Thoughts on the future of the Doukhobors in Canada

I’ve had Doukhoborism on my mind lately. A number of months ago I was asked if I would put some thoughts together about the modern day relevance of St. Peter’s Day (or Petrov Dien) for inclusion in the Canadian Doukhobor Society newsletter. I was happy to say yes as over the past few years I’ve been thinking more and more about what it means to be a Doukhobor in an era where increasingly the term is one talked about in the past tense rather than the future (or even the present).  I’ve been wrestling with the increasing realization that one day in the not too distant future I may very well find myself as literally one of the last of the Doukhobors.

Should you think that I’m being melodramatic, let’s look at some statistics. In May of this year the latest data from the 2011 Canadian census related to religion and ethnic origin was released. According to the census data, there are just 2,290 Canadians that self-identify as Doukhobor. This follows an unmistakable trend of a shrinking Doukhobor population in Canada in each and every census since the Doukhobor population’s peak in the 1941 census at 16,898. It is also a rapidly ageing population, with 38% of those self-identifying as Doukhobor being 65 years or age or older – more than double the rate of the Canadian population as a whole of which 15% are 65+. As they say, demographics are destiny.

When I think back to my own Doukhobor journey, I realize that I was fortunate to be a “child” of the brief resurgence amongst the Saskatchewan Doukhobor community in the lead up to the 1995 centennial celebrations of the Burning of the Arms and the 1999 centennial of the Doukhobor migration to Canada. The 1990s gave me an opportunity in my formative years to be actively involved with and learn about my cultural and spiritual roots and traditions. Many didn’t have those same opportunities however, and even fewer do today. The reality is that in many Doukhobor communities we will soon lose the generation of elders who carry the cultural and spiritual traditions of Doukhoborism with them.

Doukhobor Burning of Arms - June 29, 1895

The Doukhobor “Burning of Arms”, June 29, 1895. Painting by Terry McLean. From: www.doukhobor.org

A few years ago I had the opportunity to attend the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts to take a Master in Public Policy degree. While there, I was part of a fascinating course on “Moral Leadership” which was designed for extensive self-reflection. As a focus for that reflection, we would often turn to the three questions that were originally posed by the Jewish elder Hillel some two thousand years ago:

  • If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
  • When I am for myself, what am I?
  • And if not now, when?

When I read those questions now, and think about them in the Doukhobor context, they haunt me. The Doukhobor story is an inspiring one that speaks to the vision of creating a more caring, loving and peaceful world. It is also a story that speaks to the great adversity that exists to any attempt to change the existing order, which is something that we reflect on extensively on St. Peter’s Day. Yet if I am being honest, I struggle with a vision of Doukhoborism that is anchored in the actions of the past. Being a “spirit wrestler” is, by its very definition, something that is active and fluid – yet too often our conversation is rooted firmly in a fixed past with little discussion about how to translate that to the problems of the present or a vision for the future.

I had the opportunity to talk about the Doukhobors and my own personal journey during another one of my leadership classes at Harvard. I had a remarkable exchange with my professor, whom is a world-renowned expert on the topic of adaptive leadership, which went on for over 20 min (while a class of over 100 from literally every corner of the world learned about the Doukhobors for the first time). At the end of it all, his final words on the subject were as follows:

“The adaptation of the values and virtues and competence and wisdom embedded in these loyalties [to the Doukhobor community] as it applies to today’s problems, right now, may require preserving and conserving and holding constant a lot of that wisdom, but not all of it. But you don’t know which of it to value and which not. As you put your hands though it, you have to be able to approach it with an open mind to begin to figure out what adaptations are required to apply the best of my Spirit Wrestling tradition to the problems of people today. You probably do have, and your community probably does have, real contributions to make to lots of peoples in the world. But not by simply in a wholesale fashion, almost a mindless fashion, just applying the software you’ve got to this particular application. It would have to be reconfigured a little bit, wouldn’t it?”

There are no easy answers to some of the questions I am raising. What I do know with certainty is that Doukhoborism as we have known it for centuries is on the verge of disappearing. The time for a serious conversation about what parts of our collective past we want to preserve and be able to pass on is rapidly coming to a close. Simply put: we are out of time.

I believe though that there is a very limited window that still exists to do some important work as a community as we prepare for whatever Doukhoborism is to become in this next century. Specifically, new Internet and multimedia technologies provide us an opportunity that has not existed before to capture and share the essence of our Doukhobor “spirit wrestling” tradition in powerful new ways. In recent months I have been having discussions with a number of people, including some talented friends in the field of multimedia design and documentary film making, about ways in which we can capture that “essence” of Doukhoborism.

Ours is a story that needs to be not only preserved but also given life for future generations. So as I reflect on the modern relevance of St. Peter’s Day, I think the question that all of us should ask is: what steps are we taking right now to ensure that those remembrances, values and pieces of universal wisdom that are so core to what we celebrate on St. Peter’s Day aren’t lost to history?

It is a conversation that I think we need to have and I’d welcome your comments below.

34 thoughts on “Thoughts on the future of the Doukhobors in Canada

  1. Hello Ryan.
    Bravo for raising the Socratic questions that your Harvard professor commented on while speaking about the Doukhobor Movement. Indeed, within our philosophical value system and our interesting pioneering history, we have items that are of value to the future of humanity. Let me be brave enough to make a draft list of these Spirit Wrestlers gems:
    1. The notion of the Spirit of Love, God and Humanity within each of us, makes it the basis for the commitment not to kill another human being. This speaks to the morality of each of us and the responsibility that we each have for our behaviour. Essentially Doukhobors are advocating a nonkilling ethic, an idea that persists through the centuries.
    2. The June 1895 arms burning by 7000 Russian dissidents was a pioneering act against violence and killing. This was the first mass demonstration in world history against the institution of militarism and wars.
    3. Another influence is the legacy of the great Russian writer and philosopher Lev N. Tolstoy, who was very close to the Doukhobors and who called war ‘the slavery of our times’ The construct of the Spark of Love and God in everyone is an invention that has survival value for all of us on Planet Earth. Tolstoy sought the source of this view in earlier examples of the Doukhobors, Quakers and Mennonites for the sake of conscience. Love continues to be a resource whose time has come.
    4. Doukhobors are not a sect, but a social movement. Our citizenship is the world. We seek to create a world based on nonkilling, equality, love and honest labour.

    Let the search begin for a compassionate world without wars….

    Koozma J. Tarasoff

    • Thanks so much Koozma for your support and contribution – really appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts!

  2. Thank you for posting so much information. I feel very grateful having known my great grandma babushka. She wore the long skirts and lived true to her Doukobor roots. I still to this day make some Russian dishes and love to dig in the garden. I would love to capture and try traditional Doukobor recipes. Do you know of anyone that could please share with me?

  3. Ryan…..so awesome!!!! I am not as educated or wise as you but I have thought about that very question…..I am proud of my Doukobor roots and the courage our ancestors had many years ago… both my parents were Doukabors and so were their parents and grandparents…life was hard for them but they never quit.
    thanks for the great reading……I learned a lot and I hope our heritage will be around and remembered for years and years to come…it ids precious to me…thanks again….

  4. Ryan, you raise these important questions so eloquently. I also have these issues on my mind, especially given the intersection between my line of work, the subject of my current study, and my personal stake in the matter. Part of the issue here is dispersal. It is hard to connect when one lives far away from the Doukhobor cultural centres (like when you and I used to joke about feeling like the lone members of the “Doukhobor Youth Society of Ontario”). Perhaps at some point we should plan some kind of conference to gather interested people together to have a discussion about some of these issues? Though I would say it’s best to meet in person, surely with technical support we could find ways to include people in such a conference who cannot meet in person? I would say that this suggestion reflects my training as an academic… but, it also very much reflects our culture as Doukhobors. Isn’t it our way to work things out together, speaking from the heart, face to face, in a meeting? There have been several of these meetings over the course of the twentieth century to discuss and try to resolve conflict. These meetings have largely focused on negotiating the details of our past. While I would be the first to suggest that our past matters, this might be a good moment to focus on what pathways we want to take as Doukhobors *for the future*. I would be interested in taking part in such discussions, and thank you, Ryan, for initiating this important and timely conversation.

    • Love the idea of starting with an online conversation (or a series of them) that perhaps leads up to something in person down the road. We could do that quickly and easily on a small scale using something as simple as Google Hangouts (which has the added benefit of being able to publish the conversation to YouTube afterwards for others to see). I think we should do it! This summer?

  5. Your post on; Thoughts on the future of the Doukhobors in Canada, and the responses, have sparked me to write this comment. I have lived within the Doukhobor Community in the Kootenays, have lived with Russians in Russia and visited with the Doukhobors in Russia. As with many other people of different nationalities I have met , there is the common concern about the disappearance of their culture! Is the dissappearance of the Doukhobor culture any more important than any other culture’s disappearance? In reality, No! We, who like to call ourselves doukhobors, need to understand that the survival of the doukhobor culture is not important! The survival of mother earth is what is important! Our Doukhobor ancestors have nothing to worry about, because to this date, their sacrifices have paid off, and their beliefs and lifestyles are being built upon and perpetuated by other souls, who are no less or no better than the best Doukhobor!

    Sentimentality is the driver of this need, to save the Doukhobor culture and frankly sentimentality is a weak catalyst for meaningful change, especially when the survival of mother earth is at stake! Priorities for survival should be as follows: Mother earth first, Humanity (maybe) second…. Doukhobors (why) anywhere down the line!

    With deepest respect to my ancestors for getting me to this existence today!

    • Thanks Cyril – I actually agree with a lot of the sentiment you are expressing. Cultures change – that is both natural and in general a good thing over the long-term. But of course change is always tough and disruptive. I remember as a child some of the disagreements in Doukhobor communities in Saskatchewan about the introduction of English to prayer services, which happened thanks to progressive pioneers like my grandmother and my mother who wanted to make sure a new generation could understand the Doukhobor teachings.

      You raise a great point though as to if it is all sentimentality or if there is in fact some parts that should be preserved for reasons beyond just our natural human resistance to change. This is a point that requires more thought and exploration IMHO.

  6. In the genre of magic it is called ‘misdirection’, so do some unraveling (from my point of view)

    1. The folks who came to be called “Doukhobors”, simply referred to themselves as “Christians”. They were focused on the analysis and application of codes of ethics and conduct that they felt would be a step in the right direction of human evolution.

    2. These early Christians documented these defining principles and values
    in psalms and other oral expressions. Examples of some psalms would be:

    Будь благочестив

    Later on:
    Сотворил Господь
    Устрой Господи
    Что есть община
    Что ты за человек

    One of the most recent examples of specifically defined principles would be the USCC Declaration. Of course, there are many others, but these just happen to come to mind.

    3. What is referred to as the Doukhobor life concept defines a social movement or way of life. It is what a person may choose to strive for, and is therefore, subjective. I find it perplexing that there can be an objective value attached
    to a subjective entity. How is it possible to count, in a definitive way a number
    of people who may be at any given point of their personal journey on the “Doukhobor way of life” path?

    4. In present day, perhaps all that is required is a re-affirmation of the values
    and principles which people of Doukhobor extraction would like to group themselves around. How would these principles provide the framework of eithical business models or social enterprises? Group mind and group effort has moved a few mountain
    ranges in the past, and can surely move a few more now and in the future.
    …….. e-Conference ?

    • Thanks for the contribution Marjorie. Your point about having an objective value about a subjective entity is a really interesting one. Indeed I have thought about this as well – is my “spirit wrestling” experience different enough from others that there is not enough of a shared experience to truly to be one “essence” of what being a Doukhobor is? In fact, perhaps that is the entire point of Doukhoborism – to be more in touch with that internal voice of truth, wisdom, God, etc., which is by its very definition an individual journey.

      It also raises in my mind the issue of separating out the cultural aspects of our Doukhoborism and the spiritual aspects (which happened to coalesce amongst a community of Russian peasants a few hundred years ago, but as you rightly point out there are no doubt countless people around the world who take a “Doukhobor approach” to life, regardless as to if that word itself has any meaning for them).

      Interesting that you raise the e-conference idea. Ashleigh in the comment above also raised that possibility. I think it is a great and very tangible idea to pursue.

      • In determining an e-Conference format, a desirable challenge might be a communication structure, which – to the extent that such a format can be devised – would allow for dialogue “without prejudice”. That is, a participant would be anonymous as to age, gender, geographic location, etc. Perhaps, even an anonymous convenor. In considering the registration identification process, it occurs to me that even a numerical identification might carry prejudice – say #7 over #13.

        I recall that a head count in Doukhobor communities was stated as “number of souls” per community. The identifiable common denominator of those early ancestors seems to be the acceptance of the notion of a ‘soul’, perhaps not restricted to humans, but in some capacity extending to sentient beings.

  7. As a 4th generation Doukhobor in Canada, by birth, experiencing the change from strong family and community support to a universal experience is growth of love, peace, and all those basic tenants of Doukhobor beliefs. Love is universal, joy and happiness belongs to all beings! In order to truthfully experience peace on Earth we must experience peacefulness within our own hearts. Then we can radiate it through our deeds of mind, speech and actions. No group or religion can claim love, brotherhood, joy, peace it belongs to everyone, it is non-secretarian and it is universal, spoken in every language and every country. Peace comes from within! How can one religious group claim it? The laws of nature are universal truths and actually can be experienced. If you do an action that harms another being, let’s say you kill them. Then within your own mind body complex you have planted this seed of either hatred, fear, pain, etc. The motivation comes from some thought and the actual act causing another’s pain and death is suffering. Suffering comes from your own actions. If within you lives such how can you be free of this pain of suffering? How does one eradicate this from within? No one can do it for you, you have to grow the tools and you yourself take the freedom to remove the piles and piles of mind body complexes that causes you to act in a harmful way!!!
    Every human being is free to discover from within this truth. It helps to be in a community of those who support one to do this. It comes from a scientific actual experience you have in yourself. To experience peace, love, compassion and joy within has the effect on others just like the sun radiating warmth. Your thoughts of mind, your speech and your deeds radiate joy, universal love and compassion. And only cause kindness, in yourself and all others. Just my thoughts of the next steps along a future path of all beings. .

  8. Greetings! Those who self-identify as Doukhobors!
    From time to time I check Doukhobor.org for the fascinating entries & the historical documentation which keeps getting bigger & more diverse on the website which John Kalmakoff (among a great many others) has built.
    My own heritage is completely doukhobor on both sides… back to before 1898, that is no other marriages have led to myself & my sister for over 120 years. My mother, aunts & uncles spoke Russian to the grand-parents and now they are all gone my loss is experienced every time family gets together.The family is smaller & no Russian is spoken across the meal table.
    Doukhoborism is shrinking & most of the footprints of the Doukhobors have disappeared from the landscape in Saskatchewan. To me, physical & tactile evidence of being Doukhobor is necessary. In my possession is a hand-loomed Doukhobor blanket made of wool spun by my maternal grandmother on the farm near Kamsack. E-Bay tells me such a blanket could fetch $6,000. dollars but to me it is priceless.The best enrichment of an idea is to be made real.
    In the 21st century, IF your culture is only a series of abstract references you are made to disappear & become nothing more than a consumer. Commerce loves nothing more than anonymity because everything can be reduced to the fluctuating value of the dollar.
    Personally I would really value the opportunity to interact with other Doukhobor ancestry people in the city of Regina Sask. where I live. I would value this more than any “e-conference” which does me no earthly good as a living, breathing human being. I want to walk as a doukhobor, have whatever miniscule sense of community I can regain as a doukhobor. My wish is not to sit as an office-worker would entering abstract dialogue into a tiny box provided by an electronic server somewhere. If there is any way to gain walking/talking/having coffee type of’fellowship’ with other doukhobors, that is what I need to keep from feeling “invisible”.
    Thanks, Robert Troff

    • Robert – thanks very much for sharing your thoughts. Like you, my brother and I represent the last branches in our family’s tree that has full Doukhobor roots going back to Russia. Agree on the power of in-person connections, though I am also concious of the fact that people are both increasingly spread-out but also have access to powerful new ways to communicate across these distances. If we are able to get a critical mass in place to have some online discussions over the next little while, my hope would be that this could lead to one or a series of in-person gatherings and discussions further down the line.

  9. We would like to reprint your article “Thoughts on the future of the Doukhobors in Canada” in our July issue of ISKRA. Could you please contact us at the email above.
    Regards,
    Barry Verigin

  10. First of all I’m going to share my experience of being an American Doukhobor. There’s always a certain abstraction to the Doukhobor concept. For me there have been very few Doukhobor meetings and very little conversation throughout my life. Every so often the term “Doukhobor” comes up when in conversation with relatives. Probably my son Yuri and brother Max are those with whom I’ve had most of this kind of conversation recently. Usually it’s been casual and not with any particular focus. So I’ve been left with a body of work that comes from conversations with my father and others with some Doukhobor background as well as reading. These days internet communication has facilitated my connection and discussion with Doukhobor relatives and friends, a connection that seemed lacking in the pre-internet days. In fact these days I have more of a sense of the vibrancy of the Doukhobor connection than I ever had. Admittedly part of this experience is that I can pick and choose where I want to go with my Doukhobor connections. Who knows how I might have felt had I landed in Saskatchewan in the late 19th/early 20th century for example. The result is that my connection to what I experience these days as the vibrancy of the Doukhobor connection gives me a sense of “optimism” about its future. So those are my current feelings at chronological age 72+.

    I would say that connection with the Doukhobor tradition gives one a grounding in critical thinking. In particular I would say that the Doukhobor tradition almost demands a skepticism about authority. I know I’ve experienced this politically. For example I’m a proud veteran of the Vietnam Anti-War Movement. I evaded conscription with pride. Since then I’ve been associated with a number of progressive causes. I’m even engaged in a cause right now. The attachment below can give you a sense of that.

    • Igor – my sincere thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on the blog. I will never forget our first meeting in Harvard Square almost 4 years ago when you triumphantly pulled the “Big Blue Book” out of your bag (a.k.a. Bridging the Years) – that staple in the library of any family with roots in the Blaine Lake area!

  11. Hi Ryan
    There are many spiritual-ethnic communities that are disappearing around the world on a regular basis. A highly-profiled example of that is the Samaritans, which now only number a couple of thousand. It is usually the result of having a community that is not welcoming to new members. In my own experiences, the Doukhobor community (at least in B.C.) is not a very welcoming community. I tried on a couple of occassions to go to a service and in one instance was yelled at by a caretaker for trespassing (that was in Brilliant), despite the fact that my family were Doukhobors in the not too distant past.
    I also do find that the excessive focus on the ‘Russian’ aspect of the communities origins to be quite a deterrent (though it was wonderful that your grandmother and mother were open to the use of English). Doukhobors are not Doukhobors because they are Russian – there are 150 million Russians so we don’t need to worry about preserving that aspect of the community. What makes Doukhobors unique are their values – values that are shared by people of all sorts of ethnicities. As well, focusing on language seems to conflict with the universality of Doukhbour beliefs.
    Perhaps the community should make a more concerted effort to welcome:
    a) Doukhobors who have left the community
    b) the children of Doukhobors who left the community but have never had any contact with the community themselves
    c) Canadians who share Doukhobor values.

    A) and B) are estimated to include up to 40,000 people in North America and would be a good start.

    I’ve read lots of blogs/articles lamenting the demise of the Doukhobor community but have yet to ever read a cohesive strategy to try to reverse the decline. With your Master’s in Public Policy, I think you’ve got the skills to come up with that strategy and begin to recruit members who will help you to implement it.

    • Kevin – thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. Really appreciate your comments.

      I think you touch upon one of the long-standing issues in the Doukhobor community, namely the debate as to what “being a Doukhobor” means. Is it about culture (and, linked to that, language) or is it about a set of spiritual beliefs and a world-view?

      I tend to trend towards the latter view, namely that it is the spiritual essence of Doukhoborism that is its core, and the fact that our ancestors happened to be of Russian origin is incidental. Don’t get me wrong, for many (myself included) there is significant personal significance to the Russian cultural aspects of our Doukhobor identity. It still touches me in a unique way to hear a psalm sung in Russian, even though I don’t understand Russian. It is, for lack of a better expression, in my blood.

      Yet if we are being honest, the issue of how central language is to the Doukhobor identity is correlated pretty strongly to geography and demographics. The Doukhobors in the Orthodox communities in British Columbia lived communally for much longer thus it is no surprise that they kept the Russian language central for longer. In Saskatchewan, that link to language was weaker to begin with and it was thanks to the efforts in the 80s and 90s of people like my Mother and my Baba who pushed for the inclusion of English in prayer services and the translation of song books that most of the formal institutional ties between the Saskatchewan Doukhobor community and the Russian language were removed (similar to the evolution the Catholic Church went through back in the 1960s). Likewise, the older generations in our Doukhobor communities grew up having learnt Russian around parents and grandparents for whom Russian was their mother tongue, and thus it was a part of their life in a way that it is for virtually none of those who are now under 40.

      Your last thoughts, about strategies to “grow” the Doukhobor community are also quite interesting. Despite your confidence in my strategic abilities (I’m flattered), it raises a broader question for me – namely is increasing our “numbers”, however you would want to define that, a virtuous goal? Or is the path forward a different one, which takes the best from the Doukhobor tradition to live in some different form in the future, but doesn’t necessarily try to revive it? As I said in the article, these are questions with no easy answers.

  12. Ah Ryan:
    Such good thoughts and such a well written summary of Doukhobor thought. Thank you. My interest in Doukhobor history and faith goes back a long ways; after all, my Mennonite forbears were neighbors to your people in Russia!
    Dwindling numbers, you say? True, The same holds true for many cultural and religious communities in Canada–like the Anglican and United Churches of Canada, for example. The reality is that we are developing a Canadian identity which, in my estimation, does not stand for much by way of rigorous ethical practice or religious/moral thought. We simply accept everything that the press throws at it. Then, a few issues of a newspaper will carry a story, and then it is shelved, forgotten, and no lesson is learned from it.
    THAT is the new Canadian identity.
    So what can we do? Two possible things.
    1) we can individually and/or in small groups live out a faith identity and hope that it catches on. It might, but it will not attract great numbers. Still, we can be a leaven of sorts.
    2) We can attempt to go back to historical Doukhobor practices. In the Burning of Arms event the Doukhobors demonstrated publicly that they stood for something. They acted on it and faced government punishment. In 1903, a group of Doukhobor cousins, the Sons of Freedom marched bravely in wintry Saskatchewan to make a point, and were punished for it. Who marches any more with conviction, ready to face almost inevitable opposition and perhaps punishment?
    And then there is the press. These news-makers draw up a few headlines now and then, as they did with the Idle No-More people, and then move on to other sensational topics. In my estimation, the difference between the Idle-No-Mode movement and the Doukhobor cause is that the latter knows what it stands for–basic core values of individual human rights, based on “the spark,” and respect for one another–nationally and internationally, regardless of cultural background or religious affiliation. By contrast, the Idle-No-More people are simply expressing that they are unhappy. That’s it. That is not enough.
    How can we process a national persuasion? Well, we could start banding together by uniting the various Doukhobor factions. That HAS to be done. Then move together to communicate and bond with other pacifist groups–Amish, Hutterite, Mennonite, and Quaker groups, and perhaps other pacifist groups. Sounds radical? Well, so is the idea of peace on earth. It has to start somewhere. The time for splintering has to be over.
    Anyone interested in going that way, or is easy criticism forthcoming? Thanks for listening.
    John W. Friesen
    University of Calgary

    • Thanks for reading John and for taking the time to share your thoughts – appreciate your contribution to this conversation!

  13. Hello and good morning Ryan,

    Our history and beliefs certainly reflect our present views and hopes for the future. It’s important to remember that when moving to Canada the Doukhobours relied heavily upon one another. They had an unwavering faith, simple value system and a strong leader. The Doukhobours in Canada surpassed probably even their own expectations of what was possible as a community. It’s inspiring to have that as half of my history.

    However, in all that romanticism there is an issue I don’t see brought up at all. It still exists and perhaps it influences the non-recognition that many many people have toward their Doukhobour heritage today.

    The issue (for me anyways) is the fragmentation of the people into 3 categories: The Orthodox (Christians), The Sons of Freedom, and the Independents. As a 2nd generation Independent, I get dismayed by the lumping of most Doukhobours as ‘Christians’. I believe in God wholly and with great faith. That is one of the largest components of the value system of the original Doukhobours I adhere to …. not needing an intermediator between God and myself. The ‘iskra’ is within all of us, to be recognized, appreciated and revered. The spark of God or Creator…. not the Christ.

    It may be semantics, and really ‘God’ is just another word for ‘Christ’ and the principles of living are closely aligned with the bible, and it’s a good way to capture something in hard copy rather than oral tradition…. I don’t know. However, whenever I see and hear the Doukhobours labelled as Christians, I further veer away from the identification as a Doukhobour. Although – I can never veer from the ‘living system’. It’s in my heart.

    It would be interesting to hear from other people that have a Sons of Freedom background. Also – another good read out there is: Sonya White – Masters Research on Doukhobor Memory. Food for thought.

    • Thanks for the comment Nina. I share your reflection about Doukhobors being solely identified as Christian. While obviously the origins of Doukhobor philosophy come from the Christian tradition, if you go into the core of Doukhobor beliefs there are a lot of points of departure from key features that tend to define modern Christianity – particularly in North America. The concept of the “living book” (and rejection of a literal interpretation of the Bible), viewing Jesus as a teacher and historical figure (not as the literal son of God but the idea that we are all sons and daughters of God), belief in one spiritual kingdom (not a separate heaven and hell), and amongst some Doukhobors a belief in reincarnation of the soul. In fact there are a lot of similarities to many Eastern philosophies once you dive in beyond the cultural/geographical origins of Doukhoborism and look at the essence of the spiritual beliefs.

  14. Dear Ryan,

    It was a pleasant surprise to read first time about Douborkhor movement, its history, connection with my favourite author Leo Tolstoy, its principles and in the end your brilliant write-up and serious concern about gradually dwindling number of the followers. Your analysis and the content of the letters followed after reading your write up, I strong feel that it is imperative to accept the fact that this noble humanatarian movement can not live in isolation. There are other groups of people in Canada who strongly believe and follow most of the principles of Douborkhors. Among them are Jains, Hare Krishna, Swaminarayan etc. Without any sort of conversion to these sects, a positive interaction with them could support, sustain and promote the ideals of Doubokhors. I am sure some of them must be already in touch with these groups. Mere meeting them will create an atmosphere of joy and positive feelings. I have full faith that Ideals and way of living of Doubokhors will never diminished. Truth is absolute and so the Douborkhors. To contact: Jain Centre of British Columbia at Burnaby please log on: info@jaincentre.bc.org
    2) ISKCON AT: Sangati Dhama, Ashcraft, and at Burnby: Sri Sri Radha madan mohan temple.
    Wishing you all the Best. Warm regards,
    Manek M Sangoi
    London.

    • Dear Manek – thank you very much for your kind message. I do believe in the past there have been some connections between groups of Doukhobors and Jains. Indeed from what I know there are certainly a lot of points of commonality in their spiritual beliefs and practices.

      Thank you again for reaching out in the spirit of building bridges!

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  16. What an interesting exchange! I am nearing the end of my third reading of Eli Popoff’s book Tanya published in 1975. I spent an hour with Eli in 1973, likely as he was working on this book although he never mentioned it. I was hitchhiking in my early 20s from Castlegar to Grand Forks in the spring of 1973 and he picked me up and drove me to Grand Forks. I don’t know how we got on the topic but we talked about very meaningful spiritual beliefs. By the time we got to where I was going in Grand Forks it was such a revelation for both of us that two people of such diverse backgrounds (I am English Canadian) could believe so much of the same thing. I think it was probably one of the most important spiritual events of my life. Much of the topic of our conversation happens to be on page 216 of the book Tanya. I lived my childhood in Saskatchewan in a largely Mennonite community, moved to Grand Forks for my teen years and got to know the Doukhobors and then to Argenta in the West Kootenays and lived and worked amongst the Quakers for my young adult life. I feel very blessed to have had the peaceful influence of each of those faiths.

    • Thank you Pat for taking the time to share your reflections. I too have some great memories of conversations with Eli and very much benefited from his writings over the years (including Tanya which is a great story). I’m going to have to dig out my copy and take a look at page 216! :-)

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