Russian Old Believers Seek Rehabilitation – Part II

Dear Readers:

Today I resume my story on the Russian Old Believers, based on this piece in the VZGLIAD newspaper.

As we learned last time, the great Schism in the Russian Orthodox Church occurred in the mid 1600’s.  Since that time, the Old Believers have been considered outcasts, and nobody in any position of power in the Russian (or Soviet) government has ever met with them, or even showed them the time of day.

Kornily is the one on the right: He has a long beard and is taller than Putin.

That changed a few days ago, when Old Believer Metropolitan Kornily met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin.  Here is the official website for the Old Believers Church.  This milestone meeting between Church and State involved plans to celebrate the 400th birthday of Archpriest (Russian Protopop) Avvakum.

Who is this Avvakum, you might ask?  Well, he is the main hero of the Old Believers.  He was the founder of their sect and a martyr for their beliefs.

According to his Russian wiki entry, Avvakum (pronounced with the stress on the second syllable:  Avv-A-kum), whose last name was Petrov, was born in 1620 (hence the 400-year anniversary which will take place in 2020), in the town of Grigorovo, in the Nizhniy Novgorod region of Russia.  It’s out there on the Volga, a river which breeds rebels, as we saw in our last installment.  When we mentioned Stenka Razin and Vladimir Lenin, as two notable anti-authority figures who hailed from this region.

Avvakum Petrov was a prolific writer and polemicist.  He was like the Lenin of his time, except his ideology was religion.  In the 1640’s and 1650’s Avvakum rose in the clerical ranks, he was promoted to Archpriest in the town of Yuriev-Povolsky.  At that time he was good friends with Nikon, the future Patriarch of Moscow.  We talked about Nikon in our last segment, how he became almost like the Consigliere of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich (Alexis I); and how he (=Nikon) introduced a wide selection of liturgical reforms.  Well, this is the part where Nikon and Avvakum part ways.  Avvakum was fiercely opposed to Nikon’s reforms and went into opposition.  Actually, my Lenin analogy is a good one:  Just as Lenin split the Russian Social-Democratic Party on the issue of the War; so too did Avvakum split the Russian Orthodox Church on the issue of the liturgical reforms.  I leave it to the discerning readers to decide which issue is more important:  a bloody world war which destroys Europe and kills off a generation of young men; or whether to make the sign of the cross with a straight, or a crooked, finger.

Avvakum in exile in Tobolsk

Oh well, I guess those issues seemed important at the time.  For his Oppositionist efforts, Avvakum (according to his bio) was deprived of his job, exiled, subjected to gross indignities, imprisoned, and eventually executed.  This last bit is what makes him a martyr for the faith in the eyes of the Old Believers.

In his discussion with the VZGLIAD reporters (Yury Zainashev, Mikhail Moshkin, and Marina Baltacheva), Metropolitan Kornily was asked, was it not surprising that the Russian head of state should show such an interest in the historical figure of Archpriest Avvakum?  Kornily replied that Avvakum is an important figure in Russian history:  “Avvakum Petrov showed himself to be a cultured individual; many people know of him as a writer who stood for the purity of the faith, and for family values.  This is how we want to position this jubilee.  Not in any attempt to split society, but rather trying to find common ground…”

Iosif Diskin, member of Upper House of Russian Parliament

Which begs the question:  What does the official Russian Orthodox Church have to say about all of this?  After all, there was a line of blood drawn between the two Orthodox factions.  Is reconciliation really possible?

Iosif Diskin, the Chairman of the Committee (in the Upper House of Parliament) for Harmonizing Inter-Ethnic and Inter-Religious relations, stated to the VZGLIAD reporters, that the meeting between Kornily and Putin bears a great symbolic importance:

“This speaks to the fact, that the President respects all traditional religions.  The Old Believers are also a traditional confession within the framework of Orthodoxy, therefore are to be considered meaningful and to be respected.  The President appeals to all the patriotically inclined elements of civic society who represent high moral values.  We are well aware that from the ranks of the Russian Old Believers, there emerged some of the most outstanding Russian entrepreneurs.”

Old Believers family

For American readers:  I think it would be fair to say, that Russian Old Believers are somewhat analogous to American Mormons.  Completely different spiritual beliefs, of course, but in terms of social attitudes and niche occupied in society.  Like Old Believers, Mormons are industrious, good at business, and generally have large tight-knit families.  That great photo which I found, by the way, is of an Old Believer family in Ukraine, not Russia; but I think that matters not a whit to the point I am trying to make.  The only important difference that I can discern between Old Believers and Mormons (other than the religion itself) is that Mormons are prominent in American show business; whereas, to my knowledge, Old Believers are not that much into singing and dancing and putting on Broadway shows.

Further:  Decoding Diskin’s utterances (from a cynical Marxist point of view), it seems that it’s not really about crooked vs straight finger after all — it’s all about creating a new social consensus and “harmony” (in the Chinese sense of the word) around issues of Russian patriotism, morality, traditional family values, and capitalist entrepreneurship.  The Russian government is serious about eradicating socialist ideas and returning to the traditional values of the past:  God, Tsar, and Family.  But, in order to accomplish this, they feel that they have to return to the source of the Troubles, i.e., the Schism.  They want to go back in time and heal that ancient rift between Nikon and Avvakum.

[to be continued]

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28 Responses to Russian Old Believers Seek Rehabilitation – Part II

  1. Lyttenburgh says:

    “For American readers: I think it would be fair to say, that Russian Old Believers are somewhat analogous to American Mormons.”

    Well… no analogy could be 100% accurate here, given the vast difference between the Orthodox Faith and various Sola Scriptura deriviatives. Mormons are hardly Christian, all said and done, and even other Non-Trinitarian Protestant creeds like the Yehova Witnesses or the 7th Day Adventists have more claim to be doctrinally “right”. They are less crazy, that’s for sure.

    Old Believers made a long journey, that’s true. From the “sovereign citizen” like fundies (17th c. edition) to the much more wordly and acceptbale vis-a-vis the Fallen Word version of Russian… Amishes/Mennonites?

    “But, in order to accomplish this, they feel that they have to return to the source of the Troubles, i.e., the Schism. They want to go back in time and heal that ancient rift between Nikon and Avvakum.”

    Pfffffft! Good luck with that!

    Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but the Ukraine is not the only (or the largest) place for the Old Believers diaspora. I heard (or read – can’t remember now) that Australia in fact has a very significant community of them, bolstered after the Revolution and the Civil War with various emigrants.


    • yalensis says:

      From what I understand, Mormons are sort of Christians, in that they believe Jesus is the Son of God. But they don’t believe he is God Himself. They believe that God is a separate individual. This theory actually makes more sense, logically. To say that God and Jesus are the same person is illogical. Mormons also believe that God has a wife, and I think they believe that Jesus is the natural son of God and his wife. Not of the “Virgin” Mary. Mormons are not really into Mary that much. And they tend to be more literal-minded than Catholics. To them, stories have to make sense logically. Which is something I respect, because I can’t stand stories with plot points which require a suspension of disbelief.

      Re. Ukraine, I needed a picture of a Russian Old Believer family, so I googled it, and found that great photograph. Then the caption said it was a Ukrainian family. But I decided to use it anyway! Up until now, I guess I never knew there were Old Believers in other countries besides Russia.

      So, you think there is no possibility of the Schism being healed? Not even with the magical ministrations of Vladimir Vladimirovich?
      Speaking of which, what do you think is Putin’s motivation in this Avvakum business?
      Is he trying to tick off the official Church?
      Or is he actually, sincerely attempting to heal the rift?


  2. Lyttenburgh says:

    “From what I understand, Mormons are sort of Christians, in that they believe Jesus is the Son of God. But they don’t believe he is God Himself.”

    Which alone disqualifies them from the ranks of Christians. Them, and various Nazi-Minded Gnostics (yes, there are such specimens!), who deny the “Jewish God” being JC’s dad.

    “They believe that God is a separate individual. This theory actually makes more sense, logically. To say that God and Jesus are the same person is illogical.”

    Eh, Christianity like any religion bases itself on the Faith and Paradox. Great Orthodox saint, early Church Father (and dissident victim of the bloody Byzantine Regime!) Iohannes Chrysostom wrote, that “A comprehended God is no God.”

    As for the rest:

    “And they tend to be more literal-minded than Catholics. To them, stories have to make sense logically.”

    Being “Scripture Literalists” is the trademark of the Protestants and their derivates. I’ve served together with the guy originally from the Sakhalin (!), who got converted by the Baptist missionaries there. He literally thought that the Earth is 6000 old and that the Moon was “birthed” by our poor planet and then “float” to the orbit.

    This “Scripture Literalism” stems from the fact that they, Protestants, are Sola Scripturists who deny the Holy Tradition, Which is itself illogical, ‘cause the Scripture they literally worship didn’t float out from the Sky like some tablet with 15 10, 10 Commandments. In fact the Tradition (in the form of the early Church) precedes the compilation and approbation process of the body of works, which will later be considered to be The Bible. It was at this time when all the de-bugging was done and the final product was released on the open market where it quickly became a smashing (literally!) hit, despite several attempts of pirate copying of the code by several pissed-off former low-ranking employees and the industrial espionage.

    The Protestantism tries to pretend that the nothing Good and True existed before them. This, coupled with imperfection of understanding of Bible due to rejection of the Tradition forced them to “re-invent a wheel”, which hilariously resulted in Protestantism becoming an embodiment of the “Rule 34” for the Christianity. In this case – “If there is a batshit-insane heretical teaching, then surely there is a denomination for that”.

    Non-trinitarism, the complete rejection of what even the so-called mainstream Protestants can’t raise a hand, i.e. the Tri-united nature of God-Father, God-Son and God-Holy Spirit in one being, was just a logical continuation of this trend. This, and “Rapture”. For another yet imperfect allegory what Mormons are to the Christianity (and why I feel… leery… to use them as comparison point vis-à-vis the Old Believers) are the Slafis Re: The Traditional Islam. Yes – these Salafis. Of head-chopping variety. They reject the works of past Islamic scholars and theologicians, pick and choose suras from Karan as they like, and, oh, serve as the militant cat’s-paw of those who funnel them with money, guns and agit-prop. And Mormons in the time of the Wild West were anything but peaceful, appointing themselves as the Old Testament Judges wherever they went.

    Finally, all of their teaching is based on the fan-fic known as the “Book of Mormon”:

    A book written by a civilization that never existed somewhere c. 2200 BC and translated by Joseph Smith in 1830? Ah… how about – “no way”!

    “So, you think there is no possibility of the Schism being healed? Not even with the magical ministrations of Vladimir Vladimirovich?”

    The rift between the two is, perhaps, not as serious as between the Sunni and Shia (no hope for reconciliation here, no-ope!), it’s virtually impossible anyway.

    ROC (and all other Orthodox Churches) regard the Old Believers not as Schizmatics (that would be Roman Catholic Papists), but as Heretics. That’s a much more serious issue. And while 1971 the ROC Sobor (“Conclave”) ruled to lift the bulk of 1656 curses and damnations from the Old Believers. Still – the communion between the two was not restored. I’m not privy to the inner workings and intrigues of the Moscow Patriarchate, but, and this is purely my theory, right now Synod considers the ball in the Old Believers part of the field and expects some reciprocity from them.

    One thorny point of contention is the question of the Old Believers clergy. Because all proponents of raskolniki were anathemised (i.e. excommunicated), their clergy lost its official status and, therefore, the link to the apostolic succession which, right now retains only the Orthodox and the Catholic churches respectively. Old Believers don’t make the situation easier because they are not some monolithic structure either. There are so-called “popovtsi” (i.e. the ones who retained clergy by some means). They consider the “vanilla” Orthodox clergy to be “2nd degree heretics”, who to become “correct ones” must denounce their heresy and take a rote of myrrhopomazaniye (“anointing”). OTOH, “bespopovtsi” (who are even more fractured lot with no clergy whatsover) consider the ROC to be “1st degree heretics”, and treat them as if they were not even baptized Christians.

    As it could be deduced from the article, the Old Faith Metropolian Kornily is the chief head of Russian “popovtsi” – but he can’t speak on behalf of all Old Believers. If PediWikia to be trusted, there are about 500 000 of his flock in Russia and (suddenly!) in Moldavia. About their inner workings I know even less but, judging by superficial evidence only (i.e. – don’t take my word for an absolute truth) out of available date – not everything is great within the Old Rites Church. They have 15 dioceses, out of which 4 (four) has to a variety of reasons no official head. They had trouble electing a metropolitan since 1986, and this rudderless crises was resolved only in 2005 with the election of Kornily. He in 2007 nearly lost it after some of his higher ups became concerned with his contacts with “novoobryadsi” (i.e. the ROC), which increased the suspicion of the possible merger/takeover. Kornily then buckled to the pressure and assured the congregation (gosh, I feel weird using such “catholic” terms while writing about the Orthodoxy!) that his future contacts will be like an open book for the interested parties.

    Archpriest (rus. “протоирей”) Elisey, who initiated this campaign of attempted “impeachment” was not satisfied and stormed out with his retinues. He was stripped from his rank in absentia. After that the questions of limiting contacts with the ROC (or that Kornily back then was the member of KPSS) were dropped completely. At the same time he (possibly – I’m not sure about that) tried to pull his own merger/takeover with the other independent faction of “Churchy” Old Faith Believers – so-called “beglopopovtsi” (i.e. those whose clergy made up mostly runaways/turncoats from the ROC) of the Russian Drevlepravoslavnaya Church (8 dioceses, c. 100 000 faithful) who despite their small size has enormous ego, due to their head claiming the title of the Patriarch. Didn’t work out.

    “Speaking of which, what do you think is Putin’s motivation in this Avvakum business?
    Is he trying to tick off the official Church?
    Or is he actually, sincerely attempting to heal the rift?”

    I’m not a Kremlinologist so I don’t even pretend to know what’s this all about, and, therefore, can’t even hope of deducing a correct answer. What we know for sure?

    This is a pic from the National Unity Day, 4th of November. Apparently, Kornily is considered to have a “heart in the right place” as the representative of the “traditional religious force”. Seeing as how his “popovtsi” Church has all the external attributes (and inner intrigues) of the “proper” established church, it’s no wonder that he is not lumped together with some radical fundamentalists and cultists. Besides – his particular Church has some foreign connections, which could be always useful.

    It’s not up to Putin to heal an unhealable spiritual rift between the Old Believers and the rest of the Orthodox. What he can, though, is to remind the Patriarchate that while the idea of the Church-State symphony is great and desirable, no one wants another Nikon – who ended very badly. And Vladimir Vladimirovich ain’t no meek like Alexey Mikhailovich.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yalensis says:

      Wow, what an awesome comment, this deserved to be a post in its own rite (pun intended).

      “don’t take my word for an absolute truth…”

      Oh, but I do take your word as absolute truth, Lyt. Your comments are clearly divinely inspired, even more so than the translations of Joseph Smith.
      You are the new prophet (or maybe Protopop, which is also a brand of popcorn, by the way). I am going to found a new church based on your teachings.

      Now, everybody pass the hat, and give me some MONEY!!!!


    • Pavlo Svolochenko says:

      If one acknowledged Mormons as Christians, it would only be a small step from there to deciding Muslims can be considered Christian as well.


      • yalensis says:

        Well, I think there is a subtle difference:
        Muslims regard Jesus as a human being, a man, who was also a prophet.
        Mormons regard Jesus as the son of God, who temporarily took human form.
        Hence, if Jesus was a super-hero, then Muslim Jesus is Batman; whereas Mormon Jesus is Superman.

        The super-hero analogy is not completely frivolous, since Mormon theology is based on science fiction. The kernel, or “secret” theology of the Mormons (as opposed to the public version which Lyttenburgh laid out above, with the South Park clip and the Joseph Smith story) was laid out in the TV show “Battlestar Galactica”. I’m not kidding. Secret Mormon theology is based on the idea of Cylons. God and Jesus are Cylons. Then there are other kinds of Cylons who become “Angels”. There is also a Holy Ghost, but it is not completely clear who and what he is.

        So, if this theology is secret, and only the top Mormon Elders are clued into it, then how do I know it, you may ask?
        Because some Mormon accidentally blurted it out when he wrote the script to Battlestar Galactica, that’s how!
        Not un-similar to Mozart accidentally blurting out secret Masonic rituals when he wrote the operetta “The Magic Flute” ! It’s all about show-biz, that’s where the secrets come pouring out.


        • Pavlo Svolochenko says:

          Much like the Scientologists, they’ve never recovered from the wider world learning what they actually believe, or their own flock learning what an awful crank their founder was.

          It’s true that there’s a subtle difference, but once you reject the Trinity it’s easy to go a little further and decide that Jesus wasn’t divine at all (certain Protestant sects have already done this).


  3. Lyttenburgh says:

    And now for something completely different. As an illustration to the futility of the inter-faith dialogue and/or eucumenism – a bit of klyukva from “The Young Pope”


  4. Pavlo Svolochenko says:

    Anyhow, perhaps Navalny can fight back by meeting with these fine chaps:Русская_катакомбная_церковь_истинно-православных_христиан

    ’22 июня 2006 года архиепископ Амвросий провёл в Москве молебен по случаю 65-летия начала «Второй Гражданской войны против большевизма»[13]. 31 октября 2007 году московская община ИПХ освятила икону «св. прав. Атаульфа, Вождя Германского» (Адольфа Гитлера)[9][14]. В 2009 году после покушения на Амвросия главой ИПХ временно стал Читинский епископ Евстафий’


    • yalensis says:

      Orthodox Saint Hitler?
      I thought Hitler was a Catholic!


      • Pavlo Svolochenko says:

        Now you know better.

        ‘Запрещается крестить как нелюдей: труположников, содомитов, транссексуалов, гомункулов, гермафродитов (или в таковых постепенно перерождающихся), рогатых, мохнатых, хвостатых, шестопалых, чешуйчатых евреев, сиамских близнецов и прочих, имеющих внешне нечеловеческие признаки’

        I find these retards endlessly fascinating.

        Take their insane degenerate leader, for example:

        ‘О биографии Амвросия (Сиверса) судить довольно сложно, поскольку объективных данных о его жизни немного, а информация, которую публикует он сам, неоднократно подвергалась сомнению его многочисленными оппонентами.

        В начале 80-х он принадлежал к субкультуре хиппи и носил кличку «Граф», так как уже тогда причислял себя к потомкам немецкого графского рода[14].’

        ‘В том же году предложил предстоятелю неканонической Украинской православной церкви Киевского патриархата Филарету (Денисенко) титул патриция и, как следствие, установление интеркоммуниона. По мнению Сиверса, общение с ним позволит «патриарху»[прояснить] Филарету обеспечить «признание Украины международным сообществом» и «легитимацию действующей (украинской) государственной власти». При этом в письме он использовал титул: «Наследственный Император Ромеев, Архиепископ Готфов, Митрополит Шведов, Амвросий I Палеолог, граф фон Сиверс-Галицкий»[22].

        15 апреля 2016 года решением Арбитражного суда города Москвы признан банкротом.[1]’

        Are you paying attention, Filaret? This is how you do heresy – don’t ask for anyone’s recognition, swear up and down that you alone are right, and everybody else is an apostate (and probably a homunculus or a Siamese twin to boot).


        • yalensis says:

          Hence, the list of “non-humans” who are denied baptism include but are not limited to:

          -People who have sex with corpses
          -People with horns
          -People with fur
          -People with tails
          -People with 6 fingers [on each hand]
          -Scaly people
          -Siamese twins

          I have just one question: What the hell is a homunculus? Is that, like, a little tiny man?


          • Pavlo Svolochenko says:

            Dwarfs may not enter the Reich of Heaven I guess.


            • yalensis says:

              Now, that’s just being mean. I bet that guy is not so physically perfect either, as he thinks he is. I bet he has big warts on his ass, or a super-hairy back.
              Now, if God really existed, then He would wave a magic wand and cause that nasty guy to grow a tail, I reckon.


    • Lyttenburgh says:


  5. Lyttenburgh says:

    Finally – I found it!

    Hope YTube won’t block it this time for you, yalensis.

    P.S. Oh, and Jesus cannot be a Batman – ’cause Moses is Batman!


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