Resources

Religion

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Doukhobors/Koozma J. Tarasoff

Doukhobor roots are religious, but to describe the movement as a religion is insufficient. Its founders were simple peasants who, three hundred years ago under the tsar, formed a dissident group to challenge church orthodoxy. For these people, the confines of the church building, the doctrines of the Bible, and the authoritarianism of the priest or minister were more a hindrance than an aid to salvation. They also regarded the rule of kings, queens, and tsars as an outmoded institution based on inequality and violence. Like the Quakers, the Doukhobors sought the realm of God — which for them was also love, truth, and beauty – in the hearts and minds of men and women. The expression “God is love” was not only metaphorically correct but also real. A God in the heavens was nonsensical, and words without deeds were emptiness. To the Doukhobors, the social structure of the world around them seemed a perversion of the natural social order. Since the early days, there has been a steady progression in their thinking from a sectarian religion to a moral and social movement. The concept of God within each individual is central to their beliefs. The ten commandments, especially the prohibition against killing, are to be obeyed. But they reject the Bible as a sacred document, as they do the formal institution of the church and its hierarchy and sacraments.

The search for moral and philosophical roots, tied to the inner God, characterizes the Doukhobors as a people. The most far-reaching aspect of the movement is a belief that the individual need not be associated with any religion or know anything about the Bible or other sacred book to have direct access to the power, energy, and health-giving benefits of love and to the essence of God in the heart of each person. This anarchistic tendency explains why the large majority of the community do not belong to Doukhobor organizations, even though, when pressed, they will describe themselves as Doukhobors or internationalists. Many consider themselves plakun trava (a grass that moves against the prevailing current of the water). A study in the 1970s showed that Doukhobor ideology was particularly resilient in the face of the twentieth-century forces of secularization, modernization, and professionalization. Yet some members of the community have adapted to society around them in a desire to be more “modern” and “respectable.” By calling the meeting-house a church, they can obtain status and tax exemptions. For some of them, the introduction of bibles into the meeting-house and the carrying out of rituals will bring them into favour with “God-fearing” churchgoers.

All Doukhobor services are related to molenie (prayer), the usual title of Sunday morning sobranie (a gathering of people), which consists of formal greetings, the recitation and singing of Doukhobor psalms, the bow to the spirit within (in British Columbia accompanied by hand pumping and kissing in a distinctive manner), the singing of hymns, and the final greetings. This service is usually followed by a less formal gathering. During the service, men traditionally stand on one side and women on the other; bread, salt, and water are placed on a table separating the two at the head of the room. Among all Doukhobors, the Lord’s Prayer (Otchie nash in Russian) is read before every official function, and a few families also repeat it before meals.