Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Film review: Krishnamurti's Search for Truth

The Challenge of Change: The Biographical Film of J. Krishnamurti is a 75 minute DVD in English, produced by Evelyne Blau from 1984 through 2004. Krishnamurti's messages share much with the Doukhobor movement.

CLICK to SEE VIDEO
Subtiltes in 12 languages.

I was invited to view this video biography of Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895 - 1986) by Jim Deacove whose firm Cooperative Family Pastimes hosted 'Films from Heart and Soul' at their monthly 'Spiritual Cinema Circle' presented in Perth, Ontario at the Myriad Cinema.

The film includes a series of statements Krishnamurti makes into the camera specifically for the documentary. It includes a wealth of excerpts from various talks and dialogues as well as a biographical sketch of his early life. Jim and his wife Ruth have met this Indian philosopher on several occasions and have been impressed by his revolutionary zeal to inspire people in discovering the truth within themselves. Jim is a volunteer librarian for the Krishnamurti Foundations.

The core of Krishnamurti's teaching is contained in the statement he made in 1929:
'Truth is a pathless land.' ... Man cannot come to it through any organization, through any creed, through any dogma, priest or ritual nor through any philosophical knowledge or psychological technique. He has to find it through the mirror of relationship, through the understanding of the contents of his own mind, through observation, and not through intellectual analysis or introspective dissection. Man has built in himself images as a sense of security — religious, political, personal. These manifest as symbols, ideas, beliefs. The burden of these dominates man's thinking, relationships and his daily life. These are the causes of our problems for they divide man from man in every relationship.'

This 'pathless land' proposal may scare or threaten people's habitual beliefs. It may seem even anarchistic and rudderless. But wait, have patience. There is wisdom to this exercise.

In the tradition of Socrates, Krishnamurti provokes us to search for truth above and beyond our ready-made solutions as found in established institutions, patterns, and habits. He urges us to cease sectarian thinking, and put away Shankara, Buddha, Christ and God so that our mind is alone, clear, and no longer influenced, controlled or compelled to serve a set dogma. Spiritual leaders, gurus, and things we've read about need to be set aside. The search for the inner truth must take preference; it is an inner journey that seeks a common denominator to the notion of humanity. It is what makes us human.

As reviewer, I have never met Krishnamurti, but have been impressed by his simple, yet difficult formula in truth seeking.

A contemporary of Krishnamurti was the Russian author and philosopher Lev N. Tolstoy who used a similar approach to seeking the truth. Tolstoy criticized sectarian thinking including a critique of his close followers who tended to set up a Tolstoyan society. Tolstoy criticized this society and urged the people to look at the issues at hand (and not to make an icon of him).

A recent example comes from Canada.  As leader of the New Democratic Party in Canada for the past eight years, the late Jack Layton (1950 - 2011) periodically reminded his members that they ought not make an idol of him, but focus on the universal issues of health care, social justice, public pensions and make sure that no one is left behind. This was his way of rejecting the cult of personality, as one of his mentors Tommy Douglas had done many years earlier. Each of us can think of examples in our own lives that require us to transcend economic, political, ethnic, racial and religious boundaries — so as to help us go directly to the core of our humanity, and therefore to the truth of things.

Seeking the truth demands effort, vigour, transparency and discipline. Anthropologists remind us that society requires both continuity and change, so that we need to seek a balance in both. Here we need to be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. While seeking the truth, we need to preserve a sense of integrity for our existence as worthy and caring human beings on planet earth.

Friends, be brave and watch your ecology carefully as you enter the path of discovery from day to day, from moment to moment and become liberated in a new level of truth. Find much more on his official website J. Krishnamurti online.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Jack Layton Commemoration

'My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world.'

These iconic words were left by Jack Layton (1950-2011) as a legacy to his family, friends, political colleagues and the wider public as he died in a battle with cancer early August 22nd.

'Jack', as he was known, will be remembered as a person who had the courage to speak out on social justice and equality at home and abroad. With honesty, sincerity, the ability to reach out and connect, along with a passion for life, he understood the nature of politics in society. He listened to people, spoke to them (not at them), often transcended party lines and was an advocate for all including the underdog. He had always thought of the best of people and generally was known as a common man's leader.

'Don't let anyone tell you that it can't be done', was one of his sayings in inspiring us in our work to make a better world.  He also reminded us 'to have a dream that is longer than a lifetime.'

His 30-year political career was highlighed at the end of his life. In the May 2, 2011 federal election, the New Democratic Party (NDP) under his leadership became the official opposition in the Canadian House of Commons with 103 seats. This was a phenomenal achievement considering that the NDP  had only 10 seats when Layton became the leader in 2002.

With his Caucus in Parliament, he insisted that all members should respect each other so as to bring about a new way of doing politics. Parliamentary civility was the process he sought to create, but it was being a doer that gave him an advantage as an effective politician.

Jack Layton inspired us all in the tradition of Tommy Douglas because he had optimism and hope for a better world. We can remember his legacy by working together to achieve the social goals of a more equalitarian and just society. Several years ago when Jack was in Victoria, British Columbia, he met Saul Arbess, Co-chair of the Canadian Department of Peace Initiative (CDPI) who related this story:

'I presented him personally with our proposal for a department of peace. He greeted me with his characteristic warmth and, with Canada already serving in a combat role in Afghanistan, said that we need a department of peace now more than ever. In 2007, he seconded a Motion in the House calling for such a department, as a follow up to the Private Members Bill, introduced by an NDP MP earlier that year.'

Jack is a model to many. His good deeds will be remembered as a template for action. A state funeral will be held in his honour in Toronto on August 27th. With great respect, love, hope and optimism we commemorate his life. 'And we'll change the world'.

Well done, Jack! The torch is now passed on to us to make life better and not to leave anyone behind.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Review: 'The Trouble With Tolstoy'

Soviet commemorative stamp
The Trouble with Tolstoy: Soldier, Seducer, Saint and Sinner is a sensitive two-hour BBC television production that captures some of the essence of why Lev N. Tolstoy was such a huge literary and moral figure in Tsarist Russia. Truly, he was the voice of moral authority that even went beyond the borders of Russia.

The Narrator Alan Yentob of St. Petersburg raises the question of Tolstoy’s greatness. During the film, he tries to answer the question with archival historical footage and images, with readings from his novels, and with comments from various historians and commentators on this writer.

Lev Tolstoy’s 82 years of turbulent life included:
  • his mother who died when he was 2
  • father died when he was 8
  • as a student he faced extremisms of gambling, drinking and sexual promiscuity
  • as a soldier he was shocked by the utter horror of war
  • he survived a loving, but rocky marriage of 46 years
  • as a writer of gold standard, he experienced a mid-life crisis which led him to question what is good in society and what is bad.

The Russian Orthodox Church excommunicated him; while the Tsarist Government feared his influence ‘as a trouble-maker’ might lead to a revolution. That would disturb the balance between the rich and the poor. The Imperial state dared not arrest him because he was a man of the people. He was a man that the peasants saw as their savour; a man who could stand up and support them.

When Tolstoy learned that a Russian dissident group burnt their guns in 1895 as a protest against militarism and wars, he completed his book Resurrection and used its funds to help the migration of 7,500 of the group to Canada (including my grandparents). Towards the end of Part 2, the Narrator interviews Doukhobor descendant Elaine Popoff Podovinikoff in front of a large house that her family built near Yasnaya Polyana. This was a fitting tribute of the relationship of Tolstoy to the Doukhobors.

Tolstoy was Socratic in approach. He always said exactly what he saw. He was a critic of social justice and continually raised the question of what is moral. In seeking happiness in life, he discovered that love was a central ingredient here.

The concluding statement of the Narrator captured the essence of the times: The real trouble with Tolstoy is ‘his uncomfortability’ which is ‘unavoidably true’. It is this timelessness that is applicable to society after his death in 1910 right up to the present. Here are a few individuals who like Lev Tolstoy dared to speak out on issues that can lead to a just society with happiness as its core message:

  • Mahatma Gandhi, influenced by Tolstoy’s nonviolence paradigm, devoted his life to political struggle for India’s independence from British rule. In and out of prisons, he used his unique civil disobedience of Satyagraha grounded in the principles of Truth and Nonviolence. Independence came in1947.
  • In 1935 U.S. Marine Major General Smedley Butler published a book War is a Racket in which he showed how business interests have commercially benefited from warfare. This message applies to our times (such as the CANSEC arms show event in Ottawa, in May 2009).
  • In the 1960s, Martin Luther King Jr. acted nonviolently as he courageously spoke out against social racial inequality in US society. His efforts led to desegregation of buses and washrooms in America. In 1969, King called to conscience in a stance against the war in Vietnam. King, like Tolstoy, challenged the whole architecture of war now.
  • Filmmaker Michael Moore and Linguist and Philosopher Noam Chomsky have questioned privatization; they revealed that free market economy while  being good for the wealthy,  often is a disaster for the population. These people dared to question orthodoxy in their American society.
  • In Canada, Order of Canada recipient Murray T. Thomson, has publicly campaigned to close down NATO. He urged the Doukhobors, Quakers, and Mennonites to support him in this effort.
  • In Hawaii, Dr. Glenn D. Paige, founder and director of the Center for Global Nonviolence, had the wisdom to challenge the prevailing dogma of wars and violence. He discovered that a nonkilling global society is possible. He observed that despite lethal capability most humans are not and have not been killers. Love and compassion is the way.

Like Lev N. Tolstoy of the past century, these wisdom people had the courage to raise some of the Big questions of our time. The film reminds us that we must be vigilant in each generation to ensure that happiness and love remains as our practical beacon for the present and the future.

More: Video Excerpt: 'The Trouble with Tolstoy' showing the Doukhobors.

Q46: Why is there respect and equality amongst Doukhobors?

From: Agnes Montanari, Photographer, Italy

I often mention my encounter with the Doukhobor community of the Republic of Georgia to friends as it has left a permanent sign on my life. I will always be grateful for the hospitality and the kindness with which I have been welcomed.

I am trying at present and again to publish this work. One aspect that is very interesting is the respect and equality that exist among men and women. I would very much like to be able to develop more this aspect among others as I think it is one of the very few religions in the world that promotes such a principle. Unfortunately I do not have much information and would be grateful if you could tell me more about it.


Answer

The respect for equality amongst the Doukhobor men and women arises from their very essence. Namely, the belief that there exists the spirit of love, beauty and God in every person (that is the meaning of Spirit-Wrestlers). It is parallel to the Light Within that one finds in the Society of Friends (Quakers). This spirit is a philosophy of nonkilling and a compassion for life.

This same invention makes them more of a way of life or a social movement, rather than that of an organized religion. Officially they reject the institution of the church, the icons, the priesthood and the rituals of the organized church, synagogue or mosque. Theirs is a focus on the ethics of human behaviour, with men and women ideally being an equal part of the whole. In practice, married couples need to work together in maintaining their egalitarian status — and this is a continuous 'give-and-take' spirit of compromise towards the ideal of the Spirit Within.

More: Questions and Answers, Comments

Friday, 19 August 2011

New Saskatchewan Doukhobor Website

The Doukhobor Cultural Society of Saskatchewan launched a new website showing their history and traditions, food, music, events, and The Dove Magazine.
The new website by Daved Meakin presents 8 Doukhobor societies in the province:
  • Benito
  • Blaine Lake
  • Canora
  • Kamsack
  • Langham
  • Pelly
  • Saskatoon
  • Verigin

It continues the temporary page news — Spirit-Wrestlers.com/SDS.

The new entry homepage — SaskDoukhobor.ca — connects all Saskatchewan Doukhobor web sites:

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Video excerpt: 'The Trouble with Tolstoy'

The Trouble with Tolstoy; Soldier, Seducer, Saint and Sinner is a 2-part, 2-hour BBC Imagine production narrated by Alan Yentob who documents Tolstoy's life with photos, locations, and interviews. The show aired March-April 2011, on BBC1.

Three minutes present the Doukhobors. In the second hour, Yentob somewhat covers Tolstoy's aid to the Doukhobors, the novel Resurrection, and interviews Doukhobor Elaine Podovinikoff and great-great grandson Vladimir Tolstoy.

Though the entire 2-hour show is no longer online, an ~11-minute segment starting with the Doukhbors was posted on YouTube — Tolstoy Gandhi Doukhobors Guy Giard.mp4



Unfortunately, this segment and the 2-hour show omits a lot of history which misleads the viewers. Read history books. Many are online. Much new analysis about Tolstoy has been published in the past decade from his diaries and letters.

"The Trouble With Tolstoy" says little about his printing house started in 1885 in Moscow, or the Tolstoyan leaders who were exiled with Chertkov. The Doukhobors are introduced with no mention of their famous burning of arms protest in 1895. The viewer is misled to think that Resurrection was written to save the Doukhobors; actually, the book was incomplete for 10 years. Motivated by the Doukhobor problem, Tolstoy finished it in parts as a serial in Russia and sold foreign rights to raise a lot of money fast. Tolstoy had not published a novel in 25 years. He became ill from the hard work. Translators and publishers altered the text. Tolstoy and his readers felt that this third and last novel was rushed, lowering it's literary quality. Tolstoy planned to continue the story later.

Read an excellent analysis online in Introduction To Tolstoy's Writings: Chapter 11: Resurrection, by Ernest J Simmons, Professor of Russian Literature.

Tolstoy donated the royalties from this and other books to a international fund to escort Doukhobors out of Russia in 1899, and sent his son Sergey and others to assist their migration safely and report back to him. About one-third of the most dissident of all Doukhobors emigrated, about 7400 of 22,000. The majority stayed in the Caucasus. Learn much more by reading books.

Video Timeline
  • Minute 0:42 — Andrew Norman Wilson interview (Tolstoy: A Biography) about novel Resurrection, "... a novel that needs to be resurrected. It's been submerged, and merely forgotten about."
  • 1:02 — Narrator Alan Yentob: "Tolstoy wrote [finished] Resurrection in order to raise a large sum of money to save the Doukhobors."
  • 1:30 — Elaine Podovinikiff interview. Tolstoy helped Doukhobors because they (1) would not kill humans, and (2) believed God is everywhere. Doukhobors in Canada studied Tolstoy's Christian lessons as a part of their regular Sunday School lessons.
  • 2:58 — Resurrection is summarized in pictures and explained by several scholars.
  • Spiritual evolution is the central theme of Resurrection. Book critical of church, the penal system, military, and government.
  • 5:19 — Professor Elvira Osipova interview, St. Petersburg University. His words are very relevant today. "What is meaningful .. moral .. worthless? ... the contrast between the rich and the poor. ... the problems remain today."
  • 6:15 — Feb 1901, Count Tolstoy rejected by church, excommunicated. He divided the country. Some declared him the devil, most as a god.
  • 8:00 — Father Selophil interview, Optina Pustyn Monastery. Tolstoy's deeds "...not at one with the Church."
  • 8:45 — Sergey Il'ich Tolstoy interview, great-great grandson, Director Yasnaya Polyana State Museum. Tolstoy descendants failed to reverse Tolstoy's excommunication in 2001. Church silent about their mistake.
  • 9:25 Interview with Rosamund Bartlett (Tolstoy - A Russian Life) about The Kingdom of God is Within You, read by Gandhi in South Africa.

More:

Georgia Doukhobor Photos Win 3rd Place at International Competition in Italy


Italian documentary photographer Agnes Montanari has been photographing Doukhobors in Georgia for several years. She entered 5 of her many Doukhobor images in immagini dal mondo_classificati 2009, an international "Chatwin Price" photo competition of travel reportage, held November 2009 in Genoa, Italy. "The Doukhobors of Georgia" photos were awarded 3rd place.

Among her many interests are social issues, women, refugees, minorities. Some photos of Doukhbors in Gerogia were published in 'The minorities of Georgia', European Centre for Minorities Issues, 2011.

See 36 quality photos with captions by Agnes Montanari displayed online — The Last of the Doukhobors.

More about Doukhobors in Georgia
.

800 Loaves of Doukhobor Bread Sold / Day

Sign on bakery roof. 

Up to 40 people waited in line at the Saskatoon Exhibition this year to buy fresh, hot "Doukhobor Bread" — now a brand name in Saskatchewan. All week, the aroma of the wood fire and bread yeast permeates the air at the Prairieland Park midway as shifts of Doukhobor volunteers toil morning to midnight to raise funds for charity.

Brand Name : "Doukhobor Bread"
Mae Popoff, a board member of the Saskatoon Doukhobor Society and newsleter editor, reports: 'I just returned from my 4 pm to midnight shift baking bread at the Exhibition. The line ups for bread were incredible!!!! I counted at least 40 at one time. Every year, people take the large, wood-fired loaves out of the Ex grounds by the twos, threes and eights.

'The volunteers who run the booth bake about 800 loaves a day the old fashioned way, in a nod to tradition and Saskatchewan's Doukhobor farming heritage.'

Doukhobor Bread is served hot from the wood brick oven, by the loaf ($6.50) or slice ($1.50). Jam and butter are provided.

Isabelle Strelioff, SDS Treasurer, kneading dough.

The local newspaper rates "Doukhobor Bread" #2 in their Saturday list of things to do. ('Finding Sask. at the Ex: Three things to catch at the Ex,' The Star-Phoenix, Aug. 13, 2011)
  1. Spudnuts
  2. Doukhobor Bread
  3. Raffles
Doukhobor Bread has been fire-baked and sold in Saskatoon and Verigin for about 55 years.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Memorial of 1945 Nuclear Bombing of Japan

People gathered around the world on August 6 to promote nuclear disarmament and non-killing peace.  Friends (Quakers) hosted many events, including the one I attended in Ottawa.

This year the 66th anniversary of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 underlines the need for a nuclear free world.
On the evening of August 6th, 2011, at Friends House (Quakers) in Ottawa, Ontario, some 50 people met to hear speeches, see short films, participate in singing, and made peace lanterns then walked to a local pond where they floated the lanterns at dusk. This was a symbolic gesture that we must not repeat a nuclear terror again and in fact we should never forget that all wars are terrible.
Ambassador Ishikawa

Featured speaker Japanese Ambassador Kaoru Ishikawa reminded us to cherish our survivors (hibakusha) of Japan's first ever nuclear disaster in 1945. Officially the US attack almost instantly killed 220,000 and led to the death from radiation of many more.

The March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami with the crippling of the Fukushima power plant, he said, has highlighted the need to 'strike a balance with Mother Nature'. Five other nuclear power plants continue to operate and provide nuclear energy to the state, but the question of its future use remains. More and more people are speaking out for the closure of the nuclear plants.

Ambassador Ishikawa especially thanked the Physicians for Global Survival (one of three organizers; along with the Quakers and Project Ploughshares) for playing a leading role in working for nuclear disarmament and for hosting the evening event.  'We need to ensure that a dark part of our history is never repeated,' he emphasized.

Yasir Naqvi, MPP Ontario
Yasir Naqvi (Member of the Legislative Assembly in Ontario) asked the question of 'What have we learned from the experience in Japan?' He noticed that the time is ripe for society to adopt a nonviolence approach to conflict. As a representative for Ottawa Centre since 2007, Yasir said:

'We are a microcosm of society. We must learn to live and trust each other. Any time we hear of negative stereotypes, let's take the time to correct them....There is more in common in us than there are differences. That will help us create a society of peace.'

Debbie Grisdale, formerly Executive Director of PGS, now with Project Ploughshares, said that 'there is no medical response to a nuclear war'. Prevention must be our central goal.  She urged Canadians to drop a note to our politicians to stop nuclear proliferation and ban its use.

Dr. Jason Bailey, Board of Directors, Physicians for Global Survial was Master of Ceremonies for the evening. He pointed out that with the rise of new technologies many times more powerful than the 1945 bombings, 'we must never let this happen today.'

Let's stop the nuclear threat. Let's stop all wars!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Q45: Why did Doukhobors discard dance?

From: Fred Samorodin, Vancouver. B.C.

Why is dance not part of the Doukhobor ethnic heritage?

On my desk, at the moment lives an article published by Elizabeth Lear on “The History of Russian Vocal Music” (notes) which I printed out over 18 months ago.... I have a great interest in all vocal music and have been a member of one choir or another for many years — focussing more and more on enjoying and performing a classical music repertoire from written scores. Fortunately, several events during this last choral season prevented me from continuing with a chamber choir I was singing with earlier in the season, and thus offered me the opportunity to return to my roots and sing with the Lower Mainland Doukhobor Choir at the May 2011 USCC Doukhobor Youth Festival!

That aside, I have been mulling over the idea of writing a contributing article to Iskra (and/or other Doukhobor printed media such as your blog, perhaps) on why dance is not part of the Doukhobor ethnic heritage. Personally speaking, I have made dance part of my personal musical heritage since the late 1970’s when I spent (save for an interruption of a year’s studies in the Soviet Union) 18 years at Israeli Folk Dancing, and then American Contradancing and most recently, Latin Dancing! That being said, I would be interested in your comments on the subject of the historical/social disappearance of a dance heritage component within the Doukhobor cultural movement, to be cited or included in my planned article.


Answer

How nice to receive the news of your interest in dancing. I encourage you to pursue your intent in writing an article on the subject.

In the first place, dancing is a normal part of human society. People of all cultures and eras have expressed their behaviour in this form. An exception has occurred with some religious groups during specific periods of their development. With Christianity, Wikipedia states it well, Worship dance:

Dance has had a chequered history within Christianity. Many records exist of prohibitions by leaders within most branches of the Christian Church, for such reasons as the association of dance with paganism, fears relating to sexuality, and a Greek-influenced belief in the separation of the soul and body.

However, beginning in the latter half of the 20th century there was a significant growth in the use of dance within christian worship. This received a boost within the framework of the charismatic movement of the 1970s, which initiated a transition to contemporary worship in many churches. During this time, the International Christian Dance Fellowship was formed in Australia by Mary Jones and it now has branches in many other countries.

Centuries back in the 1600s, Doukhobors broke away from Christian Orthodoxy in a radical way by rejecting the institution of the church including priests, a separate building, icons and the Bible. Yet some aspects of earlier cultural patterns remained such as men standing on one side and women on the other, the reading and singing of psalms and hymns. It appears that the fear of dancing was included as well.

Fast forward to the latter 1900s, there was an interesting shift among all Doukhobors. Those of us Canadians who visited the Caucausus Doukhobors in the 1970s and 1980s witnessed busload of guests greeted traditionally with (1) bread and salt, and (2) folk dancing and singing. Observers noted that Russian Doukhobors may have lost some of their history, but they retained their visual cultural traditions. Contrast this with Canadian Doukhobors, while knowing their history (thanks to historians and the lack of a war in Canada) they lost some of their cultural traditions such as colourful clothing, language, and dance. (Or as active Doukhobor singer Frances Kanigan stated Canadian Doukhobors have 'modernized and Canadianized our singing', Iskra, June 1, 2011: 23.)

Many of those who moved to Canada, it appears, where influenced by the strict code of Peter V. Verigin as well as by the view of Western Christianity that dancing is a sin. This was 'mainstream' and 'normal' as any doctrine of fundamentalism. Such behaviour was, many believed, the first step towards many other sins.

However, with education and maturity, dancing has regained some of its original status as a normal cultural expression of human beings. Gradually, dance has begun to find increasing acceptance in spiritual life once again as it had been during the early period of paganism. For example, Saskatchewan Doukhobors from as early as the 1930s used to dance in barns or granaries to the sound of mouth organs and later accordians and violins. I have witnessed this on the farm in the 1940s in our granary in Saskatchewan. Such is the evolution of secular development in modern society.

Now, as with all extremisms whether secular or religious, there could be weaknesses and vulnerabilities in any behaviour. However, real ballroom dancing, ballet, and other forms of dance expression remain as legitimate and creative.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Q44: 'Community Centre' or 'Prayer House'?

Do Doukhobors meet in a 'Community/ Cultural Centre' or 'Prayer House'?


Answer

These terms are historically more accurate:
     Community/ Cultural/ Meeting  +  Centre/ Hall/ Home/ House/ Assembly

In Canada the term 'prayer home/ hall' emerged to project a politically correct image, and unfortunately persists. Today the following building names appear on the USCC Doukhobor events lists:
  • BC — Brilliant USCC Cultural Centre
  • BC — Grand Forks USCC Community Centre
  • BC — Creston Doukhobor Prayer Hall
  • BC — Krestova Doukhobor Prayer Home
  • AB — Doukhobor Prayer Home, Lundbreck
  • SK — Canora Doukhobor Prayer Home
  • SK — Kamsack & District Doukhobor Prayer Home
  • SK — Saskatoon Doukhobor Prayer Home (photos)
Why did some Doukhobors change from 'meeting' or 'community' to 'prayer' though they are not an organized religion? To conform to social norms as a religion? To be exempted from taxes? Whatever the reason, in my opinion they are in error.

Historically Russian sectarians were forbiden by the Orthodox Church and government from holding religious gatherings or building churches. Instead they held 'meetings' (Russian: sobranie) in private homes (dom), or community halls or spaces. The gathering of people was all that mattered, not the location or building. When Doukhobors were concentrated in the Caucasus with other sectarians and allowed more freedom, they were permitted to build administrative centres and community homes (obshchie dom) for meetings. Some of these old community buildings are still in use in the Republic of Georgia.

The use of ‘Community Home’ is a historic fact. During the Golden Age of the Doukhobors under Lukeria Kalmykova (1864-1886), Russian Doukhobors had an Orphan's Home (Sirotsky Dom) which served as an administrative centre for the common good. Singing and prayers took place in a Community Home (obshchie dom) next door. To have set up a separate home of prayer would have gone against their principles. This is because traditionally Doukhobors rejected institutionalized religion, including a special building for that purpose, a designated minister, and the Bible.

I am trying to clarify this history because on June 30, 2011, The North Battleford News-Optimist published a story entitled Prayer home added to heritage site, to which I commented:

I applaud Brenda Cheveldayoff (ower of the Doukhobor Dugout House, near Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan) and her team for continuing to enrich the Doukhobor Dugout House Heritage Site. The new addition of the so-called 'Prayer Home' needs context. Historically Doukhobors had 'Obshshoi Doms' (Community Homes). The concept 'Prayer Home' is a misnomer for the Doukhobors who years back rejected the full institution of the church structure. Doukhobors believe that the spirit of love, beauty and God reside inside each of us and there is no need for churches, priests, ikons and Bibles to make connection to the source. The term 'Prayer Home' was mistakenly used by some of the younger generation in trying to legitimize the Doukhobor movement by calling it a church or prayer home. For historical and conceptual accuracy, let us remember the real context of this story and instead use 'Community Home' for the reference.

In British Columbia most Doukhobors have generally avoided the use of the term 'Prayer Home' and instead have used the more generic term 'Community/ Cultural Centre.' For example, the Brilliant Cultural Centre and the Grand Forks Community Centre, and the Salmo Doukhobor Hall (which recently was sold because of lack of usage). The exception are the Creston and Krestova BC communities which use the title Doukhobor Prayer Home.

In Alberta, a Community Home was built in 1929 in Shouldice which served the Anastasia's Village community until its demise in the 1960s. In Lundbreck, a Doukhobor Community Home was registered in 1955 under the provincial Religious Societies Act with the title 'United Doukhobors of Alberta, Cowley-Lundbreck'. A sign in front was installed as a 'Prayer Home'. Today this building is largely no longer functioning, but remains as a provincial heritage building where meetings are occasionally held. Practically all the local Doukhobors have moved away to larger centres. Many Abertans (including the provincial Heritage Department) mistakenly use the term 'Prayer Home'.

The 7,500 Russian Doukhobors who settled on the Canadian prairies in 1899 in what is now Saskatchewan and built over 60 villages used Community Homes as their place for meetings (sobranie), singing and prayer. The early central Community village of Otrodnoe was displaced by the Doukhobor Community complex of buildings in Verigin, at the site of the new railroad line west of Kamsack. Today that location houses the National Doukhobor Heritage Village Inc. which essentially is a museum with a number of heritage outbuildings that once served the community. The use of the term 'prayer' for their original Community Home (once used as a residence for Peter V. Verigin) is not accurate and not appropriate.

The Blaine Lake Prayer Home north east of Saskatoon was established in the early 1930s under the leadership of Peter P. Verigin; today that building is largely vacant, but is mistakenly referred to by locals as a Prayer Home. The latter is said to be mainly influenced by several vocal 'evangelical' supporters who have left the district years back. Former 92-year-old resident Alice Malloff, now residing in Saskatoon, calls the building that was recently relocated to the Doukhobor Dugout House a 'Museum', not a 'Prayer Home'.

The Saskatoon Doukhobor Society built its Community Home in 1955, but labelled it a 'Prayer Home' largely to accommodate Canadian society. Here, as in other Saskatchewan centres (Pelly, Canora, Buchanan, Langham, Watson and Blaine Lake), the designation 'prayer' was associated with the provincial laws which provided tax exemption for buildings of worship. My research shows that most local Doukhobors today have forgotten their own history and do not know the reason for the mistaken label 'prayer' in their Community Homes.

The context for this question is very important for the integrity of the Doukhobor movement. It is parallel to what has transpired with the Society of Friends Quakers and their rejection of the ‘Church’ or ‘prayer home’ in favour of a ‘Meeting House’. Quakers do not believe that meetings for worship should take place in any special place. This similiar understanding for both Doukhobors and the Quakers is fundamental, in my opinion, to understanding who we are.

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