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Among Russian Sects and Revolutionists

The Extraordinary Life of Prince D. A. Khilkov

Graham Camfield

In his lifetime Prince Dmitrii Aleksandrovich Khilkov (1857–1914) became known in a number of seemingly contradictory roles and contexts: courageous officer, Tolstoyan, defender of the oppressed, leader of the Dukhobor exodus, revolutionary terrorist and returning Orthodox prodigal. Born into one of Russia’s ancient aristocratic families, with close links to the court, he chose an unexpected path that led him deep into the Russian countryside and brought him to the very edge of the Empire. Renouncing a brilliant military career, he gave up almost all his land to the peasants and settled on a small farm at Pavlovki, Khar’kov province. There, his support for peasants at variance with local landowners and the Church brought him into conflict with authority, both civil and ecclesiastical, and led to his exile, firstly among religious dissidents in Transcaucasia and later among political émigrés in Switzerland.
Using a wide range of often obscure published sources, this book explores Khilkov’s extraordinary life through his autobiographical notes and the accounts of many who knew him, among them Lev Tolstoi and his disciples, the Marxist Vladimir Bonch-Bruevich, fellow members of the Socialist Revolutionary Party and the Orthodox clergy who guided him back to the Church.


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The Khilkov Story: An Introduction


The name of Prince Dmitrii Khilkov is all but forgotten today in his native Russia1 and the wider world. His life spanned the years between the end of the Crimean War and the beginning of the First World War, a period of huge social and political change, and intense intellectual and spiritual ferment in Russia. A friend of Tolstoi and an acquaintance of Lenin, Dmitrii Khilkov could also boast among his near relations, an uncle, Mikhail Ivanovich Khilkov, Minister for Communications and Railways, and a cousin, Vladimir Fedorovich Dzhunkovskii, Chief of the Corps of Gendarmes. His life was a curious circular journey: from Orthodox warrior to pacifist Tolstoyan, from pacifist to revolutionary terrorist, from terror- ist to Orthodox warrior. His story serves to illustrate and reveal aspects of movements which contributed to and shaped, in differing degrees, that turbulent period of religious and political life in Russia. The potential alliance of Russian sectarians with Tolstoyism was regarded by Church leaders of the day as a genuine threat to the stability of the Empire, on a par with, if not greater than, the threat of social and political revolution, whose leaders were in exile or emigration. Yet for the Church it was also a period that saw a rich expression of Orthodox thought from thinkers such as Nikolai Berdiaev and Sergei Bulgakov, who both returned to faith from Marxism. Dmitrii Khilkov was active in and through all these trends and movements and his role in them deserves to be better known....

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