Old Believers

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Detail of the painting Boyarynya Morozova by Vasily Surikov depicting the defiant Boyarynya arrested by Tsarist authorities in 1671. She holds two fingers raised: a hint of the old (i.e. "proper") way of cross-signing oneself: with two fingers, rather than with three.

In the context of Russian Orthodox church history, the Old Believers (Russian: старове́ры or старообря́дцы) separated after 1666-1667 from the hierarchy of the Church of Russia as a protest against church reforms introduced by Patriarch Nikon of Moscow.

Old Believers continue liturgical practices which the Russian Orthodox Church maintained before the implementation of these reforms. Because of the use of these older liturgical practices, they are also known as Old Ritualists.

Russian-speakers refer to the schism itself as raskol (раскол - etymologically indicating a "cleaving-apart").

Contents

Introductory summary of origins

In 1652, Patriarch Nikon of Moscow (r. 1652-1658) introduced a number of ritual and textual reforms with the aim of achieving uniformity between Russian and Greek Orthodox practices. Nikon, having noticed discrepancies between Russian and Greek rites and texts, ordered an adjustment of the Russian rites to align with the Greek ones of his time. He acted without adequate consultation with the clergy and without gathering a council. After the implementation of these innovations, Muscovite state power anathematized and suppressed those who acted contrary to them. These traditionalists became known as "Old Believers" or "Old Ritualists".

The reforms of Patriarch Nikon

By the middle of the 17th century Greek and Russian church officials, including Patriarch Nikon, had noticed discrepancies between contemporary Russian and Greek usages. They reached the conclusion that the Russian Orthodox Church had, as a result of errors of incompetent copyists, developed rites and missal texts of its own that had significantly deviated from the Greek originals. Thus, the Russian Orthodox Church had become dissonant from the other Orthodox churches. Later research was to vindicate the Muscovite service-books as belonging to a different recension from that which was used by the Greeks at the time of Nikon, and the unrevised Muscovite books were actually older and more venerable than the Greek books, which had undergone several revisions over the centuries and ironically, were newer and contained innovations (Kapterev N.F., 1913, 1914; Zenkovskij S.A., 1995, 2006).

Nikon, supported by Tsar Alexis I (r. 1645-1676), carried out some preliminary liturgical reforms. In 1652, he convened a synod and exhorted the clergy on the need to compare Russian Typikon, Euchologion, and other liturgical books with their Greek counterparts. Monasteries from all over Russia received requests to send examples to Moscow in order to have them subjected to a comparative analysis. Such a task would have taken many years of conscientious research and could hardly have given an unambiguous result, given the complex development of the Russian liturgical texts over the previous centuries and an almost complete lack of textual historigraphic techniques at the time.

The locum tenens for the Patriarch, Pitirim of Krutitsy, convened a second synod in 1666, which brought Patriarch Michael III of Antioch, Patriarch Paisius of Alexandria and many bishops to Moscow. Some scholars allege that the visiting patriarchs each received both 20,000 roubles in gold and furs for their participation (Zenkovskij S.A., 1995, 2006). This council officially established the reforms and anathematized not only all those opposing the innovations, but the old Russian books and rites themselves as well. As a side-effect of condemning the past of the Russian Orthodox Church and her traditions, the messianic theory depicting Moscow as the Third Rome appeared weaker. Instead of the guardian of Orthodox faith, Russia seemed an accumulation of serious liturgical mistakes.

Nevertheless, both Patriarch and Tsar wished to carry out their reforms, although their endeavours may have had as much or more political motivation as religious; several authors on this subject point out that Tsar Alexis, encouraged by his military success in the war against Poland-Lithuania to liberate West Russian provinces and the Ukraine, grew ambitious of becoming the liberator of the Orthodox areas which at that time formed part of the Ottoman Empire. They also mention the role of the Near-East patriarchs, who actively supported the idea of the Russian Tsar becoming the liberator of all Orthodox Christians (Kapterev N.F. 1913, 1914; Zenkovsky S.A., 1995, 2006).

Main alterations introduced by Patriarch Nikon

The numerous changes in both texts and rites occupied approximately 400 pages. Old Believers present the following as the most crucial changes:

Old Practice New Practice
Spelling of Jesus Ісусъ Іисусъ
Creed рождена, а не сотворена (begotten but not made); И в Духа Святаго, Господа истиннаго и Животворящаго (And in the Holy Ghost, the True Lord, the Giver of Life) рождена, не сотворена (begotten not made); И в Духа Святаго, Господа Животворящаго (And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord, the Giver of Life)
Sign of the Cross Two fingers, straightened Three fingers, straightened
Number of Prosphora in the Liturgy Seven Prosphora Five Prosphora
Direction of Procession Sunwise Counter-Sunwise
Alleluia Аллилуїa, аллилуїa, слава Тебе, Боже (Alleluia, alleluia, glory to Thee, o God) Аллилуїa, аллилуїa, аллилуїa, слава Тебе, Боже (thrice alleluia)

Notes on other differences appear below. Modern readers may perceive these alterations as trivial, but the faithful of that time saw rituals and dogmas as strongly interconnected: church rituals had from the very beginning represented and symbolised doctrinal truth (see the section on Backgrounds below). Furthermore, the authorities imposed the reforms in an autocratic fashion, with no consultation of the people who would become subject to them, and the reaction against the so-called Nikonian reforms would have objected as much to the manner of imposition as to the actual alterations. In addition, changes often occurred arbitrarily in the texts. For example, wherever the books read 'Христосъ' ("Christ"), Nikon's assistants substituted 'Сынъ' ("the Son"), and wherever they read 'Сынъ' they substituted 'Христосъ'. Another example is that wherever the books read 'Церковь' ("Church"), Nikon substituted 'Храмъ' ("Temple") and vice-versa. The perceived arbitrariness of the changes infuriated the faithful, who resented needless change for the sake of change.

The Schism or "Raskol"

Opponents of the ecclesiastical reforms of Nikon emerged among all strata of the people and in relatively large numbers. Even after the deposition of patriarch Nikon (1658), who presented too strong a challenge to the Tsar's authority, a series of church councils officially endorsed Nikon's liturgical reforms. The Old Believers fiercely rejected all innovations, and the most radical amongst them maintained that the official Church had fallen into the hands of the Antichrist. Under the guidance of Archpriest Avvakum Petrov (1620 or 1621 to 1682), who had become the leader of the conservative camp within the Old Believers' movement, the Old Believers publicly denounced and rejected all ecclesiastical reforms. The State church anathematized both the old rites and books and those who wished to stay loyal to them at the synod of 1666. From that moment, the Old Believers officially lacked all civil rights. The State church had the most active Old Believers arrested, and executed several of them (including Archpriest Avvakum) some years later in 1682.

After the schism

After 1685 a period of persecutions began, including both torture and executions. Many Old Believers fled Russia altogether. However, Old Believers became the dominant denomination in many regions, including Pomorye (Arkhangelsk region), Guslitsy, Kursk region, the Urals, Siberia, etc. A compact 40,000-strong Lipovan community of Old Believers still lives in neighboring Kiliia raion (Vilkov) of Ukraine and Tulcea County of Romania in the Danube Delta. By the 1910s, about 25% of the population in Russia said that they belonged to one of the Old Believer branches.

Government oppression could vary from relatively moderate, as under Peter the Great (r. 1682-1725) (Old Believers had to pay double taxation and a separate tax for wearing a beard), to intense, as under Tsar Nicholas I (r. 1825-1855). The Russian synodal state church and the state authorities often saw Old Believers as dangerous elements and as a threat to the Russian state.

In 1905 Tsar Nicholas II signed an Act of religious freedom, which ended the persecution of all religious minorities in Russia. The Old Believers gained the right to build churches, to ring church bells, to hold processions and to organize themselves. It became prohibited (as under Catherine the Great (reigned 1762 - 1796)) to refer to Old Believers as raskolniki (schismatics), a name they consider insulting. People often refer to the period from 1905 until 1917 as "the Golden Age of the Old Faith". One can regard the Act of 1905 as emancipating the Old Believers, who had until then occupied an almost illegal position in Russian society. Nevertheless some restrictions for Old Believers continued: for example, they had no right to join the civil service.

Modern situation

Old Believer church outside of Gervais, Oregon.

In 1971 the Moscow Patriarchate revoked the anathemas placed on the Old Believers in the 17th century, but most Old Believer communities have not returned to Communion with other Orthodox Christians.

Estimates place the total number of Old Believers remaining today at from 1 to 10 millions, some living in extremely isolated communities in places to which they fled centuries ago to avoid persecution. One Old-Believer parish in the United States has entered into communion with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.

Old-Believer churches in Russia currently have started restoration of their property, although Old Believers (unlike the nearly-official mainstream Orthodoxy) face many difficulties in claiming their restitution rights for their churches. Moscow has churches for all the most important Old Believer branches: Rogozhskaya Zastava (Popovtsy of the Belokrinitskaya hierarchy official center), a cathedral for the Novozybkovskaya hierarchy in Zamoskvorech'ye and Preobrazhenskaya Zastava where Pomortsy and Fedoseevtsy coexist.

Russian Old Believers in Woodburn, Oregon. Photo by Mikhail Evstafiev.

Within the Old-Believer world, only Pomortsy and Fedoseevtsy treat each other relatively well; none of the other denominations acknowledge each other. Ordinary Old Believers display some tendencies of intra-branch ecumenism, but these trends find sparse support among the official leaders of the congregations.

Nowadays Old Believers live all over the world they scattered mainly due to persecutions under the Tsars and due to the Russian Revolution of 1917. Significant Old-Believer communities exist in Plamondon, Alberta; Woodburn, Oregon; Erie, Pennsylvania; Erskine, Minnesota and in various parts of Alaska including near Homer (Voznesenka, Razdolna, and Kachemak Selo), Anchor Point (Nikolaevsk), Willow, the Palmer/Wasilla Area, Anchorage, Delta Junction, The Anton Larson Bay Area, and on Raspberry Island. A flourishing community also exists in Sydney, Australia.

Old Believer groups

Although all Old Believers groups emerged as a result of opposition to the Nikonian reform, they do not constitute a single monolithic body. In fact, the Old Believers feature a great diversity of groups that profess different interpretations of the church tradition and often are not in communion with each other. Some groups even practice re-baptism before admitting a member of another group into their midst.

The terminology used for the divisions within the Old-Believer denomination does not always make precise delineations. Generally, people may refer to a larger movement or group — especially in the case of such major ones as popovtsy and bespopovtsy — as a soglasie or soglas (in English: "agreement" or more generally, "confession"). Another term, tolk (English: "teaching") usually applies to lesser divisions within the major "confessions". In particular it can characterize multiple sects that have appeared within the bespopovtsy movement.

Popovtsy

Since none of the bishops joined the Old Believers (except Bishop Pavel of Kolomna, who suffered execution), apostolically ordained priests of the old rite would have soon become extinct. Two responses appeared to this dilemma: the “priestist” Old Believers (поповцы (Popovtsy)) and the non-priestist Old Believers (беспоповцы (Bespopovtsy — literally "priestless ones")).

The Popovtsy represented the more moderate conservative opposition, those who strove to continue religious and church life as it had existed before the reforms of Nikon. They recognized ordained priests from the new-style Russian Orthodox church who joined the Old Believers and who had denounced the Nikonian reforms. In 1846 they convinced Amvrosii Popovich (1791-1863), a deposed Greek Orthodox bishop whom Turkish pressure had had removed from his see at Sarajevo, to become an Old Believer and to consecrate three Russian Old-Believer priests as bishops. In 1859, the number of Old-Believer bishops in Russia reached ten, and they established their own episcopate, the Belokrinitskaya hierarchy. Not all priestist Old Believers recognized this hierarchy. Dissenters known as беглопоповцы (beglopopovtsy) obtained their own hierarchy in the 1920s. The priestist Old Believers thus manifest as two churches which share the same beliefs, but which treat each other's hierarchy as illegitimate. Popovtsy have priests, bishops and all sacraments, including the eucharist.

  • Luzhkane, also known as Luzhkovskoe soglasie (extinct). In some places, they had no priests and so belonged to Bespopovtsy.

Bespopovtsy

The Bespopovtsy (the "priestless") rejected "the World" where Antichrist reigned; they preached the imminent end of the world, asceticism, adherence to the old rituals and the old faith. The Bespopovtsy claimed that the true church of Christ had ceased to exist on Earth, and they therefore renounced priests and all sacraments except baptism. The Bespopovtsy movement has many sub-groups. Bespopovtsy have no priests and no eucharist.

  • Pomortsy or Danilovtsy (not to be confused with Pomors) originated in North European Russia (Russian Karelia, Arkhangelsk region). Initially they rejected marriage and prayer for the Tsar.
  • Novopomortsy, or "New Pomortsy" - accept marriage
  • Staropomortsy, or "Old Pomortsy" - reject marriage
  • Fedoseevtsy – “Society of Christian Old Believers of the Old Pomortsy Unmarried Confession” (1690s- present); deny marriage and practise cloister-style asceticism.
  • Fillipovtsy.
  • Chasovennye (from a word chasovnya - a chapel) - Siberian branch. The Chasovennye initially had priests, but later decided to change to a priestless practice. Also known as Semeyskie (in the lands east of Baykal Lake).

Bespopovsty: Minor groups

Aside from these major groups, many smaller groups have emerged and died out at various times since the end of 17th century:

  • Aristovtsy (beginning of 19th to the beginning of 20th centuries; extinct) - from the name of the merchant Aristov;
  • Titlovtsy (extinct in 20th cent.) - emerged from Fedoseevtsy, supported the use of Pilate's inscription upon the cross (titlo), which other groups rejected;
  • Troparion confession (troparschiki) - a group that commemorated the tsar in the hymns (troparia);
  • Daniel’s confession of the “partially married” (danilovtsy polubrachnye);
  • Adamant confession (adamantovy) - refused to use money and passports (as containing the seal of Antichrist);
  • Aaron's confession (aaronovtsy) - second half of the 18th century, a spin-off of the Fillipovtsy.
  • “Grandmother’s confession” or the Self-baptized - practiced self-baptism or the baptism by midwives (babushki), since the priesthood — in their opinion — had ceased to exist;
  • “Hole-worshippers” (dyrniki) - relinquished the use of icons and prayed to the east through a hole in the wall (!);
  • Melchisedecs (in Moscow and in Bashkortostan) - practiced a peculiar lay "quasi-eucharistic" rite;
  • “Runaways” (beguny) or “Wanderers” (stranniki);
  • “Netovtsy” or Saviour’s confession - denied the possibility of celebrating sacraments and praying in churches; the name comes from the Russian net "no", since they have "no" sacraments, "no" churches, "no" priests etc.

Edinovertsy

Edinovertsy (Russian: единоверцы -- 'people of the same faith', as opposed to староверы -- people of the "old faith", i.e., Old Believers) - Agreed to become a part of the official Russian Orthodox Church while saving the old rites. First appearing in 1800, the Edinovertsy come under the omophorion of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate or of the Russian Church Abroad. They retain the use of the pre-Nikonian rituals.

Validity of the Reformist Theory: sources of Russian traditions

Vladimir officially converted the Eastern Slavs to Christianity in 988, and the people had adopted Greek Orthodox liturgical practices. At the end of 11th century, the efforts of St. Theodosius of the Caves in Kiev (Феодосий Киево-Печерский, d. 1074) introduced the Studite Typikon to Russia. This typikon reflected the traditions of the urban monastic community of the famous Studion Monastery in Constantinople. The Studite Typikon predominated throughout the western part of the Byzantine Empire and was accepted throughout the Russian lands. In the end of 14th century, through the work of St. Cyprian, metropolitan of Moscow and Kiev, the Studite liturgical practices were gradually replaced in Russia with the Jerusalem Typicon or the Typicon of St. Sabbas - originally, an adaptation of the Studite liturgy to the customs of Palestinian monasteries. The process of gradual change of typica would continue throughout the 15th century and, because of its slow implementation, met with little resistance - unlike Nikon's reforms, conducted with abruptness and violence. However, in the course of 15th-17th centuries, Russian scribes continued to insert some Studite material into the general shape of Jerusalem Typicon. This explains the differences between the modern version of the Typicon, used by the Russian Orthodox Church, and the pre-Nikonian Russian recension of Jerusalem Typicon, called Oko Tserkovnoe (Rus. "eye of the church"). This pre-Nikonian version, based on the Moscow printed editions of 1610, 1633 and 1641, continues to be used by modern Old Believers.

However, in the course of the polemics against Old Believers, the official Russian Orthodox Church often claimed the discrepancies (which emerged in the texts between the Russian and the Greek churches) as Russian innovations, errors, or arbitrary translations. This charge of "Russian innovation" re-appeared repeatedly in the textbooks and anti-raskol treatises and catecheses, including, for example, those by Dimitri of Rostov. The critical evaluation of the sources and of the essence of Nikonian reforms began only in the 1850s with the groundbreaking work of Nikolai F. Kapterev (1847-1917), continued later by Serge Zenkovsky. Kapterev demonstrated—for the first time to the wider Russian audience—that the rites, rejected and condemned by the Nikonian reforms, were genuine customs of the Orthodox Church which suffered alterations in the Greek usage during the 15th-16th centuries, but remained unchanged in Russia. The pre-Nikonian liturgical practices, including some elements of the Russian typicon, Oko Tserkovnoe, were demonstrated to have preserved many earlier Byzantine material, being actually closer to the earlier Byzantine texts than some later Greek customs (Kapterev, N.F. 1913; Zenkovsky, S.A. 2006).

Remarkably, the scholars who opened the new avenues for re-evaluation of the reform by the Russian Church — Kapterev and E.E. Golubinsky — themselves held membership of the "official" church, but took up study of the causes and background of the reforms and of the resulting schism. Their research revealed the official theory regarding the old Russian books and rites as unsustainable. Zenkovsky has described Kapterev's as [...] the first historian who questioned the theory about the “pervertedness” or incorrectness of the Old Russian ritual and pointed out that the Russian ritual was not at all perverted, but had on the contrary preserved a number of early Old Byzantine rituals, among them the sign of the cross with two fingers, which had been changed later on by the Greeks themselves, in the 12th and 13th century, which caused the discrepancy between the Old Russian and the New Greek church rituals. — Zenkovsky, S.A., Russkoe staroobrjadčestvo, 1970,1990, p. 19-20. </blockquote>

Backgrounds

Old Believer Church in Ulan Ude, Buryatia, Russia

As Sergej Zenkovsky points out in his standard work "Russia's Old Believers", the Old Believer schism did not occur simply as a result of a few individuals with power and influence. The schism had complex causes, revealing historical processes and circumstances in 17th-century Russian society. Those who broke from the hierarchy of the official State Church had quite divergent views on church, faith, society, state power and social issues. Thus the collective term “Old Believers” groups together various movements within Russian society which actually had existed long before 1666/1667. They shared a distrust of state power and of the episcopate, insisting upon the right of the people to arrange their own spiritual life, and expressing the ambition to aim for such control.

Both the popovtsy and bespopovtsy, although theologically and psychologically two different teachings, manifested spiritual, eschatological and mystical tendencies throughout Russian religious thought and church life. One can also emphasize the schism's position in the political and cultural backgrounds of its time: increasing Western influence, secularization, and attempts to subordinate the Church to the state. Nevertheless, the Old Believers sought above all to defend and preserve the purity of the Orthodox faith, embodied in the old rituals, which inspired many to strive against Patriarch Nikon’s church reforms even unto death.

In the past the Old Believers' movement was often perceived as an obscure faith in rituals that led to the deaths of tens of thousands of ignorant people. Old Beliers were accused of not being able to distinguish the important from the unimportant. To many people of that time, however, rituals expressed the very essence of their faith. Old Believers hold that the preservation of a certain "microclimate" that enables the salvation of one's soul requires not only living by the commandments of Christ, but also carefully preserving Church tradition, which contains the spiritual power and knowledge of past centuries, embodied in external forms.

The Old Believers reject the idea of contents a priori prevailing over form. To illustrate this issue, the renowned Russian historian Vasily Klyuchevsky (1841–1911) referred to poetry. He argued, that if one converts a poem into prose, the contents of the poem may remain intact, but the poem will lose its charm and emotional impact; moreover, the poem will essentially no longer exist. In the case of religious rituals, form and contents do not just form two separable, autonomous entities, but connect with each other through complex relationships, including theological, psychological, phenomenal, esthetic and historic dimensions.

These aspects, in their turn, play a role in the perception of these rituals by the faithful and in their spiritual lives. Considering the fact that Church rituals from their very beginning were intertwined with doctrinal truth, changing these rituals may have a tremendous effect on religious conscience and a severe impact on the faithful.

Nevertheless, centuries of persecution and the nature of their origin have made some Old Believers very culturally conservative. Some Old Believers go so far as to consider any pre-Nikonian Orthodox Russian practice or artifact as exclusively theirs, denying that the Russian Orthodox Church has any claims upon a history before Patriarch Nikon.

However, Russian economic history of the late 19th and early 20th centuries reveals the Old-Believer merchant families as more flexible and more open to innovations while creating factories and starting the first Russian industries.

Differences between the Old Believers and post-Nikonian Russian Orthodoxy

6th century icon, depicting Christ giving a blessing. Two fingers appear straightened, three folded. The Old Believers regard this as the proper way of making the sign of the Cross.
  • Old Believers use two fingers while making the sign of the cross (two fingers straightened, three folded) while new-style Orthodoxy uses three fingers for the sign of cross (three fingers straightened, two fingers folded). Old Ritualists generally say the Jesus Prayer with the Sign of the Cross, while New Ritualists use the Sign of the Cross as a Trinitarian symbol. This makes for a significant difference between the two branches of Russian Orthodoxy, and one of the most noticeable.
  • Old Believers reject all changes and emendations of liturgical texts and rituals introduced by the reforms of Patriarch Nikon. Thus they continue to use the older Church Slavonic translation of the sacred texts, including the Psalter, striving to preserve intact the "pre-Nikonian" practices of the Russian Church.
  • Old Believers only recognize performing baptism through three full immersions, and reject the validity of any baptismal rite performed otherwise (for example through pouring or sprinkling, as the Russian Orthodox Church has occasionally accepted since the 18th century).
  • Old Believers in principle oppose ecumenism, despite many instances of good relationships and collaboration with other Eastern Orthodox churches.

Old Believers and new-style Orthodoxy have a lot of small, but essential differences in their respective church services. The very style and atmosphere of the services differs:

  • Old Believers perform the Divine Liturgy with seven prosphora, not five, as in new-style Orthodoxy.
  • Old Believers chant the alleluia verse after the psalmody twice, not three times.
  • Old Believers do not use polyphonic singing, but only monophonic (unison) chant. They also have their own way of writing down music: not with linear notation, but with special signs — kryuki or znamena ("hooks: or "banners" in English translation; see Znamenny Chant). Old Believers practice several different types of Znamenny Chan]: znamenny raspev, stolpovoy raspev, pomorsky raspev (or khomovoe singing), demestvenny raspev, etc.
  • Old Believers use only icons of old Russian or Byzantine iconography; they do not believe in venerating realistic images of Christ, the Theotokos and the saints as icons (which has wide acceptance in new-style Orthodoxy). Old Ritualists do not accept photographic or printed reproductions of icons in their worship.
  • Old Believers do not kneel while praying, but in comparison with new-style Orthodoxy, they perform more bows and prostrations. While making prostrations, Old Believers use a special little rug called a podruchnik, placing their hands on it. The fingers used to make the Sign of the Cross must remain clean during the prayers.
  • On average the Old Believers' services last two to three times longer than in new-style Orthodoxy. In general, the Old Believers insist on following the rubrics to the letter, and refrain from shortening the Psalter readings and hymnography. They also tend to combine several services together, sometimes redundantly. Thus, a typical Old-Rite "vigil service" (vsenoschnoe bdenie) would include shortened ("small") vespers, a solemn ("great") vespers, compline, midnight office, matins and the First Hour.
Lestovka
  • While saying repetitive prayers, Old Believers use a special type of beads called lestovka.
  • Old Believers who have ordained priests use a more strict preparation before Communion — with very strict fasting within the week before Communion. This explains in part why Communion among laity is common only during the Lent and other long fasts.
  • It is common after each confession to have some epitimia. Usually, it is certain number of bows, which are counted with the help of a lestovka.
  • Old Believers do not venerate saints that appeared in Orthodoxy after 1666. For example, they do not venerate St. Seraphim of Sarov, one of the most well-known Russian saints of the 19th century. On the other hand, many Old Believers' ecclesial bodies have canonized a number of saints who are not recognized by the Russian Orthodox Church, e.g. Avvakum and others.
  • Old Believers use cast (silver, bronze) and carved (wooden) icons as well as painted ones. The new-style Orthodoxy prohibited the veneration of icons in relief. In Old Believer circles the practice continued and became very popular, since Old Believers had often to hide their religious implements. Cast icons of small size (and often also folding; see skladen) proved very useful in that respect.

Old Believers also have unique daily-life practices. They consider shaving one's beard a sin, though some modern denominations of Old Believers show more tolerance towards shaven chins. Some Bespopovsty denominations prohibit drinking coffee and tea. Smoking or any other use of tobacco counts as a dire sin. The most strict and eschatological Bespopovsty have practices of refraining from contact with the outer world. That may include prohibitions on sharing meals with people of other faiths, on using their belongings and wares, etc.

Similarities between Old Believers and Oriental Orthodox Christians

(These are not true with all Christian Churches)

Although Oriental Orthodox Churches and the rest of Christendom (Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church) separated in 451 AD following the Council of Chalcedon, striking similarities can be found today between the Old Believers Russian Orthodox Christians and the Oriental Orthodox Christians, such as the Copts, the Armenians, the Syriacs, the Ethiopians, and the Eritreans. This similarity can be attributed to the fact that both groups are much stricter than any other Christian denomination in resisting even the slightest changes to their liturgy, practices or Orthodox faith as it has been handed down to them by the fathers of the early Church in the first 4 centuries of Christianity. Some of the most notable similarities between the Old Believers and the Oriental Orthodox Christians include the following:

  • Both adhere strictly to the practice of baptism by three full immersions, and reject the validity of baptism by sprinkling or pouring of water.
  • Both reject any changes or emendations of liturgical or religious texts.
  • Both employ monodic singing, as opposed to the polyphonic singing of most other Christian denominations.
  • Both reject the use of modern realistic iconography, and adhere to the veneration of traditional icons.
  • Both groups practice bows and prostrations during liturgical services, and do not kneel during prayer.
  • The liturgical services of both the Old Believers and the Oriental Orthodox are considerably longer than those of other Christian denominations. These services can last for as long as eight hours on feast days.
  • Preparation for communion is very strict for both groups and lasts for days prior to receiving the sacrament.

Old Believer churches

References and select bibliography

  • In English:
    • Cherniavsky, M., "The Reception of the Council of Florence in Moscow" and Shevchenko I., "Ideological Repercussions of the Council of Florence", Church History XXIV (1955), 147-157 and 291-323 (articles)
    • Crummey, Robert O. The Old Believers & The World Of Antichrist; The Vyg Community & The Russian State, Wisconsin U.P., 1970
    • Gill, T. The Council of Florence, Cambridge, 1959
    • Meyendorff, P.": Russia - Ritual and Reform: The Liturgical Reforms of Nikon in the 17th Century", St Vladimir's Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY, 1991
    • Zenkovsky, Serge A. "The ideology of the Denisov brothers", Harvard Slavic Studies, 1957. III, 49-66
    • Zenkovsky, S.: "The Old Believer Avvakum", Indiana Slavic Studies, 1956, I, 1-51
    • Zenkovsky, Serge A.: Pan-Turkism and Islam in Russia, Harvard U.P., 1960 and 1967
    • Zenkovsky, S.: "The Russian Schism", Russian Review, 1957, XVI, 37-58
  • In Russian:
    • Зеньковский С.А. Русское старообрядчество, том I и II, Москва 2006 / Zenkovsky S.A. “Russia’s Old Believers”, volumes I and II, Moscow 2006
    • Голубинский Е.Е. История русской церкви, Москва 1900 / Golubinskij E.E. “History of the Russian Church”, Moscow 1900
    • Голубинский Е.Е. К нашей полимике со старообрядцами, ЧОИДР, 1905 / “Contribution to our polemic with the Old believers”, ČOIDR, 1905
    • Каптерев Н.Ф. Патриарх Никон и его противники в деле исправления церковныx обрядов, Москва 1913 / Kapterv N.F. “Patriarch Nikon and his opponents in the correction of church rituals”, Moscow 1913
    • Каптерев Н.Ф. Характер отношений России к православному востоку в XVI и XVII вв., Москва 1914/Kapterev N.F. "Character of the relationships between Russia and the orthodox East in the XVI and XVII centuries", Moscow 1914
    • Карташов А.В. Очерки по иситории русской церкви, Париж 1959 / Kartašov A.V. “Outlines of the history of the Russian church”, Paris 1959
    • Ключевский И.П. Сочинения, I – VIII, Москва 1956-1959 / Ključevskij I.P. "Works", I – VIII, Moscow 1956-1959
    • Мельников Ф.И., Краткая история древлеправославной (старообрядческой) церкви. Барнаул, 1999 (Russian) / Melnikov F.I., 1999 “Short history of the Old orthodox (Old ritualist) Church” Barnaul 1999

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