by Vasily Nikolayevich Pozdnyakov
The following article is reproduced from the English translation of Doukhobor Vasily Nikolayevich Pozdnyakov’s (1869-1921) controversial narrative, “Story of a Spiritual Upheaval” (Peace Collection of Swarthmore College: Swarthmore Pennsylvania, 1908). Exiled to Siberia from 1896 to 1905 for refusing to bear arms, Pozdnyakov later left the Doukhobor Community disillusioned with its leadership. In stark, eloquent detail, Pozdnyakov recounts the persecutions and spiritual upheaval of the Doukhobors in the Caucasus and Canada under the leadership of Peter “Lordly” Verigin. Translated by Alexander M. Slowinski.
In the second half of the nineteenth century the Doukhobors – numbering about twenty thousand people – were living in the Caucasus in the provinces of Elizavetpol, Tiflis, and Kars. In each province they formed one separate settlement of several neighbouring villages.
Vasily Verigin – the father of Peter Verigin, the present leader of the Canadian Doukhobors – was living in the village Slavyanka, province of Elizavetpol, and was reported among the Doukhobors to be very rich. He was totally illiterate – as almost all the Doukhobors were – and a man of harsh temper. Being once elected Elder of his village, he showed himself a real despot. He used to walk about in the village with a whip and to give lashes for the least disorder or disrespect. His fellow countrymen were often sorry for having elected for themselves such a severe commander, and they were glad when the term of his service ended. He had seven sons and two daughters. All his sons were tall and possessed a remarkable strength; they were also known to be very proud and ambitious.
Being rich the Verigins could not find their equals among the simply living Doukhobors and had to look for friends elsewhere. The country near Slavyanka is inhabited by many Tartars, Mohammedans, known as desperadoes and robbers. Many of them are polygamists and particularly the nobility. Much of the land belongs to their petty Princes, and the peasants are generally very dependent from the landlords and sharply treated by them. The Verigins were on best terms with the Tartar Princes; they visited frequently each other and this acquaintance was not without influence on them.
The four elder sons of Verigin were also illiterate and were spending most of their time in the mountains, looking after the cattle. There they made famous themselves by intrepidity and even the Tartars feared them. They got later their share of the inheritance and were living separately.
The three younger sons were called: Peter, Vasily and Grigory; I will have to mention them afterwards. Unlike their elder brothers they were learning at home – there were no schools in the Doukhoborian villages – but, as soon as they could read and write a little, their father decided that they have learned enough and discharged the teacher. It was resolved that they will be merchants and carry on the trade in the dry goods store their father set up for them. But they did not show any ability in trade and the business was going on badly. In fact, they were living an easy and merry life and spending more money than they could work out, so that the patrimonial fortune was gradually wasting away.
The Doukhobors possessed from long ago a charitable institution called the Orphan House, which was, however, more a centre of spiritual and common activity of the Doukhobors than an asylum, as the orphans and the old, helpless people found usually refuge in their native village. The Orphan House was situated in the Doukhoborian settlement of the province of Tiflis, in the village Goreloye, district of Akhalkalaki, and owned much property and about half a million rubles in money which was kept in the Orphan House itself.
The post of the manager of the Orphan House was very influential and honourable; in fact, the manager of the Orphan House was the leader of all the Doukhobors. At that time the manager was a woman, a middle- aged widow, Lukeria Kalmykov. She was clever and had a certain kind of good nature, for which she was beloved by everybody who knew her. Her management was so intelligent and peaceful that the Doukhobors remember her until now with best feeling.
Once she came to Slavyanka where the Verigins were living. Here she got acquainted with Peter Verigin – who was about twenty years old then and married already – and proposed to him to be her helper in the Orphan House. He consented willingly and went away with her, leaving his wife and a baby at home.
Nobody knew exactly why Peter Verigin was taken to the Orphan House. He had no definite occupation as all the others employed in the Orphan House had; but was seen always together with the woman-manager when she was going about and giving orders.
So passed [a] few years. In 1886 Lukeria Kalmykov died. Her death was quite unexpected, and the first few weeks that followed the affairs were at a dead set and the successor’s question was not raised decidedly yet. The post of the manager of the Orphan House was usually hereditary. The late woman-manager had no children, but she had a brother; she did not name her successor, however, and it was unknown who will replace her.
At that time Peter Verigin introduced himself to public notice. During the funeral ceremony already he was giving orders as if he was the manager, which displeased much the relatives of the late woman-manager and all the persons employed in the Orphan House, he did not enjoy their sympathy during all the time of his stay there. Many Doukhobors, seeing how boldly he was commanding, began to suppose that he will be the manager. They were saying that probably he was taken to the Orphan House, because the late woman- manager wanted him to be her successor . Some were approaching him and inquiring about the matter, but he was reserved and was not answering frankly. At the same time he was behaving mysteriously and telling prophetically to the people that “the time of the second advent of Christ is coming, and everybody ought to pray to God that He giveth him the understanding to recognize Christ”. This prediction was not quite unexpected to the Doukhobors, as it was their common belief long since that Christ is living secretly among them, and they were only waiting for His appearance.
Verigin’s words were spreading rapidly and interpreted differently. Very soon a party of friends was formed around him and they suggested to the people that he himself is the Christ. Some of them were saying, they had been told by the late woman-manager that Verigin shall judge all the universe; others had seen him doing miracles; and an old man was relating that the night of Verigin’s birth he had seen a star falling on the house of the Verigins and dispersing; he knew that Christ had been born, but ought to be silent; but now it is time to reveal it. The old man is alive yet, now in Canada, and still relating to the Doukhobors there about that star that fell upon the house.
The fame of Verigin was growing rapidly and very soon all the Doukhobors were divided into two parties: the Large party, much more numerous, which wanted Verigin to be the manager of the Orphan House; and the Small, opposition party, with all the former familiars of the late woman-manager at the head.
The first public acknowledgement of Verigin was in our village Bogdanovka, not far away from Goreloye, where the Orphan House was. I was seventeen years old then and remember everything very well. It has been a custom among the Doukhobors to celebrate once a year a three day’ feast in each village at a different time. Friends and relatives were coming usually in great number to the village where the feast was. In our village the feast was falling on the New Year. Soon after the woman-manager’s death came the time of our feast, and our elders sent their invitation to the Orphan House and especially to Verigin. The next day he came in the company of [a] few men of his party. They were all a little intoxicated and merry – the Doukhobors were drinking at that time yet – but Verigin was keeping separately, however. He was very active, but reserved, and looked as if he was superior to others.
The guests were entertained in each house, and passing from one house to another Verigin was playing many jokes, which seemed, however, unusual and mysterious to many. His assistants were saying to the people that he is telling parables.
In one house Verigin ordered his men to turn their fur coats inside out, and, having them on the hair upwards, to walk about in the village. It was executed immediately. The elders were discussing this parable and explaining it differently. Some were saying that the parable is directed against the men of the Small party, and Verigin wants to show by it that he can turn them like a fur coat and bring them forcibly under his subjection. Others were saying that he shall judge all the universe and establish a new life in a new form.
In another house, Verigin approached a very religious old man and inquired of him loudly: how would he act if he had to demolish an old house; would he begin from the roof or the walls. The old man got troubled with this unexpected question and, falling at Verigin’s feet, begged him to explain it. This was the first bow to the ground to Verigin. He did not answer the old man’s question, but raised him; and the old man, while rising, kissed Verigin’s hand.
After that Verigin continued to be so mysterious all the day long, and everybody whom he was addressing was kissing his hand. He had much success with us, and departed the next day. Our villagers were very satisfied that they were the first to recognize Christ, and the rumour about this event spread rapidly in all the villages.
The leaders of the Small party, seeing no possibility to resist the majority and being not able to reconcile themselves with the idea of Verigin’s supremacy, were compelled to use an extreme measure. They reported to the authorities that Verigin is giving himself out for Christ and trying to take possession of the property left by the late woman-manager; at the same time they put forward her brother as the right heir of the Orphan House and all its property. This was not true, because the property was really common, and not personal; but no legal proof of it existed and, before the law, Lukeria Kalmykov’s brother was the right heir indeed. Thus the police was warned and ready to arrest Verigin at the first cause.
Six weeks after the death of Lukeria Kalmykov in the village Goreloye where the Orphan House was, a commemoration for the dead was taking place. Many people were present, both Doukhobors and strangers. After the prayers had been said and all the Doukhobors – according to the custom – had dined, all the people gathered in one place. Then Verigin came out and placed himself before the people, as a chief in expectation of a bow, and all the Doukhobors, with the exception of the Small party, fell to the ground and bowed to him. This general bow was the confirmation of Verigin in the post sanctified by the Doukhoborian ancestors. From that time he has gained a particular greatness in the opinion of the Doukhobors, and his influence and power over them have been immense.
But the triumph of Verigin was soon disturbed. The police, who were also there, arrested him. He was ordered at first to go to his native village, Slavyanka and live there, but he refused; he was put into prison then and banished afterwards to the very North of Russia, for a term of five years.
After the arrest of Verigin the Large party declared to the authorities that the Orphan House with all its property belongs to the Doukhoborian community and that they want to have Verigin for manager. But the Small party testified differently, and thus the affair of the Orphan House went over to the court. Both parties were carrying on their case, and at the same time a personal struggle between them was going on. Their enmity was bitter, and was constantly rising. The Doukhobors, forming one compact body before, were split into two hostile parties now.
Doukhobor Leader Peter “Lordly” Verigin.
Though in exile, Verigin did not discontinue to direct the affairs of his party through his intimates which were constantly coming from the Caucasus to see him. He advised his party at first to take possession of the Orphan House by force; but the Small party got apprised of it and reported it to the authorities, who despatched a detachment of soldiers to protect the Orphan House and subdue the Large party. Then he ordered to break off all relations with the Small party; the Large party should not tolerate anyone who does not acknowledge him. Thus, if anybody belonging to the Large party has a wife which sympathizes with the Small party, he ought to turn her out of the house, even if she had children, let her go to the Small party; and a wife of a husband belonging to the Small party, if she sympathizes with the Large party, ought to leave her husband and come to the Large party.
The Large party followed Verigin’s order, and thus many families were separated and hundreds of children were left without attendance. The authorities had to issue an order. They ordered the husbands to give allowances to their wives they had turned out; and those wives that had run away from their husbands were installed in their homes again, and forced to provide for their children.
The cause of the Large party in the court was going on badly. The party had little money to carry it on. All the common money was in the hands of the Small party which was regardless of expenses and was giving considerable bribes. The process was lingering on for a long time and, finally, when was evident that the cause is lost, Verigin ordered his party to discontinue it.
Thus the Orphan House was left with the Small party, but did not become a personal property, however; it is still the common good of a comparatively small party of Doukhobors.
At that time Verigin was living in the town of Shenkursk, in the province of Archangel. His life in exile was not hard at all. He had plenty of money, rented good apartments, and was living in an agreeable company. When he was taking a drive, in the company of some girls of his acquaintance, in a sledge drawn by three ambling Caucasian stallions – a present of the Doukhobors – he produced no little sensation in the town. In the meantime he was writing to the Doukhobors in the Caucasus some instructive letters and transmitting his orders through his intimates. He proposed to himself to establish a common fund of one hundred thousand rubles, by means of a collection among the Doukhobors, and determined that every man ought to give half of the amount of money he possesses. His intimates, who were returning home after an interview with him, were telling the Doukhobors that “the way to the Kingdom of God is narrow and difficult and planted with thorns, but there are fields of eternal quietude at the end of it, and nobody should regret his perishable acquisition, but give it for the glory of God”. In that manner more than the acquired sum was collected, but this money did not form a permanent fund as the Doukhobors supposed, but was spent for different needs of the direction.
Verigin’s intimates were telling the Doukhobors to “pray to God with awe and expect at every moment the coming of Verigin, and the time when he will clear all the Doukhobors and separate the believers from the unbelievers; and grant to the believers an everlasting joy and condemn he unbelievers to destruction”. The Doukhobors were gathering early in the morning to pray to God, then they separated for their daily work, and met again together for the evening prayers; and yet, at home, everyone vas kneeling down and praying to God , with tears in the eyes, to receive the reward promised by Verigin.
Verigin was supposing that after the expiration of his exile’s term he will be let free, and planned to establish his residence further from the Small Party in the village Terpeniye in the province of Kars. By his advice, his parents and two of his younger brothers, Vasily and Gregory, removed here. A large house was built for them, and they were receiving by free – gifts from the Doukhobors everything they needed. Vasily Verigin, junior, was leading the Doukhobors in the province of Kars and absolutely commanding them. He was driving about the Doukhoborian villages in the company of a singing chorus – of girls mostly – and everywhere he came he found an entertainment ready.
At that time John Konkin, Peter Verigin’s brother-in-law – who had also a great influence over the Doukhobors – just arrived from Shenkursk and reported that Verigin is advising to go out in the fields by night and pray to God over there; and particularly not to miss the day-break, because God is distributing the “talents” (spiritual gifts) then. Vasily Verigin assembled a still greater number of young people then, and they were rambling the whole night long in the fields – and nothing good resulted.
After the five years term of Peter Verigin’s exile expired, the Government added him five years more yet. At that time he became acquainted with the teachings of Count Tolstoy, and they had a great influence over him, though, as it appears, somewhat superficial. He got convinced of the truth of the new ideas, but he did not experience them and work out practically; and nevertheless he transmitted them incautiously to the Doukhobors, and not as an ideal which ought to be approached in the bounds of forces and possibility of everyone, but as a truth, according to which the Doukhobors can and ought to regulate their life directly.
After his acquaintance with the new ideas, Verigin restrained himself somewhat in his private life and his letters to the Doukhobors got another sway. Beginning with 1893 and during the few following years he instructed the Doukhobors in the true Christian life. He advised them to cease to smoke and drink wine, and also not to eat meat because the men should not deprive of life any being. Further he recommended chastity for perfection’s sake; the unmarried should not marry, and those that are married already should live as brothers and sisters. “The Doukhobors ought to purify themselves,” he was saying, “and be ready to meet Christ as the five wise virgins of the evangelical parable had been.”
The teachings of Verigin called forth a very strong movement among the Doukhobors of the Large party. They were taking everything he was advising close to heart and were thinking themselves obliged to execute it; but the chastity ideal was, generally, not within their reach, and caused the dividing of the Large party into two approximately equal parties. One party renounced Verigin and all his teachings entirely, and the members of this party, for the use of meat for food, fell under the denomination of myasniki (“Fleshers”). The other party (postniki or “Fasters”) remained true to Verigin, left the smoking and drinking off, ceased to eat meat, and exerted herself to attain the ideal of chastity. This ideal did not prove to be practical, however, and even drove some to the crime of infanticide, so that most of the married people gave it finally up; but the young people were containing themselves and not marrying, and ready to meet Christ, according to Verigin’s saying.
The envoys coming from Shenkursk were still bringing the Doukhobors some more of the new teachings they never had heard before. They were lying: “The Doukhobors are an elected and true Christian people and should not work physically but spiritually. They should leave their perishable acquisition and go to preach the Gospel; and all the domestic animals should be let free, because everything alive ought to have liberty; and the money which is Caesar’s should be returned to Caesar. The men are perverting their nature by wearing garments; they should go naked, as the first men, Adam and Eve, did, and their food should be fruits, vegetables, and water only. Verigin was trying himself to eat the moss on which the reindeer is feeding and he found it tasty.”
Finally Verigin advised the Doukhobors to renounce the military service and to burn all the arms they have.
In 1895 almost all the Doukhobors of the Verigin’s party decided to refuse to do the military service. The number of those that were then in actual service was not large – about threescore only – but they all gave up their arms. For this bold, action they were put into prison, judged by military court, and condemned o penal battalions. Many of them were ready to die, but instead of death lingering tortures were awaiting them.
From the very first day the bloody chastisement commenced. They were flogged with thorny rods, whose thorns were remaining in the flesh, and thrown in a cold and dark cell afterwards. After [a] few days they were requested again to do the service, and for the refusal flogged again. And so it was going on and no end was seen. Besides they were always hungry, because they were eating no meat and were given too little bread. They were physically exhausted; many were sick; but the doctor was refusing to admit them in the hospital, unless they would agree to eat meat. The chaplain was requiring the performance of the Orthodox rites, and they were driven to the church by fists and musket butt ends. Their position was unbearable; so that those few of them which were acting not by their own conviction, but only by Verigin’s advice, gave it up, but the majority was convinced and held out.
Finally, after one year of suffering – during which they were either wielding somewhat or persisting – they were condemned to deportation to Siberia, to the province of Yakutsk, for eighteen years.
At the same time when the Doukhobors which were in actual service were refusing to do their duty, those Doukhobors which were in reserve and living in the villages were giving back their militia certificates. The 29th of June – the Saint Peter’s and Paul’s day – was fixed for the burning of arms in all the Doukhoborian villages.
The Government began to persecute the Doukhobors and particularly severely in the province of Tiflis. The Governor of that province, being informed by the Small party that the Verigin’s party is planning something about arms, came on the above mentioned day, appointed for the burning of arms, to the village Goreloye, to the Orphan House – the headquarters of the Small party – and ordered to all the householders of the Doukhoborian villages in the neighbourhood to gather on the following day in the village Bogdanovka. But in the night before the holiday already all the arms – a wagon load from each village – were burned and melted down in a distant place, and in the morning of the 30th of the month about two thousand Doukhobors gathered for the prayer there. The Governor sent a messenger with an order for the Doukhobors to come to Bogdanovka immediately, but they answered that they will come only after the prayer will be ended. Then a detachment of mounted Cossacks was sent to fetch them. Without any warning they fell upon the Doukhobors and beat them – both men and women – unmercifully with their whips, and drove them afterwards to Bogdanovka.
In the meantime the Governor came to Bogdanovka, where all the Doukhobors loyal to the Government were gathered already, and a small part of those of the Verigin’s party which were not attending the prayer. The Governor greeted the Doukhobors of the Small party and the “Fleshers” and asked those of the Verigin’s party if they will obey the government as the Small party does. They answered that they will – if the Government’s orders will not disagree with their conscience, but they will not – if they will disagree. The Governor got furious and cried out: “Cossacks on you! I will make you obedient by force!” Then a young Doukhobor approached him and gave him back his militia certificate. The Governor snatched out a stick from the hands of the village Elder , who was standing by him, and began to beat the Doukhobor himself. Other Doukhobors commenced then to give up their certificates also. The Governor was not taking them, and they were put on the ground before him. He ordered to beat to arms, and the Cossacks who escorted him appeared instantly. By his order they dismounted and whipped the rebellious Doukhobors, together and singly, till the blood came. After that the Doukhobors were driven away to their homes and the Governor departed.
The next morning the Cossacks came again and the punishment continued. They quartered in our village over a fortnight and were riding about the villages, plundering everywhere and beating everybody who fell into their hands. In one night, by the permission of their commander, they violated several women, among whom was a girl of sixteen. I was given, from the very beginning, three hundred lashes with Cossacks’ whips, and kept in a corn loft afterwards, under arrest, for twenty days. No help was given to me and only bread and water. Finally the Cossacks went away and soldiers of infantry replaced them. They behaved much better and the people, who fled in all directions, began to return home.
Shortly after, all of us, Doukhobors of the province of Tiflis – over four thousand people – were transplanted to the districts of Gori, Tionety, Doushet, and Signakh, of the same province, and settled in Georgian and Ossetian villages, by [a] few families in each village. As very little time for preparations was granted, only few succeeded to sell something; most of the the property was abandoned or given away to neighbours. Several men – and I was among them – were requested for a monthly repetition of the military service, and, in consequence of their refusal, put into prison for two years, and deported afterwards to Siberia, to the province of Yakutsk.
Burning of Arms by the Doukhobors in Russia on June 29, 1895. Painting by Terry McLean.
The Doukhobors of the Verigin’s party, who were living in the provinces of Elizavetpol and Kars, were also persecuted, but not so severely, and were not transplanted, as the Doukhobors of the province of Tiflis.
About the same time Verigin was removed from the province of Archangel to Siberia, to the village Obdorsk, in the province of Tobolsk. A vigilant watch was kept there upon him and, after the expiration of his second exile’s term, five years more yet were added to him again.
The total number of Doukhobors condemned to deportation to Siberia was about hundred and fifty. They were sent there in a few separate parties, under the escort of soldiers. The first party – numbering about thirty men – started from the Caucasus in the autumn 1896, but arrived to Yakutsk in September of the following year only, because the TransSiberian railroad was in construction yet and they had to walk most of the way. The Governor of the province of Yakutsk fixed their dwelling place in Ust Notora – a very scarcely inhabited wooded country about six hundred versts southeast from the town of Yakutsk – and appointed a police agent to escort them there. As on the greater part of the way there were no roads at all, the journey was made on ox-back at first, and on a boat afterwards, down the river Aldan. Finally they reached the mouth of the river Notora, where the place of their settlement was fixed. Not a single man was seen on the bank, and an empty hut deserted by the Yakuts was only standing. The police agent pointed it out and said that the Doukhobors ought to live there, and have no right to absent themselves nowhere, without a special permission; and, should it be otherwise, they will be severely punished. After that he departed, leaving them alone.
Group of Doukhobor Exiles in Yakutsk, Siberia, circa 1904
The place where the hut was standing was quite dull. The nearest neighbours were Yakuts and Tunguses, living with their families some twenty or thirty versts one from another. The hut which the Doukhobors occupied was a poor wooden structure with earthen floor and ice slabs in the window openings in the winter. The Doukhobors had bought on the way from Yakutsk some provisions and warm, winter clothes, but having not enough money, they could not provide themselves sufficiently for the long Siberian winter .
Soon the winter began and it was so cold in the hut, in spite of the heating, that all the walls get covered with ice inside. It was too cold to sleep, for want of warm clothes, and the Doukhobors had to sleep by turns. While some were sleeping, covering themselves with all the warm clothes, the rest had to walk in the hut to keep warm. Besides they had nothing to make light with and were in a total darkness during all the long evenings. Their situation was very distressing indeed.
So went on the first few months of the winter and they grew short of provisions; but they could not look for work and earn some money, because they had no right to absent. A policeman was coming every month to verify them, and the Yakuts were ordered to watch them. Then they wrote a petition to the Governor, asking him permission to earn their living elsewhere, and forwarded it with the policeman. But very little provisions were left already, and the Governor’s answer could not come before two months, so that they were obliged to absent secretly. They chose among themselves some of the strongest men, provided them with the best clothes, and those men started on the journey to the nearest village – two hundred versts away. The weather was intensely cold at that time and very foggy – as it usually happens there at hard frost. The snow was deep the travellers did not know the road, so that the way was extremely hard to them, and they were quite exhausted when they reached village. Happily, they found some work there, and in a few weeks already they were able to help their comrades in Ust Notora. Shortly afterward the Governor’s permission to work in that village was obtained, and arbitrary absentation went off with impunity.
When the summer came, one party yet of the Doukhobors arrived. Everyone went to work; some in the above mentioned village, and the rest on their own land in Ust Notora. They began to build a large house, provided themselves with [a] few horses and cows, and plowed the land, making it ready for the next spring’s sowing.
When the deportation to Siberia was announced to the Doukhobors many of the wives were willing to share the exile with their husbands, but they were dissuaded by them because the Doukhobors did not know then what kind of life is awaiting them in Siberia. But in the summer 1898 when the Siberian Doukhobors learned that the Caucasian Doukhobors are preparing to emigrate to Canada, they decided to advise their wives to come to them. It was resolved that somebody ought to go to Obdorsk and inquire Verigin’s opinion about this project, and proceed to Caucasus afterwards, and personally confer about the matter there. The task was not an easy one, because there was no permission of the Government for this excursion, of course, and it ought to be done quite secretly. In case of apprehension, a solitary deportation to a remote part of Siberia could be expected.
According to the comrades’ desire, I had to go. It took me two months to make the journey to Obdorsk. I travelled partly by rail, but mostly by steamer and boat on the large Siberian rivers Lena and Ob, and near one thousand versts I made on foot. On the way, I got acquainted with travelling companion, a workman, who had a temporary passport which he did not need any more. He gave it to me, and it was very useful to afterwards.
Trans-Siberian Railway, circa 1890’s. Photo by John Foster Fraser.
Finally, one day, late in the evening, our steamer neared Obdorsk, and from the steamer yet, I saw Verigin who was standing on the illuminated bank side. I came down from the steamer and, approaching Verigin, and intimated him with a glance. He understood me and we went away, a little further from the people. I said who I was and what was the purpose of the visit, and we passed almost the whole night in conversation together. Verigin approved our intention to take our wives to Siberia, and, when I told him about the bad consequences of the abstinence from marriage, he got thoughtful, and said afterwards, “Transmit my words to the Doukhobors, that they can marry now.”
The next day I had to keep away from Verigin, because he was strictly watched and no Doukhobor was allowed to see him. I was walking on the bank side and pretending to deal in fish.
At night we met again and passed it in the field in a conversation about life. He was telling me: “The term of my exile is ending soon. I will take my wife and my son and come to Canada, to the Doukhobors, and lead the simplest life there. I will have a little house, one pair of horses and a cow, and work as all the brethren; simplicity and laboriousness will be good examples for the Doukhobors.” And further he was relating about the way of life he wishes to establish in Canada: “I want the Doukhobors to live in communities, but they ought to be based on a free principle. Each family should have a separate house, a pair of horses, and a cow at their disposal. The increase of the cattle should join the common herd and be common. All the work in the fields should be done together. Each family should get its allowance of corn for itself and the forage for the cattle. The remaining revenue should be common and be kept in the cash office of the community.” And he said to me afterwards: “Transmit my words to the Doukhobors – let them arrange themselves in that manner.”
One evening I came to the lodging of Verigin. He was occupying one room only. He showed to me a turner’s lathe and a set of tools, and told me that he is doing joiner’s work. I passed only a few days in Obdorsk. The steamer was going to start; I took my leave of Verigin and departed on my next journey.
The impression Verigin made on me this once was not quite satisfactory. I did not see anything unusual in him now – as it seemed to me before – on the contrary, he appeared to me vain and selfish. His speech was usually beginning by the words: “I think”, “I understand”, “I advise”, “I order”, and so on. He showed himself indifferent to the suffering of the Doukhobors, and, when I related him what they had endured, he said only: “I know it already; nothing can be done; it should be endured”, and passed to his speech. A fish monger of Obdorsk, whom I inquired about Verigin, told me that Verigin is getting much money by post and leading an idle life; and I thought then that probably the joiner’s work was not a serious doing. But, nevertheless, the image of the coming life in Canada, which he represented, was so attractive, that I left him filled with hope in the radiant future of the Doukhobors.
On the way to the Caucasus I visited Count Leo Tolstoy in Yasnaya Polyana. I was heartily received by him and even lodged in his own room, for my safety’s sake, during the few days I was staying there. Though everything around Tolstoy did not appear to me to square with his teachings, but he seemed to me himself quite sincere and trying to do his best.
From Yasnaya Polyana I proceeded to the Caucasus and came at first to the province of Kars, where Verigin’s parents were living. At night a secret meeting took place and I transmitted to everybody the greetings of the deported Doukhobors, their desire to have their wives in Siberia, and all the instructions of Verigin. Then I went to the transplanted Doukhobors of the province of Tiflis, and communicated to them the same news. The life of the Doukhobors there was extremely hard. The deportation made them all destitute; they got no land and had to work for the natives, whose language they did not know and who were hostile to them. Being habituated to the healthy tableland of the Akhalkalaki district, they were constantly ill with fever in the low and very unhealthy valleys in which they were living now, and the mortality among them was excessive. But, in spite of the general distress of their situation, they were endeavouring to execute even the most advanced instructions of Verigin. They were ceasing to eat any animal food, and even many ceased to work. But, when they knew that they can marry again, the next day already several marriages were celebrated.
Just at that time all the Doukhobors of the Verigin’s party were preparing themselves to emigrate to Canada. In consequence of the very distressing and quite unbearable situation of most of them, they all resolved to emigrate. Verigin could not direct the emigration then, but the Doukhobors had many sympathizers already, who raised the necessary funds and arranged everything. Count Tolstoy, the Quakers, and many others, did the Doukhobors a great service. The emigration was directed to the Isle of Cyprus at first, and a party of Doukhobors went there. But the poor climatic conditions of this island compelled them to renounce to it and Canada was chosen then.
I passed in the Caucasus a fortnight altogether, and finally came to the house of my parents, but remained there two days only. I was hiding in the garret in the day-time and was seeing men in the night only. My parents were very old already, and my short stay gave them more grief than joy. My mother, who was ill then, got worse and died in my presence.
When I was departing to Siberia backwards, it was winter already. I took my wife with me – we had no children – and another woman yet; the other women had children and had to wait for the spring. We went by rail as far as Irkutsk, and further with horses. The road was poor and we were thrown out from the sledge hundreds of times; but the cold was the worst of all, and the women could not endure it finally any more. We made a bed in the sledge then, on which the women laid down and covered themselves overhead with blankets and all the clothes we had; and so we continued our journey anyhow. We travelled thus by day and night and in about six weeks we reached Yakutsk. As the women were quite sick from the hardship of the journey, I had to leave them in the town with an acquaintance of mine and went further to Ust Notora alone.
When I came to Ust Notora I found the Doukhobors living in the new house already [that] they had built during my absence. They were provided with enough provisions and were living much better than last winter.
At the beginning of the summer the wives and children of the Doukhobors arrived, and the new colony got an appearance of settlement. The Doukhobors set up a regular farm. They provided themselves with some more cattle; were raising rye and potatoes; built a blacksmith shop and a horse mill. All the community was composed of equal men; they were taking themselves for brethren and nobody was striving to dominate the others. Many were ill; some in consequences of treatment in the disciplinarian battalion and others from the cold they caught in Siberia; but, nevertheless – and in spite of the poor living – there was a good understanding among them and everybody was satisfied.
The Yakuts and Tunguses were coming to see the Doukhobors. At first the men only, but afterwards the women and the children, too. They were given a seat at the table and treated to the usual Doukhoborian meal of soup, bread, and potatoes, which was new and very attractive to them, as they are living at home on the animal food, mostly. They are a good, honest people – in spite of their lack of civilization – and the Doukhobors were on good terms with them.
The place the Doukhobors were occupying in Ust Notora consisted of a comparatively small section of land convenient for culture, which was insufficient for all the Doukhobors. The forest was around, but it would be too hard a task to uproot the trees, as the ground in the forest was frozen all the year round. Thus some of the Doukhobors had to hire themselves out to different works in the villages and towns, wherever the government was permitting them. In that part of the province of Yakutsk the villages are inhabited mostly by the sectarians Skoptsy (“Eunuchs” – physically mutilated, according to their religious belief), who are transported to Siberia for life. They are known by their eagerness for riches and are mostly well to do. The Doukhobors had to work chiefly for them, and very hard, on account of their avidity. The work was lasting about sixteen hours a day, both summer and winter, with only short intervals for lunch and dinner. The most tiresome work was the threshing on the ice floor in the winter. It was beginning at about four o’clock in the morning and ending at eight in the evening. For this kind of heavy work well wadded clothes are put on, as fur coats are breaking when frozen through. This work – in semi-obscurity and at hard frost – was lasting all the winter long, and many were ill from it.
In 1899 the last deported Doukhobors arrived and they went all to work for wages, but everyone was giving some money for the support of the Ust Notora community and the friendly relations of all the Doukhobors were still kept up.
But this state of matter changed entirely when the brothers of Peter Verigin and Konkin, his brother-in-law – who were also deported to Siberia on account of their leadership of the Doukhoborian movement – came to live in Ust Notora. They were thinking themselves superior to others, and, as soon arrived, they commenced to require a complete obedience. But their superiority was not acknowledged and quarrels followed. By little and little the first residents of Ust Notora were leaving it and finally [a] few families remained only, and Vasily Verigin became the absolute master then.
Those Doukhobors who left Ust Notora founded [a] few other settlements, but at that time already nobody was thinking to settle in Siberia permanently. Since their Caucasian brethren had emigrated to Canada, the Siberian Doukhobors were expecting every moment that the Government will let them free and they will go also there. But years were passing and the liberty was not coming yet.
In the years 1898 and 1899 all the Doukhobors of the Verigin’s party – over seven thousand people – emigrated to Canada. The Small party and “Fleshers” who were loyal to the government remained in the Caucasus.
Canada was for the Doukhobors a land of promise and they had a firm intention to fully realize there the ideal of Christian life as Verigin depicted. They were representing Canada to themselves as an abundant country, with a mild and pleasant climate, favourable to the new way of life; and when they saw the Canadian winter in its full severity, they were somewhat disenchanted. They founded two large colonies in the present province of Saskatchewan – some three hundred miles one from the other – the Yorkton colony and the Prince Albert colony. About five and a half thousand people settled in the former and one thousand and a half in the latter. Many sympathizers, both Russians and Americans, were helping them very actively in the first year of their settlement, but the Doukhobors were not wholly understanding all the disinterestedness of this attention. Thinking themselves an elected people and Verigin a man of higher power, they were looking at this attention as on their due and a consequence of Verigin’s power, and they did not appraise it sufficiently. When the time came to begin to work, they were somewhat spoiled already, and were working indolently at first, still expecting an assistance whatever; but they recovered themselves afterwards and commenced to work with all their usual energy.
Doukhobor women pulling plow, circa 1901.
The first few years were very hard for the Doukhobors, on account of their general poverty and of their ignorance of the language and customs of the country. Almost all the men were away hiring themselves out to different works, and the women; who were remaining at home, had to do the farming. As they had very little cattle in the beginning, they were sometimes obliged to carry timber for the building of the houses, and even to plow, on themselves. But by little and little the position of the Doukhobors became better. Each family built a house for itself and provided itself sufficiently with cattle and implements. But still most of the men were working for wages, as there was no money in reserve.
At the same time the Doukhobors were attempting the community life, according to the advise of Verigin, but they were mostly unsuccessful. After many trials the majority began to live individually – as they had been always living in the Caucasus before – and only a few of the villages succeeded to live in communities.
In 1902 the term of Verigin’s exile was ending and he wrote to the Doukhobors that he will come to Canada and live with them. The expected coming of Verigin was an event of the utmost importance for the Doukhobors, but they were fearing it, because they did not realize most of his instructions. They were saying between themselves, “How can we meet our master now, when we have not executed all his commandments. Did not he tell us that a true Christian should not work, but preach the Gospel, and we are oppressed with labour. We should have no money at all, and see there, how busily we are hunting for it! He told us to liberate the animals, and we are tormenting them with work. We ought to feed on fruits and vegetables and wear no clothes at all; the first men had no clothes and God was warming them. Do you remember, brethren, what was said to us about the ten virgins ? How the lamps of five of them were gone out. It is we! It is our lamps that are gone out! How can we meet Christ then ? He will come soon, find us unprepared, and we are lost then!”
The leaders of this movement were Ivan Ponomarev and Nikolai Zibarev; both totally illiterate. They were saying to the Doukhobors that “the time of the general purification – of which Verigin was speaking long ago – is just coming now. He that will leave off all his property and will go to meet Christ – shall be freed from work for ever and shall live with Christ in everlasting joy; and he that will not do it – shall work eternally and perish thus, out of disobedience.” Ponomarev was relating that when he had been in Shenkursk he had heard himself Verigin saying, “Behold, brethren! the time shall come when a great river will pass through. Throw yourselves into it. I am a good swimmer – I will save you!” And in conclusion Ponomarev was saying, “Now, brethren, here is that river! I throw myself the first into it, and you follow me. Let us clear ourselves from everything sinful and let us go to meet Christ!”
Over one thousand Doukhobors – almost exclusively of the Yorkton colony – joined this libertine movement. They began to feed on bread and raw potatoes only; ceased to cut their hair; threw out all the woolen and leather clothes, and tore off from their cotton clothes all the metallic appurtenances, as buttons and hooks. They let their cattle loose and gave up all their money to the local authorities. They ceased to work altogether and were wandering in crowds, singing psalms and preaching the Gospel to others. They made the tour of the Doukhoborian villages, inviting every one to join, and they set off afterwards in the direction from which Verigin was expected to come. The little children and the sick persons were carried in hand- barrows. They were feeding on grains of corn and berries they were gathering in the fields, and were begging for bread and potatoes in the farms on the way. They were sleeping in the fields and were enduring cold, as it was in the autumn and freezing in the mornings already. The authorities were stopping them; they detained in Yorkton all the women and children, but the men were unwilling to go back and were continuing to go forwards toward Winnipeg. They were expecting every moment to see Verigin, barefooted, with a long beard, and in simple clothes, going towards them.
But Verigin was not appearing. In fact, he was in England then, where he stopped on the way to Canada. The thought struck the Libertines then that Verigin does not appear because their faith is not deep enough, and some of them may not have delivered themselves from all their sinful property yet. A general inquiry proved that many had watches, knives, needles and some other objects yet. It was all taken and thrown away, and the Libertines proceeded indefatigably further. They made about two hundred miles thus and were all stopped finally, put in a train, brought to Yorkton, and conveyed to their villages. But they were still waiting for Verigin and though the winter has settled already, many were unwilling to work and to take care of themselves, and the authorities had to look after them. All the cattle that had been let loose was caught and sold by the authorities, and the money thus received, and that money which had been given up by the Libertines themselves, all was used for their assistance now. Some men were hired to look after them; they were carrying provisions, firewood, and even, sometimes, heating stoves for them.
All the remaining Doukhobors, which have not participated in this movement, were living and working as before, but they were anxious anyhow, and were not certain to whom Verigin will come: to them or to the Libertines.
At last Verigin arrived and stopped in the village Otradnoye, of the Yorkton colony, where his mother was living (his father was dead already). He came alone; he did not take neither his wife nor his son with him, and they remained to live in the Caucasus.
As soon as it became known that Verigin arrived, many Doukhobors, both Libertines and non-Libertines, came to salute him. The Libertines were looking meagre and weary, and were clad in the simplest clothes; and the non-Libertines were cheerful and properly clad, and had a singing chorus with them. All wished to see Verigin, and he came out to them.
He was well dressed, in everything new and expensive. He had a fur coat on, a beaver hat, and high leather boots. He was looking as a man in his prime and did not appear to be oppressed by his long exile. The aspect of the Libertines did not strike him. He was well aware of their movement already, and it is also doubtful if he recognized all his responsibility for it. Other feelings were probably agitating him. His people was again before him, as obedient as fifteen years ago, in the Caucasus, when he left them.
Verigin conversed favourably with everyone. He addressed the Libertines and thanked them warmly for the ardent belief they displayed for him. “You went to meet Christ”, he said to them, “Now he appeared to you. Go to your homes, live, and work for your living.” And he thanked the non-Libertines for the joyful welcome they arranged for him, and for all their labour and assiduity.
All were listening reverently to Verigin’s words. The non-Libertines were very satisfied with them and were glad to see Verigin as dressed as they were, but the Libertines were disenchanted and afflicted.
When the leaders of the Libertines heard from Verigin himself that they ought to work, they obeyed him instantly and the majority of the Libertines with them, in spite of their disenchantment. They put their households in order and began to work and live as formerly.
But a small part of them – [a] few scores only – were thinking independently and remained firm in their conviction. These last Libertines said to Verigin: “We were taking all thy teachings as commandments coming from God, which are immutable forever. We acknowledged them and we were doing our utmost to execute them. Why hast thou altered thy words now? No, we do not want to be traitors and we will continue to do our duty.” But, as they were not many, Verigin did not pay any attention to them and would not let them approach him any more.
When [a] few months later Verigin arranged himself already, and the last Libertines saw plainly how much his life was disagreeing with his teachings, all their hopes failed and they fell into despair. They were saying, “There is no divine spark in him and unfortunate are those who believe in him. Let us take our clothes off; let us go and tell him: “Behold! Thou hast said that man should go naked – we took our clothes off. Now thou do it, and let us go to preach the Gospel.” And they did as they were saying. They pulled their clothes off – it was in the spring already – and went to Verigin, but they were not admitted to him. They were trying to talk with him somewhere on the road then, but they did not succeed in it. At last they got all together and decided to reach him whatever may happen. They went in a crowd – men, women, and children, all naked – by the road to the village Otradnoye where Verigin was living. It was reported to him and he ordered to stop them, but they were breaking through the crowd of those who were detaining them and were still advancing. Then, by Verigin’s order, they were unmercifully beaten with rods and dispersed finally. And so, they could not get to Verigin again.
Shortly after about two scores of them, all naked, went to Yorkton. They were arrested there and put into prison for three months. But when released they began to behave as formerly again.
Once several of them were going through a field and, seeing a reaping machine newly bought by Verigin, they stopped before it. They recollected all what had been said about machines: how oppressive and unhealthy the workmen’s work is, and how those human inventions are disagreeable to God; and they thought it a good deed to destroy the machine. They overlaid it with straw and burned all the wooden parts of it. Verigin reported it to the authorities and those Libertines were put into prison again.
The prison authorities did not show any indulgence to the excited Libertines and were treating them very harshly. As they were refusing to eat any animal food and were unwilling to work, some up-to-date methods were used to subdue them. They were fed with broth, which was conducted through a hose into the stomach directly; and to make one work, he was brought into a special cell and sand was strewn from above, threatening to cover him entirely, and compelling thus to dig himself out. But these measures did not change the Libertines. They were firm and obstinate and remained Libertines however.
Afterwards they were put into prison [a] few times more, but they were treated well. Some of them are in prison and some had been released, but are still living in their own way.
Shortly after his coming to Canada, Verigin invited several girls and a singing chorus, and in such a numerous and merry company he took a trip through all the Doukhoborian villages. In each village a solemn reception was given to him. All the Doukhobors were in high spirits and listened attentively to every word he was saying. He was relating them about the grand Doukhoborian community, the “free principle” on which she shall be based, and about the happiness of the coming life.
When he returned home, he convoked a general meeting and advised the Doukhobors to take up their homesteads officially – they had been taken temporarily as yet – but to cultivate all the land conjointly. Thus, since Verigin’s coming, all the Doukhobors – with very little exception – formed one great community. The land was counted common, but each family had a household and some property of its own.
This state of affairs was changed very soon, however, by Verigin himself. He abandoned the “free principle” and adopted the “principle of centralization”. By his order all the cattle of each village was taken to the common herd and all the agricultural implements to one shed. Large communal stables and sheds were built, and attendants were appointed; modern agricultural machines were bought and several corn mills were built, but, for want of money, everything on credit.
The Doukhobors were working but little at home, however. They were sowing corn for their own use only, and only one fourth of all the workers was remaining at home. Over one thousand men were leaving their homes for all the summer every year. They were hiring themselves out as workmen, and everyone of them had to give up in the autumn at least one hundred and fifty dollars to the cash office of the community.
During the few following years the system of centralization was reinforced. All the orders were printed in the headquarters of Verigin and each village was getting a copy of them. It was exactly said in each order what to do and how to do: how much cattle to keep and how to feed it; how to plough and what to sow; how to build houses, and even how to dress oneself. Thus, by one order, was simplified the children’s dress. All the boys and girls below thirteen had to submit to a new rule. The boys get long shirts, instead of trousers, and the girls had their hair cut, and they were all very afflicted by that.
Doukhobor village house, circa 1901
In spite of the zealous work of the Doukhobors and their modern way of farming, they were still remaining very poor. Each village – composed of just forty houses – had about twenty cows only and very few chickens, so that the Doukhobors were living on bread and vegetables mostly. Besides, they were getting from the common warehouse a very insufficient quantity of clothes. In consequence of that many were ill, both from cold and for want of proper food.
Almost all the Doukhoborian children were learning then, but they were getting very little knowledge, however. Verigin was of the opinion that a true Christian should have only Christ for teacher; he would not admit strangers and ordered to each village to choose a teacher among themselves. But, as there are no Doukhobors enough educated to be teachers, sometimes a teacher had to be appointed who could hardly write his own name; and thus the children were often, in few months already, as advanced as the teacher himself.
Not all the Doukhobors were satisfied with the Community. Those that were not were setting up their own farms and were mostly successful. But their number was not large.
In the year 1905, after the religious liberty had been proclaimed in Russia, all the Doukhobors deported to Siberia were liberated and set off for Canada. The Siberian Doukhobors, or “Yakutians” as they were called, had at that time already some views quite different from those of the “Canadians” or Canadian Doukhobors. An individual life in a remote country made them farm more liberal and independent. Unlike the “Canadians” who were believing that there is no salvation beyond their community, the “Yakutians” were thinking that every man, whatever his belief may be, can advance on the way of the spiritual perfection. The “Canadians” were thinking Verigin a divine leader who ought to be obeyed absolutely, and the “Yakutians” were taking him for a manager only, and fully responsible for all his actions. This diversity of convictions was not dangerous by itself, however, neither to the Doukhoborian Brotherhood, nor even to the Community, but it was dangerous to the principle on which the Community was based.
All the “Canadians” were awaiting with joy the arrival of their brethren, who had suffered so much for the common cause, but Verigin was dissatisfied with them and his displeasure made all the Doukhobors uneasy. He was well informed already of the indocility of the “Yakutians” from the letters of his brother Vasily and personally, from his other brother Grigory and his brother-in-law Konkin, who were since [a] few years in Canada (the former had run away from Siberia arbitrarily; the latter had petitioned the Government for liberation and had been released).
The arrival of the “Yakutians” was a great joy for many families who saw their relatives again after a long separation of ten years. Many meetings were held, new projects were formed and, after all, when the “Yakutians” had rest enough, they went to work and began to live the community life. But from the first day already they were told that it is quite indispensable to wait on Verigin. Their relatives were saying to them, “All our misfortune is over now and we will live a quiet life together, but you should go to see our master. You had been living very long alone and you may have sinned in some way, by a deed, word, or thought whatever. Go and fall before him on the ground, beg him pardon, and beg him to admit you in the Community. He will admit you, and you will live there as we are. We do not puzzle our brains over anything; we do what he orders and everything is well.”
The “Yakutians” were very afflicted that their relatives and all the Doukhobors of the Community are in such a pitiful position, but they would not offend them by a direct reply and were answering thus: “We do not see any necessity to beg for admission. We have been always members of the Doukhoborian society; you wish that we live with you and we will.” But the “Canadians” were replying: “We advise you to see our master anyhow, and you will feel yourselves that there is a divine power in him. No man can see him without fear, and everyone trembles who talks to him.” And the “Yakutians” were answering: “You tremble not only because you believe him to be a supernatural man, but also because you submitted to him and you know that he is severe and can punish you.”
When shortly after several “Yakutians” went to see Verigin, he knew already that they came not to submit, but to ask explanations, and ordered not to receive them. The report about the refusal of Verigin to receive the “Yakutians” spread in all the villages, and the “Canadians” began to think them great sinners. “Our master knows everything”, were saying the “Canadians” to them, “He knew your thoughts were not sincere when you came to him and he did not receive you. You blame him, but we believe in everything he is saying, whether in respect to spiritual matter or husbandry.”
“Your material state is far from being satisfactory,” were answering the “Yakutians”. “All your common property, as factories and agricultural machines, amount comparatively to little, and your indebtedness is greater than all that is worth. Only the property of each village can be counted yours, and there is but very little of it. You are living miserably. Look how weak your children are! Many begin to walk at the age of three years only!” “It is true that we are living poorly,” were saying the “Canadians”, “but we are not looking for riches. We care for the soul only and we believe that there is no salvation out of the Community.”
“There are many bad principles in your Community,” were replying the “Yakutians”. “You are quarrelling constantly, either at work or at the delivery of goods. You are very intolerant and you cruelly persecute all those that are leaving the Community. We do not see any salvation here.”
At that time all the Doukhobors were talking about the “Yakutians” only. The old people were listening to the “Yakutians” with disgust, but many of the young were agreeing and beginning to talk themselves in a similar manner.
Everything the “Yakutians” were saying was reported to Verigin and he took severe measures to bring them under subjection. “They are dissatisfied with our food,” he said. “I will teach them how to appreciate the bread as a gift of God.” And he sent an order to all the villages not to give the “Yakutians” anything to eat for two days; and if they do not submit, give them no food for two days more yet; and then if they will be indocile then expel them from the Community entirely.
This order afflicted all the Doukhobors. “My God! what times!” were saying the “Canadians”. “To starve our brethren who had been suffering for our cause. And we are calling ourselves Christians of the Universal Brotherhood yet! It was never so before when the late woman-manager was living.” And others were replying: “It is not our business, Christ is sitting on the throne And is creating all alone.” (This old Doukhoborian saying is alluding to the Doukhoborian leader himself.)
In each village a meeting was held and the “Yakutians” were informed of their destiny. The question of the children was raised. Some were saying that some bread could be given to them; but others were saying that if it could be given it would be said so in the order, but as nothing is said about it, it means then that it cannot be given. A whole week passed in deliberations. At last in some villages all the provisions were taken away from the “Yakutians” and they were compelled to leave the Community; but most of the Doukhobors, in spite of the fear of Verigin, could not be decided to do it and did not execute Verigin’s order.
Then Verigin sent another order, that all the “Yakutians” ought to give up all their money to the cash office of the Community. And again meetings were held and the money was requested from the “Yakutians”. Most of them answered that they have no money; others gave their money up; and some said that they have some money but will not give it up, because they know Verigin wants to force them out from the Community and they will need it then.
In one village a “Yakutian” was called to the meeting and asked if he has any money. He answered that he has some twenty dollars. “Then give it up to the cash office,” said the elders to him. “Who is living in the Community should have not one cent at home.” “Well, I will give up my money,” he answered, “but only if you give up yours to the last cent also.” “We have not any,” said the elders. “We are living long since without money already.” “How so, you have no money ? I know he has some,” replied the “Yakutian”, pointing at a man at random. The man got troubled and, thinking it is really known he has money, said that he has some, indeed, but he knows others have money also. And thus the truth was revealed, all were ashamed, and there was no more question about money in that village.
By little and little, and in consequence of such severe measures, almost all the “Yakutians” were obliged to part with their relatives again and leave the Community. An elderly man was thus expelled by his own family from the very village where Verigin was living. He was a “Yakutian” and they were “Canadians”. He hired himself out somewhere as a workman, but fell ill and came to his family again. They were willing to keep him until he gets better, but Verigin did not permit it, and he was expelled again, and his family has no right to see him any more.
All these events troubled the Doukhobors and caused some discontent in the Community. Verigin ordered then Ponomarev and Zibarev – the former leaders of the libertine movement – to go through all the villages and to pacify the people. They started each in another direction.
When Zibarev came to the village where I was living, all the villagers assembled in one house and he addressed them thus: “Brothers and sisters! Our master is very afflicted that there is a commotion among you. Many are displeased with the food, clothes, and all the order he has established himself. Do not you know that unruliness leads to perdition? Our master has great pity of you, and he sent me to warn you that the day of judgement shall come from one minute to another. You had been waiting whole years for it, but only minutes are left now. Behold! Better repent of your sins and pray to God.” And he said afterwards: “There are many unbelievers among you. Here are the “Yakutians”, our former brethren, who do not believe in God Himself, and our master is advising you even not to speak with them.”
I inquired Zibarev then why does he think that the “Yakutians” do not believe in God, and he said: “They do not know God, because they do not acknowledge Christ in His second advent, and who do not know Christ do not know God.” “And under what appearance is concealed Christ you are acknowledging ?” I inquired. “It is of no use to direct you,” he answered, “because you are an unbeliever.” And addressing all the assembly, he said: “I will not relate you also about the advent of Christ; you ought to know who is Christ and when His advent was. If you will murmur and listen to apostates, he will say: “Be damned!” and will abandon you. It will be like a lightning that flashes from the east to the west – as it is written in the gospel – and you will be lost then.” He addressed the women afterwards and said: “And you sisters are requested to persuade your husbands to stay in the Community. The salvation is only in the Community and out of it, whatever good the actions of men may be, they are nothing before God. Be faithful! As the day of the general destruction of the infidels is near.”
“And how about the Quakers then?” I inquired. “They had helped us so much, but they do not belong to the Community. Are their deeds worth nothing and they shall be lost ?” “They may believe in Christ yet and unite with Him,” he replied. “And if they do not ?” “They shall perish as the other sinners then”. And addressing all the assembly he said: “All the offerings of the Quakers were for our master’s sake and according to his will. If not he, nobody would give us a bit of bread, and we would be lost.”
After both preachers visited all the villages, the murmur ceased and the Doukhobors commenced to pray and to wait for the end of the world; and some pious women were even not undressing themselves and their children, when going to bed, to be quite ready for the last judgement. They were thinking that sometime at night, Christ will come and take them – His faithful people – to a lonely and safe place; and in the meantime, a universal confusion will follow and all the infidels will perish in a general, mutual slaughter; and the earth will be left empty and will be granted to the selected people; and the life will be free and easy then.
In the last years there have been but little changes in the life of the Community. As the Doukhobors of the Community had not been willing to accept the Canadian subjection, the Government took a considerable part of their land from them, leaving them only fifteen acres to each person, and declared that this land also is granted for a temporary use only.
The community principle has been more strengthened yet. Thus, in many villages, common kitchens and dining rooms have been established. But the material state of the Community has not improved. The indebtedness has not diminished; though the Doukhobors are still working zealously and living the most frugal life. They are nourishing themselves very poorly, as before. They are gradually abolishing all the animal food. They ceased to keep chickens and to eat eggs. Most of the cows had been sold and only a few have been left in each village. At the same time neither the variety nor the quality of their vegetable food has improved, and in the last year they have been obliged to eat the distasteful bread of frost-bitten corn. Consequently their health condition is far from being satisfactory.
The education is still arousing but little interest in the Community. The schools are neglected and most of the villages, now, have no schools at all.
Verigin is still remaining the absolute director of the Community, as all those that are dissatisfied with his management are compelled to abandon the Community, leaving him a faithful majority. The belief in his divine origin, which is very common yet, and the usual devotion of the Doukhobors to their leader, are considerably strengthening his position.
As an example of the humble submissiveness of the members of the Community to their leader, the case of the village Pokrovka can be cited. At the beginning of the community life the inhabitants of Pokrovka had no luck and for two years they were giving to the common cash office less money than the other villages. Verigin called them idlers and gave to their village a new denomination Nedokhvatnoye (“the Insufficient”). They were bearing this disgraceful name for [a] few years, during which they were endeavouring to correct themselves, and they succeeded soon to give up even more money than the others, but they were still called by their new name, however. They decided then to beg Verigin himself for another name, but as nobody had boldness enough to personally talk with him, a petition was written which was beginning thus: “Our merciful Lord! Great is thy holy grace – have pity upon us! Show us your mercy, though as small as a poppy seed – deliver us from thy chastisement and grant to our village a Christian name. We will endeavor by all means to have no more defects…” and so on, on several pages. Shortly after the petition had been presented to Verigin, he came to Nedokhvatnoye himself, very contented, and said to the villagers that he gives them another name: their village shall be called henceforth “The Intercession of the Holy Virgin”, what expresses in Russian, but more solemnly, the first name of the village, Pokrovka. When the villagers heard Verigin granting them this great favour, they fell to the ground and thanked him.
Though the Doukhoborian Community has a semblance of solidity, she is precarious in reality, however. The life in the Community is so ungrateful, that in spite of all the devotedness of the Doukhobors to the Community, a certain feeling of dissatisfaction is almost general. Even Ivan Makhortov – the well known Doukhoborian patriarch – is getting pessimistic now. He has been a great admirer of Verigin and used often to say maliciously, amid a numerous assembly, while tapping Verigin on the shoulder: “I know well who is Christ.” But now, being very old already, he is saying to the Doukhobors, in a fit of frankness: “Beg him to give you liberty. There is no success in it.”
And so, in fact, Verigin has to take particular measures to hold the Doukhobors in the Community. He is inspiring them with the great idea of a single Doukhoborian community, which he compares to the Ark of Noah, saying that as then all the men had perished and only [a] few remained, so it shall be also now. He is endeavoring to isolate the members of the Community from the influence of all the other Doukhobors and wants to have them all in one place – in the chief Yorkton colony. Thus he compels those members of the Community, who are living in the remote, but very fertile, Prince Albert colony, to remove on some poor lands in the Yorkton colony, in spite of all the serious loss by this removal. He is profiting by the loyalty of the women, who are generally more attached to the Community than the men, and gave them recently a still greater liberty of action, by granting them solemnly full equality of rights. He is advising them to abandon their husbands if they are “unbelievers” but, as it is not always possible to subdue the husbands in such a manner, divorces are very common.
In spite of all these measures, however, the Doukhobors are more and more leaving the Community, and the total number of individual farmers as they are called (the “Independents”) is over one thousand already. They are living either in their old homes, in the villages, or on their own homesteads, and are generally more successful than the members of the Community .
There is reason to suppose that the Doukhoborian movement has not quite ended yet, as new complications are possible, on account of the unstableness of the Community and her forced terms with the Canadian Government. But it can be said already that the movement has not been without good results. The Doukhobors embraced some principles with the aid of which they may become a worthy people. Something is done already. There is neither theft nor drunkenness among them. There is much poesy in their peaceful villages, where elks and prairie chickens are coming unmolested. But, of course, there is no perfection, and much is to be done yet.
For an excellent scholarly analysis of the above article, see Peter Brock, Vasya Pozdnyakov’s Dukhobor Narrative (Slavonic and East European Review Vol. 43, 1965).