Tolstoy and the
Doukhobors: Main Stages of Relations in the Late 19th & Early 20th Century
by V.O. Pashchenko & T.V. Nagorna
Most Doukhobors today are well aware of the historic relationship between
Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy and their forebears. However, surprising few modern
Russians and Ukrainians know about the close connection between Russia’s
greatest writer and the sectarians with whom he was a kindred
spirit. The following article, written from a contemporary Russian and
Ukrainian perspective, examines Tolstoy’s close cooperation with the
followers of the Doukhobor religious community, as well as his moral and
financial support of their emigration en masse to Canada in 1899. Reproduced
from the Journal of Ukrainian History Vol. 3 (No. 468) (Kiev: Institute of
Ukrainian History, 2006). Translated from the original Ukrainian by Khrystyna Hudyma exclusively for the Doukhobor Genealogy Website.
Further translation and editing by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff. Click here for the
original Ukrainian article.
The figure of Lev Nikolayevich
Tolstoy hardly needs any additional comments: the famous Russian writer, public
figure, person with an active position in the Russian Empire. However, some
aspects of his public activity still remain unresearched. For instance, the fact
that in 1897 Tolstoy refused the Nobel Peace Prize in favour of the Doukhobors
is not well-known. As is the fact that funds raised by his publication of the
novel Voskresenie (Resurrection) amounting to 32,360 rubles, Tolstoy transferred
to the committee organizing resettlement of these Spiritual Christians abroad.
Moreover, an average reader does not know about Tolstoy’s admiration of
Doukhobor social practice, their way and peculiarities of life, and attitude to
a range of different problems. The high level of social organization of
Doukhobor communities allowed the writer to call them “people of 25th century”.
Tolstoy borrowed these kind of thoughts, i.e. ideas of equality, priority of
spiritual values, non-violence, which were too progressive for that time, from
his communication with adherents of the Doukhobor movement. Taking this into
account, special attention is focused on his relations with the followers of the
Spiritual Christianity movement, communities of which were spread across Ukraine
in the 18th-20th centuries. Furthermore, Doukhobors in the Russian Empire first
appeared in the territory of Ukraine. Thus, there is information about them
appearing and spreading in Kharkov and Ekaterinoslav provinces starting in the
second half of the 18th century .
The definition of the term “Spiritual Christians” to signify this religious
movement does not have unanimous agreement among modern researchers. This
article utilizes this term in order to signify religious communities of
Doukhobors, Molokans (“milk-drinkers”), Khristovery (“Christ-believers”) or
Khlysts (“flagellants”) and Skoptsy (“castrates”). Followers of the
aforementioned movements communicated with Tolstoy and his associates during
second half of the 19th-beginning of the 20th century.
The Doukhobor movement at that time did not leave Tolstoy unmoved. In his
articles published in 1895-1896, the writer appealed for help for the
Doukhobors, called them “a phenomenon of extraordinary importance” and compared
their force of influence with the appearance of Jesus Christ. Of course, such an
idealization is not justified in the modern age; however Tolstoy, if we take his
life position into account, had some ideological prerequisites for such
This article attempts to trace the main stages of Tolstoy’s relations with the
Doukhobors based on an analysis of his religious heritage, memoirs of
contemporaries, research of late 19th-early 20th century literature, and
This area is completely under-researched. However, some materials and books give
us an opportunity to reconstruct the relations. First, correspondence between
Tolstoy and Spiritual Christians was published by P. Biryukov in his work,
“Doukhobors. Collection of articles, memoirs and other materials.” In his
monograph “Biography of Tolstoy”, he managed to highlight the issues of
Tolstoy’s close cooperation with Spiritual Christians . Some aspects of
Tolstoy’s activity in this area and peculiarities of the Tolstoyan movement are
described in the articles of K. Grigoriev, I. Kronshtadsky, L. Tikhomirov,
including articles published in Orthodox Christian publications in the 19th-20th
centuries . Of course, these publications are characterized by the negative
attitude towards religious communities separated from the Russian Orthodox
Church. Clergy and missionaries of the 19th century demonstrated a biased
approach in depicting relations between Tolstoyans and Doukhobors; thus in the
brochures of Ye. Bobrov and Father Nikanor, we find rather critical remarks
about such cooperation . Their main aim was to contradict the views of
Tolstoy and to show his negative influence on the followers of Spiritual
Christianity. L. Sulerzhitsky demonstrated a positive attitude toward the
Doukhobors in his monographic research, viewing the main problems of resettling
the faithful outside of the Empire . This work is valuable in investigating
the dynamics of Spiritual Christians starting from the second half of the 18th
century, and the main stages of their development. Sulerzhitsky’s research is,
in fact, comprised of abstracts from his notebook, where in a descriptive manner
main stages of Doukhobors’ life in [North] America are portrayed. The artistic
style of the material does not imply any deeper theoretical conclusions, but
facilitates the accumulation of a large amount of actual data with interesting
details about their life abroad.
Present day researchers do carry out some research in this area. A considerable
contribution was made by V. Bonch-Bruevich, who tracked the main stages of
Doukhobor immigration to Cyprus and Canada and also gave a positive portrayal of
the role of Tolstoy and his associates in these events . O. Yaroslavsky tried
to trace the attitude of Tolstoyans towards the changes of the Soviet period,
and traditionally, for a representative of Soviet historiography, was highly
critical about this religious phenomenon .
Among other modern researches the one published by M. Zybarov and P. Planidin
might be of particular interest. There is published correspondence between P.
Verigin, a leader of the Spiritual Christians, and Tolstoy , which for a long
time remained unknown to admirers and experts of the writer’s art. Today, 22
original letters from Doukhobors are stored in the department of hand-written
funds of the L. Tolstoy State Museum.
Researches in this area are of vital importance considering the history of
Spiritual Christians’ development and also as one of Tolstoy’s activities. One
of the famous public figures of the Russian Empire was V. G. Chertkov, a close
friend of L. Tolstoy. They became acquainted in 1883, but a year later, in 1884,
for public speaking in defense of the religious communities Chertkov was exiled
out of Russia. Consequently, he lived in Great Britain and not only was engaged
in publishing (distributing L. Tolstoy’s essays banned by censorship, the
“Svobodnoye slovo” newspaper, and the “Papers of “Svobodnoye slovo” collection),
but also helped the Doukhobors resettle to Canada . Another associate and
close friend of Tolstoy was P.I. Biryukov, with whom the writer started to
collaborate in 1884. P. Biryukov actively participated in preparations for the
resettlement of Spiritual Christians to Canada. However, he also paid for that –
beginning in 1898, he mainly lived abroad .
The faithful at the end of 19th century actually needed help. This is explained,
first of all, by the peculiarities of Imperial legislation in the field of
religion. According to then-current legal regulations, we can trace the change
in state policy toward the aforementioned religious groups. Legal statutes which
were published starting in the second quarter of the 19th century involved the
eviction of Spiritual Christians to remote parts of the Russian Empire and also
Doukhobor Historical Development
Before we begin analyzing Tolstoy’s correspondence with the Doukhobors, let us
dwell upon another related aspect, namely the main stages of the community’s
development. It is worth mentioning that the dynamics of their number and
peculiarities of development largely depended on external factors, i.e. Imperial
legislation, missionary work, and influence from the ROC (Russian Orthodox
Church). According to P. Biryukov, 1792 should be considered as the starting
point of state-Doukhobor relations. That is the time when Ekaterinoslav
governor, in one of his reports to St. Petersburg wrote that nothing connected
with iconoclasm deserves any mercy . He was talking about Doukhobors and
Molokans who appeared at that time in Ekaterinoslav province. In his monographic
work O. Novitsky suggests 1799 to be the time when authorities started paying
attention to Spiritual Christians, who for a long time had influenced hearts and
minds in Russia . The last third of the 18th century witnessed trials
against Doukhobors in Kherson province. Trials of the same kind took place
against Mariupol and Ekaterinoslav Doukhobors under Kherson provincial
administration. They were accused of spreading their doctrine on the streets and
being accompanied by crowds.
The basis of Tsar Alexander I’s religious policy were the attempts to reduce
Doukhobor activity, neither by introducing additional penalties, nor by
diversifying the struggle against them, but by paying due attention to them and
providing them some benefits and concessions. In 1801, Tsar Alexander I issued a
royal edict, owing to which many Doukhobors were able to return home (Kharkov,
Ekaterinoslav, and Kherson provinces) from Siberia and the Caucasus. A fact
proving the aforementioned policy on religious communities was the closing of
the Doukhobor case in the Izium court of law, which gained widespread publicity
due to its promotion by local authorities.
Immediately afterwards, the Doukhobors submitted a formal request asking for a
separate colony. O. Novitsky and P. Biryukov consider this to be a voluntary
step, whereas O. Titov points out that they agreed to the resettlement following
a lengthy period of negotiations . In 1802, an Imperial Edict was published
which allowed Doukhobors to settle along the Molochnaya River in the Melitopol
district of Tavria province. Thus, Doukhobors from Kharkov and Ekaterinoslav
provinces were exiled to the new colony, i.e. Ukrainian Doukhobors were given
the priority, then came their peers from Russian provinces.
It is worth mentioning that mass relocations to Tavria province continued until
1817. In 1820, official permission to allocate an additional 5,236 acres of land
to the Melitopol colonists was passed. That year, a ban was passed on further
resettling, lasting, in fact, until 1824. The exact number of people exiled to
Molochnye Vody is unknown. There is some information attesting that around 800
families amounting to 3,985 people lived in the Molochnaya River area in 1827
. There is no evidence of Doukhobors being evicted by Alexander I to the
Caucasus; however in 1821, 2,300 people already lived in Akhalkalak district of
Tiflis province . The percentage of Ukrainian Doukhobors among them is
unknown. Nevertheless, we know that they were the first ones to be evicted.
Thereupon, we can conclude that Ukrainian Doukhobors comprised the largest part
of Molochnye Vody residents. Later on, Doukhobors from Voronezh, Tambov and
Saratov provinces as well as from Azov, Ekaterinburg, Siberia and even Finland
were settled there too.
Representatives of other Spiritual Christian branches, mainly the Molokans, also
settled in the Molochnaya River area. This is due to a number of legal statutes
aimed at regulating relations with other communities opposed to the Orthodox
Church. After the eviction, only 59 Molokans were left in Ekaterinoslav region.
However, according to an additional decree issued by the Ministry of Internal
Affairs, they were also exiled to Molochnye Vody.
Thus, in the first quarter of the 19th century, the Molochnaya River area became
a center of Spiritual Christians in Ukraine. Doukhobors who lived there were
exiled in 1802-20 of their own will. The total number of Doukhobors amounted to
5,000 people; amongst whom 3,000 were from Ukraine. Along with them, Molokans
also lived in this area founding their own colonies in Tavria province. Another
center of Spiritual Christians from Ukraine became the Caucasus. Beginning in
1819, a considerable number of Molokans from Ekaterinoslav region was exiled
A characteristic feature of Doukhobors in the first quarter of the 19th century
was their active engagement in dealings with the authorities. This is evidenced
by the considerable number of petitions and appeals to the Emperor relating to
the improvement of their socio-economic conditions. These kinds of appeals had
been addressed by representatives of Spiritual Christians to Alexander I
throughout the whole first quarter of the 19th century. Each appeal was
thoroughly considered and properly by Alexander I, and he satisfied most of the
requests. However, these concessions were of small importance.
Innovations in Russian imperial religious policy started with Nicholas I’s rule.
He launched an authoritarian relationship model, and his policy towards
Spiritual Christians was characterized as much tougher, compared to that of
Alexander I. For instance, the faithful were limited in their rights; Doukhobors
and Molokans were deprived of some of the privileges they used to have.
Spiritual censorial committees and special commissions were created by the
initiative of the Emperor to consider the crimes of Spiritual Christians.
The reason for such a “cooling” of relations was a sudden change in the domestic
policy of the Russian Empire, which was reflected in the religious sphere of
life. Thus, the monarch began to consider Spiritual Christians as particularly
dangerous for the nation’s peace. The main examples of such an attitude are: the
introduction of censorship surveillance, publishing guidelines for Doukhobors, a
cruel attitude towards the faithful during legal investigations, an expansion of
the possible exile territories (with extremely unfavourable living conditions),
and prohibition of voluntary resettlement. Thus, the first years of Nicholas’ I
rule witnessed moderate opposition to some religious communities; the following
years witnessed an open struggle against them and the development of a
corresponding legal framework .
In the second quarter of the 19th century, several anti-religious legal acts
were passed, whereas representatives of Spiritual Christians lost a whole range
of privileges gained during previous periods. However, this time was important
for the development of the aforementioned religious congregations, since it
facilitated the intensification of their activity, increase in number,
cautiousness and moderation in their attitude toward authorities, and greater
influence of Spiritual Christians in the social and political life of the
Russian Empire in the 19th century. As a consequence, people were persecuted by
authorities for their participation in the religious communities; and their
rights were restricted as well. The policy of the Russian Emperor was completely
supported by the Russian Orthodox Church. The Church had a strong influence in
the territory of Ukraine and significantly affected people’s life in the Russian
The Imperial Decree of October 20, 1830 was important for the further
development of Spiritual Christians. Doukhobors were proclaimed to be one of the
most dangerous groups, and their preaching was prosecuted by order of the court.
Exile to Transcaucasia was the main punishment, and for adult males it was
call-in to the Caucasian military corps . According to this decree,
resettlement to Tavria province was prohibited, and Doukhobors were not allowed
to hold any public office. Thus, the gradual process of the liquidation of
privileges of Spiritual Christians obtained during previous times began, and
Nicholas I made his first steps toward declaring their practice to be illegal
. The next decree in the same period was the adoption of guidelines in 1830,
the main provisions of which reinforced the focus of previous legal statutes and
offered no improvement in the attitude of the state toward the faithful.
Consequently, the state policy toward Spiritual Christians during Nicholas’ I
rule in the second quarter of the 19th century became unfavourable for those
Christian communities. In 1835, a special commission for the investigation of
crimes committed by Doukhobors was created. On February 17, 1835, the “Highest
Rescript” was adopted, according to which Spiritual Christians from the
Molochnaya River territory were to be resettled to the Caucasus, the only
exception were those who admitted their mistakes and returned to Orthodoxy. In
1835, the decision to evict Doukhobors from the Melitopol district was made, but
in 1839, subsequent legal statutes prescribed definite conditions of their
resettlement. First of all, in the Caucasus, Spiritual Christians obtained the
same-sized plot of arable land as they had in Molochnye Vody. Second, no adult
male was granted exemption from military service. Third, Doukhobors had the
right to sell movables (or to take with them) and receive compensation for real
estate as assessed by the special commission . Sources in historic
literature give information about three main waves of resettling from Ukraine
and what is more important – the numbers of evicted people: 1841 – 800; 1842 –
800; 1843 – 900  [Note: there were in fact five waves of Doukhobor exile
The locality known as “Doukhobor’ie” received its name after the Spiritual
Christians exiled to the Caucasus. It is situated in the southern part of
Akhalkalak district, Tiflis province which is bordering with Turkey. Doukhobors
founded 8 villages there, namely Gorelovka, Bogdanovka, Orlovka, Efremovka,
Spasovka, Troitskoye, Rodionovka, and Tambovka. Apparently, Ukrainian
[Doukhobor] settlers lived together with the Russian ones. According to F.
Putyntsev, the main evidences are the names of villages and the population
number – 5 thousand, among which, around 3 thousand were from Ukraine. The “Wet
Mountains”, the other name of this territory, was given because of its
changeable climate, and much worse, if compared to Tavria province, living
conditions. The only advantage was the non-interference of the state in
Spiritual Christians’ affairs. According to another “Highest Rescript” issued in
1842, Doukhobors and Molokans were forbidden to buy peasants. If they had any,
they were to remit the peasants to the state and receive remuneration for them
afterwards. An interesting term of the document allowed all the faithful, except
the most dangerous groups in the state’s view, to resettle to provinces with
better living conditions. In the 19th century the most dangerous religious
groups were considered those of the Khristovery, Skoptsy, Doukhobor, and Molokan
communities. Thus, Spiritual Christians could not take advantage of this
In 1842, a special document was published aiming to regulate relations between
state and religious congregations. First of all, the most dangerous religious
groups were named: Skoptsy, Zhidovstvuyushchiye, Doukhobors, Molokans, i.e.
Spiritual Christians. Zhidovstvuyushchiye was the name of one of the Molokans
subgroups, namely the Subbotniks ("Sabbatarians"). According to the “Rules of resettlement of
dissenters of harmful heresies”, the main type of prosecution, as in the
previous period, was resettlement to the Caucasus after each case was considered
in court . As a result of this decree, a new one was worked out – “Rules of
primary education of colonists’ children, especially of dissenters’” .
Parish clergy was assigned to supervise the education process. Those who
completed the course passed an examination held by local priest. A special class
register was used to document the examination procedure with signatures of all
present. Then the results were referred to a diocesan bishop. However, it was
noted that the document should be enforced soberly and carefully. According to
the corresponding act of 1843, Doukhobors were forbidden to accept orthodox
children to their families. Even in this way, authorities tried to avoid the
growth in their population numbers .
Therefore, by the end of the 19th century, Transcaucasia remained the main
center of Spiritual Christians. However, the events of the last decade [of that
century] rapidly changed the history of the community. In 1895, P. Verigin
called for the burning weapons in all Doukhobor settlements. It is possible that
such views were formed as a result of his communication with Tolstoy. At the
same time, those Doukhobors who were forced to carry out military duty refused
to continue their service and to bear arms. The Doukhobors’ campaign of
destroying weapons and anti-war protest did not pass unnoticed. About 5,000 of
Doukhobors were dispersed across a large territory of the Caucasus without any
land or property. The result of such measures was a high death rate among
Doukhobors (about 2,000 of people died either during or after the resettlement).
Doukhobor soldiers were transferred to disciplinary battalions, and P. Verigin
was exiled to Obodorsk. In 1897 P. Tregubov and P.Biryukov, after their trip to
Georgia, described this situation to Tolstoy. Such a difficult period in
Doukhobor life was certainly linked to financial problems. Economic issues, lack
of basic resources for living, and the slow process of resettlement all caused
financial difficulties. According to various sources, in the second half of the
19th century, a significant number of Doukhobor migrations in the Russian Empire
took place. Furthermore, more than 20,000 of the faithful went abroad
(3,000-8,000 of them were from the territory of contemporary Ukraine) .
Tolstoy’s Correspondence with the Doukhobors
In the 1890s, Tolstoy, his friends and adherents systematically corresponded
with P. Verigin, the [main] leader of the Doukhobors, and other Spiritual
Christians. It is worthwhile to analyze those letters in detail to determine the
level of mutual influence between the writer and Spiritual Christians. Letters
sent by P. Verigin in late 1896 contain his thoughts about good and evil. He
called Tolstoy “a good man”. Sincere dialogue with the writer, according to P.
Verigin, was possible only by treating Tolstoy with a good spirit. “If you
believe in the power of education and paper, you might be wrong” – said the
Doukhobor . As we can see the key concept of spirit in the Doukhobors’
doctrine finds a further interpretation in the works of their leader. In his
next letters, P. Verigin develops this viewpoint and states that only one thing
necessary – to keep one’s heart from evil, regardless of where one is – in
church or plowing the land – this is the sole condition .
There are also letters of other Spiritual Christians to L. Tolstoy and P.
Biryukov. As a rule, the main topics of those letters were the everyday problems
and living conditions of the colonists. Furthermore, they contained sufficient
information about the leaders of congregations, milestones of their biographies,
based on which, and also by direct communication with the settlers, it became
possible to publish a number of materials on this phenomenon of religious life
of the Russian Empire .
For Doukhobors living in the territory of the Russian Empire, the issues of
performing duties, especially the military one, were of great importance. This
issue became a key point in their letters. Moreover, P. Verigin provided quite
interesting explanations in defense of Spiritual Christians. First, he wrote
about the well-known idea of non-violence, which was promoted by Doukhobors, but
then developed the viewpoint of the equal righte of everyone to choose, and the
impossibility of coercion against one’s will. He wrote that the main standpoint
of their conviction was not disobedience, but a refusal to acknowledge the usage
of people in any form – especially when one has to use violence . At that
time many Doukhobors refused to work in local administrations. The reason is the
following: according to P. Verigin officers and officials refused to carry out
their responsibilities because they didn’t want to rule in districts, i.e. to
rule the same people as they are, and to not obey elders. According to Doukhobor
belief, one must obey elders, but cannot be an “elder” himself . It is
important to note that Tolstoy called on the Doukhobors to not abandon public
service, nor to neglect their duties. He addressed Spiritual Christians with an
appeal to not oppose authorities, because their (Doukhobors’) wives and children
would be the first to suffer . This information refutes a wide-spread idea
in the literature of the end of the 19th – and beginning of the 20th century
about the crucial influence of the writer on the Doukhobors’ refusal to carry
out military duties.
After P. Biryukov and P.Tregubov returned from the Caucasus, they received
letters from Tolstoy. Thus, in 1897 he addressed the settlers as “My dear
brothers who suffer for Christ’s teaching”, called them pioneers in spiritual
struggle, thanked them for their spiritual support and help “because you are the
first to follow Christ’s example, the ones who follow you will have an easier
way. You are the first of many people to appreciate that. ” The Doukhobors
responded, stating that many of their associates were being resettled to
Siberia, Elizavetpol, Baku and Erevan provinces. Their letters also contain
information about the appalling living conditions, unfavourable climate, and
financial problems. These documents revealed a new idea that was appearing –
that the faithful need to be resettled outside of the Russian Empire.
Eventually, the critical situation made P. Verigin appeal to Empress Alexandra
Fedorovna with a request to allow new resettlement . He provided various
reasons to convince the Empress. First of all, P. Verigin pointed out the
misleading explanation of their name, which was falsified by the officials and
clergy. Thus, “doukhobor” meant that they spiritually believe in God, he also
cited evangelical texts to demonstrate that. Second, he explained the urgent
need to be resettled by the significant problems of the community: “women and
children are suffering there (in exile); hundreds of husbands and fathers are
imprisoned; thousands of families are resettled in mountain villages, where
authorities encourage local people to treat them badly”. P. Verigin also noted
that more and more Doukhobor women were imprisoned, justified vegetarianism, and
also explained that they carry out all the state duties except the military one,
as it contradicted their belief system. He considered it possible for the
Doukhobors to be resettled to one of the European countries, e.g. Great Britain,
though pointed out that probably, the most favourable living conditions were
those in America, where many of their associates [i.e. ethnic Russians and
Ukrainians] lived already .
These requests were not left unnoticed by the Emperor, and resulted in the
Doukhobors obtaining permission to leave the Russian Empire. First, negotiations
were planned with Great Britain. An official delegation, including V. Chertkov,
[and Doukhobors] I. Ivin and P. Makhortov was sent there. V. Chertkov was the
one to unite those who sympathized with Doukhobors and began the resettlement
preparations. However, despite calling on the public, the money raised was not
enough. The Spiritual Christians appealed to the Quakers, who established the
Committee of Friends organization to raise money. First, 3,200 Doukhobors were
planned to be resettled outside of the Empire, but the situation had become
worse. The British suggested Cyprus for this purpose. Such haste is explained by
the Spiritual Christians’ desire to leave Russia as soon as possible. Therefore,
the first group of Doukhobors, amounting to 1,128 people, was resettled to
Cyprus. There, with the help of Quakers, they were given some land. The smaller
than expected size of the group is explained by the fact that the British
demanded payment of 250 rubles per each adult settler. Owing to V. Chertkov’s
efforts and Quakers financial support, the funds raised were sufficient enough
only to resettle 1,128 persons. They went to Larnaca (Cyprus) in August, 1898.
However, climatic conditions, malaria, fever and other diseases influenced their
decision to immigrate to Canada in spring 1899.
Tolstoy reacted to these events by appealing to the public. In his letter of
March 3, 1898, he offerred to be a mediator between the Doukhobors and those who
wanted to negotiate with them . The writer diplomatically avoided the issue
of who was right in the situation. He wrote “authorities, who recognize the
incompatibility of Christianity with prisons, executions, and most importantly
with waging wars or preparing for them or Doukhobors who consider the rule of
Christianity, which denies any violence, murder, among the foremost for them,
and therefore they deny military service – you cannot help seeing that this
contradiction cannot be resolved. ”
Tolstoy cited gruesome information about state abuse in relation to Spiritual
Christians. He managed to categorize main methods of interaction on the
faithful. He stated that the first type of punishment was alternative ways to
carry out military service, which turned out to be violent, but didn’t
contradict Doukhobors’ religious doctrine. Another, more radical method, was to
imprison Spiritual Christians for the period of their military service. As the
writer pointed out these measures were characteristic of any country in its
attitude towards unacceptable religious communities. However, there was another
type of punishment in the Russian Empire: the authorities would persecute
parents, wives and children of those men who denied military service in order to
influence their decision. The number of families taken apart by resettlement of
its members to the Caucasus and other parts of the Russian Empire made this
situation quite tragic. However, we cannot agree with the writer on his
viewpoint that Doukhobors still living in Ukraine experienced the same attitude.
According to archival information, some of them were allowed to resettle with
their families, however, in practice, positive decisions usually were made in
favour of families with children.
The conditions in which the resettled Doukhobors had to live were even more
terrible. Tolstoy was extremely distressed by this situation. In his letters, he
mentions prohibitions on leaving their place of residence, imprisonment for not
complying with the requirements of local authorities, starting from penalties
for using the name of their community and ending with meeting with the family,
trips to the mill, gathering firewood in the forest, etc. The writer’s
diplomatic skills also deserve praise. Thus, he endeavored to justify
authorities by their ignorance of these issues; however he also noted that the
reason might be their unwillingness to know. Tolstoy also cited the grim
statistics of high mortality rate among Doukhobors exiled in Caucasus, where
about a quarter of 400 families died within 3 years after resettlement. One
cannot help noticing the ironic style of interpretation of official information
about resettlement abroad. Conditions for Doukhobors’ resettlement abroad
included: obtaining passports according to the local laws, traveling solely on
their own expense, and providing signed statements on their non-return to the
Tolstoy wrote that, by chance, he
was familiar with the details of persecution and suffering of the Doukhobors
and, therefore, he had kept in touch with them. He also appealed to people both
from Russia and Europe to support the Doukhobors in such trouble . Moreover,
he called upon them to help, not only by donating money, but actually
contributing to the process of resettlement, since Spiritual Christians had no
knowledge of foreign languages, nor had they any experience traveling abroad.
While preparing the resettlement of the first group of Doukhobors, some measures
were taken for the following group too. Although they needed 88,780 rubles, the
committee was able to raise only 45,000. This became known to the writer. He
wrote to V. Chertkov about an option he found. Tolstoy suggested selling some of
his novels, including Voskresenie, to English and American newspapers on the
most favourable conditions and transferring the money to the Committee for the
Doukhobors’ resettlement . According to V. Bonch-Bruevich, the writer gave
32,360 rubles to the committee.
There were 2,200 Spiritual Christians in the second group. They resettled in
October, 1898. The third group was accompanied by Tolstoy’s son, Sergey Lvovich,
in winter 1898-1899. Another 1,700 settlers joined the first two groups.
Simultaneously, 1,020 Spiritual Christians emigrated from Cyprus, accompanied by
L. Sulerzhitsky. The fourth wave amounted to 2,318 Doukhobors and was
accompanied by V. Bonch-Bruevich. The total number of Doukhobors living in
Canada by August 1899 was 7,160 persons. Later on, a few more families decided
to immigrate as well. 5,800 Doukhobors settled in the area between Yorkton
(Saskatchewan) and Swan River (Manitoba); a smaller part (about 1,400) settled
near Prince Albert. Thus, there were two big centres of Doukhobor localization –
Saskatchewan and [after 1908,] British Columbia.
At this difficult period, P. Verigin wrote a psalm, “Declaration of Brotherhood
Life”, which is considered to be one of the main and most respected Doukhobor
works. The psalm’s main statements are: members of the [Doukhobor] community
respect and love God, because they consider him to be the beginning of
everything; they respect the dignity of every person, both among themselves and
among others; members of the community perceive all life with love and
admiration and try to bring up their children in the same spirit; under the word
“God” they understand the power of love and life which is the core of existence;
the world is constantly moving, everything strives to perfection, and everything
in the world is in transition; one cannot destroy anything; every single being
has life; to deprive a person of his or her life is unacceptable; members of the
community believe in full freedom; any order established by force is considered
illegal; the core of a person’s existence is energy, thoughts and mind; its base
is water, fruits and vegetables; life in a commune is acceptable when it is
based on moral principle: I would not wish for another what I do not want for
The main ideas, set out by Verigin in this psalm, were aimed at raising the
faithfull’s spirit and moral support. It essentially became popular during the
period of resettlement. Moreover, its ideas were the main topic of his
correspondence with Tolstoy.
During their life in Canada, the Doukhobors have managed to retain their
culture. However, the community faced changes. In 1902, P. Verigin came to
Canada after his exile. However, he never abandoned the hope to return to the
homeland. His visit to Russia and meeting with P. Stolypin in 1906 concerning
this issue wasn’t successful. In 1924, P.Verigin was killed in a train
explosion. A radical party called the “Sons of freedom”, which was established
after Verigin’s death, in the second half of the 20th century had about 3,000
members in Canada, those who did not want to become assimilated by the local
population and lose their peculiarities. Such attitudes contributed to the
emergence of ideas about a possible resettlement to USSR. In 1939, Canadian
Doukhobors sent a letter to Y. Stalin with such a request. The reasons for its
refusal are still unknown. Starting in 1943, the Doukhobor magazine Iskra (the
Spark) had been published in Canada , its articles dedicated to issues of
community development. Thus, many faithful were concerned with mixed marriages,
losing ties with motherland, etc.
The total number of spiritual Christians in Canada at the end of the 20th
century amounted to about 100,000. In 1991, Georgian Doukhobors began a
resettlement to the Tula region. An interesting fact is that even today, it’s
not common to lock a house in their community. Those who stayed in Javakheti (Gorelovka
village) live in difficult conditions. In 1991, Russian Spiritual Christians
gathered in the town of Tselina, Rostov region, where they established an
organization called “The Union of Doukhobors of Russia”. Part of the faithful
resettled to Bryansk region in 1999. Now they have a loyal attitude toward the
Russian Orthodox Church. For instance, in Georgia they helped St. Olga Monastery
and sent provision to the Orthodox Christians in Tbilisi. In 2001, Vytoki Centre
released 2 CDs of Doukhobor ensemble music. In 2002, Spiritual Christians and
the Vytoki ensemble participated in the international festival, “Baltic-2002” in
Vilnius, Lithuania. At the beginning of the 21st century, the Doukhobor movement
is popular in many regions of Russia (Rostov, Tula, Bryansk regions),
Azerbaijan, Georgia, Middle East, Ukraine, Canada and USA.
As to Canadian Doukhobors, general number of their descendants is more than to
30,000. However, a long period of living abroad, mixed marriages, interactions
with representatives of other religions have influenced their culture.
Nevertheless, descendants of Spiritual Christians are not only interested in the
peculiarities of their community, its history, but also in the ties with the
motherland. It’s a well-known fact that they cooperate with the faithful from
Tula region in Russia. All of that became possible owing to the help of Russian
intelligentsia at the end of the 19th century. Due to its contribution, the
phenomenon of Doukhobors was saved.
Another aspect is the issue of interrelations between the Doukhobor and
Tolstoyan movements. Thus, it is hard to deny a considerable number of common
traits in both doctrines. Missionaries and the clergy viewed the existence of
different subdivisions of the Doukhobor movement as a result of Tolstoyan
doctrinal influence , for instance the postniki (“fasters”), who did not
recognized Tsar authority. The peculiarity of further contacts was the
appearance of Tolstoyan adherents in Ukraine. For example, in village of Balky
in Kharkov province, a religious movement based on Tolstoyan ideas became
popular. The same information is known about the Sumy district of Kharkov
province, where in the 1880s similar teachings were also wide-spread . The
main reasons to think that adherents of the Tolstoyan movement borrowed their
ideas from Doukhobors and not vice-versa are the following: first of all the
time of the Doukhobor movement appearing (second half of the 18th century,
whereas Tolstoyan movement appeared only in the second half of the 19th
century); secondly, the high interest of Tolstoy in Doukhobor ideas about the
priority of human values, non-violence, respect for a person, etc. and
transferring them to the Tolstoyan movement. However, this issue is a subject of
Hence, the relation between Tolstoy and Spiritual Christians began at the time
of their migration within the country and continued after resettlement abroad in
the second half of the 19th century. The initial stage of relations with L.
Tolstoy and his associates (P. Biryukov, L. Sulerzhitsky, V. Chertkov) was
characterized by a great interest in the peculiarities of the Doukhobor
doctrine, their social practices, community organization, interrelation within
the community, etc. The next period (1890s) was characterized by attracting
public attention to the faithful’s problems, supplying them with moral and
especially financial support at the time of resettlement. The third stage
(beginning of the 20th century) is described by correspondence and publication
of several Doukhobor-related monographs . Special attention was given to the
development of the community in Cyprus and Canada. The main reason lays in the
fact that materials discrediting Doukhobor life abroad were published in
Orthodox newspapers at the turn of the 20th century. In reaction, several works
on the diasporal way of life were published. Of course, Tolstoy’s publications
played an important role, especially his afterword articles for P. Biryukov’s
works – “Persecution of Christians” and “Help!” published in 1895-1896. After
his refusal to become a Nobel Prize Nominee, Tolstoy addressed an open letter to
the Swedish newspaper Stockholm Tagblatt, with suggestion to give the prize to
Doukhobors. Despite the fact the letter was published, they never received it
. There is information about another open letter of Tolstoy’s called “On
Nobel’s Testament” in the Swedish press. In this letter, he offered to use all
the money left by this entrepreneur for resettling the Doukhobors to any country
of the world .
Public reaction was sluggish and no practical suggestions
were made on how to resolve this issue.
Thereby Tolstoy and his associates’ help became important for the further
development of the [Doukhobor] community. As only owing to the resettlement
outside of the Russian Empire, a unique culture was retained. Despite
significant financial difficulties and appalling living conditions, Doukhobors
continued to promote their ideas, based on human values, brought up their
children with the best human qualities in spirit of respect for elders, good,
Promising directions for further research are: analyzing the Doukhobor movement
as a social phenomenon on Ukrainian lands in the period of the New Age; studying
the modern stage of Doukhobor diaspora development, its number, way of life,
customs and traditions, system of education, etc.; characteristics of the main
aspects of cooperation between modern Doukhobors on one side, and Russians and
Ukrainians on the other, in cultural, educational and other fields.
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