Ivan Vladimirovich Lopukhin, His
Life and Role in Doukhobor History
Jonathan J. Kalmakoff
The following is a brief biographical sketch of Ivan Vladimirovich Lopukhin
(1756-1816), Russian statesman,
philosopher, writer, educator and philanthropist. A sympathizer and
benefactor of the Doukhobor,
intervened with Tsarist authorities on their behalf, helped ease their sufferings
in the face of persecution, and
masterminded their resettlement to the Molochnye Vody (“Milky Waters”) region
Compiled from various Russian and English language sources
Lopukhin was born 24 February 1756 in the village of
Voskresenskoye, Orel province into a wealthy landowning family of the upper
nobility. Plagued by a sickly childhood, he received much of his
education at home. In 1775, at the age of nineteen, Lopukhin entered military
service with the Preobrazhensky Regiment, but retired seven years later with
the rank of polkovnik (colonel) for reasons of health.
A keen student of law, Lopukhin was appointed sovetnik (counselor) of
the Moscow Criminal Court in 1782, and later he became Court President. In
judicial affairs, Lopukhin was interested chiefly in reformatory aspects of
the law. He once wrote that it would be better to acquit many criminals than
to convict one innocent individual. However, his progressive stance resulted
in a dispute with the conservative Governor-General of Moscow, J.A. Bruce,
which led to Lopukhin’s forced resignation in 1785.
Thereafter, Lopukhin assumed an active role in the literary and
philanthropic activities of prominent Masonic writer N.I. Novikov
(1744-1818). In 1789, Lopukhin underwent a religious conversion upon
recovery from a lengthy period of illness and embraced Masonry as a new,
spiritual and idealistic world-view. He became Grandmaster of a Masonic
lodge in Moscow, translated works of Western mystics and Freemasons, and
wrote several treatises of his own. In 1790, he published ‘Nravouchitelnyi Katezhizis Istinnykh Franmasonov’, a defense of Russian Masonry that called
for love of God and one’s fellow man and for constant inner, personal
In 1792, Novikov was arrested as part of Catherine the Great’s campaign to
rid Russia of “the notorious new schism” of Masonry. Lopukhin was searched
and interrogated for his Masonic activities. The Empress initially ordered
Lopukhin into exile, but he was permitted to remain in Moscow “for the sake
of his aged father.” From 1792 to 1796, Lopukhin lived and wrote in Moscow,
publishing numerous literary and dramatic works.
Lopukhin’s career in the Russian civil service resumed in 1796 when Tsar
Paul, recognizing his talents and abilities, summoned him to St. Petersburg
and appointed him State Secretary. The following year, in 1797, Lopukhin
returned to Moscow as a Senator.
In 1800, Lopukhin and Senator Spiridonov completed a three-year senatorial
inspection of the provinces of Kazan, Viatka and Orenburg, in which they
identified various abuses of power by the local administrations. In his
report to the Tsar, Lopukhin displayed particular consideration for the
The following year, in 1801, Tsar Alexander I ordered Lopukhin and Senator
Neledinskiy-Meletskiy to undertake a senatorial inspection of the provinces
of south Russia to study the status of sectarian religion in the region,
and in particular, to investigate a series of complaints by Doukhobors, who
had returned there from exile, about their living conditions.
Arriving in Kharkov in November 1801, Lopukhin met with the Governor and
requested records relating to the history of the Doukhobors in the
province. Lopukhin learned that during Catherine the Great’s reign,
“several” local Doukhobors were summarily imprisoned and “not returned”.
Under Tsar Paul, entire Doukhobor households were exiled into penal
servitude. In August 1801, however, the exiled sectarians were returned to
their former homes in Kharkov province following Tsar Alexander’s edict of
Portrait of Ivan V.
Lopukhin (1756-1816) by Dmitry G. Levitzky.
Lopukhin was alarmed by the haste with which local authorities began
“admonishing” the returning Doukhobors. He bluntly told the Governor that
rebellion would surely ensue; the sectarians “did not have time to rest
quietly” before they were accosted by civil and ecclesiastical officials.
Lopukhin ordered the Governor to recall the “teams” sent to the districts to
“counsel” the Doukhobors.
The next day, however, the Governor, “pale, with papers in hand,” rushed to
Lopukhin’s lodgings with news that a bunt (rebellion) had already broken out
among the Doukhobors of Izium district “where an admonition was performed.”
The worried Governor informed Lopukhin that the sectarians, several of whom
had already been arrested, renounced recognition of the Tsar and Jesus
Christ and vowed never to pay taxes nor fulfill state obligations. The Izium
land court was investigating the incident.
Lopukhin calmed the Governor by assuring him that the “rebellion” would be
subdued and others prevented. The problem, as Lopukhin saw it, was that the
interrogations of the Doukhobors were “needless” and “unskilled”; they
served only to embitter them. The Senator defended the sectarians,
remonstrating that they were “full of reverence” toward Jesus Christ and the
Tsar and ready to “obey all laws” and “fulfill all land obligations”. To
alleviate the situation, Lopukhin ordered the Governor to release the
arrested Doukhobors and suspend the inquiry. The Governor agreed.
Lopukhin wrote a report of his investigation to the Tsar dated November 12,
1801. The Tsar was informed that the Kharkov authorities did not understand
the “direct essence” of his edicts concerning the Doukhobors, that the
“rebellion” was not the fault of the sectarians themselves, who displayed
“faith and reverence” and “particular gratitude” towards the monarch. The
Senator outlined the remedial measures he had ordered the Kharkov Governor
During the course of his investigation, Lopukhin met for a period of several
days with a sizeable group of Doukhobors. This was done in secrecy so as
not to arouse “unnecessary inquisitiveness” among the Orthodox. He was
impressed by the sectarians’ faith and “very fundamental and correct
concepts of Christianity” and sympathized with their plight. For their part,
the Doukhobors “took a liking” to Lopukhin, and they conversed openly with
him about the tenets of their faith. On the last day of their meetings, the
Doukhobors presented a petition to Lopukhin requesting to be established
“in a separate colony” and expressing their “loyalty and real zeal toward
Lopukhin wrote a second report to the Tsar, skillfully rendering the
Doukhobors request. It began with a hearty defense of the sectarians in the
face of unfavourable reports issued by Kharkov officials. The Senator then
offered a short explanation of the Doukhobor “manner of faith”. Finally, Lopukhin
relayed their request for a separate colony, using language that consciously
echoed Alexander’s emphasis on legal treatment for non-conformists and his
desire to lead them back to Orthodoxy. First, Lopukhin argued that the
formation of a separate colony would quiet Doukhobor unrest by removing
them from the harassment and animosity of local officials. Second, isolation
would all but eliminate the sectarians’ ability to spread their beliefs.
Finally, concentrated settlements would help well-educated, moral and
patient priests bring the Doukhobors back to Orthodoxy.
The Tsar agreed wholeheartedly with Lopukhin’s proposal and immediately set
in motion the consolidation of a separate Doukhobor colony in the recently
incorporated lands of Novorossiya. In his January 1802 edict, the Tsar
granted permission for any Doukhobor in the Novorossiya provinces to
settle together in the Molochnye Vody region of Melitopol
district, Tavria province, which was then a sparsely populated part of the
empire. Alexander wrote to the Governor of Novorossiya that the
concentration of Doukhobors, separate from other Russians, would prevent
their further ruin and mistreatment, and that he considered their separation
to be “a most reliable means for the extinguishing of their heresay and for
the suppression of their influence on others.” In the years that
followed, the Tsar extended the edict to allow Doukhobors from across the
Russian Empire to resettle in Tavria.
Lopukhin's involvement in the "Doukhobor Affair" would determine the fate
of the sect throughout Russia for the next forty years. For the first time,
the Doukhobors had in Lopukhin a sympathetic high official who spoke up for
the sectarians and stressed their virtues as well as their faults. He
acted as a conduit between the Doukhobors and the highest circles of
Russian society, transmitting their beliefs using the language and metaphors
of the Imperial Court, and in doing so, helped lay the basis for Tsar
Alexander's policy on the Doukhobors. But for his intervention, the
Doukhobors of Sloboda-Ukraine and elsewhere would have remained isolated,
dispersed, voiceless and oppressed. It is through his
efforts that the Doukhobors owed a great measure of release from
persecution, and also an opportunity to exist and develop as a
Lopukhin left Kharkov in December of 1801 to resume his senatorial duties.
Between 1802 and 1805, he served as President of a commission "to deal with
the dispute of estates in the Crimea", travelling to the Crimea to the
Crimea to settle land disputes between Tatars and Russian landlords.
In 1806, he observed the formation of national armed forces in Vladimir, Kaluga,
Ryazan and Tula provinces. In 1807, he served in the Eight Department
of the Senate, a branch of the Senate which was located in Moscow.
In 1808-1809, the “Zapiska Niekotorykh
Obstoiatel’stv Zhizni i Sluzhby Dieistvitel’nago Tainago Sovietnika,
Senatora I. V. Lopukhina” ["A note on some circumstances in the life
and career of Acting Privy Councillor, Senator I. V. Lopukhin"] was written under Lopukhin's dictation.
The tract contained Lopukhin's detailed reminisces on the "Doukhobor Affair".
In 1812, during
the Napoleonic War, Lopukhin fled Moscow to escape the advancing French
armies, resettling to his estate of Saviiskoye in the Baltic. In 1813, Lopukhin took a leave of absence from
the Senate for health reasons, which was repeatedly prolonged. He
moved back to his family estate at Voskresenskoye and married the daughter
of Moscow merchant M.E. Nikitin. From 1814 until the end of his life,
Lopukhin was a member of the Russian Bible Society, a non-denominational
organization devoted to translating and distributing the Bible in Russia.
Throughout his later career and until his death,
Lopukhin was censured by Orthodox clergy, local and provincial officials,
and by conservative elements within the Russian aristocracy for his efforts
on behalf of the Doukhobors. The Senator ignored the criticism until the
(council of Orthodox bishops of the Russian Empire) reproached him for the “harmful multiplication” of
Doukhobors. In response to his critics, Lopukhin composed the essay
"Glas Iskrennosti" ["Voice of Sincerity"], explaining the
"errors of faith", outlining their history of
persecution, and defending his activities in connection with the sect. The
essay was circulated privately in 1806, but was only published posthumously in 1817.
In addition to 'Glas Iskrennosti', there are several historical tracts on the
Doukhobors attributed to Lopukhin. The first of these,
"Zapiska, Rodannaya Dukhobortsami Ekaterinoslavskoy Gubernii v 1791 g.
Gubernatoru Kakhovskomu" ["Note of 1791 submitted by the
Doukhobors of Ekaterinoslav Province to
Governor Kakhovsky"] contains one of the earliest expositions of Dukhobor beliefs.
The Note is known only in copies; the original has never been discovered.
However, scholars have ascertained that the first copy was made from a
document belonging to Lopukhin. The second
tract is an 1805 note
entitled "Nekotorye Cherty ob Obshchestve Dukhobortsev" ["Several Characteristics of
While the authorship of these tracts has not been positively identified,
scholars such as Svetlana Inikova have identified Masonic influences in
both, and have justifiably attributed them to either an unidentified Mason
or directly to Lopukhin himself.
A prominent theme in Lopukhin's many writings was the idea of
a spiritual "inner church", the foes of which were the secular learning and
self-indulgence which kept man from following Christ and gaining "true
wisdom". Lopukhin's ideal man, the "spiritual knight", defended the "inner
church" with the spiritual weapons of silent suffering and freely given
love. In "Glas Iskrennosti", Lopukhin
characterized the Doukhobors as the "hidden saints" of his new church.
Interestingly, perhaps the most famous convert to his idea of a new inner
church was Leo Tolstoy, who became an archetype of Lopukhin's "spiritual
knight" with his "conversion" to a new non-doctrinal Christianity that
abjured violence and taught that "the kingdom of God is within you".
Tolstoy, like Lopukhin before him, would view the Doukhobors as living
examples of his philosophical ideals.
Lopukhin died at his family estate on 22 June 1816.
Among his contemporaries, he enjoyed great popularity as the epitome of the
fair and disinterested judge, the philanthropist, the man who put the
welfare of his Motherland before his own, the trusted advisor to the Tsars.
At the same time, his mystic writings and philosophy earned him many
denigrators who accused him of hypocrisy and personal defects. Sadly,
his role and influence in the history of the Doukhobors, perhaps second only
to Tolstoy amongst "outsiders" to the sect, remains
largely unappreciated and forgotten.
For more about Lopukhin's legacy as a writer and
thinker see: Lipski, Alexander. "A Russian Mystic Faces the Age of
Rationalism and Revolution: Thought and Activity of Ivan Vladimirovich
Lopukhin" in Church History
(Vol. 36, No. 2 (Jun., 1967), pp. 170-188; and Billington, James H. "The
Icon and the Axe, An Interpretive History of Russian Culture" (New York:
Random House, 1966.
For more about Lopukhin's investigation of the
Sloboda-Ukraine Doukhobors and the formation of the Milky Waters colony
see: Fry, Gary Dean. "The Doukhobors, 1801-1855: Origins of a Successful
Dissident Sect" (Ph.D thesis, American University, 1976); and Savva,
Dukhobortsev Khar’kovskoi Gubernii” (Kharkov, Kharkov
Historical-Philological Society, 1893); republished in P.N. Malov,
“Dukhobortsi, ikh Istoria, Zhizn' i Bor'ba”;
History of the Dukhobortsy of Kharkov Province on the Doukhobor Genealogy Website.
about Lopukhin's role in the historiography of the Doukhobors see:
Inikova, Svetlana A. "Spiritual
Origins and Beginnings of Doukhobor History" in
A. Donskov, J. Woodsworth & C. Gaffield (eds.), The Doukhobor
Centenary in Canada, A Multi-Disciplinary Perspective on their Unity and
Diversity. (Ottawa: Slavic Research Group and Institute of Canadian
Studies at the University of Ottawa, 2000); reproduced on the Doukhobor
was reproduced by permission in ISKRA No. 2020 (U.S.S.C., Castlegar, BC,
July 3, 2009).