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A Pacifist Sect From Russia Is Shaken by War, and Modernity

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A Pacifist Sect From Russia Is Shaken by War, and Modernity

When he was rising up among the many Doukhobors, a pacifist non secular group that emigrated to Canada from Tsarist Russia, J.J. Verigin would generally arrive residence from faculty to seek out bare aged girls making an attempt to burn down his household’s home.

One try, in 1969, succeeded, lamented Mr. Verigin, 67, who just lately recounted the episode. A blaze destroyed valuable household artifacts, together with correspondence between his great-great-grandfather, a distinguished Doukhobor chief, and the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, an early admirer of the Doukhobors’ pacifism and Christian morality.

The aged girls, Mr. Verigin defined, have been a part of a small and radical splinter group throughout the Doukhobors who periodically stripped bare and lit buildings on hearth to protest land possession and what they considered as extreme materialism. Some amongst these charged with arson had one other motive, he stated: getting deported to Mother Russia.

These days, with the Ukraine conflict raging, most Doukhobors now not aspire to return to Russia, stated Mr. Verigin, who leads the most important Doukhobor group in Canada, and studied in Moscow in 1979. The fires, which for years grabbed headlines in Canada, and polarized the Doukhobors, are additionally a factor of the previous, he harassed.

“Pacifism is at the core of what it means to be a Doukhobor, and the war in Ukraine has ended any residual desire that remained to return to Russia,” stated Mr. Verigin, the manager director of the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ. “We feel the emotions of our Ukrainian brothers and sisters because we, too, have faced repression in Russia.”

In the 18th century, the Doukhobors (the identify comes from a Russian phrase that means “spirit wrestlers”) rejected the icon worship of the Russian Orthodox Church. They additionally resisted serving within the imperial army; in 1895, 1000’s of Doukhobor troopers set hearth to their weapons, which led to the group’s violent suppression and exile.

Tolstoy devoted royalties from his novel “Resurrection” to assist finance the Doukhobors’ transit to Canada, and in 1899, greater than 7,500 emigrated to what grew to become Saskatchewan to assist farm the Canadian prairies. In 1908, the bulk resettled within the rural mountainous area in southern British Columbia, in sleepy farming and mill cities like Castlegar and Grand Forks.

An estimated 30,000 folks of Doukhobor descent reside in Canada, and for many years they lived ascetic, communal lives harking back to the Quakers or Mennonites, although suffused with Russian tradition and traditions. Historically, many have been vegetarian and shunned alcohol. Their motto: “Toil and peaceful life.”

Many Doukhobors in Canada nonetheless communicate Russian amongst themselves; ship their youngsters to Russian-language colleges; sing Russian hymns at weekly non secular conferences; bathe in Russian-style steam baths; and eat conventional dishes like borscht.

But the Doukhobor lifestyle has been buffeted by intermarriage, the attract of metropolis life and a youthful era drawn extra to TikTok than Tolstoy. Today, Doukhobors are medical doctors, college professors, attorneys, skilled athletes and, in no less than one case, a drag queen.

“Assimilation is a challenge to our way of life,” Mr. Verigin stated.

At a current choir follow at a Doukhobor cultural middle, Jasmine Popoff, 34, a nurse with purple hair, led her choir in a rousing model of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” — in Russian — adopted by a spirited rendition in English of Queen’s “Somebody to Love.”

“As Doukhobors, it’s important that our culture evolves so that we keep it going,” Ms. Popoff stated.

As the dialogue turned to the conflict throughout a rehearsal break, choir members of all ages stated they rejected the authoritarianism and militarism of Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin. “I don’t feel any connection to Mother Russia because Russia isn’t our mother,” stated one singer, Kelly Poznikoff.

Mr. Verigin stated that, due to anger over the Ukraine battle, a number of Doukhobors in current months had been denied service in native retailers in Castlegar.

In the previous, prejudice in opposition to the Doukhobors in Canada has been fanned by the extremist splinter group, the Sons of Freedom, which within the Twenties started marching in nude protests and torching public buildings and houses. Members of the group opposed property possession and public education for his or her youngsters. In the Nineteen Fifties, dozens of their youngsters have been forcibly despatched to authorities boarding colleges.

Among the final of the radicals was Mary Braun, who in 2001, at age 81, was sentenced to 6 years in jail after setting hearth to a neighborhood school constructing in British Columbia. Before her sentencing Ms. Braun disrobed in court docket. She had beforehand gone on quite a few fasts and lit small fires in courtrooms.

Nadja Kolesnikoff, a yoga teacher who grew up in a Sons of Freedom family, stated she had been confused at age 5 when her paternal grandmother burned down her personal home and was jailed for 3 years.

“We were supposed to be pulling together as a community,” she stated. “I never asked her why she did it.”

But Ms. Kolesnikoff stated her upbringing was additionally empowering. Her household used kerosene lamps and saved greens and fruits underground in winter. Luxuries have been frowned upon.

“I learned to be self-sufficient, and to this day I feel there is nothing I can’t do,” she stated by cellphone from Costa Rica, the place she now lives.

At the Doukhobor Discovery Center in Castlegar, the museum director, Ryan Dutchak, stated that some Doukhobors over the previous many years had modified their Russian-sounding final names for concern of being ostracized. In Canada’s 2021 census, just one,675 folks recognized as Doukhobors.

“Being stigmatized has pushed some people away,” he stated.

Elders say preserving the Russian language holds the important thing to the group’s survival.

On a current Thursday, dozens of Doukhobors gathered for a non secular assembly. Wearing colourful kerchiefs, blouses, skirts and aprons, the ladies sat on one facet throughout from the lads. On a desk lay a loaf of bread, salt and a pitcher of water, conventional symbols of Doukhobor hospitality.

“Gospodi blagoslovi” — Lord grant us your blessing — they stated earlier than singing the Lord’s Prayer in melodious Russian.

Standing on the entrance of his classroom at an elementary faculty in Castlegar, Ernie Verigin, a Russian trainer, acknowledged the challenges in preserving the Doukhobor religion. “The younger generation wants a quick fix, but spirituality is a lifelong process,” he stated. “It’s hard to compete when my 14-year-old daughter is on Instagram and Facebook.”

The competing pulls of Canadian, Russian and Doukhobor id might be sophisticated.

AJ Roberts, 21, a online game designer in Vancouver who grew up in Castlegar, regretted that his Russian was rusty. But he’s studying to make his personal borscht, even when his mom brings him many jars on each go to.

“I am proud to be Canadian but I don’t shy away from saying I am Doukhobor,” he stated. “Because of the war, I am more ashamed of saying I have a Russian background.”

Source web site: www.nytimes.com