Spiritual Christianity

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The term "Spiritual Christianity" (Russian : духовное христианство) refers to "folk Protestants" (narodnye protestanty), non-Orthodox indigenous to the Russian Empire that emerged from among the Orthodox, and from the Bezpopovtsy Raskolniks. Origins may be due to Protestant movements imported to Russia by missionaries, mixed with folk traditions, resulting in tribes of believers collectively called sektanty (sects). When discovered, these tribes of heretics were typically documented by Russian Orthodox Church clergy with a label that described the heresy – not fasting, meeting on Saturday, rejecting the spirit, genital and breast mutilation, self-flagellation, etc. [1]

Russian language East Slavic language

Russian is an East Slavic language, which is official in the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as being widely used throughout Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, the Caucasus and Central Asia. It was the de facto language of the Soviet Union until its dissolution on 25 December 1991. Although nearly three decades have passed since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian is used in official capacity or in public life in all the post-Soviet nation-states, as well as in Israel and Mongolia.

Russian Empire former country, 1721–1917

The Russian Empire was an empire that extended across Eurasia and North America from 1721, following the end of the Great Northern War, until the Republic was proclaimed by the Provisional Government that took power after the February Revolution of 1917.


Bespopovtsy are Priestless Old Believers that reject Nikonian priests. They are one of the two major strains of Old Believers.

These heterodox (non-orthodox) groups "rejected ritual and outward observances, believing instead in the direct revelation of God to the inner man". [2] Adherents are called Spiritual Christians (Russian : духовные христиане) or, less accurately, malakan in the Former Soviet Union, and "Molokans" in the United States, often confused with "Doukhobors" in Canada. ( Molokane proper comprised the largest and most organized of many Spiritual Christian groups in the Russian Empire).

Orthodoxy adherence to accepted norms, more specifically to creeds, especially in religion

Orthodoxy is adherence to correct or accepted creeds, especially in religion. In the Christian sense the term means "conforming to the Christian faith as represented in the creeds of the early Church." The first seven ecumenical councils were held between the years of 325 and 787 with the aim of formalizing accepted doctrines.

Ritual set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value

A ritual is a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and performed according to set sequence. Rituals may be prescribed by the traditions of a community, including a religious community. Rituals are characterized but not defined by formalism, traditionalism, invariance, rule-governance, sacral symbolism, and performance.

Religious law includes ethical and moral codes taught by religious traditions. Examples include Christian canon law, Islamic sharia, Jewish halakha, and Hindu law.


Historian Pavel Milyukov traced the origins of Spiritual Christianity to the Doukhobors, who were first recorded in the 1800s but originated earlier. Milyukov believed the movement reflected developments among Russian peasants similar to those underlying the German Peasants' War in the German Reformation of the 1500s. [3] Many Spiritual Christians embraced egalitarian and pacifist beliefs, considered politically radical views by the Imperial government.

Pavel Milyukov Russian politician and historian

Pavel Nikolayevich Milyukov was a Russian historian and liberal politician. Milyukov was the founder, leader, and the most prominent member of the Constitutional Democratic party. In the Russian Provisional Government, he served as Foreign Minister, working to prevent Russia's exit from the First World War.

Doukhobors Religious group of Russian origin

The Doukhobours or Dukhobors are a Spiritual Christian religious group of Russian origin. They are one of many non-Orthodox ethno-confessional faiths in Russia, often categorized as "folk-Protestants", Spiritual Christians, sectarians, or heretics. They are distinguished as pacifists who lived in their own villages, rejected personal materialism, worked together, and developed a tradition of oral history and memorizing and singing hymns and verses. Before 1886, they had a series of single leaders.

German Peasants War conflict

The German Peasants' War, Great Peasants' War or Great Peasants' Revolt was a widespread popular revolt in some German-speaking areas in Central Europe from 1524 to 1525. It failed because of the intense opposition by the aristocracy, who slaughtered up to 100,000 of the 300,000 poorly armed peasants and farmers. The survivors were fined and achieved few, if any, of their goals. The war consisted, like the preceding Bundschuh movement and the Hussite Wars, of a series of both economic and religious revolts in which peasants and farmers, often supported by Anabaptist clergy, took the lead. The German Peasants' War was Europe's largest and most widespread popular uprising prior to the French Revolution of 1789. The fighting was at its height in the middle of 1525.

The Russian government deported some groups to internal exile in Central Asia. About one percent escaped suppression by emigrating (1898–1930s) to North America forming a diaspora which divided into many sub-groups. [4]

Exile event by which a person is forced away from home

To be in exile means to be away from one's home, while either being explicitly refused permission to return or being threatened with imprisonment or death upon return.

Diaspora involuntary mass dispersions of a population from its indigenous territories

A diaspora is a scattered population whose origin lies in a separate geographic locale. In particular, diaspora has come to refer to involuntary mass dispersions of a population from its indigenous territories, most notably the expulsion of Jews from the Land of Israel and the fleeing of Greeks after the fall of Constantinople. Other examples are the African transatlantic slave trade, the southern Chinese or Indians during the coolie trade, the Irish during and after the Irish Famine, the Romani from India, the Italian diaspora, the exile and deportation of Circassians, Expulsion of the Acadians, and the emigration of Anglo-Saxon warriors and their families after the Norman Conquest of England.


Spiritual Christians believe that the validity of an individual's observance of God's Law was suppressed and prohibited as Israel became politicized; they believe that Jesus Christ promoted the New Covenant of Jeremiah by sacrificing his life to initiate the Messianic Era. The religion of the Spiritual Christians encourages individual spiritual interpretation and substitute observances of Biblical Law, with individual approaches to be understood and respected by all. Spiritual Christians have taken an inclusive approach to Christianity; they embrace all relevant aspects of the collective human experience which can be related to timeless Biblical themes.

Torah First five books of the Hebrew Bible

Torah has a range of meanings. It can most specifically mean the first five books of the 24 books of the Tanakh. It can also mean the continued narrative from all the 24 books, from the Book of Genesis to the end of the Tanakh (Chronicles), and it can even mean the totality of Jewish teaching, culture, and practice, whether derived from biblical texts or later rabbinic writings. Common to all these meanings, Torah consists of the origin of Jewish peoplehood: their call into being by God, their trials and tribulations, and their covenant with their God, which involves following a way of life embodied in a set of moral and religious obligations and civil laws.

Rejecting bureaucratic church hierarchy, they considered their religious organization as a homogeneous community, without division into laymen and clergy with respect to all but practical understanding of the Biblical tradition. Because of their rejection of hierarchy and authority, the Imperial government considered them suspect. In the modern era, some Spiritual Christian churches hardened their own doctrine and practices, reducing the flexibility first found in this sect.

Clergy formal leaders within established religions

Clergy are formal leaders within established religions. Their roles and functions vary in different religious traditions, but usually involve presiding over specific rituals and teaching their religion's doctrines and practices. Some of the terms used for individual clergy are clergyman, clergywoman, and churchman. Less common terms are churchwoman and clergyperson, while cleric and clerk in holy orders both have a long history but are rarely used.


Among the sects considered to practice Spiritual Christianity are the Doukhobors, [2] Dukh-i-zhizniki, Molokans, Subbotniks, Pryguny (Jumpers), Khlysts, [2] Skoptsy, [2] Ikonobortsy (Icon-fighters, "Iconoclasts") and Zhidovstvuyushchiye (Жидовствующие: Judaizers). These sects often have radically different notions of "spirituality" and practices. Their common denominator is that they sought God in "Spirit and Truth" (Gospel of John 4:24) rather than in the Church of official Orthodoxy or ancient rites of Popovtsy. Their saying was "The church is not within logs, but within ribs".[ citation needed ] The movement was popular with intellectuals such as Tolstoy. Nikolai Leskov was also drawn to Spiritual Christianity after visiting Protestant Europe in 1875. [5]

Separate from Spiritual Christianity were other strands of Russian sektanstvo ("sectarianism" in the sense "splitting into sects" rather than "sectarian bigotry") including the Popovtsy and "Evangelical Christianity". [6]

See also


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  1. Klibanov, A.I. (1982). History of Religious Sectarianism in Russia (1860s – 1917). New York: Pergamon Press. ISBN   0080267947.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Camfield (1990) p.694 fn.4
  3. Norman R. Yetman (Summer 1968). "Doukhoborism and Reitalization". Kansas Journal of Sociology. Allen Press. 4 (3): 153. JSTOR   23255160.
  4. Dunn, Ethel; Stephen P. Dunn (November 1978). "The Molokans [Molokane, Pryguny, and Dukh-i-zhizniki] in America". Dialectical Anthropology. Springer. 3 (4): 352–353. JSTOR   29789944.
  5. Lottridge, Stephen S. (Autumn 1974). "Nikolaj Leskov's Moral Vision in the Prolog Tales". The Slavic and East European Journal. American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages. 18 (3): 252–258. JSTOR   306256.
  6. Berdyaev (1916)