Bread Salt and Water
Since ancient times man has had the tendency to attempt to symbolize with material objects at least a partial reflection of important points of his life concepts. The ancient Israelites, in their many decades of wanderings always brought along with themselves the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant contained the Ten Commandments of Moses and other sacred writing of the prophets of Israel. During their prayer services the Ark of the Covenant was placed at the head of the congregation with men assembled to the right of it and the women to the left. The early Christians also kept to this manner of assembly. There are groups of old time believers in Israel that keep this form of assembly to the present day.
Christian forms of worship were brought over to Russia with the advent of Christianity there at the beginning of the Middle Ages. In time prayer services were established wherein a table stood at the head of the assembly and on the table there was ever present the Bible and other Holy Scriptures. Those who gathered for worship bowed to ikons.
When the Doukhobors began to disassociate themselves from the rituals of the Greek Orthodox Church, it was through the initiative of their first spiritual leaders that their own forms of worship were established. It has been passed down to us by our forefathers that the major advance in establishing Doukhobor forms of worship took place at the Milky Waters settlement in the province of Tavria at the beginning of the 1800’s, under the outstanding Doukhobor leader Saveliy Kapustin. Having set aside idolization of the Bible and other so-called sacred writings, the Doukhobors acknowledged as their guidance their own, “Book of Life” composed of psalms which were committed to memory. On the table which stood at the head of the congregation the Doukhobors placed Bread, Salt and Water. In similarity with the early Christians, the men assembled to the right of the table and the women to the left.
During their prayer service each person bowed to the person next to him signifying a recognition of the spirit of God, which according to Doukhobor beliefs, dwelt within the heart and soul of every individual human being.
Bread, Salt and Water were chosen as the material objects to be placed on the table because as objects representing the basic staff of life, they were the simplest symbols to reflect the Doukhobor life concept. These objects symbolized peace and hospitality among the Slavic people from the most ancient times. When one ancient tribe met another tribe with bread and salt on a platter, this meant that they were ready and willing to live with them in peace and friendship and share with them the products of their labour.
These forms of worship established during the era of the Doukhobor leader Saveliy Kapustin serve as a basis of worship for all Doukhobors to our present day. Our symbols – Bread, Salt and Water denote that we are people of peace. We will not raise our hands in violence against our fellow man even in the protection of our own lives or in protection of our worldly belongings. We can use only spiritual force of love in our struggle against evil. Every Doukhobor is ever ready to share whatever he has with any and every needy fellow human being.
In our 20th century, one of our late Doukhobor leaders, Peter Vasilyevitch Verigin Lordly in a very concise way reiterated the meaning of our symbolsthat are ever-present at Doukhobor services.He said “Bread, Salt and Water symbolize our basic principle – “Toil and Peaceful Life.”
Eli A. Popoff