Spiritual Origins and the Beginnings of Doukhobor History

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 (devaBogoroditsa). 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.

Additional Information on Doukhobor History

by Vladimir Ivanovich Savva

The Russian province of Sloboda-Ukraine (Kharkov) is widely considered the birthplace of the Doukhobor faith. However, in the late 18th century, Doukhobors in that province lived in difficult times. During the reigns of Catherine the Great (1762-1796) and Tsar Paul (1796-1802), hundreds of Sloboda-Ukraine Doukhobors were subjected to surveillance, arrest, interrogation, extortion, imprisonment, torture and exile on account of their faith, which was considered ‘heretical’ by church and state authorities. The following manuscript offers a remarkably rare, detailed and authentic glimpse into the lives of Sloboda-Ukraine Doukhobors, and their fate as victims of religious persecution.  It also contains a wealth of personal information about individual Doukhobors that is of tremendous genealogical value to family researchers.  Reproduced from Vladimir Ivanovich Savva’s “Iz slobodskoi-ukrainskoi stariny kontsa XVIII v. (zametki i materialy)” published as part of “Izvestiya Istoriko-Filologicheskogo Instituta Knyazya Bezborodko v Nezhine” (tom XXIII, 1907), it is made available for the first time in English translation in this Doukhobor Genealogy Website exclusive. Translation and editorial notes by Jack McIntosh. Afterword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Preface by the Author

Thanks to the kindness of E. M. Ivanov, archivist of the Kharkov Historical-Philological Society, I have had the opportunity to acquaint myself with several files on the Doukhobors that have been transferred to the archives of that society from the archive of the Kharkov Provincial Administration.

The data taken by me from the archival documents supplement to some extent published information about Doukhobors in Sloboda Ukraine, which is considered to be their land of origin (Orest Novitsky, Dukhobortsy, 2nd ed., page 21; Professor A. S. Lebedev, Dukhobortsy v Slobodskoi Ukraine, page 1).


The case of the Doukhobor Roman Skripnichenkov and his wife Evdokia opens with the report from P. F. Saburov, City Governor of Kharkov, to the Governor of Sloboda-Ukraine.

On July 27, 1799, the City Governor informed the provincial governor in this “secret” report as follows:

“When I was present in the jail where Doukhobors were being riveted into fetters, the wife of a soldier in General Glazenap’s regiment, Evdokia Skripnichenkova, came to the jail accompanied by her three minor children and, when asked why she had come, she declared herself as belonging to the Doukhobor heresy, and for this reason I subjected her to interrogation. Herewith to the consideration of Your Excellency I have the honour hereby to report that the said soldier’s wife Skripnichenkova, along with her children, are being held in the jail under special secret and secure guard.”

What it was that prompted Evdokia Skripnichenkova voluntarily to admit her adherence to Doukhobor beliefs is revealed by the results of her interrogation. While living in Kharkov, she had travelled to visit Doukhobors in the village of Prokhody. At the time that these Doukhobors were confined in the Kharkov jail, she came to bring them alms [i.e. money or food given freely to relieve the needy]. When she was not admitted to see her “brethren”, as she called them during interrogation, she referred to herself as a Doukhobor, supposing that in that case they would allow her to visit the imprisoned Doukhobors.

About herself Evdokia testified as follows:

“I am 27 years old. As to where I was born, I do not know. I grew up in the city of Sumy. I am in my second marriage. I can read but do not know how to write. At first I upheld the faith of my parents, the Greco-Russian faith. Soon after I married for the first time I moved with my mother and the whole family into Prusovka sloboda (“free village”), belonging to Prince Prozorov, in Pavlograd uezd (“district”), Novorossiysk province, where, taught by Doukhobors, I secretly adopted their doctrine from my husband. When he died I moved to the sloboda of Troitskaya, belonging to the same Prince Prozorov, and there married, for the second time, to Prince Prozorov’s subject, the Doukhobor Roman Skripnichenkov, to whom I was married in church by the priest.”

While following Doukhobor teachings, she and her husband attended Confession and the Eucharist once a year, not voluntarily, but under pressure from neighbours of the Greco-Russian [i.e. Orthodox] faith. In 1798, for his confession of Doukhobor beliefs, her husband, at the insistence of the priest in Troitskaya sloboda, was sent by the landowner to the recruiting station in the city of Pavlograd. When he was dispatched to the dragoons regiment in Kharkov, his wife went there also, moving into army quarters. From Kharkov, Evdokia travelled to join Doukhobors in Prokhody sloboda.

When asked why she had visited Kharkov Jail, where the Doukhobors were being held, and why she had declared herself as belonging to the Doukhobor faith, she replied that “at the jail I had a small trade selling provisions and often brought alms to the Doukhobors, and when one day they would not let me into the jail to see my brethren, that is, the Doukhobors, then for being a Doukhobor woman, they put me under guard.”

To the question of whether there were Doukhobors in the city of Sumy and in the settlements of Prusovka and Troitskaya in Novorossiysk Province, where Evdokia had been living, she answered that she did not know if there are Doukhobors in Sumy and vicinity, but in Novorossiysk Province there are Doukhobors living in Bogdanovka and Mikol’skaya [i.e. Nikolskoye] slobodas, where there are over fifty Doukhobor households, several in Prusovka sloboda, three households in the village of Aleksandrovka and two in the village of Tokmats.

On July 28th of that year, 1799, after Evdokia Skripnichenkova’s interrogation, she was sent along with the evidence taken from her to Major-General Glazenap, in whose regiment her husband was serving.

The documents do not indicate how Evdokia supported herself and her three minor children while living in Kharkov. There is no information to support the contention that Evdokia’s husband, a soldier, was giving her money or that her parents, who were living in Novorossiya, were helping her. It is possible that Evdokia obtained means for feeding herself and her children by her “small trade selling provisions” that she conducted at the jail, and from this money she managed to provide alms to her “brethren”, as she referred to the Doukhobors confined in the Kharkov jail.

During questioning, Roman Skripnichenkov, Evdokia’s husband, testified as follows:

“I am thirty-seven years old, but I do not remember where I came from originally, except that at the age of about nine I left my father and mother; I have heard that I was born in the village of Gushchin, Kurochinskii okrug (“administrative district”), in Kursk Province, and was transported by some sort of merchant whose name I do not know to the territory now called Novorossiysk Province, where I lived for over twenty-seven years in various places, up to the time this year, 1799, when I was sent as a recruit for assignment to military service in the Glazenap Dragoons Regiment. I do not know how to read or write, apart from some divine prayers and psalms from the psalter taught me by my wife Evdokia, who lives with me in the regiment; I attended Confession and the Holy Eucharist once a year conducted by Greco-Russian priests, voluntarily, not by compulsion, only now in the year, 1799, because I was turned over to the army as a recruit, I have no desire for that.”

Evdokia Skripnichenkova testified that she and her husband attended Confession and the Eucharist under compulsion, whereas her husband gave evidence that he had done so voluntarily, losing his desire only upon being conscripted into the army. Is it not the case that he lost his desire because it was at the priest’s insistence that he was conscripted for upholding Doukhobor beliefs?

To the question “How do you understand the Most High and true Lord God, and His holy saints, and likewise also icons and the image of the cross of our Lord?” Roman answered: “I understand the Most High God, that God exists and I worship Him, but I do not believe in holy saints, and do not at all revere their icons and images of the cross.”

To the question “Have you for a long time set yourself in this stance of belief which is damaging to the Greco-Russian faith” and “How do you regard the icon of the Most Holy Mother of God,” Roman testified as follows: “On my own I have been convinced from my youth in this blossoming of faith from divine books read to me by various people; I do not revere the icon of the Most Holy Mother of God, but understand her to be just a being who is less than God.”

Roman’s interrogation ends with his testimony in response to questions as to whether he believes in serving the Sovereign and whether he knows of Doukhobors in the regiment in which he was serving. To the second question Roman answered in the negative, remarking that in Novorossiysk Province there are “quite a few” Doukhobors “in several villages, especially in Bogdanovka and Mikol’skaya,” and in answer to the first question he testified:

“As to my belief in military service, although I took the oath, I kissed the cross and the Bible not believing them to be true, but considering myself under compulsion, and also my military service I am enduring without zeal or enthusiasm, but under orders, and have been kept in isolation because of my intention to run away.”

Upon the completion of Roman Skripnichenkov’s interrogation (the transcript of it is marked “July 1799” without giving the exact date), Major-General Glazenap informed the Novorossiysk provincial governor of the places where, according to Skripnichenkov’s testimony, Doukhobors were living, sent a report on him to General Field-Marshal Count Saltykov, and proposed to the Kharkov governor that the Skripnichenkovs be held in jail. Here they were kept apart from other prisoners.

The Skripnichenkovs’ fate was soon decided. Count Saltykov sent a report about them to Tsar Paul I, from whom he received an order from Gatchina [the imperial palace] dated August 22, 1799: “I order that the dragoon Skripnichenkov and his wife Evdokia, on account of their self-confession that they uphold the Doukhobor heresy be punished with the knout and, after having their nostrils slit, that they be exiled to hard labour in Ekaterinburg.”[1]


In this file from 1798 on the Doukhobors in the archives of the Kharkov Provincial Administration, there are documents relating to the fate of two Kharkov Doukhobors, Aleksey Golovin and Stepan Golishchev, which were published in Professor A. S. Lebedev’s book Dukhobortsy v Slobodskoi-Ukraine [1890].[2]

Aleksey Golovin, who was living in the village of Ternovoye, Kharkov okrug, first appeared in court in 1793, while yet a minor, accused of deviation from Orthodoxy. At that time the Kharkov Conscience Court, taking into consideration the age of the accused, directed that he be turned over to the custody of the Kharkov Public School in the hope that after being taught and instructed there, he would turn away from his heretical views. But Golovin, as Professor Lebedev put it, did not live up to the hopes of the Conscience Court that he would convert to Orthodoxy through education.[3] In 1798 his guilt was established, as is evident from the memorandum of Feoktist, Bishop of Belgorod, to Teplov, Governor of Sloboda-Ukraine, not only of deviation from Orthodoxy, but also of propagating his heresy. On February 27, 1798, the bishop wrote to the governor concerning Golovin:

“The Doukhobor heresy detected among the odnodvortsy (“smallholders”) in the villages of Saltovskoye Ternovoye and Bolshiye Prokhody last year, 1797, would have come to an end, but now the smallholders Aleksey Golovin and Stepan Golishchev from Ternovoye, having come to Belgorod, have been spreading the aforementioned Doukhobor heresy, in particular: about making the sign of the cross, they have been saying that crossing oneself with the hand is not true prayer; about the Honourable Cross they have been saying that the living cross shines within us; as for icons, they have been affirming that an icon is what the Son of Nazareth taught about God, and they have been spreading other absurdities about Orthodox Church dogmas and rituals; such audacious behavior is all the more dangerous in that one of them, Aleksey Golovin, according to his own testimony, attended classes in Kharkov in mathematics and other sciences; I admonished both of them privately in their cells and also in the Consistory to abandon their ridiculous delusions; but they rejected all my exhortations, and after leaving the Consistory they have not appeared before me again, and I do not know where they are now; by decree of the Most Holy Governing Synod it was ordered on March 2, 1773 that those deluded persons who upon exhortation will not return to Orthodoxy be dispatched to temporal teams for proper investigation so as to protect simple folk against the false Doukhobor beliefs of the aforementioned odnodvortsy Golovin and Golishchev; I hereby report for Your Excellency’s consideration.”

Further, the high church official brought to the attention of the governor that the parish priest did not admit Golovin and Golishchev to the Eucharist “on account of their unrepentant heretical delusion,” for which they submitted a complaint; he reports that he has instructed the Kharkov Archpriest Andrey Prokopovich to set Golovin and Golishchev on the true path and requests the governor that if Golovin and Golishchev “repent and return to Orthodoxy, he should order that they be obliged by a signed pledge never to depart from the true faith and not to influence anyone to adopt their present delusion.”

The bishop was hoping that the archpriest would succeed where he had failed.[4] The archpriest was successful, but he admonished the deluded individuals after they had been treated in an insane asylum.

After receiving the memorandum from the bishop, the governor on March 2nd sent a secret instruction to the Kharkov Lower Land Court to dispatch to him without delay the odnodvortsy Golovin and Golishchev of the village of Ternovoye. The bishop replied in his memorandum that Golovin and Golishchev were to be dispatched to Kharkov and presented before Archpriest Prokopovich; if those presented, wrote the governor, remain in their delusion after admonition, measures will be undertaken “to bring to an end the frenzy they have caused.” On March 10th, the Kharkov Lower Land Court reported to the governor, that Golovin and Golishchev were being escorted to him “with respect to the requirements pertaining to them.” That same day, March 10th, the governor prepared the proposal to Archpriest Prokopovich “to set on the true path” Golovin and Golishchev who were being sent to him, and if they “from their delusion return to Orthodoxy, and of their delusion make due repentance,” that they be sent back.

It is not clear from the file on Golovin and Golishchev whether they were dispatched on March 10th to Archpriest Prokopovich; however, it is evident from the report of the governor to the procurator general, quoted below, that Golovin and Golishchev spent time in the Ecclesiastical Administration, which “having heard from those two persons principles contrary to the foundation of the church, was occasioned no little trouble.” When he found out about the difficulty the Ecclesiastical Administration was having, the governor, as he put it, advised that “they be declared as having lost their mind and their faculties,” after which it was ordered that Golovin and Golishchev be put in an insane asylum. These deluded persons remained in the asylum until about June 23rd, when the asylum director, Dr. Keppen[5], reported to the governor that Golovin and Golishchev “have been in the insane asylum on account of insanity, and in my opinion are now restored to health.” When the governor received this opinion from the Doctor as to the condition of Golovin and his friend, he proposed to Archpriest Prokopovich that Golovin and Golishchev be given needed admonition to make sure “that they in fact are in their right minds,” and to release them to go home, having instructed the priest in the village of Ternovoye “to keep the indicated odnodvortsy Golishchev and Golovin under observation in accordance with the duties incumbent upon him.”

This time admonition was not without effect. On July 9th Archpriest Prokopovich reported to the governor: “the odnodvortsy Stefan Golishchev and Aleksey Golovin from the village of Ternovoye who were sent under escort from Your Excellency to me for admonition in the Ecclesiastical Administration have been admonished by me in accordance with the report sent to me by the Right Reverend Feoktist, Bishop of Belgorod and Kursk; during exhortation they promised to abandon their delusion and fulfill all that the Holy Church requires, as to which they, in accordance with the Decree of July 16, 1722 were obliged to sign pledges, and in accordance with Your Excellency’s instruction they were released to go home, and of this it is my duty to inform His Grace and also Your Excellency as I hereby most respectfully report.”[6]

As a result of this report, the governor proposed to the Kharkov Lower Land Court that Golovin and Golishchev be restored to their place of residence.

Golovin and Golishchev’s later fate is not indicated in their files. From the governor’s report to the procurator general, which is preserved in handwritten form and dated January 8th, 1799, it is clear that the governor did not believe in their sincerity, and that during 1798 a considerable number of Doukhobors had been exposed in Sloboda Ukraine province.

“It is already known to the Secret Expedition,” reported the governor to the procurator general, “all that took place before 1797 with respect to cases concerning the schismatics known as Doukhobors living in many villages in this province. During 1797 with respect to discovered occurrences, I was obliged to submit reports dated October 20th and November 10th of that year, enclosing notes on the principles they observe and everything that in accordance with my duty followed, without leaving anything out. According to those two reports of mine, in response to which I received two secret memoranda from Your Excellency’s predecessor, His Excellency Prince Aleksey Borisovich Kurakin, with the said true copies to Your Majesty herewith I have the honour to deliver.  In the course of the year just past, 1798, in neighbouring Kursk Province, the smallholders Golishchev and Golovin from the village of Ternovoye in this province were apprehended and after being delivered to the Belgorod Ecclesiastical Consistory, were escorted from there to the Ecclesiastical Administration here, which caused no little difficulty when from those two men principles were heard that are contrary to the establishment of the Church; when I found out about this I advised that they be declared insane, as they appear to be, as having lost their minds and reason. After that, as soon as the aforementioned persons had been brought under escort from the Ecclesiastical Administration to me, I ordered[7] that they be taken to the insane asylum, where, after being there less than three months, although I think they pretended to repent, answering when dispatched to the Ecclesiastical Administration in a manner approximating what was required, they were dispatched in peace to their own homes, in conformity with Your Highness’s will as made known to me in the injunction.”

Later on the governor asked for instructions as to the conduct of the case that arose in the Kharkov District Court, which, in the governor’s opinion, “came about because of the incompetence shown by the village priest[8] in summoning a large number of these dissidents to church and demanding of them assent to those points which he should have known beforehand they would stubbornly resist, not having been prepared individually and privately by exhortation.[9]” In conclusion the governor cites his two reports presented in 1797 (October 20th and November 10th) to Procurator-General Prince A. B. Kurakin. A draft of one of these reports, dated 1797, is preserved in the file on the Doukhobors. As it is of interest, I am presenting it as it has been preserved (Appendix 1).


As is evident from the reports of the Izium and Akhtyr district police chiefs to A. G. Teplov, Governor of Sloboda-Ukraine Province, they had made inquiries, in fulfillment of the governor’s secret order [i.e. the “Secret Expedition”] of November 4th, 1797 “to gather intelligence as secretly as possible around the settlements, especially through the village priests, as to whether there are among the inhabitants persons who have strayed into the so-called Doukhobor schism.”

Unfortunately, the archive does not contain reports from other police chiefs of Sloboda-Ukraine Province; only the reports of the Izium and Akhtyr police chiefs have been preserved. Reporting on the inquiries about Doukhobors they had carried out, both police chiefs presented the governor the results of these investigations in the uezds (“districts”) entrusted to them.

The Izium police chief, Fesenko, reported on January 7, 1798 that Doukhobors had been found in the villages of Shandrigolova and Novokrasnyanka, and he presented a list of Doukhobors “with an explanation of the activities uncovered by the priests as evidence of their prodigality.” In this list it was indicated that in the khutor (“farmstead”) of Kuzminskiy, one and a half versts [an imperial Russian unit of measure equal to 1.07 kilometers] from the sloboda of Shandrigolova in Izium uezd, a “nest of the schismatic sect” was to be found on the property of the landowner Vasily Filip’ev consisting of “Mavra Kuzminichna, a teacher of the heresy, the said Filip’ev’s unmarried aunt, and her helper in teaching heresy, Vasily Prokofiev,” rumoured to be a runaway soldier, who was living not far from the landowner’s homestead in his pasture. Belonging to the sect was Mavra Kuzminichna’s nephew, who lived with his family in Kuzminsky khutor, and several other persons who had moved there from the city of Chiguev, among whom a widow is named.

According to the police chief’s report, thirteen odnodvortsy (Russians, judging by their surnames), had arrived on foot or by conveyance “to practice and be taught in the heresy,” of which the majority came with their families, and two women (one of them a widow with children) from Derilovsky, Vipolzov, Kolodyazey and Osvyanikov khutors. According to the chief’s report, the sectarians “shun churches, do not attend Confession and the Holy Sacraments, and bury their own by themselves; moreover, rumour has it that they quietly send their newborns to the priests to be baptized, but then, not satisfied with that, they re-baptize not only their babies, but also the old men and women who join the sect.”

In the settlement of Novokrasnyanskoye there proved to be persons deviating from the Orthodox Church, according to the police chief’s report: eight men (mostly with families), six widows, two married women and one spinster. The chief noted the following information about them:

“These people have not been to Confession or the Holy Eucharist for four years, and when the priest carrying out his duties comes to their homes with the cross and prayer, they not only do not pay due respect to the Honourable and Life-giving Cross, but they even hide from the priest; moreover many of the residents have assured us that all the above-listed persons gather at various times in the home of one of the villagers, Ivan son of Petr Roldugin [Ivan Petrovich Roldugin], and perform some sort of prayers, from which his, (that is, Roldugin’s) neighbour the Bakhmut meshchanin (“small trader”) Nikita son of Ivan Suravtsov [Nikita Ivanovich Suravtsov] is able to conclude that the above-mentioned are schismatics or Doukhobors, chief among them being the said Ivan Roldugin. That is all he [Nikita] can testify about the sect; he cannot explain more about their activities, as they are carried on in the greatest secrecy.”

The Akhtyr district police chief, Captain Boyarsky, reported to the governor on April 16, 1798 that he, carrying out the governor’s order, “in all the villages of Akhtyr uezd through the parish priests had carried out a secret investigation, and that in their parishes there is nobody who has strayed into schisms, and signed statements have been taken from them.” Only from the village of Dernovaya the priest reported that Lieutenant-Colonel R. S. Efim’ev does not attend church, “does not attend Confession in the Holy Lenten period or partake of the Holy Sacraments, and does not observe other sacraments of the church; however, it is impossible to know what religious belief he adheres to, as he has not declared it to the priest.” The police chief reported to the governor that Efim’ev has given him neither a verbal nor a written explanation of the reasons for not attending church.


Preserved in the file on the Doukhobors in the archive of the Kharkov Provincial Administration is an “Inventory of the economic condition of the Doukhobors who by Royal Injunction were returned to their own locations in 1801 in the districts of Kharkov, Izium and Zmiev in Sloboda-Ukraine Province.”

This inventory, signed by Sloboda-Ukraine Governor Zilbergarnish, was compiled by decree of Alexander I; the Tsar wrote about this, his order to the Sloboda-Ukraine governor on November 27, 1801 in a rescript to his senators Lopukhin and Neledinskiy-Meletskiy, who at that time had been inspecting Sloboda-Ukraine Province: “I am instructing him (the Sloboda-Ukraine governor) to look into their [the Doukhobors returned from exile in the Baltic and Siberia] condition and having described their needs, to report to me as to whether they have homes, and if they do not, how much will be needed for their construction, so that it will be possible to provide them soon with the needed assistance.”[10]

When he received the governor’s report on the needs of the Doukhobors – “Opis’ khozyaistvennomu sostoyaniyu dukhobortsev” (“Inventory of the economic condition of the Doukhobors”), Alexander I on February 13, 1802 directed Sloboda Ukraine Governor Artakov, Zilbergarnish’s successor:

“With respect to the report of your predecessor on the needs of the Doukhobors residing in the province entrusted to you who have been brought to ruin by being exiled, I decree that one thousand five hundred fifty rubles be released to you from the cabinet, which I assign you to distribute in accordance with the list enclosed herewith in such a manner that this money will in all probability reach the hands of everyone. At the same time inform them that this assistance is given to them without need to repay, and is not to be counted within the amounts designated for them in my decree of last January 25th which were given you on the occasion of their resettlement.”

Accompanying this order is a copy of the “Inventory of the economic condition of the Doukhobors” presented by Governor Zilbergarnish to Alexander I.

Brought to ruin by their exile, many Doukhobors, as indicated in the inventory, “had nothing” when they returned to their previous places of residence. Having arrived at their previous locations around the middle of summer, when planting time was already past, and most of them not having cattle, the Doukhobors had to be concerned first and foremost with building habitation for themselves. The returned Doukhobors were eking out provisions for themselves, as the inventory expresses it, “by hand-made wares and labour”, but some of them had to resort to obtaining bread from rural stores on credit.

The “Inventory of the economic condition of the Doukhobors,” which gives a picture of their material circumstances upon their return from exile, is presented in full in Appendix 2.


Appendix 1

“It has come to my attention that in two villages of Kharkov District in the province entrusted to me, the villages of Saltovoye Ternovoye and Prokhody, there are several families of schismatics of a particular kind of delusion, called by the name Doukhobors, of the kind which back in the rule of the then-governor here, Prince Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin, were subjected to various investigations, to the extent of a secret expedition; several of the ones who were older and had fallen farther from the true path were transported here, of which two persons were sent away and their present whereabouts is unknown; many were put into the army, and the others released to their homes after many admonitions from the clergy and it having been reported that they had returned again to the truth.

I ordered the elders in these not insignificant settlements to keep a watch on these persons who had already been exposed; several days ago the village headman of the village of Saltovskoye Ternovoye appeared along with other village leaders, announcing that apparently several of those called Doukhobors are again meeting together, again inviting other peasants into their homes, and that they [i.e. Doukhobors], having shown themselves to be acting suspiciously, they [i.e. the village leaders], in accordance with the order issued to them, are doing their duty by informing the authorities; the Provincial magistrate has also notified me of this.

As a consequence, I detached, having submitted a secret proposal to the Kharkov Land Court, the aforementioned Captain of Police and Assessor to ascertain as imperceptibly as possible the truth and to submit detailed lists of the number of souls of both sexes, and as to whether these schismatics are again inviting into their ceremonial gatherings any of their fellow-villagers and whether they are trying to influence such persons to think in accordance with their principles, which they however maintain in secret; also that they ascertain whether there are any who have left for Kursk Province or closer by, what their names are and of which families, and as to the externalities of the schism.

The Kharkov Land Court informed me in their report number 2524-m of the 13th of this October that pursuant to my order, all possible investigations have been carried out in the villages of Saltovskoye Ternovoye and Prokhody, but the inhabitants and priests there declared unanimously that those referred to among them as Doukhobors are those who previously were called that, but now those same persons go to church and this year during Lent were at Confession and the Holy Eucharist, and that there is no clear proof that they now have been acting against the Christian faith openly; as for surveillance of their actions, as before, so now, it has been confirmed in the most stringent manner by the elected Land Court there to whose members several peasants seemed suspicious, but they were [merely] found conversing with persons named as Doukhobors. In other settlements, as well as those in Kursk Province adjacent to Kharkov Province, nobody has reported the presence of Doukhobors in their district.

Fulfilling my duty to keep an unwavering watch on all that is going on around the Province, I have deemed it necessary to report to Your Excellency what has been happening, appending a copy of the list submitted to me by the Kharkov police captain with the report from the Land Court on the number and names of persons in the two settlements who are included in the designation Doukhobors, at the same time reporting also that the former Ekaterinoslav Province, now Novorossiysk Province, is full of people of this schism, of which the authorities there should be aware, who, as they say, were infected from certain stanitsas (“Cossack villages”) in the Don area, and settlements here by one sentenced convict, who has been sent to hard labour, and who due to illness lay for days in the village of Prokhody.

With those Doukhobors of the previous number who sat in prisons, with those four persons I privately spoke with and questioned, having summoned them to see me on various other grounds: I noted from their outer demeanor much inclination to peaceful and orderly communal life, strict attention to their farming and their families, as well as in their actions, their abhorrence of amusements, of drunkenness, and in their behaviour toward other villagers; I know also that they pay their taxes meticulously, are not manifestly disobedient to the authorities, but, it seems, in a large group are extremely inclined to rebellion and to unconstrained performance of their secret ways, as to which I hereby, having thoroughly investigated them, I enclose for consideration of reproof.

It is my opinion that among these people, as in all sects carried on in secret, there are usually the deceivers and the deceived; the former are clever, whereas the latter are either of immature years or are stupid. Among the Doukhobors of the aforementioned two settlements of Prokhody and Saltovskoy Ternovoy there are some who apparently support in their families this foul sect in their nonworking hours; they are persons of limited intelligence who evidently affirm a certain number of questions and answers and, knowing how to read and write a little, they secretly read to their families many words that none of them understands; however, not having any law or firm rules, they are stubbornly accustomed to believe only what they have memorized, understanding not the essential meaning, but merely the sound of the words. Be that as it may, these people can be of no use to society and given a troublemaker and large numbers can be extremely dangerous. Their families and young children in any case deserve sympathy and are innocent. Good and enlightened priests, which they apparently do not have, may finally return the deceived and the young ones to the true path; at the least suspicion, the deceivers and the instigators should be removed without fail, but as there are very many of them in Novorossiysk Province, and especially in this province, as everyone here knows, so by reporting this to Your Excellency, as far as I have been able to determine in this matter, I shall await instruction as to how to deal with this sort of people by Your Excellency’s guidance and what in such a case I will be ordered to do, and especially if such persons are discovered in areas formerly parts of Voronezh and Novorossiysk Provinces transferred to the province entrusted to me.

In Kharkov there is one retired corporal who was previously among the Doukhobor leaders who converted to that sect several years ago; should it not be ordered [that he be transported to St. Petersburg, now that he, being already a person on in years, is to be found mostly around churches and lives humbly].[11] Results of the most detailed investigations of the Doukhobors should be known from records of the Secret Expedition. I have found no files on these people here, and none have been submitted to me.

Sloboda Ukraine and, to the best of my knowledge, Novorossiysk Province are now full of people of various titles without a post who enjoy the right of nobility by rank. These people without estates are in every possible way striving to take advantage of the misunderstandings of the peasants who not infrequently get into trouble as named agents: such highly dangerous troublemakers, when detected, need to be exiled without fail, so as to prevent the harm they are causing, especially when leading Doukhobors. Will it not be decreed that those idlers of rank be kept under more strict surveillance and restrained at every opportunity?”

(Teplov, Governor of Sloboda-Ukraine to Procurator-General Prince A. B. Kurakin, 1797)

Appendix 2

Inventory of the economic condition of the Doukhobors who in 1801 returned by decree of His Royal Highness to their places of origin in the uezdy (“districts”) of Kharkov, Izium and Zmiev.

Kharkov Uezd

Ternovaya Sloboda:

  • Fedor Shchekin with his brother Prokofiy. The family consists of the female sex, living at home with their grandmother; they have no horses or cattle; for purchase of same and for other economic needs, granted: 60 rubles.
  • Fedor Posnikov with his bride and minor nephew Zakhar.  The family consisting of the female sex has a hut and one horse; assistance granted: 80 rubles.
  • Andrey Posnikov. Family of two souls of the male sex, no property of any kind, lives with the above-mentioned Fedor Posnikov; to set up a household and buy a horse and cattle granted: 60 rubles.
  • Larion Golenishchev. No family, lives with his father, who remains Orthodox and does not belong to the Doukhobor heresy; assistance granted: 15 rubles.
  • Foma Gremyakin, also housed with his father, but at present hired out as a city worker in Kharkov, assistance granted: 15 rubles.
  • Matvey Poznyakov. Family consists of 3 male souls, lives in a ramshackle hut, has no horses or other cattle; for purchase of same granted: 40 rubles.
  • Timofey Malakhov. Apart from females, family consists of 4 male souls, lives in a ramshackle hut, has no horses or other cattle; for assistance and purchase of horses and cattle granted: 50 rubles. 
  • Ivan Repin with his brothers Danil and Ignat. Apart from females, family consists of 6 male souls, has a farmstead with a building and one horse; for assistance and purchase of horses and cattle granted: 60 rubles.
  • Yakov Luk’yanov. Family consists of 3 male souls, has a finished peasant farmstead, but no horses or cattle of any kind; for purchase of same and for assistance granted: 50 rubles.
  • Ermol Lezhebokov. No family, his father remains Orthodox, from this sloboda a considerable area of land has been transferred to Izium District, leaving the son with farmstead and hut, but no cattle whatsoever; assistance granted: 25 rubles.
  • Pavel Makhonin with his brother Emel’yan. The former lives with his father, who remains Orthodox, while the other lives in the city of Kharkov, hired out as a labourer; they are granted: 50 rubles.
  • Ivan Vlasov. Apart from females, family consists of 2 male souls, has a farmstead, hut and one horse; assistance granted: 25 rubles.
  • Vasily Vlasov. Family consists of 2 male souls, has a farmstead and hut, [but] no cattle whatsoever; assistance granted: 40 rubles.
  • Login Golishchev. Family consists of 2 male souls, has a farmstead and hut, [but] no horse or cattle of any kind; for purchase of same granted: 40 rubles.
  • Stepan Golishchev. Apart from females, family consists of 3 male souls; has nothing, lives with friends; to establish a farmstead and purchase domestic cattle, granted: 60 rubles.
  • Efim Gritchin. Lives with his father, who remains Orthodox; assistance granted: 15 rubles.
  • Fedor Gritchin. Family consists of 2 male souls, has a farmstead, hut and one horse, but nothing else; assistance granted: 25 rubles.
  • Petr Kuznetsov. Family consists of 2 male souls, has a farmstead, hut and one horse; assistance granted: 25 rubles.
  • Trofim Golishchev with his wife; has a farmstead and hut, nothing else; assistance granted: 30 rubles.
  • Maksim Ulasov, Pavel Makhonin and Aleksey Golovin, no families, have nothing and live with friends; for getting them set up, granted 25 rubles each: 75 rubles.

Bol’shiye Prokhody Sloboda:

  • Ivan Goncharov with his sisters and wife, has a farmstead, hut and one horse; assistance granted: 25 rubles.
  • Grigory Goncharov. Family consists of the female sex, has a farmstead, hut and two horses; assistance granted: 15 rubles.
  • Platon Goncharov. Family consists of five souls of the male sex, has a farmstead, hut and two horses; assistance granted: 20 rubles.
  • Sergey Sukharev with his wife. Family consists of the female sex, has neither farmstead nor property of any kind, lives with the aforementioned Goncharovs; to establish a farmstead and purchase a horse and cattle granted: 60 rubles.
  • Avram Pentsov. Has a son who remains Orthodox, has a farmstead, hut, three horses and one cow; assistance granted: 10 rubles.
  • Vasily Sukharev, Mina Kuskov, Grigory Bludov and Stepan Sukharev, no families, have nothing and live with friends; to get them set up, granted 25 rubles each: 100 rubles.

In these slobodas all the inhabitants own land in accordance with certificates, deeds of purchase or by other transactions from long ago, and so the aforesaid Doukhobors, upon their return, resumed ownership of the land belonging to them. However, in the six months that have already gone by, owing to privation and their having to put their dwellings in order, they have still not started farming, but are making their living from handicrafts and labour, while some have obtained bread on credit from rural community stores.

Izium Uezd

Petrovskaya Sloboda:

  • Sergey Popov. Family consists of four souls of the male sex, not counting females, has a farmstead, two huts and the necessary peasant buildings, horses, horned and other domestic cattle, as well as tillable land and hay fields, because his family remained in place in this sloboda and kept all their economic enterprises in operation, and so do not need assistance.
  • Yakov Peregudov. Family consists of two male souls, has only one ramshackle hut, and no other buildings, cattle or other peasant farming requirements; assistance granted: 40 rubles.
  • Ivan Sukrutov. Has nothing with him, lives in a hut with the aforementioned Yakov Peregudov; to set himself up with a farmstead and needed cattle granted: 60 rubles.

Zmiev Uezd

Okhochaya Sloboda:

  • Fedor Kukhtin. Family consists of two souls of the male sex, not counting females, has a farmstead and a hut, of domestic cattle has only one horse; to assist him purchase cattle and other needs to get established, granted: 25 rubles.
  • for his relatives Ivan and Prokofy Kukhtin, who are living in the same hut with him, for purchase of horses granted 25 rubles each: 50 rubles.
  • Anisim Kukhtin and his brother Andrey. Family consists of three souls of the male sex, not counting females, living in one wattled hut, only one horse, otherwise nothing; for purchase of a second horse, domestic cattle and other necessities to get established, granted: 60 rubles.

Verkhovaya Bereka Sloboda:

  • Sergei Stroev. Family consists of two souls of the male sex, has a farmstead, hut, and an adequate building structure, of domestic cattle has only one horse; granted: 20 rubles.          
  • and, living in the same hut, his brother Mikhail, for construction of a hut, purchase of cattle, etc. granted: 60 rubles.
  • Isay Zbitnev and Trofim Boev with brothers Ivan and Efim. Without families, no property of any kind, but work with friends at laboring jobs; to get them set up, granted 25 rubles each: 100 rubles.
  • Arkhip Baev. Family consists of three souls of the male sex, has a farmstead, hut, and an adequate building structure, of domestic cattle has only one horse; granted: 20 rubles.
  • Ivan Barbin. Lives at a farmstead with his father, who remains Orthodox and is not a Doukhobor; assistance granted: 15 rubles.
  • Fedor Sidorov. Family consists of two souls of the male sex, has neither hut nor property of any kind, but lives with friends; for getting construction and farming started granted: 60 rubles.
  • Fedor Zbitnev. Family consists of two souls of the male sex, has an adequately built up farmstead, of domestic cattle has only one horse; for assistance granted: 20 rubles.

The aforesaid slobodas – Petrovskaya in Izium uezd, and Okhochaya and Verkhovaya Bereka in Zmiev uezd – previously were part of Novorossiysk Province, and plots of land were staked out to them according to the number of souls, but then in each settlement within a certain period of time the inhabitants have been equalizing landholding among themselves by families, taking into account the increase or decrease in the number of souls; in the case of such equalization in the coming spring, the Doukhobors also will receive their plots in proportion to the number of souls; but upon their return, although those parts of the land that remained unplanted have been allotted to them, however, considering that it is late summer, and also because of privation and the need to occupy themselves with building habitation, they have not begun to till the soil, but are feeding themselves by doing handicrafts and laboring jobs, and in addition it has been ordered that bread be released to the needy on credit from the rural community stores.

The sum of amounts listed in this inventory for assisting them, 1550 rubles, has been distributed according to local prices and the needs of each family, in consideration of sufficiency, number of workers and other interests balanced one against another.

Original signed by: Civil Governor Zilbergarnish.

Checked against the original by: Collegiate Councillor Mikhailov

Editor’s Notes (From the Original 1907 Russian Publication)

[1] For the Russian government’s attitude toward the Doukhobors in the 1790s, see O. Novitsky’s Dukhobortsy, 2nd ed., pp. 50 and ff.

[2] Pp. 6 and ff.

[3] Ibid., p. 7.

[4] The bishop’s proposal to Archpriest Prokopovich as to admonishing Golovin and Golishchev was published in the previously mentioned work by Professor A. S. Lebedev, pp. 7-8. Professor Lebedev drew attention to the bishop’s recognition of Golovin as dangerous because he had studied “mathematics and other sciences” at the Kharkov Public School.

[5]  Ivan Keppen. This inhabitant of Kassel who has received degree of the doctor at the Magdebourg university, was invited in 1786 to Russia and appointed the manager of the Kharkov hospital and all medical institutions of the Kharkov province.

[6] Lebedev, A. S., op. cit., p. 9.

[7] Apparently added in the hand of the governor: “having informed the doctor.

[8] Added in the same handwriting: “who has now been replaced by another.”

[9] Added in the same handwriting: “led to a proper understanding and to conform to the requirements set by the priest.”

[10] Lopukhin’s “Zapiski…” [Notes…], Chteniia v Obshchestvie istorii i drevnostei rossiiskikh (Moscow), no. 3, 1860, p.104. The decree of Tsar Alexander I of November 27, 1801 to the Sloboda-Ukraine governor (to report on the needs of the Doukhobors so as to issue them assistance) is published in O. Novitsky’s study Dukhobortsy, 2nd ed., pp. 60-61.

[11] Words enclosed in brackets have been crossed out.


Vladimir Ivanovich Savva’s 1907 manuscript, Iz slobodskoi-ukrainskoi stariny kontsa XVIII v. (zametki i materialy), contains a wealth of information, drawn from Imperial Russian archival records no longer available today, on the Doukhobors of Sloboda-Ukraine at the turn of the 18th century. It describes, in detail, the somewhat complicated chain of events that led to the surveillance, arrest, interrogation, extortion, imprisonment, torture and exile of Sloboda-Ukraine Doukhobors under the reign of Tsar Paul (1796-1801) and their subsequent amnesty, release and patronage under his successor, Tsar Alexander (1801-1825). These events can best be summarized as follows.

According to the manuscript, Doukhoborism was brought to Sloboda-Ukraine earlier in the 18th century by a katorzhnik, a convict sentenced to hard labour (katorga) in the mines of Siberia. While en route to his place of exile, he lay for days, due to illness, in the village of Prokhody in the Kharkov district. During his stay, the convict made a number of converts among the local Orthodox peasants, who carried on the Doukhobor faith after his departure.

The reign of Catherine the Great (1762-1796) was a time of prolific growth for Doukhoborism in Sloboda-Ukraine. By 1792, the sect had become numerous enough to attract the attention of the authorities. In that year, a deputation of three Doukhobors from Prokhody village in the Kharkov district petitioned the Governor of Sloboda-Ukraine for protection from harassment by local officials and their Orthodox neighbours. They were summarily arrested and sent to the Alexander Nevsky Seminary in St. Petersburg, where they were admonished.  See the Conversation Between the Rector of Alexander Nevsky Seminary and Three Kharkov Dukhobortsy to read about their interrogation. 

Following the deputation, an official investigation was launched in 1793, resulting in mass arrests of Sloboda-Ukraine Doukhobors.  Part II of the manuscript makes reference to these events. Many Doukhobors were put in the army, some were exiled to parts unknown, while others were admonished, then recanted and were released. Consequently, Doukhoborism was officially thought to be eradicated from the province.

However, by mid-1797, the Governor of Sloboda-Ukraine, Aleksei Grigor’evich Teplov, began receiving reports from village elders about renewed sectarian activity in the villages of Prokhody and Ternovoye, where once again, recanted Doukhobors were meeting together, inviting peasants into their homes and acting ‘suspiciously’. In response, the Governor ordered police surveillance of the suspects and a compilation of their names. By October 1797, Kharkov district police reported back that all possible investigations had been carried out; however, there was no clear proof that the recanted Doukhobors in those villages had lapsed back into their heresy.

The Governor was not convinced, and in November 1797, ordered a ‘Secret Expedition’ to be carried out by district police across the province “to gather intelligence as secretly as possible around the settlements, especially through the village priests, as to whether there were among the inhabitants persons who had strayed into the so-called Doukhobor schism”.

The Secret Expedition, conducted through mid-1798, exposed a considerable number of Doukhobors in Sloboda-Ukraine province. In this regard, Part III of the manuscript contains the reports of two district police chiefs presenting the results of their investigations. The January 1798 report of the Izium district police chief identified 26 persons in the villages of Shandrigolova and Novokrasnyanka who practiced and taught the Doukhobor heresy. The April 1798 report of the Akhtyr district police chief did not identify any Doukhobors per se, but noted as ‘suspect’ one retired lieutenant-colonel who refused to attend church and partake in the sacraments.

Unfortunately, the reports of other district police chiefs in Sloboda-Ukraine were not preserved. However, it is known that the Secret Expedition revealed more than 220 Doukhobors living in the villages of Ternovoye and Prokhody in the Kharkov district; the village of Petrovskaya in the Izium district; and the villages of Okhochaya and Verkhovaya Bereka in the Zmiev district.

Part II of the manuscript provides an interesting case study of two Doukhobors revealed by the Secret Expedition. In February 1798, Feoktist, Bishop of Belgorod wrote Governor Teplov about Alexei Golovin and Stepan Golishchev, who had been arrested for proselytizing among the peasants of Ternovoye and Prokhody. The Bishop advised that, having personally admonished them without success, he had committed them to further admonishment by the Kharkov Archpriest Prokopovich. When the Governor found out about the difficulty the clergy was having with the recalcitrant Doukhobors, he had them committed to an insane asylum. By June 1798, however, Golovin and Golishchev were discharged from the asylum, having been deemed “restored to health”. They were then sent to the Kharkov Archpriest and after admonishment, recanted their heresy and were released. The Governor, however, did not believe the sincerity of their repentance and had them placed under continued surveillance.

Having interviewed several Doukhobors imprisoned during the Secret Expedition, Governor Teplov observed that they were inclined to “peaceful and orderly communal life, strict attention to their farming and families” as well as their “abhorrence of amusements and drunkenness”. He also noted that they paid their taxes meticulously and were not manifestly disobedient to the authorities. At the same time, he found the Doukhobors to be “extremely inclined to rebellion and to unconstrained performance of their secret ways”. In his opinion, many members of the sect were peasants “of limited intelligence” and education who did not understand the beliefs they professed and who were led by “troublemakers” who deceived and exploited them.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Secret Expedition resulted in the mass arrest and deportation of hundreds of Doukhobors from Sloboda-Ukraine. In mid-1798, Governor Teplov exiled 203 members of the sect to the island of Ezel and the Fortress of Dünamünde in the Baltic region. Another 19 were condemned to penal labour (katorga) in the Ekaterinburg mines in Siberia. In exile, the Doukhobors endured much hardship, privation and suffering, and many of their number perished from mistreatment, exhaustion, disease, exposure and malnutrition.

Despite the suppressions, Tsarist authorities continued to uncover new cases of conversion to the sect. For example, Part I of the manuscript gives an account of the Doukhobors Roman and Evdokia Skripnichenkov. Roman, an estate peasant from Troitskaya village in Novorossiysk province, was put in the army by his landowner in 1798 after confessing to be a Doukhobor. He was stationed in Kharkov, where his family joined him. In July 1799, his wife Evdokia visited Kharkov prison to bring alms to the Doukhobors jailed there; when she was refused entry, she declared herself to be a Doukhobor and was summarily arrested, along with her husband. They were interrogated by the regiment commander, Major-General Glazenap, who sent a report on them to his superior, General Field-Marshal Saltykov. Saltykov, in turn, forwarded the report to Tsar Paul, who in August 1799, ordered the couple to be punished with the knout, have their nostrils slit, and be exiled to hard labour (katorga) in the Ekaterinburg mines.

Salvation for the Doukhobors finally came in March 1801, with the accession of Tsar Alexander I to the Russian throne. Within five days of his accession, the liberal-minded monarch issued a decree releasing all of the exiled Doukhobors from Ezel, Dünamünde and Ekaterinburg and permitted them to return to their previous residences in the Kharkov, Izium and Zmiev districts of Sloboda-Ukraine.

Brought to ruin by their exile, many of the Doukhobors had literally “nothing” when they returned to Sloboda-Ukraine. As noted in Part IV of the manuscript, the Doukhobors, having arrived in the middle of summer when planting time was already past, and not having cattle, had to concern themselves, first and foremost, with building habitations for themselves. Some eked out provisions for themselves by selling handicrafts and hiring themselves out as labourers; however, many were left destitute.

When word of the Doukhobors’ situation reached Tsar Alexander in November 1801, he ordered the new Governor of Sloboda-Ukraine, Gustav Karlovich Zilbergarnish, to compile an inventory on the economic condition of the returned Doukhobor exiles, describing their needs, whether they had homes, and if not, how much would be needed for their construction, in order to provide them with much-needed assistance. The resulting inventory, attached as Appendix 2 to the manuscript, contains a tremendous wealth of genealogical information about 39 households of Sloboda-Ukraine Doukhobors, including their village of origin, household members, and economic condition. Upon receiving the inventory in February 1802, the Tsar directed Andrei Kondrat’evich Artakov, Zilbergarnish’s successor as Governor of Sloboda-Ukraine, to distribute 1,550 rubles from the Crown treasury to the returned Doukhobor exiles, in accordance with the inventory, without the need to repay it.

This act of benevolence and generosity proved inadequate, however, as the Doukhobors who returned to Sloboda-Ukraine from exile were almost immediately persecuted anew by local authorities and their Orthodox neighbours. When Orthodox clergy attempted to ‘admonish’ the newly-returned exiles in late 1801, rebellion ensued. See Vladimir Ivanovich Savva’s 1893 manuscript, K istorii dukhobortsev Khar’kovskoi gubernii (“More about the History of the Dukhobortsy of Kharkov Province“) to learn about the role played by Russian Senator Ivan Vladimirovich Lopukhin (1756-1816), who intervened on behalf of the Sloboda-Ukraine Doukhobors, helped ease their sufferings, and facilitated their resettlement to the Molochnye Vody (“Milky Waters”) region in Tavria.

More About the History of the Dukhobortsy of Kharkov Province

by Vladimir Ivanovich Savva

In 1798, hundreds of Doukhobors from Sloboda-Ukraine (Kharkov) were arrested and deported to the frontier regions of the Russian Empire. Their salvation came in 1801, with the ascension of Tsar Alexander I to the Russian throne, who released the exiled Doukhobors and permitted them to return to their former homes in Sloboda-Ukraine. This measure proved inadequate, however, as the returning Doukhobors were immediately persecuted anew by local authorities and Orthodox neighbours. When Orthodox clergy attempted to ‘admonish’ the newly-returned exiles, a rebellion ensued. When word of the Doukhobors’ situation reached Tsar Alexander, he ordered a senatorial investigation.  The following manuscript depicts the investigation by Russian Senator Ivan Vladimirovich Lopukhin (1756-1816), who in 1801, met with the Sloboda-Ukraine Doukhobors, gathered information about them, intervened on their behalf with the authorities, and helped ease their sufferings. Reproduced from Vladimir Ivanovich Savva’s article, “K istorii dukhobortsev Khar’kovskoi gubernii” (Kharkov, Kharkov Historical-Philological Society, 1893) as republished in P.N. Malov, Dukhobortsy, ikh istoriia, zhizn’ i bor’ba, it highlights Lopukhin’s role in the resettlement of Sloboda-Ukraine Doukhobors to the Molochnye Vody region of Tavria. Translated by Vera Kanigan, with additional translation and editing by Jack McIntosh, for the Doukhobor Genealogy Website. Foreword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.


The Russian province of Sloboda-Ukraine (Kharkov) is widely considered to be the birthplace of the Doukhobor faith, arising there in the early eighteenth century.  During the second half of the eighteenth century, Doukhoborism spread widely amongst the peasantry of that province, particularly in the districts of Kharkov, Izium and Zmiev. 

By the end of the eighteenth century, the sect had grown numerous enough to attract the attention of Orthodox church and Tsarist state authorities.  In 1793 and again in 1797, the Governor of Sloboda-Ukraine ordered ‘secret expeditions’ to be carried out across the province to gather intelligence about those professing to be Doukhobors.  As a result of these investigations, hundreds of Sloboda-Ukraine Doukhobors were subjected to surveillance, arrest, interrogation, extortion, imprisonment, torture and exile. Consequently, 203 members of the sect were exiled to the island of Ezel and the Fortress of Dünamünde in the Baltic region in 1798. Another 19 were condemned to penal labour (katorga) in the Ekaterinburg mines in Siberia. In exile, the Doukhobors endured much hardship, privation and suffering, and many of their number perished from mistreatment, exhaustion, disease, exposure and malnutrition.

Salvation for the Doukhobors finally came in 1801, with the accession of Tsar Alexander I to the Russian throne. Within five days of his accession, the liberal-minded monarch issued a decree releasing all of the exiled Doukhobors from Ezel, Dünamünde and Ekaterinburg and permitted them to return to their previous residences in the Kharkov, Izium and Zmiev districts of Sloboda-Ukraine.

For more information about the surveillance, arrest, interrogation, extortion, imprisonment, torture and exile of Sloboda-Ukraine Doukhobors under the reign of Tsar Paul (1796-1801) and their subsequent amnesty and release under his successor, Tsar Alexander (1801-1825), see Vladimir Ivanovich Savva’s 1907 manuscript, Iz slobodskoi-ukrainskoi stariny kontsa XVIII v. (zametki i materialy)(“Additional Information on Doukhobor History“).

Ultimately, the release of the exiled Doukhobors in 1801, while a godsend, proved to be inadequate. Brought to ruin by their exile, many of the Doukhobors had literally “nothing” when they returned to Sloboda-Ukraine and were destitute. To make matters worse, the returning Doukhobors were almost immediately persecuted anew by local authorities and their Orthodox neighbours. When Orthodox clergy attempted to ‘admonish’ the newly-returned exiles in late 1801, a rebellion ensued. 

When word of the Doukhobors’ situation reached Tsar Alexander I, he ordered an official investigation to be conducted by Russian Senators Lopukhin and Neledinskiy-Meletskiy, who visited the returned exiles, gathered information about them, interceded on their behalf with the authorities, and helped ease their sufferings. The following manuscript outlines the senatorial investigation in detail, and its role in the resettlement of the Doukhobors to the Molochnye Vody region of Tavria province.   

Preface by the Author

The article presented here contains information on the history of the Dukhobortsy (Doukhobors – ed.) of Kharkov province found in materials preserved in the Kharkov Historical Archives of the Historical-Philological Society (“Delo o vypushchennykh Dukhobortsakh Slobodsko-ukrainskoi gub. po Vysochaishemu poveleniyu 1801 g.“, No. 56 [File on Doukhobors from Sloboda Ukraine province released by Imperial Command in 1801], No. 56). These materials were not covered in Professor A. S. Lebedev’s study entitled “Dukhobortsy v Slobodskoy Ukraine” [Doukhobors in Sloboda Ukraine].

These archival materials are supplemented by Senator Lopukhin’s interesting notes which he revised in 1801 with the assistance of the other senator from Sloboda-Ukraine Province. Imbued with Tsar Alexander I’s spirit of tolerance, and interested in the fate of the Dukhobortsy who at that time had only just been resettled from exile to their former places of residence, Lopukhin, while in Belgorod on the way to Kharkov, was already gathering information about them.

Within five days of his accession to the throne, on March 17, 1801, Tsar Alexander I issued a royal command releasing all of the exiled Dukhobortsy from Dünamünde (present-day Daugavgriva, Latvia – ed.) in the Baltic, a total of 203 persons of both sexes from Sloboda Ukraine and the provinces of Novorossiya (“New Russia”, the historic name of Southern Ukraine – ed.). As well, from Ekaterinburg (in Siberia – ed.), nineteen persons of both sexes were sent back to the village of Bereky, Zmiev district, Sloboda Ukraine. A large number of the Sloboda Dukhobortsy had been imprisoned in Dünamünde Fortress – 148 persons, transferred there in 1799 from Ezel Island (present-day Saaremaa, Estonia – ed.). The surnames of the Dukhobortsy point to their Great Russian origin, for example: Shchekin, Golishchev, Gremyakin, Poznyakov, Malakhov, Makhonin and so forth.

The released exiles were given funds gained from the sale of their confiscated property. However, from the archival documents it is evident that only odnodvortsy (a class of peasant smallholders – ed.) from the village of Bereky, Zmiev district received such funds: Mikhail Stroev – 283 rubles, 18 1/2 kopecks, Trofim Baev – 64 rubles, 97 kopecks, Onisim Kukhtin – 34 rubles, 65 3/4 kopecks, and Kukhtina – 122 rubles, 63 3/4 kopecks.

All of the returning Dukhobortsy returned in groups, first to the city of Kharkov, from which they were sent out to their previous places of residence. The first group appeared in Kharkov in May 1801. Their fellow villagers did not give the returning Dukhobortsy a warm welcome. When they arrived at the village of Saltovo-Ternovo, the Dukhobortsy were not permitted by the villagers to enter their dwellings and so were forced to stand in a field for over 24 hours. In their complaint submitted to the Vice-Governor over such treatment by the people of Saltovo-Ternovo, the Dukhobortsy requested that they be moved to another location, because the anger directed to them by the villagers was great, and already the latter had submitted a petition alleging that the newcomers were enticing members of the Orthodox Church into their heresy.

Early 19th century lithograph of the Island of Ezel (present-day Saaremaa, Estonia) in the Baltic where over two

hundred Dukhobortsy from Sloboda-Ukraine were exiled in the 1790’s.  By F.S. Stern.

When several Dukhobortsy rented space in a coach house from a landlord in the village of Liptsy, the volost (rural sub district – ed.) administration appealed to the Kharkov land court requesting that the Dukhobortsy be forbidden to live in the coach house because they would spread their heresy among Liptsy inhabitants. The relationship with the villagers became more aggravated because the Dukhobortsy desired once again to occupy their original property, which had subsequently already changed hands three times. The Dukhobortsy proposed to the new plot owners that they would pay the same price for their property as that for which it had been sold; however the latest owners did not agree, because they had spent money improving the farms.

On account of the complaints of the Dukhobortsy, to the effect that they were ruined and could not restore their original dwellings, and that given the hostile treatment by their neighbours they would have to provide for all their own farming needs, the Governor of Sloboda Ukraine ordered, through the lower land court, that the authorities be charged with making sure that there was no ill-treatment or oppression against the Dukhobortsy either on the part of the local residents or the nearby population. However, the local authorities had not given the Dukhobortsy satisfaction, and so the latter subsequently appealed to Senators Lopukhin and Neledinskiy-Meletskiy while they were in Kharkov.

At almost the same time as the Dukhobortsy complained about their ill treatment by the villagers, the villagers rejoined with complaints against the Dukhobortsy, saying that they were openly practicing their heresy, were trying to entice Orthodox people into it, and were uttering abuse against Russian Orthodoxy. The provincial authorities were assigned to investigate the problem; the accused Dukhobortsy were taken into custody and found guilty of rebellion (see Dukhobortsy v Slobodskoy Ukraine [Doukhobors in Sloboda Ukraine] by Professor A. S. Lebedev, Kharkov 1890, pg. 12 & ff.). Governor Zilbergarnish appeared before Lopukhin and Neledinskiy-Meletskiy, who were then in Kharkov, with news about the revolt of the Dukhobortsy.

Previously, when Lopukhin found out about the dispatch of church luminaries and the lay judge of the Izium lower land court, along with a team of dignitaries, to “admonish” (literally “to give friendly earnest advice or encouragement” but in Tsarist Russia, tantamount to summary incarceration, interrogation and in some cases, torture – ed.) the Dukhobortsy of Petrovskiy village to abandon their heresy, he had told the Governor that such actions might provoke a revolt, because the Dukhobortsy had just returned from exile and as yet had not had an opportunity to catch their breath. The Governor, however, made the excuse that the instructions to admonish the Dukhobortsy had been made in his absence by the Vice-Governor while he (Zilbergarnish) was on leave. Lopukhin then ordered him to recall the dispatched team, along with the church officials who had been sent, and to have a word with the bishop about the return of the latter group, as it was not yet time to admonish the Dukhobortsy, who had not succeeded in recovering after their exile. He blamed the revolt itself on the admonishments, supposing that when the Dukhobortsy had been asked whether they would pay taxes, they refused because they had been brought to ruin and were themselves in need of assistance (see “Zapiska niekotorykh obstoiatel’stv zhizni i sluzhby dieistvitel’nago Tainago Sovietnika, senatora I. V. Lopukhina” [A note on some circumstances in the life and career of Acting Privy Councillor, Senator I. V. Lopukhin], Chteniia v Obshchestvie istorii i drevnostei rossiiskikh (Moscow), no. 2, 1860: 1-82; no. 3, 1860: 83-193; Book 3, page 93 and ff.).

After a discussion with Lopukhin, the Governor directed the Izium lower land court not to exert even the slightest amount of pressure on the Dukhobortsy, not to place any under guard, to release those that were under arrest without delay, and in general to treat them gently and with patience, not to constrain them, give them freedom and cease all investigation of them. In reply to the Governor’s directive, the Izium land court sent him the statements taken in evidence from the Dukhobortsy who had been in custody, which had been the basis for their arrest.

One of those arrested, Sergei Ivanovich Popov, 67 years of age, testified as follows: “[I was] born in Belgorod province of a father and mother who made profession and took the holy sacraments in worldly (Orthodox) churches; about 40 years ago [I] moved with them to live in the sloboda (free village – ed.) of Petrovskiy, where in the Petrovskiy church [I] married Praskoviya, the daughter of a villager, Andrei Dergachev”. Popov’s wife and three sons supported all of his testimony, the former testifying as to her husband, the latter as to their father, adding that, although during the time the father was serving in the military and in exile, they went to church and took the sacraments yearly, they did so at the insistence of the priest and under coercion from the village heads, whereas now they rejected that, and in the future intended to abide permanently in the Dukhobor faith.

The other Dukhobor who was interrogated, Ivan Abramovich Sukrutov, gave testimony similar to Popov’s; in response to a question about how old he was, he said that he was “12 years old in spirit (that is, from the time that he had entered into the Dukhobor heresy), but as to how old in the flesh, [I] do not know.”

One of the Dukhobortsy who had returned to Orthodoxy after being admonished testified that he had been seduced into the Dukhobor faith during the time that he was serving with the Ekaterinoslav Cossack troops, in the small town of Kaushany, at the time of the seizure of the town of Bender (from the Turks in 1770 – ed.). After he became a member of the Dukhobortsy, he continued in all matters to follow Christian rituals because he did not wish to reveal his apostasy.

18th century lithograph of the Fortress of Dünamünde (present-day Daugavgriva, Latvia) in the Baltic where

over two hundred Dukhobortsy from Sloboda-Ukraine were exiled from 1799 to 1801. 

Having insisted on a halt to the admonitions meted out to the Dukhobortsy and their release from custody, Lopukhin and his colleague Senator Neledinskiy-Meletskiy sent their report to the Tsar about the Dukhobor affair (on November 12, 1801). With this report, Lopukhin appended an extract about the Dukhobortsy in which he laid out a history of the emergence of the sect and the essence of their teaching. (“Vypuska o dukhobortsakh…” [Extract on the Doukhobors], by Senator Lopukhin, Chteniia v Obshchestvie istorii i drevnostei rossiiskikh, 1864, Book 4, page 47.).  Lopukhin characterized the way of life of the Dukhobortsy as abstemious and respectable, supposing that their fanaticism had been provoked by harsh measures directed towards them.

In their report to the Tsar (November 12, 1801), Lopukhin and Neledinskiy-Meletskiy, the latter playing a secondary role in all of Lopukhin’s arrangements regarding the Dukhobortsy, explained their intervention in the Dukhobor situation as resulting from the Tsar’s injunction to be “attentive to all that was noteworthy in Sloboda Ukraine”, the province they were inspecting.

“Before our arrival here in Kharkov,” the Senators reported, “the local authorities, by virtue of their excessive zeal, of course, but without having penetrated into the exact essence of Your Majesty’s orders concerning the aforementioned Dukhobortsy, undertook to admonish and convert them, although they had only just been freed from their heavy bonds and permitted the mercy and wise tolerance enthroned in the Holy Personage of Your Imperial Highness. During this formal admonishment, the questions, which were not, of course, skillfully crafted, wrested from those admonished, as the exhorters reported, responses contrary to the duties of a loyal subject. But it is highly probable that the newly aroused fanaticism of those who responded, oppressed and brought to ruin by their former misfortunes, wrapped their words with a brutality not present in their hearts; or possibly their insufficiently enlightened interrogators wrongly understood them, and prejudice already engendered against those speaking caused their interrogators to apprehend their utterances in darker colours than their words intrinsically deserved” (Chteniia v Obshchestvie istorii i drevnostei rossiiskikh [Readings at the Society of Russian History and Antiquities], Book 3, 1860, page 95: “Zapiski … Lopukhina” [Lopukhin’s Notes]).

Explaining the irritation of the Dukhobortsy as due to the incompetence of the advisors, the Senators reported to the Tsar that from their discussions with the Dukhobortsy they detected in them feelings of special gratitude to the Tsar who had liberated them, and a willingness to submit to the ruling monarch and fulfill all duties and responsibilities required of loyal subjects. As a result, the Senators ordered that all investigation of the Dukhobortsy be halted and those who had been arrested released.

To the district authorities, they explained His Royal Highness’s will concerning treatment of the Dukhobortsy thusly: “[you are] enjoined to call upon ecclesiastical personages to instruct the Dukhobortsy on the path of truth without any compulsion on their part, meaning they should not by untimely and unduly elegant means, as in a court of law, confuse and inspire fear of those in power who are carrying out the admonitions, but to do this at opportune moments, being attentive to the situation, striving in their own places of settlement to engage at the churches clergy who are not so much distinguished by the brilliance of their schooling and their artistic eloquence, as they are by their genuine piety and zealous love for the law of God and Gospel teaching, by their lives bearing witness to their sensitivity and principles. Such pastors will naturally inculcate a good opinion of themselves and therefore will attract trust; they will find time, occasions and places for their conversations and with the most simple methods will discover ways to influence their hearts and minds, minds that desire enlightenment and have inner zeal towards God’s law, but are confused as to ways and means. As for the duties and responsibilities of a loyal subject, then in harmony with Your Imperial Majesty’s wisdom and pleasure, by treating them with gentleness and patience, they should, just like everyone else, be required to abide by the obligations prescribed by the decrees of Your Imperial Majesty and the laws of the state, both general civil and rural land law. As for those who do not fulfill the above, they should be punished in accordance with the same laws, and without entering into the ideas or reasons behind non-fulfillment, if someone in actual fact proves to be in direct revolt against the authorities and the common order, he should be dealt with to the full extent and the letter of the law” (Chteniia…page 97).

At the same time as this dispatch from Lopukhin and Neledinskiy-Meletskiy, the Governor of Sloboda Ukraine also sent his “humble report” to the Tsar with his explanation of the affair, influenced by Lopukhin, who did not regard the words and actions of the Dukhobortsy as a revolt (“Doukhobors” – Professor A. S. Lebedev, page 18.) .

The Dukhobortsy who had gathered at Kharkov, encouraged by the mild attitude of the Senators, started to present different requests. Two of them, Cossacks from Okhochei sloboda (Baev and Sidorov), requested of Lopukhin that the houses acquired by them (while in exile) on Ezel Island, for which one of them (the former) had been offered 325 rubles, and the other (the latter) 158 rubles, be sold and the proceeds from the sale be given to them. In their directions to the governor to see to satisfying these requests, the Senators again expressed the desire that the governor take care to protect the Dukhobortsy “from the oppressive consequences of prejudice and misconceptions on the part of the district authorities,” who had not understood or interpreted correctly the testimony of the Dukhobortsy. The Senators and the Governor himself had had occasion to be convinced of this when the Dukhobortsy testified to them in contradiction to what the authorities had reported about them.

When the Dukhobortsy were in Kharkov, Lopukhin had daily conversations with them. They took a liking to him and talked openly with him. “Apart from their boundless – one might say fanatical – prejudice against everything exterior, their skeptical aloofness and preference for themselves, I found their concept of Christianity to be most radical and correct,” wrote Lopukhin in his Zapiski (page 98).  He paid particular attention to the circumstance that although amongst the Dukhobortsy there were hardly any who knew how to read and write, and that of those whom he met, only one of them could write, and very poorly at that, nevertheless each one spoke “like a book”.

18th century lithograph of Kharkov, the provincial capital of Sloboda-Ukraine.  The Dukhobortsy returned here from

exile in 1801 before dispersing to their home villages throughout the province.

After repeated discussions with the Senators, the Dukhobortsy delivered to them a formal petition that expressed their loyalty and zealousness to the Tsar, requesting that they try to obtain from him permission to resettle in another area. Then Lopukhin and Neledinskiy-Meletskiy dispatched a second message to the Tsar (December 3, 1801), explaining the way of thinking of the Dukhobortsy, passed on their request to settle in a special place, and recommended that the Tsar not permit them to establish their own volost administrations independently, but to establish over them an administration made up of honest and unprejudiced officials of high moral character, and to locate their settlements near cities and settlements where the priests, by the good example of their lives and persuasive preaching, would attract the Dukhobortsy to themselves. In this humble petition the Senators attested to the extreme poverty of those who had returned from exile. Although they had indeed been given money from the sale of their property, it had been sold after their exile for a very low price.

On the eve of their departure from Kharkov, Lopukhin and Neledinskiy-Meletskiy received an official royal reply (rescript) in which the Tsar, expressing his appreciation for all of their dispositions in the matter of the Dukhobortsy, directed them to make sure that all of them would be enforced. At the same time, the Tsar commanded the Sloboda Ukraine Governor to follow the Senators’ example in his treatment of the Dukhobortsy, to involve himself with the needs of the Dukhobortsy and report to him as to the status of their farming economy, whether they have housing, whether they have commenced tilling the soil, whether they have money to pay duties; whether indeed they have means for building homes; then, having determined how much they need in total for that purpose, to report back right away, thereby demonstrating that the government was concerned about them.

The idea of relocating the Dukhobortsy was approved by the Tsar. The purpose of this resettlement was the desire to protect the Dukhobortsy from people’s hostility while distancing Orthodox believers from the Dukhobortsy’s corrupting influence. The places chosen for Dukhobor settlements were located along the Molochnaya River (Melitopol district, Tavria province – ed.), where they were settled by the Imperial Decree dated January 25, 1802, under the following favourable conditions: that relocated persons receive 15 desyatinas (imperial land measure equivalent to 2.7 acres – ed.) of land per head, and that for five years, all resettled persons would be excused from paying any state taxes. At the time of the relocation itself, 100 rubles were issued from the treasury to each family as a loan, with the understanding that after ten years this sum would then be collectable from the settlers within twenty years, such that annually each family would have to pay no more than five rubles (Polnoe sobranie zakonov [Compete compendium of laws], volume XXVII, No. 20.123).

The first 296 settlers along the banks of the Molochnaya River were Dukhobortsy from Sloboda Ukraine and Ekaterinoslav provinces, who established the village of Bogdanovka and took up farming (For information about the Doukhobors after their relocation to the banks of the Molochnaya, see Dukhobortsy: ikh istoriya i vierouchenie [Doukhobors, their history and beliefs], O. Novitskiy, 2nd edition; Skalkovskiy, Kievskaia starina, April 1887, page 777; and Yuzov, Russkie dissidenty [Russian Dissidents]. To join them there, with the permission of the government (starting early in 1805), Dukhobortsy from Tambov and Voronezh provinces, 494 in number, began to arrive there, followed by Dukhobortsy from other parts of Russia (the Don Cossack lands, and Kherson, Tavria, Astrakhan, and Penza provinces). By the end of 1808 they already had nine villages: Bogdanovka, Spasskoye, Troitskoye, Terpeniye and Tambovka on the banks of the Molochnaya River, and Rodionovka, Efremovka, Goreloye, and Kirilovka near the estuary of the same river where it flows into the Sea of Azov (Dukhobortsy… – Novitskiy, 2nd edition, pages 63–85).  

In the latter years of Alexander I’s reign, the attitude of the government towards the Dukhobortsy changed, for which the Dukhobortsy themselves were to blame, and during the reign of Tsar Nicholas I, in 1830, a decree was issued according to which heretics – Dukhobortsy, Ikonobortsy, Molokans, and Judaizers – accused of spreading their heresies, riotous conduct and insolence against the Church, clergy and faith, had to be brought to trial; that those found guilty were to be subject to military conscription. By this same decree the resettlement of the Dukhobortsy to Novorossiya was stopped, but migration to the Transcaucasus of those wishing to do so was allowed. In 1839 an Imperial Decree followed, ordering all the Dukhobortsy to be moved from the banks of the Molochnaya River to the Transcaucasus. The reason for this, in the words of the inquiry that was conducted, were actions of the Dukhobortsy themselves: they had been harbouring evildoers and criminals, and had been subjecting their own people suspected of defecting from their heresy to cruel torture and death. The forced migration of the Dukhobortsy from Novorossiya to the Transcaucasus took place from 1841 (when there were 9 settlements and as many as 4505 residents – see Skalkovskiy’s study in Kievskaya starina) until 1845. Altogether there were over 4000 migrants (in Novitskiy, page 154).


Senator Ivan Vladimirovich Lopukhin’s (1756-1816) involvement in the “Dukhobortsy Affair” would determine the fate of the sect throughout Russia for the next forty years. For the first time, the Dukhobortsy had in Lopukhin a sympathetic high official who spoke up for the sectarians and stressed their virtues as well as their faults.  He acted as a conduit between the Dukhobortsy and the highest circles of Russian society, transmitting their beliefs using the language and metaphors of the Imperial Court, and in doing so, helped lay the basis for Tsar Alexander’s policy on the Dukhobortsy.  But for his intervention, the Dukhobortsy of Sloboda-Ukraine and elsewhere would have remained isolated, dispersed, voiceless and oppressed.  It is through his efforts that the Dukhobortsy owed a great measure of release from persecution, and also an opportunity to exist and develop as a self-contained community on the Molochnaya.  Sadly, his role and influence in the history of the Dukhobortsy remains largely unappreciated and forgotten. To find out more about this important benefactor and sympathizer see: Ivan Vladimirovich Lopukhin: His Life and Role in Doukhobor History

Conversation Between the Rector of Alexander Nevsky Seminary and Three Kharkov Dukhobortsy, 1792

Translated by Robert Pinkerton

In 1792, a deputation of three Doukhobors from Kharkov – Mikhail Shchirev, Anikei and Timofey Sukharev – was sent to the Governor-General of that province, ostensibly to petition for protection from persecution and harassment by local authorities, clergy and their Orthodox neighbours. They were summarily arrested and sent to the Alexander Nevsky Seminary in St. Petersburg. There they were admonished and persuaded to recant their faith, to no avail. The following is a record of their “conversation” with the rector of the seminary, Archimandrite Innokenty (Dubravitsky), contained in a May 12, 1792 letter from Gavriil (Petrov), Metropolitan of Novgorod and St. Petersburg to the Governor-General of Kharkov. This invaluable historic material contains one of the earliest recorded accounts of the Doukhobor religious doctrine. Reproduced from Robert Pinkerton, “Russia: or, Miscellaneous Observations on the Past and Present State of that Country and its Inhabitants” (London: Seeley and Sons, 1833). Afterword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Letter from the Metropolitan of Novgorod and St. Petersburg to the Governor-General of Kharkov


Mikhail Shchirev, Anikei and Timofey Sukharev sent by your Excellency from the vicinity of Kharkov have been admonished by Innokenty, rector of the Nevsky Seminary and Archimandrite. The conversation which took place between them I forward to you, along with this letter.

I knew this sect as early as 1768. I then admonished them, and succeeded in turning several to the Church; but on their returning home, they again fell into their former errors. Since I became Archbishop of St. Petersburg, I have also spoken to some of the Don Cossacks; but they remained obstinate. Their obstinacy is founded on enthusiasm: all the demonstration which is presented to them they despise, saying that “God is present in their souls, and He instructs them: – how then shall they hearken to a man?” They have such exalted ideas of their own holiness, that they respect that man only in whom they see the image of God; that is, perfect holiness. They say that every one of them may be a prophet or an apostle; and therefore they are zealous propagators of their own sect. They make the Sacraments consist only in a spiritual reception of them, and therefore reject infant baptism. The opinions held by them not only establish equality, but also exclude the distinction of ruler and subject: such opinions are therefore the more dangerous, because they may become attractive to the peasantry. The truth of this Germany has experienced. Their origin is to be sought for among the Anabaptists or Quakers. I know the course of their opinions; and we can have no hope that they will desist from spreading abroad this evil.

These are my thoughts, which I have considered it my duty to communicate to your Excellency.

With sincere respect,

Metropolitan of Novgorod and St. Petersburg
May 12, 1792

Conversation Between the Rector of Alexander Nevsky Seminary and Three Kharkov Dukhobortsy

Conversation between Innokenty, Archimandrite and Rector of Alexander Nevsky Seminary in St. Petersburg and three Doukhobors from Kharkov province – Mikhail Shchirev, Anikei and Timofey Sukharev, May 1792.

Archimandrite: By what means are you come into this state, that people confine you as men dangerous to society?

Dukhobortsy: By the malice of our persecutors.

Archimandrite: What is the cause of their persecuting you?

Dukhobortsy: Because it is said that all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.

Archimandrite: Whom do you call your persecutors?

Dukhobortsy: Those who threw me into prison, and bound me in fetters.

Archimandrite: How dare you, in this way, speak evil of the established Government, founded and acting on principles of Christian piety? Which deprives none of their liberty, except such as are disturbers of the public peace and prosperity.

Dukhobortsy: There is no higher Governor than God, who rules over the hearts of kings and men : but God does not bind in fetters; neither does he command those to be persecuted who will not give His glory to another, and who live in peace, and in perfect love and mutual service to each other.

Archimandrite: What does that signify, “Who will not give his glory unto another”? – To whom other?

Dukhobortsy: Read the Second Commandment, and you will know.

Archimandrite: I perceive, then, that you mean to throw censure on those who bow before the images of the Saviour and of His holy ones?

Dukhobortsy: He has placed his image in our souls. Again, it is that those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.

Archimandrite: From this it is evident, that you have brought yourself into your present condition, by falling into error; by misunderstanding the nature of piety, and entertaining opinions hurtful to the common faith and to your country.

Dukhobortsy: It is not true.

Archimandrite: How, then? Do you not err, when you think that there are “powers that be” which exist in opposition to the will of God; whereas there is no power but of God? Or that Government, which is appointed to restrain and correct the disobedient and unruly, persecutes piety; “whereas he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil”?

Dukhobortsy: What evil do we do? None.

Archimandrite: Do you not hurt the faith by your false reasoning concerning her holy ordinances, and by your blind zeal against God; like the Jews of old, whose zeal was not according to knowledge?

Dukhobortsy: Let knowledge remain with you! Only do not molest us, who live in peace, pay the taxes, do harm to no one, and respect and obey earthly governments.

Archimandrite: But perhaps your paying the taxes, harming no one, and obeying earthly governments, is only the effect of necessity, and of the weakness of your power; while your peace and love respect those only who are of your own opinion.

Dukhobortsy: Construe our words as you choose.

Archimandrite: At least, it is far from being disagreeable to you, I suppose, to behold your society increasing!

Dukhobortsy: We desire good unto all men, and that all may be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth.

Archimandrite: Leave off your studied secrecy, and evasive and dubious answers. Explain and reveal to me your opinions candidly, like men who have nothing in view but to discover truth.

Dukhobortsy: I understand you; for that same Spirit of Truth which enlightens us in things respecting faith and life, assists us also to discern affectation and deceit in every man. Nevertheless, in order to get rid of your importunity, and with boldness to preach the true faith, I shall answer your questions as I am able.

Archimandrite: By what way – by the assistance of others, or by the use of your own reasoning powers only, did you obtain this Spirit of Truth?

Dukhobortsy: He is near our heart, and therefore no assistance is necessary. A sincere desire and ardent prayers are alone requisite.

Archimandrite: At least, you ground your opinions on the word of God, do you not?

Dukhobortsy: I do ground myself on it.

Archimandrite: But the word of God teaches us, that God has committed the true faith, and the dispensing of his ordinances, and of instruction in piety, to certain persons, chosen and ordained for this purpose: “According to the grace of God given unto me,” says St. Paul, “as a wise master-builder I have laid the foundation.”

Dukhobortsy: True: and such were our deputies who were sent hither in 1767 and 1769. But what did the spirit of persecution and of wrath do to them? Some were taken for soldiers; others were sent into exile.

Archimandrite: You doubtless intend, by these deputies, some well-meaning people like yourself?

Dukhobortsy: Yes.

Archimandrite: But you, and people like you, though well-meaning, cannot be either ministers or teachers of the holy faith.

Dukhobortsy: Why not?

Archimandrite: Because a Church cannot be established by individual authority; as is manifest from 1 Cor. iii. 5. Secondly, because special talents and gifts from above are requisite, “to make us able ministers of the New Testament:” 2 Cor. iii. 6. And, thirdly, it is absolutely necessary to this lawful and gracious calling, that we possess that ordination which hath remained in the holy Church from the times of the Apostles; as it is said: “And he gave some Apostles, and some Prophets, and some Evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:” Ephes. iv. 2.

Dukhobortsy: There is no other calling to this office required, than that which crieth in our hearts: neither doth our learning consist in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but in “demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” Are the gifts which you require such as to be able to gabble Latin?

Archimandrite: You do not understand the Holy Scriptures; and this is the source of all your errors. The Apostle, in the words quoted by you, does not reject the talents and gifts of acquired knowledge, but contrasts the doctrines of Jesus Christ with the wisdom of the heathen, which was in repute at that time. And that the calling of pastors and teachers always depended on the Church by which they were chosen, is manifest from the very history of those pastors and teachers of the Church who are eternally glorified.

Dukhobortsy: What Holy Scriptures? What Church? What do you mean by Holy Scriptures?

Archimandrite: Did not you yourself say that you founded your opinions on the word of God? That is what I mean by the Holy Scriptures.

Dukhobortsy: The word of God is spiritual, and immaterial; it can be written on nothing but on the heart and spirit.

Archimandrite: Yet when the Saviour saith, “Search the Scriptures,” and gives us the reason of this command – “for in them ye think ye have eternal life,” – can He really understand thereby any thing else than the written word of God? This is the treasure which He himself hath entrusted to his holy Churchy as the unalterable rule of faith and life.

Dukhobortsy: And what do you call a church?

Archimandrite: An assembly of believers in Jesus Christ, governed by pastors according to regulations founded on the word of God, and partakers of the ordinances of faith.

Dukhobortsy: Not so: there is but one Pastor, Jesus Christ, who laid down his life for the sheep: and one Church, holy, apostolical, spiritual, invisible, of which it is said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them;” in which no worship is paid to any material object; where those only are teachers who live virtuous lives; where the word of God is obeyed in the heart, on which it descends like dew upon the fleece, and out of which it flows as from a spring in the midst of the mountains; where there are no such noisy, ostentatious, offensive, and idolatrous meetings and vain ceremonies as with you; no drunken and insulting pastors and teachers like yours; nor such evil dispositions and corruptions as among you.

Archimandrite: You have here mixed up many things together: let us consider them one by one.

First, that the Saviour Christ is the only chief Pastor and Head of the Church, is a truth: for He hath founded it by His own merits under His Almighty providence it exists, is guarded and protected; and “the gates of hell shall never prevail against it.” Spiritually, Christ is united to it; for “behold! I am with you, even to the end of the world:” and by the power of His grace He helpeth the prayers petitions of believers. But it does not seem good to the wisdom and majesty of God, that all, without distinction, should be engaged in the external state and service of the Church, which is so closely united to the internal; and therefore, from the very first ages, this has been committed unto worthy pastors and teachers, “as stewards of the mysteries of God.”

Secondly, I said that the external state of the Church is very closely united to the internal. Certainly it is so. Who does not know how powerfully the passions and the flesh work in us, both to good and evil, according to the nature of the object presented to them? We have need to recruit the efforts of our minds by such salutary aids; and to stir up the expiring flame of piety within us, by memorials of the goodness of God, and of the example of holy men. Here is the whole of what you so improperly style “material and idolatrous worship”. So long as we are united to matter, that is, to the body, we can never reach that pure and inward spiritual worship of God which the holy angels present unto Him, or such as that of the eternally-glorified saints; and on this account, when God requires that we should worship Him in spirit and in truth, it is to warn us against shameful hypocrisy, or other dispositions of mind not corresponding with our external worship.

Thirdly, with respect to the scandalous lives of some pastors, they can never harm the essence of faith; for that is not the cause of their bad conduct. And that their irregularities can never excuse those who on this account leave the Church and despise her doctrine, is witnessed by the Saviour Himself, in his discourse with the Pharisees: “The Scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat,” saith he: “all therefore, whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works; for they say, and do not.” Moreover, Christian humility should have deterred you from judging so rashly concerning general corruption and evil dispositions. But I have purposely not yet answered several of your expressions, such as “idolatrous meetings and vain ceremonies,” that I might first ask you what you mean by them?

Dukhobortsy: You may conjecture that yourself.

Archimandrite: Well: do not even you show becoming respect for the characters of those, who have been distinguished for holiness, and after death glorified by God, as patterns of faith and virtue ?

Dukhobortsy: Where and whom hath God thus glorified?

Archimandrite: Are the names of Chrysostom, Gregory the Great, and such like, unknown to you?

Dukhobortsy: I know them.

Archimandrite: What do you think of them”?

Dukhobortsy: What do I think? – Why, they were men!

Archimandrite: But holy men, whose faith and lives were agreeable to God; and on this account they are miraculously glorified from above.

Dukhobortsy: Well, let us suppose so.

Archimandrite: Now it is to them that the Church is indebted for all those offices and ceremonies, which you denominate “idolatrous” and “vain”; and the worship of images has been declared not to be sinful by the Council of the Holy Fathers; – how then will you make this agree with your views?

Dukhobortsy: I know not. I only know that hell will be filled with priests and deacons, and unjust judges. As for me, I will worship God as he instructs me.

Archimandrite: But can you, without danger, depend upon yourself? Are you not afraid, that sometimes you may mistake your own opinions, and even foolish imaginations, for Divine inspiration?

Dukhobortsy: How? To prevent this, reason is given unto us. I know what is good, and what is bad.

Archimandrite: A poor dependence! With the best reason, sometimes, good appears to be evil, and evil to be good.

Dukhobortsy: I will pray to God: He will send His word” – and God never deceives.

Archimandrite: True, God never deceives: but you deceive yourself, assuring yourself of that, on His part, which never took place.

Dukhobortsy: God does not reject the prayers of believers.

Archimandrite: Believers – true: those requests which are agreeable to the law of faith. Divine Wisdom will not reject: but “ye ask and receive not, because ye ask amiss.” For this purpose hath He given us the Book of his divine word, that in it we may behold His will, and that our petitions may be directed according to it. But it is vain to expect in the present day miraculous and immediate inspirations, without sufficient cause, particularly such as are unworthy of Him: and to pretend to such inspirations and revelations, is very hurtful to society, and therefore ought to be checked.

Dukhobortsy: But to me they appear to be very useful, salutary, and worthy of acceptation.

Archimandrite: What? To break off from the society of your countrymen, though united with you by the same laws and the same articles of faith, and to introduce strange doctrines, and laws of your own making? To begin to expound the doctrines of the Gospel without the aid of an enlightened education, disregarding the advice of such men as are most versed and experienced in those things; and out of your own head, to found upon all this a separate society? Is it not also to rise against your country, when you refuse to serve it where the sanctity of an oath is required? Should not the simple command of the higher powers be sufficient to unite you with others to defend your country, your fellow-citizens, and your faith?


Archimandrite: Why do you make no answer to this?

Dukhobortsy: There is nothing to say. I am not so loquacious as you, neither have I need of it.

Archimandrite: But do you not see, at least, whither your blind zeal is leading you, and that you deserve to suffer much more than all that has yet befallen you? – We look for your repentance and amendment.

Dukhobortsy: Do what you choose with us: we are happy to suffer for the faith: this is no new thing. Did you ever hear the old story?

Archimandrite: Tell me, I pray you, what story?

Dukhobortsy: “A certain man planted a vineyard, and set a hedge about it, and dug a place for the winefat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country. And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard. And they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away empty. . . . And again he sent another; and him they killed, and many others; beating some, and killing some. Having yet therefore one son, his well-beloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son. But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours. And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. What shall therefore the Lord of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others:” Mark xii. 1 – 9. Now I have done with you.

Archimandrite: At least, answer me this: How can it be reconciled, that you reject the Holy Scriptures, and at the same time endeavour to support yourself upon them?

Dukhobortsy: Argue as you will. I have spoken what was necessary, and shall not say another word.


The “Conversation” of 1792 is one of the earliest recorded accounts of the Doukhobors and demonstrates that they were already well established as a sect in Kharkov province, having sent previous deputations to state authorities as early as 1767 and 1769.

At the time of the “Conversation”, the Doukhobors of Kharkov province were outwardly characterized by their peaceful living, payment of taxes and their respect and adherence to the state. At the same time, they had “broken off from their countrymen” and formed their own society, with “laws and doctrines of their own making” based on the “Spirit of Truth”. The Doukhobors had already formed a distinct identity as a people set apart, within whom the “image of God” resided, in contrast to the “vain and idolatrous” Orthodox. This trait made the Doukhobors “zealous propagators” of their sect, reflected in the fact that their numbers in Kharkov were rapidly on the rise.

It is clear from the “Conversation” that persecution was “no new thing” to the Kharkov Doukhobors. Their belief system, compounded by their refusal to attend church, swear oaths or perform military service in defense of their country, invariably led to conflicts with local officials, clergy and their Orthodox neighbours. Previous deputations in 1767 and 1769 had been imprisoned and admonished by state authorities, after which some were taken for soldiers while others were sent into exile. The present deputation had ostensibly been sent to plead for protection from this “spirit of persecution and of wrath”.  For this, they, too, were imprisoned. The discrimination and maltreatment they suffered does not appear to have deterred the sect, however, and even in the midst of admonishment at the Alexander Nevsky Seminary, the three Doukhobors were “happy to suffer for the faith”.

Throughout the “Conversation”, the Kharkov Doukhobors showed a marked reluctance to discuss and explain their doctrines, sidestepping some questions, and refusing to answer others altogether. For this, the Archimandrite accused them of “studied secrecy” and “evasive answers”. Their reticence regarding their beliefs is understandable, however, given that in Russia at the time outside inquiries as to their faith were, in general, mere preliminaries to banishment and imprisonment. At the very least, such inquiries occasioned ridicule and derision.

At the same time, the Doukhobors adopted a decidedly defiant tone in response to questions raised by the Archimandrite; stubbornly resisting his theological arguments, showing a “boldness to preach the true faith”, and at times, displaying open contempt and derision for their captor and interrogator. Inherent in their bearing and response is the Doukhobor rejection of ecclesiastical and state authority, since “there is no higher Governor than God”. At the same time, their fearlessness in the face of official punishment and sanction can be ascribed to the Doukhobor axiom “fear not, but trust in God”.

For all of their reticence and stubbornness, however, the three Doukhobors from Kharkov provide us with one of the earliest statements of the Doukhobor faith, setting out, briefly and simply, in their own words, the basis of their beliefs, which can be summarized as: the belief that the spirit of God can be found in the soul of every man; worship of God in spirit and in truth; and in the rejection of all external rites, sacraments, dogma and ecclesiastic hierarchy and authority.

At the end of the admonishment, the Archimandrite demanded that the Doukhobors repent and amend their “erroneous beliefs”. Not surprisingly, the Doukhobors refused. The available records are silent as to their fate. In all likelihood, they remained imprisoned or were exiled, like many of their brethren during this intense period of persecution.

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