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Indiana University Press
Russian Baptists and Spiritual Revolution, 1905-1929

Russian Baptists and Spiritual Revolution, 1905-1929

by Heather J. Coleman


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... a fascinating read for everyone interested in Russia, religion, and modernity." —Nadieszda Kizenko

In the early 20th century, Baptists were the fastest-growing non-Orthodox religious group among Russians and Ukrainians. Heather J. Coleman traces the development of Baptist evangelical communities through a period of rapid industrialization, war, and revolution, when Russians found themselves asking new questions about religion and its place in modern life. Baptists’ faith helped them navigate the problems of dissent, of order and disorder, of modernization and westernization, and of national and social identity in their changing society. Making use of newly available archival material, this important book reveals the ways in which the Baptists’ own experiences, and the widespread discussions that they generated, illuminate the emergence of new social and personal identities in late Imperial and early Soviet Russia, the creation of a public sphere and a civic culture, and the role of religious ideas in the modernization process.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253345721
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 04/28/2005
Series: Indiana-Michigan Series in Russian and East European Studies
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.98(d)

About the Author

Heather J. Coleman is Canada Research Chair in Imperial Russian History and Associate Professor in the Department of History and Classics at the University of Alberta.

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Russian Baptists and Spiritual Revolution, 1905â"1929

By Heather J. Coleman

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2005 Heather J. Coleman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-34572-1


The Damned Shtundist

The Russian Evangelical Movement to 1905

Boom, ye church thunders!
Flash forth ye curses of the Councils!
Crush with eternal anathemas
The outcast race of Stundists!

In the final days of the reign of Alexander III, on 3 September 1894, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Petr Durnovo, wrote to Russia's provincial governors advising them that the Committee of Ministers had declared the shtundist sect to be especially harmful and that its meetings were henceforth prohibited. According to Durnovo, reports indicated that the shtundists rejected church rituals and sacraments, did not recognize any authority, refused military service and oath taking, and preached socialist principles. In sum, "their teaching undermine [d] the fundamental bases of the Orthodox faith and Russian national character [narodnosf]." The shtundists, he concluded, were "one of the most dangerous and harmful sects for the church and the state."

This circular launched a decade of widespread, systematic persecution of the various evangelical religious groups that had emerged in the Russian Empire over the past twenty-five years. Hundreds of people who called themselves Baptists or Gospel Christians or Christians of Evangelical Faith were brought to trial for participation in alleged shtundist meetings. The circular is significant for another reason as well: the description of shtundism that it provided would shape debate about the Russian evangelical movement for the next thirty-five years. Questions about evangelicals' attitudes toward the state, pacifism, and socialism, as well as the notion that they threatened Russian national identity and values, would be continually raised.

Religious communities of Russians and Ukrainians that would later identify themselves as Baptists first arose in unrelated strains in three widely separated regions of the Russian Empire in the 1860s and 1870s. The history of the first decades of the evangelical movement is the story of groups in Transcaucasia, Ukraine, and St. Petersburg gradually finding one another, acknowledging their spiritual kinship, and, by the early 1880s, seeking paths to joint activity. This process of mutual discovery and preliminary organizing was also one of denominational self-definition. The combined force of non-Russian models of evangelicalism, the pronouncements of outside observers, and the responses of the state and its established Orthodox Church continually pushed these communities to clarify who they were and what they believed, transforming them from informal sectarian groups into Baptists.

From its emergence in England in the seventeenth century to its later flowering in the United States, the Baptist faith is usually considered a product of the English-speaking world. But in Russia, from the very start, it would be associated with Germans. The first subjects of the Russian Empire to be baptized, in 1858 in the Russian Polish city of Adamow, were ethnic Germans. And they had encountered Baptist ideas through the missionary work of German Baptists from East Prussia. The Baptist movement at that time was relatively new to the European continent. Already well established in Britain and the United States, it was brought to Hamburg in the 1830s by Johann Oncken, a German who had been raised, educated, and converted in England. In its first years the "new English religion," as it was popularly dubbed, was subject to fierce persecution by German governments. From the mid 1850s, these attacks declined somewhat, and, with some English and American financial assistance, the German Baptists began to take their campaign for the souls of Europe abroad. Taking advantage of the large number of German speakers living scattered across Eastern Europe, they focused their attentions there.

The message these missionaries brought with them proclaimed that, through a personal encounter with Jesus Christ and the resulting submission of one's will to the work of the Holy Spirit, the believer could attain certain salvation from sin. The outward sign of this regeneration was believer's baptism by full immersion. The Baptists also taught that the Bible was the inspired Word of God and that it should be the only guide in all matters of faith and life. Several other ideas arose from these basic principles. Most important was that of the "gathered church": the congregation is made up of those who have had a personal conversion experience. Through believer's baptism and continuous discipline, the community seeks to maintain this regenerate membership. By virtue of his or her conversion, each member of the community has the authority and the responsibility to preach the Gospel and to participate actively in church affairs. Each local church enjoys full autonomy, even if it cooperates with others in the propagation of the faith. Finally, the Baptists have historically stressed the need for absolute freedom of conscience and the separation of church and state. Theirs is an individualistic creed, emphasizing the individual's own spiritual experience as the basis for a democratically organized church.

In the Russian Empire, the movement spread quickly from the first congregation in Poland through the German communities in the Baltic, Ukrainian, and Volga provinces, among the Latvians and Estonians, and, eventually, to the Slavic peoples of the Empire. Groups of Germans influenced by pietistic and Baptist ideas soon were shaking up their own religious communities with hour-long meetings of Bible reading, prayer, and song. As Baptist ideas filtered into officially approved Lutheran, Reformed, and Mennonite communities, breakaway congregations of converts formed. Those who broke with the first two traditions called themselves Baptists, but former Mennonites became known as Mennonite Brethren. Although they retained several Mennonite practices, they embraced the central tenets of the Baptist faith. These German-speaking converts would play a crucial role in spreading that faith to their Orthodox neighbors, both through personal evangelism and by providing a model for religious seekers.

The first Russians to call themselves Baptists lived in Transcaucasia, in what is today the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi (then Tiflis). In August 1867, the first Russian convert, Nikita Voronin, was baptized in the Kura River near Tiflis by Martin Kalweit, a German Baptist from the Baltic provinces who had settled recently in Tiflis. Voronin had been a member of the Molokan sect, an indigenous Russian sect with Quaker-like beliefs. By the late 1860s, a growing number of Molokans had begun to have doubts about the Molokan teaching that baptism and other sacraments were to be understood in a purely spiritual sense and to suggest that the physical ritual of water baptism was, in fact, essential to salvation. After intensive study of the Bible, Voronin had experienced conversion and had become convinced of the need for the sacraments of water baptism and communion, but he did not know where to find a congregation that shared his views. Eventually Voronin met Kalweit, the leader of a tiny group of German Baptists in Tiflis. Lengthy discussion with Kalweit convinced Voronin that he had at last found a like-minded community, and he asked Kalweit to baptize him. Within a few years Voronin, in turn, inducted several other Russian converts and formed the first Russian Baptist congregation, in Tiflis. In 1871, two young Molokans who were to be great pioneers of the Russian Baptist movement, Vasilii Vasil'evich Ivanov and Vasilii Gur'evich Pavlov, joined the small group. For the next few decades, Ivanov and Pavlov would preach the Baptist faith in the Molokan villages of Transcaucasia and across southern Russia and the Volga region.

Around the same time, in southern Ukraine, a new religious movement known as shtundizm was appearing among Orthodox peasants. Local Ukrainian or Russian peasants who worked for the German colonists who had settied in this region from the time of Catherine the Great began to attend revivalistic religious meetings occurring in their employers' communities. When they turned to organizing such Bible hours among their own people, the Slavic faithful were soon nicknamed shtundisty, after the German word for hour, Stunde.

The shtundists did not start out to separate from the Orthodox Church. Rather, their own spiritual quests and the definitions and actions of outsiders eventually worked together to make them an independent sect. Contact with German Protestants forced early shtundists to ask themselves new questions about the path to salvation. The negative reaction of local Orthodox priests to their interest in the Germans' beliefs also contributed to their gradual rejection of Orthodoxy. Although the German colonists were eager to answer questions about their faith and welcomed the local Slavic peasantry to their meetings, they held back from actually baptizing these new converts, fearing punishment for the illegal act of converting the Orthodox away from the official church. However, on 11 June 1869, Efim Tsymbal, a peasant from the Ukrainian village of Karlovka, in Kherson Province, persuaded the Mennonite Brethren preacher Abraham Unger to baptize him along with thirty converts in the nearby German colony of Staryi Dantsig. He thus became the first South Russian shtundist formally to join the Baptist faith. The act of re-baptism constituted the final break with Orthodoxy for Tsymbal. Some shtundists refused the rituals and structure of the Baptist faith, but many would follow Tsymbal's lead. Tsymbal soon traveled to the settlement of Liubomirka (also in Kherson Province) where he baptized a future leading shtundist, Ivan Grigor'evich Riaboshapka. In turn, Riaboshapka baptized the shtundist pioneer Mikhailo Ratushnyi, along with forty-eight of his followers from Odessa uezd, in 1871. By then the movement had spread beyond Kherson Province to Kiev Province and throughout south Russia, thanks in large part to peasants' seasonal labor migration.

Meanwhile, Protestant ideas were also making themselves felt in distant St. Petersburg, and in a very different social milieu. The movement in the north originated with what Edmund Heier described as a "drawing room revival." This revival began in 1874, when the Russian noblewoman Elizaveta I. Chertkova invited the well-known English preacher Granville A. W. Waldegrave, Lord Radstock, to lead evangelistic meetings in the salons of the capital. Radstock was a member of the Plymouth Brethren, a Calvinistic offshoot of the low Anglican church. He had converted Chertkova by his ardent preaching when she was on a trip abroad. Radstock was a huge hit in that season of 1874 and during his return visits in 1875 d 1878. Several leading members of St. Petersburg high society were converted, and the phenomenon of Radstockism was widely discussed in the press and in literature. Those who opened their palaces to Radstock and were converted included Count Modest M. Korf, Count Aleksei P. Bobrinskii, Princess Vera Lieven, her sister Princess Natalia Gagarina, and Colonel Vasilii A. Pashkov.

Pashkov soon emerged as the leading light of this movement and guided it toward a philanthropic and social program. He and his noble followers took their message of the need for personal religious conversion and the development of the inner spiritual life through prayer and Bible reading to the peasants on their estates in the provinces of northern and central Russia. There they formed literacy circles and initiated classes to teach various skills. For the poor of St. Petersburg, they established tea rooms, a shelter for homeless children, work projects for the unemployed, a campaign against alcoholism, and hospital and prison visiting programs. In 1876, Korf founded the "Society for the Encouragement of Spiritual and Ethical Reading," which published a wide variety of religious books and brochures, as well as Russkii rabochii [Russian worker], a weekly newspaper aimed at a popular audience. And the new religious ideas filtered back to the villages of migrant workers who encountered them in the capital.

The movement soon became known as Pashkovism. The Pashkovite leaders originally envisaged a renewal of Orthodoxy rather than the founding of a new denomination. They did not preach a formalized creed, instead leaving their worker and peasant followers to elaborate their own interpretations of Scripture. Eventually, however, as a result of the directions this popular thinking took, Korf's own conversion to the Baptist faith while in Switzerland in 1879, and persecution as shtundists, the Pashkovite movement moved closer to the shtundists and Baptists, adopting many of their worship patterns and doctrines.

Baptists, shtundists, and Pashkovites gradually became aware of one another through newspaper reports, travel, and the distribution of Pashkovite publications. By 1884, informal connections took formal shape. Two conferences brought together groups that shared evangelicalism's Bible-based and conversion-driven tenets to discuss common interests and begin to give structure to the movement. The first took place in St. Petersburg. At Pashkov's invitation, seventy delegates representing groups of shtundists, Pashkovites, Baptists (German and Russian), Mennonite Brethren, and an evangelical stream of Molokanism traveled to the capital in early April, where they met in the palaces of various Pashkovite sponsors. Halfway through the conference, however, the police arrested all the Russian delegates, imprisoned them overnight, and sent them back to their home provinces. Soon thereafter the "Society for the Encouragement of Spiritual and Ethical Reading" was closed down, and all Pashkovite meetings were prohibited. When Pashkov and Korf formally refused to agree not to preach, hold meetings, or meet with other evangelical sectarians, they were expelled from Russia.

Soon after their return home from St. Petersburg that spring of 1884 Russian Baptists from the south held a conference of their own. This gathering, described in the protocol as a meeting of "believing baptized Christians or so-called Baptists," brought together representatives from Kherson, Kiev, Ekaterinoslav, and Taurida provinces. The Caucasian and Transcaucasian Baptists were unable to attend but sent letters outlining their views on the issues to be discussed. The agenda dealt primarily with the tasks of agreeing on doctrinal and behavioral standards that would unify these disparate groups and establishing a network of missionaries. The centrality of mission is reflected in the fact that the permanent body formed to administer the "union treasury" was described as the "missionary committee." Because it set up the first permanent organization among Slavic Baptists and made binding decisions about doctrine, this conference is considered to be the founding gathering of the Union of Russian Baptists.

The meeting took place in southern Ukraine, in the Molokan village of Novo-Vasil'evka, Taurida Province, on 30 April and 1 May 1884. The thirty-three official delegates included prominent shtundists such as Ratushnyi and Riaboshapka, converts from Molokanism such as Fedor Prokhorovich Balikhin (destined to become a very effective missionary), the ethnic German Ivan V. Kargel' representing the Pashkovites, and six envoys from the Mennonite Brethren church in the neighboring Molochna Mennonite colony.

The gathering concentrated on organizing missionary work among Russians, by Russians. At this stage Germans seem to have played a crucial role in providing advice on organization and doctrine, although their views were not necessarily adopted. Johann Wieler of Molochna chaired the meeting. Most of the discussion of money in the minutes dealt with fund-raising among Russian members, and all the missionaries appointed were Russians or Ukrainians. When the conference came to elect a permanent missionary committee, however, although all the regional representatives on the committee were Slavs, Wieler and I. F. Isaak, both members of the Mennonite Brethren, became president and treasurer, respectively. The participants also formally thanked the German congregations for their financial aid and noted that the itinerant preaching of V. G. Pavlov of Tiflis was funded by the German-American Missionary Committee, which sponsored Baptist missions from Germany.

Over the next twenty years the Russian Baptists held ten other conferences. By 1887, when Dei I. Mazaev was elected union president, German speakers had become increasingly scarce at union meetings. Although some interaction naturally remained, the German-speaking Baptists and the Russian Baptists developed into two very separate organizations by 1890. This process was aided not simply by cultural differences but also by the contrast between the German Baptists' legal status and the persecution increasingly suffered by the Slavs. For, as the Russian Baptists' influence spread, they drew the attention of church and state authorities, who regarded them as a serious threat to the status quo.


Excerpted from Russian Baptists and Spiritual Revolution, 1905â"1929 by Heather J. Coleman. Copyright © 2005 Heather J. Coleman. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Spiritual Revolutions and Soul Wars
Part I. Organizing for the Russian Reformation
1. The Damned Shtundist: The Russian Evangelical Movement to 1905
2. The Era of "Open Storm": Baptist Organization and Community after 1905
3. A Community of Converts: Conversion Narratives and Social Experience
Part II. The Most Dangerous Sect
4. The Baptist Challenge
5. Russian Baptists and the "German Faith"
6. Dashed Hopes: 19101917
Part III. A Spiritual Revolution
7. The Revolution of the Spirit
8. Revolution and Opportunity
9. A Mixed Blessing: Sectarian Pacifism and Political Legitimacy
10. Parallel Lives? Religious Activism and Godless Fears
Glossary and Abbreviations
Selected Bibliography

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