Doukhobors - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. The Doukhobors' central belief is in the presence of God in each conscious person, obviating the need for scriptures, priests, prelates, liturgy, churches, and church paraphernalia, which Doukhobors perceive as unnecessary if not traps of Satan. Nevertheless, they worship corporately in a formal manner, refer to biblical scripture though not always accurately, and possess a magnificent repertoire of sacred music. The religious revitalization of the 1980s introduced some puritan values: alcohol and tobacco, formerly tolerated, were proscribed, and because animals cannot be held to be devoid of consciousness, vegetarianism also became obligatory. These strictures are today more preached than performed, though the vegetarian practice survives most strongly, partly as an ethnic marker. Today, the Doukhobor community is marked by a remarkably broad range of belief, ranging from near-fundamentalism to abstract and universalist deism and agnosticism.

Religious Practitioners. Despite the egalitarian implications of Doukhobor spirituality, various social forces of the 1700s confirmed for most the role of the spiritual leader, the individual in whom the presence of God, most honored, is most manifest. Though it is now a commonplace that "the time of spiritual leaders is past," both John Verigin and in his day Stephan Sorokin certainly have attracted expectations and obligations from those followers who doubt that the time is over. In the conduct of worship, though, even the most Respected figures may do no more than occupy a conspicuous position; spoken and sung prayers are begun by respected elders and immediately carried by the congregation. In the home, women are most likely to take spiritual roles, though any individual may choose profound meditation, usually through silently reviewed Doukhobor psalms.

Ceremonies. All Doukhobor ritual is related to Molenie (prayer), the usual title of Sunday morning worship, which, briefly, consists of formal greetings, the recitation and singing of Doukhobor psalms, the kiss of peace, the singing of hymns, and final greetings. This is usually followed by the Sobrania (community meeting), a less formal discussion period. Funeral rites conflate the recitation and singing of psalms and hymns; festival occasions greatly expand the singing of hymns and include traditional secular songs on days other than Sunday and doctrinal addresses. All Doukhobors observe the remembrance of the Burning of Arms, usually on or about June 28, the Day of Saints Peter and Paul; Christmas; and Easter. Community Doukhobors add a number of festivals, including the Peminki (commemoration) for Peter Gospodnie and Peter Chistiakov Verigin, Declaration Day in August, and the youth and Sunday school festivals in May and June. Reformed Doukhobors have also celebrated Sorokin's birthday, November 27, but now observe his commemoration, November 15. These events are all sacred in character, although there is occasion for secular performance. Community choirs appear in large and diverse numbers and perform traditional music; visitors come from the region and farther, and regional and foreign dignitaries may be present. These are times of profound cultural expression and unification.

Arts. The primary mode of Doukhobor expression is music, and here they are remarkable, preserving the most complex folk tradition of oral polyphony known, that of their psalms. A high percentage—about 17 percent—of the Population are competent choral performers. A hymn tradition is extremely lively, incorporating both Doukhobor and adapted tune and song texts. Musical instruments are used, but are barred from sacred performance. Many women still embroider distinctive Slavic designs; and older men may follow custom by carving wooden spoons, not only as trade curios but as a mark of continuing productivity. Weaving and joinery were significant and admirable during the community period but have since declined.

Medicine. Most Doukhobors use the conventional medical system, though there is a preference for access to masseurs, chiropractors, naturopaths, and similar schools emphasizing prophylaxis, as well as an old connection with the health-food tradition. Some elders also still preserve a folkhealing tradition using "healing psalms" and related practices, with reliable evidence given of their effectiveness.

Death and Afterlife. Here views tend to be conventional and correspond to the balance of religious views, ranging from understandings typical of the European Protestant tradition to broadly (and vaguely) universalist agnosticism. Traditional texts integrate conventional ideas of heaven and hell with the affirmation that these states are present rather than future. In practice, burial is followed by a six-week (when the soul is presumed to have left the vicinity of the corpse) and subsequently annual Peminki at the gravesite.


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Oct 24, 2010 @ 11:23 pm
How did doukhobor customs evolve? It seems as though they could have been selected after the fact to be conspicuously eccentric. Is there any logical progression why these seemingly disparate/ haphazard group of customs were lumped together?

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