Ivan S. Prokhanov: A Brief Biography
One of the great leaders of the Protestant movement in Russia is Ivan S. Prokhanov, who lived through sixty years of tumultuous history which included the end of the Romanov dynasty, the agony of the First World War, the revolutions of 1917 and the formation of the Soviet Union by the Bolshevik Party headed by Lenin and Stalin. The context of his life gives us significant insight into the struggles of Christians under both tsarist and Communist Party rule.
Prokhanov was born in 1869 in a small village in the Caucasus. His parents were Molokans (“Milk Drinkers”), a dissident movement which broke off from the Russian Orthodox Church in the 18th century, rejecting the ritualism of Orthodoxy and instead emphasizing internal spirituality. Their name came from their unwillingness to observe Orthodox rules about fasting during Lent, including the drinking of milk, and, as a result, they were dubbed “milk drinkers” by their Orthodox neighbors.
Ivan’s parents fled to the Caucasus in the 1860s, along with many other religious dissidents, to avoid persecution by Orthodox priests and tsarist police. They hoped to find religious freedom there as they carved out their living as peasant farmers. The plight of his parents and their struggle for religious freedom helped to make Ivan a serious-minded, reflective young boy and instilled in him a passion for poor, suffering people.
In his autobiography, recently translated into English (1993), Ivan described the principal influences on his life. The most profound was the experience of religious persecution which he witnessed through his family. At school, he and his brothers were often ridiculed and sometimes beaten. Yet education became the means for broadening Ivan.