Late at night, the spark lit up a room in a German settler’s house on the Molochna. Several families from the “awakened” village of Gnadenfeld. A few Bible students. A German Pietist preacher. . . . All it took for the Spirit of Christ to begin shaking southern Russia and to draw hundreds of thousands of people into a new awareness of his presence was a group of believers to gather in a clandestine communion service.
Because they loved Christ the Stundisten of the Molochna village of Elisabethtal (those who met for prayer and Bible study in their homes) desired to break bread and drink wine together every week, like the early Christians. They asked the elder of their Mennonite congregation for permission to do so, but he did not give it. Then they had more questions. “Is it right for us to hold back from obeying what the Spirit of Christ tells us because of the commandments of men? What about Acts 5:29?”
Finally, in unanimous agreement, the Stundists decided to do what was right no matter what happened. They met at the Kornelius Wiens home in Elisabethtal, broke a common loaf of bread and passed a cup of wine to all.
Within hours, word of what happened began to spread.
As soon as the Molochna colony leaders learned of the meeting at Elisabethtal they called for the Stundists and forbade them ever to hold unauthorised communions again. Reading Hebrews 13:17 and other similar Scriptures they tried to show them from the Bible that only “properly ordained” elders may serve the bread and wine. They also warned the believers that should they persist in their error, the church would not only excommunicate them. They would turn them over to the civil authorities (the volost) and the Russian police.
The Stundists could not turn back.
They kept on having communion services and committed themselves one to another in a new Brüdergemeinde (brotherly community) after the pattern of Herrnhut, the first Anabaptists, and the Lord’s church in Jerusalem.
In the Ban, but Joyful
Not only did the colony leaders deliver the new brotherhood unto Satan. They delivered it to the civil authorities, “for its promptest suppression with whatever means necessary to curb its spread and to exterminate it entirely.” After this, all who belonged to it could no longer buy or sell from their neighbours.1 Stores closed down. Factories and mills came to a standstill (for the dismissal of labourers or managers), and growing numbers on both the Molochna and Khortitsa colonies found themselves in jail, doing forced labour, or threatened with exile to Siberia.
Local authorities refused to give passports or marriage licenses to the believers, forcing them to travel illegally and to register their children as illegitimate. On some occasions, when new converts headed to the river for baptism, angry villagers drove them away with sticks. But opposition only fanned the awakening.
On March 18, 1862, the first nineteen converts on the Khortitsa colony followed Abram Unger and his wife to the Dnepr. Not far from the village of Einlage (across from Zaporozhye) they made a hole in the ice and Abram baptized them one by one. A fisherman saw them and reported them to the authorities. Shortly afterward the colony volost imposed a ten o’clock curfew and published a notice:
Mennonites these people no longer want to be, and by their actions they prove they no longer belong to us. They fear no admonition or warning for they believe themselves to be born again and to follow the Spirit of God. Therefore we must resort to police force to keep these dangerous people in bounds. Village leaders shall most emphatically forbid them to gather in homes or to try to convert others. They shall be commanded to disperse and if they fail to obey, they must be arrested and conducted by force back to where they belong. After ten o’clock no one is to be about on the streets. In the villages of Einlage and Khortitsa guards shall be placed on the streets to make sure this is carried out. The volost asks all to withdraw themselves from these sectarians and do no business with them whatsoever. Perhaps through this means, and through the application of police methods, these erring ones can be brought back to their senses.2
Secret meetings continued.
So did arrests. Men, partially drunk to keep up their courage, fell on believers anywhere, but usually at night to avoid a riot. When they dragged Wilhelm Janzen, a Khortitsa resident before his village court to face the question why he disobeyed the law he answered, “I must obey God before men!”
In a rage, the village leader jumped on him, ripped off his shirt (tearing it to pieces in the process) and laid him out for a flogging. He took the rod himself and whipped him as hard as he could. Then, without returning his coat, the court (among whom sat Wilhelm’s brother) locked him up in an unheated cell.
The jailer threw him a chunk of firewood saying, “There you have something to sit on!” But Wilhelm could not sit for his wounds. All night long, his teeth chattering in the cold he paced about to keep from freezing while the presence of Christ came to him with such shining clarity that he remained speechless with wonder and joy.
Several months later a large group of believers fell into the hands of the volost who locked them up in the Khortitsa colony jail, covering its windows to keep onlookers from conversing with them. From Khortitsa they took them to Chornyglas. Along the way and at the Chornyglas jail curious onlookers crowded around them to hear their songs and testimonies.
In jail seven weeks, the prisoners made the most of their opportunity to tell the people of Chornyglas and the soldiers who guarded them about Christ.
One Faith, One Baptism
On the evening of March 26, 1860, the son of a believing family learned (spying on a meeting of the Molochna volost) that they planned to arrest Jakob Claaszen of Liebenau. He rushed at once to inform him. Jakob was a leader among the Stundists.
Without telling his wife where he went (for her safety in case of interrogation) Jakob fled that night on horseback. For one hundred and seventy five miles up the Dnepr, he fled to Kharkov and caught a ride from there to Moscow on a mail wagon.3
Jakob knew his way around. He had travelled by train from Moscow to St. Petersburg before (on school business) and made his way straight to officials he knew in the Oberprokuror’s office. They received him kindly. “You want to have a new church on the colonies? That is alright,” they said. “But who are your leaders? One cannot register a church with no one in charge.”
Jakob was delighted. He hurried back to the Ukraine and called the brothers together. They chose Jakob Becker and Heinrich Hübert—a quiet pleasant-tempered student of Tobias Voth—as elders, and in Khortitsa Abram Unger. The Oberprokuror registered their church as the Mennoniten Brüdergemeinde (Mennonite Brethren),4 and the new group got permission to settle in the Kuban river valley between the Black and Caspian Seas.
For the German Stundists this worked well. Local authorities now had to leave them alone and they could meet freely whenever they wanted. But their new elder, Heinrich Hübert, had a maid.
From a Russian village just north of Liebenau, Yelizaveta Kasyanova had known the Hieberts for years. From them she had learned German, and in a Stunde (Bible study meeting) at their place she had come to believe in Christ.
Not only did Yelizaveta become a faithful believer. She spoke to her family and to her friends among the Russian young people about Christ. More and more seekers began to meet in her home. But Yelizaveta’s father was a rough man and opposed her. When she asked Heinrich Hübert to baptise her, he beat her “until her body streamed with blood.” Then, to get her away from the Hüberts, he sent her to work for an unconverted family in the village of Gnadenheim.5
In the meantime, in the village of Volovskaya not far from Khortitsa, Gerhard Wieler met regularly with a Russian man and baptised him. Word got around. A headline in an Odessa paper read, “Mennonites Illegally Baptise Two Russians.”6 The man fled to Turkey, but the Stunden in Volovskaya continued.
In 1869, as the brothers Abram Unger, Jakob Koslovsky, and Johann Friesen got ready to baptise a group of converts in the Dnepr, a Russian seeker spotted them from a distance and came running. “Baptise me too!” he cried. “Who will baptise me if you don’t?” Abram could not refuse. He baptised Yefim Tsymbal and what followed surpassed everyone’s expectations.
Explosion Upon Explosion
Yefim lived at Karlovka, near Yelizavetgrad. In his village he had been meeting secretly with ten other families who studied the Bible and prayed. Returning from his baptism at Khortitsa he told them of Christ’s promise: “He who believes and is baptised will be saved.” Several men, including Tryfon Khlystev, Fyodor Golumbovsky and Grigory Voronov asked Yefim to baptise them too. Maxim Kravchenko with many others followed. Within a year Yefim baptised Ivan Ryaboshapka, a serious-minded peasant from the village of Lyubomirka.
Ivan left his farm for long periods and travelled from village to village, calling men and women to repent. In marketplaces he read the Scriptures to crowds that gathered around him. He also baptised and within a year he met Mikhail Ratushny a peasant from Osovna between the Dnepr River and Odessa.
Mikhail, a young farmer, and his wife had studied the Scriptures with their friends in Osovna and the neighbouring village of Ignatovka. Karl Bonekemper, son of a warm-hearted Protestant pastor, had studied with them. Their lives had changed. Their drinking, stealing, and fighting stopped. Not wishing to offend their Orthodox neighbours the believers in the two villages had taken their ikons and left them quietly in the home of the priest. But they had not heard of committing themselves to Christ in believers’ baptism. Now, when Mikhail learned of it through Ivan he was overjoyed and asked Ivan to baptise him before he hurried home.
Among the hundreds of Russians Mikhail baptised in turn, was Gerasim Balaban, a peasant from Chaplinka close to Kiev. Through Gerasim the movement spread north and west. But before that took place more began to happen at Sofiyevka, three kilometres from the Mennonite village of Friedensfeld on the Molochna.
Repentance and New Joy
Pyotr Lysenko, a farm labourer who could barely read, found Christ at Sofiyevka. His father opposed him and threw him, with his young wife, out of the house. But Pyotr did not turn back. Believing villagers (both from Friedensfeld and Sofiyevka) helped him build another house. An awakened Mennonite baptised him and he began to walk the streets of Russian villages shouting for all to hear: “Turn from your sins! Turn to Christ!” Curious people followed him to the place where he would lead them to hold a meeting. Ever growing crowds fell on their knees, cried to God, and asked for believers’ baptism (always done, as in the Russian Orthodox church, by immersion).
From Sofiyevka the Stundist movement (the word Stundist itself came into common use among Russians), spread south and east. Andrey Stoyalov baptised wherever he went. Young believers travelling with wheat harvesting crews spread it from Kherson and Kiev through Poltava, Chernigov, Minsk, Mogilev, Orel and Tver. Seekers of all descriptions—Lutheran and Catholic colonists, Old Believers, Don Cossacks, Dukhobors, Orthodox people from all over southern Russia, even some Muslims and Jews—became one in faith and one in baptism with Christ.
Within ten years the movement numbered thousands of souls.
One in Christ
While Russian and German villagers drawn by the Spirit of Christ entered the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom came to Hutterite colonists along the Molochna River as well.
For years the settlers at Huttertal and Johannesruh had watched with dismay how Molochna colony authorities (Mennonites who had grown spiritually cold) flogged people and put them in jail. “How can you, who refuse to go to war, do this one to another?” they asked.
In answer, the authorities took the Hutterites’ young people and scattered them throughout the Molochna villages. With harsh words and rough treatment they hoped to “rid them of silly ideas” and accustom them to the real world. But the young people cried at night and Jakob Walter, their elder at Huttertal, made a trip to the volost office to intercede for them. Unconverted Mennonite officials told him to go home and be quiet or else they would arrest him and send him to Yekaterinoslav. Another old Hutterite brother who tried to speak to the volost authorities got a rough answer: “There you stand with your beard down to your navel and it seems your wits have grown whiskers too! What you say is not true!”7
This conflict did nothing but convince many Hutterites that the way their ancestors had chosen in Austria was indeed the way of Christ. Self denial, the giving up of private property, and nonconformity to the world began to make sense to them like never before—all the more so, as they turned to Anabaptist writings they had with them and began to read with joy and tears how believers in Christ had lived before them. On October 20, 1848 Hutterite leaders signing their names Yakov Walter, Igor Waldner, Ivan, Igor, and Mikhail Gofer, Daryus Walter and Andrey Stahl sent a letter to the tsarist colonial office in Odessa:
Many years ago our forefathers founded a Christian community in accordance with the words of our Saviour and his apostles in the Holy Scripture. A house of brotherly community was built and all lived together there. The whole community was like one family. The old, crippled, sick, and weak, the widows and orphans were given a home and were provided by the community with clothing and whatever they needed. After many years had passed like this, in brotherly love, some grew dissatisfied, bringing about a change of location for the church. When communal living was abandoned we moved to the Molochna River in the Aleksandrovsky district of Tavrichesky (Taurida) province. . . . Now we are sorry we did not persist in brotherly community of goods.8
The Hutterite elders explained their dissatisfaction with the internal government of the Molochna colonies and in another letter gave their reasons for returning to brotherly community:
We recognise in the depth of our hearts that the more time passes, the further we stray from the true way that Christ trod before us, the way we deserted over thirty years ago. Therefore we have decided with God’s help to seek again what we have lost. . . . Christ says, “No man can serve two masters. You cannot serve God and money.” When one master says, “Renounce everything you have,” and another master says, “Keep everything you have,” we have to follow one or the other.9
Finally, after several years of inner conflict, thirty-three Hutterite families moved to a Russian woman’s estate near Orechov, a hundred kilometres north of the Molochna River, and founded a new colony they named Hutterdorf. Not everything worked as they had hoped. After a few years their attempt at setting up an Anabaptist community farm collapsed. But the dream did not die, and a young man who worked in the smith’s shop—Michel Waldner—had a literal dream.
To the shock of those with him, Michel suddenly fainted. Not sure whether he was dead or alive his companions did what they could to bring him to, but he remained unconscious until he awoke with a desire to talk to Jakob Hofer, a Servant of the Word (Hutterite leader) living in the village. “While I was unconscious I saw an angel,” he told Jakob Hofer. “The angel showed me the host of the redeemed in heaven. They stood in an indescribably beautiful place, praising God. Then he showed me the lost in hell and asked me: Where are those who did not join Noah in the ark?”
Jakob thought about the words and wondered: “Does God want us to return to the ark of brotherly community?” The Hutterdorf colonists, after a period of time, chose Michel to be his assistant leader and the two men discussed the issue further. An anonymous brother wrote what happened:
Finally they came together to pray and said to one another before their prayer: “Whoever will finish his prayer first will stand up and confirm the other with laying on of hands into the membership of the church community. . . . Then they fell onto their knees and prayed very seriously to God that he would help them and grant them his grace to accomplish their undertaking. Jakob Hofer was the first to finish his prayer. He rose up and with the laying on of hands, he accepted Michel Waldner into the membership of the church community. Then Jakob Hofer knelt down and Michel Waldner, with laying on of hands, accepted him. All this happened with the help of God and the support of our dear Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him shall be alone the praise, the honour, and the glory.
After this they accepted their wives and sisters into the church community, and in this way the fellowship of the Holy Spirit was re-established. They brought their goods together and began to go out and preach and teach about the true way. God gave them blessings so that the church community grew and increased.10
People called the Hutterdorf villagers who joined Jakob and Michel the Schmiedeleut (the “smith people,” because of Michel’s work). A year later, many of the remaining villagers under the leadership of Darius Walter formed another community. They gathered--in friendly fellowship with the first group--at the other end of the village and people called them the Dariusleut.
As in days gone by, the brothers and sisters met for daily prayer meetings, and worked and ate together with great joy. The older sisters taught the little children, and the boys worked with groups of men in the fields. Everyone got assigned jobs, and every job had its overseer. Within a few years the Hutterite communities in the Orechov district prospered like they never had before.
Community in the Caucasus
The Lord Christ who kindly helped the Hutterites in Russia to rediscover his way, helped their Spirit Christian neighbours to find it too.
In 1849, Tsar Nikolai’s officials had driven most of the Spirit Christians from the Molochna colonies into the Caucasus. There they settled around Delizan and Kars in Armenia, and around Tiflis between snow capped ranges that end at the Caspian Sea.11
The Spirit Christians’ new home could not have been more drastically unlike the steppes they had known before. Finding their way up rocky trails more than six thousand feet from the valley floor at Tiflis, they followed their guides to the land the government gave them in the Mokrye Gory (wet mountains) of the Muslim and bandit-plagued region. Without money, they built the barest one-room houses with mud and sticks at villages they called Voskresenovka, Nikitino, Troytskoye, Spaskova, and other beautiful Christian names they had used on the Molochna. Molokans and Dukhobors settled close together, and the latter also built large communities at Yelizavetpol and Akhalkalaki in what is now the northeastern corner of Turkey.
Most of this new land was too wet and cold for raising grain. Cattle thieves fell on their herds and the Spirit Christians lived in greatest discomfort and poverty. But the light of the Resurrection had never shone brighter among them. So moved were their neighbours by their nonresistant testimony that hundreds of them joined Spirit Christian congregations. The entire Armenian village of Karakalla got converted and joined the Molokan Pryguny.
Six years after the Pryguny arrived in Armenia, their leader and prophet Anakey Ignatovich Borisov died. He was one hundred and five years old and had suffered sixty-two arrests for preaching the Gospel. After his death other leaders like Fyodor Ossipevich, author of the Book of Zion and The Mirror of The Soul, took his place. Fyodor, like all Spirit Christians, felt strongly about suffering for what one believed and not fighting back. He wrote:
Our beloved ancestors, with tearful prayers and holy love called us, their followers, to promise to fear God by upholding what we believe with firmness. At the same time, they called on us to be ready to suffer, even unto death, knowing that suffering itself is a gift from God. Living unwaveringly in this manner, let us instruct our children and grandchildren from generation to generation.12
Fyodor wrote at length about the Ten Commandments and what they mean in light of the teaching of Christ. He preached and took the message of Christ to many places, until the authorities exiled him again—to Rumania. On his way across the Black Sea his ship sank in a storm.
In 1852 a nine-year-old Molokan boy, Yefim Gerasimovich Klubnikin, greeted one of the brothers from the village of Nikitino with a joyful prophecy. That brother, Maksim Gavrilovich Rudometkin began to invite the believers to his house for prayer. There were more remarkable visions—one of them seen by a whole group of people at once. And in 1855 Yefim, who had turned twelve, fell unconscious for eight days. When he awoke he described in detail how troubles would soon come upon them, and how a great migration of the Spirit Christians would take place.13
Within a few years the trouble came. Tsarist authorities, alarmed by the rapid growth of Spirit Christian communities in the Caucasus turned to floggings, exile, and once more to persecution of their leaders. In 1858 they arrested Maksim Gavrilovich and walked him in chains to Solovets on the Arctic Ocean. It took him a year and half to get there. For nine years they held him in a subterranean dungeon on bread and water. Then, seeing they could not break him, they gave him an ordinary cell.
In Solovets, Maksim wrote songs and a major part of the Book of Spirit and Life, still treasured by Spirit Christian believers. In it he outlined how Christians should live in obshina (community of goods), and be totally defenseless. He wrote:
After the rule of the Hebrews with its harsh discipline was over, God Almighty showed himself to us in his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. This put an end to the old, natural, dynasty of the house of David. Through Christ, God gave us a new law and the right way to believe. God now wants the righteous to live always without a sword or weapon and to use no iron rod but the word of God and the Spirit of his wisdom to repel our adversaries.
Little did Maksim know, at the time he wrote this, how the Spirit of Christ would move others to discover the same truth.
A Soldier and a Sick Boy
In 1853 fighting broke out between Russia and Turkey. France and England got involved (both wanted to keep Russia from conquering Turkey) and all armies met at Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula.
Bitter fighting and a siege of the city lasted eleven months. In Turkish barracks at Constantinople, where the “lady with the lamp” (Florence Nightingale) made her rounds among the wounded, a young Englishman lay dying. At least he thought he would die, and terrible scenes came up before his eyes.
Nothing had prepared Granville Waldgrave, growing up among cricket players and fashionable parties in his upper class English home, for the dirt, the brutality and terror of war. Even though he was twenty-two, and certainly as British boys thought, “too old to cry,” he could not live with what he saw when he closed his eyes. He saw other boys, Russians, scrambling over the rocks above the Black Sea, yelling what he could not understand but what sounded like prayers to God as they fell, one by one, swatted down like so many flies by British bullets.
In Britain, God-fearing parents had told their sons to pray before they sailed for the Crimean War. Protestant clergymen had blessed them. Victoria, the Bible-loving queen herself, had praised them for their bravery and patriotism and wished them God-speed. But this, Granville felt certain, was not God’s work. It was hell.
Granville had grown up saying his prayers, but never had he prayed in desperation like now. “Lord,” he cried in his heart, amid the groans of suffering men in the night, “if you give me life I will come back to Russia with your Gospel instead of a gun!”
Christ heard his prayer and Granville kept his promise.
For twenty years following his return to England Granville met every week to break bread and worship Christ with the “Brethren.”14 His noble birth earned for him the title of Lord Radstock and he became the owner of a large estate. But Russia did not leave him. He prayed without ceasing for the day the door would open for him to go back.
In the meantime a boy named Mikhail turned sick in St. Petersburg.
Mikhail’s father, Grigory Chertkov, was a high-ranking general in the tsar’s army. His mother, Yelena, was a vain woman, with her heart on fine clothes and jewelry. But they found Mikhail a good tutor—one of the St. Petersburg believers who had quietly continued during Tsar Nikolai’s reign what Sasha Golitsyn and the seekers who gathered around Tsar Aleksandr I had begun. The tutor spoke to Mikhail about Christ, and the suffering boy discovered his healing presence. From that time on, he invited everyone who came to see him to let go of the world and discover him too.
So happily did Mikhail die, and so clear was his vision of Christ and life to come, that his mother and a number of her fashionable friends began to meet for prayer and serious considerations. One of them, the wife of a diplomat, met Granville Waldgrave (Lord Radstock) in a meeting in Paris.
It did not take long for the woman from St. Petersburg and the man from England to discover their common longing. She was as anxious to have him come as he was anxious to go, and with the necessary invitation and legal work in order Granville arrived in Russia, in March, 1874.
Not only did Yelena Chertkova welcome Granville into her home. She invited her sister and her husband, Vasily Alexandrovich Pashkov (one of Russia’s wealthiest men), and many of her friends to meet the visitor from England. Granville did not lose the opportunity. At a luncheon served in the Chertkov dining room he began to talk with Vasily about Christ and discovered that for all his money, the man had an unmet need in his life. He longed for something totally different from what St. Petersburg society had to offer, and in Russian fashion, when he made his decision he did not go half way.
Even Granville was startled.
Vasily Pashkov, the millionaire, began to live like Christ. His business, his position, his money, his reputation, nothing mattered. He spoke of Christ to everyone, high or low. He left the army and started giving away fantastic amounts of money to open boarding houses and workshops for the poor, to print literature and to distribute Bibles. By this time Nikolai, “the tsar who froze Russia,” had died and Aleksandr II, a less reactionary ruler had taken his place. The Bible Society had resumed its work15 and Vasily Pashkov, Count Bobrinsky (the minister of transportation), Baron Modest Modestovich Korf, the Countess Lieven (wife of the tsar’s master of ceremonies) and other St. Petersburg seekers arranged for Granville Waldgrave to speak in their homes.
The meetings were not spectacular. Granville was not a dramatic speaker, let alone in Russian. But they broke bread every week and fine parlours took on the atmosphere of his birth as stable boys and barons, cook’s helpers and ladies of the tsar’s court knelt in quietness and tears in his presence together. In “Brethren” fashion, they chose no clergy but allowed everyone to participate as he felt led.
Attendance in meetings at the Pashkov home grew rapidly from a dozen to five, six and seven hundred people or more.
During the time the Lord Christ accomplished so much in Russia he also reached down and touched a young Nestorian Christian16 with his Spirit, in Persia. The young man’s name was Yakov. After he became aware of Christ he set out to find his brother who had left home.
Yakov Delyakov travelled north through the Caucasus and took the new railroad from Baku on the Caspian Sea to Rostov. He found his brother, by now a drunkard and married to a Russian woman. But something else he found excited him more. Wherever he went and talked about Christ he found open doors.
Someone told Yakov about the Bible Society in St. Petersburg. He wrote and made his first order. So many Bibles did he ask for that Vasily Pashkov became personally interested in his case and “hired” him to distribute Bibles full time.
That distribution involved ingenuity.
Russian law did not allow Yakov to travel about as an evangelist. So with Vasily Pashkov’s help he bought a horse and wagon, loaded it with pots, pans, and household goods, and set out as a peddler. While offering his wares he took every opportunity to speak of Christ, and if people showed interest, he pulled out a Bible and offered it too.
The results were immediate. Everywhere people discovered Christ and Yakov began to hold meetings. But no result of his travels brought him greater pleasure than his discovery of the Spirit Christians. Whenever he met them, particularly those of the Postoyanye—the “constant” Molokans of whom many remained in regions other than the Caucasus—Yakov felt innerly drawn to them. He admired their quiet ways, grounded on conviction. Their thrift and industry spoke to him.17 Beyond that, the interest was mutual. The Molokan brothers, after the unrest created among them by some prophets who claimed “Spirit manifestations,” had misgivings about following an “inner light” too far and taking the Scriptures too lightly. A renewed and very serious interest in the Scriptures led them to welcome Yakov Delyakov with open arms. Relationships between them grew even warmer after Yakov married a Molokan widow whose son, Ivan Zhidkov, became his helper and successor in the work.
Like Yakov Delyakov—Kasha Yagub18 as people knew him in his older years—two other men distributed Bibles in Russia with Vasily Pashkov’s help.
The first, calling himself Ivan Vasileyevich, spoke Russian with an accent. On his passport his name read John Melville and he came from Scotland. The second one, Martin Kalweit, came from East Prussia. Born into a Protestant family, he had found Christ and a German missionary19 baptised him on confession of faith at Kaunas in Russian held Lithuania in 1858.
No sooner did Martin Kalweit commit himself to Christ in baptism than he offered to distribute Bibles through the Baltic countries and Russia. Like Yakov Delyakov, he moved about as a tradesman, and like Yakov he found the Spirit Christians.
Thanks to Yakov’s work among them, the Molokan brothers of Russian Georgia—by the time Martin Kalweit arrived with his wife and children to live among them—were well informed and kindly disposed to the Bible Society. But they had not heard of believers’ baptism.
In Tiflis Martin Kalweit came to know a Molokan tea merchant named Nikita Isayevich Voronin. They became friends. The more they spoke of the way of Christ, the more his Spirit drew them together. Finally Nikita told Martin: “Baptise me!” and Martin could not refuse.
They went out at night. In a small stream flowing into the Kura River Martin baptised Nikita and many other baptisms followed. A major part of the “constant” Molokans in Georgia joined their fellowship and people began calling them “New Molokans.” Among themselves they preferred the name “Evangelical Christians.”
Oil Makes Light
Slow, wavering songs, women in long dresses and with their heads covered, old men with untrimmed beards, bread and salt, umilenie—as untold numbers of Spirit Christians, Old Believers, and converts from the Orthodox church became one in spirit with Anabaptists, Pietists, and the Brethren at St. Petersburg, Christ’s Church in Russia revived. And with that revival, as always, came persecution.
An old Russian proverb says: “The pressing of olives makes oil, and oil makes light.” Nothing could better describe what happened to Russia’s believers in the last half of the 1800s.
After holding great meetings on the Molochna Mennonite colony and in St. Petersburg, the Stundists attracted the Oberprokuror’s attention and many got arrested. A few believers, like Vasily Pashkov and Modest Korf, got sent out of Russia. The rest returned to functioning “underground.” In the south Ivan Ryaboshapka got arrested. Heinrich Hübert, suspected of having baptised his maid (actually another man, Abram Dueck, had done it but Heinrich would not tell) spent a year in jail. Groups of newly converted villagers who handed in their ikons20 fell prey to savage arrests, interrogations, and floggings. Tsarist officials stamped their passports with the word Stundist,21 “so that no one will accept them for work or lodging, and life in Russia will become too costly for them.”
The fact that Russian believers questioned the state church (and by way of implication, the state itself) troubled the Oberprokuror. But nothing perhaps, troubled him more than to see how they not only survived, but flourished, under persecution. Whoever joined them, it seemed, learned how to read. Their immorality and drinking came to an end. They picked up the garbage, cut the weeds around their yards and even their crops and gardens (for the care they received) grew better. The wives of evangelical believers looked happier than others and their children more orderly. Such a movement, the Oberprokuror feared, would continue to spread until it resulted in the downfall of Russian “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and peoplehood.”
But those who refused to conform to the world because their minds had gotten transformed, rejoiced in the Kingdom of Heaven. Among them was a boy called . . .
1 Even at public sales, auctioneers refused to take the believers’ bids.
2 Zirkular des Khortitzaer Gebietsamtes erlaßen am 28. Februar, 1862
3 When the men came to arrest Jakob Claaszen and found him gone they were enraged and the other villagers harassed his wife and family. An old men who met one of the little Claaszen boys on the street frightened him by asking: “Na, du tjliena fromme Diewel, wua es dien Foda?” (Well, you pious little devil, where is your Dad?).
4 Even though the new group in Russia resembled the Moravian Brüdergemeinde from whom they took their name, they remained distinctly Anabaptist (nonresistant, nonconformed, practicing believers’ baptism, etc.)
5 There she prayed much. The woman for whom she worked found her in prayer one day and recognised her own need. Both she and her husband got converted, followed by the bar tender of Gnadenheim and many others in the village.
6 Even though the Oberprokuror had given the Mennonite believers freedom to baptise converts among themselves, to baptise or even meet to study the Bible with members of the Russian Orthodox church was a serious offence, punishable with exile to Siberia, or worse.
7 By this time most Mennonites were shaving off their beards and made fun of the Hutterites whom they called die Bärtige (the bearded ones). Huttertal and Johannesruh appear in official Molochna records as die bärtige Nummer (villages of the “bearded numbers”).
8 Chronicle of the Hutterian Brethren: Volume II
11 The three areas are now in Armenia, Turkey, and Georgia.
12 Book of Spirit and Life
13 His prophecy reached fulfillment when the Molokans moved to Mexico, California, and Arizona in the early 1900s.
14 a British renewal group often called “Plymouth Brethren” from one of their first meeting places
15 The Bible in modern Russian was completed and published in 1876.
16 For well over a thousand years the Nestorians, a Christian sect from the fourth century, had survived in Zoroastrian and Muslim Persia.
17 Frederick C. Coneybeare who travelled in Russia during the 1800s wrote: “In the Caucasus I have passed through many Molokan villages in early spring and in late autumn. Their dwellings are usually of wood, but sometimes of stone, often built in gardens surrounded by walls. Everything is neat and clean, and everywhere an air of sobriety and quiet industry prevails. It as a pleasure to see their stalwart tidy wives sitting outside their houses in the sun, working at their sewing, the snow still around their feet at the close of winter, which in the highlands between Tiflis and Yerevan is severe.”
18 Father Jacob
19 of the Baptist Church
20 to avoid charges of desecration
21 So much a part of Russian vocabulary did this German term become that even a train station in the Ukraine got the name Stunde. When Yakov K. Dukhonchenko asked its residents a century later (during communist times) the reason for the name, they told him, “A long time ago some people called Stundisten lived here. They lived in peace and loved one another.”