July 24, 2001

Doukhobors of Russia

Doukhobors of Russia

Orthodox Church and Tsarist persecution of the Doukhobors escalated by the end of the 1800s. The well-known Russian writer and proponent of moral and spiritual reform, Leo Tolstoy, was a friend of the Doukhobors. He was successful in obtaining permission from the Tsar for the Doukhobors, now known as the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, to emigrate to Canada. The massive exodus was funded by British and American Quakers. In 1899, over 7,500 Russian Doukhobors left for Saskatchewan where they formed the community of Kamsack. Some 12,000 stayed behind in Russia.

The Canadian government gave the new settlers tracts of land and granted them immunity from military service. Again, their amazing abilities in the area of agriculture came to pass and the Doukhobors soon developed thriving communities in their new land.

The Doukhobors were conservative and hard working. They built their own roads and managed high yielding orchards and farms. Internal strife developed among the Doukhobors in Canada. A group known as the Sons of Freedom, believed in many unusual things, most notable was nudism.

Doukhobors often had differences with their neighbors. These disputes were usually resolved by non-violent resistance. The Sons of Freedom used nudist strikes during which they would take off all their clothes and march, in public, to express their opposition to various governmental controls and/or judgments.

This development of nudist protests prompted the Doukhobor leader, Peter Verigin, to leave Russia for Canada. He formed a second community in southern British Columbia in 1908. It flourished until Peter was murdered by a bomb in 1924.

Peter's son, also named Peter, traveled from Russia to Canada to assume his father's leadership role. His primary effort was to convince the Doukhobors to give up their exclusive, communal life-style and assume the local Canadian ways. He died in 1939.

After Peter the younger's death, the Doukhobors assumed the title of Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ. They continued to revolt against the Canadian government on matters of taxes and educational laws. They opposed formal education because they believed that it taught violence and war.

The Union of Doukhobors of Canada was formed in 1945. The Sons of Freedom did not join this union. In recent years, the communal life-style of the Doukhobors has fallen by the wayside and most have assimilated into Canadian culture. The Sons of Freedom became more extremist and added arson of personal and government property to their list of tactics; all designed to show their disgust for material possessions.

According to the Canadian census, there are roughly 5,000 Doukhobors living in Canada today. Most have assimilated into local society. There are no records as to how many Doukhobors may still reside in Russia.

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