Old Orthodox Movement

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From one forth to two thirds of the Russian people basing their decision on the the rule of the Council of Nicea in 325 that one must "Let what is ancient prevail" formed the Old Orthodox movement. There are two views of them. One is that they are absurd and the other was expressed thus by V.I. Kelsiev: "The Old Belief does honor to the Russian people, showing that they do not sleep, that every intelligent peasant himself wants to test the dogmas of faith, wants the truth for himself, that the ordinary Russian seeks the truth, and whatever truth he finds, by that he marches forward, not fearing the stake..." Conybeare has stated it in another way by writing regarding the Old Orthodox Movement that it "was for those who engaged in it the beginning of religious emancipation, of inward liberty and comparative enlightenment." In his view the Nikonian Church or State Church "may rather be accused of petrifaction putrefaction."

The council of 1667 went against Nikon in one point in that it declared that "the tsar has pre-eminence in secular matters; the patriarch in ecclesiastical." However Tsar Peter I in 1720 with The Spiritual Regulation was to void this. After the death of Patriarch Adrian in 1700 the tsar would not authorize an election and the Nikonian Church became a state-church ruled by a synod controlled by the tsar. In his enactment of April 5th, 1797 Tsar Paul I declared that the Russian marachs were Heads of the Church thus: "The emperor, as a Christian sovereign, is the supreme defender and guardian of the doctrines of the predominant faith, and the preserver of orthodoxy and of all good order in the Holy Church.' In this sense the emperor was called "the Head of the Church." int the enactment mentioned. All bishops were obliged to take an oath to this affect which was clearly heretical according to all norms of the true Orthodox Church. Therefore the Nikonian schismatics fell completely from church unity.

It has often been mentioned by authors that the cause of the slip is based in the medieval doctrine of Moscow as the "Third Rome," but Serge A. Zenkovsky has pointed out that the monk Philtotheus doctrine presented in the "Legend of the White Mitre," was never popular in Muscovite Russia.

With the schism now complete, it would, however, be something far from accurate to consider the existence of a unified Old Orthodox or Old Believer Church. The movement had found an heroic, very human, and deeply spiritual leader in Avvakum (1621-1682), who was mentioned earlier. His autobiography represents the greatest document of the Old Belief. He perished at the stake in 1682 with the words: "Brethren, pray always with this sign of the cross and you will never die, but you shall perish if you abandon it." The spirit that he gave to the movement was summed up by Zenkovsky thus: "He rejected most decisively changes in any details of the ritual and violently attached any change of the canons sanctified for centuries by the worship of Russian saints, clergy, and laity. The Church Hierarchy, supported by the state, insisted on formal change of the letter of the ritual, forgetting and abandoning the traditional spirit of Russian Orthodoxy. To Avvakum this purely legalistic textual reform of the books seemed indefensible. Back of the conflict against the formal changes in the ritual was, as a matter of fact, a stuggle for the primacy of the spirit over letter. Avvakum's aversion toward the foreign and 'Latin; spirit was a reflection of the eternal contrast between what he felt to be Eastern, mystical approach to Christianity and the formal, legalistic concept of the Latin West." (The Old Believer Avvakum: His Role in Russian Literature - Indiana Slovic Studies I). The same author has also pointed out the Old Believers were indeed real religious reformers of the 17th century.

During the 17th century in addition to Protopriest Avvakum there were other Old Orthodox writers of importance: The Deacon Feodor, Nikita, and the two Denisov brothers. Andrei Denisov (1664-1730) was one of the leaders of the Vyh Monastery. His main work is Pomorshie Otvety, which contains the philosophy and theology of the movement. His brother Simon (1682-1741) is the author of the movement. Besides these main works these brother wrote over two hundred others.

The Persecution of the Ancient Orthodox Church

With the schism a violent persecution against the Old Orthodox. The Solovetsky Monastery, which favored the old rites and faith was captured after a siege that lasted from 1668 to 1676, and it has been estimated that from 1668 to 11691, 20,000 Old Orthodox were burned to death. Miliukov and other leading Russian historians, have stated that, due to the schism, the official church lost its most devoted and active members and in effect its vitality: those who had convictions joined the old orthodox movement and the listless remained in the establishment. A decree of the regent Sofia (1762-96) in 1785 ordered the Old Believers to be Burt after three warnings, and those who did not denounce them to be wiped out. The cruel penalties inflicted by Patriarch Joachim (1674-1690) lead many Old Orthodox to expect the immediate end of the world. It was he who in his fanaticism decanonized St. Anna Kashinski (d. 1337; canonized 1649) when in 1678 her body was examied and found to be preserved, but her fingers were in the two rather then three finger form of the cross. It was this that prompted the Old Orthodox to express their opinion of the official state church thus: "It is no more than slavish belief in ritual, belief in the dogmatic importance of certain ceremonial details...hence the clownish condemnation by Patriarch Nikon of ceremonial usages consecrated by age long usage. And, lastly it raised to the rank of dogmas mere peculiarities of Greek ritual... Old ritualism in itself is neither heresy nor schism, but above all things faith in a piety that reflects our ancestral and national holiness..." (manuscrip published in 1866).

Of these persecutions Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote: "The chronicles and ancient Russian literature alike abound in example of repentance... But with the soulless reforms of Nikon and Peter the Great began the extirpation and suppression of the Russian national spirit, and our capacity for repentance also began to wither and dry up. The monstrous punishment of the Old Believers--the burnings at the stake, red-hot pincers, the implements on meat hooks, the dungeons--followed for two and a half centuries by the senseless repression of twelve million meek defenseless follow-countrymen, and their dispersal to the most uninhabitable regions of the country or even expulsion from the country--all this is a sin for which the established Church has never proclaimed its repentance. This was bound to weigh heavily on the whole future of Russian. Yet all that happened was that in 1905 the persecuted were forgiven (to late, far too late, to save the persecutors.") (Repentance and Self-Limitation in the Life of Nations.)

From the very beginning some theologians in the Russian State Church felt that the decisions and anathemas of the Councils of 1656 and 1667 were unjust. In 1906 the Preparatory Commission for the Council of the State Church, under the influence of Tsar Nicholas II, recommended this council the abolishment of the anathemas in connection with the Old Rites. The feast of the mentioned St. Anne was restored to the calender of the Official Church in 1909 and the Council of 1917-18 made the desired declaration. On the basis of this declaration the Holy Synod of the Official Church, under the chairmanship of the patriarchal locum lenens, Metropolitan Sergy, declared in April 1929 the abolishment of the anathemas and condemnations. The council of 1971 which elected the new patriarch, Pimen, issued a special decree in a more formal way: a) "The unfounded opionions of the Councils of 1656 and 1667 that the old pre-Nikon rites contained elements of heretical significance gave people cause to see in these anathemas and the decisions of the councils a condemnation of the old rites in themselves." b) "the Old Russian rites are to as salutray as the new rites and equal in honor." c) abolishing all condemnation and anathemas against the liturgical rites and practices of the Old Believers and declaring the anathemas non-existent, having no canonical validity now. At the invitation of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn addressed a letter to its Third Sober in August of 1974. He wrote in part; "But I eill dare to draw the attention of those meeting to yet another distant 300-year-old sin of our Russian Church. I dare to repeat this world aloud--a sin, so as to avoid having to use a much worse term; a sin of which our Church and the whole Orthodox people has never repented. That means a sin which burdens us in 1917 and which burdens us now and which according to the understanding of our faith, could be the cause of God's judgment on us, a sufficient cause of the evils which have befallen us. I have in mind, of course, the Russian Inquisition: the repression and crushing of the old and continuing religion, the persecution and injustice against millions of our brothers, fellow believers and fellow countrymen...and they never rebelled, never took up arms in return, enduring faithful, Old Orthodox Christians....Simply because they did not have the spiritual agility to accept the hasty recommendations of dubious visiting Greek patriarchs, simply because they kept the custom of making the Sign of the Cross with two fingers, which our whole Church had observed for seven centuries, we condemned them to these persecution, quite as bad as any which the atheists have in turn meted out in the Lenin-Stalin era. And our hearts have never shaken with repentance! And even today in Sergiev Posad, in the presence of a great assembly of believers, the eternally unceasing worship goes on before the relics of St. Sergii of Radonzeh; but the liturgical books which the used for prayer we have burned as diabolical on fires of pitch. And this irreparable persecution, the self0destruction of the Russian roots, of the Russian spirit, of Russian integrity, has continued for 250 years (not sixty, like the present persecution).....During these centuries certain Tsars were inclined to bring these persecution of their faithful subjects to an end, but the upper hierarchy of the Orthodox Church would whisper insistently: continue the persecutions! 250 years were given us for repentance, but all we could find in our hearts was to forgive the persecuted, to forgive those whom we had destroyed."

The synod, which at the time, did not recognize the patriarchal church, did issue a document simular to the one already mentioned, but Metropolitan Filaret in his reply to Solzhenitsyn gives reason to question the sincerity of the document when he expressed that "sectarian pride...has hindered the development among the (the Old Orthodox) of real senctity." A matter of which the metropolitan seems unaware of. Old Orthodoxy has produced saints down to our present century.

Divisions Among The Old Orthodox

Only one bishop, Pavel of Kolomna, remained with the Old Ritualist movement, but he was to die in prison a martyr, and a problem immediately became apparent: how to provide for the continuation of the priesthood. The solution to this problem led to various types of divisions abong the Old Orthodox.

The Beglopopovtsy (of fugitive priests) used priests who left the official church. The Old Believers of the Belo-Krinizta Concord found a bishop in 1846 in the metropolitan of Bosnia, Ambrose, who under the protection of the Austrian Emperor took up resience in Belaja-Krinizta, Bukovia, then in Austria. It was divided in 1862 between the okrushniki, who sought to vindicate the legitimacy of their hierarchy before the offical chuch and the neokruzhniki, who did not feel this need. This division does not exist at present. the official church did not look upon these bishops as having any true orders(The Greek patriarch, Constantin V (1887-1902) and his synod also refused recognition. The decree mentioned above would seem to have reversed this, but no explanation is given as to how this was done. Regarding the Belo-Kriniztan Hierarchy, Rev. Dimitri Alexandrow, a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, wrote to the author on March 7th, 1971: "it is uncanonical because a single bishop cannot establish a hierarchy by the first Apostolic canon. Since it seems that he had a large bart to play in the decree if his church just four years later it is hard to explain this radical change in opinion. The Old Orthodox have always admited the rule, but have pointed out exceptions due to need.

As meens of bringing the Old Ritualist back to what the offical church considers the true church, in 1800, it started the Yedinoverie Movement, when permission ws granted to the Old Belivers to use the old rituals, while being subject tto the authority of the offical church. However, the first synod of its member in 1900 shows that after a histor of a hundred years the movement had not remained true to the old ritual, but used a mixed one. After the decrees metioned above it is hard to see how it may exit today if they are to be taken seriously at all. A visitor to their church in Moscow in 1977 reported that the priest used the new ritual while the people the old. Rev. D Alexandrow mentioned above is a member of this movement. Walter Kolarz in his book Religion in the Soviet Union states: "The Yedinoverie remained a despised branch of the Church, and several bishops considered it rather contemptuously as semi-dissent. Such successes as the Yedinoverie movement had, were mostly due to official backing. Its members were most numerous in the reign of Nicholas I, under whom new discriminatory measures were proclaimed against dissenters. (pp. 147-8)

We might mentioned that in 1869 about three million Old Believers wished formally to unite with the Roman Catholic Church, but it seems that the state and official church prevented this In 1905, however, several did do so and gavve themselves the title: The Russian Old Believers in Communion with the Holy See. This movement did not last long, however.

The Old Orthodox haveing a hierarchy include the following: 1) The Old Ritualist Metropolia of Belo-Krinitsa, Romania, 2) The Old Ritualist Archbishopric of Moscow and all Russia with five eparchies, there haveing been some twenty before the revolution, and 3) The Old Ritualist Archbishopric of Novosybkov, Moscow, and all Russia. This last consists of former belgopopvtsy. A minority of Old Believers are still, however, without a priesthood. Without rejecting the doctrine of the priesthood and its necessity they have found no practical means of obtaining it. Some are called bezpopovtsy, a word that is often misapplied and means priestless. Of these there are several groups: Pomortsy, Feodosians, Filippians, etc. Within Russia it is estimated there may be about 285 communities of the mentioned groups. In recent times a movement has arisen to form unions among them and with other Old Ritualists of diverse traditions. In Vilnius, Lithunia, there is a Supreme Old Ritualist Committee to which all cummunities of peapopovsty in Lithuania are administratively subject. There are 56 such communites.