DOUKHOBOR— TOLSTOY CONNECTIONS CONTINUE
The Doukhobors became acquainted with Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy in the 1890s through their leader Peter Vasilyevich Veregin. From that time until the present, connections between the Doukhobors and Tolstoy’s family and friends have been maintained through correspondence and encounters both in Europe and in North America.
Tolstoy’s first meeting with Doukhobors took place on December 8, 1894 in Moscow. Three Doukhobors had traveled from their exile in the Caucasus, to meet with their leader Peter Veregin while he was temporarily confined in Moscow’s Butyrskaya prison. Tolstoy, accompanied by his close associates, Pavel Ivanovich Birukov and Evgeniy Ivanovich Popov, met with the three Doukhobors at the Hotel “Peterburg” where they were staying. The meeting lasted several hours as Tolstoy was interested in their outlook on non-violence, vegetarianism, private ownership, and the role of the church in Christianity. Through this meeting and subsequent correspondence Tolstoy realized that these people were trying to live by the very ideals that he held dear, and this formed the basis of his continued interest and his active support of the Doukhobors.
Tolstoy became involved in Doukhobor destiny in a very direct manner after their heroic refusal to serve in the army and their Burning of Arms in the Caucusus on June 29, 1895. After a report about the extremely harsh treatment of the Doukhobors, Tolstoy responded with an “Appeal for Help” signed by himself and some of his prominent friends. During the last five years of the 19th Century, Tolstoy was intimately engaged with the Doukhobors, aiding them, writing about them, offering advice and generally keeping up an active association. He even proposed that the Doukhobors be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. When, in 1899, it was found necessary for some Doukhobors to migrate to Canada, in order to find a haven from persecution, Lev Tolstoy assisted financially, dedicating the proceeds from his novel, “Resurrection”. He also asked his eldest son, Sergey, and other associates to accompany them in their journey and assist with their resettlement in their new land.
After Lev Tolstoy’s passing, correspondence between the Doukhobors and Tolstoy’s family and the Yasnaya Polyana Estate in Russia continued. Tolstoy’s great-grandson, Ilya Vladimirovich and Peter Verigin’s great-grandson, John J. Verigin, Honourary Chairman of the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ, met on several occasions, both in Russia and in Canada. Together they have strolled the pathways of Yasnaya Polyana to the grave-site of Lev Tolstoy, which many Doukhobor delegations and choral groups have also visited. Today, Doukhobors in Canada continue to pay tribute to Lev Tolstoy and recognize their historic indebtedness to him, for his spiritual and practical support. As a concrete manifestation of their historic connections, Canadian Doukhobors, in 1987, placed monuments to Lev Tolstoy at the National Doukhobor Heritage Village in Verigin, Saskatchewan, and at the Doukhobor Village Museum in Castlegar, British Columbia.
The connections between Tolstoy and the Doukhobors continue to the present. Lev Tolstoy’s great-great-grandson, Vladimir Ilyich Tolstoy, Director of the Yasnaya Polyana Estate and Peter Verigin’s great-great-grandson, John J. Verigin, Jr., Executive Director of the USCC, are engaged in a joint effort to construct a Bakery-Cafe at Yasnaya Polyana. This project is supported by Doukhobors and their friends, and supporters of Tolstoy’s thinking from across Canada. The involvement of Canadian Doukhobors in this effort is an expression of their gratitude to their benefactor and spiritual brother during their time of need. In the fall of 1999 during a special ceremony, organized by Vladimir Ilyich, the foundation stone of the proposed Bakery Cafe was placed. The Friends in Unity, a Doukhobor women’s choir from the Kootenays, as well as organizers of the project, participated at this special event. The Bakery-Cafe will cater to the many visitors to Yasnaya Polyana, and the local population and stand as a testimony to the mutual friendship and respect between the Tolstoy family and the Doukhobors.
Reference: References for this article were obtained from a paper presented by John J. Verigin at the “Tolstoy Symposium” held at the University of Victoria in 1978. The paper was prepared with the assistance of Eli A. Popoff and D.E. (Jim) Popoff, and includes comprehensive references on the historic association between Doukhobors and Tolstoy.
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