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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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Chapter 7: The Khilkov Children

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chapter 7 The Khilkov Children Unaware of what had happened, Tolstoi wrote to Khilkov on 30 October 1893. He had not heard from him for some months, but had gathered from B. N. Leont’ev, who had recently visited Bashkichet, that Khilkov was feel- ing unsettled. Weary of the isolation and inactivity of exile, he was even contemplating taking action to change his situation. In his letter Tolstoi urged his friend to do nothing to change his circumstances, but to continue in the ‘service of God’, which ‘alone gives a reasonable and joyful meaning to our life’. He felt that Khilkov had perhaps lost that sense of serving the will of God and was seeking to do something. Tolstoi recalled the princi- ple of ‘non-action’ of which he had written in his last letter of 15 May and which formed the subject of a recently finished essay.1 Within days of this letter, on 5 November, Tolstoi was profoundly shocked to receive the awful news from Khilkov about the abduction of his children. He replied immediately, expressing his deep sympathy to the parents, urging them to stand firm in their Christian convictions. What had happened was in a sense inevitable for one who followed Christ’s teaching, for ‘as they have persecuted me, so will they persecute you’. For all the hardship involved they should try to respond with love, not giving way to anger. He who endures to the end will be saved, wrote Tolstoi, How often have I had to repent...

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