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Spiritual Christianity (Russian: духовное христианство) is the group of belief systems held by so-called folk Protestants (narodnye protestanty), including non-Eastern Orthodox indigenous faith tribes and new religious movements that emerged in the Russian Empire. Their origins are varied: some come from Protestant movements imported from Europe to Russia by missionaries, travelers and workers; others from disgust of the behavior (absenteeism, alcoholism, profiteering) of Orthodox priests, still others from the Bezpopovtsy Raskolniks. Those influences have mixed with folk traditions resulted in communities that are collectively called sektanty (sectarians). Such communities were typically documented by Russian Orthodox clergy with a label that described their heresy such as not fasting, meeting on Saturday (sabbatarians), rejecting the spirit (spirit wrestlers), body mutilation (castigators), self-flagellation, or suicide.[1]

The heterodox (non-orthodox) groups "rejected ritual and outward observances and believe instead in the direct revelation of God to the inner man".[2] Adherents are called Spiritual Christians (Russian: духовные христиане) or, less accurately, malakan in the Former Soviet Union, and "Molokans" in the United States, often confused with "Doukhobors" in Canada. Molokane proper constituted the largest and most organized of many Spiritual Christian groups in the Russian Empire.

Spiritual Christians have been compared to the European Radical Reformation.[3] Still existing Spiritual Christian sects include: Dukhobors, Molokans, New Israel, Sukhie Baptisty, Sons of Freedom and the Dukh-i-zhizniki.[4]


The historian Pavel Milyukov traced the origins of Spiritual Christianity to the Doukhobors, who were first recorded in the 1800s but originated earlier. Milyukov believed the movement reflected developments among Russian peasants similar to those underlying the German Peasants' War in the German Reformation of the 1500s.[5] Many Spiritual Christians embraced egalitarian and pacifist beliefs, which were considered politically radical views by the Russian government. It deported some groups to internal exile in Central Asia. About one percent escaped suppression by emigrating (1898–1930s) to North America forming a diaspora that divided into many sub-groups.[6]


Among the sects considered to practice Spiritual Christianity are the Doukhobors, Maksimisty, Molokans, Subbotniks, Pryguny (Molokan Jumpers), Khlysts,[2] Skoptsy,[2] Ikonobortsy (Icon-fighters, "Iconoclasts") and Zhidovstvuyushchiye (Жидовствующие: Judaizers). These sects often have radically different notions of "spirituality" and practices. Their common denominator is that they sought God in "Spirit and Truth" (Gospel of John 4:24) rather than in the Orthodox Church or ancient rites of Popovtsy. Their saying was, "The church is not within logs, but within ribs".[citation needed] The movement was popular with intellectuals such as Tolstoy. Nikolai Leskov was also drawn to Spiritual Christianity after visiting Protestant Europe in 1875.[7]

Separate from Spiritual Christianity were other strands of Russian sektanstvo ("sectarianism" in the sense "splitting into sects" rather than "sectarian bigotry") including the Popovtsy and "Evangelical Christianity".[8]


Molokan men

The Molokans are a sect that has been compared to the Radical Reformation and to the Quakers.[3] They have a Protestant-like view of the authority of scripture, however interpreting the bible allegorically or "spiritually", they see the sacraments "spiritually", reject the use of icons, images of the cross and Church hierarchy along with venerating the saints.[9][10][11][12][13] The Molokans advocate for pacifism, congregate in their own homes, do not drink or smoke, oppose contraception and modern technology.[14][3] The Molokans follow the Old Testament laws, refusing to eat Pork, shellfish or unclean foods, they additionally refused to obey Orthodox mandates on fasting.[15] There are still around 40.000 Molokans in Russia.[12]

Unlike many other Spiritual Christians, the Molokans reject the existence of new prophets.[16]

Mokrye Molokane

Mokrye Molokane are a Molokan subsect that split off the Molokans in 2000ad that is nearly identical to the Molokans but practice water baptism.[4]

Sukhie Baptisty

Sukhie Baptisty was a 19th-century Spiritual Christian movement,[17] which was born from Molokans who merged with the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians. They were called "dry baptists", because they refused to baptize believers in physical water, but instead believing in a "baptism of the spirit", insisting that baptism was a purely spiritual experience instead of a physical one.[18] Very few dry Baptists still exist in Georgia.[19]


Molokan-Adventisty are a hybrid sect of Molokans and Seventh Day Adventists, the sect was born because of German Adventist missionaries in the 20th century.[4]


The Pryguny (translation: Jumpers) were formed from several non-Orthodox sectarian movements. While most Molokans held to the supreme authority of scripture, the Pryguny embraced Old Testament holidays, new prophecies and ecstatic worship. They have some similarities to Pentecostalism.[4][20]


The Dukhobors were an 18th-century Spiritual Christian movement that opposed all external authorities, even the Bible, instead being in favour of direct individual revelation. They abolished priests and sacraments, were pacifists and opposed the authority of church and state.[21]

Around 15-20k Dukhobors still exist in Russia.[12]

Sons of Freedom

Sons of Freedom were an extremist group born from the Dukhobors that have nudist parades and burn government property because of their hostility to material.[21]


The Khlysts were are 17th century sect that left the Russian Orthodox church, they held extremely ascetic views, the Khlyst sect became extinct during the Soviet Union.[22] The Khlysty imposed self denial and focused on the reception of the Holy Spirit through constant prayer, they were denounced as "Quaker heretics" and practices such as ecstatic forms of worship, rhythmic dancing, chants and celibacy resembled the practice of the Shakers.[23] The Khlyst practices also resembled Pentecostal sects.[24] C. L. Sulzberger, in 1977, claimed that Rasputin "adopted the philosophy (if not proven membership)" of the Khlysts.[25]


Postniki were a sect that was born out of the Khlysts.[26] They emphasized ascetism.[27]

The Postiniki branched into Staroizrail and New Israel.[26]


The Skoptsy was a sect that originally split off from the Khlysts, they no longer exists, however they had a high following in the 19th century. The sect believed that forgiveness of sin came through castration, the sect ultimately being destroyed by Stalin. Some have reported that the Skoptsy sect still exists with small numbers, but there is no serious proof for it. Nevertheless, a few individuals still have similar beliefs in Russia.[28]

The Skoptsy believed that when enough people have joined them, Jesus would return.[29]

New Israel

New Israel came to resemble Protestantism and the Dukhobors much more than Staroizrail, the New Israel movement rejects the Orthodox religious practices and aims to "worship God in spirit and truth".[30] Because many adherents of the movement moved to Uruguay, the movement still exists in Uruguay.[31]


The Shalaputs were a radical reform movement in Imperial Russia during 1830-1890 AD. They demanded that sinful people should not be allowed to attend Church meetings (Novatianism), and opposed the formalism of Orthodoxy. They also emphasized the Jewish roots of Christianity. The Shalaputs became an evangelical movement made up of peasants who wanted to create their own version of Christianity that opposed Russian Orthodoxy.[32]


Dukh-i-zhizniki is a still existing Spiritual Christian movement that was born from mixtures of Spiritual Christian faiths, however the Dukh-i-zhizniki can be classified as a cult. Dukh-i-zhizniki were started by Maksim G. Rudomyotkin who claimed to be a prophet.[16]

Similar or related movement

See also


  1. ^ Klibanov, A.I. (1982). History of Religious Sectarianism in Russia (1860s – 1917). New York: Pergamon Press. ISBN 0080267947.
  2. ^ a b c Camfield (1990) p.694 fn.4
  3. ^ a b c Georgieff, by Dimana Trankova; photography by Anthony (2015-09-24). "WHO ARE THE MOLOKANS?". VAGABOND. Retrieved 2022-08-12.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ a b c d Andrei, Conovaloff. "Taxonomy of 3 Spiritual Christian groups: Molokane, Pryguny and Dukh-i-zhizniki". Retrieved 2022-08-20.
  5. ^ Norman R. Yetman (Summer 1968). "Doukhoborism and Reitalization". Kansas Journal of Sociology. Allen Press. 4 (3): 153. JSTOR 23255160.
  6. ^ Dunn, Ethel; Stephen P. Dunn (November 1978). "The Molokans [Molokane, Pryguny, and Dukh-i-zhizniki] in America". Dialectical Anthropology. Springer. 3 (4): 352–353. JSTOR 29789944.
  7. ^ Lottridge, Stephen S. (Autumn 1974). "Nikolaj Leskov's Moral Vision in the Prolog Tales". The Slavic and East European Journal. American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages. 18 (3): 252–258. doi:10.2307/306256. JSTOR 306256.
  8. ^ Berdyaev (1916)
  9. ^ "Molokans in Armenia: 20 years ago and now". English Jamnews. 2021-09-03. Retrieved 2022-08-12.
  10. ^ Buss, Andreas (2018-11-01). The Russian-Orthodox Tradition and Modernity. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-474-0272-5.
  11. ^ Mollica, Marcello (2016). Fundamentalism: Ethnographies on Minorities, Discrimination and Transnationalism. LIT Verlag Münster. ISBN 978-3-643-80201-9.
  12. ^ a b c "Protestants in Russia: An active minority". New Eastern Europe - A bimonthly news magazine dedicated to Central and Eastern European affairs. 2017-10-12. Retrieved 2022-08-08.
  13. ^ Wardin, Albert W. (2013-10-28). On the Edge: Baptists and Other Free Church Evangelicals in Tsarist Russia, 1855–1917. Wipf and Stock Publishers. ISBN 978-1-62032-962-7.
  14. ^ "Ethnic Russian Sect Struggling to Survive in Azerbaijan | Eurasianet". Retrieved 2022-08-12.
  15. ^ "Among Armenia's Molokans". RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty. Retrieved 2022-08-12.
  16. ^ a b Andrei, Conovaloff. "Taxonomy of 3 Spiritual Christian groups: Molokane, Pryguny and Dukh-i-zhizniki". Retrieved 2022-08-20.
  17. ^ IAkunin, Vadim (1999). Религиозные организации г. Тольятти: справочник (in Russian). Sovremennik. ISBN 978-5-85234-043-6.
  18. ^ Cross, Anthony R.; Thompson, Philip E. (2020-09-28). Baptist Sacramentalism 3. Wipf and Stock Publishers. ISBN 978-1-7252-8608-5.
  19. ^ Conovaloff, Andrei. "Taxonomy of 3 Spiritual Christian groups: Molokane, Pryguny and Dukh-i-zhizniki". Retrieved 2022-08-16.
  20. ^ "Russian Molokans: Their Roots and Current Status - East-West Church & Ministry Report". Retrieved 2022-08-20.
  21. ^ a b "Dukhobor | Russian religious sect | Britannica". Retrieved 2022-08-20.
  22. ^ Carvalho, Joaquim (2007). Religion and Power in Europe: Conflict and Convergence. Edizioni Plus. ISBN 978-88-8492-464-3.
  23. ^ Engelstein, Laura (2011-01-15). Slavophile Empire: Imperial Russia's Illiberal Path. Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0-8014-5945-0.
  24. ^ Stark, Werner (2013-10-08). Soc Relign Pt2:Sec Relg Ils 80. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-136-23822-2.
  25. ^ Sulzberger 1977, p. 214
  26. ^ a b Lane, Christel (1978-01-01). Christian Religion in the Soviet Union: A Sociological Study. SUNY Press. ISBN 978-0-87395-327-6.
  27. ^ Buss, Andreas (2018-11-01). The Russian-Orthodox Tradition and Modernity. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-474-0272-5.
  28. ^ RBTH; Skripnik, Oleg (2016-08-25). "The Skoptsy: The story of the Russian sect that maimed for its beliefs". Russia Beyond. Retrieved 2022-08-20.
  29. ^ Interesting, All That's (2020-01-09). "Meet The Russian Religious Zealots Who Castrated Themselves To Be Closer To God". All That's Interesting. Retrieved 2022-08-20.
  30. ^ "New Israel: Transformation of a Branch of Russian Religious Dissent". Doukhobor Heritage. 2020-05-16. Retrieved 2022-08-15.
  31. ^ Shubin, Daniel H. (2004). A History of Russian Christianity, Vol. III: The Synodal Era and the Sectarians -- 1725 to 1894. Algora Publishing. ISBN 978-0-87586-426-6.
  32. ^ "Russia's Lost Reformation". Retrieved 2022-08-15.