The White-robed Believers

Sometimes this longing for a better world, where suffering would be

caused neither by hunger nor by laws, took touching and poetic forms.

About the month of April, 1895, all eyes in the town of Simbirsk were

turned upon a sect founded by a peasant named Pistzoff. These poor

countryfolk protested against the injustices of the world by robing

themselves in white, "like celestial angels."

o not live as we should," taught Pistzoff, an aged, white-haired

man. "We do not live as our fathers lived. We should act with

simplicity, and follow the truth, conquering our bodily passions. The

life that we lead now cannot continue long. This world will perish, and

from its ruins will arise another, a better world, wherein all will be

robed in white, as we are."

The believers lived very frugally. They were strict vegetarians, and ate

neither meat nor fish. They did not smoke or drink alcohol, and

abstained from tea, milk and eggs. They took only two meals daily--at

ten in the morning, and six in the evening. Everything that they wore or

used they made with their own hands--boots, hats, underclothing, even

stoves and cooking utensils.

The story of Pistzoff's conversion inevitably recalls that of Tolstoi.

He was a very rich merchant when, feeling himself inspired by heavenly

truth, he called his employés to him and gave them all that he had,

including furniture and works of art, retaining nothing but white

garments for himself and his family. His wife protested vehemently,

especially when Pistzoff forbade her to touch meat, on account of the

suffering endured by animals when their lives are taken from them. The

old lady did not share his tastes, and firmly upheld a contrary opinion,

declaring that animals went gladly to their death! Pistzoff then fetched

a fowl, ordered his wife to hold it, and procured a hatchet with which to

kill it. While threatening the poor creature he made his wife observe

its anguish and terror, and the fowl was saved at the same time as the

soul of Madame Pistzoff, who admitted that fowls, at any rate, do not go

gladly into the cooking-pot.

The number of Pistzoff's followers increased daily, and the sect of the

"White-robed Believers" was formed. Their main tenet being

_loving-kindness_, they lived peacefully and harmed none, while awaiting

the supreme moment when "the whole world should become white."

For the rest, the white-robed ones and their prophet followed the

doctrines of the _molokanes_, who drank excessive quantities of milk

during Lent--hence their name. This was one of the most flourishing of

all the Russian sects. Violently opposed to all ceremonies, they

recognised neither religious marriages, churches, priests nor dogmas,

claiming that the whole of religion was contained in the Old and New

Testaments. Though well-educated, they submitted meekly to a communal

authority, chosen from among themselves, and led peaceful and honest

working lives. All luxuries, even down to feminine ornaments or dainty

toilettes, were banned. They considered war a heathen invention--merely

"assassination on a large scale"--and though, when forced into military

service, they did their duty as soldiers in peace-time, the moment war

was in view it was their custom to throw away their arms and quietly

desert. There were no beggars and no poor among them, for all helped one

another, the richer setting aside one-tenth of their income for the less


Hunted and persecuted by the government, they multiplied nevertheless,

and when banished to far-away districts they ended by transforming the

waste, uncultivated lands into flourishing gardens.