Molokans of Purple: how to live the Russian Protestants in Armenia

Purple is arable land and the silhouettes of the peasants in the background the mountain range. From time to time passing cars SUVs, tractors, join us for angle rotates the truck, he smells of milk. Girls in colorful kerchiefs, standing in the back, cheerfully waving back and spread out into a wide smile. In a mountain village in Armenia, still live the descendants of Russian Molokans. They celebrate the Passover for seven days, for their weddings don’t play accordion, and there is not dancing – but they consider themselves the most that neither is a real Russian.

Photo: Sergei list are the journal GEO

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31 October is coming to the end of the anniversary of the 500th year of the reformation. The Russian state has not been affected by the storms of the reformation, but from the XVI century, its territory, including by migrants from Western Europe, began to form Protestant denominations, the most stable and consistent among them for the Molokans.

Molokans have identified themselves as “spiritual Christians”, who rejected the Orthodox cult, the worship of icons and the cross, denied the Church hierarchy and made the sign of the cross. The main idea is fellowship with God, reading and interpretation of the Bible without intermediaries in the face of the Church and priests. The proliferation of malacantha in the early nineteenth century began to disturb the authorities, and its representatives EN masse to move to Tauride province. And by the time the decree of Nicholas I to the Caucasus, in modern Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.


Of the thirty Molokan settlements that existed in Soviet Armenia, but now there are two Purple village (formerly Nikitino) and Lermontovo (the former Voskresenka), one purely Molokan preserved only the first in Lermontovo also there are Armenians and Kurds. Molokans have adapted to the harsh mountain climate and at the expense of enormous labour on the land to maximize soil fertility. With the same tenacity they have retained their identity and spiritual values imparted by the ancestors, the first Molokans – immigrants. It failed largely due to the solitary way of life and religion.

Purple is in the North of Armenia, between the snow-capped ridges Lambskin and Halebsky. To meet someone in the light of day in the village difficult. Everyone is busy with the household: who is in the house, who in the ridges and Alpine fields. The first thing that catches the eye when entering the Purple is arable land and the silhouettes of the peasants in the background the mountain range. From time to time passing cars SUVs, tractors, join us for the corner turns the truck, causing the smell of milk. Girls in colorful kerchiefs, standing in the back, cheerfully waving back and spread out into a wide smile.


“Molokai underestimate, says on the way the taxi driver Ara Saroyan, once brought a Russian tourists, on the way to Lermontov started talking about molokane. Different said, mostly dirty, didn’t like them all that they marry only their “own”. Argued with them, I better know them. On the way back and apologized. “Not before me need,” I say, like it or not, one nation”.

The main dish on the wedding table

From small one-storey house came the hum of voices and clatter of rolling pins. Along the narrow room in two rows spaced six tables behind them are women in white aprons and kerchiefs and talk roll the dough, from time to time throwing it with one hand to the other, and then standing close by the colleague.

That is a house of worship suggesting books that are on a separate table covered with an embroidered tablecloth: old Testament, New Testament, “Spirit and life”, M. G. Rudometkin (the spiritual leader of the Molokans, a native Violet), prayer books and songbooks. In the corners hang embroidered towels monogrammed HH (spiritual Christians). No crosses, no icons, no candles.

Today the room is temporarily transformed into the kitchen – Sunday in the village will play a wedding, and, according to tradition, two days before this woman rolled noodles – broth with noodles main course at the wedding table. To the question why noodle, Svetlana, a tall, gray-haired woman working behind a Desk closer to the door (can’t go further because of tightness), meets briefly – “is left of Russia”. Before noodles was made to cook in cast iron, now in ordinary pots.

“I will definitely serve meat, but not pork, fruit – watermelon, cherries, apricots. If you celebrate in the winter, then prepare the soup,” – try to knock over their own rolling pins female. Young molokanka are farthest from me, but heard General questions, smile and rush to join in the conversation. Tea ceremony, as they say, the second important part of the wedding meal, and it replaces the culture of toast. Coal heated samovar and a Cup of tea sing spiritual songs, read the Bible and give guidance to the young. Asking whether to play the accordion, women shake my head. “It does not happen at weddings and dances”, is heard from the other end of the room.

Photo: Sergei list are the journal GEO

Wedding in Purple starts, usually at 11 am. Speaking of marriage, Molokans, in the first place, mean the Church. Civil plays a secondary role and is often after. The wedding ceremony consists of two parts, the first takes place in the bride’s house, then under the songs of the Church taking her to the house of the groom (thus announcing the joyous event), where is the second part. Rites conducted by the presbyter – the Chairman of the community, elected from among the believers. Every weekend he holds spiritual meetings in the house of worship, baptisms (they are called Molokans “xtina”), the service on Easter (celebrated on the 7th days), the Day of the reaping and the harvest, and others.

“He’s not clothed”, “do not put on yourself,” “simple man,” the women in the house of worship animatedly explain than elder different from that of the priest.

“The priest lives at the expense of the parish, – waiting for a pause, quiet voices nearby Svetlana continues, – “and the elder works like all the others, in his spare time rituals, he is not living by them. This difference”.

“Spirit and life” modern Molokans

“Our ancestors from Tambov. Molokans Lermontov – Tambov and Saratov provinces. Initially, spiritual Christians exiled in the Melitopol district, the river Dairy. I think that’s why we called Molokans, but in General we are written in Russian (in the passports),” – says Tatiana at the second attempt trying to count what generation lives in Purple. “In the ninth or tenth,” she concludes, bending the thumb of the left hand.


Tatiana we met by chance outside her gate. 55-year-old woman in a white headscarf with a ruddy round face and lively, laughing eyes shyly shakes her head when asked to take her picture. Says does not like publicity, do not insist.

“To be baptized we are baptized, the cross is not wearable. In a house of worship go, but the candles do not light, at meetings and rituals wear all white kerchief, strings. Call us conservatives, probably so. How old was believed, so we believe, and our children in our footsteps to go,” she says.

For nearly 180 years of life in Armenia spiritual Christians hardly suffered cultural influence of the local population. Moral rules and foundations of the faith, the Molokans now a little than differ from those adhered to in the XVII century. This is manifested in behavior, manners, clothes. Men wear shirts and keep long beards (only married, but also among the young is willing), since married women wear headscarves and long skirts. According to the interpretation of the Bible, in which Molokans invest symbolic meaning, is considered sinful to eat pork, alcohol, tobacco and drugs. Condemned and idleness, however, blame the hard Molokans in Armenia they are known for their diligence and integrity.

Photo: Ruben Mangasaryan, Sputnik Armenia

To preserve the identity of the Slavic type of appearance and Russian language has been, in particular, due to the solitary lifestyle and the lack of mixed marriages. Molokans marry solely on its own. Interethnic marriages and mean by them, including the Russians, are here condemned. Rarely recognize and divorces. Molokans who violate the customs, are called adulterers – it means expulsion from the community and denial of rites.

Ask loose if the youth does not violate any principles. Tatiana with a smile, not without pleasure, stretches – “loose”.

Adds strict prohibitions do not, for example, can afford a drink at the weekend, “but not drunk”. “And during the week and there is no need. Drink, go the hay to gather under the heat, so there will fall”, – says the woman.

Girl change the dress length, depending on fashion trends, “one year the fashion for a long, the other short (on the knee)”. Despite the fact that molokanka not wearing pants, young from time to time put them in the woods.

Happen mixed marriage, basically they conclude Molokans, who went to Russia. However, public censure, avoid them – few back. Interestingly, the house in Purple still prefer not to sell, no-no, and will come to rest with children.


And Nicholas today for the first time in five years, he returned to Purple. In the Krasnodar region, where he lived for about 30 years, there is one of the largest Russian Molokan communities – “Community of spiritual Christians-Molokan”. Every weekend in the local prayer house held spiritual Assembly, which, according to men, at different times attended by about 300 people. Such meetings allow us not only to observe rituals, but also to discuss pressing issues of community members, for example, to coordinate efforts to help co-religionists.

“Told us that Molokai has to do the surgery, but he did not have enough money. Then we are thrown off gradually, and it turns out the amount collected. Stick together, think of this cohesion we taught the Armenians a fraternal people,” says Nicholas, being the low man with small blue eyes and a beard of medium length. He deftly switches from Russian to Armenian, and says that he tries not to forget about the past.

“If the neighbors see funeral mass, saying: either by Armenian or by the Molokan,” said the man and after a time, he adds – “but I’m a big difference between us and the Russians do not see, after all, we are Russian, Molokans is more of a nickname”.

To Russia to work

Active migration of the Molokans from Armenia came in the ‘ 90s: the Spitak earthquake in 1988 (the epicenter was in Lori region, which includes Molokan settlements), the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Karabakh war (1992-1994). In 1989, according to the census in Armenia, there were about 52 thousand Molokans, now their number is 5 thousand. As the locals say, then most emigrated to Russia (in particular, in southern regions – Krasnodar, Stavropol, Rostov), Australia and America (numerous communities in California).

Nicholas and sister Tatiana is also from the first wave of migration, the last left after the Spitak earthquake and settled in Voronezh. There often was and Tatyana, were taken to sell brand Molokan sauerkraut. Says the temptation to stay was not.

“Armenians are easy to live with, find a common language. But with the Russians more difficult to go to Russia, and they you, like, not notice, you are not human. Arrogant. And come back – already home,” – says the woman.

In the Soviet period and some the period after the collapse of the Soviet Union Molokans actively supplied to other republics agricultural products, and sauerkraut. Over time, customs have tightened conditions, and to export them abroad has become meaningless. With regard to internal market, then, according to the Molokans, it is limited to the city of Vanadzor, where they have to adapt to local low pricing “to give the potatoes for 30-40 AMD, what does it mean for a song”.


Difficult situation now exists in other industries. After the mass closing of factories in Hrazdan (one of the industrial centers of Armenia), plants in Vanadzor large majority of youth resorted to labour migration. Topical all the same directions – Krasnodar, Saratov, Rostov and Sochi.

Regardless of nationality, Molokans subject to General rules of acquiring citizenship of the Russian Federation. Some of them settled in Russia changed Armenian citizenship for Russian, part – has maintained double, but for the most part – so Russian and not received.

Tatiana says that young children often turn on this issue to the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Gyumri, but always get rejected. “If you get to 18 years – well, after 18 very hard. Tape – gotta move out there to be registered, and why is it us that,” they say in the village.

In effect reducing the role of subsistence farming is actively developing internal labour migration, Molokans go to work in large cities – Yerevan, Gyumri, Vanadzor.

In Armenia, there are several areas in which labor Molokans especially valuable. First and foremost, this household, neatness and integrity molokanka are the best domobrani. In Yerevan, open the services on cleaning of apartments, where gaining only Russian.

Often their work is valued above the established market rates.

Men operate in the city, locksmiths, welders, roofers, drivers, drivers. Last year in Karabakh in the village Vazgenashen, opened a quarry, and many young guys from Purple went there drivers on the KAMAZ trucks. In the village say that the Molokans are willing to take on the work for workaholism “will set the limit at five flights, and they on their own initiative ten will do for the same pay”.

“Some people think that was less work, and someone is missing. I have enough, and went to Russia, but always returned,” says Peter, a tall, slender young man with a clean-shaven face. Works as a driver on your career, today is his day off which he spends with the kids. In the hands of a chubby blond boy. Next on the verandah perched two girls seem the same age (the Molokans, who as a rule large families for religious reasons do not accept abortion).

Looking for some conversation on the foundations in Purple, Peter said, a little modern society: keeping a beard at will, drink can, although quite rarely, but the basic principles remained steadfast. “I do not believe in intermediaries, do not worship icons. Definitely every Sunday visited a house of worship. On this day, strictly no running, after the ritual visit each other’s homes. Get married only on its own, not mixed. So we the most that neither is real Russian”, – says the man.

Automatically look down on “real Russian girls”, whose big grey eyes staring at his father. After a time they remember about their game and begin to whisper, forgetting our existence.

Photo: Sergei list are the journal GEO

“Do you have kindergarten?” – watching them, I ask.

“No, only one school”



The choice to stay

“It used to be your teacher, will now teach only the Armenians, come from Vanadzor,” having waited when will slightly subside the sound of rolling pins, says Svetlana.

In her youth she worked as a librarian in absentia studied at the Odessa school. Now this post is in Purple there is no library. The woman says that the past does not need anyone else. However, at the same time refutes the popular opinion about rampant illiteracy Molokans. It is believed that children are not interested to get education beyond high school because from an early age those accustomed to physical labor (on the ground), not intellectual.


But here, in the house of worship, along with the active dough, women with reddened from the movement of persons, explain the opposite – “guys just can not see leaving to get higher education and do not return.” So the son of Svetlana’s first bachelor’s and master’s degree at Yerevan state University, then graduate school in Moscow. Says if you find a job in Armenia – you will not – return to Russia. Svetlana herself to leave Purple not going.

“Born here, used to live and live, who had a desire, they have left. Deteriorate if our abroad? Who needs to spoil and be spoiled here, is not the place corrupts, and people place” – a quiet, even voice she said.

At the exit of the house of worship meets taxi driver Ara Saroyan. “What do you think? Told, good people,” he says hurriedly, quickly heading to the car – “I Remember the car died on the road from Dilijan, the one who helped at two in the morning was the Molokan Michael, remember the name” – good-naturedly says Ara.

“Look, both from epics,” the interrupted I and the camera are sent to the man who stopped the cart on the opposite side of the road. He is small in stature, with white hair and a long gray beard, his shirt untucked, tied with a belt. With a focused, but at the same time a lively expression and a wide bright eyes under shaggy eyebrows, shifts the stone materials from the truck to the ground.

At the sight of the camera shyly turns away. Close the lens.

“But I saw, by my sister Tatyana. You forgive, we do not like this business,” he says, pointing to the camera.

“I understand… And you were in Tambov?” – asked after a pause.

“No, in Voronezh, was at the sisters”

“Probably called to stay”

“Svali” – with a smile the old man stretches.

“And you?”

“I feel good here, quiet,” barely audible, revealing the gray-Molokan.

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