The Doukhobors of Today have become better understood and their spiritual and cultural heritage has gained worldwide respect and recognition.
The USCC (Union of Spritual Communities of Christ, main office in Grand Forks, B.C. Canada) has continued the Slavic tradition of hospitality, symbolized by the Bread, Salt and Water that grace all Doukhobor functions, and has become well known for its acappella choirs with their message of peace and love.
Today, recognizing that they live in a global village, Doukhobors are actively engaged, at home and abroad, in the nonviolent pursuit of peace, human rights, social justice, respect for the environment, and in the provsision of aid to those in need. They commonly own facilities and heritage sites, administer and provide a wide range of services, and publish a bilingual journal (ISKRA). They are also stewards of properties, which offer potential for a return to a lifestyle more consistent with their Doukhobor "Life Concept".
In 1995, Doukhobors and friends, commemorated the Centennial of their forebears' burning of firearms, and in 1999, the Centennial of their arrival in Canada. As they greet the new millennium, Doukhobors take pride in their history and heritage, and look to the future with optimism, confident that the power of love will triumph over the love of power.
Bread, Salt and Water
Since ancient times man has had the tendency to attempt to symbolize with material objects at least a partial reflection of important points of his life concept. The ancient Israelites, in their many decades of wanderings, always brought along with themselves the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant contained the Ten Commandments of Moses and other sacred writings of the prophets of Israel. During their prayer services the Ark of the Covenant was placed at the head of the congregation with men assembled to the right of it and the women to the left. The early Christians also kept to this manner of assembly. There are groups of old-time believers in Israel that keep this form of assembly to the present day.
Christian forms of worship were brought over to Russia with the advent of Christianity there at the beginning of the Middle Ages. In time, prayer services were established wherein a table stood at the head of the assembly and on the table there was ever present the Bible and other Holy Scriptures. Those who gathered for worship bowed to ikons.
When the Doukhobors began to disassociate themselves from the rituals of the Orthodox Church, it was through the initiative of their first spiritual leaders that their own forms of worship were established. It has been passed down to us by our forefathers that the major advance in establishing Doukhobor forms of worship took place at the Milky Waters settlement in the province of Tavria in southern Russia at the beginning of the 1800’s, under the outstanding Doukhobor leader Saveliy Kapustin. Having set aside idolization of the Bible and other sacred writings, the Doukhobors acknowledged as their guidance their own “Book of Life”, composed of psalms which were committed to memory. On the table which stood at the head of the congregation the Doukhobors placed bread, salt and water. In similarity with the early Christians, the men assembled to the right of the table and the women to the left.
During their prayer service each person bowed to the person next to him signifying a recognition of the spirit of God, which, according to Doukhobor beliefs, dwelt within every human being.
Bread, salt and water were chosen as the material objects to be placed on the table because they represented the basic staff of life and reflected the simplicity of the Doukhobor life concept. These objects also symbolized peace and hospitality among the Slavic people from the most ancient times. When one ancient tribe met another tribe with bread and salt on a platter, this meant that they were willing to live with them in peace and friendship and share with them the products of their labour.
These forms of worship established during the era of the Doukhobor leader Saveliy Kapustin serve as a basis of worship for all Doukhobors to our present day. Our symbols “Bread, Salt and Water” denote that we are people of peace. We will not raise our hands in violence against our fellow man even in the protection of our own lives or in protection of our worldly belongings. We can use only the spiritual power of love in our struggle against evil. Every Doukhobor is ever ready to share whatever he has with any and every needy fellow human being.
In our 20th century, one of our late Doukhobor leaders, Peter V. Verigin, in a very concise way reiterated the meaning of our symbols that are ever-present at Doukhobor services. He said, “Bread, Salt and Water symbolize our basic principle “Toil and Peaceful Life.”
Eli A. Popoff
Grand Forks, BC