The following post on Molokans is a combination of material I copied from The Molokan Homepage, Wikipedia, and my own observations and additions about my families experience in the Molokan Church. I am italicizing my entries. This is a long post so I will shorten what appears on the post page and give you the option to continue reading more if you’d like. I’m organizing this material so my children and I have a better understanding of the history of Molokans and what we were brought out of by the grace of God. Tomorrow I’m posting an LA Times article on the Molokan Cemetery where my paternal grandparents and other relatives are buried.
The Molokans (Russian: Молока́не) are a “Biblically-based” religious movement, among Russian peasants (serfs), who broke away from the Russian Orthodox Church in the 1550s. Molokans denied the Czar’s divine right to rule and rejected icons, Orthodox fasts, military service, the eating of unclean foods, and other practices, including water baptism. They also rejected the traditional beliefs (held by Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christians) in the Trinity, the veneration of religious icons, worship in cathedrals, the adherence toward saintly holidays, and the decisions of Synods and Ecumenical Councils.
The Molokans also called “milk drinkers” were persecuted by their countrymen and government, and were exiled to a remote area of Russia (Transcaucasia), where they lived and prospered for several generations. In 1833, there was a reported outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon a number of Molokans in the Transcaucasus region. This created a schism between Constants and the newly evolved Jumpers and Leapers. With what the Molokans believed to be an additional manifestation of the Holy Spirit, this new smaller sect began a revival with intense zeal and reported miracles that purportedly rivaled that of Christ’s Apostles. Condemnation from the Constant sect lead to betrayals and imprisonment for many of the Jumpers and Leapers, now called New Israelites by their anointed leader Maxim Rudometkin. Maxim Rudometkin, while he was in prison, wrote a spiritual book that was smuggled out by close friends and relatives who came to visit him that later become the basis for a sub-sect of the Molokan faith. This book, used as a companion to the Holy Bible, is known as the Book of Spirit and Life. Molokans who accepted this book and who followed Maxim’s interpretations of the Bible are known as Maximisti, which make up most of the Jumper and Leapers sect. (This was the group my family was a part of. Maxim classified them as the New Israelites, the new chosen ones).
Before World War I there was a well-known colony of Molokans that had been exiled to the Caucasus (an area long within Russian hegemony), mainly to what is now Azerbaijan, Armenia and eastern Turkey (Kars). As a 12-year-old boy, Efim G. Klubnikin became known as a “seer”, or prophet, depending on one’s viewpoint. As a young boy, it is said that he was divinely inspired to prophesy about a coming time that would be unbearable and that the time to leave Russia was now. For “Soon the doors will close and leaving Russia would be impossible.” He “foreknew” that when he would be an adult that the Ottoman Turks would be heading for Armenia and Ararat, and he was able to provide leadership in getting the Molokan community and others out of harm’s way. Only about 2,000 Molokans (mostly of the Jumpers and Leapers Sect) left for the United States and settled in the Los Angeles area. As Russia faced war and unrest with eventual revolution, the pacifist Molokans faced further religious persecution and military conscription. To save their young men from death in these conflicts and to follow their religious belief of “Thou shalt not kill”, the Molokans began to leave Russia from 1905 to 1912, leaving for far-away countries with their young families to live until a time when they could safely return to their homeland. (My parents’ families did not escape out of Russia till 1932. My father’s family escaped from Russia into Iran. My mother’s family separately escaped Russia into Iran. They later met and were married just outside Tehran. My mothers family was not Molokan at this time. They were Russian Baptist Believers. Just after WWII my parents immigrated to the U.S. with my oldest sister and settled in the Los Angeles area).
Two major subgroups of Molokans migrated to America. The Postoiannye (Constant or Steadfast, i.e., unchanged or original) Molokans were, and remain, centered around Potrero Hill in San Francisco (south of downtown), and near Sheridan, north of Sacramento, California.The Pryguny (Jumpers, also called Leapers, Skippers, Prancers, or Dancers), settled mostly in Los Angeles and Central California, with a few congregations in central Oregon and one in Arizona. Although the Pryguny were a much smaller group in Russia than the Postoiannye, they were more severely persecuted and concentrated in the Caucasus and consequently migrated in larger numbers. The two groups differ in some points of doctrine, domestic custom and ritual, particularly the holidays they observe. Constants observe five Christian holidays adapted from their Orthodox past, while Spiritual and Jumpers adapted five Old Testaments holidays from the Subbotniki. Constants and Jumpers have no official ties in America and operate as separate religions. Because Jumper/Maksimists by dogma reject Constant Molokans as “delusional” and “under the number of the spotted beast” (666), and conversely Molokans claim that Jumpers are not really Molokans, the Jumpers are often classified as a separate faith.
Almost all of the descendants of the Jumper-Molokans who came to America reside along the West Coast, except for about one hundred families who moved to two areas of Australia in the early 1960s, and a few families who moved to South America. About two-thirds live on the East Side of Los Angeles, where they have nine churches — or more properly, gatherings: sobranie in Russian. Most of the Jumper churches look like quite ordinary buildings, not unlike Quaker meeting houses. Prayer meetings can be and frequently are held in private homes since it is the gathering and not the building that is sacred.
American Jumper religious dress has evolved from that of the upper class Russian peasant. Men wear a kosovorotka, pullover shirt (rubashka) worn over the trousers, which has a high straight buttoned collar and a row of buttons running half way down the left chest, and is tied with a tasseled cord belt (poyas). (Think of Dr. Zhivago and you can visualize this shirt). Full beards are common on the elders, particularly among the Jumpers. Women are more fully costumed with a fancy lace head shawl (kosinka), and layered long dress with an apron, both often adorned with lace. In America, this peasant style has evolved from the multicolored original peasant clothes to fancy costumes in pastel, or white for solemn occasions. (I’ll be posting a photo tomorrow of women in the traditional dress). Often couples will wear outfits of the same color.
Upon arrival at the church for service, members typically wait outside until a small group gathers. By custom, a woman must be escorted in by a male. When the group decides to enter, the men proceed women, with the eldest male or a visiting guest elder at the head. They usually pass through a small entryway containing a coat rack before entering the main assembly room. The group pauses after all have entered and are facing the congregation as it stands, acknowledging their arrival. After the lead-entering male quietly recites a short prayer, the new arrivals seat themselves. This entry ritual is practiced more by observant Jumpers than Constants.
The congregation is arranged with the women to one side and the men around a table located toward one corner of the room away from the entry. The elders who sit in the front row around three sides of the table are called the pristol (literally: “at the table”). They are arranged in five groups (four for Steadfast) by their functional position: (1) the presviter, presiding elder or minister, sits at the end of the table facing the congregation, and at his side, if the congregation is large, is a pomoshchnik, helper; to the presviter’s right are (2) the besedniki, speakers, and (3) the pevtsy, singers; and to the presviter’s left are (4) the skazateli, readers, and, in Jumper congregations, (5) the proroki, prophets. There are usually more singers than any other group. Male members and guests with no rank will sit in rows behind the readers and prophets. Some elders like to sit along the wall for back support, and many congregations have added bench cushions in recent decades.
Women sit facing the presviter and a few feet from the men. Leading women singers sit in their front row closest to the male singers. In Jumpers congregations, prophetesses sit in their front row opposite the lead women singers near the male prophets. Other women and female guests sit behind these. In Russia the lead prophetess in a Spiritual congregation may have a chair at the table opposite the presviter.
The table is rectangular, of dining room size, and covered with a fine white cloth. On the table, before the presviter, lay open the books for worship all in Russian. In order, they are the Bible with Apocrypha, a collection of prophetic writings (The Spirit and Life), (only in Jumper congregations), a collection of song texts (The Sionskii Pesennik), and the book of prayers (Molitvennik).The presviter coordinates the service and recites the prayers. He rarely conducts a sermon. That function is usually performed by the speakers who read from and elaborate on the Bible in Russian. Jumpers also use the Spirit and Life as their own “Third Testament”. The use of English varies within and among congregations. Because few youth understand Russian, it is increasingly tolerated, especially during an occasion when a speaker feels that English is appropriate for the audience, or the speaker is not fluent in Russian.
Among Jumpers, occasions arise when selected members will jump (in Russian: leap, dance, prance, skip, etc.) and one or more may dictate or speak in Russian “in the spirit”, or decreasingly “in tongues”. In Russia often one hand is held up, in America and Australia both hands are always held up during jumping. Although any member may deliver a prophecy or spiritual message during any part of the service, this function is usually carried out by the anointed prophets selected in a ritualistic manner by another prophet.
Each church has a large kitchen to prepare (obedy), meals, for special occasions. Sawhorses and tabletop planks stored to the side in the church are assembled with the benches into rows of tables for these meals. A typical meal consists of four courses: (1) chai, tea, with sugar and sweets (pastries, dates, raisins, nuts, etc.) and a salad (cut lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers); (2) borshcht, usually a beef broth vegetable soup, without beets as in the South Russian style, or lapsha, thin egg noodles in a beef broth; (3) miaso, meat, usually boiled then broiled beef, but sometimes chicken or lamb and, (4) fruit in season. Except for the soups, which are ladled into individual bowls and eaten with traditional wooden Russian spoons (loshki), the meal is eaten with the fingers. This manner of eating is a carry over from the old country. At home, except for the traditional elderly, most American Jumpers and Molokans eat the typical American diet with popular settings and flatware. Cultural vestiges such as wooden spoons and familiar Russian dishes remain popular and distinguish a meal in a Jumper or Molokan home.
Obeying the Old Testament food laws, Jumpers-Molokans prepare all church meals “kosher style” (see OT Leviticus 23). Meats are home grown and slaughtered or purchased from a kosher style butcher, preferably a Jumper. Vegetarian options are provided for courses (2) and (3). Breads, pastries, and noodles are homemade or custom ordered. In Los Angeles, one remaining Jumper butcher supplies almost all church orders. There were as many as 6 Jumper-Molokan stores in Los Angeles in the 1920s, reduced to 2 in the 1960s, and one struggling now.
During each course, when the congregation is eating, a speaker is called. After the speaker, when most have finished a course, and before the next course is served, songs are sung. Some singers may temporarily leave their seats to stand near groups sitting together who have been asked to start a song to add more voices to that group. In Jumper congregations, usually during the meat course just before singing ends after the table is set, it is not uncommon for a prophet to deliver a prophesy, a timely message, and the congregation to stand while many jump and sing.The meal is prepared and delivered to the tables by a partiia, party or work group. Every paid-up congregation member belongs to a work group and is expected to attend when it is their day to work in the kitchen, beginning at 5 a.m.
This was church as I knew it growing up. On Easter and Christmas we’d attend my maternal grandmother’s church, Bethany Baptist. The services were conducted in Russian there as well as our Molokan Church. We had cousins and other Russian friends there so I was comfortable in that setting, also.In 1963 my father attended the Billy Graham Crusade at the Los Angeles Coliseum and went forward to accept Christ as his personal savior. This started a very interesting conflict in our extended family, especially among our Molokan relatives. My father thought he could stay in the Molokan church and be a witness and “light” to his friends and family. This worked OK until my dad was convicted about being baptized. My dad finally decided he could not put off this act of obedience and was baptized at the Russian Baptist church. This was an affront to the Molokans because adult water baptism isn’t part of their belief. Word spread fast and my father was ostracized from our Molokan church and from his parents and some of his siblings. Before this event my older sisters had become followers of Jesus and had left the Molokan church. I became a believer the same year as my dad at a Christian summer camp so I was ready to leave the Molokan church. My father was not happy because he loved his fellow Molokans and was distressed that they didn’t understand his new found faith. It took much loving persistence on my fathers part to re-establish relationship with his parents and siblings.
My issues with the Molokan Church as a religion is the failure to take the gospel of Jesus Christ into all the world, the resistence to accept non-Russians in the body of believers and to be unified with all believers. Too much emphasis on the external and whether you are Russian or a nyeenosh (not ours). The Molokans in the beginning left the Orthodox faith to get away from the worship of icons. Putting so much importance on being Russian, marrying Russians, maintaining the Molokan dress, and customs can become another type of worship that distracts from the most important thing. Jesus Christ came to the world as a sacrifice for the sins of the world once and for all. The blood of Jesus will cover all our sins. He brought God’s grace to the Jew and Gentile. In Christ we have the assurance that we are saved from the wrath of God. When God calls us, we need to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved”. As believers in Christ we have His Holy Spirit in us, teaching us, and leading us.
I still have relatives that are Molokans. I also think there are born again believers in the Molokan church. I just wonder how you can be obedient to Christ and His teachings and do His work within the Molokan church. I’m thanking God today for saving my father and giving him new life to live for God’s son, Jesus Christ. “Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 (ESV)