Doukhobor Prayer Service Preservation Project
Capturing the spiritual traditions of the Saskatchewan Doukhobors for future generations.
This project will document and explore the traditional Doukhobor ‘Molenya’ (translated as “prayer service”) as practiced by the Saskatchewan Doukhobors. This spiritual ceremony, which is focused around communal singing of hymns, encompasses many of the key elements of Doukhobor spirituality and is powerful to experience in person. Given the limited time left to benefit from the oral history of our Doukhobor elders, this project seeks to document and preserve these traditions.
The Doukhobors (translated to “Spirit Wrestlers” in English) are a religious and cultural group that emerged in Russia in the 17th and 18th centuries. Their spirituality evolved out of their belief that the spirit of creation, or God, resides within each person and offers guidance and support to the individual and his or her community. Inspired by this concept of the “Living Book”, the Doukhobors adopted pacifism and resisted military conscription. Isolated and persecuted by the Russian authorities for their beliefs, they developed a unique form of spiritual worship based on their Christian origins but adapted to their communal lifestyle and world-view. The Doukhobors’ spiritual beliefs and practices were transmitted and maintained orally, for practical and spiritual reasons. As agrarian peasants, they had few opportunities to read and write. They feared that documenting their spiritual tenets might make them even more vulnerable to church and state oppression in Russia. They also believed that being able to speak and sing “from the heart” rather than from a book honoured the spirit of God within them. The prayer service itself can be considered as a “window” into the Doukhobor soul and as such can be a powerful mechanism through which to not only share the Doukhobor experience from a first-person perspective, but allow others to gain insight into the community and its members’ beliefs.
(For an example of traditional Doukhobor singing, click here to listen to a selection of songs from the Blaine Lake – Saskatoon Doukhobor choir recorded in the 1970s, courtesy of the DoukhoborMusic.ca archive)
The immigration of the Doukhobors to Canada in 1899 to escape persecution in Russia inspired several studies by journalists, politicians, and scholars. Within a few decades, the Doukhobors themselves began to write about their own history and beliefs from a first-person perspective. As technology evolved, this grew to encompass audio recordings of group a cappella singing, which is core to both Doukhobor culture and spiritual practice; video; and, more recently, documentation shared on the Internet (for example, the collection of articles at: www.doukhobor.org). While there have been a number of documentaries that have captured Doukhobor history and culture, there has been little focus in these works on the spiritual rituals of the Doukhobors in detail. The actual mechanics of a Saskatchewan Doukhobor prayer service have not been well documented as this has been a practice that has evolved and been sustained over the years very much through group consensus and the leadership of elders in individual Doukhobor societies. The Saskatchewan Doukhobors have also evolved their prayer service differently from the Doukhobors in British Columbia. Originally conducted all in Russian, the Saskatchewan Doukhobors were the first to widely introduce Doukhobors prayers and hymns translated into English into their services in the 1990s and now practice prayer services with a hybrid of Russian and English.
As a direct descendant of the Doukhobors who migrated to Canada, and one of the last remaining practicing Doukhobors of my generation, I was inspired to launch this project in order to document and capture the essence of the spiritual practice of the Saskatchewan Doukhobors. With the rapidly declining membership of Doukhobor societies in Saskatchewan and the aging of those who are left, there is a limited window left to capture and preserve the experience of a Doukhobor prayer service for future generations.
We plan to produce two products with this project:
Documentary Film About the Saskatchewan Doukhobor Prayer Service:
This film would be a documentary of the prayer service that would utilize on-screen text/images and narration to explain step-by-step what is happening at each stage of the prayer service. It would also capture some of the oral history of Doukhobor spiritual traditions by including interviews with Doukhobor community members sharing their reflections, and incorporate archival footage and photographs that would highlight the various prayer homes across Saskatchewan and help tell the story of how prayer services have changed over the years. Anticipating a final product of approximately 60 minutes in length, it will be presented both as a traditional film that could be viewed on DVD and would also be available to view online.
Immersive Prayer Service Exhibit:
We plan to use the audio and video captured from the prayer service to also create an immersive exhibit suitable for a museum or gallery type of space that would allow viewers to experience being a part of the prayer service itself. Inspired by theCardiff “sound sculpture” at the National Art Gallery in Ottawa, the idea behind this exhibit is to allow people to walk within the space that a Doukhobor Prayer service would occupy and experience the unique feeling of being part of the community singing to each other in spiritual communion. This will be accomplished by using multiple audio recordings from various places within the congregation and replaying the audio in stand-alone speakers in the same physical location that the individuals occupied. This will allow for a 360-degree sound experience as people move throughout the exhibit space. Video of the congregation will be projected as well from multiple angles (possibly through projecting onto “fog screens” running the length of the area where the men’s and women’s congregations would be standing) to also give a sense of the ceremony from a visual perspective. The only physical elements in the room would be the traditional table with bread, salt and water on it placed in the middle of the congregation (representing the staff of life), two parallel rows of benches or chairs on either side of the aisle towards where the back of the hall would be, and on the front wall, the traditional “toil and peaceful life” and “the welfare of the whole world is not worth the life of one child” signs. Additional imagery could be video projected onto the side and back walls, including portions of the documentary film which we are creating as part of this project.
We have a number of key partners in Saskatchewan who are helping us to achieve this ambitious vision. For the technical aspects of recording the project, we will be working with Saskatoon-based video production company Bamboo Shoots and Gemini nominated composer and audio-engineer Ross Nykiforuk. Dr. Ashleigh Androsoff (Department of History, University of Saskatchewan) and Dr. Veronika Makarova (Department Head of Linguistics & Religious Studies, University of Saskatchewan) are contributing to the historical and ethnographic research involved with this project. We are also honoured to have the support of the Doukhobor Cultural Society of Saskatchewan and the Doukhobor Societies of both Saskatoon and Blaine Lake who are taking a lead in organizing the community for the recording of a traditional prayer service in October of this year.
How You Can Contribute
The project will be operated on a non-profit basis, with funds required for Phase 1 and Phase 2 to be primarily raised through individual donations from people like you. We are anticipating costs for Phase 1 to be approximately $15,000 and costs for Phase 2 to be $5,000. For the staging of the installation, opportunities to receive grant funding will be pursued and we will actively look for partners to work with us to host the installation, which may include provincial and national museums and galleries. Any funds raised above and beyond the initial $15,000 goal for this funding campaign for Phase 1 of the project will be applied to Phase 2 and 3.
We will also be looking for people to contribute to the project in non-financial ways:
- Participate in the congregation and sing in the prayer service recording to take place on October 22, 2016.
- Contribute photos or videos to be included in the documentary film that help tell the story of how the Saskatchewan Doukhobors practice their spirituality.
- Be interviewed on-camera about your perspective on Doukhobor spirituality and how prayer services in Saskatchewan have evolved over the years.
In addition to supporting the project financially by donating through this website, if you are interested in participating in any of the other ways listed above please contact us by clicking the “ask a question” link at the top-right of this page.
Phase 1: Development and Production
January – October 2016
Organizational plans made for the project as well as development of a detailed project plan and storyline for the film and exhibit projects.
Primary video/audio recording of prayer service to happen October 22, 2016 in a Doukhobor Prayer Home in Saskatchewan.
Recording of one-on-one interviews and collection of archival footage/photographs will take place during this period, with some scheduled at the time of the October session.
Phase 2: Post-Production
November 2016 – Spring 2017
Editing of video/audio and creation of documentary film and exhibit materials.
Phase 3: Release and Distribution
A special premiere event for the film and exhibit will be held in Saskatchewan for those who participated in the filming and those who financially contributed to the project. The documentary film will be released to general public online via the Internet (YouTube and/or a dedicated website) as well as via DVD by special order. The installation exhibit will be hosted at one or more venues (at least one location to be in Saskatchewan).