Dukh-i-zhizniki in America

An update of Molokans in America (Berokoff, 1969).   IN-PROGRESS

Enhanced and edited by Andrei Conovaloff, since 2013.  Send comments to Administrator @ Molokane. org
Chapter 6 Appearance of New Leaders  [<Chapter 5] [Contents] [Chapter 7>]

[PAGE 103] The passing of Philip Mihailovitch [Shubin on January 9, 1932] removed a steadying and uniting influence from the brotherhood. It could he safely asserted that after his death the brotherhood was never the same again. No one was able to take his place* as the expounder of beliefs, traditions and doctrines to this day. His death came at a time when his prestige was needed as never before. It was a time when a new generation of leadership was beginning to assert itself.

[* In 1914 Shubin testified in court that he was "demoted," 18 years before his death. See end of Chapter 5. In 1928, three years before his death, Maksimisty succeeded in publishing their Dukh i zhizn' which eventually transformed all Prygun congregations in Southern California to a denominational family of faiths Dukh-i-zhizniki which use their new book as a third testament of the Bible. Shubin was against the new book and against it being placed on the altar table.]

It must he borne in mind that, like Philip Mihailovitch, who passed away at the age of 77, his contemporaries, the leading elders of the various congregations those who with Philip Mihailovitch, were responsible for the migration to America were of his age and older, therefore, they were not as vigorous as formerly in holding the reins of the brotherhood, consequently, their leadership was being challenged by the next age group, a challenge which they resisted with resulting friction. [Many zealous Maksimisty insisted their rituals and books were God-sent, replace the New Testament,  and must be used by other Spiritual Christian faiths.]

It was this challenge to older leadership plus the desire to find ways and means to control the needless, and at times, acrimonious debates during [prayer meetings] church services that, in the summer of 1932 [, concurrent with the publication of Pilgrims of Russia-Town], prompted the [Prygun] Selimskaia congregation (Vasili T. Sussoyeff, presbyter) the [Prygun] Karmolinovskaia or Bechanakskaia congregation (Nikifor A. Uraine, presbyter) and the [Prygun] Ol'shanskaia congregation (David P. Meloserdoff, presbyter) to combine into one large congregation with a bold new concept in [Prygun] Molokan church government, a conc ept that eventually caused a major reshuffle of [congregation] church membership affecting not only the congregations of Los Angeles but also all the congregations in the outlying communities Arizona as well as the San Joaquin valley.

[Though most Molokan families moved to San Francisco and northern California, a few remained in Los Angeles and joined the more organized and civil American Protestant faiths they found in abundance. Likewise many Pryguny joined American or Russian-American Pentecostal and Evangelical churches which had similar beliefs and charisma as the Pryguny. Some Molokan families, and Molokan spouses married to a Prygun, remained with the Spiritual Christians by joining the new "Big Church" where they adapted to and tolerated the most zealous and avoided members of the other Dukh-i-zhiznik congregations. A few Molokane got the Holy Spirit and became Maksimist. The Maksimist congregations could not accept the Prygun faith holidays and hated the original Molokane among them, so they remained separated from "Big Church" to this day, while they forced "Big Church" to convert to the Maksimist rituals and books.]

     [PAGE 104] The three united [Prygun] congregations comprised a total membership of over 500 families. This, large membership, of course, required a large building, so it was decided to purchase a site on East Third Street, between Bodie and Pecan Streets, where, in late summer of 1932, building operations were begun on a large handsome building for which a sum of money was enthusiastically subscribed. [This site is now under the west side of the 101-Santa Ana Freeway, at 3rd street.]


     While the building project was advancing, a detailed set of by-laws to govern such a large membership were being worked out [by the younger educated men, some who also co-founded the UMCA]. During this phase of the project [Maksimist] Afonasi T. Bezayeff was moved by the Holy Spirit to utter an unfavorable prophesy concerning the whole new development. Other [Maksimist] prophets too, were active in opposition. [Maksimist] Ivan W. Sussoyeff predicted that dire consequences will result from the union of the three congregations, that they will abandon some principal tenets of the [Dukh-i-zhiznik] Molokan faiths. All these predictions caused a considerable stir and endless discussions in the community, both pro and contrary.

[In hindsight, The First United Christian Molokan Church of Spiritual Jumpers ("Big Church") could have declared control of the Prygun UMCA, and honestly declared they were of a different faith than the Maksimisty congregations and Molodoi sobranie. This would have created two faiths groups, with and without the new book. Instead leaders decided to somewhat tolerate each other by all pretending to accept the ritual books of the Dukh-i-zhizniki as if they were of the same faith, while many members could not accept the compromised faiths. This gave the Dukh-i-zhizniki a strategic permanent foothold inside all Prygun congregations, while most youth lacked the Russian literacy to read it. And the biggest hoax was they all falsely called themselves Molokans!

If the Kniga solntse, dukh i zhizn' was uniformly rejected by all Pryguny in America as it was in Russia and by 3 outside of Los Angeles (San Francisco, Mexico, Arizona Selimskaya), these Spiritual Christian congregations could have delineated their two independent faith groups, rather than pretending to be the same while uncivilly battling for control of common ground for generations. In Los Angeles the Subbotniki and Armenian Pryguny had no trouble independently co-existing with Maksimisty who dismissed them as among their "666 false faiths." A similar honest mutual divorce could have stabilized the Brotherhood of Spiritual Christians by allowing the original Prygun faith to continue to flourish in America in both Russian and English, as had occurred among the German Anabaptist immigrant faiths, and a congregation of Molokane should have been established in Los Angeles to allow all descendants a wider choice among  their heritage faiths. A Doukhobor congregation could have also been established in Los Angeles. Imagine, what if?]

     Nevertheless, the construction was progressing without a let up and the by-laws were being readied for approval. In February of 1933 it was nearing completion and Sunday the 26th of February was designated as the day of dedication. It was decreed that the first day of the assemblage was to be attended by the membership and their families only. 

     The appointed day turned out to he one of those beautiful, pre-spring February days that Southern California is noted for. The day was warm. The sun was shining brightly as each individual congregation assembled at their old premises; The Selimskaia on S. Pecan St. The Ol'shanskaia in the rear building on S. Utah St. and the Karmalinovskaia on E. Third St. directly across the street from the new project. 

     Each group was to regulate their departure so as to arrive at the new church building at eleven o'clock sharp. Saying their final prayers at the old locations, each group marched [PAGE 105] through the middle of the streets with their respective presbyters in the lead holding the Opened Bible in their hands while the choir was singing the designated psalm (Psalm 121 "I rejoiced when they said unto me: 'Let us go unto the house of the Lord'.")

Click to ENLARGE
Members of the old Selimskaia congregation proceeding along E. Third Street to a meeting with two other congregations to form the First United Church (Big church). The two white-suited and white bearded elders holding the scriptures are, on the left: Vasili Tikhonitch Susoev and next to him: Foma Stepanich Bogdanoff. 1933 [February 26].  [Photo] Courtesy of Morris M. Belakoff. Click to Enlarge

     All three groups arrived in front of the new building simultaneously singing the joyful psalm with men and women waving their hands aloft in spiritual joy. They were met at the entrance by those appointed to prepare the feast with the traditional bread and salt and, after an appropriate remark by the leading elder, all entered the building, maintaining strict decorum as to age and rank.

     No guests or non-members were present during the festivities of the first Sunday's service. The official dedication was to take place the following Sunday. For this event invitations were sent out to all the local congregations as well as to all [Spiritual Christians] Molokan communities in other cities and towns.

     On the following Sunday [26 February 1933] the new building was overflowing with the invited guests. Large delegations arrived from all outlying communities. Each brought a monetary contribution to help defray the building cost. A large group of local government officials arrived with the mayor of Los Angeles [John C. Porter] at its head.

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View in front of new building of First United Church on E. Third Street as members enter for the first day's dedication ceremonies. [Photo] Courtesy of Mr. And Mrs. John A. Kotoff. Click to Enlarge

     Many came from sheer curiosity for it was the first event of its kind that the [Spiritual Christians] Molokans of America were to see. New songs were composed for the occasion. A long introductory speech was given by Mikhail P. Pivovaroff, one of the principals in the unification. Following the traditional prayer ritual, guest speakers arose to wish the new congregation the richest of spiritual blessings.

     The membership of the remaining three [Maksimist] congregations, the Prokhladnaia [Melikoy, Gage Street, Costa Glen], Akhtinskaia [Samarin's, Percy Street, Pioneer Blvd.], and old Romanovskaia [Starie Roman, Blue Top, Clela Street] were sharply divided in their attitude towards the new congregation. [One not listed: Podval, Klubnikin's, Shubin's, Clarence Street, 605, Clark Street.] A majority were in sympathy with it while a good sized [PAGE 106] minority vehemently opposed it and refrained from attending the dedication ceremonies, basing their opposition on the prophesy of [Maksimist] Afonasy Bezayeff who said that the new congregation will be divided into three groups and giving each group a derogatory appellation, further saying that their presbyters, the well respected Vasili T. Sussoyeff and Nikifor A. Uraine, will soon shed tears of repentance. In addition to these there was the prophesy of [Maksimist] Ivan W. Sussoyeff who predicted that the new congregation will eventually reject many ordinances of our forefathers.

[On 10 March 1933, about 2 weeks after the "Big Church" dedication, a magnitude 6.4 earthquake occurred in Long Beach which killed 115 people. Extensive building damage included the Santa Fe "La Grande" train station where Russian Spiritual Christians arrived in Los Angeles. A new "Union Station" train depot was built May 1939, one kilometer (0.6 mile) north, now a public transportation hub and historic site.] 

     The position of those who were opposed to the new group was strengthened when the by-laws of the United congregation were revealed during the dedication ceremonies.

     These by-laws, among other things, provided that the affairs of the congregation were to be governed by several committees. One of these was to look after the [congregation] church property, collect dues, etc., while another, which was to be called the "Dukhovny Komitet" (Spiritual Committee), was to oversee the spiritual affairs of the congregation, to settle disputes between members, to deny any recalcitrant member access to church sacraments pending his reconciliation, to appoint proper members to responsible church positions and to maintain order and harmony during services etc. The by-laws also specified that the presbyters and elders were obliged to abide by the decisions of the Komitet in all such matters.

     This was a clear departure from the traditional [Prygun] Molokan church rule for it made impotent the authority of the presbyters who were subject, as it were, to the orders of the komitet, whose members as a rule, were young and inexperienced in spiritual matters. [At the same time, Molokane and Pryguny incorporated in Northern California had no problems with their boards of directors because they did not quarrel with each other, nor were there any local Maksimisty or Dukh-i-zhizniki attacking them.]

     Another innovation that weakened the authority of the presbyters and elders was the rule by which the chief speaker was elected annually for a term of one year, in effect demoting the senior speaker and his colleagues and thus depriving the [PAGE 107] presbyters of one of their traditional duties, that is appointing the speakers as the need arose [for life]. This was the rule that was expected to control the acrimonious debates in the services.

     It was claimed by the proponents that such rules were necessary, in fact, indispensable for governing a large congregation and that by relieving the presbyters of the above mentioned minor but onerous duties, they would have more time to minister to the spiritual needs of the congregation.

     Be that is it may, it was an innovation, one that was unanimously accepted and approved by the whole congregation and to which the presbyters acquiesced, albeit reluctantly.

     However, these new rules planted another seed of discord throughout the whole [Prygun] Molokan brotherhood [, but not the Molokane in Northern California]. To some they appeared as a panacea for all its ills. Elect a Komitet and there will he nothing but harmony in the church henceforth. To others they were anathema, a worldly innovation and were to he resisted at all costs. Eventually all these arguments led to a permanent division in the Prokhladnoye [congregation] church, in the old Romanovskaia and in the Akhtinskaia congregations. The Arizona congregation, small as it was, also split up* and remained divided for [10] several years [(~1937-1947)], while those in the San Joaquin valley, although physically undivided, were not entirely of one accord.

[* Originally Arizona had 4 congregations which reduced to 2 when most colonists abandoned their properties and moved to California in the early 1920s after both presbyters were arrested and fined $300 each for not registering marriages, births or deaths. In 1925 the Arizona Prygun Selimskii presbyter Lukian I. Conovaloff (near Tolleson) was considered the most knowledgeable of the Arizona elders, so the Maksimist Darachatskii congregation (near Glendale) invited him to join and lead them, which he did until 1936.
The Maksimist ritual book Dukh i zhizn', published in 1928, was not fully supported by Pryguny, which caused tension. In 1936, the State notified the Darachatskii congregation, founded in 1911, to renew their corporate filing, required every 25 years at that time. The State letter was given to Ivan Kulikoff, the most literate, who consulted an attorney in Glendale. They had to hold a corporate meeting, elect a board of directors and file articles of incorporation with the Corporation Commission; or pay 25 years back taxes. The majority reluctantly agreed to avoid payment by incorporating. When incorporation was complete, zealous Maksimisty immediately expelled Kulikoff for his sin of incorporating their congregation, and probably for putting the 666 mark of the beast upon them. The Pryguny supported Kulikoff for obeying the law, and they gladly left along with Conovaloff who remained the Prygun Selimskii presbyter until his death in 1940.

In 1936 Fred F. Wren (Uren) became the new Dukh-i-zhiznik presbyter of Darachatskii sobranie. William Alex Tolmachoff sided with the Pryguny, leaving his siblings and wife behind, which was an embarrassment to his extended clan. The 2 congregations co-existed for another 10 years, until 1947 when the Darachatskii congregation proposed to invite W.A. Tolmachoff to be their next presbyter AND president of their board of directors. This unconventional idea of combining the "temporal" AND "spiritual" duties into one person solved 2 problems. It settled the Arizona
Dukh-i-zhiznik fears of komitet, and it joined the Tolmachoff clan in one congregation to showcase to other congregations that they were now united (somewhat), but larger problems remained to haunt the hybrid congregation descendants, particularly among those Tolmachoffs with mental illnesses.

In the 2000s several delusional people hate each other in Arizona but forgot why, and invent new reasons or use perversions of their family oral history.
Since about 2000, William Mike Shubin (from Fresno) visited annually coaching his wife's nieces, married to Jack W. Tolmachoff's sons (The Cowboys), to attack the Maksimisty and remove their Satanic books, which they did, and illegally forged their names on state corporate papers and locked others out of the building and cemetery. Some stole money from presbyter John J. Conovaloff]

     For several years the feelings were so strong that there was very little fraternization between the two sides [of Pryguny and Maksimisty, though both were sitting at the same table with the Dukh i zhizn']. But with the passing of the years it was shown that laws were only as strong as the will of the people to obey them. It was also shown that a strong presbyter was able to veto the komitet if he felt that the latter's acts were contrary to common sense or to the [Dukh-i-zhiznik] traditions of the church.

     It was also being realized by both sides that the brotherhood at best was not so numerous nor so strong that, divided, each side could stand up against the onslaughts of the world, that there were problems requiring common, united action for their [PAGE 108] solution. Especially was this true when in 1940, as a result of the expansion of the European war into a world wide conflict, the United States Congress passed the Selective Service Act requiring all men between the ages of 18-45 to register for military service.

This was one problem that required concerted action of the whole community to uphold its position as religious conscientious objectors. [But what label(s) should they use to identify themselves to the government? Pryguny? Maksimisty? Dukhovnie khristiane pryguny? Russian? Sectarian? Molokan? Spiritual? Christian? Jumper? Holy Jumpers? Users of the Dukh i zhizn'?]

[After the war, the Dukh-i-zhizniki refused to pay their CPS debt of $17,0024, forever casting them as "deadbeats," and tarnishing their reputation as a honest "peace church."]

[<Chapter 5] [Contents] [Chapter 7>]

Spiritual Christian History
Spiritual Christians Around the World