After the Protestant Reformation or Revolution, depending on one’s view, Christian Europe found itself in two distinct and opposing camps. Heretics were dealt with using all the means at the disposal of the political and church leaders—as one person referred to it, the cruelty of hell was unleashed on those who did not accept the orthodoxy of their church.
Across the Continent the Eastern Orthodox Church had its share of schisms and “heretics” as well. In the 1700s a group of people arose in the Russian Tambov’s region who subscribed to beliefs in the priesthood of all believers and in the Bible as the ultimate authority over their lives. They rejected the need for the Church, its priests and its trappings of relics and symbols.
They became pacifists because they believed war was wrong, especially the wars which had plagued Europe for centuries. Of course this did not sit well with the Russian czars or the Russian Orthodox Church.
War destroys innocence. The countless men, women and children who perished because of the decisions of the few stain every page of human history with their precious blood.
The Doukhobors would be persecuted and moved around the Russian frontier as troublemakers and heretics. They would adopt a simpler life and for the most part became vegetarians.
What they wanted was to be left in peace to serve their God, but as history has shown over the centuries, the religious and political powers could not curtail their propensities for prejudices and non-acceptance of a group whose very existence was contrary to the state and the church.
The Russian writer Leo Tolstoy in his spiritual quest encountered the Doukhobors and became their passionate defender until his death. He wrote in 1898:
“The government of the Caucasus has surrounded the whole rebellious population with a magic circle, and this population is slowly dying out. In another three or four years, it’s possible there could be no Doukhobors left.”
Many Doukhobors left Russia to seek a new way of life in Canada. The ones who remained in their native Russia would face a new series of hardships and nightmarish realities under the ones who overthrew the last czar and established a new kind of government where religion was not valued or nourished.
In the article below from Slate:
“After 300 years of tumultuous history, this remote strain of pacifists, who have called the mountain highlands of Georgia their home since Tsar Nicholas I exiled them in the 1840s, is about to disappear. A splinter from the Russian Orthodox Church, their way of life rests on the brink of extinction, as the few who remain either pass away or return to Russia, leaving their life in the mountains behind. Their numbers in Georgia today have dwindled to 500; here in Gorelovka, once their spiritual center, there are 145 left. Their ineluctable exodus north, to cities in modern Russia, could spell the end of an entire culture, something akin to what would happen if all the Amish slowly moved to Pittsburgh. Removed from their villages, they would be swallowed whole by the modern world.”
Life on this planet traversing the cosmos has never been an Edenic garden for those individuals who chose their own path and walked to the beat of a different drummer. Many cultures like the Doukhobors have flourished, dwindled and disappeared from the pages of human history.
When you see an individual or group who talk differently, dress oddly from the norm, live separated from the community, or who are just “eccentric” appreciate the human behind the unique behavior. We all compose this earth, and we all travel together to the same ultimate destination of departure when we breathe our last.
I truly hope the Doukhobors’ culture survives in their highlands of Georgia. When a culture is lost, all of humanity is affected to a degree.
Perhaps, we could learn some life lessons from the Doukhobors as we scurry about in our techno age of constant motion. Appreciate the simple life freed from all the gadgets which control our daily lives.
Take time to breathe the air. Take time to enjoy the simple repast of nature. Not only live but thrive!
G. D. Williams © 2013
Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy