A Pacifist Sect From Russia Is Shaken by War, and Modernity

When he was growing up among the Doukhobors, a pacifist religious group that emigrated to Canada from Tsarist Russia, J.J. Verigin would sometimes arrive home from school to find naked elderly women trying to burn down his family’s house.

One attempt, in 1969, succeeded, lamented Mr. Verigin, 67, who recently recounted the episode. A blaze destroyed precious family artifacts, including correspondence between his great-great-grandfather, a prominent Doukhobor leader, and the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, an early admirer of the Doukhobors’ pacifism and Christian morality.

The elderly women, Mr. Verigin explained, were part of a small and radical splinter group within the Doukhobors who periodically stripped naked and lit buildings on fire to protest land ownership and what they viewed as excessive materialism. Some among those charged with arson had another motive, he said: getting deported to Mother Russia.

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