Dukhobors ("Spiritual Wrestlers")

The Dukhobors originated about the year 1730 under the leadership of Olarion Pobiro­hin, in the province of Tambov.

By CATHERINE LEBEDOFF, Mission Appointee to Haiti

Origin and name: The Dukhobor sect orig­inated in Russia and is confined to Rus­sian-speaking people. It is nonevangelistic. The word Ditkhobor literally means "spiritual wres­tler."

History: It was in 1654 that Archbishop Nikon, prelate in the Russian Orthodox Church, introduced his "reforms" into the church. His reforms were not progressive, but merely consisted of revision of religious for­malism. For instance, his new prayer book re­quired that three fingers be used to make the sign of the cross, instead of two, as had been the custom ; and that one hallelujah should be used instead of two. These and similar revisions were necessary, Nikon contended, because of errors which had crept into church usage.

At first people were unaware of clerical dis­sension, but later took advantage of it to openly disassociate themselves from the church. The religious controversy resulted in the Great Schism, and out of it came the Dukhobors, with many other sects. They held a negative attitude toward all, priests and formalisms.

The Dukhobors originated about the year 1730 under the leadership of Olarion Pobiro­hin, in the province of Tambov. They broke away from the main schism, organized them­selves into an independent sect, and openly de­clared their beliefs. Two settlements were formed, one in TambOv, with Pobirohin as leader ; and the other in the province of Eka­terinoslav, under the leadership of Sylvan Ko­lesnikoff.

"The Doukhobor faith at this time expressed itself in a negative attitude to outside authority. They be­lieved external sacraments were offensive to God, and that priests and ritual acted as a barrier to actual communion between God and man. By remov­ing the Orthodox barriers, the Doukhobors believed men and women could attain harmony with God. This harmony involved freedom from all obligations to church and state."--J. F. C. Witiowr, Slava Bohn, P. 13.

When Kolesnikoff died, Pobirohin assumed authority over both colonies. He ascribed di­vine power to himself and established a theo­cratic communism. The Russian Government soon exiled Pobirohin to Siberia, and Saveli Kapustin secretly took over the leadership. He posed as an equal with his brothers, although they looked upon him as divine.

For a time the Dukhobors enjoyed uninter­rupted peace, prosperity, and freedom of wor­ship. They were' very industrious, sober, and frugal, and their houses and clothing were al­ways clean and tidy. They excelled as agricul­turists, and to this day that is their chief em­ployment.

When Nicholas I ascended the Russian throne he was not as tolerant of other sects as his predecessor had been, and he decided to banish all those who would not join the Russian Orthodox Church. As a result, four thousand Dukhobors were exiled to the Wet Mountains in Caucasia. But even in this rocky, treeless range, the Dukhobors once more showed their aptitude for agriculture, and their colonies flourished.

They declared that the use of alcohol and to­bacco was wrong. Dancing was strictly forbid­den. They had a high standard of morality. The leader by this time was regarded as divine, or Christ on earth.

In 1894 Peter Veregin, their leader, was ban­ished to Siberia because of his influence. Here Veregin came in contact with Leo Tolstoy's writings. They not only had a great influence on Veregin, but even the doctrines of the Du­khobors were affected. They abandoned meat and became vegetarians.

By 1880 the Dukhobors declared themselves to be pacifists. On June 29, 1895, the Dukho­hors in the Wet Mountains gathered all their firearms together in a huge pile and burned them while they prayed and sang psalms. Now, they said, they would not be able to do violence to animal or man. When the governor of their locality heard of this, he ordered all the elders to appear before him, but they refused. The' governor was so enraged that he ordered a. group of Cossacks to attack the Dukhobors.

As the firearms were smoldering, the Cos­sacks fell upon the Dukhobors, and men, women, and children were beaten mercilessly with clubs and whips. Then came orders that they were to forsake their homes, and the Du­khobors were once more exiled, this time to the province of Georgia. During the winter many died of malnutrition and exposure.

Exiled to Canada.—At this time Count Leo Tolstoy stepped in and persuaded the British Government to allow the Dukhobors to settle on the island of Cyprus. The Dukhobors stayed here but a short time. Because of the poor soil they refused to settle on the island. As a result, Tolstoy and the Dukhobor leader, Peter. Vere­gin, persuaded the British Government to allow the Dukhobors to settle on some fertile farming land in Canada. The Society of Friends in Lon­don contributed $50,000 for their transporta­tion.

On January 24, 1899, eight thousand Dukho­bors landed in Canada. The Canadian Govern­ment gave them 270,480 acres of land in the province of Saskatchewan and promised them military exemption.

Once more the Dukhobors showed their in­dustry, and were even able to teach Canadians something about farming. However, they proved a problem to the Canadian Government, too, because they would not register their land or deaths and births ; they would not send their children to Canadian schools, and even went so far as to burn school buildings ; they refused to take the oath of allegiance to the Britisli crown.

Fanaticism crept in, and many decided not to use horses and oxen on the farms, as they said it was wrong to "enslave their poor brothers the animals," and drew the plows themselves—men and women yoked together. Some said that animals need never be killed to provide leather for 'shoes, harnesses, etc. Some gave up wearing clothing made of wool, and some of them, pre­ferring to be naked, gave up clothing of all kinds.

In 1902 sixteen hundred Dukhobors started on a pilgrimage to meet the Messiah. After suf­fering untold privations they were persuaded to return to their homes.

The Dukhobors continued to live in colonies. They practiced communal ownership of every­thing—money, grains, horses, implements, etc. However, some wished to become independent,. and refused to work communally. This group wanted to become Canadian citizens, to send their children to Canadian schools, and to ac­cept Canadian customs.

The Quakers of Philadelphia gave much help to the Dukhobors by building schools among them and giving them material assistance.

Soon after, Peter Veregin arrived in Canada, after being freed from exile in Siberia. He sup­ported the Dukhobors in their honesty, hospi­tality, and kindliness. However, he was opposed to schools among his people and taking the oath of allegiance to the British crown. The people looked upon Veregin as Christ, and his word was law.

Doctrines of the Dukhobors

1. The doctrines of the Dukhobors have a strong tinge of mysticism. The church is com­munistic and pious, with a childlike faith.

2. They deny the written Word of God, and claim to be led by the unwritten word of God.

3. Millennium-a time when the world will be regenerated, and righteousness shall prevail.

4. Believe the soul enters heaven six weeks after death.

5. Dress reform. (Clothes and Christianity are dependent one on the other.)

6. They believe in vegetarianism.

7. They deny any responsibility for military service, and object to taking oaths.

Customs.-Dukhobors have several peculiar and distinct customs. Women must wear shawls over their heads. At every meeting salt, a loaf of bread, and a jug of water are placed on a table covered with a white cloth. No Bible is used, although the elders quote from the Scrip­tures. No books are used in their meetings. Musical instruments are forbidden in the meet­ing place. They sing psalms, in many parts. Their singing is beautiful and sounds like a reed organ.

Indepdent Dukhobors.--At the present time there are about 1,7oo Dukhobors in Can­ada in the provinces of Saskatchewan and British Columbia. Since the death of Peter Veregin II in 1939, the sect has not been so strongly organized, and more and more Dukho­bors are breaking away from communism and becoming independent. Many are in favor of education, and take advantage of the public ed­ucational institutions. They take an interest in the government of the country. Many have abandoned dress reform and vegetarianism (al­though they still eat only clean meats) and other beliefs, but are still pacifists. Many of these Dukhobors have Bibles in their homes and read them. Some attend the popular Prot­estant churches, and some have even joined the Roman Catholic Church. But the community Dukhobors still cling to their old beliefs and doctrines, and are hard to evangelize.

Dukhobors in Russia.-There are still many Dukhobors in Russia who did not migrate to Canada. These did not accept all the doc­trines of those who left, but so far as known they still cling to their original teachings.

General Impressions.-Joseph Elkington, a Quaker, was greatly impressed with the hospitality, kindliness, and truly Christian spirit of the Dukhobors. He said of them, "A people who will not fight, or steal, or drink anything intoxicating, or smoke, or use profane lan­guage, or lie, have a character which will bring forth the best qualities of Christian citizen­ship."-J. F. C. WRIGHT, Slava Bohu, p. 183. He found "false teachings" among them, which he attributed, in part, to "their ignorance of the Bible."


Ferguson, Charles W. The Confusion of Tongues. New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1928.

Heard, Albert F. The Russian Church and Russian Dissent. New York : Harpers, 1887.

Prokhanoff, 1. S. In the Cauldron of Russia. New York: All-Russian Evangelical Christian Union, 1933.

Wright, J. F. C. Slava Bohn. New York & Toronto : Farrar and Rinehart, 1940.

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By CATHERINE LEBEDOFF, Mission Appointee to Haiti

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