by Mikhail S. Androsov
Mikhail Semenovich Androsov was a prominent Doukhobor organizer and activist in the late 19th and early 20th century. In 1901, while in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, he met the Doukhobor elder, Efim Evseyevich Vlasov, who shared his stories of the history of the movement, and the life events of its early leader, Savely Kapustin, as passed down to him through oral tradition from earlier generations. Androsov carefully documented these stories in a written manuscript, which was subsequently published by the Russian ethnographer Vladimir Dmitrievich Bonch-Bruevich in “Materialy k istorii i izucheniiu religiozno-obshchestvennykh dvizhenii v Rossii. Vypusk 1. Baptisty. Bieguny. Dukhobortsy. L. Tolstoi o skopchestvie. Pavlovtsy. Pomortsy. Staroobriadtsy. Skoptsy. Shtundisty.” (St. Petersburg; B. M. Vol’fa, 1908). Androsov’s manuscript provides the reader with a rare, detailed and authentic example of the rich oral tradition of the Doukhobors. 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.
On August 10th, 1901 while in the city of Yorkton I met an old man named Efim Vlasov. He recognized me as Androsov and said: “For a long time I have been wanting to have a talk with you, but haven’t had an opportunity.” I replied: “Now we’ll have an opportunity. Tomorrow is Sunday. We can talk all day.”
The next day Vlasov began to ask me about certain events. I told him what I knew, and then Vlasov related to me what Gavriil Sorokin had told him about how he had joined the Doukhobors. Sorokin was very wealthy; he had a lot of money. He himself was a giant – 13 chetverts [an imperial Russian unit of measure equal to 7 inches; 13 chetverts equals seven and a half feet] tall; everybody was fascinated by his size and his wealth.
Doukhobors were beginning to appear in several locations. At that time they were referred to as malovery [“people of little faith”]; they were being persecuted everywhere. Some had been flogged to death, others pilloried and encased in stone cairns; many were exiled to forced labour in silver and gold mines.
I, Sorokin, began by hurling abuse at these people. Kormilets let me go on, but then interrupted me to show me that what I was saying was not fitting. I will admit and I myself now see that I was off track. In the morning my guest was about to leave. I began to try hard to find out what kind of person he was, and what his beliefs were. He explained it to me. Then I approached him and said “I wish to be your servant, will you let me believe in you?” Kormilets said: “I have important business; it is necessary to go to the Tsar. I want you to go to him.”
Sorokin asked: “What business?”
“Here’s what – you are to tell Tsar Alexander personally about our faith.”
I was terrified and said: “I cannot speak about faith and I am afraid of the Tsar; I will not go alone.”
Kormilets said: “You will have a companion, go together, but only you, Sorokin, will speak to the Tsar.”
I was even more frightened that he was picking me out directly. Then Kormilets said: “Fear not, Sorokin; if you wish to be glorified, go boldly. Go with your companion into the Tsar’s court; just remember, stand on the left side, and your companion on the right side, and I will be with you standing between you. Whatever they ask you, I will tell you how to answer, and you will answer them. Look at me, see what I am like, that is how I will appear there; no one will see me, but you will see me and only you will hear me.”
Then I agreed to go with a companion to visit the Tsar.
For three months we travelled on foot. We arrived at the court of the Tsar, where at the gates the guards were walking back and forth. We told them we had come to tell the Tsar about our faith. Then they let us into the courtyard. When we entered the courtyard, we caught sight of the golden regiment of soldiers who stood at the doors. Sorokin was terrified when he saw all the soldiers dressed in gold uniforms, and became flustered, forgetting why and where he had come.
Then they were led to the Tsar. When they entered the building, Sorokin had to stand on the left side, and his companion on the right. They spoke: “We wish you health, your Imperial Majesty!”
There also was the Pope of Rome, i.e. the senior priest. He was seated, and nearby was an open Bible and New Testament. Sorokin did not know what to do or where to hide; he turned toward his companion and saw that Kormilets was standing between them. Then at once Sorokin remembered all the words that it would be well for him to answer, the words given by Kormilets. “My fear left me, and my heart rejoiced.”
Then the Pope of Rome began to question us: “What people are you, of what faith, what is the name of your sect?”4 and waited.
Kormilets said to me: “Answer him this way: ‘We are named Doukhobors…’” and so from beginning to end I answered from the lips of Kormilets. After that he asked: “With whom did the Lord create the heavens?” to which I gave answer. Then he asked: “What manner of person are you?”5 and I answered him.
After these three questions and answers, Alexander asked: “And can you sing?”
Sorokin replied: “We can!”
However, he himself was a new convert to this faith and was by no means a singer. But his companion was. He (Alexander, that is) spoke: “Your answers to all the questions were good. I would like to hear you sing….”
Then my companion began to sing: “Vnemlite, lyudi moi, zakonu Bozh’emu…” [“Hear, my people, the law of God”]. Kormilets turned toward him and also began to sing; and so two voices sang out, and it was terrifying to stand near them. I, Sorokin, stood openmouthed looking at them. They sang that entire psalm.
Then Alexander came up to Sorokin and said: “You are Doukhobors; you have come to know God in the spirit of your true faith. May you enjoy the benefits of this faith.” Then they thanked him and asked that they be given a copy of the questions and answers, as everything had been written down in their presence. Then Alexander ordered that they be given copies of the long questions and answers, which they received, were taken back to the Doukhobors and have been preserved up to this day.
In all probability, I suppose, they are kept by some Russian organization that keeps information of concern to the priesthood or the government.
Within a short time a decree was issued ordering that the Doukhobors be resettled in the Molochnye Vody [“Milky Waters”] area in Tavria province. Many were still in exile in various places in Siberia. At that time Kormilets wrote a petition to Alexander. This petition began: “Thus saith the Lord, the Holy God of Israel…” You have this in the psalm book6 and we have accepted it as a proper psalm.
When they delivered the petition to Alexander, he summoned the Senate, but they were unable to understand the petition. Then they passed it on to the priests; of course those churchmen understood it better. They then responded to Alexander: “This petition must be the work of God himself; we cannot make any decision about it.”
Then Alexander issued a decree that Doukhobors be sought out in all the cities and villages where they are to be found; they are to be permitted, without any compulsion, to go out to Molochnye Vody in Tavria province. If any are in prison or in exile in Siberia, they are to be be freed and sent at state expense to Molochnye Vody, Tavria province. His decree was put into effect.7
At one place in Siberia there were 100 Doukhobors. They were serving hard labour, dragging sacks of ore from under ground. At the same place another 100 men joined them who had been exiled for murder and robbery. Seeing many men in bonds, they felt a wish to be brothers in misfortune. When the Tsar’s decree was received, the warden summoned all the convicts and asked: “Who is a Doukhobor?” They all answered in turn, and their names were written down – 200 of them.
Then he said: “Whoever identified himself as a Doukhobor, step out from the rest.”
Those two hundred men stepped out.
Then the warden said to them: “You are Doukhobors, here from the Tsar is a manifesto for Doukhobors, but only on condition that those who will go to the holy church will be set free and transported at state expense to their home locations.
The Doukhobors asked: “But where is it, this holy church?”
He pointed out where it stood – we called it a “den” – i.e. a wood-worshiping church.
Those 100 newly joined Doukhobors immediately agreed to go to it, but those who had suffered for the truth replied: “That is not a holy church, but a den of thieves.”
He asked: “Explain – why do you regard it as a den of thieves?’
They replied: “Because it is full of ox manure, and built by bandits. Criminals and robbers stay there: they clean people out. They steal when a baby is born; when people get married, they rob them again, and when you die, they tear the last shirt off your back.”
Then the warden said: “In that case, take your sacks and go back underground; you’ll be hauling dirt forever.”
They took their sacks and crawled into their burrow, while the other hundred men set out walking to the church. When they had gone a little way, he shouted: ‘Come back, all of you.’ Both groups turned around, i.e. all 200 men.
He then said: “So, I see that the Sovereign has mixed wheat with tares [i.e. weeds; a reference to Christ’s Parable of the Wheat and Tares in Matthew 13:24-30]. These 100 men who have not changed their beliefs are sufferers for Christ, they are ready to die for the truth, while you 100 have only just decided you wish to be called Doukhobors, but you do not have enough inner faith to deserve to be let free; however, that is not my affair: the Emperor has allowed you all to be released.”
Then they set out on foot, all together. They went by road, but as people generally tend to be weak, they began to reproach one another, causing a split: one group of 100 men separated from the other 100. The two groups walked along together, but ate dinner and supper separately. Then as the route from Siberia was a long one, they walked for a very long time. As they began to draw nearer to Tavria province, people began to speak derisively about how things were going at that time when Doukhobors were living in Tavria province along the Molochnye Vody: “their faith is different; they have no love for people; if anybody acts counter to their opinion, such a person is expelled from their commune.” They listened to those stories and said: “There are more than a few of us, and we are going to one place.”
Then the 100 men who had agreed to go to church began to heed the warnings and they began stopping at settlements along the way, ten in one settlement, two in another, and thus 100 men stayed put, not daring to proceed. However, the other 100 walked on bravely, even full of hope that the Doukhobors would accept them back. When they arrived at the Doukhobor settlements, they were told: “Go to Terpeniye [village] to see Kormilets, and he will tell you where to settle.”
That is what they did. They went to Kormilets and said that they had arrived from Siberia and wish to see him. He asked them:
“How many of you came?”
“One hundred!” they replied.
He went on to ask them: “As many of you as there were back there, or were there others?”
They answered: “There were 200, but 100 betrayed their faith when the warden announced that there was a manifesto from the Tsar for those who would go to the church. They agreed, and after everybody had been released, we parted from them. They walked along with us for a long time, but then began to stay behind, and all of them remain along the route.”
Then Kormilets said: “In that case I shall not meet with you, because you have not loved your lesser brethren; you lost them along the road and did not bring one of them with you. If you had felt sorry for them and loved them, you would have all arrived together. Then I would have met with you, and been very glad to do so, but now you go and make peace with them.”
Then they sadly returned to their brethren; they found them all, begged and wept before them. Those men agreed to their plea to come with them.
When they arrived together, Kormilets met with them and told them: “Now you are all here, but not all of you are equal. Half of you are those who have suffered for the faith of Christ, while the other half were exiled for being criminals. According to the Tsar’s manifesto he has been pleased to grant you the right to call yourselves Doukhobors; you were all released, and I accept you all equally, but the Lord will grant to each according to his deeds: those who suffered for the truth the Lord will receive into his abode, but those who were exiled for robbery, received a Doukhobor name and were released, and now will do good, repent of past sins and will ask God – the Lord is merciful. He accepts all who come to him in faith. But you who have suffered for the truth! God has seen your suffering and been merciful to you, and granted freedom to you, and your children and grandchildren, even to the seventh generation. You will live and prosper, and then there will be new service for you, you will again be tortured for the faith of Christ,8 then each will get what he deserves. Whoever will serve God will receive a reward from Him, while whoever will serve evil will perish in evil.”
And then he said: “Now live as you choose.”
Nevertheless, they lived well and in harmony along the Molochnye Vody. Some time passed. Tsar Alexander Pavlovich remembered these people. He invited his wife and generals from the Senate to visit the Doukhobors. They came to see Doukhobors in the village of Terpeniye in Tavria province. The Doukhobors gave them a good reception. After greetings had been exchanged, Alexander asked our elders to conduct a prayer ceremony.
“I want to observe how you pray to God.”
“We would be pleased to do so.”
Our folk began to pray. He watched eagerly and listened to the recitation and singing of psalms and all our religious ritual.
When the prayer ceremony was over, he said: “Now I see that you are people of God’s law; all of you pray to God well and fervently. I think so because you have with great labour worked out God’s way; all of you are suffering martyrs; although there are bad ones among you, they are few – one out of ten and he is not visible. But see here – suppose you live on several years and it turns out that there are ten bad ones among you and one good. What should the good one do?”
To this our elders responded: “The good one must endure all.”
Then Alexander thanked them and said: “You understand God’s law well. From now on I would like to be a Doukhobor.”
The Doukhobors answered him: “A Tsar cannot be a Doukhobor, because Doukhobors feed themselves from their own labours – they plough, they sow grain.”
Alexander spoke to his wife: “Do you wish to be a Doukhobor and live off your own labours?” “No, I do not,” she replied. But he nevertheless remained a true Christian, living among the Doukhobors for the rest of his life, a blessed and good man.9
A short time later an order came from the Tavria governor. He strictly commanded the Doukhobors not to hire people of another faith: “…lest a person of some other faith falls into your company, lives for a while among you, and becomes a Doukhobor.”
Our men told the governor: “But we need workers.”
Then he announced that a heavy fine would be imposed on anyone who hires a worker of any other faith, and he put a guard in place. But no matter what orders he gave and how much he had the area guarded, nevertheless, poor folk came to earn wages, and our people would hire them, dress them in Doukhobor apparel so that the guards would not find out (although there were instances when they were caught, albeit few); and the people came for work from all sides to us, because we had a lot of jobs available. They worked in the fields and at cattle-raising.
In that time of prosperity people soon began to depart from God’s law. They began to go back and forth into the cities and the markets, and around places where people were living in luxury. Then they were exiled to the Transcaucasus. Here also they were not living for God especially well, but only it seems were striving after wealth; there were some among us who were trying to live according to God’s law, but very few. But when this persecution began against us, our elders began to reflect and recall Kormilets’ words, and began to come back to the faith of Christ. Just as we had taken a step forward, the Russian government came down on us; however, the Lord saw the step we had taken, and began to grant us his strength, and so we were in agreement for the sake of faith in Christ to endure all suffering; we were even prepared to face execution for the sake of faith in Christ.
Now when we moved to Canada, here some of us weakened, but there are many who staunchly hold to the law of God. We can fully expect that whatever persecution comes, they will never depart from the law and faith of Christ. Yes, a true Christian will never retreat. As far as Doukhobors are concerned, they already know well enough that God is above kings and princes. God is able to protect his servant everywhere, in whatever out-of-the-way place he may be; if he has taken into himself a burning faith to serve God, then God will help such a servant in all matters (to us this is very well evident).
Listen, our Kormilets, Savely Kapustin, was called up for military service. He only served for a very short time. At that time the required term of service was 25 years, but he was freed after 6 years, because he began to live in accordance with God’s law.’
‘How did this come about?’
‘I shall tell you what I heard from our elders. He was serving in one company as a Sergeant Major, but that was at such a time when brass were giving orders and themselves getting aggressive and saying “kill nine of them, and teach the tenth one military discipline.” That is what they were doing – beating up and flogging the poor soldiers.
Kapustin was also dealing cruelly with his company. The regiment in which Kapustin was serving was in an encampment: Kapustin took his company out for military drill and was trying to carry out the will of his Company Commander. Of all the companies in the regiment, theirs was the best trained. It carried out more exercises than the others.
His father10 saw that his son was not acting according to God’s law. One fine day he came to the place where Kapustin was drilling his company of soldiers, unharnessed his horse and let it out to graze, while he raised the shafts [of the wagon], set up a cool place and rested under the wagon.
While Kapustin was taking his soldiers out for military drill, he saw that a wagon was standing at a deserted spot. He was surprised and said: “What’s going on? Where did that wagon come from?” And he pointed to one soldier: “Go find out who is there.” The soldier, as afraid of the sergeant major as of a blazing hot fire, ran as fast as he could to the wagon, trying to catch his breath to speak.
The old man sitting there asked: “So, soldier, are you so worn out?”
“You see, the sergeant major sent me to find out about you – who are you?”
The old man replied: “I am Radost [“Joy”; a reference to Doukhobor leader Ilarion Pobirokhin].11 I wish to see your Sergeant. Go tell him to come here now.”
Then the soldier took off and ran up to the Sergeant Major, took off his cap and said:
“Some sort of very old man is asking that you come to him now. His name is Radost.”
Then the Sergeant Major gave a command: “Stack your rifles,” and he walked toward the old man.
The soldiers were watching, and saw the Sergeant Major approach the wagon; the old man stood up and they greeted one another; then the old man sat down, while Kapustin remained standing.
The soldiers looked on in wonderment and carried on a quiet conversation among themselves: “What kind of old man is that sitting there while the Sergeant is standing, and they are conversing together?”
After a little time, Kapustin still standing, he then fell to his knees and began to beg forgiveness from the old man. The old man came up to him and, it seems, gave him his blessing to receive the spirit of goodness.
By this time all the other companies had finished their drilling session and headed for the encampment. Our Sergeant Major and the old man said their farewells.
The Sergeant returned to the soldiers and spoke: “Take your rifles, brothers, and let’s go back to camp.”
The soldiers were amazed that there were no exercises and that the Sergeant was not angry but was addressing them very politely.
The next day they went out for military drill and saw that the wagon was gone. Kapustin said: “Let’s go, lads, to the spot where the wagon was standing yesterday.”
He approached with the soldiers, and gave an order: “Pile up your rifles, my brothers, and sit down and have a rest.”
He sat down and the soldiers all did the same.
Kapustin began to talk with the soldiers as brother to brother and began to apologize to them for having abused many of them. The soldiers were amazed and did not know what to say. And so this continued for all the hours during which they were supposed to be drilling. When this time was up, they went back to the tents. The soldiers talked among themselves, realizing that the Sergeant had experienced a change of heart.
From that time on Kapustin did not say a bad word to any of the soldiers, and acted respectfully toward them.
The Company Commander soon caught wind of this. He began to notice that Kapustin was no long drilling the soldiers in military discipline, but he did not feel sufficiently mature to reproach Kapustin about it. But when the officers got together to go out somewhere, they spoke of Kapustin not drilling his soldiers. This reached the ears of the Colonel of the regiment. He summoned the Company Commander and began to talk about Kapustin, saying that he had to be removed from his rank, and be replaced by another capable man. This caused the Company Commander great displeasure.
He said to the Colonel: “I do not have a single officer in the whole regiment as good as Kapustin, to say nothing of the rank and file soldiers; it matters little that he is not drilling the soldiers, as he has already got them well trained; they are more knowledgeable about military service than all the other companies.”
At that time there was a Detachment Commander who was on trial. He had made great efforts, submitted appeals, but all his appeals had been rejected. The court had sentenced him to loss of his rank and noble status, and he very much wanted to avoid this. He appealed to various individuals who he thought might help him in this matter.
He spoke to the Colonel: “My case is falling apart; no matter how many representations I have made, I have still not been vindicated, and now the final session is coming, and they say they are going to sign their decision. Now where can I turn or what shall I do?”
The Colonel thought a while, and suddenly said: “Go to [such and such a] company to their Sergeant Major; maybe he can help you; I had his Company Commander here and he said that he is the cleverest officer in the whole regiment.”
The Detachment Commander was in such a fright that whatever anyone suggested, he would do it – anything to help him out of trouble. Immediately he ran to see Kapustin and pleaded with him for assistance in his court case.
Kapustin asked: “What for, that is, what did you do to be put on trial?”
The Detachment Commander told him everything as it had happened and said: “I did that thing in order to distinguish myself and receive a decoration, but my action turned out to be a mistake and I ended up on trial.”
Then Kapustin said: “That mistake can be set right. Sit down and write a petition. I will tell you what to write.”
The Detachment Commander began to write, and Kapustin dictated just as the man had related, that he had been mistaken in his thinking, and that he had acted in that way for praise and rewards. The petition they composed was very brief, but described his thoughts and manner of behaviour. Then he submitted this petition.
At the sitting to decide his case, they read through this newly submitted petition and changed their previous verdict, replacing it with a second one. By this verdict they decided in favour of his courage and for his desperate action promoted him to higher rank: they made him a Corps Commander. That is the verdict they signed. And so the Detachment Commander became a Corps Commander.
He summoned Kapustin and said: “Well, Kapustin, your petition helped me! I am very pleased. I have obtained a high position; for what you have done for me, I want to make you an officer too.”
Kapustin replied: “I do not want to be an officer.”
The [former] Detachment Commander thought it little enough to make him an officer and said: “But you see, I will try, and meanwhile I will place you in my former post as Detachment Commander, but it’s impossible to do that right away.”
Kapustin answered: “I do not wish that at all. I am now a Sergeant; soldiers come by and take off their caps before me, and that makes me feel uncomfortable.”
At that the Detachment Commander rose and said: “Do you wish to be discharged from the service? That would be a very simple matter!”
Kapustin replied: “I wish to be free.”
Then the Detachment Commander gave the order freeing Kapustin from military service, and they released him. He was set at liberty and began to gather Doukhobors together; even many of the soldiers in whose company he had served came over to the Doukhobors. However, that whole business stretched over [the] two centuries.12
Perhaps some words have been lost [in the retelling], but I am writing as I heard it.
P. V., M. A.13
Editor’s Notes (From the Original 1908 Russian Publication)
1 There is very little information in the historical literature about the Doukhobors’ ancestors. Doukhobors themselves usually do not like to talk about the “previous times” of their commune. That is why we deem it essential to publish any information touching upon the history of the Doukhobors, especially when it comes from Doukhobors themselves, as by doing so it may be possible to gather sufficient material for a comprehensive history of this interesting sect. The “Story of Our Ancestors” by the Doukhobor M. S. Androsov, printed here, although containing a number of entirely legendary pieces of information, is nonetheless of undoubted interest generally. Androsov’s manuscript comes from the collection of sectarian manuscripts assembled by V. D. Bonch-Bruevich, currently preserved in the Manuscripts Department of the Library of the Imperial Academy of Sciences; it is listed in the inventory as Sekt. 66.
2 Doukhobors frequently refer to their leaders by various affectionate nicknames. For example, Pobirokhin and his wife are called Radost’ s Radost’iu [Joy with Joy]. Savely Kapustin, the Pobirokhins’ son, they call Kormilets, and his wife, Kormilushka.
3 i.e. the Doukhobors.
4 These exact words begin the famous Doukhobor question-and-answer psalm that was composed as a statement of faith, in response to questions posed by His Eminence Evgeny to two Doukhobors in 1802 who had been sent for admonition to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in St. Petersburg.
5 These words introduce two other fundamental question-and-answer psalms of the Doukhobors that set forth their religious and societal world view.
6 Here Androsov is calling to mind the Doukhobor psalms noted down by V. D. Bonch-Bruevich in Canada. These psalms form the so-called Zhivotnaya Kniga (“Living Book”) of the Doukhobors, which we hope to publish in the second issue of our Materialy. The petition referred to here, which the Doukhobors have elevated to the status of a psalm, reads as follows:
“Thus saith the Lord, the Holy God of Israel. I made him, I created him; in days to come ask me about my sons and daughters. By the work of my hands I commanded; I created the earth, and humans thereon; with my hands I established the heavens, and commanded all the stars. I have raised up a tsar in righteousness, all his paths are righteous; he shall build my city; he will release my captives, not for price or reward, saith the Lord of Hosts. Thus saith the Lord, cause trouble for Egypt, all their people, trouble for their big man. They shall come to thee and bow down to thee, for God is in thee, not in the likeness of God, but the hidden God. You saved Israel; they shall be ashamed and confounded. The islands of Israel are being renewed; all who believe in Him shall neither be ashamed nor confounded, even to the end of the age. Thus saith the Lord, the Holy God of Israel. Glory to our God.” (See Zhivotnaya Kniga, Psalm 225 [sic, i.e. 226].
7 In one of the forthcoming issues of our Materialy we are printing, in chronological order, all the decrees and other government instructions of the epoch of Alexander I pertaining to sectarianism and the Schism.
8 Among the Doukhobors to this very day there is a conviction that “for cleansing of God’s people,” i.e. their commune, various kinds of persecution must recur from time to time. Whoever withstands all these persecutions will remain a “true” Doukhobor, a true servant of God “in spirit and in truth.”
9 I had occasion to hear a story from the late Doukhobor elder Grisha Bokovoy, who told me with certitude that Tsar Alexander I did not die in Taganrog [in 1825], but went into hiding from the premises where he had been staying, fled to the Doukhobors at Molochnye Vody in Tavria province, and for a long time lived among them; he was in continual contact with the Quakers, through whom, when the Doukhobors were resettled in the Transcaucasus, he was transported first to England, and then to “Old America” [i.e. the original thirteen colonies]. The widespread legend about the last years of Alexander I’s life thus also found its place in Doukhobor tradition.
10 Pobirokhin, the Doukhobor leader.
11 As already mentioned, Pobirokhin was called Radost by the Doukhobors.
12 This is an error. Kapustin served in the military at the end of the 17th [sic, i.e. 18th] century.
13 The signature has the same meaning as in the previous story by M. Androsov. We believe that the initials “P. V.” denote the Doukhobor Pavel Vasil’evich Planidin, and “M. A.” – Mikhail Androsov.
Mikhail Semenovich Androsov (1854-c.1920), the writer of A Story about Our Ancestors, was born in Novo-Troitskoye village in the Kedabek district of Elizavetpol province and resettled to Gorelovka village in the Shuragel district of Kars province in 1879. From 1887 onward, he was a trusted associate and supporter of Petr Vasil’evich Verigin, and assisted in disseminating his teachings among his followers. In 1895, he undertook a harrowing journey to Siberia to bring the exiled Doukhobor leader news about the persecutions that followed the Burning of Arms. Upon immigrating to Canada in 1899, Androsov settled in Blagoveshcheniye village in the Canora district of Saskatchewan, where he continued to play a prominent role in Doukhobor affairs.
Androsov regularly travelled to the city of Yorkton, Saskatchewan to conduct business on behalf of the Doukhobor Community. On one such trip, in August of 1901, he met the Doukhobor elder Efim Evseyevich Vlasov (1851-1909). Vlasov originally hailed from the village of Bashkichet in the Borchalo district of Tiflis province, Russia. After immigrating to Canada in 1899, he settled in Rodionovka village in the Kamsack district of Saskatchewan. A highly articulate and expressive man, Vlasov possessed a wealth of Doukhobor historical knowledge, rooted in oral tradition, for which he was greatly respected. It was this oral tradition, in the form of A Story about Our Ancestors, which Vlasov shared with Androsov when they met.
Vlasov, in turn, had received this oral tradition as a youth from Gavriil Andreyevich Sorokin (1779-c.1860), an early Doukhobor elder. In the late eighteenth century, Sorokin was a prosperous merchant from the village of Vysotskovo in the Alexandrovsk district of Astrakhan province, Russia. After converting to Doukhoborism, he relocated to Efremovka village in the Melitopol district of Tavria province in 1803. He was a loyal and trusted disciple of Doukhobor leader Savely Kapustin. As a representative of the Tavria colony, Sorokin met with visiting dignitaries, including Tsar Alexander I in 1818 and Quaker missionaries William Allen and Stephen Grellet in 1819. In 1841, following the Doukhobor exile to the Caucasus, Sorokin settled in Karaklis village in the Borchalo district of Tiflis province, where he spent his remaining years.
The tradition passed down orally from Sorokin to Vlasov, and from Vlasov to Androsov, provides the reader with intimate access to the rich, authentic nineteenth century Doukhobor-centred version of the history of the movement and its leaders. It is, in fact, a collection of stories, and can be divided into three main parts based upon subject matter and theme.
Part one is an autobiographical first-person account of Gavriil Sorokin’s conversion to the Doukhobor faith. As the story goes, Savely Kapustin, while travelling through Astrakhan, sought lodging at the home of Sorokin for the night. An intense spiritual discussion ensued between the two men, during which Kapustin dispelled Sorokin’s prejudices and misconceptions about the Doukhobors (or malovery as they were then known) and persuaded him to embrace the “true Christian faith” as his own. This event would have taken place in the 1790’s, when Kapustin is known to have actively proselytized amongst the Russian peasantry.
The story goes on to relate how, as a test of his faith, Kapustin selected Sorokin and an unnamed companion to deliver a petition on behalf of the Doukhobors to Tsar Alexander I. The journey took the delegates three months, travelling on foot. When they reached the Tsar’s court, they were granted an audience with Alexander, who inquired about their faith, what manner of people they were, and the name of their sect. Sorokin at first hesitated to respond. Then, visualizing his esteemed leader, Kapustin, standing by his side, his fear left him, and Sorokin answered the Tsar, fully and fittingly. After listening to their singing, Alexander commended the Doukhobors for “having come to know God in the spirit of their true faith”. Soon after the delegates departed, in 1801, the Tsar issued a decree permitting Doukhobors to settle together in Tavria province.
Part two is a third person narrative of how, when the Doukhobors were in the process of being moved to Tavria from their various places of exile, there were non-believers who claimed to be of their faith in order to join them. According to the story, at one place in Siberia, there were 100 Doukhobors, true sufferers for the faith, who had been sentenced to penal labour in the state mines. Upon their release, they were joined by another 100 men who had criminal backgrounds and were not really in exile for religious reasons. The two groups travelled by foot together on the long journey from Siberia to Tavria. However, those only claiming to be Doukhobors began to lose faith and, one by one, deserted the group along the way. When the remaining, true believers eventually reached Tavria, they were reproached by Kapustin for having abandoned their “lesser brethren”. He urged the newcomers to seek out and make peace with the others, to welcome them into the colony as their brothers, and to reform them by example.
The story goes on to tell how Tsar Alexander I visited the Doukhobors living in Tavria; an event that is known to have occurred in 1818. After observing their prayer ceremony, Alexander noted that the Doukhobors “understood God’s law well” and declared that he wished to become one of them. His hosts, however, advised him that a Tsar “could not be a Doukhobor because Doukhobors fed themselves from their own labours”. Yet, in the times of prosperity that followed, the Doukhobors began to depart from God’s law. They weakened spiritually and began striving after wealth; they travelled to the cities and markets where people were living in luxury; and hired workers of other faiths to till their fields and raise their livestock. It was only in times of persecution and suffering that they began to reflect and, once again, live according to God’s law.
Part three is a third-person biographical account of Savely Kapustin’s spiritual rebirth as a Doukhobor. At the outset of the story, Kapustin was serving as a Sergeant-Major in the Russian army and was notorious for dealing cruelly with his company. His father, the Doukhobor leader Ilarion Pobirokhin, saw that his son had departed from God’s law. One day, while Kapustin was carrying out military drills with his company, Pobirokhin drew near and asked to speak to the Sergeant Major. Kapustin approached him and the two began conversing. The details of this exchange are not preserved; however, it clearly had a profound effect upon Kapustin. Kapustin, who had remained standing while the old man sat down, fell to his knees and began to beg forgiveness. The old man gave him his blessing to receive the spirit of goodness. Thereafter, Kapustin returned to his company a changed man. He no longer made them carry out drills, began to talk to the soldiers as brother to brother and apologized for having abused them. The company commander soon caught wind that Kapustin was no longer drilling the soldiers, but defended him to his superiors, arguing that he did not have a single officer in the whole regiment as good as Kapustin, whose company was already better trained than all the other companies.
The story goes on to relate how a certain Detachment Commander was under court-marshal for misconduct and was facing a loss of his rank and noble status. Despite all of his efforts, his appeals were rejected and his case was falling apart. In desperation, he approached Kapustin and pleaded with him for assistance in his case. Kapustin proceeded to dictate a petition on behalf of the Detachment Commander to the court, which explained the honourable intent behind the officer’s conduct. Upon reading the petition, the court changed its previous verdict and, instead, promoted the Detachment Commander to the rank of Corps Commander for his courage. Out of deep gratitude, the former Detachment Commander offered to promote Kapustin to the rank of officer. However, Kapustin declined, asking instead to be discharged from military service. His request was granted, and Kapustin began to gather Doukhobors from across Russia, including many of the soldiers in whose company he had served. These events took place during Kapustin’s sixth year of military service, which if he had entered service at the age of twenty, as was customary in Tsarist Russia at that time, would place them in the year 1769 (given that he was born in 1743).
After receiving the oral tradition described above from the Doukhobor elder Efim Vlasov, Mikhail Androsov wrote it down as A Story About our Ancestors and submitted the manuscript to Russian historian and ethnographer Vladimir Dmitrievich Bonch-Bruevich (1873-1955). Bonch-Bruevich had assisted Leo Tolstoy in organizing the Doukhobor emigration to Canada; he had sailed with the Doukhobors in 1899 and then spent a year with them in Canada. During his stay, he became immensely interested in their oral tradition. After returning to Russia, he wrote the Doukhobors and asked them to record their life stories and to send anything written down that they had to him. It was this request to which Androsov responded. Bonch-Bruevich subsequently published Androsov’s manuscript and other materials in Russian as Materialy k istorii i izucheniiu religiozno-obshchestvennykh dvizhenii v Rossii in 1908.
The stories comprising A Story about Our Ancestors are among the most richly detailed and historically authentic examples of Doukhobor oral tradition to be preserved to the present day. To be sure, like all oral tradition, the specific details set out in the stories must be treated with some caution, since the Doukhobors preserved no written records of their own, their memories were fallible, and the version of past events they give may be coloured by individual biases and perceptions. Nonetheless, there is little reason to doubt the main lines of the stories. Archival documentary material enables us to date within close limits many of the historical events referred to in the stories, and to accurately diagnose and interpret the events referred to therein. Furthermore, it is possible in almost all cases to authenticate the persons and places referred to in the stories with archival records. These identifications highlight the need for further research, inasmuch as the stories offer new depth and substance to our understanding of Doukhobor history, and suggest hitherto-unknown lines of investigation.