Russian Old Believers Seek Rehabilitation – Part III

Dear Readers:

Today I continue my story based on this piece in VZGLIAD, about the meeting between Father Kornily (Latin Cornelius), Old Believer Metropolitan of Moscow and All-Rus (всея Руси).

Kornily, at his press conference, stressed the historical significance of this encounter:  “For the first time in 350 years the Head of State is officially meeting with the representative of the Old-Rite Orthodox Church.”  Technically speaking, Kornily had met with Putin before, back in 2013.  But that was just an informal meeting, so it didn’t count.  Neither did Kornily’s presence, in the past, at numerous governmental ceremonies, including President Putin’s inauguration, and the fact that the two men exchanged a few words here and there.  Again, from a protocol point of view, the official meeting last week was considered the milestone.

Father Kornily (far left) earlier met with Putin as part of a delegation of various religious leaders.

As Kornily’s spokesperson, Proto-Deacon Viktor Saveliev explained to the VZGLIAD reporters:  “The Old Rites were persecuted, sometimes strongly, sometimes weakly.  We suffered in particular during the Soviet period, thousands of churches were demolished, all of the clergy was persecuted.  Therefore, the good will of the [current] President and the government in general, towards our faith, makes me very happy.”

My last installment generated some very interesting commentary, especially on the part of my colleague Lyttenburgh, who offered many political and historical insights into the Old Believer movement, and its place in Russian history.  But even Lyttenburgh doesn’t have a theory why Russian President Vladimir Putin chose this moment in history for an official-protocol meeting with the leader of the Old Believers.  Possibly an attempt to consolidate society and heal a centuries-old Schism at a time when Russia is under ferocious ideological attack from the West?  For sure, an actual land invasion (of Russia) seems imminent from one day to the next, given the crazy talk you hear in Westie media and NATO circles!  And one recalls how Stalin reconciled with the official Russian Orthodox Church when the Germans invaded in 1941.  Everybody had to forget their old differences and join together to repel the invaders.

What happens in the Kremlin, stays in the Kremlin.

So, there might be something like that going on, if I might be allowed to speculate as an amateur Kremlinologist.  But does Putin risk ticking off the official Church by recognizing their arch-rival?  On the other hand, maybe Putin figures that he has the regular Church in his pocket anyhow, and risks very little in tossing a bone to the Old Believers.

I also speculate that Putin (and the socio-economic forces behind him) wish to eradicate socialist-communist ideas within the next generation or so.  Harping on how the Commies persecuted religion helps towards this goal.  The ruling parties hope to return Russia into the womb of traditional values, including submission to authority, religion and a focus on the family.  All of which are embodied in the Old Believer sect.

Old Believer Architectural Needs

But enough of my empty speculations!  The VZGLIAD piece continues with a catalogue of tasks that must be accomplished by 2020, in order to celebrate Arch-Priest Avvakum’s 400th birthday.  Starting with the reconstruction of monuments in the Rogozhskoe  and Preobrazhenksoe cemeteries in Moscow.  Both of these cemeteries have, for centuries, been associated with the Old Believers.

Preobrazhenskoe Cemetery, Moscow

Presidential (monetary) grants have also been issued to Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) including an organization called “Krinitsa” (meaning “wellspring”) which operates out of the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas the Wonder-Worker (Νικόλαος ὁ Θαυματουργός) near the Belorussky Train Station.  Grants were also used to fund volunteers who operate out of the Old Believer Rogozhskaya Sloboda (Moscow), and also in the Gromovskoe Cemetery in St. Petersburg.

Rogozhskaya Sloboda

The Old Believers also hope to retrieve some of their old churches which are being used for other purposes.  For example, the Church of the Intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Gavrikov Lane in the center of Moscow, is a sports gymnasium.  Where the altar used to stand, trainers now engage in boxing matches.  The Old Believers regard this as a form of blasphemy.  It was the Soviets who turned the Church into a gym; but then the capitalists privatized the property in the 1990’s.  A legal battle is underway, but so far the courts have ruled that the privatization was legitimate, and have backed the private owners.  Still, there is hope for some type of peaceful resolution of this dispute.

[to be continued]

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