Russian Wedding in Los Angeles Colony [1904]

Los Angeles Herald, Sunday Supplement, January 1, 1905, page 3.Click for PDF

"Vasili G. Pivoraroff [sic], Elder of the Brotherhood of Spiritual Christians" conducted his first wedding in America on Sunday 24 December 1904. The congregation was 6 families (about 30 people) who arrived in May.

Presviter Pivovaroff wed Ivan I. Rudometkin 21, and Fenya I. Karnaukhoff 18. This marriage was legally registered on December 28, 1904, and witnessed by Mathew Konovaloff and Constantine P. De Blumenthal. Bride and groom names shown in the newspaper are wrong, see Marriage License. The bride's wedding dress (shown below) is on display in the Hacienda Heights U.M.C.A.

DOWN in the vicinity of East First street, not far from the new bridge of the Pacific Electric railway,  a little band of Russian exiles have found a home in this land of liberty, where they can worship God according to the dictates, of their own consciences.(1)

This little colony, commenced about six months ago, now represents twenty families and in the number there are forty stalwart men, besides women and children and a few young men and maidens.

Last Sunday [December 25, 1904], in a ceremony lasting more than five hours, Ivan I. Rudometkin 21 Theodore Khoimoutoff [Khamutov, Hamutoff], a blonde-haired, beardless Russian lad of 21 18, plighted his vows with Fenya I. Karnaukhoff 18 Audothea Boutchraff [Avdotiia Buchnev or Bukhrov], a young girl of about his own age. (How did the reporter get the wrong names?)

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                  ENLARGEThe Marriage License (right)(2) shows their faith as "the Brotherhood of Spiritual Christians" (Братство духовных христиан : Bratstvo dukhovnikh khristian). (3) 
Pronounced: bratst'-vo  du-khov'-nikh  khris-ti'-an. This label suggests they acknowledged that they were a mixture of various Spiritual Christian faiths.
  • Dec 24 : Saturday License Witnessed*
  • Dec 25 : Sunday Wedding
  • Dec 28 : Wednesday License Recorded
* C. P. de Blumenthal, who co-witnessed the wedding, was the first to document this newly arrived "Brotherhood" in Los Angeles. (4)

It was the solemnization of a marriage such as has never before been witnessed in Los Angeles.

Beginning at 10 o'clock, the preparatory service took the form of a religious meeting with many fervent prayers and exhortations and the singing, of hymns, the meeting being held at the home of one of the leaders of the colony, Basil Ievriloostch Pivavaroff [Vasili Gavrilovich* Pivovaroff], a man of intelligence and the spiritual guide of the flock. [* Dukhizhizniki pronounce this patronymic: Havrilovich]

After this service, at which there was much weeping and lamentation, probably due more to homesickness than conviction of sin, the entire company of fifty or sixty set out for the home of the bridegroom's parents, a little cottage, several blacks away. They were met at the door by a fresh faced young matron, clad all in blue and wearing on her head an embroidered blue silk handkerchief [scarf, Russian: платочик : platochik]. She invited the guests to enter and then, when all stood in lines around the room, more psalm singing and praying followed before the entrance of the bridegroom to seek the consent and benediction of his parents.

Bridegroom a Captive

Finally the bridegroom was led like a captive between the best man and the maid of honor (who are always young married people), his wrists bound to theirs by two embroidered Russian towels to denote his submission. Then, reverently and respectfully, he knelt before his father and mother to receive the patriarchal blessing. In faltering words he asked their forgiveness, saying that perhaps he had sinned against them. Here the leader interrupted by saying that there was no "perhaps" about it, of course he had sinned often against them. Meekly the young man repeated, "I have sinned against thee," but evidently his mother thought differently when she embraced him as he arose from his knees and devoutly kissed his father and mother.

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                ENLARGEThe next step in the ceremony was to go to the home of the bride, some half a dozen blocks away. It was a motley procession that sallied forth. In advance, with the bridegroom still led in captivity by his chains of embroidered towels, went the leaders of the peculiar community, grave-faced Russian moujiks [peasant, Russian: мужики : muzhiki], many of them wearing the Russian costume with its blouse of bright red or blue, long vest, high topped boots and full trousers; others were in the ready-made suit such as the American laborer arrays himself in on Sunday, for the strangers have been lone-enough in Los Angeles to awaken a desire to cast aside the national dress of the Russian peasant. Behind these walked the sad-faced peasant women, their heads covered with embroidered handkerchiefs [scarfs, Russian: платочки : platochki] and their gowns made with full skirts and loose waists, similar in style, to a dressing sacque worn as a negligee. Over the skirt was the long embroidered apron of white linen. And in the rear was a group of American women who were the special wedding guests.

The wedding dress (right) worn by Fenya Karnaukhoff is on display in the Hacienda Heights UMCA Heritage Room. (5)

Down the middle of the street the procession moved, the men with bared heads and chanting psalms as they walked along. The tones were strident and the voices untrained, but one can imagine the power of this national music when sung by the Russian soldiers as they advance into battle with the Japanese foes.

As the procession moved forward the street gamins, chiefly Mexicans, with here and  there a well-dressed boy, evidently on his way home from Sunday school, helped to swell the number, and when the bride's home was reached these unbidden guests were not at all abashed because they had not on the wedding garment. They crowded the hallway of the little cottage and darkened the windows in their eager curiosity to see what was going on within. But the participants acted as if a Russian wedding was not attracting the attention of the whole neighborhood.

Respectfully the bridegroom greeted his future mother-in-law and father-in-law, bestowing in this case two kisses upon each one and bowing completely to the floor three times.

Then there was a moment of silent expectation awaiting the coming of the bride. She was brought forth with the same towels that had led her lord in captivity and placed face to face with her future husband.

But no blushing countenance could as yet be seen, for over her head and covering her face was a black woolen shawl. Slowly the leader lifted one end of the shawl and revealed a pair of sad grey eyes that looked "all teary round the lashes." Then the gloomy black shawl was removed and the bride stood forth in all the finery of the Russian peasant costume. A yellow embroidered handkerchief was on her head; the gown was full in the skirt, made of sprigged muslin and had two rows of yellow lace around the bottom. The inevitable apron was of black and reached to the bottom of the skirt. The loose fronts of the muslin sacque seemed to give the bridesmaid some concern for she frequently adjusted them, pulling them down to their proper place.

The ceremony seemed never ending, interspersed as it was with exhortations and psalm singing, but finally the place was reached where the bride was to don the insignia of the married woman, and she was led away to her room, where Tatana Aphanasive [Tatiana Afanasevna], the bridesmaid, removed the yellow handkerchief and brushed out the long braid of hair and plaited it in two parts, entwining the braids around the head. Over these was placed a coquettish little round cup [bonnet] of blue silk and white lace, and embroidered with bright-colored beads [bonnet; Russian: чепчик : chepchik; чепець : chepets]. A red ribbon was pinned around the throat of the bride and she came forth to stand beside her husband and for another ceremony lasting for half an hour. Then, in a darkened room by themselves, Mr. and Mrs. Boutchraff with their attendants partook of the wedding feast, while the guests were served in adjoining rooms.

Outside, in the back yard, six brass samovars, brought, all the way from Russia as hand baggage, steamed and bubbled, and inside in the little kitchen over a kerosene stove, a la Americaine [French: à l'américaine : in the American manner], the noodle soup and boiled beef was cooking.

When the bride and bridegroom left the room they gathered up all the gifts from the mother — two tumblers, one half filled with dry tea, the other with cut sugar, the loaf of bread and the dish of salt — and tied them in the table cloth by the four corners [bundle, Russian: узел : uzel ]. This was the, bride's dower and emblematical of her expected housewifely duties.

Then the tables were made ready and the shining samovars, which required a man's strength to carry, were brought in. The first course was Russian tea, bread and raisins. The tea was served in tumblers, and some of the glasses were refilled six or eight times. Then came the noodle soup [Russian: лапша : lapsha], each guest helping himself with a polished wooden soup spoon [Russian: лошка : loshka] as large as a small ladle and eating out of the large dish placed in the center of the table [communal, Russian: общие : obschie]. These soup spoons and the tumblers were the only individual utensils used, there being no plates or knives and forks. During the meat course each guest helped himself with his fingers and placed the generous slice on a piece of bread. It was like a little bit of the medieval ages when our Anglo-Saxon ancestors dined in a similar fashion. A comport [fruit juice, Russian: компот : kompot] of prunes and dishes of quartered apples ended the feast.

Before the final adieus [good-byes] were said the special guests were presented each with a handkerchief by the bride's mother, and then the maid of honor, passed a plate for a collection of money to be given to the bride.

The praying service had begun at 10 o'clock. It was now past 4. The bride looked tired and almost hysterical as she was forced, hand-in-hand with her husband, to bow three times to the floor, standing almost upon her head, and rising and turning to the north, south, east and west, and repeating the performance.

Then the couple departed to the home of the bride, where they are to live under the paternal roof. Throughout all the ceremony the lessons inculcated were concerning filial obedience, for the reign of the mother-in-law is supreme.

A part of this Russian colony came to Los Angeles about six months ago, but new arrivals are constantly added, for the account of their contentment and chances for prosperity has gone back to the friends in Transcaucasia, near the Turkish border.

For forty years these primitive people have endured persecution because of their peculiar religious faith. It is a brotherhood similar to that of our early Quakers.

Those red-bloused, bearded men who sat at that wedding feast and chanted psalms hour after hour, with tears rolling down their cheeks, have good cause for emotion.

One broad-chested fellow was especially overcome. He was thinking of the wife and little ones he had left behind when he, escaped across the frontier. For four years, against his religious principles, he had served in the czar's army. After a brief vacation granted him to see his family he was again commanded to go back to the army.

But there came to him a broadening of the skies, a vision of liberty, and instead of fighting the Japs before Port Arthur he is eating noodle soup in Los Angeles. But of the welfare of wife and children he knows nothing.

Another recent arrival, an athletic, black-bearded fellow, in a typical Russian dress, with his dark red blouse [tunic shirt, Russian: косоворотка : kosovorotka] belted by a cord of blue [Russian: пояс : poyas], is thinking sadly of the companion who fell wounded from the shot of a frontier guardsman as in company with two others he crossed the line that gave them freedom. The three men reached this country in safety, but whether their companion is dead or alive they do not know. Letters are frequently intercepted by the Russian government and communication is uncertain.

There are several families now en route to the Los Angeles colony, some detained at Hamburg and others in New York. It is expected that because of the wide-spread agitation now going on in Russia that there will be an exodus that will bring 2000* people of this brotherhood to California within the year.  [* 1% of the number that will soon be announced in the national news.]

The new minister of the interior [Sviatopolk-Mirsky], who controls the granting of passports, is said to be much more liberal than the murdered von Plehve [July 1904] and the peasants are hopeful that immigration will be made easier for them. Necessarily, these people on their arrival here, are poor in this world's goods. Houses, lands and personal property if sold in Russia must be sold secretly. Frequently it is confiscated. Then the expense of transportation is very great.

Consequently, these Russian immigrants have not much money with which to establish, themselves here. But they are frugal and temperate, industrious and persevering, and with these thrifty habits are sure to make good citizens. They are looking for available land where a community may be founded and firmly believe that God has directed them to this country.

One of the hymns* they sing was written by a member of the brotherhood some forty years ago and it foretells their going forth to a far southern land where peace, plenty and prosperity awaits them. They are convinced that the prophecy is now being fulfilled and that the promised land is California.**
 *  Sionskii Pesennik, No. 326: Ne pora li tebe Sion, Upravlyat' sebya v pokhod.
** Due to the generous efforts of Demens, de Blumenthals, Cherbak and others to guide their settlement; though Pivovaroff will soon chose to move to Mexico.

  1. Descriptions here and in a previous article in July by de Blumenthal suggest this house-wedding occurred East of the Los Angeles River, in the "Flat(s)." Most Spiritual Christians who arrived during the next 5 years, up to 1910, would either first settle in Bethlehem, Mexico, or San Francisco if Molokane. Major resettlement to Flat(s) began after 1907 when an urban renewal ordinance required landlords to clean up their rented shanty courts along Utah street, and accelerated after 1914 when the Bethlehem Institutes were closed and congregations divided.

  2. Thanks to Nancy Poppin-Umland, Spiritual Christian genealogist, for finding this Marriage License. Later marriages, arranged by parents for a bride-price and not legally registered, resulted in 3 years of investigations and court cases, causing thousands to flee from Los Angeles to different rural colonies. Most returned to their "kingdom in the city" when farming failed.

  3. Notice that neither Molokan nor Prygun labels appear in this article, nor do labels of other Spiritual Christian faiths. These immigrants, led by V.G. Pivovaroff, identified themselves since arriving in May 1904 only as "the Brotherhood of Spiritual Christians" (Братство духовных христиан : Bratstvo dukhovnikh khristian). Pronounced: bratst'-vo  du-khov'-nikh  khris-ti'-an. This label suggests they acknowledged that they were a mixture of various Spiritual Christian faiths.

  4. For more than 3 years de Blumenthal worked to arrange the contract in Mexico, which he co-signed with I. G. Samarin. Mrs. de Blumental worked within the women's clubs to aid all immigrants from Russian in Los Angeles. P.A. Demens worked on settlements in Hawaii and Central California, which never materialized due to the many divided faiths which arrived.

  5. Thanks to Mike Rudometkin, great-nephew of the groom, for informing about the bride's dress and other facts.

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