Today I found a story which will be of interest to those studying Russian history. The authors are Yury Zainashev, Mikhail Moshkin, and Marina Baltacheva.
The lede is that a historic meeting took place between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the head of the Old Believer sect of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Korniliy. Such a high-level meeting has not occurred since before the Schism of the 1660’s.
Kornily, whose official title is “Metropolitan of Moscow and All Rus” for the Russian Orthodox Old Believer Church, was enthused by this opportunity to meet with the head of state. “And not just to meet in person,” he told the VZGLIAD reporters, “but to discuss our needs, our problems, possibilities of cooperation on certain issues.” The main theme of the meeting was to discuss plans to celebrate the 400-year anniversary (in the year 2020) of the birth of Protopop Avvakum, a martyr of the Orthodox faith.
Quick backstory: The Schism dates back to the second half of the 17th century. Patriarch Nikon of Moscow, who led the Russian Church from 1652 to 1666, enjoyed close political ties with Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich. When Nikon introduced liturgical reforms, a faction within the Church, which came to be called the “Old Believers” (Russian Старообрядцы from стар – “old” and обряд – “rite”) objected to the changes and split away to form their own sect. They continued to practice the older rites, hence the name.
This wiki page lists some of the religious differences between Old and New rites:
- spells “Jesus” as Ісусъ (“Isus”)
- Creed: “begotten but not made…”
- Sign of the cross: Two fingers, index finger straight, middle finger slightly bent
- spells “Jesus” as Іисусъ (“Iisus”)
- Creed: “begotten, not made…”
- Sign of the cross: Two fingers joined with thumb, held at point
Since the Russian Orthodox Church has always been closely affiliated with the government (except in Soviet times – it goes without saying), the Old Believers, by splitting away, marked themselves as political, as well as religious, dissidents, within the Tsarist and Imperial system of rule.
Tsar Alexei’s history shows that he was a man who did not tolerate dissent. He was a good ruler and expanded Russia’s borders; but at the price of having to put down numerous rebellions, both rural and urban. In 1648 he suppressed the so-called Salt Riot. Two years later (no rest for the weary), he was forced to put down rebellions in both Pskov and Novgorod. In 1662, as part of a series of “Mineral Revolutions”, Moscow erupted in the Copper Riot. Which was also put down violently. In 1669 a big huge rebellion erupted along the whole of the Volga River, led by Don Cossack Ataman Stenka Razin. Razin, whose friends called him “Stinky Raisin” was known for inventing a game called “Girl Tossing”, the aim being to take a girl onto one’s boat and then toss her overboard while vigorously belting out a song. In between rounds, Stinky managed to capture the city of Astrakhan. His rebellion continued for a couple more years, but started to wind down when he failed to capture the town of Simbirsk, which he besieged in 1670. Numerologists will be fascinated to learn that exactly two hundred years later, in 1870, was born in Simbirsk, as noted by poet Mayakovsky, a normal little boy named Lenin, who also grew up to become a noted rebel, but more successful than Razin:
в глуши Симбирска
Stinky, by the way, was eventually captured by Russian army troops, dragged to Moscow in chains, then drawn and quartered in front of an engaged crowd. In any case, the point I am trying to make about Tsar Alexei is that, in all of these worrisome mutinies, Color Revolutions and Mineral Revolutions, revolting peasants, and a multitude of other riots which he was forced to put down, he was assisted at every step by his good friend Metropolitan Nikon who, in 1651, became the Tsar’s Chief Minister. Nikon being the one who introduced the liturgical “reforms” which provoked the big Schism; and so we have come full circle.
But at this point one thing should be obvious to the discerning reader, namely:
The alliance between Church and State, in the Russian Orthodox context, meant that Good King Alexei was not going to feel much sympathy for the Schismatics, who are now regarded as political as well as religious dissidents.
And before Westies jump in with their usual mantras about Russian tyranny and its relationship to the Church, one need only mutter the words “nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition” to remind that collaboration of Church and State for nefarious purposes of suppressing the population, was not a unique phenomenon in the nations of Europe. In fact, it was the norm, and Russia was no different from Western Europe, except just had a different brand of Church.
And thus it came to pass that the Schismatics were separated from the Trough of Power and pined in their proud solitude for 350 years…
[to be continued]