In 1785, Archbishop Ambrosius of the Russian Orthodox Church referred to a group of Russian religious dissidents as Doukho-bortsi. The term means Spirit Wrestlers – he intended it as a derogatory label suggesting that these dissidents were struggling against the Spirit of God.
They adopted the name, saying: “We are Spirit Wrestlers because we wrestle with and for the Spirit of God against those things which are evil”. In struggling for a better life they would use only the spiritual power of love rather than any form of violence, noting the scriptural admonishment: Resist not evil.
The Doukhobors base their religious philosophy on two commandments: Recognize and love God with all thy heart, mind and soul; and, Love thy neighbour as thyself. What is God? they are asked: God is a word, God is spirit, God is love. Where there is love, there is God. What is a soul? The soul is the reflection of God’s spirit in that person, it returns to its source after earthly life is over.
How was Jesus resurrected? The Doukhobors understand Jesus Christ to have been born and to have lived and died in the flesh. Jesus was resurrected in the hearts of righteous people and continues to be resurrected in those who follow his teachings.
Inspired by the high ideals and dynamic leadership of Peter V. Verigin, the Doukhobors made a decisive stand against militarism and all forms of violence. War, they said, was incompatible with Christianity. On June 29, 1895, about 7000 Doukhobors destroyed all of their weapons in a decisive demonstration of pacifism – to kill another being is to kill God since the spirit of God dwells within that person.
The Doukhobor stand against killing met with harsh repression by the Czarist State and Orthodox Church authorities. This persecution attracted world wide attention including humanitarians such as Lev Tolstoy, his publisher, Vladimir Chertkov and their colleagues.
With the aid of Tolstoy and his helpers, arrangements were made with Clifford Sifton; Canadian Minister of the Interior, and roughly 7,500 Doukhobors were invited to immigrate to Canada in 1899, to the area known as Assiniboia/Saskatchewan Territories.
Their agrarian communal society was a glowing tribute to their slogan Toil and Peaceful Life. The sudden, violent death of their leader, Peter V. Verigin, in 1924, the great economic depression as well as reversals in government policy based on a desire for assimilation made it difficult to maintain their high ideals communally and contributed to the collapse of their collective life style.
Today, Doukhobors actively maintain activities such as Sunday Prayer meetings, Russian language classes, various publications and Internet sites, youth activity groups and festivals such as the annual Youth Festival now held for over fifty years; Peter’s Day commemoration now observed annually for 107 years and the Day of Love as well as other special events, talent shows, fund-raisers for worthy causes, special dinners and active participation in peace groups and other benevolent endeavors based on the theme of pacifism and harmonious interaction with the environment.
The Doukhobor Discovery Centre is located across from the Airport in Castlegar and is open 10am – 5pm daily from May 1 to September 30.
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