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Molokans - Expelled from the homeland

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  • Fr. John-Brian
    Expelled from the homeland For photos click on http://www.hetq.am/eng/society/0410-ml.html From Hetq online October 20, 2004. “We didn t accept their dirty
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 25, 2004
      Expelled from the homeland

      For photos click on

      From Hetq online October 20, 2004.

      “We didn't accept their dirty customs, the commandments of their Church. And
      so they expelled us,” 95-year-old Ivan Nikolayevich tells us the story of
      the Molokans. The residents of the village of Fioletovo in the Lori Marz
      hold the customs of their ancestors sacred and follow their religious
      teachings. Because of these teachings, a number of families from the Tambov
      region of Russia were expelled by Czarina Catherine the Second more than two
      centuries ago. God guided them towards the Biblical Mount Ararat. The
      northern region of Armenia appealed to them; they settled here and
      established a seven-family community. They built houses, began to work the
      land, and took root themselves in the foreign land. A commander named
      Nikitin who was serving in a nearby military unit gave considerable help to
      the Russians who had been expelled from their homeland. In return, they
      immortalized him by naming their settlement Nikitin. During the Soviet era,
      the village was renamed in honor of a revolutionary, Fioletov.

      Ivan Nikolayevich was born in Fioletovo. He is a World War II veteran who
      fought in Kerch as a senior sergeant and was wounded in the arm. The
      95-year-old Molokan supported his family by raising cabbage, carrots, and
      potatoes and selling them to his Armenian neighbors. He raised six children
      and passed down to them the customs of Postoiannye – the mainstream branch
      of the Molokan religion. “There are some similarities between ours and the
      Armenian religion,” Ivan Nikolayevich says. “The same Gospel, the same God.”

      “Spiritual Christians” (Molokans) do not follow the Orthodox Church. Their
      founder was Semyon Ukleyin; their confession is based on the word of God,
      and churches, crosses, and icons are just objects made of wood and stone to
      them. Because they ignored the fast days designated by the Russian Orthodox
      Church, they were labeled "molokan" ("milk drinkers"). Instead of renouncing
      the label, the leaders of these Spiritual Christians embraced it with the
      spin that "Molokan" were "drinkers of the spiritual milk of God". Molokans
      rejected celibacy, the worship of saints and the cross, rituals, and the
      divinity of the Tsar and of icons.

      The first Molokans who came to Armenia belonged to the Postoiannye (Constant
      or Steadfast, i.e., unchanged or original) Molokans. Their holidays are
      similar to Church holidays. In accordance with the Gospel they celebrate
      Christmas, Easter, and Remembrance Day. But a Molokan churches, or more
      properly - gatherings (S obraniia in Russian) look like ordinary buildings,
      since it is the gathering and not the building that is sacred. Every Sunday
      they gather to pray, read from the Bible, and sing from a collection of song
      texts (The Sionskii Pesennik).

      The other two Molokan branches are closer to one another. The Maximalists
      are considered uncompromising Molokans; religion is at the heart of their
      way of life, and there are punishments for deviating from it. The Pryguni
      (Jumpers, also called Leapers, Skippers, Prancers, or Dancers) believe in
      the Day of Judgment, and the thousand-year reign of the Lord. Their prayers
      are accompanied with jumping and prancing. The rituals of these branches
      differ, and they have different gathering places. Each branch has its
      leader - the Presviter . The duties of the Presviter may be handed down by
      right of succession, or the community may elect a Presviter in accordance
      with the person's righteousness and loyalty to the religious branch.

      There are customs that all three branches of Molokans have in common. They
      don't drink, don't smoke, don't commit theft or adultery, and don't watch
      TV. They don't allow their pictures to be taken. (Only after lengthy
      negotiations did we manage to get their permission to take some

      They don't work on the seventh day of the week. Valya Arinina finishes all
      her housework on Saturday, and greets Sunday with a different appearance and
      mood. The mother and her daughter wear white aprons and kerchiefs, the men
      in the family wear their holiday suits, and they visit their friends or
      prepare for guests themselves. They serve holiday meals – Russian Borscht
      and noodles. Molokans consider it sinful to eat pork.

      52-year-old Valya was brought here from Russia . by her husband. She came
      and organized the village postal service, and has headed the village post
      office for more than ten years now. She is not, however, happy with the
      state of things in her work. She complains that the telephone lines need
      renovation, the telephones don't work, and it is impossible to call
      Vanadzor, let alone Russia or other countries. She likes Armenia and
      Armenians. She grows cabbage, carrots and potatoes and sells them to

      During Soviet times, in addition to farming, the Molokans here used to work
      at the local garment factory and in road-building enterprises. Now their
      main source of income is growing vegetables and raising cattle. Children
      help the adults, working in the fields and vegetable gardens. They transport
      their harvest to Vanadzor on the bus of a neighbor, Moisey. The bus is in
      Vanadzor by nine o'clock in the morning, and returns to the village by two
      in the afternoon. Four hours is enough time for the Molokans to sell or
      exchange their produce, buy whatever they need, and take their “dear bus”
      back to Fioletovo.

      “I have an individual approach to everyone; every one's problem is my
      problem,” Moisey says. He supports his wife and two children by driving the
      bus and raising vegetables. He inherited the Maximalist tradition from his
      parents, but he doesn't wish to talk about it. He only notes that he follows
      the Gospel and believes in the true God.

      “I was born a Maximalist and have no intention of changing my beliefs. But
      my children will decide for themselves which branch to follow,” he says. If
      he were able to persuade his family, Moisey would move to Russia tomorrow,
      though he has never lived there, because he is concerned about his
      children's education.

      Higher education is inaccessible to Molokans in Armenia. “The school is not
      good, and the teachers are not our own—it's not important to them that our
      children learn. I know Armenian because I mix with them. The young men who
      return from the Army understand and speak Armenian, too, but the new
      generation doesn't,” Moisey complains. Their poor of knowledge of Armenian
      creates problems for the Molokans, and makes getting higher education

      13-year-old Kolya Rudametkin doesn't speak Armenian. He says that he likes
      Armenian; they study it in the school but not thoroughly. He wants to become
      a qualified professional, but has no idea where to continue his education
      once he graduates from school. Kolya has chosen his father's path and hopes
      to become a machine-operator. He likes his school and his teachers.

      There are 228 students in Fioletovo's only school. Most of them are
      Armenian; only one of them is Russian, and was educated in Russia.

      According to the deputy village mayor, Ararat Virabyan, during the Soviet
      era, although most Molokans who went on to receive higher education did so
      in Russia , there were a few who studied in Armenia as well. But since
      independence, none of them has gone on to higher education in Armenia.

      When they graduate from school, young people become preoccupied with
      everyday life. Boys work in the fields, and girls do housework, shop, and
      await marriage.

      Molokan holidays

      A Molokan wedding is celebrated in accordance with tradition – without
      liquor, but with tea and special dishes. The best man and maid of honor must
      be married. The bride wears a white dress and a hat decorated with beads
      called chupik . The bride gives a white handkerchief to the groom and her
      parents give him a basket full of sweets as a token of their agreement.
      Molokans don't give each other golden things. Instead the bride's parents
      give a rich dowry. There are no customs related to the virginity of the
      bride. The leader of the branch that the bride and groom belong to blesses
      the union.

      Once a Molokan is married, there is no way out. Marriage is for life;
      whoever breaks the wedding vows will be despised and rejected by the

      No one can come to the wedding without an invitation. When we asked to be
      present and take some pictures at the wedding ceremony, the bride turned our
      request down. The relatives explained to us that the newlyweds belonged to
      different currents and they wished to avoid any additional talk, despite the
      fact that marriages between followers of different currents are not

      Marriage to outsiders is a different matter. Molokans aren't supposed to mix
      blood with Armenians, although there have been such marriages in the history
      of Fioletovo.

      Zhenya Telegina was born in Djermuk. She met her future husband at the
      hospital where she worked. The Molokan husband married the Armenian woman on
      the condition that she accept his religion. The 52-year-old woman belongs to
      the Pryguni branch. Her husband died eleven years ago, leaving his wife
      without children. Molokans consider her a “super Armenian” and like to say,
      “She came to live in our village and calls us to order.” Zhenya makes her
      living by running her own small store, and by selling sauerkraut, the secret
      of which she learned from the Molokans, mainly in Yerevan . Zhenya
      constitutes a minority within a minority, and often rebels against custom.

      “They do everything in secret. They preach that it is forbidden to drink, to
      smoke, to commit adultery, to gossip, but they do things that make you ask
      why you should be a follower if you commit such sins. They preach that you
      should forgive but they don't forgive. Their young girls can gad about the
      streets all night long and then get honorably married. They can despise a
      person all his life and expel him from the community, and at the same time
      they preach that God forgives every one,” says Zhenya. Although she follows
      the ideology of the Pryguni, she considers it a formality, and does not take
      part in the gatherings.

      In September alone, the Pryguni celebrate three holidays. One of these is
      Remembrance Day, on which they visit the grave of a loved one the first time
      since the funeral. The second holiday is the Day of Absolution, and the
      third is the Day of Listening to God's Word.

      “They preserve their culture,” Zhenya Telegina says of her neighbors. There
      are presently 585 households in Fioletovo. They are seen as hard-working
      people who pay taxes on time and don't like to be in debt.

      “The word of our ancestors is law for us,” says the oldest man in the
      village. “They told us to live here and that means that we must keep living
      on this land. This is our land.”

      Naira Bulghadaryan
      Photos by Onnik Krikoryan
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