Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/451

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SUICIDAL FANATICISM IN RUSSIA.

of a Russian saint having been found, the whole state church underwent a revival of religious enthusiasm, in which the schismatics did not share, and which they had nothing to offset. One explanation of the later proceedings is that there was a desire to create a 'holy place' for the Old Believers. The head of the estate at that time was Madame Kovaleff, and the head of the skeet was a woman named Vitalia. The former was an elderly lady, in easy circumstances, simple-minded and benevolent. The latter was 35 or 40 years old, energetic, decided, fanatical, narrow-minded and bigoted. She led and ruled the whole establishment. She practised austerities (or pretended to), read religious books, and interpreted what little she heard of the outside world by the absurdly ignorant and wrong-headed notions of the sect. These facts about her account for her influence. She and one or two of her intimates began to talk of persecution, war, enforced military service and the end of the world. The Old Believers were to be exiled or imprisoned. It was agreed, in this community, that, if they were imprisoned, they would starve themselves. Then, however, a new cause of anxiety arose; what would become of their children? They thought that these would be forcibly baptized in the state church, and such a consequence filled them with dismay.

After Christmas there were rumors that a new national census was to be taken with registration for military service. Vitalia declared that war was imminent, that Anti-Christ was about to appear. Registration was the seal of Anti-Christ and damnation. It would be far better to die at once by voluntary starvation and so escape all these terrors and persecutions. A girl of thirteen years, acting no doubt on suggestion from Vitalia, first spoke of voluntary interment. She said: 'In prison they will torture and kill us. It would be better to bury ourselves.' Her mother replied: 'Your idea is good. I agree with you.' The only able-bodied man who could dig a large hole was Theodore Kovaleff, son of the Madame Kovaleff above mentioned. His wife took up the idea of voluntary burial, referring to the fear that children, if left behind, would be educated in the state church, she pressed her babe to her breast and said: 'I cannot give him up to damnation. I would rather go into the burial pit with him.' Vitalia warmly approved this sentiment. Theodore opposed the project, but his mother favored it, partly on his account, lest he should lose his faith under torture in prison. Vitalia taught that as many drops as there are in the rain so many years of torture are there in hell for the unfaithful, but the faithful would suffer only two or three days in the burial-pit, and then enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

There was some scruple about suicide in the minds of some members of the group. Voluntary death they considered different. The