to twelve years of age wore a dress-like garment. They wore no shoes and had nothing on their heads. The school age was limited to the age of twelve years, so very few children went to school, mostly boys.

“Each district had a school to which the children had to walk. During the winter months, the children were taken by sledges, pulled by horses. The children were taught reading; writing, grammar and some arithmetic. They went only as far as grade five or six.

“Due to the fact that the children were always speaking Russian, and often had to stay away from school in order to help at home, their progress in English was quite slow.”

After seven years of more or less compliance with education requirements, Doukhobor parents once again, in the fall of 1922, began to withdraw children from school. The precise reasons are not known. The Doukhobor community was experiencing financial difficulties, thus causing some discontent.

Grand Forks Gazette, February 1923: “Following seizure of a Doukhobor community truck by distress warrant, Doukhobor children were removed from school as a protest measure.”

Sons of Freedom children forcibly taken from their parents and detailed at New Denver, 1954.  Photo courtesy Koozma J. Tarasoff Collection.

Outlook School was burned in 1923, Spencer School in 1925 and the second Spencer School was burned in 1929. Outlook School, Sand Creek School and Kettle River North were all torched the same night in the spring of 1931. Attempts were made to destroy the new brick Fruitova School. Other schools in the Kootenay area were also burned during those years.

Soon after Peter Chistiakov (Peter Verigin the Second) arrived in Canada in 1927, differences between him and the Sons of Freedom became apparent. He stated, “We will educate our children in the English school and we will set up our own Russian school and libraries.” In 1928/29, the Doukhobors, with the new leader’s encouragement, built the Fruitova School and the children attended that school on a regular basis.

In 1928, the Sons of Freedom openly declared their opposition to compulsory education for Doukhobor children. In 1932, the Sons of Freedom were sentenced to three years at a special penal colony on Piers Island. The older children were sent to the Provincial School for delinquent children and the younger ones were sent to foster homes in the lower mainland. After a year they were placed in the care of other Doukhobors, but already much emotional damage had been done.

The opposition of the Sons of Freedom lasted until 1959. At various times throughout the years it was necessary to guard the schools because of the fear of arson, as illustrated in the Grand Forks Gazette, October 1947:

“School Boards throughout the Kootenay area were being advised that insurance on schools would be cancelled unless armed guards were posted. The move resulted from new outbreaks of incendiarism.”

In February, 1954, Mr. R.H. Mclntosh, who was fluent in Russian, was appointed School Attendance Officer with the Doukhobor children as special duty. Periodic police raids took place at Gilpin and any children who were found were taken from their parents and placed in a boarding school at New Denver.

Grand Forks Gazette, March 1954: “The parents of two families of Sons of Freedom were given a suspended sentence of three days in which to send their children to school. This was the first local case where Sons of Freedom were charged under the new section of the School Act.”

In April 1954, the footbridge was moved from the North Fork to Gilpin for the convenience of the children living at Gilpin. The school bus would make the run to the bridge each day, but all to no avail.

The authorities came in for a great deal of criticism in what was considered very harsh measures, that of removing children from their families. After six years of operation, the New Denver School was closed in 1959 because the parents agreed to send their children to school. The children were returned to their families, but the emotional scars of family separation, in some cases, remain to this day.

Bomb-damaged school bus, 1962. Photo courtesy School District No. 12.

Some of the Orthodox Doukhobors were taking a more active role in the education system. In February, 1958, Eli Popoff became the first member of the Doukhobor faith to be elected as a trustee of School District #12. Special dispensation was granted so that he did not have to swear the Oath of Allegiance.

Two resolutions were put forward to the 1960 Chant Royal Commission on Education: 1. That Russian be taught as a language in B.C. schools. 2. That students start learning a foreign language as early as grade four. Today Russian is taught in the Grand Forks schools from Kindergarten to grade 12 by trained, competent teachers.

In April 1962, a school bus was badly wrecked when a bomb placed over the right rear dual wheel exploded while the bus was parked for the night in front of driver Leo Madden’s home. This terrorist act was during the time of the trial of the Sons of Freedom before their march to the coast. Families of only one or two children attending Grand Forks schools joined that march to Agassiz.

Grand Forks Gazette, 1975: “A second language pilot program in the Grand Forks School District has been approved by the Department of Education. The introduction would see the teaching of the Russian language in Grades 2 to 10.”

Outlook, Spencer and Fruitova were the three main Doukhobor schools in the Grand Forks area, but some Doukhobor children did attend other schools such as Carson and Kettle River North.

Outlook School: 1917 to 1949

Outlook School, established for the special convenience of the Doukhobor children in the school term 1917/18, was located on community property at the base of Hardy Mountain, just below the present Doukhobor Museum.

The average attendance at Outlook in 1919 was 11 and in 1920 was 13.

Miss A.J. Spence, the first teacher taught until 1923 for $85 a month. As a young teacher she had some rather unusual experiences.

Grand Forks Gazette, March, 1923: “A firebug set fire to the Outlook School; prompt action by resident teacher, Miss Spence, in getting help saved the school from destruction.”

Grand Forks Gazette, March 30, 1923: “There has been consternation among the Doukhobors since they were fined some months ago for not sending their children to school.”

After that experience Miss Spence resided in Grand Forks and that set the stage for a second arson attempt in June of the same year. This time they were successful in burning the school to the ground.

Grand Forks Gazette, May, 1923: “The schoolhouse is gone and no parents can be fined for failure to send children to a school that is burnt.”

The old public school in Columbia was repaired and opened as a school replacing the Outlook School which had been burnt, but as the Gazette stated, “There is no grand rush for seats.”

It appears that another school was built around 1925. Then the climax came in 1931 when three schools were burned the same night, Outlook, Sand Creek and Kettle River North Schools. The old Columbia School was again used and Nick Borisenkoff remembers the bus which was used to transport them. Mr. Vanjoff had a bus cab which he put on the back of a wagon and in winter it was put on a sleigh.

Another Outlook School was built and used until 1949 when the children were bussed into school in Grand Forks.

Besides Miss Spence other teachers at Outlook School were: Miss L. Hayes 1923/24, Mrs. M. Lyttle 1924/25, Miss E. Russell 1925/26, Miss A. Shaw 1927/28, Miss M.S. Fisher 1928/29, Miss A. Marsinek 1929-31, Miss B. McCallum 1931-35.

In the 1935/36 school year, the Outlook School was listed under Fruitova School with Miss B. McCallum and Mrs. Todhunter as teachers. When the school closed in 1949, Mrs. Kay Peterson was the last teacher.

Spencer School: 1920 to 1929

Spencer School was opened in 1920 to serve the students of the immediate Doukhobor villages and the last village at Spencer as well as any non-Russian students living in the area. The school was near the top of Spencer Hill across from what was known as the Prune Orchard and overlooking several large community houses below, near the present Schoolhouse Bed and Breakfast.

It was managed, as were other Doukhobor schools by an official trustee with P.H. Sheffield as the school inspector. Alex Verigin, former manager of Pope & Talbot, was a student at Spencer and remembers Mr. Sheffield as being very observant and good.

Spencer School from the west, c. 1920’s.  Photo courtesy Isabelle Nelson.

Miss M. Smith, the first teacher, taught from 1920 to 1922 at a salary of $1200 per year. Miss M. Jeffers taught from 1922 to 1923, and then Miss Isabelle Glaspell came in 1923 and stayed until January 1925. These teachers remembered and appreciated the fruit and vegetables which the Doukhobor people brought them.

Isabelle Nelson (nee Glaspell) bought a Model T Ford and would drive it to school on Monday morning and stay there for the week, returning to her home in Grand Forks on Friday. Her father, Hugh Allen Glaspell was principal of the Grand Forks Central School at that time. The attached living quarters at the back of the school provided adequate living quarters for her. She even had the convenience of a tap in the kitchen and a large Airedale terrier for company as well as protection.

In a letter Isabelle relates: “It was in October 1924 that Peter Verigin was killed. After that no students would come to school. I was required to open school every morning, wait half an hour and if no students came I could go home. That was the situation until January 1st when the school was closed. After that I went to Pullman, Washington and graduated in Home Economics.”

Isabelle Glaspell (Nelson).  Photo courtesy Isabelle Nelson.

Grand Forks Gazette, March 1925: “The Doukhobor school at Spencer was destroyed by fire. This is the 8th school in the Kootenays which has been burned in recent months.”

The children from Spencer went to the Carson School and some of the Carson students were required to walk to the Columbia school. Then in the 1926/27 term, the Doukhobors erected the second one-room school at Spencer with a residence attached for the teacher. Other teachers at Spencer were: Miss Ruth Axam (Mrs. Gordon McMynn) 1926/27, Miss A.I. Tait 1927/28 and Miss Lents-man 1928/29 when the school was closed. In August 1929, the school was burned.

Fruitova School: 1929 to 1949

The Fruitova School opened in April 1929, with Miss M.E. Tapping as the first teacher. Mr. Sheffield, the inspector, noted in the 1928/29 Annual Report that: “At Fruitova the Doukhobor community erected a model brick school to accommodate two divisions. Furnished living rooms for two teachers are also provided in this building, which is the most complete and best appointed rural school that I have seen.”

The brick used for the building came from the Doukhobor brick factory just below the site of the school. The Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood built the school with a school room on each end and a teacherage in the middle. Some teachers did stay there for awhile, but seemed to prefer travelling back and forth to Grand Forks, each day. Eventually the teacherage was converted into another classroom.

The Cook family, who lived on Hardy Mountain, were the only non-Russians to attend the Fruitova School. In place of a School Board, Mr. Dunwoody was appointed as an official trustee.

John Malloff, presently a trustee on the Grand Forks School Board, remembers his happy years at Fruitova School. Lily Forrester, principal from 1942 to 1949, remembers a sleigh bringing the students from Spencer and Carson to Fruitova in the winter and a wagon bringing them in the spring and fall until a bus was provided.

Fructova School Heritage Site, Grand Forks, British Columbia.

School records show the following teachers at Fruitova School during the early 1930s: 1929/30 1930 to 1933 Division 1 Mrs. Todhunter Miss M.M. McDonald 1933 to 1935 1935 to 1937 Division 1 Mrs. Todhunter Miss K.M. Porter Division 2 Miss E.W. Lightfoot Miss E.W. Lightfoot Division 3 Miss E.G. James.

Esther Gipman and Anna Graham, residents of Grand Forks, both taught at Fruitova School. With the consolidation of school districts, Fruitova School was closed in 1949 and the students were bused into the Central School in Grand Forks.

In 1984, close to $200,000 was spent to renovate the Fruitova School (now called Fructova). This attractive building, with a beautiful sweeping view of the valley, now serves as a centre for the Doukhobor Historical Society of British Columbia.

Despite the struggles, the mistakes and the misunderstanding of many years, people now recognize our multicultural society whereby students of many different cultures are accommodated in our school system. This accommodation has resulted in all students attending school on the same basis and with many going on to further their education.

Carson School: 1908 to 1935

The rural areas responded to the need to educate their children by building their own one-room schools whenever sufficient numbers warranted it. Ten children were required to open a school, eight with an average attendance of six to maintain it. Carson School, named after the town of Carson, was opened in 1908 with 15 students. Carson was named by the McLaren brothers in memory of their mother Isabella Carson McLaren. The school, a little white frame building, was located on the bench overlooking the Customs.

J.H. Reid taught in 1909/1910, R.T. Pollock in 1910/1911, and Miss Annie Ross in 1911/1912. Miss N.C. Reid in 1912/13, Miss J.L Munro in 1913/14, James Hislop in 1914/15, R.G. Newbauer in 1915/16, Miss M.E. Morrison in 1916/17, Miss E.G. Frame from 1917 to 1919, and Miss R. Ross in 1919/20.

Carson School boys in 1924. Doukhobor boys sometimes wore a dress-like garment. Photo courtesy Helen Campbell.

Helen Campbell, who later became matron of the Grand Forks Hospital, taught at Carson for two years from 1923 to 1925. After she taught at Carson, she taught for one year on the prairies and then trained for a nurse. Other teachers were Olive Rooke and Pearl Redgrove (Webster). Nellie Ralph (Ritchie) and Bob Lawson, residents of Grand Forks, were students at Carson School.

The school was conveniently located near the Doukhobor communal property and many of the Doukhobor children did attend this school. In 1915 a special appeal was made to the Doukhobors to send their children to this school. It seems there was concern about the closure of the school because of the lack of the required number of students. In 1928 the teacher, Elizabeth McKinnon, reported that the majority of students were Doukhobors.

The Carson School was burned in April 1935, but the crumbling foundation remains as a reminder of the once busy school.

Kettle River North School: 1898 to 1928, 1946 to 1952

The North Fork area had settlers coming into its valley in the 1890’s. Again the desire and the determination for an education for their children resulted in the building of several schools. Three log schools, Kettle River North, Sand Creek and Brown Creek, typical of the many log rural schools in British Columbia, were built up the North Fork.

Kettle River North, eight miles up the valley on the west side of the Granby River – the first of these schools – was opened in 1898. The first school classes were held in the Seattle Clark home on the flat land below the former Fisher home. Pat Terrion was the first teacher and Russell Hill was the school secretary from 1898 until his death in 1907.

With the Wassholms, Mills and Clarks making up the required number of 10 students, the residents constructed a small log school on a flat south of the Steinson home, the former Ralloff home. Helen Erickson (Wassholm), now 92 and living in Grand Forks attended this school.

George Evans remembers walking or riding to school with Florence Miller, one of the teachers who boarded at the Evans home. When Florence Miller decided to leave for the coast and train for a nurse, her sister May, a high school student, taught at the school until Flora Johnson took charge.

Goldie Miller (nee Cooper) writes: “In 1915 when they moved from Eholt, the Cooper family lived on the Jardine place, now owned by Frank and Joyce Flanagan. Five Cooper children plus a cousin, George Birt, whose father had died nine days before Armistice 1918, attended the school. Sister Lucy Wilson lived in a cabin and had three children going to school. The Thompson boys rode a horse from their farm, now Carl Stone’s, a six-mile-ride each way. The Brown Creek School, which would have been much closer, did not open until 1920.

“Our family sometimes went to school in a buggy and we did try using a cutter, but our weather was too cold in winter, so we went only part time. To my parents, school wasn’t important and if we just learned to read and write we were fortunate indeed. Most of the time we walked the 4 1/2 miles each way and certain times of the year we left home at break of day and got home at dusk.

“Nels and Anna Tofelt lived with their parents in a small house on the hillside between Fishers and the school. Our teacher, Miss Becker, must have been a real Christian lady because all the songs we learned were hymns.

School kids in front of Kettle River North School, c. 1920’s. Photo courtesy Boundary Museum.

“A shed was built for the horses and each of the children brought oats for the horse’s lunch. We used slates and chalk, plastacine and colored sticks to build with. Our drinking water was brought from a spring and each family had its own drinking cup.”

A 1908/09 Report states the sanitation rules for the drinking water: “See that the water bucket is scrubbed each week. Get a cover for it to keep the dust out. Do not drink out of the common drinking cup before allowing some of the water to run over the edge of the cup that is to be applied to the lips.”

February, 1927, the log school was partially destroyed by fire. A frame building was constructed near the Jack Kenyon place, some distance north of the original school. The contractor was John Barisoff who built the school and outbuildings for $790. The sum of $500 was borrowed from Mrs. Plath at eight per cent interest for payments on the new school. This school was closed in 1928, after operating for only a year.

In the later twenties most of the children came from the Doukhobor settlement (the Seabrook farm). The teacher, Ruby Smith, reported that eight of the children not attending school were Doukhobor, but six of the nine enrolled were Doukhobor children.

From the 1927/28 School Report: “Owing to a reorganization of the Doukhobor community and a redistribution of their people, the North Kettle School closed as did three others in the Kootenays.”

This vacant school was torched in 1931.

In 1946, a new Kettle River North School was built about a quarter of a mile north of the original school. This school was closed in 1952 and the children bused to Grand Forks. The frame building was moved to West Grand Forks where it became a home.