The religious ferment of South Russia was due to some special causes,
its provinces having served since the seventeenth century as lands of
exile for revolutionaries of all kinds, religious, political and
social. Dangerous criminals were also sent there, and a population of
this nature naturally received with open arms all who preached
rebellion against established principles and doctrines.
About the yea
1750, a Prussian non-commissioned officer, expatriated
on account of his revolutionary ideas, appeared in the neighbourhood of
Kharkov. He taught the equality of man and the uselessness of public
authority, and was the real founder of the _douchobortzi_, who believed
in direct communion with the divinity by aid of the spirit which dwells
in all men. The sparks scattered by this unknown vagabond flared up
some time later into a conflagration which swept away artisans,
peasants and priests, and embraced whole towns and villages.
The beliefs of the sect were that the material world is merely a prison
for our souls, and that our passions carry in themselves the germs of
our punishments. Nothing is more to be decried than the desire for
worldly honour and glory. Did not Our Lord Himself say that He was not
of this world? Emperors and kings reign only over the wicked and
sinful, for honest men, like the _douchobortzi_, have nothing to do
with their laws or their authority. War is contrary to the will of
God. Christ having declared that we are all brothers and sisters, the
words "father" and "mother" are illogical, and opposed to His
teachings. There is only one Father, the Father in Heaven, and
children should call their parents by their Christian names.
Except for these leading tenets, their doctrine was variable, and they
not only gave rise to about a hundred other sects, but were themselves
in a continual state of evolution and change. At one time it was their
custom to put to death all children who were diseased in mind or body.
As God dwells in us, they said, we cannot condemn Him to inhabit a body
that is diseased. One leader of the sect believed himself to be the
judge of the universe, and terrorised his co-religionists. Another
ordered all who betrayed the doctrines of the sect to be buried alive,
and legal proceedings which were taken against him and lasted several
years showed him to be responsible for twenty-one "religious murders."