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Molokan (Russian: молокане for "milk-drinkers") is a Slavonic exonym for members of different Spiritual Christian sects that evolved from Eastern Christians in the lands "of all Rus'" whose traditions (especially regulated dairy consumption during Christian fasts) did not conform to those of the Russian Orthodox Church. Since they are regarded as neither Orthodox, nor Catholic nor Protestant, they tend to call themselves "Spiritual Christians".

Unlike the conformist Protestant "reformists" of Western Europe, Molokans rejected conformity. There are almost as many different ways among Molokans as there are Molokans some building chapels, keeping sacraments, revering saints and icons, while others (like Iconobortsi) not at all. In general, they are scripturists who rejected the institutionalized formalism of Orthodoxy and those with similar doctrines in favor of more Original Christianity placing great emphasis on spirituality and spiritual practice while physical observances (such as water baptism) have been permitted only as tangible signs and symbols of more important spiritual truths. They are comparable to Presbyterians in that they have a council of dominant elders who preserve an albeit controversial sort of apostolic succession. Though Molokans are somewhat similar to the European Quakers and Mennonites —for their pacifism, communal organization, spiritual meetings, and sub-groupings— their genesis is tied to that of the Doukhobors and Sabbatarians (Subbotniks) having evolved alongside Russia's similar Spiritual Christian movements of Duhovnye Kristyanye and Ikonobortsy (icon-wrestlers), migrating at around the same time.



There are approximately 200 fasting days —especially the Great Fast (Lent)— when drinking milk was prohibited by Orthodox ecclesiastical authorities. Milk-drinking practice during these fasts was first sanctioned by the Nestorian Church in the 11th century in order to accommodate the conversion of some 200,000 Karait-Tatar pastoralists, who lived on meat and milk, to Nestorian Christianity.[1] The practice was adopted by unaffiliated Armenian Christians, also pastoralizing the Eurasian plains (particularly from the Moldau to Mordova and the Kuban-Dagestan-Baku regions), out of whom the Paulicians and subsequent "Bogomils" of Thrace, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Serbia had already developed. Turkic Molokan Pastors still use the term for an Armenian Catholic Priest (Russian: Гахан, Ukrainian: Каган). Arriving in the Rus' lands with the 13th century Tatar invasion[2] of Batu and Möngke, Karait-Tatar practices had reached as far as Lithuania by the end of the 1300s.[3]

15th to 16th Centuries[edit]

Bible-based Hebraic tradition, promoted by Zacharias de Ghisolfi, captivated the court of Ivan the Terrible's Grandfather Ivan III but was soon labelled heretical and its supporters suppressed as Judaizers by the Russian Orthodox Church. Nevertheless, a sola scriptura tendency survived. After the schism of 1552 during the reign of Ivan the Terrible (1547–1584), Matvei Simyonich Dalmatov (Матвей Семенович Далматов), the first recorded martyr of Russia's Molokans, led local villagers in and around the city of Tambov into Molokan Evangelism. Dalmatov carried this sectarian belief into Moscow, where a group of Mordvins heard his message and embraced it. Dalmatov was later martyred by Orthodox priests in a monastery prison by wheeling.

17th to 18th Centuries[edit]

Molokans were ostracized from Russian society in the 17th century for their refusal to bear arms and for their refusal to assist in any form of military service. The first recorded use of the term "Molokan" appears in the 1670s, in reference to the people who differed concerning the 200 fasting days by drinking milk (moloko means "milk" in Russian). Molokans themselves did not completely reject the name—even adding words like "drinking of the spiritual milk of God" (according to I Peter 2:2, "Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation").

In the 18th century, the Dukhobors who neglected the Bible by believing that God had placed the Word directly into their hearts split from the Molokans of Tambov's Semen Matveev Uklein (1733-1809) who held the Bible in the highest regard. Semen's Molokans from Tambov energetically proselytized along the Volga River and Russia's south-eastern frontier spreading the Molokan faith in Orenburg, Saratov and Astrakhan provinces organizing congregations until his death in 1809.

19th to 20th Centuries[edit]

From the intervention of Count Nikolay Zubov in 1795 Molokans (бесшапочники) were tolerated under Tsarina Catherine but with strict rules imposed upon them intended to curb community growth.[4] Those who ignored the restrictions were punished in Tsarist Russia as heretics.[5] Molokan evangelists and missionaries suffered imprisonment, banishment and other forms of punishment. Prohibited from winning converts[6] the Molokans were forced into endogamy. The government's policy was to send the Molokans away from the center of the country into Caucasus (1833), especially Armenia, Azerbaijan (1834), Ukraine (1830s), central Asia, and Siberia where many communities have survived into the present.

Molokans vs Jumpers[edit]

The sectarians in south Ukraine were influenced by neighboring German Protestants, particularly Heufers (Springers, Jumpers). A similar movement began among a number of Molokans exiled in the Transcaucasus region in 1833. This created a schism between regular Molokans termed Constants (Postoyaniye) and the newly evolved Pryguni (Jumping) or Skakuni (Leaping) also called Shalaputy sect. With what the Jumpers believed to be a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, this new smaller sect began a revival with intense zeal and reported miracles that purportedly rivaled those of Christ's Apostles.

Condemnation from the constant Molokan sect led to betrayals and imprisonment for many of the Jumpers and Leapers, who called themselves "New Israelites" under their anointed leader Maxim Rudometkin witnessed by Efim G. Klubnikin, a divinely inspired 12-year-old boy prophet, which prophesied about a "coming time that would be unbearable and that the time to leave Russia was now". He wrote that "soon the doors will close and leaving Russia would be impossible" which he later wrote in his memoirs in his elder years. During the early 20th century under his fellowship, about 2,000 Jumpers left for the United States and settled in the Los Angeles area near the area of Boyle Heights, and some other parts of the West Coast and Canada. It is there that they influenced in practice and doctrine a later American Revival called "the Pentecostal Azusa Street Revival" near the beginning of the 20th century. The founder of The Full Gospel Business Men's Association associates this Pentecostal Revival to the child prophet of the Jumpers. When they arrived in Los Angeles, they were befriended by local settlement house director Dana W. Bartlett.[7] Klubnikin's jumpers continued to be involved in cattle and groceries, as they probably had done in the area of Tambov prior to exile. Other Jumpers received a land grant from the Mexican government and settled in the Guadalupe Valley in Baja California, Mexico.

Constant Molokans[edit]

An even smaller number of Constant Molokans fled Russia and settled mainly in the San Francisco, California and Sacramento, California areas.

A Molokan villager in Fioletovo, Armenia

At the end of the 19th century, there were about 500,000 Molokans within the Russia empire. Around 1825, 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 Georgia,[8] Armenia, Azerbaijan, and eastern Turkey (Kars plain). By the end of the 19th century, many had resettled in remote areas of the Caucasus, Siberia, and Central Asia, while others remained in southern Ukraine and Russia, or migrated to Romania's Danube Delta region or the western United States.[9]

Being prohibited from winning converts under the laws of the Russian Empire they were forced to adopt endogamy and subsequently able to survive only as ethnic group under the Bolsheviks resulting in higher infant mortality.

Molokans were conscientious objectors to U.S. military service during World War I and World War II.[10][11]

Present condition[edit]

Presently there are about 20,000 people who, at least "ethnically", identify themselves as Molokans. There are also approximately 200 Molokan churches, 150 of them in Russia and Azerbaijan. Approximately 25,000 Molokans reside in the United States, of which only about 5,000 "ethnically" identify themselves as Molokans; most of whom reside in California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Wyoming. Settlement of Molokans in southern Alaska and Australia during the 1960s are well documented. Molokans are said to be numerous in Australia. The majority in South Australia, a number families in Western Australia and a small group residing in Queensland. Over 1,000 reside in Canada in the province of British Columbia and hundreds more in Alberta with their traditional communal lifestyle remaining intact. A group of Molokan families are also living in South America in the country of Uruguay. Significant numbers of Molokans live throughout Russia (most in the North Caucasus), Southern Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Central Asia, and in Northern California, U.S.A. The oldest active congregation meets in a prayer hall built in 1929 on Potrero Hill, San Francisco, California. In 1995, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival featured Molokans as one of their peoples.[citation needed]

There is a small Molokan community in the eastern province of Kars, Turkey. Although they were a much larger group, around 150 years ago they started to leave for their motherland—Russia — en masse and there is currently only one family of Molokans left in Kars.[12]


Molokans adhere to the Old Testament laws but in the spirit of the Christian New Covenant. They perform morning and evening worship as symbols of the morning and evening offerings prescribed in the Pentateuch. They do not eat pork, shellfish, or other "unclean" foods on holy days. They keep Sabbaths as well as the first Sunday of every Month as a Biblical Rosh Chodesh and some refuse to serve on juries or file lawsuits against fellow church members. Church services led by a Lector are conducted predominantly in the local language, but still commonly Old Slavonic, men and women sit apart, and services are usually quite active. They have been using the liturgy of Trakai at least since the 1890s.[13] Like Muslims, Molokans have clerics but no clerical hierachy, they must be pure of pork and alcohol for worship, they respect but do not worship saints, nor worship symbols like icons or crosses. Proselytism is encouraged, as children in Molokan families are encouraged not to marry outside of the faith.

Holy Days[edit]

The Molokan year is a system of weeks based around the Julian Calendar the use of which by 1st century Hellenists and Romans in Palestine was never spoken against by Jesus when he lived there. Some Molokan congregations have adopted the international civil calendar.


25th of December to 5th January, a 12-day celebration marking the visitation of the Magi and completion of another year of Christ's sovereignty as one would celebrate a King's official birthday.


Julian Calendar 6th January (currently January 19th) is the celebration of Christ's Baptism before the last three days of fasting in the wilderness where he would be tempted by Satan.

Reconciliation Week[edit]

Also known as Maslenitsa. The week before Julian Lent when Molokans use up all their cheese which Molokans substitute as a symbolic firstfruit not to be consumed in Lent although they do milk.

Forgiveness Sunday[edit]

The Sunday after Reconciliation Week is observed as the Biblical Rosh Chodesh of Adar. After sunset on this day will begin Lent which symbolizes the Biblical restriction on First Fruits.

2nd Sunday of Lent[edit]

Observed as the Carnival of Purim by some congregations, especially those which do not keep Maslenitsa.

4th Sunday of Lent[edit]

Molokans in Mordova give children blue and white Martenitsas. It is observed as the Biblical Rosh Chodesh of Nisan.


Julian Calendar 25th March (currently April 7th).


The 5th week of Lent begins a popular season for Pilgrimage. In pastoral times a lamb would have been selected from the flocks on the first Tuesday of Passiontide for a Feast after sunset on Lazarus Saturday.

Passion Week[edit]

The week beginning with Palm Sunday in which Molokans eat unleavened bread.

The Resurrection[edit]

The day Molokans may enjoy eating Yeast-Breads (e.g. Kulich) again.


Celebrating Christ's Bar Mitzvah.



Apostle's Fast[edit]

Also called emigration fast. A 30-day fast in commemoration of a fast the Apostles took on in preparation for leaving Jerusalem to to take the Gospel around the known world. A popular time for visiting the graves. Restrictions are tightened for the last 10 days but most solemnly for the last 3 days.

All Saint's Day[edit]

Julian Calendar 10th July (currently July 23rd) is a Feast Day unique to Molokans. Molokans have a roast to mark the end of the Apostle's Fast period. Somewhat similar in spirit to Orthodox St. Peter's Day (Julian Calendar June 29th) with which it is normally conflated.

Elijah's Day[edit]

Julian Calendar 20th July (currently August 2nd).

Feast of the Transfiguration[edit]

Julian Calendar 6th August (currently August 19th).


The first Sunday of September is observed as the Biblical Rosh Chodesh of Ethanim and Feast of Trumpets in some congregations. It is the start of the Molokan's Lectionary-cycle Church's Liturgical year equivalent to Rosh Hashanah.

Day of Atonement[edit]

Observed in some congregations on the second Tuesday of September. It is treated as a day of fasting while the entire book of Deuteronomy is read.

Feast of the Cross[edit]

The festival of the whole week which occurs following the sunset of Julian September 14 is observed as the Biblical Feast of Tabernacles. The Cross is a symbolic Yoke by which we haul in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Harvest Festival[edit]

The Sunday after the Week of the Cross is the first Sunday after the Julian Calendar's 21st of September symbolic Autumn Equinox. It is observed as the Biblical Shemini Atzeret.

Advent Fast[edit]

The Biblical Fast of the 10th Month, referred to in Apocrypha as the Fast of Adam. From the First week of December Molokans fast 12 hours each day for up-to 40 days, the last three falling after Epiphany symbolizing Christ's 40 days of fasting during which he was baptized then tempted in the last three days in the desert by Satan.

Naming in the United States[edit]

Molokans are known for having different spellings of last names within the same immediate family.

Molokans are also known for having "first names" that aren't their legal names. Many common "first names" are actually based on nicknames from childhood within the church that stuck. These are not legal names, and as such become names that make tracing family history very difficult. For example "Hazel Valov" became known as "Percy Valov", for being very "persistent".

This naming process can help with family trees, but because so many relatives have similar names, and many nicknames aren't legal names, it can be complex.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]