I am asked to write some words to English readers, by way of preface to this book.
What feeling would I most wish to awaken in the mind of an English reader, before he reads? Certainly, the feeling that these Russian Doukhobortsi (Spirit- Wrestlers), persecuted and martyred simply because they are too good to be understood by the mass of their fellowmen—are of the reader's own flesh and blood. Their sufferings and their needs ought to call upon each of us, as would the sufferings and the needs of our own brothers and sisters.
It is true the Doukhobortsi are, or until recently have been, quite obscure, an unknown peasant sect of the Caucasus. But why have they been obscure? For the same reason that the present life and past history of all such people is made obscure; because they are men of sincere religion, who esteem ii their duty to live by those Christian principles which the most of us profess with our lips, and entirely violate in our lives. They are a light shining in darkness—in darkness which moves actively to hide and smother the light.
It will seem incredible to many of us that the things here recorded can by any possibility be true, in this the nineteenth Christian century. Men, women and children have been beaten, imprisoned, abused, robbed, exiled, starved to death, by scores and thousands. The perpetrators of these—shall we say "crimes" or "excesses"?—are men who help to form the government of an empire which calls itself "holy"—Holy Russia,—in the Christian sense. The victims are people