Prior to the middle of the 1700’s the Doukhobors were an obscure and unknown people group. Originally, they simply called themselves the People of God. The name by which they are now known, Doukhobor, was given to them by Orthodox Archbishop Amvrosii in 1785 and was intended to be an insult, suggesting that they fought against God. Doukhobors inverted the meaning, accepting it as a compliment, believing that life was ultimately based on the anguish of internal discernment, wrestling not against a divinity but alongside of the mystery of life itself.
As such Doukhobours thoroughly rejected any revealed knowledge of or conceptualization about any god. Any formal continuity of leadership, education, liturgy, art, literature, festivals, and rites were completely rejected and disregarded. This held true not simply in regard to ultimacy – religion – but shaped their practises in relationship toward the state as well. They acknowledged no clergy, no sacred scripture, no baptism, no sin, no redemption, no civil authority, no certifications of death, no rites of marriage, no contracts.
And while it is certainly easier to identify what these people abandoned than in what they believed, the single greatest constant was their affirmation of something special in the human being, although since they rejected formal thought it is technically not even possible to call this ‘something’, divine. It is this radical distillation of life that renders everything else obsolete in Doukobor thought. And it is this that brought Doukhobors into conflict with other societies – unwilling to extinguish this specialness in another, it led them to both pacifism and cooperative communal life.