I am asked to write some words to English readers, by way of preface to this book.
What feeling would I most wish to awaken in the mind of an English reader, before he reads? Certainly, the feeling that these Russian Doukhobortsi (Spirit- Wrestlers), persecuted and martyred simply because they are too good to be understood by the mass of their fellowmen—are of the reader's own flesh and blood. Their sufferings and their needs ought to call upon each of us, as would the sufferings and the needs of our own brothers and sisters.
It is true the Doukhobortsi are, or until recently have been, quite obscure, an unknown peasant sect of the Caucasus. But why have they been obscure? For the same reason that the present life and past history of all such people is made obscure; because they are men of sincere religion, who esteem ii their duty to live by those Christian principles which the most of us profess with our lips, and entirely violate in our lives. They are a light shining in darkness—in darkness which moves actively to hide and smother the light.
It will seem incredible to many of us that the things here recorded can by any possibility be true, in this the nineteenth Christian century. Men, women and children have been beaten, imprisoned, abused, robbed, exiled, starved to death, by scores and thousands. The perpetrators of these—shall we say "crimes" or "excesses"?—are men who help to form the government of an empire which calls itself "holy"—Holy Russia,—in the Christian sense. The victims are people whose sole fault is the practice of the Cliristian virtues of a pure worship of God, coinniunism of goods, and peace—"non-resistance to evil." All these circumstances are attested in this book, by the direct and indirect evidence of men, whose honesty of purpose and scrupulous exactitude are shown by the very manner of their speaking.
Surely the modern State condemns itself immediately and completely, when it thus brings itself into direct and destructive enmity with people whose beliefs and lives are precisely calculated to promote the ends which the State so hypocritically assumes to serve—the ends of social justice and well-being. This book should be received by us as a record of the deeds and sufferings of people, who, in another country, are casting their lives against that common enemy, the rule of brute force in society. Those who sincerely and intelligently desire the passing away of "the kingdom of this world," and the coming of "the kingdom of heaven," will acknowledge the Doukhobortsi as their brethren, martyrs in the cause.
And such people will not be slow to help. Food, clothing and shelter are needed for the remnant of the suflferers; those who have it in their hearts to give will give.
But let it be remembered that no appeal for help has been, or is, made by the Doukhobortsi themselves. They say that God, Who is their life, will send what they need, and they are content to suffer, if it be His will, in the persuasion that all the persecution in the world cannot take from them the eternal life, which is theirs through obedience to the truth. They say that the best thing a man can do is to give his life to the service of the spirit shown forth by Jesus, who said, "Love one another. Love your enemies."
All those who are concerned in the production of this book, from Leo Tolstoy to the last of the peasants whose letters are quoted, would join in so saying; feeling that the first mission of the book is, to let the world know how the life of truth is growing by suffering in its midst.
JOHN C. KENWORTHY.
London, August 1897.