Russian Religion: Old Believers Schism (17th Century)


Figure 1.-- This fascinating painting of Old Believer Boyarynya Morozova by Vasily Surikov (1848-1916) in 1887. Surikov was perhaps the best known Russian painters depicting historical events. He was kniown for his inclusion of the common people in his depictions. Here he shows Morozova defying authorities at her arrest. Notice the chains. She is holding up two fingers (rather than three). This was one of differences between Greek and Russian Orthodoxy. Put your cursor on the image to see the rest if the canvas.

The most important schism in the Russian Orthodox Church was the Old Believers who (старове́ры or старообря́дцы) who separated from the official date-supported Russian Orthodox Church (1866). They objected to church reforms introduced by Patriarch Nikon (1652-66). Patriarch Nikonwas disturbed by differences he noted between diiferences with the Greek Orthodox rites and texts. He unilaterally ordered that the Russian rites be changed to bring them into conformity with the Greek rites. He proceeded rapidly. There was no real consulation with the clergy and he did not call a Church council as one might expect for such a major change. The Old Believers held firm to the liturgical practices of the Russian Orthodox Church before Patriarch Nikon's reforms. The term for the skism is raskol (раскол), means cleaving apart. Meeting resistance, the Orthodox heirarch supported by the Tsarist Government acted to supress the Old Believers. The Old Believers vigorously pursued their opposition. Archpriest Avvakum Petrov (c1620-82) assumed leadership of the conservative party within the Old Believers' movement and denounced all ecclesiastical reforms, refusing any compromose even after a Church council was belately called. . The Church hierarchy anathematized both the old rites and books as well as the individuals remaining loyal to the old rites--Synod of 1666. This mean that the Old Believers officially were stripped of their civil rights. The Hierarchy ordered the Old Believers arrested. Several including Archpriest Avvakum were executed (1682). The Hierarch launched a comprehensive program of persecutions (1685). The intensity of the persecution varies. Under Peter the Great (1682–1725)it was fairly mild--double taxation. Other under tsars it was intene, such as Nicholas I (1825–55). In the Tsarist state, religious diversity was often seen as a security threat. Old Belivers arrested were tortured and sometimes executed. Some Old Believers fled Russia to escape the persecution. This was the beginnin of the establishment of Old Believer communities in Europe. There are important centers in the Ukraine and Romania and eventually around the world, including America and Australia. The Hierarchy never suceeded in eliminating the Old Believers heresy. The Old Believers even remained the dominant force in isolasted areas far from Moscow such as the Far North as well as pockets elsewhere (Kursk region, the Urals, Siberia, and Russian Far East). The last Imperial Russian census found that about 25 percent of the Russian Empire adhered to Old Believer branches (1910). With the victory of the Bolsheviks and the atheism campaign, more Old Believers sought refuge abroad. The Moscow Patriarchate revoked the anathemas imposed on the Old Believers (1971).

Patriarch Nikon's Reforms

The most important schism in the Russian Orthodox Church was the Old Believers who (старове́ры or старообря́дцы) who separated from the official date-supported Russian Orthodox Church (1666). They objected to church reforms introduced by Patriarch Nikon (1652-66). Patriarch Nikon was disturbed by differences he noted between diiferences with the Greek Orthodox rites and texts. He unilaterally ordered that the Russian rites be changed to bring them into conformity with the Greek rites. He proceeded rapidly. There was no real consulation with the clergy and he did not call a Church council as one might expect for such a major change. The Old Believers held firm to the liturgical practices of the Russian Orthodox Church before Patriarch Nikon's reforms. The term for the skism is raskol (раскол), means cleaving apart. This occurred at the same time a the bloody religiousars in the West. Only the Russian controversy seems a matter of ritual and less based on fundamental issues of faith.

Resistance

Meeting resistance, the Orthodox heirarch supported by the Tsarist Government acted to supress the Old Believers. The Tars viewed relgious division as a threat to the state. The Old Believers vigorously pursued their opposition. Archpriest Avvakum Petrov (c1620-82) assumed leadership of the conservative party within the Old Believers' movement and denounced all ecclesiastical reforms, refusing any compromose even after a Church council was belately called.

Persecution

The Church hierarchy anathematized both the old rites and books as well as the individuals remaining loyal to the old rites--Synod of 1666. This meant that the Old Believers officially were stripped of their civil rights. The Hierarchy ordered the Old Believers arrested. Several Old Believers including Archpriest Avvakum were executed (1682). The Hierarch launched a comprehensive program of persecutions (1685). The intensity of the persecultion varied. Under Peter the Great (1682–1725) who was not interested in religion he sought to benefit finally -- double taxation. Under other tsars more focused on relgion it could be intene, such as Nicholas I (1825–55). In the Tsarist state, which followed the Byantine princple of Caesaropapism, religious diversity was often seen as a security threat. Old Belivers were arrested were tortured and sometimes executed. Devout Old Believers fled to remote villages away from Moscow and St. Petersburg inyto remote areas when the heavy hand of the state was less pronounced. This included far northern Russia or even to the Siberian wastelands after the east was secured. Many lived in small, isolated communities, remaining apart from the wider Russian society.

Flight Abroad

Some Old Believers fled Russia to escape persecution. This was the beginnin of the establishment of Old Believer communities in Europe. There are important centers in the Ukraine and Romania and eventually around the world, including America and Australia. With the Bolsheviks seizing power (1917), an atheism campaign was launched , more Old Believers sought refuge abroad. Old Believers fled military conscription, Civil War, land seizures, and starbation. Some managed to reach China, building colonies and farms in Manchuria’s Three Rivers Valley. They came under the comtrol of the Jappanese (1931). After Stalin seized control of the Soviet state, emigration becme virtually impossible. Soviet propaganda heralded the Soviet Union as a workers and peasant paradise. He did not want disgruntled Soviet refugees spreading information to the contrary. Some Old Believers managed to emigrate after World War II. With the Communist victory in China (1949), the Old Believers emigrate from China. Some managed to escape from remote Soviet villages. They managed to obtain help in Hong Kong and at western Soviet ports where religious and social charities helped them to emigrate to receptive non-Communist countries. Quite a number settled in Latin America, especially Brazil. Unstable conditions in astin America during the 1960s convinced many to move again. Some found refuge in the United states. There is an Old Believers community in the Oregon Willamette Valley. About 10,000 Old Believers live there, the largest concentration in the United States.

Persistance

Neither the Tsarist state or the church heirarchy ever suceeded in eliminating the Old Believers heresy. Persecution by the Tsarist state and Church heirachy forced Old Believers into remote and undeveloped areas, where Tsarist officials rarely visited. Here they cintinued to quietly carry out the old rituals. Periodically when discovered or feared discivery, they moved again into Russia's vast hinterlands. [Dolitsky and Kuz'mina] Not all old Believers disappeared in to the interior, but for the most part they moved out of cities and important towns where Tsarist officials and the official church was likely to be found. The Old Belkievers became a fertile population for social disobedience. And old legends would periodically reappear such as the Tsar-Antichrist and Peter the Imposter legends. This occured during the reiugnb of Peter the Great (1682-1725) who promoted a range of social and cultural reforms. Percecution continuediunder Catherine, Anna, and Elizabeth seemed to have actuallyresulted iun the survival of the Old Believers. For many who felt oppressed or marginalized by the Tsarist state, the Old Beliver faith appears to have had considerable appeal. The Old Believers even remained the dominant force in isolasted areas far from Moscow such as the Far North as well as pockets elsewhere (Kursk region, the Urals, Siberia, and Russian Far East). The last Imperial Russian census found that an amazing 25 percent of the Russian Empire adhered to Old Believer branches (1910). This seems a huge amount give over two centuries of at times brutal persecuion by the Church heirarchy and the Tsarist state.

End to Persecution

There is considerabke evidence that Old Beliefs persisted in some numbers even in the Russian Heartland. Persecutionm from the Church heirchy ended after Tsar Nicholas II proclaimed the Edict of Toleration (1905). This officially ended persecution by the Tsarist state. The Moscow Patriarchate revoked the anathemas imposed on the Old Believers (1971).

Russian Revolution

Only a decade later, however, the Russian Revolution occurred and the Soviet state under the Bolsheviks began an even more intense campaign than ever attempted by the Tsarist state. Lenin identified religion as the 'opiate of the people'. hge Bolsheviks began an atheist campaign, but against against all religions. And the more intense your devotion, the moe=re lkikely you would be affected. Stalin upon seizing control of the state (lte-1920s), significantly intensified the atheist campaign. Huge numbers flowed into the Gulag.

Sources

Dolitsky, Alexander B. and Lyudmila P. Kuz'mina. "Cultural Change vs. Persistence: A Case from Old Believer Settlements," Arctic Vol. 39, No. 3 (September 1986), pp. 223-231. Published by the Arctic Institute of North America.

Paert, Irina. Old Believers: Religious Dissent and Gender in Russia, 1760-1850 By Irina Paert







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Created: 9:15 AM 6/17/2011
Last updated: 9:08 AM 6/24/2015