soon as the first snow falls in Armenia, the road
leading to the village of Fioletovo is almost
impassable. Few cars reach this mountain-sheltered
site when a winter, which might be tolerable in
Yerevan, feels like Siberia in Fioletovo.
The village is all covered by snow and only the
roofs of houses can be seen from the top. Only
smoking chimneys show signs of life.
The feeling is different when entering the township,
where dogs barking and children playing can be
heard all day. The most captivating sight is the
appearance of villagers. These are the Molokans,
about 1,000 in this village, and they live as
their ancestors did centuries ago.
Long beards, ruddy hair and Russian typical shirts
tight in the middle by a cord belt are the features
that describe a Molokan man. Red cheek, blonde
hair and smiley faces express the Molokan women
that are impossible to forget.
This Russian sect, which originated from the
Christian peasants who refused to comply with
the Russian Orthodox Church in the 17th century,
resides today thanks to its highly devoted members
who deny the divinity of churches, icons or Christmas
and are centered on the Bible.
Molokans is a Russian term given to "milk
drinkers". It is said that they started to
be distinguished with this name because they refused
to obey the fasting days by drinking milk.
They were despised and exiled during reigns of
tsars, but the Molokans have survived and even
the Soviet times, they say, were not as difficult
Victor Zadorkin, 33, who is a Fioletovo resident,
says that no jobs are left in the region. "Everybody
forgot us", he says. His friend, Sasha Zadorkin,
a former miner, complains about the same: "We
are all still capable of working hard but have
no jobs. We are not used to the new rules of the
has left Fioletovo, some 140 km from Yerevan,
without many strong men and women. They are now
in Russia working to make a living.
"According to our laws, we can not let our
children leave, but the poverty has forced us
to do so", weeps Anna Zadorkin, a 54 year-old
woman, whose five children have gone to Russia.
Despite her sadness of being away from her kids,
Anna's serene look and her joyful voice emanates
a healthy strength. She cheers up and, as it would
make her feel better, justifies it was the will
of God. "When we pray for the health of our
brothers and sisters, we also pray for our children
to stay close to our community."
What keeps Anna alive is her faith. On Saturday,
she cleans the house, bakes bread and gets ready
for the Sunday religious gathering.
Even though her life is not easier than others'
the woman does not let the grief of hardship dominate
her. She joyfully finds some work to do in the
house and her appearance barely shows traces of
age. "In every faith there is a salvation,"
she always says.
A day before baking, Anna prepares the dough.
She uses flour, yeast, salt and water - products,
she thinks, that can save from any misfortune.
Prior to cooking, the woman says a prayer: "God,
give ability to my hands."
"If I don't pray, my bread doesn't come
up good," she explains.
Bread is holy for Molokans. Every seventh Sunday,
after a three-day lent, the Molokans from Fioletovo
practice a bread-sacrificing ritual. Anna says
it is important the bread be cooked by a "clean"
woman, that is a widow or an old lady who did
not have intimate relations for a long time.
The bread is brought to the house of gatherings
and is served after their religious meeting. The
believers say prayers before eating it, yearning
for the dead and pleading for the health of people
close to them.
gatherings are essential in the Molokan lifestyle.
Distinguished as a holiday and as a way to make
a contact with God, these meetings require special
preparation. Cleaning - perceived almost as a
ritual - is an approach to get ready. Women say
that each house has to be immaculate before the
day of talking to God. And so has to be each person.
When talking about preparation, Anna suddenly
remembers that she forgot to warm up the bathroom.
She immediately calls her elder grandson and asks
him to get it ready. "I will not go to bed
tonight unless I clean myself and my family,"
Molokans believe that washing is helping them
to get rid of all the dirty thoughts and actions.
The couples can be intimate during all week nights
besides the one between Saturday and Sunday. After
taking baths they can not even think about getting
close as they have to be clean before entering
contact with God.
There are few, if not even at all, remnants of
traditional Russian baths in Fioletovo. People
assimilated new ways of living and are now using
baths heated by boilers. There is even one villager
who built a sauna.
On the day of gathering itself, the community
is all dressed as for a feast. With women wearing
white aprons and head kerchiefs, the village looks
whiter than the snow. In the morning, everybody
rushes for the service. After 10 o'clock there
is nobody on the street. All Molokans are inside
the four buildings where the religious meetings
Instead of churches, Molokans pray in assembly
rooms decorated with nothing but white towels
in the corners.
Only the Easter service requires everybody to
dress exclusively in white. Otherwise, Molokans
wear quite colorful clothes. Women are never dressed
in pants. Long and strict robes are their usual
outfits. All of them have long hair. Women say
they have to naturally preserve what God gave
them. Therefore, they never cut their hair.
The congregation is arranged by rankings. Seated
on long wood benches covered with rugs, the seniors
are forming a line in front of everybody else.
The presbyter, who is the head of the congregation,
sits on the left and sees all the people attending
the worship. The rows turned to seniors are then
positioned by age. First the elders come and then
the younger ones. The same principle works for
the female members, but they sit on the opposite
side of the room.
Once in seven weeks Molokans have a Sunday ceremony
called "sedmina". Several women, usually
the hosts of the meetings, prepare food for the
whole congregation and when the service is up,
tables are settled in the assembly room so that
the community can have lunch. People are first
served with fresh bread, cheese and tea from samovars.
Before proceeding, one of the elders says a prayer.
Molokans drink tea from glasses and do not use
forks or knives for the cheese. They eat it with
is a severe silence at the beginning. Only the
spoons are heard in glasses when people mix sugar
with the tea. Later though people somehow get
merry and start to talk to each other. The presbyter's
helper makes a sign to young girls to sing a song.
Everybody stands up. The multiple voices of Molokans
and their absorption into singing is overwhelming.
Not everybody is involved in singing during the
first verses. But the atmosphere intensifies somehow
and everyone in the room participates in the intonation
of songs, not necessarily by words. Some are just
singing the melody.
When the song is finished the second course is
served, borsch. People are given wooden spoons
and eat it from huge basins, four or five all
together from one dish at once.
Now the congregation is totally cheered up. They
start to sing more songs and all of them are happy.
"You said I am too young" is a song
that makes everybody enter the daze of faith.
A young girl, Marina, is leading the song. Her
sharp blue eyes seem to be in contact with somebody
though she does not look at anyone. Her face does
not reveal an expression and she is not in the
room anymore. While singing she wipes a tear.
Then, her shoulders start to move. Her motions
do not follow the rhythms of the song. Her body
is more like shivering than dancing. Gradually,
she intensifies her voice. Her motions become
more abrupt now that she raised her hands.
Similar gestures can be seen by other members
of the congregation. One of them, Viktor Ivanovich,
even started to jump. And this state continues
until the song is finished. Marina said later
that not everybody is capable to feel what she
felt when singing. "You must have a strong
belief. This is its highest moment."