Monday, September 24, 2007

The Doukhobors

As I mentioned in yesterday's blog, I have recently discovered that I am a Doukhobor. I wanted to give a little background on the Doukhobors and explain why I'm so excited about this revelation. Some of this comes from an out of print publication, "The Doukhobors in Canada," put out by the modern Doukhobor organization the USCC (Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ).

Doukhobor in Russian means "Spirit Wrestler." It was originally given to this Christian sect as a derogatory label, but they adopted it because in their view, they wrestle with and for the Spirit of God. By this they meant that in struggling for a better life they would use only the spiritual power of love, rather than any form of violence or coercion.

They rejected the Russian Orthodox Church's practice of worshipping ikons. "Why should we bow to a wooden ikon?" they asked. "Let us rather bow to each other, thus recognizing the Spirit of God which dwells in each of us."

The Doukhobors do not believe in allowing any intermediaries between each person and God. There is no clergy, and they refuse to defer to any authority, religious or civil in place of God. They seek to worship God and follow God's guidance directly, rather than following the laws of man.

They base their religious philosophy of the "Law of God" which consists of two commandments: 1) Recognize and love God - the spiritual force of goodness and creativity - with all thy heart, mind and soul. 2) Love thy neighbor as thyself.

The Doukhobors believe that Jesus, both in his teachings and his life, showed that the true meaning and purpose of life is to fulfil God's law. They believe that God's law is manifested through loving attitudes between people. The attainment of such attitudes, in the true sense, would mean the renunciation of all violence and war and the attainment of a life of peace and goodwill, a true, "heaven on earth."

The Doukhobors were always interested in a practical common sense religion which could help people live a contented, happy life on earth. Their history is marked by efforts to bring their beliefs into practice in everyday life.

The encyclopedia Britannica described the Doukhobors as "industrious and abstemious in their lives, and when living up to the standard of their faith, present one of the nearest approaches to the realization of the Christian ideal which has ever been attained."

The Doukhobor motto is "Toil and Peaceful Life." They have always been known as resourceful, self sufficient, hard working and above all peace loving.

The Doukhobors suffered a lot of persecution in Russia and were exiled to various areas of Russia. My grandfather's family, for example, ended up in the Kars region of Russia, which is located in present day Turkey. Suffering persecution for refusing to bear arms and fight in the Czar's army, the Doukhobors emigrated from Russia to Canada. The famous author Leo Tolstoy actually helped to finance the migration of the Doukobors to Canada.

In Canada, the Doukhobors worked hard, but experienced more hardships. They refused to hold individual title to their lands (they lived communally) and refused to swear allegiance to the crown. As a result, they were stripped of their original homestead land in central and eastern Canada (it was sold to other Canadians) and were forced to relocate to British Columbia and start over. This is where I just visited my family this weekend.

Persecution, discrimination and difficulty followed the Doukhobors to BC. The struggles over the methods of land ownership, the issue of taxation and the education of their children continued. At one point the government of Canada literally kidnapped the Doukhobor children and put them in government schools to try to educate them to be more compliant.

A group split off from the Doukhobors into what is called 'the Sons of Freedom." They were known for their violent uprising (bombings), setting fires and protesting in the nude. The methods they used were completely against the Doukhobor teachings and beliefs. Unfortunately the actions of these few were attributed to all the Doukhobors. To this day they are taunted and labeled as 'barn burners' and other negative names. The mainstream Doukhobors do not support or condone any of these actions.

Orthodox Doukhobors are vegetarian, since they do not believe in killing of any kind. They also do not smoke or drink alcohol.

It is quite a beautiful tradition. I am completely astounded at how many of the teachings resonate with and reflect my own personal beliefs. I find it amazing that I was never consciously exposed to these beliefs, and yet I have come to many of them while following my own, unique path.

"The welfare of the whole world is not worth the life of one child" is a Doukhobor slogan with passionate meaning in every Doukhobor's heart. And, changing times, not withstanding, Doukhobors everywhere are continuing to strive - along with like-minded people all over the world - for a world where killing and war would be unknown and we would all be one loving human family, a "Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of God."

I just love that this tradition has at its heart, the belief that what matters most in this world is how we treat each other, and that we can create a world where violence is not the way to resolve our differences and problems.

The more I learn, the more excited I feel. There is so much depth and wisdom in the Doukhobor tradition. The world would be better off if everyone embraced a little of their ideology. I'm proud to be a descendent of this spiritual belief system.

For more information, Wikipedia has a nice write up:

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