1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Doukhobors

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DOUKHOBORS, a name given by the Russian Orthodox clergy to a community of nonconformist peasants. The word etymologically signifies “spirit-fighters,” being originally intended by the priesthood to convey that they fight against the Spirit of God; but the Doukhobors themselves accepted the term as signifying that they fight, not against, but for and with the Spirit. Of late, however, they have decided to give up this name and call themselves “Christians of the Universal Brotherhood.” This religious community was first heard of in the middle of the 18th century. By the end of that century or the beginning of the 19th their doctrine had become so clearly defined, and the number of their members had so greatly increased, that the Russian government and Church, considering this sect to be peculiarly obnoxious, started an energetic campaign against it. 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, teaching and sufferings, in a spiritual sense. The object of the sufferings of Christ, in their view, was to give an example of suffering for truth. Christ continues to suffer in us even now when we do not live in accordance with the behests and spirit of his teaching. The whole teaching of the Doukhobors is penetrated with the Gospel spirit of love. Worshipping God in the spirit, they 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; on fixed days they assemble for prayer-meetings, at which they greet each other fraternally with low bows, thereby acknowledging every man as a bearer of the Divine Spirit. Their teaching is founded on tradition, which is called among them the “Book of Life,” because it lives in their memory and hearts. It consists of sacred songs or chants, partly composed independently, partly formed out of the contents of the Bible, which, however, has evidently been gathered by them orally, as until quite lately they were almost entirely illiterate and did not possess any written book. They 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 therefore they hold all people equal and 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 killing, violence, and in general all relations to living beings not based on love as opposed to their conscience and to the will of God. They are industrious and abstemious in their lives, and when living up to the standard of their faith they present one of the nearest approaches to the realization of the Christian ideal which have ever been attained. In many ways they have thus a close resemblance to the Quakers or Society of Friends. For these beliefs and practices the Doukhobors long endured cruel persecution. Under Nicholas I., in the years 1840 and 1850, the Doukhobors, who on religious grounds refused to participate in military service, were all banished from the government of Tauris—whither they had been previously transported from various parts of Russia by Alexander I.—to Transcaucasia, near the Turkish frontier. But neither the severe climate nor the neighbourhood of wild and warlike hillmen shook their faith, and in the course of half a century, in one of the most unhealthy and unfertile localities in the Caucasus, they transformed this wilderness into flourishing colonies, and continued to live a Christian and laborious life, making friends with, instead of fighting, the hillmen. But the wealth to which they attained in the Caucasus weakened for a time their moral fervour, and little by little they began to depart somewhat from the requirements of their belief. As soon, however, as events happened among them which disturbed their outward tranquillity, the religious spirit which had guided their fathers immediately revived within them. In 1887, in the reign of the tsar Alexander III., universal military service was introduced in the Caucasus; and even those for whom, as in the case of the Doukhobors, it had formerly been replaced with banishment, were called upon to serve. This measure took the Doukhobors unawares, and at first they outwardly submitted to it. About the same time, by the decision of certain government officials, the right to the possession of the public property of the Doukhobors (valued at about £50,000) passed from the community to one of their members, who had formed out of the more demoralized Doukhobors a group of his own personal adherents, which was henceforth called the “Small Party.” Soon afterwards several of the most respected representatives of the community were banished to the government of Archangel. This series of calamities was accepted by the Doukhobors as a punishment from God, and a spiritual awakening of a most energetic character ensued. The majority (about 12,000 in number) resolved to revive in practice the traditions left them by their fathers, which they had departed from during the period of opulence. They again renounced tobacco, wine, meat and every kind of excess, many of them dividing up all their property in order to supply the needs of those who were in want, and they collected a new public fund. They also renounced all participation in acts of violence, and therefore refused military service. In confirmation of their sincerity, in the summer of 1895 the Doukhobors of the “Great Party,” as they were called in distinction from the “Small Party,” burnt all the arms which they, like other inhabitants of the Caucasus, had taken up for their protection from wild animals, and those who were in the army refused to continue service. At the commencement of the reign of the tsar Nicholas II., in 1895, the Doukhobors became the victims of a series of persecutions, Cossack soldiers plundering, insulting, beating and maltreating both men and women in every way. More than 400 families of Doukhobors who were living in the province of Tiflis were ruined and banished to Georgian villages. Of 4000 thus exiled, more than 1000 died in the course of the first two years from exhaustion and disease; and more would have perished had not information reached Count Leo Tolstoy and his friends, and through them the Society of Friends in England. Funds were immediately raised by sympathizers for alleviating the sufferings of the starving victims. At the same time an appeal, written by Tolstoy and some of his friends, requesting the help of public opinion in favour of the oppressed Doukhobors, was circulated in St Petersburg and sent to the emperor and higher government officials. The Doukhobors themselves asked for permission to leave Russia, and the Society of Friends petitioned the emperor to the same effect. In March 1898 the desired permission was granted, and the first party of Doukhobors, 1126 in number, were able in the summer of 1898 to sail from Batum for Cyprus, which was originally chosen for their settlement because at that time funds were not sufficient for transferring them to any other British territory. But as contributions accumulated, it was found possible to send a number of Doukhobor emigrants to Canada, whither they arrived in two parties, numbering above 4000, in January 1899. They were joined in the spring of the same year by the Cyprus party, and another party of about 2000 arrived from the Caucasus. In all about 7500 Doukhobor immigrants arrived in Canada. The Canadian government did their best to facilitate the immigration, and allotted land to the Doukhobors in the provinces of Assiniboia near Yorktown and of Saskatchewan near Thunder Hill and Prince Albert. They were very cordially received by the population of the Canadian port towns. In April 1901, in the Canadian House of Commons, the minister of justice made a statement about them in which he said that “not a single offence had been committed by the Doukhobors; they were law-abiding, and if good conduct was a recommendation, they were good immigrants.... The large tracts of land demanded population, and if they were not given to crime, the conclusion was that they would make good citizens.” About eighteen months after they arrived in Canada the Doukhobors sent the Society of Friends a collective letter in which they sincerely thanked the English and American Friends for all the generous help of every kind they had received at their hands, but begged the Quakers to cease sending them any more pecuniary support, as they were now able to stand on their own feet, and therefore felt it right that any further help should be directed to others who were more in need of it. At Yorktown in the summer of 1907 the Doukhobors established one of the largest and best brick-making plants in Canada, a significant testimony to the way in which the leaders of the community were working in the interests of the whole. Now and again small bodies broke off from the main community and adopted a semi-nomadic life, but these formed a very small percentage of the total number, which in 1908 was over 8000.

See also Christian Martyrdom in Russia, by V. Tchertkoff (The Free Age Press, Christchurch, Hants); Aylmer Maude, A Peculiar People, the Doukhobors.  (V. T.)