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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Avvakum Petrovich). Born 1620 or 1621; died Apr. 14, 1682. Archpriest and one of the founders of the sect of Russian Old Believers; writer. Son of a village priest.

In 1646–47, while Avvakum was in Moscow, he was connected with the “circle of zealots of piety” and became known to Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich. In 1652 he was archpriest in Iur’evets Povol’skii; later he became priest of the Kazan cathedral in Moscow. Avvakum sharply attacked the church reforms of Patriarch Nikon; as a result, in 1653 he and his family were exiled to Tobol’sk and later to Dauria. In 1663 the tsar summoned Avvakum to Moscow in an effort to reconcile him with the official church. But Avvakum did not renounce his views; he persisted in his struggle against church innovations. He accused Nikon of heresy in a petition to the tsar. His inspired addresses against Nikon brought him numerous followers, including some of the high nobility, among them boyarina F. P. Morozova. In 1664, Avvakum was exiled to Mezen’, and two years later he was summoned to Moscow. Unfrocked and anathematized at the church council, he was banished to the ostrog (fortified settlement) of Pustozersk in 1667. During his 15–year confinement in a damp earthen cell, Avvakum never ceased his ideological struggle. It was there that he wrote his main works, including The Book of Discourses, The Book of Interpretations, and his Life (1672–75). By an edict of the tsar, Avvakum was burned at the stake along with his closest comrades.

Defending the old faith in his writings, Avvakum sharply denounced the vices of the representatives of the official church—gluttony, drunkenness, debauchery, self-interest, and so on—and the cruelty with which they introduced church reforms. In his struggle with the supporters of Nikon, Avvakum denounced tsarist power, the tsar himself, and the tsar’s servitors (the voevody and others). Avvakum enjoyed great popularity; his accusatory preaching found a broad response among the peasantry and lower townspeople, and even in his prison the guards participated in the dissemination of his works. By standing up for the “old faith,” they expressed their protest against feudal oppression. However, the forms of struggle which Avvakum offered—self-immolation, religious fanaticism, and the preaching of the end of the world—were reactionary.

Avvakum was the most outstanding writer of his time. His Life is one of the remarkable works of Old Russian literature. He was able to turn the traditional genre of the Life into an autobiographical narrative. Avvakum captivates the reader with his striking imagery and characterizations of people and by the richness and immediacy of his vivid Russian style.


Zhitie protopopa Avvakuma, im samim napisannoe, i dr. ego soch. Moscow, 1960.


Istoriia SSSR: S drevneishikh vremen do nashikh dnei, vol. 3. Moscow, 1967.
Gudzii, N. K. Istoriia drevnei russkoi literatury, 7th ed. Moscow, 1966.
Malyshev, V. I. “Bibliografiia sochinenii protopopa Avvakuma i literatury o nem. 1917–1953 gg.” Trudy Otdela drevnerusskoi literatury, [vol.] 10. Moscow-Leningrad, 1954.
Gusev, V. E. “Zhitie protopopa Avvakuma—proizvedenie demokraticheskoi literatury XVII v.” Trudy Otdela drevnerusskoi literatury, [vol.] 14. Moscow-Leningrad, 1958.
Robinson, A. N. Zhizneopisaniia Avvakuma i Epifaniia. Moscow, 1963


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.