Old Believers

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Old Believers

 

(Russian, staroobriadtsy or starovery), the adherents of the religious and social movement that arose in Russia in the mid-17th century as a result of Patriarch Nikon’s consolidation of the official, state Orthodox Church and his reform of church ritual.

In the Schism (raskol), the Old Believers broke with the official church, doing so, they proclaimed, in order to preserve the old rituals, the old beliefs, and the “ancient piety.” They formed their own communities, separate from the “Nikonites,” and refused to acknowledge the new icons, the liturgical books revised by the official church, and the new rituals, such as making the sign of the cross with three fingers instead of two. Some Old Believer communities founded their own schools, called gramotitsy.

From its inception, the movement of the Old Believers was far from homogeneous. As early as the late 17th and early 18th centuries, it broke up into many diverse currents—known as tolki and soglasiia—which differed substantially from one another. The Old Believers split into Popovtsy (those groups with priests) and Bespopovtsy (those without priests). The Popovtsy acknowledged the need for a clergy and all the sacraments; their communities were located primarily in the Kerzhenets Forests, the region around Starodub, and the areas around the Don and Kuban’ rivers. The Bespopovtsy rejected the need for a spiritual hierarchy and denied certain of the sacraments; their communities were found primarily in the north of the Russian state.

As the Old Believer communities were drawn into market relationships, they developed entrepreneurial skills, and an Old Believer merchant elite emerged. Gradually, most of the Old Believer soglasiia dropped their opposition toward tsarist authority and the official church. This was especially true of the Popovtsy, from whom came many a merchant and entrepreneur. In 1800 some of the Popovtsy came to an agreement with the official church: while preserving their own rituals, they acknowledged the authority of the local eparchial bishops.

The Popovtsy who refused reconciliation with the official church founded their own church organization. In the mid-19th century, they recognized Ambrose, an archbishop in Bosnia, as their head. Ambrose made the Belaia Krinitsa Monastery—then in Austria, now in Chernovtsy Oblast, the Ukrainian SSR—the center of the Old Believer organization. In 1853 the Moscow Old Believer archbishopric was founded, thus becoming a second center for the Old Believers of the Belaia Krinitsa hierarchy.

Other Popovtsy, who came to be known as the Beglopopovtsy because they acknowledged fugitive priests from the official church, did not acknowledge the Belaia Krinitsa hierarchy.

Among the Bespopovtsy, as the various communities grew increasingly diverse, extreme tolki arose side by side with more or less moderate soglasiia. In the late 17th century, the Pomorane (Dwellers by the Sea) emerged near the Vyg community in the north. The Fedoseevtsy, who from the 1770’s had had their center at the Preobrazhenskoe Cemetery in Moscow, broke away from the Pomorane and spread throughout the northwest. In the first half of the 18th century, the Filippovtsy, preaching the need for self-punishment and self-immolation, also broke away from the Pomorane. The Netovtsy, or the Spasovo soglasie, held aloof, rejecting all the sacraments and urging self-immolation. At their extremes—for example, among the Beguny (Runners, or Wanderers)—the Bespopovtsy were barely distinguishable from the sectarians.

In 1971 a council of bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church adopted a resolution calling for a more benign and tolerant attitude toward the Old Believers. However, this measure brought no reconciliation between the Old Believers and the Orthodox Church. In the USSR there are three principal branches of the Ancient Orthodox Old Believers—namely, the Belaia Krinitsa hierarchy, the Beglopopovtsy, and the Pomorane, or Bespopovtsy.

REFERENCES

See references under SCHISM.

V. S. SHUL’GIN

References in classic literature ?
And do you know he is an Old Believer, or rather a dissenter?
She felt him trying to piece together in a laborious and elementary fashion fragments of belief, unsoldered and separate, lacking the unity of phrases fashioned by the old believers.
She pivots quickly to Piotr Orlov, a Russian Old Believer who says, "If God continues to permit everyone on this sinful Earth to exist, then we can't insist that they all be of the same faith.
When the Bolsheviks swept into power following the Russian revolution of 1917, many Old Believer communities fled to Siberia to escape religious persecution.
Arguably, the earliest autobiography of a popovich was written not in 1802 (9) but in the 1670s by the defrocked Archpriest Avvakum Petrov (1620-1682), a leader of the Old Believer schism, while he was in an underground prison in Pustozersk.
It is nearly impossible to become an Old Believer if you have not been one since birth.
These included Lutheran congregations (304), Roman Catholic (251), Orthodox Christian (119), Baptist (94), Old Believer Orthodox (69), Seventh-day Adventist (52), Muslim (15), Jehovah's Witnesses (14), Methodist (13), Jewish (13), Hare Krishna (11), Buddhist (4), Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) (4), and 211 other congregations.
25) Importantly, the Old Believer communities that arose in opposition to Nikon were founded on apocalyptic expectations.
Since the 17th century, there have been several schisms in reaction to liturgical changes, such as the Old Believer schism in 17th-century Russia, or the more recent divisions over the adoption of the Gregorian calendar by some Orthodox churches.
Written in the language of the seventeenth century, the poem is ostensibly a philippic from the famous militant Russian Old Believer and protopope, Avvakum, directed against his deadly enemy, the patriarch Nikon.
The Old Believer groups were not large, but the fact that they left for China in the wake of the Koreans shows that other inhabitants of the region who disliked the Soviet authorities' policy might follow the Korean example.
This total included: Lutheran (303), Roman Catholic (250), Orthodox (118), Baptist (93), Old Believer Orthodox (67), Seventh-day Adventist (50), Jehovah's Witnesses (13), Methodist (13), Jewish (13), Buddhist (4), Muslim (15), Hare Krishna (11), Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) (4), and more than 100 other congregations.