Doukhobors share a rich heritage and eventful history spanning centuries and continents. They are descendants of Russian peasants, derisively named Doukhobors, or "Spirit Wrestlers", for their rejection of ikon worship and other church rituals.
They adopted the name, stating that they wrestled with, not against, the Holy Spirit, using the power of love to live in harmony with the Law of God and the Teachings of Jesus Christ. Doukhobors saw no value in the pomp and ceremony of organized religion, or the need for intermediaries between themselves and God. Instead, they sought guidance from the voice of God within, and from those in their midst whose spiritual enlightenment was reflected in their daily lives. As Christians, they believed in an all-powerful God whose earthly manifestation was selfless, unconditional love inherent in every person. Two centuries of persecution by church and state only strengthened the faith of the Doukhobors. They secured their material needs through a lifestyle based on Christian principles and mutual aid, at times, achieving prosperity, as under the leadership of Lukeria Kalmikova, during their exile in Transcaucasia. Always, they struggled to attain a higher consciousness anchored in real life experience, striving for a balance between their spiritual unity and material well-being.
By the late 1800s, many Doukhobors grew concerned that their manner of living did not reflect their spiritual values. On the advice of Kalmikova's successor, Peter V. Verigin, they adopted a simple communal lifestyle, renounced alcohol and tobacco as impediments to one's health and spiritual development, and embraced vegetarianism and pacifism out of respect for the sanctity of all life.
When several thousand Doukhobors refused military service and burned their firearms on June 29, 1895, to demonstrate their unconditional adherence to the Commandment "Thou Shalt Not Kill", Tsarist authorities launched a wave of persecution that almost decimated them. Assisted by their benefactor Leo N. Tolstoy and his colleagues, the Society of Friends (Quakers), and others, approximately 8000 Doukhobors migrated to Canada between 1899 and 1905. Other, smaller numbers of Doukhobors arrived at later times, until roughly, 1921.
What is a Doukhobor?
What comprises this life-concept, generally referred to as Doukhoborism?
Every human body is composed of two fundamental parts—the spiritual and the physical. The spiritual side is matured by developing to the utmost our ability to LOVE, and by constantly nurturing our altruistic tendencies. The enticements of physical pleasures do not always lead one in a parallel direction with proper spiritual growth—therefore; a Doukhobor is a person who dedicates his whole life not merely towards gaining physical satisfactions but towards a continual unfoldment of his SPIRIT. That is, he strives to live so that his spiritual self shall always be in control of his physical self with all of its inherent lusts.
It therefore follows, that such a person, always striving to perfect his spiritual endowments, and to develop the strength of his spirit, relies only on this strength in attaining whatever aims he may have, and uses only it in any form of struggle which befalls his lot. Hence the name “Doukhobor” or Spirit-Wrestler, which is the literal translation of the Russian word—“Doukhoboretz”.
In other words, a Doukhobor basically renounces physical strength as a means of combating evil. He renounces compulsory methods, and in general all forms of violence as a means of accomplishing an aim, no matter how noble that aim appears to be, or attaining any state of well-being, no matter how essential it may seem.
This, however, does not mean that a Doukhobor is completely insensitive to, or remains unmoved by, all injustices that may be about him, passively resigning himself to helplessly tolerate all existing evil on this earth… On the contrary, a Doukhobor consecrates his whole life to an active struggle with any and every form of existing evil. But, he wages this struggle with his spiritual might; by pathways of love and forgiveness, by his loving, sympathetic attitude, through his words of reasoned explanation and reconciliation, and by his shining, exemplary conduct in his everyday life.
Actually, this is the only way in which one can truly win over an opposing person—not through outward means of compulsion but through appealing to his higher, inner feelings, which eventually form and govern his outward actions.
Doukhoborism is a Life-Conception fundamentally based on belief in God, and on the teachings of Jesus Christ. This Life-Conception brings out that God is the All-Creative Spirit-Life-Force, by which everything that is was created and through Whom it exists. In a human being, God is manifested through one’s love for one’s fellow humans and likewise for all creation. Herein lies the basis for our multiple explanation—God is a Spirit; God is a Word; God is Truth; God is Love; God is Man.
Jesus Christ attained the highest spiritual perfection possible for human beings born on this earth, and He therefore discovered and set forth the most just, the noblest and highest rules for people to govern themselves by in their life on earth. Adherence to these rules leads to the establishment of the fullest, happiest life that could possibly be established here—that is, “The Kingdom of God on Earth”, and likewise entitles a person to his place in eternity.
Doukhoborism is a rationalistic Life-Conception, which is not fettered by any static dogmas. It is veritably an unending growth and development of logical paths of Thought; a continuous broadening of our powers of Reason in the growing awareness of eternal Truth, and an everlasting strife towards perfection of our Spiritual Selves.
The Doukhobor Life-Conception minimizes ceremonial rites to the most simplified forms, but obligates its followers to everyday adherence to the rules of Truth. That is, it demands that it’s members, in all aspects of their everyday lives, strive to live up to those laws of God or rules of Truth which are already discovered, and it likewise demands of them a continuous aspiration towards the revelation of hitherto undiscovered aspects of ever-unfolding Truth.
Finally, the Doukhobor Life-Conception is a never-ending development of man’s inner attitudes in his serving of God and his fellowmen: and being all such as herein stated, it can at no time be limited or confined into certain set boundaries, but it can always be felt within one, revealed unto one, and fulfilled in life; never in any way transgressing, impending or deterring the natural evolution of mankind in all of its aspects.
February 17/54 - Eli A. Popoff
Grand Forks, B.C., Canada
Member of Doukhobor Community
The Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ