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in religion: see heresyheresy,
in religion, especially in Christianity, beliefs or views held by a member of a church that contradict its orthodoxy, or core doctrines. It is distinguished from apostasy, which is a complete abandonment of faith that makes the apostate a deserter, or former member.
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; Schism, GreatSchism, Great,
or Schism of the West,
division in the Roman Catholic Church from 1378 to 1417. There was no question of faith or practice involved; the schism was a matter of persons and politics.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(in Russian, raskol), the religious and social division that arose in Russia in the mid-17th century.

The schism was brought about by the ecclesiastical and liturgical reform that was initiated in 1653 by the patriarch Nikon for the purpose of reorganizing and strengthening the church. All the members of the influential Circle of Pious Zealots supported the abolition of local differences in church ritual, the elimination of alternate readings and emendation of liturgical books, and other measures to unify the Muscovite system of church doctrine. However, the members of the circle disagreed regarding the directions, methods, and ultimate goals of the reform. The archpriests Avvakum, Daniil, and Ivan Neronov held that the Russian church had preserved the “ancient piety,” and they proposed unification on the basis of the Old Russian liturgical books. Other members of the circle, such as Stefan Vonifat’ev and F. M. Rtishchev, with whom Nikon later allied himself, wanted to follow the practices of the Greek church, with a view to the subsequent unification of the Ukrainian and Russian churches under the aegis of the patriarch of Moscow and the consolidation of ties with the autocephalic Eastern Orthodox churches. (At that time, the question of the unification of the Russian and Ukrainian churches had become an important issue because of the Ukrainian people’s growing struggle for liberation from Polish subjugation.)

With the support of Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich, Nikon proceeded to emend the Russian liturgical books in accordance with contemporary Greek models and changed certain rituals. For example, the practice of making the sign of the cross with two fingers was replaced by the use of three fingers and the double “hallelujah” was replaced by the triple “hallelujah.” The changes were approved by the church councils of 1654–55. The corrected or retranslated liturgical books were published at the Printing House between 1653 and 1656.

Although the reform affected only the external, ritual side of religion, the changes assumed the significance of a great event, since religious ideology dominated society. Moreover, it became apparent that Nikon intended to use the reform to centralize the church and increase the power of the patriarch. The forceful measures used by Nikon to introduce the new books and rituals also provoked dissatisfaction.

Certain members of the Circle of Pious Zealots were the first to support the “old belief” and to attack the actions and the reforms of the patriarch. Avvakum and Daniil submitted a note to the tsar that defended the practice of making the sign of the cross made with two fingers and that discussed the bowing during church services and prayers. They also attempted to prove that the introduction of the emendations based on Greek models profaned the true faith, since the Greek church had departed from the “ancient piety” and its books were produced on printing presses owned by Catholics. Ivan Neronov, without referring to the ritual aspect of the reform, criticized the increase in the patriarch’s power and called for a democratization of church government. The clash between Nikon and the defenders of the old belief became extreme. Avvakum, Ivan Neronov, and other ideologists of the schism were subjected to harsh persecution.

The rebellion of the defenders of the old belief received support from various strata of Russian society, leading to the rise of the movement known as the schism. Some of the lower clergy, who viewed strong patriarchal authority as exploitation, supported the old belief as a protest against increasing feudal oppression by the church elite. Some of the upper clergy (such as Bishops Pavel of Kolomna and Aleksandr of Viatka) and certain monasteries, dissatisfied with Nikon’s drive for centralization and his despotism and defending their own feudal privileges, also joined the schism. Some representatives of the upper secular aristocracy supported the old belief, but most of the adherents were posadskie liudi (merchants and artisans) and, above all, peasants. The masses of the people associated the increasing oppression of feudalism and serfdom and the worsening of their own situation with changes in the church system.

The contradictory ideology of the schism helped unite the various social forces in the movement. The idealization and defense of the past, hatred for the new, advocacy of national exclusivity, and acceptance of the martyr’s crown in the name of the old belief as the only path to the salvation of the soul were all combined in the ideology of the schism with harsh exposés of feudalism and serfdom couched in religious terms. Different aspects of the ideology impressed different social strata. Among the masses of the people, there was an enthusiastic response to the sermons of the schismatic preachers about the approach of the “last days,” the kingship of Antichrist in the world, and the idea that the tsar, the patriarch, and all the authorities worshiped the Antichrist and carried out his will. The schism simultaneously became the cause of the conservative antigovernment opposition of the great ecclesiastical and secular feudal lords and the cause of the antifeudal opposition. The popular masses, rising to defend the old belief, thereby expressed their protest against feudal oppression, under the guise and sanctity of the church.

The schism assumed the character of a mass movement after the church council of 1666–67, which anathematized the Old Believers as heretics and voted to punish them. This stage coincided with an upsurge of the antifeudal struggle in the country. The schism reached its high point and spread widely, attracting new segments of the peasantry, particularly serfs who had fled to the frontiers. Representatives of the lower clergy who had broken with the state church became the ideologists of the schism, and the clerical and secular feudal lords left the movement.

At this time also, a major aspect of schismatic ideology continued to be the injunction to abhor the Antichrist so as to preserve the old belief and to save one’s soul. Among the more fanatical schismatic groups, the practice of “baptism by fire” (self-immolation) arose. Many of the posadskie liudi and particularly the peasants were inspired by the schismatic preachers to flee to the uncharted forests of the Volga Region and the north, to the southern frontier regions, to Siberia, and even abroad, where they founded their own communities. The mass defection of the common people was not only from the new church rituals but from their feudal obligations.

In 1681 the government noted an increase in “opponents of the church,” particularly in Siberia. With the active cooperation of the Orthodox Church, it harshly persecuted the Old Believers. In the 1670’s and 1680’s, denunciations of the various evils of society occupied a more important place in the ideology of the schism. Ideologists, particularly Avvakum and his companions in exile at Pustozersk Prison, now justified active anti-feudal revolts, proclaiming that the popular uprisings were the revenge of heaven against the tsarist and ecclesiastical authorities. Some of the adherents of the old belief fought in the Peasant War of 1670–71 led by S. T. Razin. The Solovetskii Uprising of 1668–76, which began as a movement in defense of the old belief, grew into a large-scale antifeudal revolt against state authority. The role of the supporters of the old belief was also significant in the Moscow Uprising of 1682 and in other antifeudal outbreaks.

In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, after the defeat of the antifeudal uprisings, the movement declined. This was helped by the policy of Peter I, who relaxed the persecution of the Old Believers but increased their tax burden. From the 18th century, attacks on social evils were no longer part of schismatic ideology, which now became much more conservative. E. I. Pugachev’s appeal to arms in the struggle for the old belief helped to draw the masses into an antifeudal peasant war. The followers of the schism, the Old Believers, divided into various sects and groups, including the popovshchina (acknowledgment of the authority of priests) and bespopovshchina (priestlessness).


Shchapov, A. P. “Russkii raskol staroobriadstva, rassmatrivaemyi v sviazi s vnutrennim sostoianiem russkoi tserkvi i grazhdanstvennosti v XVII v. i v pervoi polovine XVIII v.” Soch., vol. 1. St. Petersburg, 1906.
Sapozhnikov, D. I. Samosozhzhenie v russkom raskole: So 2-i poloviny X VII v. do kontsa × VIII v. Moscow, 1891.
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Smirnov, P. S. Spory i razdeleniia v russkom raskole v pervoi chetverti XVIII v. St. Petersburg, 1909.
Kapterev, N. F. Patriarkh Nikon i tsar’ Aleksei Mikhailovich, vols. 1–2. Sergiev Posad, 1909–12.
Plekhanov, G. V. Istoriia russkoi obshchestvennoi mysli, vol. 2. [Moscow, 1915.]
Nikol’skii, N. M. Istoriia russkoi tserkvi, 2nd ed. Moscow-Leningrad, 1931.
Sakharov, F. Literatura istorii i oblicheniia russkogo raskola: Sistematicheskii ukazatel’ knig, broshiur i statei o raskole …, issues 1–3. Tambov-St. Petersburg, 1887–1900.


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


division within or separation from an established Church, esp the Roman Catholic Church, not necessarily involving differences in doctrine
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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