The Doukhobor Peace Day

by Koozma J. Tarasoff

A centuries-old festival honouring the Apostles Peter and Paul, Peter’s Day (June 29th Old Calendar, July 12th New Calendar) coincides with the birth of Doukhobor leader Peter “Lordly” Verigin in 1859 and the “Burning of Arms” in 1895. Author Koozma J. Tarasoff explores the enormous significance of this “Peace Day” to the Doukhobor movement.

The significance of the Burning of Arms event for the Doukhobors is enormous. It is the concrete act which catapulted the Doukhobors into the international arena. It was a moment when civilization was presented with an alternative strategy of living without resorting to the use of excessive force particularly the barrel of the gun, the bomb, and the deadly missile.

St. Peter’s Day is one of the centuries-old  feast days celebrated by the Russian Orthodox church in honour of the Apostles and martyrs of Christ St. Peter and St. Paul. Doukhobors evolved out of the Orthodox church environment. And while they rejected most of the trappings of the church, it was inevitable that some habits would remain. For example, Doukhobors adopted the practice of standing up at a sobranie with men on one side an women on the other. And many continued to observe certain old church holidays (e.g. Easter, Christmas, and St. Peter’s Day) as natural times in which to come together to meditate, socialize, and have a feast. They argued that participating in any one of these or other external rituals does not negate their inner core values of love, beauty, and the God within.

It was therefore natural for the Doukhobors (at the inspiration of Peter V. Verigin) to choose June 29th (Old Style Calendar; new style is July 11th) to hold a manifestation for peace. This date was at the end of the rebirth season of Spring and the beginning of Summer.  The fact that the event fell on Peter V. Verigin’s birthday is coincidental. Moreover, the centuries-old  custom of naming a child after the Orthodox saint on whose feast day the child was born continued among the Doukhobors in isolated cases. Peter V. Verigin (1859-1924), for example, was born on the 29th of June and was named for the already-important feast day of St. Peter and St. Paul. Thus, the soil for this major happening was well prepared. The manifestation had already been preceded  with the first acts of civil disobedience that year on Easter Sunday by Matvey Lebedev and ten other collegues who refused to do military training. The soil was prepared for a major happening.

Burning of Arms, June 29, 1895

The June 29th event was a historic first. For the Doukhobors this arms burning event is primarily known as Peter’s Day or St. Peter’s Day. However, it ought to be called a Doukhobor Peace Day. Why? Because  this Peace Day is pitched at the wider public if not the world. This symbolic humanitarian act is one of the most remarkable acts that the world has ever known. A group of some 7000 Doukhobors in three areas of the Russian Caucasus on the 29th June 1895 totally refused to kill other human beings regardless of
consequences. This was a new direction for the human race, one that gave hope to the notion of getting rid of militarism and the scourge of war. 

This big idea of these Russian peasants was visionary, revolutionary and non-sectarian. From the message that there is God, love and beauty in every person (in which they moved the divine from the walls and halls of the church as well as the minister and the Bible and relocated it in their hearts), they developed in simplistic fashion  a full philosophy of nonviolence, equality and love. This 1895 event transformed the Russian Spirit Wrestlers into the category of a social movement out of the narrow confines of a sect. They became true pioneers of the spirit. 

We all know that language is not static; it is an organic entity that changes with the times to be more in conformity with the new living meanings of the day. Hence today there is an urgent need for a new  terminology which fits closer the meaning of Spirit Wrestlers and their outstanding action in 1895. For me, the Doukhobor Peace Day is closer to the intended message of our ancestors — and therefore this pregnant title ought to be used as much as possible. Of course, people are free to use Petrov Dien or Peter’s Day if they like. But there is strong rationale to use the more universalistic, the more comprehensive as well as the more accurate designation. In brief, we need to embrace the joyous spirit of the real meaning of the momentous 1895 Burning of Arms event.

Perhaps the Doukhobors were ahead of their time. Perhaps not. It was Lev N. Tolstoy who described the Russian Doukhobors as ‘people of the 25th century’.  I like to look upon the 1895 message as bringing hope to a troubled society today. Guns, bombs, and missiles destroy  the very notion of civilized men, women, and children in society. Getting rid of these diabolical weapons is perhaps the first step to finding a solution to our human problems.