Doukhobors, 'Spirit Wrestler,' Beliefs & Acceptance


I had two choices to write about for an assignment for my writing class. One was to write about a fact about myself that I am interested in, whether it be a character trait, my date of birth, my ancestry, or my appearance. The other was to seek out an article from a newspaper that caught my eye from the month and year I was born. I found the events: The US President, Lyndon B. Johnson, and his top-ranking advisers meet to discuss plans to bomb North Vietnam, and, Beach Boys' bassist/keyboardist Brian Wilson suffers a nervous breakdown on a flight from Los Angeles to Houston, eventually precipitating his retirement. Good topics, but no real true living experience at that time in my life to talk about.

I went with the ancestry. In the end, I didn't complete my assignment, though. What I did was gain a lot of knowledge on my Russian Doukhobor Orthodox Freedomite Christian background that I was brought up in.

Many of you probably know what it's like when you're young. You resist your past, whether it be the religion you were raised in, or the parent(s) values you were brought up in, what ever the case may be, many of us resist our past and, in the process, tell ourselves adamantly, "I'm never going be like my mother/father...!" "I'm not going to do what they did."That comment makes me laugh today. Oh, how I was 'not' going to be like my mother. That was a for sure for me. I resisted everything about her. Her religion, her submissiveness, her settling, her lack of voice and so forth. "I knew better." "I will never be like her, ever!"Well, let me tell you, "whatever you resist persists." What happened last night was truly amazing. After reading about the Doukhobors, meaning 'Spirit Wrestler,' and the Freedomites, I gained much awareness on my character, my beliefs, and my way of being. I was directly affected by the religious community, but not as intensely as my mom was. My mom was harshly affected. Her mother and her grandmother were in the midst of it. I see how my mom still struggles in her community and with her family with these core religious beliefs that were instilled in her from childhood and still have a major grip on her. Here's a brief history of these people.

Peter Vasilyevich Verigin, their leader, was in exile in Siberia and was unable to migrate to Canada with the Doukhobors, while many emigrated from the Caucasus in order to escape religious persecution. He had great influence on these people and how they should live. He often emphasized, though, that his expressed views appear as "fantasies" or "theories" and did not, in any way, think that these fantasies and theories would be accepted by the Doukhobors as law in their life. This was clearly stated in his "letters" sent to Canada while he was in exile. When they did, he was there later to support their conviction all the way.

Freedomites were extremely opposed to education. Eventually, they accepted the conditions that the children will attend the schools only to the age of twelve. They believed education corrupted a humans mind. They didn't believe land should be sold, either. "Land is God's gift. It shouldn't be an object of trade," they'd say. They refused to pay taxes or interest, too. They believed everything was free. Even the horses with their harnesses were considered to be a restraint and against their religious beliefs, although they eventually assimilated to that.

Before 1921 and 1922, when eleven schools burnt down (Saskatchewan or BC), the Freedomites and their eccentricities did not bother the surrounding communities, and they had little conflict with the authorities. When the authorities intensified the Russian Orthodox blamed the Russian Freedomites for the burning of the schools, although no one was directly accused. They were prospects for the burnings because of their extreme opposition to education.

In 1924 Peter V. Verign was killed by an explosion in a railway coach. With this event, the Doukhobors ceased to allow their children to school showing their protests, once again, by disrobing and walking naked down the streets and burning buildings. Authorities used repression and confiscated their belongings. Some went to jail. After long discussions with authorities, the Freedomites were allotted an area called "Krestova." It was looked upon by all as a leper colony.

There is much more detailed history to the Doukhobors I can talk about such as the residential schools and the abuse within them, although, that should be a book written by the survivors. Anyhow, besides their home area being called the leper colony, they were also called rebels and traitors because they fought against militarism. Even to this day the Freedomites protest against the Canadian system in general. Many, are now speaking of migrating back to their motherland, the Soviet Russia, to find that empire that would allow complete freedom.

I found reading about my ancestry fascinating and enlightening. I can, perhaps now, understand my mom's, or my aunt's, and my grandparents point of views. It's not that I condone it, but I can relate to them. I can really see them, now more than ever before. I can see how easy it is to fall deep into a conviction brought on by generations of conditioned thinking. No one's a bad person for being raised a particular way. No one's a bad person who doesn't see eye to eye with everyone else. And, nor should we see the same as everyone else. That would be scary. I do hope, however, we continue to encourage free thinking. It's the acceptance of diversity that is challenging, for most, and it may not be so fascinating to others.

Going back to the comment about resisting my past. By resisting, I never really got to know my great grandma on my mom's side. We didn't speak the same language, so even if she did talk to me, I wouldn't understand her Russian. I always thought about what her past was like, even when I was a small child. She had many deep lines on her face, never really smiled, and never talked much. What was it from her past that her so? I guess I'll never know. As I grew older, resistance started to set in. Trying to follow the crowd. Trying to fit in was 'in.' I wasn't about to go back to my past.

As I heard some of the stories of family members 'parading naked,' I became disgusted and wanted to put it all behind me. Instead of trying to understand, I resisted, I suppressed everything, even mom's way of being and everyone else's. I didn't want to belong to the family. "How could I belong to such a family?"Today, I've changed. I've realized, if I want to accept, I must understand. I tried acceptance without understanding. It didn't work for me. Over the years I've learned, in order to love someone, I must understand and empathize, then acceptance comes naturally. I guess, that's why I love counseling, as well as coaching. You get to really understand people and where they are coming from. As for mom, we hit heads occasionally, well, maybe more than not. Perhaps we always will. The more I get to know where she's coming from, the more I get her, and that makes all the difference in our relationship.

I miss my grandma's. A lot. They gave me much learning. They made so many great things with their hands - wooden spoons, clothes, quilts, area rugs (grandma made huge area rugs with her old hosiery) and great food. Oh, how I miss their borsh. Community was important to them. Colors to the Doukhobors are important, too. You'd never see black and white. Rather, you'd see various bright colors. Now I see why my dad painted his houses so colorfully in the past. It's in his blood. Maybe they had something pretty cool going on, to some degree. Peace and freedom. A simple life, not complicated with too much 'stuff.' Strong community and family. It's a good thing.

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  1. Desiree...Thank-you for sharing this article :)
    Sometimes it takes us years to appreciate the way our parents grew up and their beliefs. I know first hand...because this year is the first time in my life I really understand and am thankful for where I was placed in my life (adopted). Now I wish I would have paid more attention to how they lived their lives and how that has influenced the way I am. I'm not what they wanted to see for my life...but I am who I am and I love them for teaching me the things that they did.
    I love your Family and as you know your mother is my best friend in the whole world, she too has taught me many things in my life and still does. Life may have been harder in the past...BUT I think that Life is harder now, and people like me would pick the past way of life, over how we live today.Yes your Mom makes the bestest Borcht in the world, I watch her make it and she put so much into how it is made, to me it is so very Cultural :)
    Thank-you again Desiree,I love you and keep doing what your doing :)

  2. Thanks Trudy, I love you too! Lots and lots! xo

  3. I truly enjoy reading your article - a different world where people have their own way of life. If we understand each other, personal quirks and traits would seem less of an eccentricity.

  4. Hi Elsie, Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I take great pleasure and pride in writing how I see things.

    I, think, I can agree somewhat with your comment. You'd have to wonder what the fine line is when we talk about eccentricities, and personal quirks and traits. Eccentric mean departing from a recognized, conventional, and established norm or pattern, strange, odd behavior, not previously known, unfamiliar, out of the ordinary, unusual or striking, and so forth. Personal quirks and traits can fall under this category as well.

    To me, I think, anyone that creates social change can be called eccentric and I see the Doukhobors, as well as others, do the same.

    Interesting comment Elsie. I love it. Thank you.


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