Russia’s Spiritual Christians on Armenia’s Highlands

Author: Nelli Shishmanyan


The village of Fioletovo in northern Armenia is one of a kind. Nestled among the mountains north of Lake Sevan, it is home to 1,500-odd Molokans, a Christian sect which split from Russia’s Orthodox Church in the 16th century. Its members, also known as Spiritual Christians, were persecuted under the Russian tsars and by the early 19th sought refuge in remote areas of the Caucasus and Central Asia.

In Fioletovo, Molokans, whose name stems from the Russian word for milk -the community restrains from consuming dairy during Christian feasts - have preserved all their traditions. Those are passed on from generation to generation and abide by the word of the God of decency, honesty, hard work, and unity.

Most of the villagers leave during the harsh winter and move to Russia to sell the pickled cabbage the community is well-known for return in spring when the agricultural activities start again.

Marina stitched a dress for her seven year old daughter. The 32-year-old has been doing needlework for four years. She is self-taught and today she receives orders to stitch headscarves, aprons, and sometimes even wedding dresses.
The Russian government finances a food distribution programme implemented by the UN’s World Food Programme which provides daily pie distribution to all pupils in the local school.
Ekaterina, 78, lives alone with her pets. Her three children left the village to move to Yerevan and Russia, but they visit her during the summer.
There are no specific patterns in needleworks produced by Molokans, mostly they are fine with colorful flowers. These kinds of floral patterns can be seen also in the school.
Nastya, 3 years old.
Mikhayil Rudomyotkin takes grass to the barn to feed the cattle. Life starts at the crack of dawn in Fioletovo, even in winter when there are no farming activities.
The village school follows the curriculum designed by the Ministry of Education of Armenia for Russian schools.
Natasha and Mikhayil Rudomyotkins in the yard of their guesthouse. The couple receives many visitors in the summer. The nearby river is of fish, and one of the mineral-rich springs of the village crosses the Rudomyotkins’ garden.
Masha is trying to make her 5-month-old Tanya to sleep.
There is no kindergarten in the village so children spend their time at home. Often parents involve them into farming. The school does have a preschool class for five year old children.
The winter sunrise - a view from one of the houses of Fioletovo.
Molokans call their Sunday gathering simply a “meeting.” As there is not a space big enough to accommodate the whole community, there are three separate meetings every week.
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