February 09, 2001

Doukhobors of Russia


Doukhobors of Russia

The Doukhobors were a religious sect which developed in Russia during the 1700s. They referred to themselves as Christians of the Universal Brotherhood. In their early days, the group was called Ikono-bortsi (icon wrestlers) for their opposition to Orthodox icons and the veneration (worship, as they saw it) of these religious images. Instead, they insisted that the Spirit of God dwelt in each person and not in icons.

In the 1600s, Nikon, patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church (1652–66), set out to reform the Church. His primary emphasis was on the liturgical books used by the Church. Nikon's reforms created a great schism in the Russian Church, resulting in his banishment and the creation of a group known as the Old Believers or Raskolniki. Various other sects formed and joined with the Raskolniki. One of these sects was the Doukhobors.

Opposition to the ceremonial of the Orthodox Church is embodied by the Doukhobors who reject the sacraments and are officially designated as a rationalistic sect. Scorning ceremonial, a special priesthood, and the veneration of icons, they maintain that the only worship of God is in spirit and that the heart of man is the sole true temple of God. Instead of baptism by water, they demand the baptism of the Spirit, instead of confession to a priest, confession to each of the brethren, and instead of the Eucharist meditation on the words of Christ.
From The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol X: Reutsch - Son

The name Doukhobors means spirit wrestlers. The name comes from Doukho-bortsi (same meaning) used by Archbishop Ambrosius (1785) to identify this peasant group as heretics to the Orthodox faithful. The name is not intended as a compliment, rather it meant, in the Church's opinion, that these people were doing war against the Holy Spirit.

This group adopted the name Doukhobor, saying that it meant that they fought for and with the Spirit of God. They believed that life is a struggle and that the only viable weapon was the spiritual power of love.

Doukhobor dogma is very similar in nature to that of the Quakers. Both reject the ordained clergy, the sacraments and any external symbol of Christianity such as icons, statues, crucifixes, etc. Most of the early Dukhobors were peasants and farmers who believed in a communal living situation with all members being equal in status. As such, they categorically ignored any authority imposed by either church or state.

Catherine II persecuted them and Alexander I moved roughly 4,000 Doukhobors to a remote region around the Sea of Azov in 1801. Here, the rejected sect flourished and quickly created profitable agricultural communities. Not surprisingly, they refused to be drafted into the Russian military. In 1840, the Doukhobors were taken off their Sea of Azov lands and relocated in the Caucasus. Again, they soon produced flourishing agricultural communities. They continued to resist the state's insistence that they serve in the military. Eventually, their leader, Peter Vasilievitch Verigin, was exiled to Siberia, in 1887, taking with him a small group of followers.

Doukhobors made their greatest moral strides and development in the late 1800s under the leadership of Peter Verigin. Peter Verigin, believed to be truly enlightened by God, implemented many changes in Doukhobor life believed to bring them closer to total purity. These changes enabled the Doukhobors to live a Christian life closest to that which is outlined by God. It was during this time that they became vegetarian and rejected the use of all forms of tobacco and alcohol. Up until this time, the Doukhobor's eating habits were nothing unusual. They ate in the same fashion as the region they lived in.

Next Page Doukhobor Dogma Page 1, 2, 3

Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

The Latchkey Murders

The Latchkey Murders

Senior Lieutenant Pavel Matyushkin is back on the case in this prequel to the popular mystery Murder at the Dacha, in which a serial killer is on the loose in Khrushchev’s Moscow...
Fish: A History of One Migration

Fish: A History of One Migration

This mesmerizing novel from one of Russia’s most important modern authors traces the life journey of a selfless Russian everywoman. In the wake of the Soviet breakup, inexorable forces drag Vera across the breadth of the Russian empire. Facing a relentless onslaught of human and social trials, she swims against the current of life, countering adversity and pain with compassion and hope, in many ways personifying Mother Russia’s torment and resilience amid the Soviet disintegration.
93 Untranslatable Russian Words

93 Untranslatable Russian Words

Every language has concepts, ideas, words and idioms that are nearly impossible to translate into another language. This book looks at nearly 100 such Russian words and offers paths to their understanding and translation by way of examples from literature and everyday life. Difficult to translate words and concepts are introduced with dictionary definitions, then elucidated with citations from literature, speech and prose, helping the student of Russian comprehend the word/concept in context.
Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

Stargorod is a mid-sized provincial city that exists only in Russian metaphorical space. It has its roots in Gogol, and Ilf and Petrov, and is a place far from Moscow, but close to Russian hearts. It is a place of mystery and normality, of provincial innocence and Black Earth wisdom. Strange, inexplicable things happen in Stargorod. So do good things. And bad things. A lot like life everywhere, one might say. Only with a heavy dose of vodka, longing and mystery.
The Moscow Eccentric

The Moscow Eccentric

Advance reviewers are calling this new translation "a coup" and "a remarkable achievement." This rediscovered gem of a novel by one of Russia's finest writers explores some of the thorniest issues of the early twentieth century.
Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

A book that dares to explore the humanity of priests and pilgrims, saints and sinners, Faith & Humor has been both a runaway bestseller in Russia and the focus of heated controversy – as often happens when a thoughtful writer takes on sacred cows. The stories, aphorisms, anecdotes, dialogues and adventures in this volume comprise an encyclopedia of modern Russian Orthodoxy, and thereby of Russian life.
At the Circus

At the Circus

This wonderful novella by Alexander Kuprin tells the story of the wrestler Arbuzov and his battle against a renowned American wrestler. Rich in detail and characterization, At the Circus brims with excitement and life. You can smell the sawdust in the big top, see the vivid and colorful characters, sense the tension build as Arbuzov readies to face off against the American.
Steppe / Степь

Steppe / Степь

This is the work that made Chekhov, launching his career as a writer and playwright of national and international renown. Retranslated and updated, this new bilingual edition is a super way to improve your Russian.
Fearful Majesty

Fearful Majesty

This acclaimed biography of one of Russia’s most important and tyrannical rulers is not only a rich, readable biography, it is also surprisingly timely, revealing how many of the issues Russia faces today have their roots in Ivan’s reign.
A Taste of Chekhov

A Taste of Chekhov

This compact volume is an introduction to the works of Chekhov the master storyteller, via nine stories spanning the last twenty years of his life.

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
73 Main Street, Suite 402
Montpelier VT 05602

802-223-4955