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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(in Russian: bespopovshchina), one of the two main varieties (along with popovshchina, or acknowledgment of priests) of the Russian raskol (schism), or Old Belief. The Priestless denied the Orthodox Church, church organization, and the clergy; some of its members did not recognize the tsar or tsarist authority, although they did not reject autocracy in principle. Priestlessness arose at the end of the 17th century, and its center was the Vyg (in Russian: Vygoretskaia, or Vygovskaia) hermitage in Karelia. Its main work of dogma was the Pomor’e Responses (1722, published 1911). Gradually, the Priestless divided into a number of strains and currents, the most important of which were the Pomor’e, Fedosei, and Filip sects, which were named after either their founders or the regions in which they arose and which were distinguished from each other, in most cases, by different interpretations of theological questions.

The nature of Priestlessness changed from the middle of the 18th century. Large cities became its centers (Moscow, St. Petersburg, Saratov, Tver’, and others), and the growing bourgeoisie became its base of support. As of 1771, its center was the organization of Fedoseevtsy in Moscow, which included peasants, workers, craftsmen, traders, and owners of factories who had come to Moscow. The motley social composition of the Priestless foreordained sharp ideological struggles among them, which intensified with the growth of capitalist relations. Among the mass of the Priestless, antifeudal protest began to intertwine more and more frequently with antibourgeois manifestations. At the end of the 18th century, the extreme doctrine of the Beguny (Runners, or Wanderers) arose; they did not recognize private property or the division of society into estates and rejected life in the city. During the October Revolution, organizations of the Priestless maintained openly anti-Soviet positions. An insignificant number of communes professing Priestlessness remain in the USSR.


Nikol’skii, N. M. Istoriia russkoi tserkvi, 2nd ed. Moscow-Leningrad, 1931.
Tserkov’ v istorii Rossii (IX V.-1917 g.). Moscow, 1967.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.