by Svetlana A. Inikova
The following is a keynote address given by Russian ethnographer and archivist Svetlana A. Inikova at the Doukhobor Centenary Conference, held at the University of Ottawa on October 22-24, 1999. Her address, based on extensive research of Russian archival sources, including a significant number of previously unknown documents relating to the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries, reveals many new and important insights into the spiritual origins and early history of the Doukhobor movement in Russia. Reproduced by permission from A. Donskov, J. Woodsworth & C. Gaffield (eds.), The Doukhobor Centenary in Canada, A Multi-Disciplinary Perspective on their Unity and Diversity. (Ottawa: Slavic Research Group and Institute of Canadian Studies at the University of Ottawa, 2000).
Doukhoborism is now three centuries old. While Doukhobors have never been able to boast great numbers or a widespread population, they have made a definite mark on Russian history. Their dramatic development has drawn the attention of historians for the past two hundred years. In spite of all that has been written about them, there are still noticeable gaps in their historical record. The early history of the movement and the consolidation of its teachings are very poorly researched, and there are only a very few articles dealing with eighteenth-century Doukhoborism.
Modern researchers are well acquainted with Orest Novitsky’s Dukhobortsy: ikh istoriya i verouchenie ["Doukhobors: their history and teachings"], published in 1882, which has become a leading textbook on the subject. Worth noting for their research on early Doukhobor history are A.S. Lebedev’s study on the Sloboda-Ukraine Doukhobors and N.G. Vysotsky’s work on the Doukhobors of Tambov and Voronezh Provinces. These major works written around the turn of the century are for some reason largely unknown to scholars today.
Much better known is F.V. Livanov’s Raskol’niki i ostrozhniki ["Raskolniks and Ostrozhniks"], based on a wide range of archival sources, although the author takes a less-than-serious approach to his subject, not distinguishing between the Doukhobors and the Molokans and thereby introducing an element of confusion into the question of territorial distribution. There is an article by Soviet researcher P.G. Ryndzyunsky on the so-called "Tambov free-thinkers" discovered in Tambov Province in 1768-69, but the writer did not identify the sect under discussion with the Doukhobors, as he was convinced that the Doukhobors did not yet exist at that time.
In 1977 A.I. Klibanov published his Narodnaya sotsial’naya utopiya v Rossii. Period feodalizma ["People’s social Utopia in Russia. Feudal period”], which featured an analysis of a “Note of 1791 submitted by the Doukhobors of Ekaterinoslav Province to Governor Kakhovsky” [Zapiska, podannaya dukhobortsami Ekaterinoslavskoy gubernii u 1791 g. gubernatoru Kakhovskomu] and the Doukhobor teachings outlined therein. In 1997 Svetlana Inikova’s “The Tambov Doukhobors of the 1760s” [Tambovskie dukhobortsy v 60-e gody XVIII veka] appeared in Vestnik Tambovskogo universiteta, showing that by that time the Doukhobors had already established themselves as a sect in Tambov province.
These are the only studies known on the early period of Doukhobor history.
Scholars still have not solved the question as to where or when the movement first appeared. Some look upon Ukraine as the birthplace of Doukhoborism, others refer to the Tambov area, still others maintain that the teachings came from Moscow. Before 1917 it was generally assumed that the Doukhobor teachings were of non-Russian origin. Some traced them to the early offshoots of Christianity, others to Bulgarian bogomil’stvo ("Bogomils") though the rise of Doukhoborism was most often associated with Quaker or Anabaptist proselytizing in Russia. Soviet historiography, which always related everything to the struggle between social classes, maintained that it was a uniquely Russian populist teaching arising as a form of social protest. Thus, even after three hundred years of Doukhoborism not one of the questions raised above has been finally resolved. This is due primarily to the scarcity of eighteenth-century historical sources, and secondarily to the difficulty in accurately identifying the dissidents described in the documents.
The word Doukhobors did not appear until 1786. It was coined not, as is commonly supposed, by Ambrosius, Archbishop of Ekaterinoslav, but by Nikifor, Archbishop of Slovenia. The Doukhobors themselves did not adopt the term until the beginning of the nineteenth century, while the clergy and secular officials continued to confuse the Doukhobors with the Molokans, and more often than not simply called them raskol’niki or iconoclasts to avoid a mistaken reference.
However, the problem of identification of the Doukhobors in their earlier historical periods still eludes the researchers of today just as much as in the past. In order to determine the precise point in time in which Doukhoborism first took organizational form, it is important to identify sectarian references in archival materials. To solve this rather complex problem it was necessary to compile a catalogue of Doukhobor families and their places of origin at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries. This facilitated the preparation of a list of provinces populated by Doukhobors, the date of their first discovery there and the sectarians’ social status.
Describing the spiritual roots of the Doukhobors means first establishing what its doctrinal teachings are. For the past two centuries theologians and secular researchers have been citing the work carried out by Orest Markovich Novitsky, along with his principal source of reference, the “Note of 1791 submitted by the Doukhobors of Ekaterinoslav Province to Governor Kakhovsky”. True, as early as 1806 Prefect Evgenii of the Aleksandr Nevsky Monastery (who would later become Metropolitan of Kiev) noted that it was written not by the Doukhobors themselves, but by a rather well-educated sympathiser. Novitsky repeated this argument and supposed that this person might have been the Ukrainian philosopher Grigory Skovoroda – a supposition which has been repeated more than once in the literature on the subject. At this stage we are interested not so much in the authorship of this note, but to what extent it reflects actual Doukhobor teachings.
Let us start with the assumption that the “Note of 1791 submitted by the Doukhobors of Ekaterinoslav Province to Governor Kakhovsky” was never actually submitted. It is known only in copies; the original has never been discovered. We have ascertained, however, that the first copy was made from a document belonging to Senator Ivan Vladimirovich Lopukhin, who is known to have made an inspection tour of the Province of Sloboda-Ukraine in 1801 and, after meeting with the Doukhobors there, to have petitioned Alexander I to allow their relocation to Tauride Province (now the Crimea).
Senator Lopukhin was a prominent and active Mason, who had a multitude of religious-philosophical works and translations to his credit. It is surprising that one who played such a major role in the Doukhobors’ destiny, if he indeed had such a document about them in his possession, not only did not make use of it but failed even to mention its existence in his memoirs.
Lopukhin was accused by the Orthodox hierarchy of helping the Doukhobors and of predisposing Alexander I favourably toward the sect. Right at the time he needed to justify himself, there appeared the “Note of 1791”, painting the Doukhobors as a religious-philosophical movement completely loyal to the authorities.
A comparative analysis shows strong similarities between the “Note of 1791” and the Masonic writings of Lopukhin himself. Kiev Metropolitan Evgenii and later Novitsky were quite correct in observing the influence of the Masons in the Note, but attributed it to the peculiarities of the teachings of the Ekaterinoslav Doukhobors rather than the peculiar world-view of the Note’s author.
Both Novitsky and Klibanov draw attention to the literary nature of the verses cited in the Note. Klibanov goes so far as to identify the cited quatrains as “inherent to Skovoroda’s poetry, in both form and content”. After considerable investigation we were able to determine that these verses came from a German poet held in high regard by Russian Masons by the name of Johann Scheffler, who was also known as “the Angel of Silesia”. A collection of his poetry was published by a Mason named Novikov in Moscow in 1784 under the title Rayskie tsvety [“Flowers of Paradise”], and was familiar to a narrow circle of supporters in St. Petersburg and Moscow at the time. An examination of the main idea of each quatrain shows remarkable similarities with the concepts outlined in the “Note of 1791”.
It is unlikely that the author was Lopukhin himself, however, as the language of the Note suggests someone very close to the South Russian ecclesiastical hierarchy. But neither are the language and style characteristic of Skovoroda’s writings. While the question of authorship is still undecided, there is no doubt that the teachings contained in the Note are Masonic rather than Doukhobor, although the two movements most definitely shared common elements – the doctrine of the “inner church”, for example.
Another factor against the Doukhobors’ own authorship of the Note is the naming of their teachers – Kirill and Petr Kolesnikov (still alive at the time) – something the Doukhobors themselves would never have done.
The author of another “Note on the Doukhobors living in the Melitopol’ district of Tauride Province” [Zapiska o dukhobortsakh, obitayu-shchikh v Melitopol’skom uezde Tavricheskoy gubernii], written in 1841, upon enquiring of the Doukhobors living at Molochnye Vody (“Milky Waters”) as to what they knew of the note outlining their faith that was to have been submitted to Governor Kakhovsky in 1791, was told that “they had absolutely no idea whatsoever”.
There is no doubt the author of the “Note of 1791” was personally acquainted with the Doukhobors. Certain historical facts and tenets contained in the Note (though possibly misinterpreted) have been actually confirmed through other sources, but cannot be considered on the whole to represent a statement of Doukhobor teachings.
Another document usually cited by researchers into early Doukhobor history is an 1805 note entitled “Several characteristics of Doukhobor society” [Nekotorye cherty ob obshchestve dukhobortsev], quite justifiably ascribed either to an unidentified Mason or directly to Senator Lopukhin. For some reason, however, the fact that the two basic documents on the Doukhobors’ history and teachings have both turned out to be connected with the Masonic order has never caused anyone to doubt their validity as historical source-materials.
Such investigations have served to emphasize the necessity of selecting undisputedly reliable sources. The past few years have brought to light a significant number of previously unknown documents on the history of the group at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries, which were not accessible to earlier researchers.
Our research has led to the following conclusions:
In the second half of the eighteenth century the teachings of the four main groups of Doukhobors (in Sloboda-Ukraine, Ekaterinoslav, the Don River area and the Tambov-Voronezh region) were essentially the same. The few differences were not serious enough to warrant sub-classifications of Doukhoborism or to categorize their development as incomplete. One can, for example, note the relatively radical stance of the first group in their attitudes toward supreme authority and defence of the state compared to the more moderate Tambov-Voronezh Doukhobors. This is apparently attributable to the social psychology of the Cossacks who were more prevalent in the first group.
Following the doctrine of the inner church and the worship of God in spirit and in truth, the Doukhobors uncompromisingly rejected material forms of worship, especially the external church with its icons, the cross, sacramental rituals, sacred relics and making the sign of the cross. The temple of God was none other than the believer himself or herself. The congregation of true Christians was Christ’s apostolic church, in which all the sacraments were commemorated spiritually, worship was directed toward the image of God shining within and Christ himself was master and head. The Doukhobors endeavoured to interpret everything connected with faith in a spiritual sense.
Even back in the 1760s and 1770s the Doukhobors declined to consider the Bible a God-inspired book. They doubted that God’s word could be contained in the Scriptures, maintaining that it was capable of being written only in the heart and soul of a believer and not on paper; others declared that the Scriptures represented “baby’s milk”, while their teacher was God Himself. The Doukhobors did know by heart, however, certain passages from the New Testament which, in their opinion, confirmed the rightness of their teachings.
The non-Biblical canon was rejected completely. Doukhobor teachers read and interpreted the Scriptures at meetings as they were inspired by the Lord – i.e., within the framework of their teachings. They sought out especially obscure spiritual meanings, and the New Testament, which even in its earlier form abounded in parables, was transformed in their teachings into a set of allegories. It appears that this was not so much the result of a rationalistic approach to the miracles described in the Bible as a desire to transpose everything connected with religious life into the realm of the spiritual. Doukhobor rationalism consisted in the holding of reason to be the highest criterion by which to evaluate the correctness of one’s perception of Biblical revelation. Finally, the Doukhobors rejected reading and interpreting the Scriptures altogether during their first years at Molochnye Vody in the Tauride Province.
Up until now scholars have been generally inclined to consider the Doukhobors to be anti-Trinitarian, i.e., as refusing to recognize the Holy Trinity. Even though Doukhobor psalms constantly affirmed worship of one God in three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – scholars have maintained that the Doukhobors view the Trinity not in the form of three persons dwelling inseparably in the one God, but as powers of some kind emanating from God. In fact, God, in their understanding, was not a personality but some kind of substance spread everywhere without an independent existence, a Universal Mind, a Supreme Wisdom. One might go so far as to say that the Doukhobors believed in God as a single personality, appearing in the roles of three persons. In their interpretation God the Son – created before time – and the Holy Spirit – which proceeds from the Father – were still inferior to God the Father in terms of divinity, but that is a different matter.
The Doukhobors have been called pantheists, as they maintained that there was no place where God is not, and their psalms constantly feature images suggesting a God spread throughout the universe: God the Father represents height, the Son – breadth, and the Holy Spirit – depth. In their understanding, however, the one God, while embracing the whole world, was greater than the world; He was not limited to His presence in it, but was personified in an unfathomable being. The Doukhobors’ pantheism was on an extremely limited scale.
According to Doukhobor teachings, God the Son was never embodied in human form in Mary’s womb; she did not bear a God-man. She bore Jesus of Nazareth, whom God had chosen as His anointed – Christ, whose body was occupied for thirty years by God the Son, and not by some kind of Mind or Spirit. After Jesus’ corporeal death God the Son (Christ) ascended and appeared to the apostles in a different fleshly form that they failed to recognize at first, and only later identified as God through the miracles they witnessed. The Christ-figure of the Trinity continued to be embodied in each Doukhobor leader in turn, each of which represented Christ, the true God. In Orthodox teachings the God-Son, embodied in human flesh in Mary’s womb, actually ascends with this same flesh, dwells in it in heaven and will act as judge at the Last Judgment, sitting on the throne at the right hand of the Father. The Doukhobor Trinity, on the other hand, appears to have been divided before the Last Judgment, at which point this Christ-God, having sojourned in various fleshly forms, will sit close by the Lord’s throne (but not at the right hand, as in Orthodoxy) and judge the people, or rather their souls, as the Doukhobors do not believe in the resurrection of the flesh. Even thus exists the Christ-man, in whom dwells the true God-Son – the living God mentioned over and over again in Doukhobor psalms and in recorded Doukhobor testimony.
The Doukhobors did not recognize original sin, since God the Son came into the world not for its redemption, but to show people the pattern of suffering for the truth. His flesh died on the cross; hence it was quite logical that in the Eucharist wine could not be transformed into Christ’s blood or bread into his flesh.
The other Doukhobor tenet which has always provoked a multitude of interpretations is that of God dwelling in man. A Doukhobor psalm says that God created the human soul in His image and likeness, in the sense that the soul, like God, is immortal, self-governing and intelligent. God is spiritual and Trinitarian, hence His image in man is also spiritual and threefold. God gave man three blessings: memory, mind and will. In terms of memory the human soul resembles God the Father, in reason – the Son, and in will – the Holy Spirit. And just as these three blessings, three qualities of the soul, constitute one and the same soul, even so the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one and the same God. These three qualities of the soul are also the image of God (not God Himself) which is to be worshipped.
In some psalms, however, the word upodoblyaetsya (“resembles”) is omitted and it is simply stated: God the Father [is] in memory. God the Son in mind. God the Holy Spirit in will. In some of the psalms and recorded testimony the Doukhobors also declared: “God is in man”. This is an indication that not just the image of God is to be found in man, but the impersonal God Himself dwells in man, thereby creating a mystical union between God and man. In such a case, however, denominational worship and psalm-reading would be totally unnecessary: it would be enough to pray to one’s self.
It is still not clear whether Doukhobors felt it simply unnecessary to explain that it is the image of God that is meant here, or whether the concept of likeness gradually gave way to actual dwelling. After all, God’s image in man and God in man are two completely different things.
The Doukhobors held themselves to be God’s chosen children, selected by God Himself; they held that Christ (their living God) was their pastor, and that the Holy Spirit guided them, but in all their documents and practices I have never encountered any indication that they believed in the incarnation of God in each individual Doukhobor.
During their services, while carrying out a particular ritual of thrice bowing to one another, the Doukhobors would say that they were worshipping God’s image shining within, that man was the temple of God, containing not hand-made icons but the image of God, and in the place of the usual candles was ardent prayer. The more perfect a person was, the greater was this Godlikeness of the soul in him and the closer he was to God. Hence it would seem completely wrong to take the words “God is in man” only in their literal sense.
It must be emphasized that we are not talking here about the teachings of the Doukhobors today, who have far removed themselves from their traditional doctrines; hence it would be wrong to apply our conclusions to them.
Novitsky’s identification of Doukhobor teachings with faith in some kind of impersonal God, as well as his treatment of the doctrine of Christ not as God the Son incarnate in man but as an ordinary mortal endowed “with a divine quality of intelligence but in the highest degree” were to have tragic consequences. In the 1880s Novitsky’s book and the “Note of 1791 submitted by the Doukhobors of Ekaterinoslav Province to Governor Kakhovsky” came under the studious eye of Prince Dmitry Aleksandrovich Khilkov and formed the basis of a series of manuscripts he penned on the Doukhobor sect.
Believing the Doukhobor teachings to be virtually identical with those of their mentor, the followers of Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy were already beginning to prepare for their “missionary activity” among the Doukhobors. The Tolstoyans fanned the flames that had been dying out in Doukhobor society. The Tolstoyan dream of building the Kingdom of Truth on earth cost the Doukhobors dearly. The disenchantment felt by the Tolstoyans upon learning that they were not kindred spirits to the Doukhobors hurt them sorely and in some cases led to a breakdown of their own beliefs.
One cannot examine the doctrine regarding Christ without touching upon the question of the Virgin Mother. Without accepting the incarnation of God in the Virgin Mary’s womb and without venerating her as the Mother of God, the Doukhobors still retained her titles of Virgin and Mother of God (deva, Bogoroditsa). Mary had borne God’s anointed, Jesus, whose body had been chosen by God, which made her (perhaps not from time immemorial, and to some degree formally) the mother of the God-man. Every Doukhobor woman, bearing a man of God, a child of God embodying God’s image, is likened to Mary and in this sense she is also a mother of God.
Virginity was something the Doukhobors saw not as a family status or a physiological condition of the female organs but as purity, codified by the unpleasantness of the church’s marriage ceremony. Before being relocated to Molochnye Vody in the Tauride Province the Doukhobors were obliged to be married in churches, but did not accept the sanctity of this ceremony. It is interesting that the concept of virginity is reflected not only in the psalms but also in the Doukhobor women’s outward appearance. There is evidence by contemporary eyewitnesses dating from the period 1768-97 that Doukhobor girls did not change their dress or hairstyle after marriage, as did those of the Orthodox faith.
One question only sketchily explained in the Doukhobor teachings relates to the creation of souls. Nowhere in their psalms, in the research materials or in personal conversations was there any indication, even indirectly, of a belief in the creation of souls in a pre-material world, as stated in the “Note of 1791”. There were, however, a number of contemporary accounts of the Doukhobors’ faith in the transmigration of souls after death. This is fairly clearly stated in Psalm 79 of the Book of Life of the Doukhobors, and is also confirmed by their funereal and memorial ceremonies.
For all the emphasis on the spiritual, the Doukhobors’ teachings include no dichotomy of soul and flesh. In their view, our bodies are by no means dungeons, as is suggested by the author of the “Note of 1791”, where the soul is punished for its fall. In contrast to the soul, which is divine, the body is taken from the earth, and if one is to “walk in the flesh” and indulge the appetites, “your flesh will tarnish you as it did Adam and Eve”, but along with that, man’s body is also seen as the temple of God, the temple of the soul, and even flesh is purified by a pure spirit. Besides, it is the presence of the body that enables one to do good works, without which faith is dead. Hence the Doukhobor faith was not characterized by any special asceticism.
The Doukhobors were not averse to caring for private property acquired by honest, preferably manual labour, although greed was always to be condemned. And in order that greed should not become the stimulus of hard work and that the virtue of brotherly love should not be forgotten, Doukhobors were to help each other financially. In 1768, the Tambov Doukhobors went so far as to declare that anyone might freely take from his brother anything he had need of.
The question of the Doukhobors’ attitude toward military service did not figure significantly in the eighteenth century. Their numbers included many Cossacks: from the Zaporozhye, Don River area, Ekaterinoslav and Kuban, both soldiers and pikinery (similar to halberdiers). They all performed military service, many of them in the Russo-Turkish wars of the eighteenth century. It is known that some Doukhobors refused service in the Russo-Turkish war of 1787-91, but their motivation is not clear. The Cossack Doukhobors maintained that they were obliged to ‘defend themselves on the borders” against the enemy, but not to attack or kill. Recruits’ refusal to swear the oath of allegiance was explained on the grounds that Doukhobors in general refused to swear oaths, all the more so in church.
During police investigations the Doukhobors would declare that all people were equal, horrifying their interrogators, but this referred only to social equality and not equality in terms of spiritual value, since the Doukhobors considered themselves a step above others and less sinful. For God’s chosen people who recognized Christ as their head, no human authority was needed. However, the degree of explicitness with which they directly denied human authority varied depending upon how their relationship with such authority unfolded at any given period. The question of defence of the Empire and the Empress and the Doukhobors’ allegiance to her was tied to the degree of mercy she bestowed upon them and the freedom she allowed them to hold their services. In other words, these two questions took on much more of a political than a religious tone.
Our outline of Doukhobor teachings thus far is based primarily on documents dating from the second half of the eighteenth century. Of course this teaching was formed over the course of many decades, and its ideological origins must be sought in the second half of the seventeenth century. But where does one begin this search?
Researchers have found parallels between the teachings of the Doukhobors and those of various Christian sects. Contradictions and ambiguities in the Gospel texts have given rise to similar dissident movements, although each succeeding period has introduced its own modifications.
Among Western Protestant teachings there is no template to be found from which Doukhoborism could have been taken as an exact copy. There is no such template, for Doukhoborism selected and re-worked a whole set of ideas from Western Protestant motifs, and not just Protestant ones.
It may be concluded that the Doukhobor doctrine is closest to Polish-Lithuanian Socinianism. It is quite likely that some influence was also exerted by German Anabaptists. The question then arises as to how Socinianism and other Protestant ideas could have penetrated the hearts of so many ordinary Russians. There is no doubt that some representatives of these Western sects played a personal role in the formation of Doukhoborism.
There are legends about an aged foreigner who preached in the village of Okhochee in Sloboda-Ukraine, and about the Pole who hid in the house of the Doukhobor leader Illarion Pobirokhin in the village of Goreloye in Tambov Province. However, the most convincing evidence in favour of such contact was, strange as it may seem, the very non-Russian hairdos worn by the Doukhobor women, similar to those we discovered among women of the modern German Anabaptist sect known as the Hutterites.
In addition to direct contacts and preaching, we have reason to believe that Western Protestant ideas made their way into Russia through Ukrainian Orthodox preachers and writers who had been heavily influenced by such teachings spread throughout the Polish-Lithuanian Empire (including what is now Belarus and Western Ukraine). They may have also come through both original and translated literature produced by Orthodox and Socinian printing houses in Ukraine and Belarus. Most probably, the influence trickled in through all the channels here mentioned.
It is quite possible that the Doukhobor teachings were born out of ideas drawn from Socinian books printed on Radivil Cherny’s estate not far from Slutsk, in a hybrid language of Belarus and Church Slavonic used in the Nesvizh district – in particular from the works of Simeon Budnyj and Martin Chekhovich. The Polish-Lithuanian Socinians believed that the principal source of faith was revelation, and that the Scriptures could be understood and interpreted by anyone so gifted; hence priests and especially church hierarchies were unnecessary. God was a Spirit and must be worshipped in spirit and in truth; He paid no heed to homage from human hands. It was the human being, made in God’s image, that was to be venerated instead of icons. Jesus Christ, in their view, was an ordinary man, chosen by God. In support of this view Budnyj presented twenty-six arguments. The Holy Spirit was upon Christ, and thus he was the son of God and mankind’s only advocate before God; since he was not God, he could not offer a sacrifice of redemption.
The Socinians rejected the doctrine of original sin; they did not consider communion and baptism to be sacraments but only symbolic rituals; they did not recognize the saints and did not appeal to them for help; they maintained that faith by itself was insufficient for salvation, that good works were required; they allowed for the need to defend one’s self in war, but held attacking and killing to be wrong.
The main difference between Socinianism and Doukhoborism lay in their approaches to the substance of the Trinity and Christ. The Socinian doctrine with its rather radical basic tenets was adapted to the perception of Ukrainian Cossacks and Russian peasants who had up until recently been Orthodox, and who found it difficult to part with the tradition of a three-person God. This modification, however, did not significantly change the basic doctrine. The Belarus-Lithuanian reform movement showed a considerable radical influence on the part of German Anabaptists and Hussites, especially in respect to attitudes toward church and state, as well as a certain element of mysticism. They fomented a left-leaning tendency in Socinianism which promoted universal equality and rejected private property along with state authority and the officials who exercised it.
All these radical Protestant ideas received broad circulation in Ukraine, which at the time was strongly under the influence of Polish Catholic scholasticism. The scholastic preachers searched for hidden meaning in the Scriptures, interpreting entirely realistic subject matter as allegories and taking significant liberties with the texts in their quest for picturesque images. It is virtually impossible sometimes to determine whether their allegorical interpretations are based on the canons of scholasticism or on a rationalistic approach to a divinely inspired book.
The Moscow church authorities understandably adopted a very cautious approach to the ideas of the Ukrainian priests, whom they regarded as heretics. Some Ukrainian publications were banned from entry into Russia or even destroyed. The works of some South Russian Orthodox writers most certainly influenced the development of Doukhobor teachings.
The German economist and historian August Haxthausen, who visited the Molochnye Vody settlements in 1843, took note of two books held in great regard by the Doukhobors. One of them he described as “Key to the understanding or to the mysterious” [Klyuch k urazumeniyu i k tainstvennomu]. Novitsky mistakenly thought this was a reference to Eckartshausen’s mystical work Klyuch k tainstvam natury [“Key to the mysteries of Nature”]. In fact it was Ioannikii Galyatovsky’s Kljuch razumeniya [“Key to the understanding”], which was very popular in Ukraine and southern Russia, having gone through three editions. In the “Note of 1791” it is also mentioned that the Doukhobors read “Key to the understanding” and other ecclesiastical books.
Galyatovsky, who was constantly speaking out against the so-called Arians (as the followers of Socinianism were known), was himself accused of Arianism. Galyatovsky was particularly famous for his free interpretations of Scripture and giving a different meaning to traditional concepts – something very common in Doukhobor practice. Giving words a second meaning was characteristic not only of the scholastic school but also of Russian apocryphal literature. Similar phenomena may be noted in Galyatovsky’s works and in Doukhobor psalms and apocryphal pieces. In “Key to the understanding”, for example, Galyatovsky writes that an angel took a golden censer and filled it with fire from the altar, explaining that the censer was the body of Christ and the fire was God’s love. In one Doukhobor psalm in answer to the question “What is incense?” it is stated that “Incense is doing great works”. The dialogue continues:
The theme of the image of God in man was a favourite among the Ukrainian preachers. Under the influence of humanistic ideas, they endeavoured to help their hearers and readers grasp hold of their human destiny, believe in the possibility and necessity of self-perfection and see the divine image in themselves and their neighbour. They argued that since man is made in the image and likeness of God, and the one God contains the whole Trinity, so too the divine image in man’s soul is threefold.
In his Evangelie Uchitel’nom [“Students’ Gospel”] the Ukrainian theologian Kirill Trankvillion listed the powers of the God-like soul – will, reason, thinking – and in another place in the same book: mind, conscience and will. There is a dichotomy in the thoughts of man because of his earthly origin and divine soul: he is at once both heaven and earth.
In his Katekhizis (“Catechism”) of the end of the 17th century the well-known writer Lavrentii Zizaniya also remarked that man’s soul contains the whole Trinity: in our minds we have the spirit and the word, just as God the Father has the Spirit and the Son, and just as they are inseparable, so our soul is an integral whole. For Ioannikii Galyatovsky man’s God-likeness lay in the fact that his soul, like God, was immortal and possessed reason and will.
It was from Ukrainian religious literature that the Doukhobors borrowed the concept of the God-likeness of the human soul. Witness the following example from a Doukhobor psalm: The soul is God’s image; through it we too have threefold power in one and the same being. The powers of the human soul are: memory, reason, will. In memory we are like God the Father, in reason – like God the Son, in will – like God the Holy Spirit. Just as in the Holy Trinity there are three persons, so in the one soul there are three spiritual powers – one God.
Novitsky perceived the similarity of this psalm to the heathen beliefs of the ancient peoples of North and South America, and attributed it to the Doukhobor leader Kapustin. In fact it is taken from the writings of a Ukrainian preacher who later became Metropolitan of Rostov and a Russian saint, Dmitry Tuptalo:
…the soul is God’s image, inasmuch as it possesses a threefold power but it is one and the same being; the powers of the human soul are: memory, reason, will. In memory it is like God the Father, in reason – God the Son, in will – God the Holy Spirit. And just as in the Holy Trinity there are three persons, but not three Gods, only one God, so in the human soul there are three spiritual powers, so to speak, but not three souls, only one soul.
Dmitry Tuptalo repeatedly wrote about these three powers of the human soul at various stages of his life – “wherefore one is also obliged to glorify God in one’s own self, in the three persons of Him who exists, but in the one Deity”.
Dmitry Tuptalo also wrote that God created the soul to be like Himself: “self-governing, intelligent and immortal, companion to eternity and in union with the flesh”. The Doukhobors incorporated these words into one of their psalms. While not rejecting outward worship, Dmitry gave preference to the inner, hidden communion with God in one’s heart. He held that the Scriptures were to be understood through spiritual reasoning. Dmitry Tuptalo understood the essence of Christ in accord with Orthodox doctrine, but there are many ambiguities in his writings, many unorthodoxly arranged nuances, as well as obvious departures from Russian Orthodoxy, which made his works popular among the Doukhobors. The Doukhobor teachers also borrowed from him two splendid poetic variations on the psalms of David.
One may well ask how the affirmation of the similarity of man’s three spiritual qualities to the divine Trinity and other unorthodox concepts found their way into the writings of Dmitry Tuptalo. In 1675-77, Dmitry Tuptalo was preaching in an Orthodox monastery in Chernigov, which had belonged to Poland since 1618. In 1677-78 he preached in an Orthodox monastery in the town of Slutsk in Belarus, then part of Lithuania. It was about that time that a Calvinist pastor in Slutsk had in his service a man by the name of Jan Belobodsky, who later came to Moscow. In his Vyznanie very (Confession of faith) he admitted that he did not accept the most fundamental Orthodox doctrines, maintaining that:
…God’s image is in man and the human soul has three powers: reason, will and memory, but one and the same being: in memory it is like the Father, in reason – like the Son, in will – like the Holy Spirit; and God’s likeness in man lies in the fact that God gave man an incorporeal and immortal soul, a companion to eternity, and man can accept wisdom, grace, bliss and the vision of God.
At a church council meeting in 1681, Belobodsky was condemned as a heretic. The influence of Polish religious tendencies of the period are palpably evident in the writings of Kirill Trankvillion, Ioannikii Galyatovsky and Dmitry Tuptalo, who succeeded each other in turn as Archimandrite of the Eletsky Monastery in Chernigov.
Protestants of various persuasions who reject the external church and call worship of icons and the cross “idol-worship”, often support their arguments by referring to the Biblical story of the three Babylonian lads:
Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (also known, respectively, as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego — see Daniel 1:6,7; 3:1-30). They were thrown into a “burning fiery furnace” for their refusal to worship an idol, but were miraculously saved. Hans Hutter, the founder of the Hutterite sect, compared himself to these lads as he was led to his death at the stake. Galyatovsky’s “Key to the understanding” includes many references to the story. The Doukhobors recognized therein an all-too-familiar pattern.
In response to prosecutors’ questions as to where they had acquired their “criminal thoughts”, the Doukhobors would sometimes say that they had been enlightened by the Lord, but sometimes admitted that they had heard them from a priest or a sexton or learnt them from some church books, without specifying which ones. They claimed to have obtained these books from country preachers. These books were being used for proselytizing and stirring up people who were inclined to reflection on religious matters.
For assimilating and reflecting on new religious teachings, as well as for working out new religious systems, a certain degree of literacy, preparation and Scriptural knowledge was required. There was no prohibition in Russia against individual parishioners reading the Bible on their own, but this became possible for ordinary people only after the creation of the Russian Bible Society at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It should be taken into account, moreover, that few peasants were literate. It is likely, therefore, that the Doukhobor teachings must have come through the ideas of the lower ranks of clergy, monks and lay brethren – i.e., people acquainted with the Scriptures.
In southern Russia in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries there were many itinerant preachers, usually a wandering preacher or monk, spreading dissident ideas. One of these may well have been Grigory Skovoroda, whose writings show a good deal in common with the ideas of Dmitry Tuptalo, as well as with Doukhobor teachings, confirming the widespread circulation of Protestant religious ideas in Ukraine.
The followers of the Doukhobor teachings were recruited from the ranks of Orthodox parishioners. The promoters of the new teachings, therefore, endeavoured to maintain the popular traditional forms of psalms and catechisms. For their psalms the Doukhobors made extensive use of Russian popular religious verse, including those by Ukrainian writers, as well as Polish canticles they translated into Russian.
The evidence here presented, we believe, is sufficient to conclude that the Doukhobor teachings may trace their origin to the Protestant teachings and dissident ideas of the seventeenth century, widely circulated in the territories of the Polish Republic and popular among Ukrainian Orthodox writers.
The organization of Doukhoborism as a sect began not long thereafter in Sloboda-Ukraine (approximately the same territory now occupied by Kharkov Province in eastern Ukraine), probably toward the end of the seventeenth century or at the beginning of the eighteenth, and paralleled the development of a religious system.
Sloboda-Ukraine can be considered the cradle of Doukhoborism for several reasons. In the seventeenth century it was populated by Ukrainians who had fled there from Polish domains, bringing with them their Protestant dissident ideas. Sloboda-Ukraine was situated far from Russia’s centre, and for a long time neither secular nor religious authorities were able to exert any meaningful control over the lives of its population. It was a place where the libertarian traditions of the Zaporozhye Cossacks held sway.
In the 1680s Russian military-service people began moving to Sloboda-Ukraine as odnodvortsy (“smallholders”). They came primarily from the southern Great Russian provinces to protect the empire’s southern flank from the Poles and Crimean Tatars. In return for their service the Cossacks and smallholders were granted land – not, like the peasants, on terms of community ownership without right of sale or inheritance, but land which was both private property and inheritable – like the land granted to noblemen, only without peasant serfs.
The fast-growing settlements were populated with a mixture of Russians and Ukrainians. The smallholders and especially the Cossacks on the southern flank who were risking their lives defending the Russian fatherland felt a keen pride and awareness of their self-worth, as well as a spirit of freedom. Attempts by the state to infringe upon their rights, to turn them into peasant wards of the state, fostered a mood of opposition on the part of these social classes and prepared the soil for reception to a teaching which elevated people’s sense of self-worth, proclaimed universal equality and denied the need for authority and an external church.
Another fertile ground for adoption of Doukhobor teachings was to be found among the Don Cossacks, especially since their territory bordered on Sloboda-Ukraine. Another border territory was Novorossiya (“New Russia”), which at the beginning of the eighteenth century witnessed an influx of Ukrainian and Russian smallholders. In the 1780s, this group gave rise to the Ekaterinoslav Cossacks. History shows that the growth of religious pluralism in any given territory is determined by the intensity of missionary activity, the socio-psychological makeup of the population affected – i.e., its readiness to assimilate new teachings – and the particular characteristics of individual preachers.
Russian smallholders who had settled in the south and adopted the Doukhobor teachings also brought the new doctrine with them when they visited their former places of residence. There is no doubt that Doukhobor teachers from Sloboda-Ukraine were carrying on missionary activity in neighbouring territories at the beginning of the eighteenth century.
The question naturally arises as to how Doukhoborism became so strongly rooted in the Tambov and Voronezh areas. At the beginning of the eighteenth century these areas were flooded with a great many Ukrainians (or Cherkassians, as they were called), who could have been not only carriers but also preachers of the new teachings. According to a number of accounts, Doukhoborism was introduced to Russian villages by Ukrainians who had come in search of work.
In addition, in the second half of the eighteenth century, the population of Tambov Province included a great many smallholders who were characterized, as mentioned above, by a special social status and psychological makeup. Doukhoborism flourished almost exclusively among the free classes. Later, during the second half of Catherine the Greats reign, several settlements of state and noblemen’s peasants in the Tambov and Voronezh Provinces (where Doukhobors were also living) were handed over to their residents as private property. Hence the number of serfs among the Doukhobors was extremely limited.
As far as Doukhobors in other territories are concerned – places where they were discovered to have resided at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries (e.g., Astrakhan, Tauride and Caucasus Provinces) – the majority of these were migrants from Sloboda-Ukraine, Novorossiya or Tambov Province. The Penza Doukhobors lived in territories formerly belonging to or adjoining Tambov Province. The Belgorod district of Kursk Province, where Doukhobors were found residing at the end of the eighteenth century, bordered on Sloboda-Ukraine. Doukhobors were exiled and served forced-labour terms in Arkhangelsk and Ekaterinburg Provinces, as well as in the Baltic Sea region, but this does not mean the sect actually grew there. The Doukhobors were actually rooted in an extremely limited geographical area, attracting far fewer numbers (because of the radicalness of their teachings) than, for example, the Molokans or Khlysts.
Active missionary campaigns on the part of Doukhobor preachers began in the 1730s and 1740s. It has been said that Doukhobor proselytizing in the village of Okhochee in Sloboda-Ukraine in the 1740s was led by an unknown foreigner, a retired non-commissioned officer. There are indirect indications that at this time Doukhoborism, probably including some established organization, was already prevalent in the Voronezh area. There is documentary evidence showing that Doukhobors were living in the Tambov district of the Voronezh area in 1762, and that the Doukhoborism prevalent there in the 1760s and 1770s had the status of an actual sect rather than simply an amorphous religious persuasion.
According to F.V. Livanov, who had access to archives that have since been lost, in 1733 there appeared at the home of Illarion Pobirokhin, who lived in the Tambov village of Goreloye, a Pole named Semen (or, in other sources, a “Polish Jew”). The word Pole, however, could refer to a Russian who had fled to or been imprisoned in Poland or Lithuania; it could also refer to a Ukrainian from western Ukraine, which at that time was under Polish domination. Of course, he might have been a real Pole or a Polish (or Ukrainian) Jew.
Apparently he was an itinerant preacher who had converted the then young Pobirokhin to his faith, and the two preached for some time together in the Tambov district. The argument that Pobirokhin was not the first Doukhobor leader, but had received the teaching already formulated, is supported by a legend recalled by elderly Doukhobors about Pobirokhin receiving all the teaching and wisdom from his saintly father, who had in turn received it from sources unknown.
Is it not possible that this Pole who preached in the Tambov area and the retired officer from Okhochee in Sloboda-Ukraine might be one and the same person? Both were foreigners and preached at roughly the same time.
And this brings to mind the Doukhobor legend of one of their early leaders named Edom. The name is not included in the Doukhobor psalm about their “righteous progenitors” – i.e., their leaders – but it does figure in other psalms, for example, in those declaring that Doukhobors adopted “marriage – holy, mysterious and divine – from Edom, his holy soul”. Edom is a variant of the Biblical name Esau – i.e., the son of Isaac the patriarch, whom the Doukhobors revere as wise, holy and immortal. This legend and its inclusion in the psalms may be seen as confirming the account of the Polish Jew who taught truths to the Doukhobors in the village of Goreloye.
Another Doukhobor legend says that Illarion Pobirokhin spent his youth in Kiev, where he built an Orthodox cathedral. It is possible that the young Illarion might have been in Kiev, and might have travelled through the villages of Sloboda-Ukraine where he could have become acquainted with the Doukhobor teachings, along with the preacher (Edom) with whom he would later appear in Tambov and eventually replace.
It is known that in 1765 the Tambov Doukhobors were paying special homage to Pobirokhin. Interestingly enough, Pobirokhin was never registered as a resident of Goreloye; he lived there illegally. After 1765 we lose track of him, and his name is not mentioned in a single court case. Apparently he moved away from Goreloye to some other place, probably to Ekaterinoslav Province, where the centre of the Doukhobor faith also moved to in the 1770s – specifically, to the village of Bogdanovka.
There seems to be no reason to consider Siluan Kolesnikov, mentioned in the “Note of 1791”, a “Doukhobor Christ” as Pobirokhin was held to be, and Edom before him. Kolesnikov was simply an ordinary Doukhobor preacher. Following Pobirokhin there appeared a new leader – Savely Kapustin, who is often referred to as Pobirokhin’s son, though most likely a “spiritual son”. There is reason to believe that Edom, Pobirokhin and Kapustin were all generally recognized Doukhobor leaders, whose collective activity spanned the whole of the 18th century.
The level of organization of the Doukhobor sect in the 1760s and 1770s is indeed amazing: passport control, poor roads and a lack of means of communication notwithstanding, the Doukhobors of various regions knew where their fellow sect members lived; they had common financial resources which they could use to bribe their members’ way out of prison and afford them monetary assistance; as in secret conspiratorial societies they had passwords and degrees of admission into secret circles. Unlike the Molokans, the Doukhobors had no dissidents. All of which testifies to the unusually strong sacred authority of the leader.
The questions surrounding the early period of Doukhobor history are far from being exhausted. If we delve into other periods of their history there is no doubt that we shall find a similarly vast area ripe for scientific research. Unfortunately, Doukhobor history has not only been poorly studied, but it has been largely mythologized, and we shall be still breaking down myths and filling in the gaps well into the twenty-first century.
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).
To order copies of the book in which this article was originally published, The Doukhobor Centenary in Canada, A Multi-Disciplinary Perspective on their Unity and Diversity, contact: Penumbra Press, Box 940, Manotick, Ontario, K4M 1A8, Tel: (613) 692-5590, Web: http://www.penumbrapress.ca.
For more online articles about the Doukhobors by Svetlana A. Inikova, see Doukhobor Holidays and Rituals in the Caucasus as well as Leo Tolstoy’s Teachings and the Sons of Freedom in Canada.