Real Quakers question "Russian Quakers"

3 articles in The Friend: A Religious and Literary Journal, Volume 78, Philadelphia. 1905.
Photos added from other sources. Comments in red.
Number 31,  Page 241-242 — February 11, 1905

More Russian "Quakers."

We could comfortably pardon the public press for not knowing what Quakers are, when so many who now bear the name are in similar uncertainty.

The Molokany [Molokane] sect called "Russian Quakers," is said to have been expelled [not true*] from Russia more than ten years ago. "They believe it sinful to fight, and refuse to take up arms." If they are, and continue in the faith, of the Malakans, whom Stephen Grellet and William Allen visited in 1819, they have decidedly more views which coincide with those of the Friends than the Doukhobors have. But at present we cannot give place to the statement that "their religion is identical with that of the American and English Quakers," except to hold it in reserve till happily proven.
[*About 25% were resettled from Central Russia to the Caucasus, most voluntarily with incentives. See Breyfogle"s Ph.D thesis.]

But to proceed to the information already circulated:

"The first installment of two hundred thousand* Russian Quakers** who are coming to this country, according to P. A. Deamens [Piotr Alexeitch Dementieff Demens (1850-1919) ], an ex-captain of the Russian Imperial guard, to form a permanent colony near Los Angeles, have left Ellis Island for the Pacific coast. They were seventy-two in number. The party arrived here on the Blucher. P. A. Deamens met them, and convinced the Ellis Island officials that they would make good colonists. Deamens is a Molokany*** and was banished from Russia. He came here and settled in Los Angeles. 
[* This very exaggerated 200,000 estimate appeared several times in the press, then shrank to 25,000 and 5,000. By 1910 about 3,000 Spiritual Christians of various faiths arrived in Los Angeles, mostly Pryguny. A minority of Molokane mostly relocated to Northern California beginning in 1906.
** Spiritual Christians are not Quakers, but mistakenly labeled as "Russian Quakers" by the press for several years for lack of a common understanding of what to call them. The most respectful term is Spiritual Christian. "Russian Quaker" was a common term for any heretic (non-Orthodox) Russian.
*** Demens certainly sympathized with his fellow countrymen but never joined the Molokan faith. Donskov (2005) reported he was a Tolstoyan.]

"The immigrants were well supplied with money, one family having $1,875, which they explained was only for traveling expenses. The entire party had nearly $10,000. They were dressed in the picturesque peasant costume peculiar to the sect.

"Owing to their wealth and numbers the Russian Government did not dare to send the Quakers to Siberia, but banished them to the other side of the Caucasian Mountains, near Persia. Here they formed a colony near the city of Kars*, where they prospered and grew in numbers. At present there are more than 200,000 of the sect. All will ultimately come to America. Their religion is identical [?] with that of American and English Quakers. They believe in raising large families. A family of twelve children is considered a small one. As a people they are all well educated. For generations they have been farmers and are considered expert agriculturists. In Los Angeles they will pursue fruit culture and general farming.
[* Spiritual Christians were dispersed throughout the Caucasus, but the relatively few who migrated were closest to the Turkish border war zone and initially planned to follow the 1/3 of all Doukhobors who already fled to Canada.]

"Another band will arrive next week, and go at once to California. The exodus in detachments of about 300 will keep on during the coming year each week."

William Allen as companion to Stephen Grellet in his journey to [South] Russia [now Zaparozhe oblast, Ukraine] in 1819, writes under date of Sixth Month [June] 9th:

"In the afternoon we had an important conference with the Malakans, improperly called the Duhobortsi." And Stephen Grellet says: "They pointed out to us the great distinction there is between them and the Duhobortzi. The latter deny the authority of the Scriptures; they deny the Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ; the offering up of himself a sacrifice for sin on Calvary, and salvation by faith in him." [We understand that our friends who have visited the Canadian Doukhobors would give a clearer report of the soundness of some or many of them in evangelical faith.] But Wm. Allen proceeds to say of the Malakans: " They believe in the Holy Scriptures and in the divinity of our Lord and Saviour as fully as we do ourselves; they also believe in the influence of the Holy Spirit, and that saving grace is universal, and not withheld from any, that it leads to all that is good, and, as we yield to it, assists us to avoid all that is evil. They believe that the only true baptism is that of Christ with the Spirit, and reject water baptism as unnecessary; they believe that spiritual baptism only produces regeneration; they consider that the communion with Christ is wholly spiritual, and make use of no outward ceremony. In conversing upon this subject, they were evidently effected at finding that our sentiments so exactly coincided with theirs. But few residing here were born in their society, they were convinced by reading the Scriptures, and by what they felt in their own minds; this, of course, endeared them still more to us, and was a precious and confirming evidence of those truths which we believe. These poor people had never heard of such a Society as ours, and yet, by attending to the influence of the Divine Spirit, were in great measure brought to support the same testimonies in the midst of the darkness that surrounded them. They have suffered nobly for the Truth."

In 1818, two members of the Society of Friends conducted a religious expedition to Europe to share their Quaker beliefs and make new friends. Allen was an English philanthropist, and Grellet a French-born American evangelist. In February 1819, Tsar Alexander I recommended they visit sectarians who just moved to the New Russia (South Ukraine). First-hand descriptions of Molokans and Doukhobors are found in their diaries and notes, now published on the Internet.

A document sent to William Allen in the year 1830, gave the following information: "Between the German colonies of Mennonites and the Nogay Tartars, lies the county of the Malakans, a sect so named on account of their non-observance of fasts, and their use of milk diet on week-days. The Malakans also call themselves 'true spiritual Christians.'

"In 1825 their number consisted of about eight hundred; now it is increased. They have suffered persecution in consequence of their separation from the Greek Church, and many particularly the Cossacks, languished  for a long time in prison; they, however, firmly maintained their ground, and could not be compelled to give up those opinions which they had formed in consequence of reading and searching the Bible, with the contents of which they were very well acquainted. They prefer the Holy Scriptures to all other writings, considering them as the rule of their faith, and as containing the revealed will of God to man. Though not rich, they have paid as many as seventy roubles for a copy of the sacred volume. They acknowledge Christ as God manifest in the flesh, who died on the cross for the sins of the world. Like the Duhobortzi, they give an entirely spiritual signification to baptism and the supper, which are not kept by them in external signs and symbols. They reject pictures or images, and the adoration of saints, in their worship, as well as other ceremonies of the Greek Church. They generally lead a good moral life, and there are among them many seeking souls who love God, and are searching after truth."

Stephen Grellet, in writing of the Malakans,— who, he says, call themselves "Spiritual Christians" — relates: "We were soon all gathered into solemn, silent waiting, and prostration of soul before the Lord: this is the manner in which these people meet together for Divine worship, in silence, which is not uninterrupted, unless some one present apprehends, under the sensible influences of the Divine Spirit, that he is required to speak as a minister among them, or to offer vocal prayer. The meeting was a solemn season."

Stephen Grellet's account of their doctrines is substantially the same as William Allen's: "Respecting war, however, their views are not entirely clear, and yet many among us may learn from them; they said, 'War is a subject that we have not yet been able fully to understand, so as to reconcile Scripture with Scripture; we are commanded to obey our rulers, magistrates, &c., for conscience's sake; and again we are enjoined to love our enemies, not to avenge ourselves, to render good for evil; therefore we cannot see fully how we can refuse obedience to the laws that require our young people to join the army; but in all matters respecting ourselves, we endeavor to act faithfully as the Gospel requires; we never have any law-suits; for if anybody smites us on the one cheek, we turn to him the other, etc. ... Though several of our young men have been taken to the army, not one of them has actually borne arms; for, oar principles being known, they have very soon been placed in offices of trust, such as attending to the provisions of the army, or something of that sort.' Their ministers are acknowledged much in the same manner as ours, and like us, they consider that their only and best reward is their Saviour's approbation; therefore they receive no kind of salary. Understanding that they have among them some in the station of Elders, we queried how these were appointed. 'We do not appoint them,' said they,' but when any one among us grows up to the state of a father or a mother in the church, we acknowledge them in the office for which the Lord has qualified them; they do the work of fathers and mothers; their works proclaim what the Lord has made them.' They use the Slavonian Bible; few of them, however, can read; but those who can, read to the others, and these from memory teach the children, so that their young people are very ready in quoting the Scriptures correctly. They have some kind of discipline, and they watch over one another for good; but have not been under the necessity for disowning any one for misconduct."

These extracts are enough to show how well the Malakans deserved eighty-five years ago the name of Russian Quakers. But lest they have degenerated from that character, and become since as changed as some bodies of the American type have consented to become, we will not at present venture to apply to them the name. Let us hope they have remained so steadfast to their former principles as indicated by Stephen Grellet and William Allen, that they will be found a reinforcement of the ranks of genuine Friends in California.


Number 34,  Pages 269-270 — May 4, 1905

A Word from Pasadena.
(On the Russian "Quakers.")

It being reported that there was a colony of Russian Quakers [Pryguny] lately come to Los Angeles, Cal., several Friends [Quakers] of Pasadena felt inclined to visit them and ascertain what sort of people they were, but on going had some difficulty in ascertaining where they were located, but by persevering inquiry at different places they at length found an educated Russian teacher in a school building in the suburbs of the city, who seemed very glad that any should feel so much interest in his countrymen, who, he signified, had fled for their lives from a land of oppression. He could only leave his duties in the school for a brief interview, but he informed them that about twenty-five families had come and more were on the way. He said the men were away to work through the week, and it was only on First-days [Sundays] that he had the opportunity to teach them the English language, but if Friends would fix the time to come on the afternoon of that day of the week they could see the strangers and he would then be at liberty to answer their questions and interpret for them if they wished. An arrangement was made accordingly to meet him on the fifth of the present month [5 February 1905].

A number of Friends fully intended to go, but the extraordinary storm and great fall of water about that time discouraged them from going, and the visit was deferred for one week, when a company of eleven went by trolley and spent perhaps two hours with a collection of these people, much of which time was occupied with their worship, which mostly consisted of Scripture reading, singing and praying, and was performed with the appearance of great sincerity and tenderness of heart. A part of their intercessions may have been for those they left behind, as they are very warmly attached to each other. A young man who happened to be present at the time of a fresh arrival, says it was the most joyful meeting he ever witnessed.

It not being the day first arranged for may have been the reason that the teacher before met with was not there, and the person who officiated as interpreter not being very well qualified made it difficult to obtain all the information desired — the time too, being short after their meeting was over.

Their home in Russia was in the Caucasus country [area], and the occasion of their fleeing just now was on account of the war, expecting they would be pressed into the army, and knowing the sufferings of their ancestors who refused to comply with military requirements and were most cruelly put to death. Their peace principles, and not thinking it right to resent injuries under any circumstances are the principal features of their religion peculiar to Friends, so far as we know. They think if the Almighty wanted to destroy any people He was able to do it himself, and instanced the flood in ancient time and the destruction of Herculaneum and Pompeii as well as earthquakes that have been. They asked whether we believed all that is recorded in the Scriptures concerning Jesus Christ, and said that they believed it.

We noticed that the simple dress of our friends and their not wearing jewelry and even the plain arrangement of their hair attract their attention, and they expressed their gladness to meet with a people who felt above such things. When asked about the Doukhobors they seemed to be strangers to them, and said they were another people.

While writing this little account and considering how very unacquainted these people are with our principles, it has seemed to the writer very desirable to have some tracts in Russian language to offer them, particularly something concerning Divine revelation.

Martha C. Wood.
Second Month [Feburary] 16th, 1905.
Number 39,  Page 310 — May 8, 1905

The Russian Colony.

On Second Month [February 1905] 26th a second visit was paid to the [Prygun] Russian Colony newly arrived in Los Angeles, California, by a number of Friends from Pasadena who were met at the steps of the house where their meetings are held, by C. de Blumenthal, the interpreter whom they failed to find at the time of their visit three weeks previous. His presence added much to the interest of the occasion, as he was an agreeable person and very capable of interpreting. He introduced them to several Russian men who shook hands very kindly and invited them into a room with seats and a table on which were two bibles, one in Russian and the other in Molokany [Old Church Slavonic]. Their homes being without a timepiece was spoken of as a reason for some irregularity in collecting. However the room was soon filled and some on the porch, the place being too small to accommodate all comfortably, but probably the best they can have at present.

They offered to omit their services altogether if the Friends wanted the time for conversation, but they were told there was no wish to interfere with anything of theirs, though it was suggested if they were willing to they might omit the Scripture reading, as the visitors could not understand it; which was done, they only singing and praying. For the latter a rug was spread upon which several knelt bowing their heads to the floor while others were standing. They grieve for those they have left behind and one of the brothers has composed a hymn or poem in which America is called the "promised land." [Pryguny, not Molokane, sing hymns not directly from the Bible.]

When these exercises were ended they asked why our people called themselves Friends, and in replying the scripture was quoted, "Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you." Questions were asked on both sides by which it was ascertained that they believed in Divine revelation and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Besides agreeing with Friends in refusing to take up arms, they abjure the oath, don't practice water baptism or have any paid ministry. They appoint elders or leaders who are expected to lead in their religions services and also have oversight of the flock. They said they thought it right "to admonish one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with melody in their hearts to the Lord," but that they used no musical instruments. In speaking of war they said it was contrary to the teaching of Christ who bade us love one another and do good.

They wanted the visitors to be thanked for coming and that they should be invited to come again, and also that they should be told that in far off Russia they heard of the kindness of Friends to the Doukhobors.

We don't know that their dress or their language is different from other Russian peasantry. Their women wore aprons and skirts short enough to be sanitary with shawls or kerchiefs on their heads. A number of children and some babies were there, one very small was introduced to them as American born.

When asked if they were in need, they replied that some of them were, but that they helped one another; that they did not ask for help, but when it was offered in the right way it was acceptable. They have been accustomed to a communal life which must be an advantage in their present circumstances. At the time of this visit they were over three hundred in number and eleven more families were due. All but twenty-five of the men had succeeded in finding employment notwithstanding the disadvantage of being strangers to the language.

One of the Friends* told them she was a visitor from Massachusetts, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and having seen in a paper a notice of this people before leaving her home she was now very glad to see them, and to welcome them, not only on her own account but also on behalf of others who could not be there. They returned thanks for her kind words.

*Angelina Ricketeon, a sister of Job S. Gidley. From her we have another account of the same visit and agreeing very closely with this.—Ed.

C. de Blumenthal, it is understood, has been in this country nine years and has been a teacher in the schools of Los Angeles. He is much interested in these persecuted people and said he felt that he was the better for having been associated with them the past few months. He said he had never noticed anything fanatical about them, that they were not vegetarians like the Doukhobors and that their education had been neglected, but most of them could read and write in their own language. Some of their children were now attending school and seemed bright.

The Friends took leave of them having previously signified that our doors are open to receive any who may feel like coming to our meetings, with some explanation of our manner of worship without any prearranged service.

Third Month [March], 21st, 1905.