The Molokans were a Russian sect dating from the late 18th century. Molokans believed the Bible was the soul's guide for salvation and rejected the rituals, icons, fasts, ornate churches, and worship of relics that were common in the Orthodox Church. They were called Molokans or "milk people" because they drank milk during Orthodox fasts. The government sent many Molokans to the Caucasus. One such family was the Prokhanovs. In 1869, Ivan Prokhanov was born into this heritage.
When he was about ten years old, Ivan fainted and lay lifeless. A doctor pronounced him dead, and he was placed in a coffin. But as the elders read the Bible over him, preparing to bury him, Ivan opened his eyes and began to cry. In later life, he thought: "Surely the power of the Omnipotent appointed me to live and to solve a special problem set by Him for my life; another power, the power of death, wanted to cut my life short in its very beginning, but the power of the Omnipotent overcame . . . and I was left to be on earth." Remembrance of this helped him in times of depression.
Reading Voltaire and Rousseau, Ivan grew confused about the purpose of life. In 1886, he took up a New Testament and saw Christ's claim, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no man comes to the Father but by me," (John 14:6). He read Paul's words, "For me to live is Christ, to die is gain," (Philippains 1:21). He sought forgiveness for his unbelief and thanked God for salvation. After that, he anchored his thinking in the optimistic belief that Christ has overcome the world, despite our daily problems.
Ivan wanted to be useful to the Russian people. Like the Apostle Paul, he resolved to provide for his own needs while engaging in Christian work. And so he studied mechanical engineering at the Institute of Technology in St. Petersburg. At the same time, he taught children and preached. His meetings had to be kept secret, because religious gatherings were illegal outside the Orthodox Church. As evangelical Christianity spread, Orthodox priests used their political clout to repress it.
Ivan was convinced that the Russian people needed spiritual reform more than anything else. He wrote, "No social or political reforms could prove successful unless a moral and spiritual reform in the people themselves was first realized." He produced an illegal Christian magazine. At one point, he had to flee to the West. When he returned, he served as an engineer for Westinghouse Electric Company by day and as an evangelist and hymn writer by night. He established a Bible school and organized youth groups. Often he did not get to bed until 2 A.M. Twice he was imprisoned for his faith.
Beginning in 1905, Russia enjoyed several years of religious freedom. Ivan served as president of the All Russian Evangelical Christian Union.
Two years before his death he wrote, "As I look back, analyzing the events of the past fifteen years, I cannot but see that every incident, every hindrance, even persecution and imprisonments, served definitely and positively for the growth of the Evangelical Christian Movement in Russia...." He died in exile on this day, April 6, 1924, in Berlin.
- Bernbaum, Dr. John A. "Ivan Prokhanov and His Dream." Russian-American Christian University. http://www.racu.org/context/reflect_feb1996.html.
- Brandenburg, Hans. The Meek and the Mighty. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.
- Prokhanoff, I.S. In the Cauldron of Russia. New York: All-Russian Evangelical Christian Union, 1933.
- Rohrer, Norman B. and Deyneka, Peter. Peter Dynamite, Twice-Born Russian. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1975, especially pp 72-82.
- Various missions and evangelical encyclopedias and short internet articles.
Last updated May, 2007.