The Dukhobortsy and Religious Persecution in Russia

by John Ashworth

The following lecture was delivered in April 1900 by John Ashworth at the Society of Friends (Quakers) Meeting House in Manchester, England. Reproduced from the pages of ISKRA No.1870 (Grand Forks: U.S.C.C., March 24, 1999), this article sets out the beliefs, practices, history and persecution of the Doukhobors in Russia, and follows their early settlement in the Canadian West.

In bringing this subject into notice I am anxious to awaken an interest on behalf of the sectarian churches in the vast country of Russia, more especially of the Dukhobortsy (Doukhobors) who are suffering in various ways for not worshipping after the manner of the State Religion, known as the Greek (Russian Orthodox) Church. The history of the Doukhobors brings home to members of the Society of Friends what our forefathers suffered in the days of George Fox, in the time of the Irish rebellion, and during the American War.

The religious communities that have suffered and are suffering persecution at the hands of the Government are principally the Baptists, Stundists, Molokans, and Dukhobortsy.

The Baptists, only a few years ago, were permitted to have full freedom for worship in their own places, but this freedom is now restricted to the Province of Livonia, Riga being their chief centre. It is only within this district that they are permitted to erect Meeting Houses. Some of their pastors are undergoing imprisonment for converting members of the Greek Church to their doctrines; and are obliged to send their children to the Orthodox schools.

The Stundists hold similar views to the Baptists. They are not allowed to have their own churches, and they are liable to imprisonment if three of them assemble for worship; they therefore attach themselves to the Baptists that they may take part in their services. Both these are allowed the Bible and hymn books, but they are not permitted to read or receive any religious literature.

The Molokans are Methodists, and they do not believe in war, and they also are not allowed to have any books. These people are scattered in different parts of Russia but mostly in the Caucasus, in order to prevent them from meeting together, yet in spite of these precautions their principles spread.

Lastly, the Dukhobortsy or “Spirit Wrestlers”. These people were first heard of about 150 years ago, and at the end of the last century or the beginning of the present their doctrines had become so clearly defined, and the number of their followers had so greatly increased, that the Government and the Greek Church considered their creed to be peculiarly obnoxious. They therefore subjected them to cruel persecution.

Doukhobor villagers

The foundation of the Spirit Wrestlers’ teaching consists in the belief that the Spirit of God is present in the soul of man, and directs him by its word within him. They understand the coming of Christ in the flesh, His works, teachings, and sufferings, in a spiritual sense. The object of the sufferings of Christ, in their view, was to give us an example of suffering for truth. Christ continues to suffer in them even now, when they do not live in accordance with the behest and spirit of His teaching. The whole teaching of the Spirit Wrestlers is penetrated with the gospel spirit of love.

Worshipping God in the spirit, the Spirit Wrestlers affirm that the outward Church and all that is performed in it and concerns it has no importance for them. The Church is where two or three are gathered together, i.e. united in the name of Christ.

They pray inwardly at all times; while, on fixed days (corresponding for convenience to the orthodox holy days) they assemble for prayer meetings, at which they read prayers and sing hymns, or psalms as they call them, and greet each other fraternally with low bows, thereby acknowledging every man as a bearer of the Divine Spirit.

The teaching of the Spirit Wrestlers is founded on tradition. This tradition is called among them the Book of Life, because it lives in their memory and hearts. It consists of psalms, partly formed out of the contents of the Old and New Testaments, partly composed independently.

The Spirit Wrestlers found their mutual relations and their relations to other people – and not only to people, but to all living creatures – exclusively on love; and, therefore, they hold all people equal, brethren. They extend this idea of equality also to the Government authorities; obedience to whom they do not consider binding upon them in those cases where the demands of these authorities are in conflict with their conscience, while in all that does not infringe what they regard as the will of God, they willingly fulfill the desires of the authorities. They consider murder, violence, and in general all relations to living things not based no love, as opposed to their conscience, and to the will of God. 

Such are the beliefs for which the Spirit Wrestlers have long endured such persecutions. Yet it may be said of them that they are industrious and abstemious, always truthful in their speech, for they account all lying as a great sin.

The Emperor Alexander I, on the 9th of December, 1816, expressed himself in one of his prescripts as follows:

“All the measures of severity exhausted upon the Spirit Wrestlers during the 30 years up to 1801, not only did not destroy that sect, but more and more multiplied the number of its adherents.”

His Majesty, wishing to isolate them, graciously allowed them to emigrate from the Provinces of Tambov and Ekaterinoslav (where they flourished) to the so-called Milky Waters in the Tauride (Tavria) Province.

In the reign of Nicholas I, severe persecutions befell them, especially for not bearing arms. Between 1850 and 1850 they were transported to the extreme borders of the Caucasus, where being always confronted with hills men, it was thought they must of necessity protect their property and families by force of arms, and would thus have to renounce their convictions. Moreover, the so-called Wet Mountains, appointed for their settlement, had a severe climate, standing, as they did, 5,000 feet above the sea level. Barley grew with difficulty and crops were often destroyed by frost.

Others of these Spirit Wrestlers were transported to the wild, unhealthy and uncultivated district of Elizavetpol, where it was thought the wild frontier tribes would probably exterminate them. Instead of that, they won the friendship of the hill tribes, and enjoyed a half a century of prosperity and peace, although in the first instance they suffered to some extent through the depredations of the inhabitants, because they carried out their principles of non-resistance.

In 1887, when Universal Military Conscription was introduced into the Transcaucasus, many of the Spirit Wrestlers, through the snare which comes with increase of worldly goods, became lax in their religious views and joined the army. This indifference continued until 1895, when Peter Verigin, whom the Doukhobors now look up to as their leader, was the means of creating a revival amongst them, and bringing them back to the faith of their fathers, and to their old custom of total abstinence from all intoxicants and tobacco. They voluntarily divided their property, in order to do away with the distinctions between rich and poor, and again they strictly insisted on the doctrine of non-resistance to violence.

The Russian Government felt that Peter Verigin would be better removed, especially as the conscription was again being introduced into the Caucasus. He was banished to Lapland, but afterwards transferred to Obdorsk, in Siberia, in order that he might be more completely cut off from his people.

In carrying out this spirit of non-resistance, however, they felt that so long as anyone possessed arms, it was difficult to keep from using them, when robbers came to steal a horse or a cow. So to remove temptation and to give proof of their principles to the Government, they resolved to destroy their arms. This decision was unitedly carried out in the three districts on the night of June 28th, 1895. In the Kars district, all passed off quietly. In the Elizavetpol district, the authorities made it an excuse for arresting 40 of them under a plea that it was a rebellion against army service. The people in the villages of Goreloye in the Tiflis district fared still worse. There a large assembly of men and women gathered at night for the purpose of burning their arms; they continued singing psalms till the bonfire had burned low, and the day had begun to dawn. Just then two regiments of Cossacks arrived on the scene, and were ordered to charge upon the defenseless crowd, without even ascertaining the cause of the gathering. They flogged the men and women with heavy whips, until the Doukhobors’ faces were cut and their clothes covered with blood.

No one was tried for this, and no one was punished, nor has any explanation or apology been offered to them. The Government in St. Petersburg depend for information upon the local authorities, who were the very people who sanctioned this crime. The newspapers dare not report such disgraceful scenes, in fact they are forbidden to do so.

Vladimir Chertkov, Paul Biryukov and Ivan Tregubov (Tolstoyans sympathetic to the Doukhobors) went to St. Petersburg to plead before the Emperor on behalf of these suffering people. Instead of seeing him they were banished without trial and without being allowed to make the matter public.

Instead of the perpetrators of these crimes being punished, Cossacks were quartered in the villages of the Doukhobors, and there insulted the women, beat the men, and stole their property. Four thousand (Tiflis Doukhobors) were obliged to abandon their houses and sell their well cultivated lands at a few days notice, and were banished to unhealthy districts where nearly 1,000 perished in the next three years, from want, disease and ill-treatment.

It may be interesting at this juncture to show, from the following discourse between a Judge and one of the Doukhobors, that some of the authorities had a tender place in their hearts.

To the conscription of the year 1895, in the district town of Dushet, there were summoned seven of the Spirit Wrestlers who were exiled to the Gory district. They were all entitled to exemption owing to domestic circumstances. They obeyed the summons, but declined to draw lots, and the village alderman was told to draw for them. A report was drawn up of their refusal, and they were sent home again. The judge determined that they were to appear before the Court on the 14th of November, and served them with notices to do so on the spot.

They appeared at the Court at 9 a.m. The Judge said, “Are you the men who refused to draw lots?” “We are” replied the Doukhobors. “And why do you refuse?” asked the Judge.

Glagolev: “Because we do not wish to enter the military service, knowing beforehand that such service is against our conscience, and we prefer to live according to our conscience, and not in opposition to it. Although by the military law we are entitled to exemption, we would not draw lots because we did not wish to have any share in a business which is contrary to the will of God and to our conscience.”

The Judge: “The term of service is now short: you can soon get it over and go home again. Then they will not drag you from court to court, and from prison to prison.”

Glagolev: “Mr. Judge, we do not value our bodies. The only thing of importance to us is that our conscience should be clear. We cannot act contrary to the will of God. And it is no light matter to be a soldier, and to kill a man directly you are told. God has once for all impressed on the heart of each man, “Thou shalt not kill.” A Christian will not only not learn how to kill, but will never allow one of God’s creatures to be beaten.”

Then said the Judge, “But nevertheless, we cannot do without soldiers and war, because both you and others have a little property, and some people are quite rich; and if we had no armies and no soldiers, then evil men and thieves would come, and would plunder us, and with no army we could no defend ourselves.”

Then Glagolev replied, “You know, Mr. Judge, that it is written in the Gospels, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth.” We have obeyed this injunction, and will hold to it, and therefore shall have not need of defending anything. Why, ask yourself, Mr. Judge, how we can keep our money when our brothers might need it? We are commanded to help our neighbours, so that we cannot find rest in our souls when we see them in want. Christ when He was on earth taught that we should “feed the hungry, give shoes to those who have none, and share with those who are needy.”

Then the Judge began to enquire into our circumstances, and asked how we were getting on, and how the country suited us, all about the distraint, and the Cossacks striking the women and old men, and their outraging the young women, and expressed great astonishment that soldiers whose duty it was to protect us, could turn themselves into brigands and murderers.

Then said Glagolev, “We see from this, Mr. Judge, that an army does not in the least exist for the protection of our own interests, but in order that our savings may be spent on armaments, and is no use in the world but to cause misery, outrage and murder.”

Then the Judge, who had listened to it all attentively, was greatly moved and distressed by all the cruelties which had been practiced on the Spirit Wrestlers. He condemned them, in virtue of some section or other of the Code, to a fine of three roubles, and himself advised them not to pay it.

He talked a great deal more to us, and questioned us, and said, as he dismissed us, “Hold fast to that commandment of the Lord’s.”

We went to the inn to dine, and see our friends, and before we had any dinner, the Judge came to see us, and brought us two roubles, in case we had nothing to eat. We endeavored to decline the money, saying, “We do not want it. Thank God, today we shall have enough.” But he begged us to accept it as the offering of a pure heart, and made in sincerity, and then we took it, as from a brother, and after thanking him, and bidding him farewell, went away. He showed us where he lived, expressed a wish to know more of us, and begged us to come and talk with him.

Ultimately, the Russian Government, perhaps realizing that persecution would not turn the Doukhobors from their faith, granted them permission to emigrate. They were assisted in this emigration by the Society of Friends (Quakers) in England. One colony was sent to Cyprus, where the climate proved unsuitable. Finally arrangements were made with the Canadian Government for each male over 18 years of age to have a grant of 160 acres of land in (the North-West Territories), together with a loan of one dollar per head.

In the first half of 1899, over 6,000 emigrated to Manitoba, Assiniboia and Saskatchewan – and in the Spring it was found necessary to transport the Cyprus Colony to Canada also, as many of them were suffering from fever – this bringing up the total number of Doukhobors in Canada to about 7,400.

The Russian Government apparently showed great forethought in the manner in which they carried out the persecution, by arresting the leaders and foremost men and banishing them to Siberia. At the present time 110 have been thus cruelly snatched away from their families and people, and are still in exile.

In the Autumn of last year (1899) I had occasion to visit Canada on business, when, through the kindness of the Deputy Minister of the Interior, whom I met at Ottawa, arrangements were made for my paying a visit to some Doukhobor Settlements. Upon arriving at Winnipeg, Mr. McCreary, the Immigration Commissioner, passed me forward to Mr. Crerar, the Government Agent at Yorkton, who provided me with a two horse rig, and an interpreter by the name of Captain Arthur St. John, a retired military officer, and who had become a follower of Tolstoy.

Yorkton is a town of about 600 inhabitants, at the terminus of the branch line, which is 270 miles Northwest of Winnipeg. It takes from 8:30 in the morning to about 10 o’clock at night to cover this distance.

On my journey between Winnipeg and Yorkton I got into a conversation with a contractor who was on his way to the latter place to engage 500 Doukhobors to work on the railway at $1.75 per day. He spoke well of them and thought them steady workmen. At the same time he stated that many objections were raised against foreigners being brought into the district.

On the bright, frosty morning of the 25th of October, accompanied by Arthur St. John, I drove 15 miles over the prairie to Whitesand. There we stayed the night with a Friend (Quaker) of the name of Alfred Hutchison, an Ackworth scholar, formerly of Wellingborough, England. At an early hour in the morning, we crossed Whitesand River, drove over the prairie and along the south east side of Good Spirit or Devil’s Lake, till we reached the South Colony of Doukhobors. We stopped to exchange salutations at the first two villages. I shall always remember my first impression of a Doukhobor village on that beautiful, frosty morning. A picturesque group of quaintly built chalet like houses, made of logs with turf roofs. The sides were coated with clay plaster and presented a uniform appearance. In the centre of the main room was a large oven, 5 feet square, which served the purpose of heating the hut and cooking the food. Everything showed most careful workmanship. The habits of personal cleanliness, acquired in their old country, were continued here, for it was noticeable that one of the first buildings put up was a Russian bath.

Doukhobor village

We were sorry to hear that these villagers were obliged to remove in the Spring, owing to their having planted themselves too near former settlers, and also because the land was not good enough to produce sufficient food for the needs of so many.

We next visited the villages on Paterson Lake, where the people seemed more contented and comfortable. They expressed their gratitude for what Friends (Quakers) had done in bringing them to Canada. After the usual salutations, we drove about two miles north to a ranch run by some Scotch people, Mr. and Mrs. Buchanan, who made us welcome for the night. A surveying camp was near, and the leader came and spent two hours with us. Although we were right on the prairie, thirty miles away from any town, yet so many people were gathered together that quite a pleasant evening was spent. Mr. and Mrs. Buchanan spoke highly of the Doukhobors for their honesty and faithfulness. A Doukhobor worked on their farm and they sent him the following day with his team to help the Surveyors to change their camp to twenty miles off. The women are very clever with the needle, as specimens of their handiwork showed.

After a pleasant evening, a good night’s rest, and farewell greetings, we continued our journey over the prairie to the next villages. At one time, owing to a frosty mist, we lost our trail trying to make a short cut. Fortunately, we came across some lumber men at a stream, who put us on the track, and soon we struck Williams’ ranch. Here we stopped for refreshment and to rest our horses. These farmers had also a Doukhobor working for them. Mrs. Williams told us she could trust the Doukhobors when left with herself and children, while she did not feel nearly so safe with the untrustworthy Galician settlers. As evening was approaching, we hastened to the next village, and arrived as the sun was setting.

Here we spent the night in a Doukhobor hut. I had a long conversation with the leaders of the village, through Arthur St. John. They chanted some of their psalms to us, after which we had supper of dark brown, sour bread, tea in glasses, potatoes sliced and baked in oil, which we ate according to their custom with our fingers; then a kind of soup made of macaroni, for which they provided home-made wooden spoons.

Arthur St. John, on leaving me that night, instructed a Doukhobor to accompany me on the morrow. He then walked through the night, 18 miles over the prairies to the next village.

Before retiring for the night, I endeavored to amuse the girls and boys by teaching them simple English words, and I was well repaid by their quickness in learning. After a comfortable night’s rest and a breakfast similar to the supper aforesaid, several Doukhobors escorted me some distance in the beautiful morning. We drove 18 miles over the prairie to the next village, which after some difficulty we reached about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Here we had another Russian meal, and after a friendly greeting drove to the last village on my tour. I found many poor people here, suffering more or less from the Cyprus fever.

Arthur St. John walked back to the village I had just left, whilst I drove across Dead Horse Creek to Kamsack Post Office, where I put up for the night in such accommodation as could be had. We slept in a loft; I on an old-fashioned bed, the driver in rugs on the floor and the Doukhobor boy on the kitchen floor.

The next day we drove back to Yorkton, a distance of 40 miles, arriving there about 10 o’clock at night. The last eight miles over the prairie was by brilliant starlight.

It is difficult to state clearly what the Doukhobor belief is, especially when we bear in mind that these people are what we should call illiterate. They have no written history, and what knowledge they have is handed down orally from father to son. Upon entering a meeting the custom is for the men to greet each other by bowing three times and kissing one another, and the women to do the same to each other. At the commencement, each one says a prayer. The three bows and kisses are intended to signify the cleansing of the body and the repulsion of pride; they take each other’s hands as a sign of union and love, kindly expression, good understanding, and the sense of a God revered in their souls.

During t he meetings, one after another recites the prayers he knows; they sing psalms together and explain to each other the Word of God. As almost all are illiterate, and therefore without books, all this is done from memory. They have no priests in the ordinary sense of the word; they acknowledge as priest the one just, holy, true Christ, uplifted above sinners higher than the heavens; He is their sole teacher. Thus at their meetings they hear the Word of God from each other; each one may express what he knows or feels for the benefit of his brethren; the women are not excluded from this, for, as they say, women also have understanding, and light is in understanding. They pray either standing or sitting, as the case may be. At the end of the meeting, they again kiss each other thrice as at the beginning, and then the brethren return home.

In visiting the villages of the Doukhobors one cannot help noticing that “the power that Christianity in its truest sense has of civilizing, in our acceptance of the word, is made manifest in this instance. These people, deprived of even the few necessities of life common to the children of the soil, hunted from pillar to post, made to herd like the beasts of the field, beaten, ill-treated, mother separated from their children and wives from their husbands, are today the most polite, orderly people it is possible to imagine. The villages they are building testify to the powers of organization and inherent orderliness of the people; the results of self-discipline are apparent in the people as a unit, and the very core of their religious convictions is self-restraint.

The absence of anything like noisiness or excitability strikes one the instant one moves about among the villages. The very children are curiously quiet and gentle in their mode of play, and they are miniatures of their elders in more than their picturesque costume. The quiet dignity noticeable comes from the best possible influence, the parents having apparently little trouble in training their children, other than by the example of their own quiet and industrious lives. 

There is something unutterably pathetic to those who live in this wrangling, noisy world of the nineteenth century to see the women and children of the Dukhobortsy quietly and silently bearing with a great patience the load that is laid upon their shoulders. The innate dignity of the women and their uncomplaining, untiring patience have perhaps been the reason that they have had strength given them to endure to the end trials that their magnificent physique could not alone have enabled them to withstand. They are a great people – that is undeniable; and while they are the children of the soil, they are the aristocracy of the soil, people who, to use Ruskin’s words, have found that “all true art is sacred, and in all hand labour there is something of divineness.” Their hand labour is marvelous, from the finest embroidery to the building and plastering of their houses.

Whatever we may think about the religion of the Doukhobors, we have here at the end of the nineteenth century an object lesson of what these people have suffered for conscience sake in endeavoring according to their light to advance the cause of truth and righteousness in the earth.

Well may we ask ourselves the question, “What should we do under similar circumstances?” Should we also stand true to the dictates of Christ our Master? It might be said in reply, “There is no fear of such a state of things happening in this country.” Let us pause and consider. The times are ominous. Militarism is apparently becoming rampant. Even professing representatives of the Gospel of Christ have declared a man to be a coward who attempted to carry out the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount. God forbid that His people should forsake Him in their hour of trial.


John Ashworth was a member of the Society of Friends Doukhobor Committee, a Quaker body formed in England in 1897 to help the Doukhobors emigrate from Russia, and thereafter, to assist in their settlement in Canada.  His visit to the Doukhobor settlements in Canada in Autumn of 1899 – the subject of the above article – was his first of several such visits. For an account of his subsequent visit to the Doukhobors in April of 1901, see his account entitled Visit to the Saskatchewan District Doukhobors, 1901.

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.

To read more, search, download, save and print a full PDF copy of “Russia: or, Miscellaneous Observations on the Past and Present State of that Country and its Inhabitants”  by Robert Pinkerton (London: Seeley and Sons, 1833), visit the Google Book Search digital database.

Appeal For Help

by Vladimir G. Chertkov, Pavel I. Biryukov & Ivan M. Tregubov

Vladimir Grigorievich Chertkov (1854-1936), Pavel Ivanovich Biryukov (1860-1931) and Ivan Mikhailovich Tregubov were Tolstoyan writers who supported the Doukhobor cause of pacifism. Their appeal, “Pomogite: Obrashchenie k Obshchestvu po Povodu Gonenii na Kavkazskikh Dukhoborov” (London: 1896) helped publicize the persecution of the Doukhobors in the Caucasus. The following excerpt is taken from the English translation, “Appeal for Help” (London: 1897).

A terrible cruelty is now being perpetrated in the Caucasus. More than four thousand people are suffering and dying from hunger, disease, exhaustion, blows, tortures, and other persecutions at the hands of the Russian authorities.

These suffering people are the Doukhobors (or “Spirit Wrestlers” as the word means) of the Caucasus. They are enduring persecution, because their religious convictions do not allow them to fulfil those demands of the State which are connected, directly or indirectly, with the killing of, or violence to, their fellow man.

Brief and fragmentary notices of these remarkable people have not infrequently appeared of late in the Russian and foreign press. But all that has been published in the Russian newspapers has been either too short, or in a mutilated form – whether intentionally, unintentionally, or as a concession to the requirements of the Russian censor; while what has been printed abroad is, unfortunately, little accessible to the Russian public. Hence it is that we consider it our duty in this Appeal to give a general view of the events that are now taking place, and a brief sketch of the circumstances which preceded them

Vladimir G. Chertkov (1854-1936)

The Doukhobors first appeared in the middle of last century. By the end of the last century or the beginning of the present (ie. 19th century) their doctrine had become so clearly defined, and the number of their followers had so greatly increased, that the Government and the Church, considering this sect to be peculiarly obnoxious, started a cruel persecution. 

The foundation of the Doukhobors’ teaching consists in the belief that the Spirit of God is present in the soul of man, and directs him by its word within him.

They understand the coming of Christ in the flesh, His works, teachings, and sufferings, in a spiritual sense. The object of the sufferings of Christ in their view, was to give us an example of suffering for truth. Christ continues to suffer in us even now, when we do not live in accordance with the behest and spirit of His teaching. The whole teaching of the Doukhobors is penetrated with the gospel spirit of love.

Worshipping God in the spirit, the Doukhobors affirm that the outward Church and all that is performed in it and concerns it has no importance for them. The Church is where two or three are gathered together, unitedin the name of Christ.

They pray inwardly at all times; while, on fixed days (corresponding for convenience to the Orthodox holy days), they assemble for prayer meetings, at which they read prayers and sing hymns, or psalms as they call them, and greet each other fraternally with low bows, thereby acknowledging every man as a bearer of the Divine Spirit.

The teaching of the Doukhobors is founded on tradition. This tradition is called among them the Book of Life because it lives in their memory and hearts. It consists of psalms, partly formed out of the contents of the Old and New Testaments, partly composed independently.

The Doukhobors found alike their mutual relations and their relations to other people – and not only to people, but to all living creatures – exclusively on love; and therefor, they hold all people equal brethren. They extend this idea of equality also to the Government authorities; obedience to whom they do not consider binding upon them in those cases when the demands of these authorities are in conflict with their conscience; while, in all that does not infringe what they regard as the will of God, they willingly fulfil the desire of the authorities.

They consider murder, violence, and in general all relations to living beings not based on love, as opposed to their conscience, and to the will of God. The Doukhobors are industrious and abstemious in their lives, and always truthful in their speech, accounting all lying a great sin. Such, in their most general character, are the beliefs for which the Doukhobors have long endured cruel persecution.

The Emperor Alexander I, in one of his prescripts concerning the Doukhobors, dated the 9th December, 1816, expressed himself as follows: “All the measures of severity exhausted upon the Spirit Wrestlers during the thirty years up to 1801, not only did not destroy this sect, but more and more multiplied the number of its adherents.” And therefor he proposed more humane treatment of them. But, notwithstanding this desire of the Emperor, the persecutions did not cease. 

Under Nicholas I, they were particularly enforced, and by his command, in the years ’40 and ’50 the Doukhobors were all banished from the government of Taurus (Tavria) where they were formerly settled, to Transcaucasia, near the Turkish frontier. “The utility of this measure is evident,” says a previous resolution of the Committee of Ministers of the 6th February, 1826, “they (the Doukhobors) being transported to the extreme borders of the Caucasus, and being always confronted by the hillsmen, must of necessity protect their property and families by force of arms,” ie. they would have to renounce their convictions. Moreover the place appointed for their settlement, the so-called Wet Mountains, was one (situated in what is now the Akhalkalak district of the Tiflis government) having a severe climate, standing 5,000 feet above the sea level, in which barley grows with difficulty, and where the crops are often destroyed by frost. Others of the Doukhobors were planted in the present government of Elizavetpol.

But neither the severe climate nor the neighbourhood of wild and warlike hillsmen shook the faith of the Doukhobors, who, in the course of the half century they passed in the Wet Mountains, transformed this wilderness into flourishing colonies, and continued to lived the same Christian and laborious life they had lived before. But, as nearly always happens with people, the temptation of the wealth which they attained to in the Caucasus weakened their moral force, and little by little they began to depart somewhat from the requirements of their belief.

But, while temporarily departing, in the external relations of life, from the claims of their conscience, they did not, in their inner consciousness, renounce the basis of their beliefs; and therefor, as soon as events happened among them which disturbed their outward tranquility, the religious spirit which had guided their fathers immediately revived within them.

In 1887, universal military service was introduced in the Caucasus; and even those for whom it was formerly (in consideration of their religious convictions) replaced by other service or by banishment, were called upon to serve. This measure took the Doukhobors unawares, and at first they outwardly submitted to it; but they never in their consciences renounced the belief that war is a great sin, and they exhorted their sons taken as recruits, though they submitted to the various regulations of the service, never to make actual use of their arms. Nevertheless, the introduction of the conscription among people who considered every murder and act of violence against their fellow men to be a sin, greatly alarmed them, and caused them to think over the degree to which they had departed from their belief.

At the same time, in consequence of an illegal decision of the Government departments and officials, the right to the possession of the public property of the Doukhobors (valued at half a million roubles) passed from the community to one of their members, who, for his own personal advantage, had betrayed the public interest. This called forth the protest of the majority of the Doukhobors against this individual and his party, who hd thus become possessed of the public property, and against the corrupt local administration which had been bribed to give an unjust decision in the case.

When, besides this, several representatives of the majority, and among them the manager (ie. Peter Vasilievich Verigin) elected to administrate the communal property, were banished to the government of Archangel, this awakening assumed a very definite character.

The majority of the Doukhobors (about twelve thousand in number) resolved to hold fast to the traditions left them by their fathers. They renounced tobacco, wine, meat, and every kind of excess, divided up all their property (thus supplying the needs of those who were then in want), and they collected a new public fund. In connection with this return to a strictly Christian life, they also renounced all participation in acts of violence, and therefor refused military service.

The Burning of Arms, 1895. Painting by Terry McLean.

In confirmation of the sincerity of their decision not to use violence even for their own defence, in the summer of 1895, the Doukhobors of the “Great Party” as they were called, burnt all their arms which they, like all the inhabitants of the Caucasus, kept for their protection, and those who were in the army refused to continue service. By general resolution, they fixed on the night of 28th June for the purpose of burning their arms, which were their own property and therefor at their absolute disposal. This holocaust was accompanied by the singing of psalms, and was carried out simultaneously in three places, namely, in the governments of Tiflis and Elizavetpol and in the territory of Kars. In the latter district it passed off without interference; in the government of Elizavetpol it resulted in the imprisonment of forty Doukhobors, who are still in confinement; while in the government of Tiflis the action taken by the local administration resulted in the perpetration by the troops of a senseless, unprovoked, and incredibly savage attack on those defenceless people, and in their cruel ill treatment.

The Burning of Arms in the Tiflis government was appointed to take place near the village of Goreloe, inhabited by Doukhobors belonging to the “Small Party” in whose hands was the public property they had appropriated. This party having learnt the intention of the “Great Party” to burn their weapons, were either afraid of such an assembly, or wished to slander them, and informed the authorities that the Doukhobors of the “Great Party” were devising a rising and preparing to make an armed attack upon the village of Goreloe. The local authorities, then, without verifying the truth of this information, ordered out the Cossacks and infantry to the place of the imaginary riot. The Cossacks arrived at the place of assembly of the Doukhobors in the morning, when the bonfire, which had destroyed their arms, was already burning out, and they made two cavalry attacks upon these men and women, who had voluntarily disarmed themselves and were singing hymns, and the troops beat them with their whips in the most inhuman manner.

After this, a whole series of persecutions was commenced against all the Doukhobors belonging to the “Great Party”. First of all, the troops called out were quartered “in execution” on the Doukhobors’ settlements, ie. the property and the inhabitants themselves of these settlements were placed at the disposal of the officers, soldiers, and Cossacks quartered in these villages. Their property was plundered, and the inhabitants themselves were insulted and maltreated in every way, while the women were flogged with whips and some of them violated. The men, numbering about three hundred, who had refused active service, were thrown into prison or sent to a penal battalion.

Afterwards, more than four hundred families of Doukhobors in Akhalkalak were torn from their prosperous holdings and splendidly cultivated land, and after the forced sale, for a mere trifle, of their property, they were banished from the Akhalkalak district to four other districts of the Tiflis government, and scattered among the Georgian villages, from one to five families to each village, and there abandoned to their fate.

As early as last autumn, epidemics such as fevers, typhus, diphtheria, and dysentery, appeared among the Doukhobors (scattered as above stated), with the result that the mortality increased largely, especially among the children. The Doukhobors had been exiled from a cold mountain climate and settled in the hot Caucasian valleys, where even the natives suffered from fevers; and consequently nearly all the Doukhobors are sick, partly because (not having dwellings of their own) they are huddled together in hired quarters; but chiefly because they lack means of subsistence.

Their only earnings are from daily labour among the population amidst whom they have been thrown, and beyond the bounds of whose villages they are not allowed to go. But these earnings are very small, the more so that the native population suffered this year both from a bad harvest and from inundations. Those who are settled near the railway pick up something by working there, and share the wages they get with the rest. But this is only a drop in the ocean of their common want.

The material position of the Doukhobors is getting worse and worse every day. The exiles have no other food than bread, and sometimes there is a lack of even this. Already among the majority of them certain eye diseases, which are the sure harbingers of scurvy, have appeared.

In one place of exile situated in the Signak district, 106 deaths occurred among 100 families (about 1,000 people) settled there. In the Gory district, 147 deaths occurred among 190 families. In the Tionet district, 83 deaths occurred among 100 families. In the Dushet district, 20 deaths occurred among 72 families. Almost all are suffering from diseases, and disease and mortality are constantly increasing. 

Besides these deaths there have been others (due to actual violence) among the Doukhobors in prison and in the penal battalion. The first to die in this way, in July 1895, was Kirill Konkin, the cause of death being blows received as corporal punishment. He died on the road, before reaching the place of his exile, in a state of hallucination, which commenced while he was being flogged. Next, in August 1896, died Mikhail Shcherbinin in the Ekaterinograd penal battalion, tortured to death by flogging, and by being thrown with violence over the wooden horse in the gymnasium. Among those confined in the prisons many have already died. Some of them, while dying, were locked up in separate rooms, and neither their fellow prisoners, nor parents, wives and children who had come to bid them farewell, were allowed even to enter the room while the dying lay alone and helpless. More deaths are to be expected both among the population suffering from want in exile and in the prisons.

The Doukhobors themselves do not ask for help – neither those who are in exile with their families, famished, and with starving and sick children, nor those who are being slowly but surely tortured to death in the prisons. They die without uttering a single cry for help, knowing why and for what they suffer. But we, who see these sufferings, and know about them, cannot remain unmoved.

But how to help them?

There are only two means to help people persecuted for faith’s sake. One consists in the fulfilment of the Christian commandment, to welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, and feed the hungry, which is prescribed to us both by our own hearts and by the Gospel; the other consists in appealing to the persecutors, both to those who prescribe the persecutions and to those who allow them to take place when they might stop them; and also to those who, without sympathizing with the persecutions, participate in them and become their means – appealing by laying bare before these persecutors the sin, the cruelty, and the folly of their acts.

Having been in a position sooner than others to know what has here been set forth, we appeal alike to Russians and to non Russians to help our brethren in their present sore distress, both with money offerings to relieve the sufferings of the aged, sick, and children, and by raising their voices on behalf of the persecuted.

The most important and grateful means of expressing sympathy with the persecuted, and of softening the hearts of the persecutors, would be personally to visit the victims, in order to see with one’s own eyes what is being done with them now, and to make the truth about them generally known.

The expression of sympathy is dear to the Doukhobors, because although they do not ask for help, they yet have no greater joy than to see the manifestation of love and pity to them on the part of others – of that same love for the sake of which these martyrs are sacrificing their lives.

The making publicly known of the truth about the Doukhobors is important, because it cannot be that the Russian State authorities really desire to exterminate these people by the inexorable demand from them of that which their conscience does not allow them to do, and the ceaseless persecution and torture of them on this account. There is probably here some misunderstanding, and therefor it is that the promulgation of the truth which may remove this is specially important.


Editorial Note

The above appeal attained its purpose by drawing the attention both of the public and of the higher authorities to the persecution of the Doukhobors by the local authorities of the Caucasus. But for the three friends who signed it, the result was their banishment. Two of them, Biryukov and Tregubov, were exiled to small towns in the Baltic provinces; while Chertkov was given the choice between the same sentence and being altogether exiled from Russia. He chose the latter as affording him the possibility of helping, from abroad in England, his persecuted friends, which would have been impossible under the conditions of strict police supervision under which those banished within Russia had to live – JJK.