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White Unto Harvest: Odyssey of the Mennonites in Russia

The Mennonites are a sect that still exists in countries around the world.  We would like to focus our attention in this article on those who moved to Russia in the late 1700’s.  Let us first set forth a little background information on the Mennonites as a religion.  The Mennonites grew out of a group known as the “Anabaptists” in the Protestant Reformation.  In Switzerland,

When the brethren rejected infant baptism, insisting instead on baptizing only those who freely chose to commit themselves to the discipline and fellowship of the body of believers, they affirmed in a new (and for that time very radical) way the separation of church and state. The first adult baptisms took place on 21 January 1525, when Conrad Grebel baptized George Blaurock in the home of Felix Mantz.

Opposition to the movement was intense and immediate. The brethren were mockingly called Anabaptists (meaning “rebaptizers”). The civil and religious authorities first sought to counter the vigorous and vociferous preaching of the Anabaptists with imprisonment and banishment. When these measures failed to quiet the radicals, the sentence of death was imposed. On 5 January 1527, Felix Mantz, an articulate, educated student of Hebrew, was drowned in the Limmat River in Zurich. Thousands of Anabaptists would suffer similar fates before the end of the century.1

The name “Mennonite” came from the prominent Anabaptist preacher and leader, Menno Simons.  Simons founded churches in the Netherlands and Northwestern Germany.2 For the purpose of this study it is important to note some of the bedrock beliefs of the Mennonites.  They were pacifists, refusing to bear arms, hold political office, swear oaths, including oaths of loyalty to a state, and to sue in courts of law.  When the Mennonite-Brethren Church later a adopted a creed in the late 1870’s statements for footwashing, and against military service and taking oaths were included therein.3 One outstanding theme of Mennonite history is migration.  They moved often, mostly to avoid persecution and to gain religious freedom.  These moves led them to various parts of Europe and North America.  Their move to Russia (the first group arriving in 1786) was motivated by a number of things, the desire for religious freedom, promises of free land and freedom from military service.  Some thought the anti-Christ would soon arise and decided to a await the “Parousia” of Christ in Russia.4

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