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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'." Their traditions (especially dairy consumption during Christian fasts) did not conform to those of the Russian Orthodox Church. Regarded as outside the traditional Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholic and Protestant denominations,Template:Fsct they tend to identify as "Spiritual Christians".

Unlike the Protestant "reformists" of Western Europe, Molokans rejected conformity. 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 Iconobortsi) 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, they elect a council of dominant elders who preserve a sort of apostolic succession, considered heretical by the Orthodox Church. 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 (icon-wrestlers). They migrated into central Russia and Ukraine 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, who had pastoral communities on the Eurasian plains (particularly from the Moldau to Mordova[disambiguation needed] and the Kuban-Dagestan-Baku regions). Groups had developed among them, known as the Paulicians and subsequent "Bogomils" of Thrace, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Serbia. 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 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 III but it was soon labelled heretical and its supporters suppressed as Judaizers by the Russian Orthodox Church. Interest in a sola scriptura tradition survived among certain Christians. 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 pacifism: they refused to bear arms in customary military service and to assist in any form of military support. 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). Molokans played with this idea, saying they were "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 in their belief 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 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 Tsarina Catherine but constrained by 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 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.

Molokans vs Jumpers[edit]

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

The constant Molokan sect condemned the new sect to authorities, resulting in betrayals and imprisonment for many of the Jumpers and Leapers. These people called themselves "New Israelites" under their anointed leader Maxim Rudometkin. Efim G. Klubnikin was considered a divinely inspired 12-year-old boy prophet, who 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 leadership, about 2,000 Jumpers emigrated to the United States, most settling in the Los Angeles area near the area of Boyle Heights, 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, the Russian Jumpers influenced 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 the child prophet of the Jumpers. When the Russians arrived in Los Angeles, they were befriended by local settlement house director Dana W. Bartlett.[7] Klubnikin's followers became involved in raising cattle and as merchants and wholesalers in groceries, as they probably had done in the Tambov area prior to exile.

"Constant" Molokans[edit]

A Molokan villager in Fioletovo, Armenia

The Russian term "constant" (invariable, steadfast, unchanged, original : postoyanniye : постоянние) applied to Molokane has been used with two different intentions. One, by original Molokane who refused to be evangelized by other sectarians and insist they will retain their heritage Spiritual Christian faith unadulterated by other faiths. Two, in contrast, other faiths used the term to insult Molokane for not changing to what evangelizers believe is their superior faith. This term is now most often verbally used by Dukhizhiniki who falsely claim to be "True Molokans."[8] The meaning of the term depends on the user, time, location and context, which is confusing.

In 1900 there could have been about a half-million Spiritual Christian Molokane in the Russia empire. Beginning around 1825, about one-fourth were voluntarily resettled in the Caucasus where most were recognized as "ideal colonists." [9] Other large clusters remained in New Russia (Novorossiya) and central Volga region, while others relocated to Central Asia and Amur Oblast.[10]

Less than 1000 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.[11] 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.[12]

Present conditions[edit]

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 which about 5,000 "ethnically" identify as Molokans. Most reside in the West: California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Wyoming, near where their ancestors settled in the early 20th century. 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 the Molokans as one of their peoples.[citation needed]

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]


Molokans adhere to Old Testament laws 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. On holy days, they refrain from eating pork, shellfish, or other "unclean" foods, as defined in the Bible. They keep the Sabbath on Saturday, as well as the first Sunday of every month, as a Biblical Rosh Chodesh. 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 also in Old Slavonic, which was common to the Orthodox Church. Men and women sit apart, and services are usually quite active. They have been using the liturgy of Trakai at least since the 1890s.[14] Like Muslims, Molokans have clerics but no clerical hierarchy. They must not have eaten pork or drunk alcohol recently before worship. They respect but do not worship saints, and do not worship symbols or images, such as icons or crosses. Proselytism is encouraged to attract more members, as the Molokans traditionally practice endogamy and marry within the faith.

Holy Days[edit]

The Molokan year is a system of weeks based around the Julian Calendar. Some Molokan congregations have adopted the international civil calendar.


From December 25 to January 5, Molokans celebrate the 12 days of Christmas, a celebration marking the visitation of the Magi and completion of another year of Christ's sovereignty. They make a big holiday of this period.


Main article: Epiphany (holiday)

Julian Calendar 6th January (currently January 19th) is celebrated as the day of Christ's baptism, before his last three days of fasting in the wilderness, where he would be tempted by Satan.

Reconciliation Week[edit]

Also known as Maslenitsa. In the week before the start of Julian Lent, Molokans use up all their cheese. They substitute this as a symbolic first fruit to be given up for Lent. Unlike Russian Orthodox Christians, they permit consumption of milk during Lent.

Forgiveness Sunday[edit]

The Sunday after Reconciliation Week is observed as the Biblical Rosh Chodesh of Adar. After sunset on this day begins Lent. They practice it as the Biblical restriction on First Fruits.

2nd Sunday of Lent[edit]

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

4th Sunday of Lent[edit]

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


Julian Calendar March 25 (currently April 7).


Main article: Passiontide

The 5th week of Lent begins a popular season for pilgrimage. In pastoral times, the people would select a lamb from the flocks on the first Tuesday of Passiontide to consume at the Feast after sunset on Lazarus Saturday.

Passion Week[edit]

Main article: Holy Week

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


Main article: Easter

The day Molokans may enjoy eating leavened breads (e.g. kulich) again.


Celebrating Christ's Bar Mitzvah.



Main article: Pentecost

Apostle's Fast[edit]

Main article: Apostle's Fast

Also called emigration fast. A 30-day fast in commemoration of a fast the Apostles made in preparation for leaving Jerusalem to proselytize the Gospel around the known world. This is a popular time for visiting the graves of ancestors. Dietary restrictions are tightened for the last 10 days, and are observed most solemnly for the last 3 days.

All Saint's Day[edit]

Julian Calendar July 10 (currently July 23) is a Feast Day unique to Molokans as Christians. 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 29), with which it is normally conflated.

Elijah's Day[edit]

Julian Calendar July 20 (currently August 2).

Feast of the Transfiguration[edit]

Julian Calendar August 6(currently August 19).


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 Molokans' Lectionary-cycle Church's Liturgical year, equivalent to Rosh Hashanah.

Day of Atonement[edit]

Main article: Day of Atonement

Observed in some congregations on the second Tuesday of September. Treated as a day of fasting, the congregation listens to reading of the entire book of Deuteronomy.

Feast of the Cross[edit]

Main article: Feast of the Cross

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 the people haul in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Harvest Festival[edit]

Main article: Harvest Festival

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

Advent Fast[edit]

Main article: Advent Fast

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. This period symbolizes Christ's 40 days of fasting in the desert. He was baptized during this period and tempted in the last three days by Satan.

Naming in the United States[edit]

Molokans are known for having different spellings of last names within the same immediate family. They frequently use "first names" that are not their legal names. Many common "first names" are based on nicknames from childhood within the church that stuck with people as adults. These are not legal names; because of the frequent use of nicknames that are not legal names, and the fact that several relatives may have the same nickname, tracing family history can be very difficult. For example "Hazel Valov" became known as "Percy Valov", for being very "persistent".

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. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ "The Karaits of East Asia", in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1944. Douglas Morton Dunlop
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ [2]
  6. ^ [3]
  7. ^ [4], Molokane website
  8. ^ Conovaloff, Andrei. Taxonomy of 3 Spiritual Christian groups: Molokane, Pryguny and Dukhizhizniki — books, fellowship, holidays, prophets and songs. Retrieved October 23, 2015.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. ^ Breyfogle, Nicholas (June 2005). Heretics and Colonizers: Forging Russia's Empire in the South Caucasus. Cornell University Press. 
  10. ^ Inikova, Svetlana (July 1998). Problemy etnokonfessional'nykh grupp dukhobortsev i molokan. Moscow: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. pp. 84–104. ISBN 0-87003-140-6. Retrieved October 23, 2015. 
  11. ^ Conovaloff, Andrei. Taxonomy of 3 Spiritual Christian groups: Molokane, Pryguny and Dukhizhizniki — books, fellowship, holidays, prophets and songs. Retrieved October 23, 2015.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ [5], Today's Zaman
  14. ^ [6]

External links[edit]