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A Molokan (Russian: молокан, IPA: [məlɐˈkan] or молоканин, "dairy-eater") is a member of various Spiritual Christian sects that evolved from Eastern Christianity in the East Slavic lands. Their traditions—especially dairy consumption during Christian fasts—did not conform to those of the Russian Orthodox Church, and they were regarded as heretics (sektanty). The term Molokan is an exonym used by their Orthodox neighbors; they tend to identify themselves as Spiritual Christians (духовные христиане : dukhovnye khristiane).

There are almost as many different ways among Molokans as there are Molokans. Some built chapels for worship, kept sacraments, and revered saints and icons, while others (like Ikonobortsy, "icon-wrestlers") discarded these practices in the pursuit of individual approaches to scripture. In general, they rejected the institutionalized formalism of Orthodoxy and denominations with similar doctrines in favor of more emphasis on "Original Christianity" as they understood it. They emphasized spirituality and spiritual practice; such sacramental practices as water baptism have been permitted only as tangible signs and symbols of more important spiritual truths.

Similar to Presbyterians among Protestants, and considered heretical by the Orthodox Church, they elect a council of dominant elders who preserve a sort of apostolic succession. Molokans had some practices similar to the European Quakers and Mennonites, such as pacifism, communal organization, spiritual meetings, and sub-groupings. But they arose in Russia together with the Doukhobors and Sabbatarians (also known as Subbotniks) and similar Spiritual Christian movements of Duhovnye Kristyanye and Ikonobortsy. They migrated into central Russia and Ukraine around the same time.

Formation and development[edit]

11th to 14th centuries[edit]

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 Turkic Christians, who lived on meat and milk, to Nestorian Christianity.[1] Arriving in the Rus' lands with the 13th century Tatar invasion[2] of Batu and Möngke, the practice was adopted by other Christians, who had pastoral communities on the Eurasian plains.

15th to 16th centuries[edit]

The Judaizers preceded the modern day Molokans. Although they are sometimes also called "Molokans", they constitute an independent movement. Their leader Matvei Simyonich Dalmatov (Матвей Семенович Далматов) became a martyr in a monastery prison by wheeling.

17th to 18th centuries[edit]

The first recorded use of the term "Molokan" appears in the 1670s, in reference to the people who had the practice of drinking milk on the 200 fasting days stipulated by the Orthodox Church. (Moloko means "milk" in Russian). Nonetheless, these were "Spiritual Christians" not directly related to the group later known as "Molokans".

The "Molokans" that are known today by that name split in 1779/80 from the Doukhobors because they thought that the Doukhobors neglected the Bible in their belief that God had placed the Word directly into their hearts. The Molokans, however, held the written Bible into the highest regard. The founder of the Molokans, Semen Matveev Uklein (1733-1809), was a son-in-law of the Doukhobor leader Ilarion Poberokhin (1720-1792) as explained by O. Beznosova ("The Perception in the Religious Space", 2016): "Soon (approximately in 1779-1780) a group broke away from Pobirohin's disciples.It was led by his son in law Simeon Uklein who did not share the mystical spirit and self-deification of the former leader and defended the need for reliance on the Gospel texts in the organization of church life (Margaritov, 1914). This group (called "Molokans") became a "rational" direction of. Spiritual Christianity, as opposed to the "mystics" - "christoverchestvo" adherents, "Doukhobors" and "skoptsy"." (p. 322)

Uklein's Molokans from Tambov energetically proselytized in settlements along the Volga River and Russia's south-eastern frontier, spreading the Molokan faith in Orenburg, Saratov and Astrakhan provinces and 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 Catherine the Great but constrained by strict rules imposed upon them intended to curb community growth.[3] Those who ignored the restrictions were punished in Tsarist Russia as heretics.[4] Molokan evangelists and missionaries suffered imprisonment, banishment and other forms of punishment. Prohibited from winning converts,[5] the Molokans were forced into endogamy. The government's policy was to send the Molokans away from the center of Russia into the Caucasus (1833), and other outlying areas to prevent their having influence on other peasants; they were sent to Armenia, Azerbaijan (1834), Ukraine (1830s), central Asia, and Siberia, where many communities have survived into the present.

It is said that, in 1900, despite the persecution there could have been about a half-million Spiritual Christians in the Russia empire. These figures appear, however, to be vastly exaggerated. In 1912, there were only 133,935 Molokane and 4,844 Pryguny counted in Russia (census of the Department of Spiritual Affairs; see Glenn Dynner: "Holy Dissent: Jewish and Christian Mystics in Eastern Europe", 2011).

Fewer than one thousand Molokane fled Russia in the early 1900s (mostly 1905-1912), many of whom settled near other non-Orthodox immigrants from Russia in an ethnic enclave on and near Potrero Hill, San Francisco, California, where they built a prayer hall in 1929. A second prayer hall was established near Sheridan, California to serve those scattered in Northern California. There was never a "Molokan Church" in Southern California.[6] Though some Spiritual Christian faith groups fled Russia in the early 1900s to avoid the military draft, all eligible Molokan boys registered for the Selective Service Act of 1917, but were disqualified as aliens who did not speak English. During World War II, 136 eligible American Molokan boys enlisted during World War II, and two were conscientious objectors.[7]

Being prohibited from winning converts under the laws of the Russian Empire, they adopted endogamy and were classified as an ethnic group under the Bolsheviks.

Groups of Molokans[edit]

There were many different Molokan movements including the "Constants", the "Jumpers", the "Maximists" (actually a reform movement of the Jumpers) and the "Commmunalists".

Constant Molokans and Molokan Jumpers[edit]

A Molokan villager in Fioletovo, Armenia

The Russian term "constant" (invariable, steadfast, unchanged, original : postoyanniye : постоянние) applied to the Molokans has been used with two different intentions. By original Molokans who either refused to be evangelized by Protestant denominations or insisted that they will retain their faith unchanged by the "Jumper" revivalist movement in the 1830s. They originally constituted the by far largest segment of Molokanism. In 1833, a schism took place within the Molokan faith. This event was framed by collective cataclysms of disease, famine, and persecution.[8][9] A portion of the Molokans during this time began to experience a charismatic outpouring of the Holy Spirit,[10] similar to later Pentecostal faiths. Eventually this sect evolved into what is known today as the Molokan Jumpers.[11] The old Molokans were termed Constants (Postoyaniye), and the newly evolved Molokans "Jumpers" (Pryguny) also called Skakuny (Leapers). The Molokan Jumpers believed they were visited by a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, and this new smaller Molokan sect began a revival with intense zeal, reporting miracles that purportedly rivaled those of Christ's apostles.

Seeds of exodus[edit]

The "Constant" Molokan sect condemned the new sect to authorities, resulting in betrayals and imprisonment for many of the Molokan Jumpers. Some of these Molokan Jumpers called themselves "New Israelites", when their leader Maxim Rudometkin in Nikitino, Erivan Guberniya was announced to be the "King of the Spirits" in 1853. The group, also known as Maximists", considered Efim Gerasimovic Klubnikin (1842-1915) in Romanovka, Kars oblast, a divinely inspired 12-year-old boy prophet. He prophesied a "coming time that would be unbearable and that the time to leave Russia was now." During the early 20th century under his leadership, about 2,000 Pryguny emigrated to the United States, first settling on the east side of Los Angeles. Most seeking rural isolation moved to Baja Mexico, then Arizona, Central California, and some other parts of the West Coast and Canada. Other Jumpers received a land grant from the Mexican government and settled in the Guadalupe Valley in Baja California, Mexico.

In Los Angeles, a small number of the Molokan Jumpers joined the development of the American Revival called "the Pentecostal Azusa Street Revival." The founder of The Full Gospel Business Men's Association associates this Pentecostal Revival to a child prophet of the Molokan Jumpers, E.G. Klubnikin.


The first Russian Molokans Church (Spiritual Christians) in Glendale, Arizona was built in 1950 and is located at 7402 Griffin Ave. It is listed as historical by the Glendale Arizona Historical Society.

About 20,000 people identify as Molokans, at least ethnically, in the former Soviet Union. There are approximately 200 Molokan churches, 150 of them in Russia and Azerbaijan. They also lived in the North Caucasus, Southern Ukraine, Armenia, and Central Asia, where ancestors had been exiled long ago.

Approximately 25,000 Molokans reside in the United States, of whom about 5,000 "ethnically" identify as Molokans. The majority live in or near Los Angeles, particularly in East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, and Commerce.[12]

During the 1960s other Molokans settled in southern Alaska and Australia. Molokans are said to be numerous in Australia. The majority are in South Australia, with a number of 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, keeping their traditional communal lifestyle. A group of Molokan families are also living in South America in the country of Uruguay.

A small Molokan community was located in the eastern province of Kars, Turkey. Most of the community returned to Russia years ago; in the 21st century only one family of Molokans is left in Kars.[13]

Spiritual practices[edit]

Molokans adhere to Old Testament laws in the spirit of the Christian New Covenant. All sects refrain from eating pork, shellfish, or other "unclean" foods, as defined in the Bible. Molokans refer to the sabbath on Sunday. Some refuse to serve on juries or file lawsuits against fellow church members. Church services, led by a Lector, are conducted predominantly in the Russian language, but also in Old Slavonic, which was common to the Orthodox Church. Men and women sit apart, and services are usually quite active. They do not worship saints, and do not worship symbols or images, such as icons or crosses. as the Molokans traditionally practice endogamy and marry within the faith.

Molokans in the United States[edit]


Molokans are known for having different spellings of last names within the same immediate family for a few reasons. 1. The names were horribly misspelled when they arrived in the United States, two they were terribly translated and others changed the spelling because they were afraid to be taken back. They also in several cases chose to go with American versions of their names. So "Vasilli Bukroff" becomes "Bill" or "William Bukroff" or "Ivan Metchikoff" will become "John Mitchell" and "Dunya Tikunov" will be "Julie Tyler". They also sometimes use "first names" that are not their legal names and are based on nicknames from childhood within the church that stuck with people as adults. For example, "Hazel Valov" became known as "Percy Valov", for being very "persistent". Another naming practice that can become confusing for those who are unfamiliar is those who settled in the Guadalupe Valley, Mexico. Many settlers took on the Mexican versions of their names so Rodion Pavlov became "Rodolfo Pabloff" and when they had children they also adopted the Mexican format so you will see what would have been a Russian name like "Ivan Pavilovich Pabloff" (Ivan son of Pavil (Paul) (Pavlov), whose mother's maiden name is "Samarin" become "Juan Pablo Pabloff de Samarin" or "Juan Samarin Pabloff". In all these instances, tracing family history can become very difficult Otherwise they adhere to the common naming practices. A lot can be learned from a Russian head stone which will commonly go back to use of the Russian naming practices regardless of what they used while alive. If translated correctly you should learn the names of the father and grandfather from a male's headstone. If it is displayed in English at the bottom it most likely will not contain the information.

Legal issues[edit]

On June 8, 1917, the Arizona Republican reported that the Molokan community in Glendale, Arizona, refused to register under the selective service act of 1917. The likely result would be the arrest of Molokan persons who refused to sign the order. Molokans claimed that their religious precepts forbade them from signing into such an agreement. The Russians had forced them into the military and that is why they fled Russia for the United States. The Molokans feared that history would repeat itself in America as it had in Russia.[14]

On August 9, 1917, The Daily Missoulian reported that 35 Molokans were arrested and given sentences of one year a piece for disobeying the Selective Service Act of 1917. Thirty-three other Molokans were arrested for creating a disturbance outside of the jail house wherein women were hitting police with their umbrellas and one knife wielding man had to be overpowered. At the sentencing of the 35 young men, the courtroom was a wild scene and some attendants were slightly injured while being subdued.[15]

Perception of Molokans[edit]

The Molokans in the United States seemed very strange to Americans and their religious observances were called odd. The Molokan colonies and communities were called cults and Molokans were harassed by Americans with the creation of the derogatory term Molokan Slackers. The Molokans were given this moniker due to their history of averting state marriage laws and pacifist belief system.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Borbone, Pier Giorgio. "Some Aspects of Turco-Mongol Christianity in the Light of Literary and Epigraphic Syriac Sources (Pier Giorgio Borbone) -". Retrieved 2012-09-20. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. ^ Cheshire, Harold T (1926). "The Great Tartar Invasion of Europe". The Slavonic Review. 5 (13): 89–105. JSTOR 4202032.
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ [2]
  5. ^ [3]
  6. ^ Conovaloff, Andrei. "Taxonomy of 3 Spiritual Christian groups: Molokane, Pryguny and Dukh-i-zhizniki — books, fellowship, holidays, prophets and songs".
  7. ^ Samarin, Pavel I., editor (August 1943). "(Molokane v armii Ameriki) Russian Molokans in U. S. Service". Molokanskoe Obozprenie (The Molokan Review) (Volume 1, Number 4): 26–27.
  8. ^ Clay, J. Eugene (2011). The Woman Clothed in the Sun: Pacifism and Apocalyptic Discourse among Russian Spiritual Christian Molokan Jumpers. p. 117.
  9. ^ Bulgakov, F. O. "Sionskaia knizhka bogodukhnovennykh izrechenii Davyda Essevicha, on zhe Fedor Osipovich Bulgakov," in Bozhestvennyia izrecheniia nastavnikov i stradal'tsev za slovo bozhie, veru Iisusa i dukh sviatoi religii dukhovnykh khristian molokan- prygunov, ed. Ivan Gur'evich Samarin, 2nd ed. (Los Angeles: "Dukh i zhizn'," 1928), 80.
  10. ^ Clay, J. Eugene. The Woman Clothed in the Sun: Pacifism and Apocalyptic Discourse among Russian Spiritual Christian Molokan Jumpers. p. 115.
  11. ^ Clay, J. Eugene. The Woman Clothed in the Sun: Pacifism and Apocalyptic Discourse among Russian Spiritual Christian Molokan Jumpers.
  12. ^ Martin, Hugo (1998-09-14). "Laid to Rest Among Their Ancestors". Los Angeles Times.
  13. ^ [4], Today's Zaman
  14. ^ "Arizona republican. (Phoenix, Ariz.) 1890-1930, June 08, 1917, Image 8". 1917-06-08. pp. PAGE EIGHT. ISSN 2157-135X. Retrieved 2018-03-09.
  15. ^ "The Daily Missoulian. (Missoula, Mont.) 1904-1961, August 09, 1917, Image 5". 1917-08-09. p. 5. ISSN 2329-5457. Retrieved 2018-03-09.
  16. ^ "The sun. (New York [N.Y.]) 1916-1920, January 21, 1920, Image 10". 1920-01-21. p. 10. ISSN 2166-1820. Retrieved 2018-03-09.

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