Collection of Old Believer History and Tradition

Compiled by Paul J. Wigowsky









Paul J. Wigowsky

Bilingual Teacher

91 Elementary School

Hubbard, Oregon


January 1978

1. Old Believer History
2. Origins and History of Oregonian Staroveri
3. Old Believers in Brazil
4. Life in America
5. Religious Activities and Views
6. The Wedding
7. The Funeral
8. The Spirit World
9. Traditional Material Culture
10. The Old Believers and Public Education
11. Contact with the Law"
12. "The Old Believers and the World of Antichrist"
13. Preface to Robert Crummey's Book
14. Sources
15. Russian Proverbs
16. List of Great Holy Days
17. Origins and Migrations of Russian Old Believers
18. Clothing


In order to fully understand the nature of Staroveri (Old Believer) society and the reasons behind the Oregon group's migrations, it is necessary to become acquainted with their basic history. Although Russia dates its conversion to Christianity from the year 988 A.D., the Orthodoxy did not begin to establish itself as a church in its own right until a few centuries had passed. Up until about 1440, Russia received much of the impetus for its faith and the operation of its church from the Byzantine Orthodoxy in Constantinople. In 1443 the Tsar declared the Russian metropolitanate independent of the Byzantines, and shortly thereafter a long era of reform among the clergy was initiated. Several councils were held to set matters straight among the clergy and laity, the most influential of these being the Stoglav (One hundred Chapters) of 1551, in which some 100 chapters of reformation were laid down with the provision that disobedience would result in transgressors being forever accursed. By 1589, the patriarch in Constaninople acknowledged the fact of Russian separation by himself declaring the Russian patriarch as separate and the See for that patriarch as being located in Moscow.

Despite these efforts and the recognition of the Russians as a third center of Christianity, by the beginning of the seventeeth century there was still a widely felt problem with the clergy. (Moscow as the third Rome was a popular theory at the time.) In the reign of Patriarch Joseph (1642-1652) there arose a reformist group of clergy whose aims included the restoration of the purity of the service books and stricter observance of various matters of spiritual discipline among the clergy generally. This movement was headed by the priest and confessor to the Tsar Stephan Vonifatiev, and the Archbishop of Novgorod Nikon. Even though the Russian metropolitanate had nominally been independent of the Byzantines for two centuries, many of the clergy had been educated in Greece, and Nikon was one of these. One of the splits which developed among the reformists concerned the extent to which the older Greek customs and rites should be adhered to in the new reforms.

Upon the death of Patriarch Joseph in 1652, Vonifatiev was lawfully elected Patriarch, but refused the position. The Tsar Alexei then put Nikon in his place, contrary to the Church Canons, which forbade the Tsar to have such influence over the appointment. Apparently no one actively contested the appointment and Nikon commenced his reign with several reformatory measures. In 1653, he sent a memorandum to the churches in the land which instructed them in various revisions of the services and the books. These reforms met with opposition from many of the clergy. Among the major points which were contested were: (1) how many fingers would be used to make the sign of the cross; (2) the spelling of Jesus' name; (3) whether "Alleluia" should be sung two or three times; (4) the retention of certain words and phrases in the Creed; (5) the number of hosts to be used in the liturgy; and (6) whether the priests should walk around the altar with or against the passage of the sun. These matters of ritual, seemingly unimportant in themselves, nevertheless were the embodiment of certain theological precepts and ideological alliances, and hence stirred considerable controversy upon their arrival. For example, the conservatives maintained that the sign of the cross with two fingers rather than three (the latter being the proposed reform) signified the dual nature of Christ, with the first finger representing the divine nature and the bent second being a symbol of Christ's descent to Earth for the salvation of humankind. They cited many old icons to support their position on this matter, in which some of the saints and Christ could be seen using the two-fingered sign. The three-fingered sign, on the other hand, was intended as an acknowledgment of the Trinity. But this was considered by the conservative dissenters to represent Greek heresy. To make matters worse, many of the clergy felt that strict observance of the most minute details of the dogmas and disciplines of the church were necessary to salvation. This was a direct result of the reformatory efforts of the group in Moscow.

Even so, the disputes might have been settled in the course of a few councils, had not Nikon pressed his hand too early and forcefully. He had his opponents flogged, exiled and even burned at the stake. Among the exiles was the arch-priest Avvakum, who had been one of the more prominent among the younger members of the reformatory circle in pre-Nikonian days and had spearheaded the conservative opposition to Nikon's edicts. He was eventually burned at the stake in 1682 and until then continued to serve as a spiritual leader for many of the dissenters. The result of these measures was such a storm of protest, that Nikon was himself forced to resign his office by 1658.

However, his compatriots continued to wield official power, and the persecutions went on in his absence. The Tsar was on the side of the would-be reformers and began to openly wage campaigns against the conservatives. After the Council of 1666, in which the Stoglav of 1551 was declared a forgery and heretical, the Solovetski Monks of the White Sea formed a bastion against the new tide of reform, and were promptly excommunicated and eventually replaced with monks from Moscow.

Because of actions like the above, some of the dissenters believed that the age of the Anti-Christ had come and that the end of the world was near. In the years 1666-1668 numerous fields throughout Western Russia were neglected while the faithful adorned themselves in burial clothes and awaited the end of the world in their cemeteries at night, singing hymns and sitting in wooden coffins. Others set buildings afire where they waited inside to be cleansed and to perish in the flames so that they might join Christ before the Judgment Day. Between these and the others who were burned to death by persecutors, it has been estimated that more than 20,000 Old Believers died between 1672 and 1691 alone.

Partly because most of the prominent conservative clergy perished early in the movement, and partly because there were not many others who were courageous enough to risk stepping into their places, the conservatives began to run out of higher-level clergy, particularly bishops. This posed a problem because without bishops, there could be no ordained priesthood. Without priests, most of the sacraments could not be administered and believers were faced with the prospect of not being able to marry or receive communion. There were two kinds of solutions to this problem. One was to accept fugitive priests from the ranks of the Nikonians, and groups which did this became known as the "Beglopopovtsy." Some of these groups in various regions even eventually obtained bishops of their own in the nineteenth century. The other solution was to reject the notion of a true priesthood and to form the community around a lay-priest. Perhaps the most famous example of such a community was the monastic order at Lake Vyg, headed by the Denisov Brothers. The Denisovs were responsible for several influential writings on the dissenting movement, and their community became an example for many others throughout Western Russia. These groups became known as the "Bezpopovtsy" (priestless).

From those days on to the Revolution of 1917, the Old Believer sects suffered varying amounts of persecution at the hands of henchmen either of the Orthodoxy or various Tsars. Under Catherine II, Paul and Alexander I, they were tolerated and thrived in some areas, but under Peter the Great and Nicholas I, they often had to flee to outer regions of Russia or to other countries to avoid death or imprisonment. During the last half of the nineteenth century, the position of the Orthodox Church softened with regard to the Old Believer question, and the 1909 Council made the first official conciliations by restoring a few of the decanonized saints which were among the Old Believer favorites and by 1929 the old anathemas had been officially removed. However, another potent socio-political force came in the Revolution of 1919 and, later, in Stalin's measures against religious adherents of all stripes.


The Staroveri (Old Believers) were originally separated into three groups: (1) one group migrating to an area around Kuban, Turkey; (2) another group migrating to an area in Manchuria near Harbin; and (3) the third group migrating to an area near Kulja and Altai in the Sinkiang Province. Most of the discussion will be centered around the two groups scattered about in communities in China: the Harbintsi (Harbin people) and the Sinziantsi (Sinkiang people).

Most of the Harbintsi did not meet each other until they came across the border into China during the Twenties and Thirties. Many of them hailed originally from the vicinity of Moscow and Kiev, their families having moved out to the east because of the persecutions under Nicholas I (1825-1855). They settled in the areas of Primorsk, Khabarovsk, Sakhalin and even northern Japan. Most of them lived in small village communities and either farmed or operated small-scale industries such as cloth manufacture or flour mills. Some of them had become fairly well-to-do landholders by the time of the Revolution. A few male interviewees recall seving in the Tsarist army during the first World War.

It was several years after the dawning of the Revolution before the consequences could be felt as far as the souther reaches of Siberia. Many of the landholders were victimized by the seizures of property which resulted from takeovers of vast villages by the Red Army during the last years of fighting the White Army remnants which were at that time retreating into China, or from peasant-inspired uprisings in the villages themselves.

Most of the Sinziantsi came originally from the Russian-Polish border area and migrated to the Siberian regions because of persecutions in the mid-1700's. They settled in the areas of Semipalatinsk, Kamchatka in Kazahstan, and Tashkent. When they decided to move south to escape the Revolution and later Stalinization of the regions, the Sinkiang Province was the closest point of entry. Small groups came, mostly by foot, over the Altai Mountains. Some of them settled near Altai itself (a bitterly cold area), or eventually moved further south to form villages near Kuldja and Urumchi (in northwestern China, west of Mongolia). They gradually clustered in the various river valleys of the region, where they found the soil to be the most fertile. The city of Kuldja was another center of expatriate Russian population during this time, as many soldiers and religiously inclined Russians followed the passes down into the Sinkiang Province during the Twenties and Thirties.

For a decade or more, particularly throughout the Thirties, the Harbintsi and Sinziantsi lived relatively peaceful lives. They farmed primarily on a subsistance basis, and sold wheat and honey to the local urban centers or to Chinese villages in the area. They also hunted various animals whose skins or other parts were prized by locals for medicinal or other purposes. The Harbintsi in particular became famous, to some extent, for their ability to hunt and capture live tigers to supply zoos in Harbin and nearby cities. Other commonly hunted animals included boar, bear, elk, squirrel and various birds.

Their primary contacts with other people during this time came through trading or chance meetings with nomads in the area. Some Sinziantsi communities struck up friendly relations with nomadic Mongol tribes which toured their regions, and in one case a tribe camped the winter in the Old Believer village in trade for their animal skins and some meat. They would also hire out to Old Believers as farm workers for planting in the early spring, before starting off on their migrations for the summer. The Harbintsi did not have friendly nomads, but did have occasion to meet with the notorious bandit gangs which roved northern China at that time. These gangs, often initially formed by village peasants to protect them against the gnetry of late feudal China, would resort frequently to sacking villages for supplies and women.

However, the Old Believers could hardly have chosen a worse spot to which to migrate in their attempt to escape the influences of Soviet rule. During the Thirties and Forties, both the Harbin and Sinkiang regions became the primary areas of Soviet dominance in their dealings with the fledgling Chinese governments of the period. Additionally, the Japanese overran the Manchurian region and set up their own government there. These events and their consequences caused the Old Believers plenty of problems.

Soviet interests in both the north China and Sinkiang regions were primarily economic. Historical accounts point to the Soviet use of Port Arthur and Darien as warm-water ports for the east, their interests in the construction of railroads throughout the region, and their mining and refining activities in the northern area of the Sinkiang Province. In Sinkiang, the Soviets established consulates there by 1924, and when the warlord of the area was assassinated in 1928, the Soviets were quick to move in on his successor to establish a puppet government there during the Thirties. Harbin served as the center of Soviet diplomatic activities during the Thirties as well, with a consulate and a special Russian muncipality established there up to the time of the Japanese take-over. Up to this point, however, Soviet activities did not often spread to the rural areas and the Old Believers seem to have been unaffected by their presence in the cities. The Twenties and Thirties were mostly characterized as a very peaceful, "free" era, during which the villagers of both the Harbin and Sinkiang groups were left alone for the most part and simply worked whatever piece of land in the area took their fancy. They traveled freely and hunted where they chose. Many of them married people in other villages and moved there. Most of them had little cause or opportunity to visit nearby towns unless they were male and wished to trade or sell. They made most of their own clothing and other implements, with the exception of metal objects.

For the Harbins, the first problems arose with the takeover of the Manchurian region by the Japanese, who in 1932 established the notorious "Manchukuo" regime. One of the primary early tasks the new government undertook was the extension of the railroad system, and workers from various provinces were expropriated for this purpose. Even the Old Believers worked for the Japanese on the railways. Usually, they were returned to their families without incident when the work in that area was completed, but stories were told of individuals being transferred to other projects and never being seen again. There were also some deaths and injuries from accidents. The work was not done voluntarily; the individuals involved were rounded up and marched off by Japanese soldiers for forced labor. The Japanese never reached Sinkiang, so the people there were largely unaffected by the invasion and the events leading up to World War II.

When the Soviets began to actively aid the Chinese in fighting the Japanese, the Old Believers found themselves affected in several ways. First, their villages were occasionally raided by Soviet troops passing through the area. In Sinkiang, this occurred because some of the settlements were apparently in the path of a major Soviet overland route for supplying the soldiers at the front. In Harbin, where much of the fighting was taking place, the villagers were frequently bystanders on the front itself. Raids on villages usually were for supplies only. Troops would take the food stores and animals, leaving the villagers with whatever they could get out of the ground between the raid and that winter. Occasionally, however, all the men over sixteen or seventeen would be taken and marched off either to become soldiers or to work on repairing and extending the railway system, which was also crucial for maintaining the supplies for troops. Even those whose villages were not hit by the Soviets encountered difficulties when they ventured near the cities of Harbin or Mutankiang for supplies, only to find the cities in shambles because of the war.

Sinkiang also had a few battles during the late Thirties and early Forties, but these came mostly from Mongol and Moslem uprisings, and were centered around Urumchi. Thus, only an occasional Old Believer had anything to do with such conflicts. A few of them, however, served in the area's White Army for short periods of time.

As the war progressed, some of the Harbintsi attempted to move further south in the Manchurian region, hoping thereby to escape Soviet raids and the ravages of the conflict itself. As they did so, however, they found themselves in the midst of the so-called "liberated areas" and faced a different problem in the form of the Draft Agrarian Law of 1947 and its consequences. This law was the center of a political offensive on the part of the Chinese revolutionaries in their efforts to attain full control over China, and is principal purpose was the abolition of the feudal landholding system. Typically, the law was enforced or implemented through the incitement of peasant uprisings against the local landlords and gentry by revolutionary cadres. These uprisings, once they got going in earnest, were often quite violent and many beatings and murders took place in the name of land reform. Thus, when the movement to expropriate property gained momentum in their area, various Old Believer villages came under attack for the possession of "more than their share" of property. This was somewhat ironic, because the Old Believers did not participate at all in the Chinese landlord system. In fact, their Mir system of distributing land among themselves in their own villages closely approximated the Draft Law ideal of equality in both quantity and quality of land. Nevertheless, the attacks between 1947-1951 in both areas came without warning, were violent, and left the Old Believers without their property.

Another event at the end of World War II which affected the Old Believers was the Soviet post-war cleanups in both Manchuria and Sinkiang. In Manchuria, this took the form of a move to dismantle the captured Japanese industrial centers and ship the parts back to the Soviet Union to aid Soviet rebuilding efforts in their own country. The Soviets also lacked manpower during this time, and most of expatriate Russians in the urban centers in northern China were either persuaded or coerced to join the troops and their technicians in the march back to the homeland. Some Old Believer villages were again raided during this time, both in the Harbin and Kuldja regions. This was the time when the Soviets came in trucks with films and speeches about how wonderful life was in the Soviet Union and promises that they would be allowed to worship as they wished when the returned. People who continued to the homeland went there to work on a collective farm and to see their icons and prayer books destroyed.

Those that stayed in China began to plan their escape from China. They did not want to return to Russia and conditions in China were becoming intolerable for them. Some of them had heard of the United States and Canada and wished to go there. Getting the documents necessary for that kind of travel proved difficult, however, because not only were most of the Staroveri illiterate, but Moscow and Vladivostok held some of those documents and were loathe to give them up for the purpose of aiding the escape of religious exiles from the Soviet Union. The consulates in Harbin and Kuldja were not helpful either. In fact, some Old Believers claim that they or acquaintances of theirs were jailed for their attempted contacts with the British Consulate in Hong Kong, on orders from the local Russian consulates in Harbin or Kuldja.

In the period 1957-58 the local officials and the people in Hong Kong suddenly relented and they found themselves with permission to travel to Hong Kong, thence to prepare for departure to another country. The only event which seems to hold any possibility of explaining this change in policy is the visit of Khrushchev to Peking in the mid-50's which coincided with a shake-up in the Soviet diplomatic corps assigned to China. The consulates at both Kuldja and Harbin were replaced in 1954, with the Harbin consulate being replaced again in 1957.

In any event, the remaining Old Believers from Manchuria and Sinkiang traveled to Hong Kong around 1958-59. Some of them had escaped in the mid-50's, usually making their way by hired truck, foot or horseback to the nearest train station where they could safely board a train to either Shanghai or Hong Kong. Most of them, however, even when they escaped illegally, wound up in Hong Kong about the same time their legitimate brethren did, in 1958-59.

There, the Old Believers from Manchuria and Sinkiang met for the first time. The Red Cross and the United World Council of Churches assisted both groups while they were in Hong Kong, putting them up in hotels and arranging for their passage to a new country. Most of them spent months in the city while the consulates debated their fates. They were enjoined not to work while they were there, but some of them found short-term jobs anyway. The majority of them had been forced to give up all they owned in the way of valuables in order to make the trip, and they were understandably insecure without some money or belongings of their own, despite the assurances of the charitable organizations that their needs would be provided for. In all, out of the uncounted thousands of Old Believers who apparently at one time populated the rural areas of northern China and Sinkiang, less than 1,000 made it to Hong Kong. Some of the families claim to be the only ones from their entire village who made it out of China without going back to the Soviet Union.

In Hong Kong, they were given several choices among the countries to which they could go: Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. The largest groups went eventually to Brazil and Australia, with smaller groups ending up in the other countries. To date, there are still some Old Believers left in each of those nations.


Our narrative narrows at this point to those Old Believers who went to Brazil. The number which arrived there seems to have been near 200 or even more. There were apparently two boatloads of them, one of which went to Brazil by way of Los Angeles and the other which headed in the opposite direction by plane, eventually passing through Rome and then taking a boat from Italy. The group which stopped in Lost Angeles found their arrival heralded by the American newspaper Novoye Slovo (The New Word), and they were met by some Molokans who resided at that time in the city. These Molokans were members of another conservative sect from the days of the Schism of 1653, and this particular group had immigrated to the United States in the early Twenties. Some of their relatives had moved to central Oregon and were farming in the Willamette Valley near Salem and Woodburn. In the course of conversations between the members of these two groups, the Molokan hosts told their Old Believer guests about the productive farmland and peaceful countryside their relatives had written them about in "Voodburn." It was this name that the Old Believers were later to give their American sponsors when asked in what part of the country they would like to settle.

The majority of the Old Believers arrived in Brazil in 1959-61. They had been provided with land by the United World Council of Churches, and this organization further promised to provide them with the means and assistance necessary to get them started in farming their land. The Sinziantsi and Harbintsi requested to be settled on separate pieces of land, despite their friendly acquaintance during their stay in Hong Kong. This factional loyalty showed up in family lines as well. Within each of the two groups, small viallges were formed principally on the basis of family membership or village alliances as they had existed back in China. Both groups were settled nearby each other, about eight miles or so from the nearby town of Ponta Grossa, in the state of Parana. The Harbin group split into three villages, with the Sinziantsi forming five.

Life in Brazil appears to have been difficult from the start. The soil and climatic conditions were vastly different from anything the Old Believers had known. They were used to fertile deposits from the river valleys of China's northlands, a cold winter and temperate summer. This was the kind of climate they had known in Russia also. In Brazil, the soil was barren and the climate dry and hot, except for seasonal torrents of rain which washed uselessly over the land and quickly evaporated in the sun. Several of them told of first harvests which were total losses, which no food to eat for the coming rainy season and no seed to plant the next time. They had to borrow money from the banks in Ponta Grossa for machinery and fertilizers without which they were told they would not be able to farm there. They began growing rice and watermelons for cash crops, because they had been informed by the locals that there were outlets for those products in Ponta Grossa and they grew well in the soil of that region.

Unfortunately, although many of the Old Believers became proficient farmers under those conditions by the second or third year of their stay there, two factors prevented all but a few from making a livelihood of their work. One of these was the depressed state of the local economy and the fact that there was not enough of an outlet to provide sales for all the rice that the Russians would produce. Thus, they found that during good harvest years, the market would quickly become glutted and the prices would fall so drastically that only a few could make any money at all. One way which some individuals tried to circumnavigate this difficulty was by hoarding as much rice as they could until the market had unfrozen, and then strategically leaking their supply onto the market to cash in on the resultant price increases. Other considered this dishonest, but competed for the purchase of land from indebted brethren so that they could absorb their losses through multiple or even staggered harvests. The end result of this system of "free enterprise" under restricted market conditions was a fierce competition between Old Believers which began to undermine community solidarity and in a few instances caused some violent feuding among families or village groups.

The second factor which intervened between the Old Believers efforts and the prospects of a decent living was the highly corrupted local system of government and the tax system in particular. It was common for an Old Believer, driving his produce to market, to be stopped by a man in the road who posed as a tax collector. This man would overestimate the amount of produce and charge taxes accordingly. He would then pocket the money and provide the farmer with no receipt or document of the "transaction," thus leaving him open for the next man in the road. Tax collectors also frequented the pubic marketplaces and streets of Ponta Grossa, so that an individual farmer coming into town for a day of selling and trading could have taxes charged as many as four or five times. One protective (aside, perhaps, from learning to swear effectively in Portuguese) adopted by some of the Old Believers was to take their produce to the local governor and hve him or a deputy sign a paper indicating that the bearer had paid his taxes for that load in full. However, this took time and was not always dependable, since the appropriate officials might not be available at the time the farmer came to call.

Once again, the literate among the Old Believers began appealing for assistance from various nations. It was obvious to them that they could not make a living for themselves in Brazil. Many of the families were already heavily indebted to the banks, and a few of them were close to starving. Even the relatively well-to-do were not secure in their comparative wealth, for a couple of disastrous crops could bring them down as well.

The Tolstoy Foundation in New York found out about the group, and agreed to sponsor the majority of them in a move to the United States. A few other Old Believers were sponsored by acquaintances of theirs from days in China who had already moved to the United States and become citizens. Most of them began their migration in the mid-60's, from about 1964 to 1969. They moved when they could afford to pay at least part of their plane fare and still have a small savings to tide them over in America while they searched for work. Of those who made the move, most of them came to Oregon, beginning in the early Sixties. A handful of families went to New York where their sponsors were, but most of these eventually came out to Oregon to join the others. Some remained in Brazil and are there to this day, but have moved to another location at Mato Grossa. Some say that all of the remaining Old Believers in Brazil would like to come here but are too poor to manage it, while others have indicated that some of them have become well-to-do there and enjoy their lives.

While the Tolstoy Foundation was making arrangements with the Russians in Brazil for their migration to the United States, the plight of another group in Turkey came to their attention. Through a series of misfortunes, this community's numbers had been reduced to the point that they could no longer support themselves nor could they provide sufficient marriage partners within their own group. The Tolstoy Foundation advised them to come to America and live with the Old Believers who were arriving from Brazil. This community came all together in 1963, consisting of 60 households with 250 individuals all told. They were settled at first in New Jersey and for a time were scattered around that area so that they could not continue their existence as a community, but after a couple of years, they managed to move out to Oregon, where they settled on a large plot of land near Gervais, which they had collectively purchased. This has since become known to the community at large as "Turkish Village." Although this group was found to be coreligious with the Brazilian Old Believers in a joint council meeting (sobor) held between the two groups, relations were slow in building between them for a few years. To this day, there is some prejudice among the Sinziantsi, Harbintsi and Turtiantsi against one another, even though by now there has been plenty of intermarriage among the three groups.

The Brazilians never did get the money or the land together to purchase a large plot on which to establish a village. When the first families arrived in Oregon, they had large degts to pay the airline companies and banks in Brazil for past loans. Furthermore, they had to send money back to less-well-off relatives who wanted to make the trip to America as well. Lack of proficiency in English and the absence of "marketable" job skills for all but a very few meant that they had to compete with the local Chicano (Mexican) population for the farm labor jobs. They did so successfully, but at the cost of any amiable relations with the Mexicans.


As several years passed by and some of the families began to establish firm financial footing for themselves, another problem drew their attention. Young people in the community, through a combination of influences from American schools and society and the restrictiveness of the Staroveri traditions, were beginning to fall away from the old ways. A few community elders viewed the situation with sufficient alarm that they began seriously considering other more isolated locations for their parishes. One of them latched onto the information that government land was available in the Kenai Peninsula area of Alaska, where the fishing was reputed to be outstanding. After initial investigations by four men, five families moved up to a jointly purchased section of land (640 acres) and began building a community there in the summer of 1968.

During the first summer, the families camped in tents on an "oil pan," which is a bed of gravel about a hundred yards in diameter, originally laid down in preparation for drilling on the spot. The men began constructing an access road to their village from the nearby roads leading inland from Anchor Point. They then began laying out the plan for the village itself, and logged out an area for it in the spruce forest. From the wood they cut, they built the first five cabins of the village, put in power lines by the next summer and were able to spend the first winter there. There was a tent fire, in which one girl was burned to death and her mother scarred for life. Some of the families which came later were unable to withstand the cold winters and had to return to Oregon.

However, the majority prevailed and the village continued to grow each year, with the population stabilizing to some extent in 1974 or so. Most of the men have found work as commercial fishermen or construction workers, while the majority of the women work at a cannery in nearby Homer. By the second year, the homes had running water and electricity. Some of the men constructed their own fishing boats after working at a Homer marina where they learned the trade. They set up their own shop in the village by 1972. When the growing season in the Alaskan summers proved too short for the production of various favorite vegetables, the Old Believers built greenhouses with wood-fueled stoves in them to extend the season. In 1974-75, through the cooperative efforts of retired Army Brig. Gen. B.B. Talley, some 59 Old Believers prepared for and successfully obtained American citizenship. On June 19, 1975, a ceremony for their naturalization took place in the Anchor Point School gymnasium, with Judge James A.. von der Heydt presiding.

Although some of the Russians in Oregon were encouraged by reports of events in Alaska, they did not want to move there themselves, even though they wished to find a more isolated spot in which to live and raise their children. Reasons commonly given among the Oregonians included the harshness of the climate, the lack of available fishing permits and the inability of the Alaskans to farm for money because of the long winters. Thus, 45 individuals purchased a quarter section of land near the Alaskan settlement, but after further consideration of the matter, gave up the notion of settling there and resold the land.

One other colony has been established as of about 1973 in Canada, near Edmonton, Alberta. This community currently houses some 20 families, primarily of the Harbintsi, although several Sinziantsi indicated that their relatives or friends had also purchased land up there and were planning to move in the near future.


Religion is clearly central to the Old Believer society and world view. It permeates virtually every major portion of their social and inner lives. They base their interpretations of the Word of God on a number of books which tell them in considerable detail how to live for virtually each day of the year. An adult Old Believer is above all conscious of the immense number of rules which must be observed in every waking moment. Some of the more prominent among these rules will be referred to in conjunction with work, eating and dress. In order to understand the books, the Old Believer must be able to read Church Slavonic, the dialect in which the Bible was translated by Cyril and Methodius for their missionary work in Moravia in the mid-800's. Included in these books are such comprehensive rule-systems as the Canonical Laws formulated in the Seven Ecumenical Councils from 325 to 787 in Nicea.

Among these laws are those which regulate the observance of the Holy Days and the four Lents which are to be observed each year. The Old Believers use the Julian calendar for the reckoning of their dates, so that, for example, their Christmas and Easter are always out of phase with our own (by thirteen days). Holy days are usually marked by special services which begin late at night and continue on through the eary hours of the morning. Ordinarily, there is an evening service each weekday beginning at 5:00 and and ending at about 9:00, and then a longer service on Sundays which may run from about 1:00 A.M. until 8:00-10:00 in the morning. Since there are some thirty-eight Holy Days which may be celebrated thus, the Old Believers spend many days out of the year in church for at least a few hours each day.

Churches in Oregon have often consisted of the elder's home (or that of a relative) which is large enough to be used for the purpose. Only two of the six operable church districts in Oregon have church buildings as such. Apparently, this was also often the case back in Brazil and China. Although the buildings are typically unadorned on the outside, they are heavily decorated on the interiors. In addition to embroidered hangings on the walls, there are various icons, some of which reputedly date as far back as the Seventeenth Century. Most of them are cast from bronze and then enameled according to strict rules of iconography, while others are painted in an egg-tempera-based paint on specially gessoed board. The churches usually have a simple layout, consisting of a large standing area in the center of the floor for the worshippers, who must stand through most of the services. At the front is an altar and repository for the service books and other necessities for the conducting of services. The altar and the shelves above it which house the icons also are laden with beeswax candles made by qualified older community members. These are kept burning throughout the service. Near the front of the room is a stand which can be moved to the center of the floor when necessary, and which holds the book of hymns and chants used by the Old Believers.

The service itself features four individuals: the nastayatyel, the ustavnik, the naspevnik and the pomoshnik. The nastayatyel is the elder of the church districts, which is the primary governmental unit above that of the family in Old Believer society. There is no higher authority than this position, although it does not include with it much in the way of power over others' affairs. The nastayatyel is primarily the presiding head over church services, and he also has the additional function of an ad hoc canonical lawyer. The ustavnik is also a law keeper of sorts, as it is his job to keep track of the forms which the service must take according to the books. The naspevnik is the cantor, and leads the hymnal singing and chants. The pomoshnik is an assistant to the elder. In recent years, the nastayatyel has been increasingly called on to administer punishments and other forms of discipline to miscreant young people. These punishments usually consist of a public announcement of the individual's sins to the congregation at the end of the service, whereupon the transgressors may be compelled to perform several prostrations before the congregation, or some other act of contrition and penance.

There are several aspects of the services which should be particularly noted. First, the congregation stands during the entire service, except for certain times when they are to prostrate themselves on the floor. Children are expected to do this along with the adults, although the very young may be excused to go to the bathroom or to step outside. Babies are usually laid to rest in a back room, and mothers may leave periodically to check in on them. The men stand as a group in front of the women, and they participate much more actively in the services than do the women.

Most of the service consists of readings aloud from appropriate texts for the hour, with the readings being done by men as appointed during the service by the nastayatyel. Often, a young man who is just getting the hang of the Slavonic will suddenly find the finger pointed at him, and with a shove from his father or an uncle, he is belly-up against a prayer book and has to begin reading, lest the continuity of the service be broken. Readers who err are usually quietly prompted or corrected by knowledgeable members of the congregation. The chanting or hymns of the Staroveri are sung only by the men during the services. They have their historical and musical roots firmly embedded in the Byzantine chant of Tenth Century vintage. The pitch is relative rather than absolute, but the scale consists of 12 notes lying roughly in the tenor register. The hymns often contain two closely harmonized parts, with intervals consisting mostly of major and minor thirds and fifths.

Church-related ceremonies and sacraments mark various important parts of the individual's life cycle, in addition to the variety of Holy Days and fasts. At birth, the primary event is the christening. First, the baby is to be delivered by an individual who is among the faithful, which makes many Old Believers understandably resistant to the idea of having their babies delivered in hospitals. There are several Old Believer midwives who were educated by older female relatives, and they usually perform this service for the expectant mothers. Another reason given for the home deliveries is that, in the event of complications with the birth, the baby can be christened then and there, for it is believed that an unchristened baby will not see the face of God.

If there are no complications, the baby is usually christened within eight days after its birth. The ceremony is usually performed on a Holy Day or Sunday, whichever appears within the eight-day limit and is the most convenient. A name is chosen for the baby from a list of Saints' days, and there is a Saint for nearly every day of the year. The parents choose the most suitable name from within the eight-day period. In the baptismal ceremony, the nastayatyel dips the head of the infant in a large container of water and prays over it, names it and then hands the baby to a waiting godparent, who then dresses it with the nastayatyel. The two items of clothing which are crucial in this instance are the woven belt and a cross on a chain or thong, which is placed around the baby's neck. The belt is not to come off except for bathing, and the cross is not to come of at all except perhaps in the event a longer chain is needed when the individual grows up.

The acquisition of godparents is an important event also. Godparents are enjoined to teach the child right and wrong and to consider themselves responsible for the child on the same level as the child's biological parents. The godfather in particular is to serve as a father-confessor to the godchild, and the child is instructed later in life to confess all his sins to the godfather at least during each Lenten period. Many of the Old Believers refer to their godparents as "relatives," or even state that they were "related" to those families containing the godparents of siblings. Further, there is a marriage taboo which forbids the child to marry a member of the godparents' families.

The day of the Saint for whom the child is named becomes the name-day of the child, and this is used for the yearly celebration of that individual's birth, much as the American-European birthday is observed. On the morning of or the evening before the name-day, the family of the child (or adult) gives out treats to their friends in honor of the individual. These friends then say a special prayer for that person along with the rest of their day's prayers. If a name-day falls on a Sunday or major Holy Day, then the person may take a beeswax candle to church, and the congregation will say a prayer for her.

In the home, every meal and even the preparation of various foods and other household tasks must be blessed. In a prominent corner of the front room of each Old Believer home stands a small altar with the family icon sitting in a small shelter, curtained with an embroidered covering. Whenever a visiting Old Believer enters the home, he is ordinarily to bow three times from the waist before the icon (which is usually at about eye-level) and say a prayer which translates approximately: "O God be merciful to me, a sinner. You, O Lord who created me, have mercy on me. I have sinned without number, O Lord, have mercy on me and forgive me, a sinner." The entering person usually does this before even greeting the individuals whom he has come to visit. This obeisance is also the first act performed upon entering a church.


Another momentous occasion is the wedding. Secular elements enter into this ceremony and its preparations perhaps more than any other, but even it is heavily marked with ceremony and ritual. In courtship, the man traditionally takes the initiative. Thus, it is the young man who decides on a woman he wants to marry. When he has made the decision, he tells his parents and they come over with him to the prospective bride's house. If all goes well and the marriage is determined acceptable, then the two sets of parents discuss the arrangements while the man and woman pass the time in another room, chaperoned usually by the woman's best friend. The bride is then taken aside by an aunt or older female relative from both the man's family and her own, and is asked whether she wants to marry the man. If she says yes, then the announcement is made to the "man" (the nastayatyel) that the couple intends to be married.

The nastayatyel then arrives at the bride's home, and there presides while the couple kneels before the icon and a lit candle, praying together. The nastayatyel then asks each of them in turn whether they wish to be married of their own free will. If either answers no at this point, then the marriage does not proceed. If they answer yes, then they exchange gifts before the nastayatyel and both sets of parents. The man traditionally gives either money or, in earlier years, animals and grain. The woman presents the man with her favorite belt. They are then officially engaged and a dinner is brought from the man's parents home to the house of the bride, where the two families eat together.

On the same day after the engagement, preparations are begun for the wedding ceremony and feast. Because these feasts are meant to be elaborate and rich, they cannot be held on any of the fast days or during the Lenten periods. This tends to make the wedding a seasonal phenomenon, with the greatest number tending to occur just before the seven-week Easter Lent. The groom's family prepares a variety of foods and makes sure that they have plenty of "braga" (a home-made Old Believer wine-like drink, usually made from berries). In the meantime, the bride invites her friends to a small party to make the "krosota" (wedding cap) which consists of small bows of colorful material, and a large bow in the back with ribbons which trail to midway between the knee and ankle. One of the friends is chosen to be a "podruga" (somewhat akin to the bridesmaid), and this person then assists the bride in various wedding preparations. These may include the sewing and embroidering of various garments and the trousseau, if that has not been taken care of in earlier years by the bride herself.

At this point, the "divichnik" begins. This is a period of anywhere from two days to three weeks, during which there are parties each evening for the bride at her home. Various friends of the bride and groom who are themselves still single come to the house and sit around a long table and eat, drink, and the women sing songs for which the men pay them with money and/or kisses (mostly the latter). They may carry on this way for long hours, as late as 2:00 in the morning. When the groom arrives at this sort of gathering, the bride has to kiss him on the lips, which apparently has caused some embarrassment among the women since it may be the first time they have ever kissed the men they are to marry. On the last Friday before the wedding, the end of this party is marked with a dinner for all present. At the end of each divichnik party, a song is sung about how the guests will each go home and sleep in other houses now.

In the meantime, the groom's family has been making the bridal outfit, while the bride (or in some cases, the bride's mother) prepares a special shirt to be worn at the wedding by the groom. On the Saturday before the wedding, at noon, the bride's close woman friends meet at her house to decorate the bridal vehicle (in the old days, a horse or wagon, now a car). The bride stays home to make her last-minute preparations while her friends join a gathering of the groom's friends at the groom's house, where they consume vast quantities of braga and joke with one another. At one point in this gathering, the groom may (although this practice is apparently frowned upon by the elders) get up on a bench and pay or give gifts to any of the women who will climb up ther with him, have a drink and kiss him one last time. These gifts consist of things such as soap, towels, combs and a leafy bunch of twigs which is called a "venik." These items are intended for use in an afternoon bath in the traditional family sauna, where the bride and her entourage wash each other and ask the bride many teasing questions about her future life with the groom. If she answers these questions correctly, she gets cold water on her back, but if she answers them "wrongly" then she gets hot water and pretend-whippings from the wielder of the venik. This tradition is not often carried through, according to participants, because by that time the bride's friends are often too drunk to even wash themselves. Nonetheless, it is a variation on the more standard practice of washing on the afternoon or evening before a church service. These women then stay overnight at the bride's house, which is symbolically meant to be a protective gesture for the bride so that she will be certain of remaining "pure" right up to the day of the wedding.

Sunday is the day of the wedding, and the bride's relatives and friends come for her around 3:00 that morning. With what powers of stamina they are able to do this after a solid week of carousing and wedding preparations is not known. The bride is presented with her garments and is dressed by the podruga (or bridesmaid), and then covered with a shawl. The groom and his friends and relatives arrive around 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning. The groom has with him a "tysyachik," or spokesman, and a "svashka," or lady; both of these individuals are usually close relatives of the groom. They are usually older and themselves married. The tysyachik asks the podruga what they are all doing there so early in the morning, and she is supposed to reply that she is there to sell the bride. These two then proceed to bargain for the bride. In the old days, gifts of animals, grain or household goods were used, whereas today the currency is most often cash. A few recently married individuals who were open revealed their "prices" around $100-$160. A close male relative of the bride, usually her brother, then sells her braid, often threatening to cut it off with a pair of shears if a proper price is not paid for it (the price these days being $15-$40). Then the bride's friends begin saying that they are hungry or thirsty, or that they are ill; and for these various "problems" they are given "cures" of pastries, braga, nuts and other edible treats. They divide the money from the bridal sale and these foods among themselves. Occasionally a boy will be clandestinely substituted under the shawl in place of the bride so that the groom's family finds that they have purchased the boy and not the bride, so in some cases the tysyachik will take a precautionary peek under the shawl to see it he is getting what he bargains for. During this part of the ceremony there is considerable bargaining, joking about the quality of the "purchase," and a lot of braga.

After the sale, the bride comes out from beneath the shawl and forms a chain with the tysyachik, the groom, the bride, and then a svashka for the bride and a svashka for the groom, linked together in that order with handkerchiefs held in their hands. They must remain in this chain for the rest of that day, with the tysyachik always leading. They are then blessed at a table which contains bread and salt, and they then go to the church of the groom, where by this time regular services have been under way for some hours. They usually arrive there between 5:00 and 6:00 in the morning.

After the regular service has ended, everyone leaves except for the bride, groom, the members of their "chain," the parents of the bride and groom, the nastayatyel and three or four other male witnesses. None of the younger, unmarried people are supposed to see the wedding ceremony itself, and the first one an Old Believer sees is usually his own. The bride and groom are asked once again three times if they are marrying of their free will, and if they answer yes, then the ceremony begins in earnest. It should be noted here that although there seem to be plenty of precautions against unwanted marriages, some women are forced into them through parental pressure. After an initial prayer said in unison, the bride and groom exchange rings three times, naming each other husband and wife. They are then blessed by their parents, who present them with the icons which have been chosen from among the supplies of both families, to be given to the newlyweds for their own household. When the blessings are being administered, the couple kneels before the parents of the two families.

After this, the bride is taken to the back of the church where a dresser has been set aside with her marriage-cap (sheshmura) and scarves are waiting. She removes here "krossota," or crown, which she has been wearing all through the ceremony, and the bridesmaids then plait her hair into two braids, tie them up over her head, and place the sheshmura over it and two scarves over that. The bride is now given the appearance of a married woman, since unmarried women and girls wear their hair in a single braid down the back. She is never to show her hair to any other man than her husband, according to traditional decree.

She then proceeds to the groom, and bows before him to the floor, and kisses him. This is to indicate symbolically that she is now his and that she will be submissive toward him for the rest of her days. The "chain" then forms again, while the nastayatyel reads the portions of the sacred texts which describe the duties of wife and husband toward each other and toward their future children. The bride then says a prayer and asks her parents their forgiveness for leaving them to become a member, in essence, of the groom's family. After a closing group prayer, the ceremony is finished and the people go to the groom's house for breakfast.

After the breakfast, a party of men and boys who are members of the bride's family arrive at the groom's house with all the bride's belongings and anything the bridal family may have thrown in for their new household. Each man has a single item in his custody, and it is his duty to sell that item to the groom's family or to the groom itself. The tysyachik does the talking for the groom most of the time and bargains on his side. Prominent among these belongings are the bridal hope chest, a bundle of bedding and a chest containing the decorations and icon hangings which the bride has presumably been embroidering ever since she was a young girl. These are all sold amidst much joking and drinking. But the gifts and the money are real enough, and in this way often hundreds of dollars (in present-day weddings, at least) exchange hands between the two families.

The bride and groom then move in usually with the groom's family for the first few months, depending on the agreement with the families involved. Lunch and dinner on the day of the wedding are also loud and long, with much food and drink being consumed by the guests. After dinner, the couple usually retire to rest, since they are likely to be both exhausted, but the guests often go on celebrating into the night. Almost all the guests are expected to give something to the couple. The post-wedding ceremony celebrations may continue for as long as three or four days after the ceremony itself, this part being called the "svadba."


Upon the death of an individual, the body is washed and prepared for burial by an older man or woman, usually a close relative of the deceased. A few male relatives then build a coffin and cross our of wood, if this has not been done already (some people build the coffins for their parents when they see that their parents have few years left to live). In the meantime, a dinner is prepared and relatives and friends are summoned to the house of the deceased for evening services there. There is then a processional with the coffin to the cemetery, where more prayers are said as the coffin is lowered into the ground. Everyone present has to pitch some dirt over the grave, with a special cloth being placed by a "podruchnik," while the nastayatyel of the deceased person's church presides over the services.

The people then return to the home of the dead person for a dinner, at the end of which small presents are given by a relative of the deceased to each person present at the funeral. In exchange for this, each person is bound to pray for the deceased. Nine days after the funeral, another holy dinner is given if the family can afford it, and another is supposed to be prepared on the fortieth day and one year after the death. Some families may posthumously observe the name-day or day of death of the individual each year subsequent to her death. Although the nastayatyel cannot administer Holy Communion to individuals because he is not an ordanined priest, the Old Believers do apparently maintain among the parishes a supply of holy water which is used for the last rites, so that a person may receive the Holy Mystery before death. This water is said to have been blessed and sanctified by a pre-Nikonian priest during the early days of the Schism, and has been handed down since then. It is diluted each time it is used, with the idea being that at least some of it will be sacred no matter how many times it has to be used. Both the Harbintsi and Sinziantsi were apparently at one time groups which had their own priests after the Schism, but abandoned the priesthood under persecutions from Nicholas I when they were unable to find new priests to replace those who died of old age. Thus, over the years they gradually became like the priestless groups.


The world view of the traditional Old Believer is understandably strongly influenced by religious dogma. Many of them to this day profess to believe in the existence of the Anti-Christ. Previous incarnations of the Anti-Christ have been said to be Peter the Great, Lenin and Stalin. Some believe that Brezhnev is the current bearer of the Anti-Christ, and that Soviet rule and the persecution of the Orthodoxy in that country was sent by God as punishment for what the post-Nikonian Orthodoxy did to the Old Believers and other conservative schismatics. According to writings of the original Old Believers such as the Denisov brothers, the world was felt by them to be in its last days during the mid-1600s. This orientation and its consequent emphasis on the hereafter and salvation has carried over to some extent in present-day Old Believer society.

The spirit world of the Old Believer is an active one, populated with angels and demons which constantly engage themselves in an every-day tug-of-war for the souls of people on earth. Demons are said to be particularly sneaky and insidious; they can turn up anywhere. There are specific practices which the individual is supposed to use for his/her protection against invasion or temptation at the hands of demons. For example, all open dishes should be dovered so that a demon cannot hide there and be eaten by the next person to take a meal from that dish. Likewise, most Old Believers cross themselves before taking a drink from a glass, particularly if the drink has been made with water from an unblessed source (such as tap water), and this is to prevent water demons from entering the body. Illnesses and personal misfortunes are traditionally laid to the influence of demons, while good fortunes are said to be the rewards of the Lord for steadfast devotion and worship. Some say that if the person does bad things, then a demon comes to perch on his shoulder and offer temptations to further sins by whispering in the person's ears. Likewise, if the person is good, then an angel may come to ward off temptation from the devil. If the individual thinks good thoughts or prays a lot, then they will be inclined to hear the angels and not the demons, but if they forget to pray or think evil thoughts, then they are more likely to hear and be swayed by the demons.

Traditional Material Culture

This section concerns the habits of dress, diet, shelter and health care among the Old Believers as they have appeared in recent generations. The woman's dress is always a full dress which fits over a long-sleeved blouse and full-length slips. An apron is then fitted over the dress and the "poyas" (belt) is tied around the waist. Unmarried women wear their hair in a braid down the back, married women use two braids and scarves. The total garment is known as a "sarafan," and is usually very brightly colored when colorful fabrics are available. In China and to some extent in Brazil, it was common for the women to weave their own cloth out of flax which they grew in their fields and then to dye it with juices from berries and other fruits.

The main items of religious significance are the poyas and the cross on a chain or thong around the neck. These symbolize the bond between their bearers and Christ. The other articles of dress are determined by a combination of religious doctrines and nonsecular custom. The women, for instance, are never permitted to cut their hair. This is specifically forbidden in their Bible. They also are never to show their arms above the wrists nor their legs above the calf in public, nor any other part of their bodies; thus, the full skirts.

The men traditionally wear a "rubashka," which is a tunic-like shirt which often has embroidery down the front and a high round collar reminiscent of the clerical collar found in the United States and Europe. They belt the rubashka in with the poyas, and also wear a cross on a chain tucked inside the shirt. The only other aspect of the men's appearance which is dictated by custom or religious is their hair and beard. The hair is usually cut short in back and on the sides with a fringe of longer hair around the temples and front. The beard is uncut and grows to whatever length is natural for it to do. In their Bible, they are enjoined not to cut their hair at the temples nor to trim the edges of their beards, for to do so would be to deface the likeness of God, in whose image they were created. Although they are not quite as constrained by religion or custom in their dress as the women, the men do not seem to wear any other than full-length trousers and seldom go barechested, even when working in the heat. They also prefer brightly colored fabrics when they are available, with the rubashki usually being solid-hued in contrast with the prints and patterns of flowers which the women prefer for their dresses. For church services, the men will often wear a long black coat over their clothes. They and the women both are expected to dress cleanly but not ostentatiously for the church services, since it is considered something of a sign of vanity to wear bright or overly pretty clothes to church. The most colorful and ornate outfits are consistently worn by the adolescents just prior to marriage, when they are courting.

Men and women both are forbidden to wear makeup and various kinds of jewelry or perfume, although this seems to have been increasingly relaxed in recent years for adolescent women in particular. It is now fairly common to see young women and girls with necklaces, bracelets and pierced ears (done by their mothers or older sisters), bedecked with earrings. Lipstick and cosmetics, however, are still largely shunned. Some of the young men do shave their beards until they marry, without serious reprimands at the hands of their parents or the church elders. These descriptions do not, however, hold for those who are breaking with traditions, and such individuals often wear American clothes.

The dietary practices of the Old Believers are strictly regulated by a series of religious rules. Foremost among these are the fasts. There are the four Lenten fasts, which have been mentioned already. In addition, there are certain days of the week set aside for fasting. These are usually Wednesday and Friday, but in the event of various holidays, other days before days of fasting as well. During the fasts, all animal products are to be avoided, which usually means no meat, fish, butter, oil, eggs or dairy products. On some of the fast days, fish or fish and oil are permitted but nothing else. The second major rule is the injunction against eating with non-Believers or from the dish that a non-Believer has used. When entertaining non-Staroveri guests, the Staroveri are quite hospitable but serve the guests on special dishes and with utensils which they themselves do not use. This rule was much easier to observe when the Old Believers were living in isolation in Brazil and China. In America there has been the problem of the proximity of non-Believers and the need of Old Believers to depend, especially during their early years in the county, on the American-made foods in stores.

The basic stuff of which their diet is made is not unlike that of any agrarian Eurasian people. Home-grown vegetables have predominated, along with breads and pastries made from wheat and corn. Meat is approved only if it comes from an animal with a cloven hoof. Animals with paws are regarded as unfit to eat. Thus, unless they are desperate, Old Believers will not eat animals such as squirrel, rabbit or bear. Fish and hardbacked shellfish are considered edible. Meals are essentially interchangeable, so that what is served for breakfast also may be served for lunch, dinner or for snacks. Although there are strict religious prohibitions against the consumption of alcoholic beverages, the Old Believers nevertheless do prepare their home-made wine or "braga." As previously mentioned, this brew is used in weddings and for other celebrations, and it also figures heavily in Sunday socializing and hospitality toward guests. When asked about this apparent inconsistency, some responded that they did not know why that was the case.

There also are special foods and treats which are reserved for the bigger holidays and festive occasions, such as weddings. One of these is "Paskha," which is eaten only at Christmas and Easter. This is a confection of cream, cream cheese, sugar, eggs, milk, butter, nuts and fruits, which is richer than cheesecake.

The arrangement of housing for Old Believers has surprisingly few restrictions to it. In fact, houses seem to have varied considerably as the group moved from place to place. In China, the houses were usually one-or-two-room affairs made of logs, half-logs or sod. Some of the stove and oven arrangements were apparently copied from those of the local Chinese peasants, who used adobe or clay for making large wood-or-dung-fueled baking ovens, on top of which was a platform for children or sick people to bed down during the winter. Furniture was sparse, with a single table and rough-hewn benches serving for most purposes. Because everything was made by hand and each person made their own items, houses varied with the abilities and available time of the builders. Another traditional building was the sauna bath, which many of the Old Believers also use in their homes nowadays. With one barrel of water being heated by the stove (usually a wood stove) and the other standing free, individuals could mix their water as they wished in buckets, which they could then pour over themselves or each other. The box of rocks on top of the stove made a steam-bath when water was poured on them.

When they first arrived in America, the Old Believers could not obtain land immediately and so had to live in apartments or migrant labor camps at first. Later on, they rented houses or bought completed ones from Americans. Those who have actually built their houses are usually construction workers or carpenters, and as such, have copied American designs and layouts for their own homes. They do not retain the special corner for the family icons, which is supposed to be the corner nearest to where the sun rises. The Old Believers thus do not appear exceptionally tradition-bound in their house construction. In Brazil, because of the sudden rains and resultant floods in their area, some of them reputedly built their houses on stilts, which reflects the rather adaptive attitude many of them seem to have with regard to housing. (Houses on stilts were built in Old Russia.)

The Staroveri from Manchuria and Sinkiang both seem to have lacked full-fledged healers of their own, although they did have a considerable arsenal of folk cures and herbal medical recipes among them. Most matters are seen to be with a combination of folk medicine and prayer. As mentioned before in the section on religious matters, the Old Believers prefer to have a person of the faith deliver babies. Consequently, women have trained themselves and each other as midwives, who take care of most of the births.

The Old Believers have come to increasingly rely on the American medical industry, as they have come to believe in its efficacy. There are even mothers now who attend pre-natal clinics in Woodburn and have their children delivered in hospitals (although with a nastayatyel nearby, when they can manage it).

The Old Believers and Public Education

Some of the most potent forces for change among the Old Believers came from the impact of public education on the young. I will begin this section with a review of the history of public education of the Old Believers since their arrival, with attention to the motivations and intentions of both school personnel and the Old Believers. Subsequently, material will be presented on the Old Believer educational experiences and the roles such experiences play in increasing the potential for identity change among the young.

Upon the arrival of the Russians to the area, educators immediately focused on the problems of getting the children to attend public schools. Because the Russians were spread over several districts, the problem could not be conveniently dealt with in the context of a single school or district. Hence, every district was in large part left to work out solutions for itself. All of them began by attempting to step up the enforcement of truancy laws, which met with poor success because of the scope of the problem and the language barrier. Once a few translators became available for specific cases, the word began to spread throughout the Russian community that it was the American law that their children attend public schools.

The reaction to this was apparently mixed. On the one hand, many parents realized that their children would need to know how to speak, read and write English in order to get along in America, and only the schools could dependably provide them with that. On the other hand, most of the families needed all available hands for getting themselves out of debt and onto a solid financial footing. Parents wanted their children to work with them in the fields or stay home and baby-sit younger siblings. The result was that a minority of the parents sent their kids to school at first, with the proportion gradually increasing for several years, until something of a take-off point was reached after which the majority of five, six, and seven-year-olds in the community were coming to first grade or kindergarten. The sudden upsurge in recent years was probably due to at least two causes: The reduced fear and mistrust of public education by the parents, and the achievement by many families after several years of a sufficiently large financial base that they could afford to let their kids go to school rather than work.

Once substantial numbers of children were in school, several issues developed for both the Old Believers and the Anglo-American community. The first of these was again an attendance issue: It was observed by many school personnel that Russian attendance was sporadic, on the average, particularly during the early fall and late spring. It turned out that one of the reasons for spotty attendance was the religious holidays. After initial negotiations with parents and children, most of the districts appeared to come to a realization that they might risk losing the entire community of Old Believers if they contested the observance of the holidays. Thus, the administrative decision was reached not to penalize the children for missing classes for the holidays. Lists were provided, by knowledgeable members of the Anglo community, of the holidays so that teachers could not be tricked by children on this matter. Other reasons for lax attendance was said to be the fact that berry-picking season does not end until early to mid-September and the time for training the hops begins in late spring. Thus, even at present, many of the kids who want to earn spending money or whose families need the extra cash will take off time from school early and late in the school year to work in the berries and hops.

As the first waves of Russian students advanced through the elementary grades and into junior high school, it became increasingly apparent to the school personnel that the drop-out rate for the upper elementary grades was chronically high, so that few Old Believers made it to the seventh or eighth grade, and almost none made it into high school. The average drop-out time appeared to stabilize around the fifth and sixth grades, and has remained there to the present time. It appears that there are two primary forces operating here, with a third intervening factor providing reinforcement of the trend. First, parents are largely of the opinion that the primary service offered by the schools which they wish their children to benefit from is the basic competency in English speaking, reading and writing, and arithmetic. Once that competency has been attained, there is no further need for schooling. Besides, too much schooling is held to be dangerous for the children in the sense that the parents fear they will be introduced to secular ideas which will draw them away from the religion and customs. Consequently, when the parents believe their children are functionally literate in English and can figure, they pressure them to withdraw from school, go to work and get married as quickly as possible.

The second major factor here is the desire of the children themselves to get out on their own and have a job and some independence before they get to marriageable age. Several adolescents cited this as their main reason for dropping out. They saw that they would have to accede to parental pressure to get married in a few more years, and the time was growing short in which they could earn enough to buy their own car or go out on sprees with their friends.

The third reinforcing factor is the isolation the individual Old Believer student feels when most of his/her peers have already left the school. Several who were relatively late in dropping out indicated that not only did they miss their friends, but the American children increasingly left them out of things as they matured and began dating and showing interest in the opposite sex. Thus, a high and early drop-out rate tended to be self-reinforcing through the motivational feedback loop described above.

A final set of issues which arose in the early years of contact between the public education system and the Old Believer community revolved around problems in cultural conflict in the classroom itself. Specific issues which have been listed by Russian parents include the violation of food taboos through lunch programs, violation of dress taboos through PE, and the inclusion of music, clapping and dancing in the curricula. A more general fear which many of the parents expressed was that of the school introducing new untraditional ideas and values to the children and thereby tempting them to stray from the traditions, and the loss of capability in Russian and Church Slavonic because of the time and effort taken to learn English.

Reaction to these fears by the Anglo-American school personnel and the community was somewhat mixed, particularly among the teachers involved. The majority felt that the Russians had no real right to resist Americanization to the extent that Anglo-Americans perceived them as doing. "They are here not, they should expect to live the way Americans live. You can't hold back progress. After all, my own grandparents had to do that when they came over," as an American parent expressed it, was a fairly common view. Although there were many variations and shadings of this judgment, most of the teachers who felt this way viewed and educational process as an instrument of acculturation. By learning English and being in the classroom with American teachers and students, the Russian children would begin to learn and appreciate American culture. They would emerge from the school prepared to take their place in American society as productive, "modernized" individuals.

A minority among the teachers and American community, but a very active and vocal one, responded differently. They decided to side with the Russian parents in their desire to maintain the religion and traditions of their culture. They said that the Old Believers have a right to remain as they wish to be as long as they do not break actual laws in so doing. They would cite the recent successful court battles of the Amish and other cultural minority groups over enforced school attendance to document the claim that the Russians would not be breaking the law if they chose to withhold their children from public schooling. Some of the teachers whose views put them in this camp felt that the public schools should obligate themselves to at least avoid placing the students in positions or situations in which they must compromise with their traditions. Further, if possible, the schools should make some effort toward meeting the Old Believers half-way by providing Russian-speaking aides or teachers and perhaps teaching Russian language skills to those who desired them. These people saw the school as a means to assisting the Russians in stabilizing their culture and fortifying the children against pressures to change from other sectors of the American culture.

As increasingly sharp divisions within the schools became apparent over these issues, compromises began to be worked out. Many schools hired Russian-speaking aides from among the more English-fluent Old Believers who had gone through some schooling already. They began searching for Russian-speaking certified elementary teachers to fill at least the lower grades, in which the children were least likely to be competent in English. In some schools, cooks were instructed to leave meat and eggs out of the Russian hot lunches on appropriate fast days, students were not required to participate in PE or music education if they did not choose to do so, nor did they have to salute the flag. Some effort was made on the part of schools to familiarize teachers with the basics of the Russian culture and particularly those aspects of the traditions which they might inadvertently cross in the classroom. Most of these efforts were unsystematic and depended primarily on the motivation of individuals to become informed.

The most radical renovations of curricula and classroom structure occurred in the Woodburn district, which has the largest population of Russians among the districts. They came out of the acquisition by that district of Title 7 federal funds under the aegis of the Civil Rights Act, for the purpose of establishing bilingual educational programs in the elementary schools for the Chicanos and, almost as an afterthought, for the Russians as well. The main forces for obtaining the funds came from the Centro Cultural and the Valley Migrant League, both of which were initially concerned solely with the Chicano issue. The Russian program was tacked on through the last-minute efforts of a few educators and concerned community members. The program has been in operation since 1970 and its professed goals include the training of the students for a bicultural existence through teaching both Russian And English and by familiarizing Russian and American children with aspects of both cultures.

Within the program itself, curriculum changes have been numerous and are only recently beginning to stabilize, as the teachers come to agreements on what works and what does not. Most of the teachers in this program profess themselves to be interested in helping the Russians maintain their culture and also to function competently in American society; however, those teachers also indicated that they could not always find easy solutions to problems which arose from these goals. First, the teaching of both English and Russian is time-consuming for teacher and student alike. Added to that is the fact that many of the students are not at first sufficiently fluent in English speaking to be ready for reading and writing in that language. Thus, the teachers and students are engaged in a continual battle with time-lags. Most of the teachers said that they began with equal emphasis on Russian and English, but soon saw that they were not getting the English across fast enough so they felt compelled to set up the amount of English instruction at the expense of the Russian. Another problem has arisen in the form of children who claim that they did not want to be traditional any more. The teacher is then thrown into a quandary over whether to respect the wishes of the child or the parents and community.

With all of this taken into consideration, how are the schools affecting the potential for identity and cultural change in the Russian community? There are three main effects. The first, and most widely ramified, is the acquisition of English competency and familiarity with various aspects of American culture and society through public education. This competency, combined with the learning which takes place outside the school, makes the Old Believer youth capable of actually living outside the Russian community should they ever have the need or desire to do so. This means that, for perhaps the first time in their recent history, a large sector of the community has been given the power to make a living independent of family and community. Another ramification is that it allows the young to obtain higher-paying jobs than their parents. This tends to upset traditional status-roles within the family. A third ramification is linguistic change, specifically of a possible gradual decline in the quality and usage of Russian among the young. There are two factors which appear to produce this trend, however weak or strong it may be. One is the preponderance of literacy among the young in English but not in Russian. Public educational influence has reached the point of making Old Believer children more competent even in spoken English to some extent than they are in Russian. The other factor is the inability of the dialect used by this group to provide them with the means to talk about many American things which now figure heavily in their lives, technological and legal matters being among the foremost.

The second fundamental impact of the schools on the potential for change comes from exactly what the Russian parents feared: exposure to non-traditional ideas and values. The children are taught that the religious books are the Word of God, infallible and not to be contested; however, the American attitudes toward areas in which the Russians have taboos (food, dress and sex being among the main subjects) and the teachings of Western nonsecular science do actively contest those books. Thus, the child is not only exposed to the notion that it is OK to eat candy during Lent, wear short skirts and sleeveless shirts and blouses, and learn about human reproduction, but also presented with demonstrations and doctrines which claim that the Earth is round, that it moves around the sun and not vice versa, that ghosts, witches and demons as they know them do not exist, and that men have been to the moon. Some are convinced and/or troubled by these notions and demonstrations, others are not. For those who are, they are then faced with the problem of resolving the consequent dissonance between the teachings of their traditions and those of American schools.

The third effect of the school experience on the potential for change is that of exposure to and increased familiarity with American peers. It is in the early school experiences that the young Old Believers first learn that their way of life is in some aspects more restrictive than that of the Americans their age. They are then motivated to question the difference and, in some cases, to question the need for those restrictions.

Contact with the Law

The school attendance problem came to the attention of the legal community because of the inability of the schools involved to come to an early settlement of the matter on their own. A "test case" was brought before the Juvenile Court in Salem in August of 1969, in which a ruling was handed down concerning the numbers of days' absences which would be tolerable; however, the presiding judge was heard to say a couple of years later that his decision of that time would not hold if tested again in light of the various higher court battles which had taken place over the Amish. Juvenile Department officials have stated as of 1975 (to the Russian Advisory Committee) that it is their policy to stand clear of truancy matters unless delinquency also is involved.

The Old Believers and the World of Antichrist

The Old Believers and the World of Antichrist (excerpts from Robert Crummey's book)

Toward the end of the Seventeenth Century, Old Belief was a diversified movement that, under the sign of resistance to Nikon's liturgical reforms, united opposition to change in the Russian Orthodox church, the imperial administration and the social order. Many of its adherents encapsulated their hatred of everything new and oppressive in Russian life in the apocalyptic symbol of Antichrist. The symbol and the mood it expressed demanded resistance to the state and the official church--the instruments of Antichrist. For, in both symbolic and practical terms, the faithful were not to submit to his power.

The logic of their position, then, led the Old Believers to a confrontation with the power of the imperial government. The overwhelming weight of their adversary, however, posed an agonizing problem of strategy. How could the faithful best make a stand against the legions of Antichrist? They had at most three possibilities--armed revolt, flight into some hidden refuge or the construction of fortress communities that would rally and shelter the defenders of the old faith.

The hopelessness of armed rebellion limited its appeal in time and space. When, in the Seventeenth Century, many Old Believers were convinced that the end of the world was imminent, there was no need for concern about the continuance of the true faith. It was therefore justifiable for the faithful to strike a satisfying blow at the enemy and meet their inevitable fate, sword in hand. In the Olonets area of north Russia, rebellion blended with mass suicide, another expression of belief in the imminence of the apocalypse. When life went on past the projected dates for the final consummation, the urge to armed resistance weakened in the north. Thereafter Old Believer rebellion was limited to participation in the great peasant and Cossack revolts of the Eighteenth Century. Old Believers of southern Russia, whether peasants or Cossacks, took part enthusiastically in the Bulavin uprising and the revolt of Pugachev. In the latter instance, early in the reign of Catherine II, however, the reactions of the supporters of Old Belief were distinctly ambivalent. Many, including the residents of the Irgiz monasteries in the lower Volga valley, refused to support the rebels. And after Pugachev, the tradition of rebellion faded into memory or the nostalgic imagining of uprisings that never were.

The Old Believers of northern Russia found flight from Antichrist's power a more attractive alternative than open revolt. The hermits who spread Old Belief to the Olonets region and other equally remote corners of the empire sought havens where they could live a contemplative life and keep the old faith alive without interference from outside. In the late Seventeenth Century, however, the central administration's increasing control over even the lightly populated districts of the north and Siberia and over the Cossack country made such refugees well-nigh impossible to find. In the Olonets area, for example, no Old Believer hermitage could escape detection forever. Nevertheless, the difficulty of flight into the "desert" did not prevent the more intransigent of the Old Believers from attempting to follow this strategy even in the present century. In the 1740s, for example, the Filippovtsy broke with Vyg and tried unsuccessfully to withdraw from contact with government's agents. Even later, the beguny ("the runners") rejected all contacts of any kind with Antichrist's world. The practical impossibility of their position, however, soon forced them to adopt a double standard. The zealots of the sect indeed refused to touch any documents bearing the seal of Antichrist, including money; but, in order to survive physically and enjoy communal religious life of even a rudimentary sort, they depended on a network of sympathizers who lived ordinary laymen's lives. In this life, then, one simply could not escape Antichrist's power and keep alive the old faith and the dream of a better world.

The third path was the narrowest and thorniest of all. It was, at the same time, a particularly attractive one, especially when it became clear that Antichrist's resign would continue into the indefinite future. Andrei Denisov and the leaders of the Vygovskaia Pustyn (Old Belief Monastery in the "Vyg Wilderness") saw clearly that their task was to keep alive the old faith in the new world of Peter I. To do so, they had to create a religious organization and a cultural life for the scattered cells of Old Believers. And, above all, they had to build a community that would be a nerve center of that organization and the bearer of that culture.

As the earlier hermits had already discovered, however, the arm of the state was long. The leaders of Vyg and the other Old Believer communities therefore had no choice but to reach a "modus vivendi" with the imperial government (they decided to settle temporarily until a final settlement could be reached). It was fortunate for them that Peter I was prepared to treat the Old Believers pragmatically, if not with tolerance. Those, like the residents of Vyg, who could offer the government their services, gained freedom to build the community of their dreams. The accommodation with the state, however, posed agonizing and ultimately insoluble problems.

The price of freedom of action was discretion. Any member who denounced the power of Antichrist for what it was risked calling down the wrath of the government upon the community. The Vyg fathers therefore had to rein in the enthusiasm of their followers by persuasion and by introducing strict norms of communal discipline. The great monasteries of the Russian middle ages offered the ideal model of a strictly disciplined religious community and it was to this model that Andrei Denisov turned for inspiration. As his own statement indicates, the Solovetskii Monastery was a particularly attractive example because its monks had made a resolute stand for the old faith. To be sure, the Vyg fathers had to adjust the pattern in many respects in order to make it fit a community that was self-generating, dependent entirely on the support of laymen, and inhabited by both men and women. Nevertheless, Vyg, on the whole, adhered to the monastic pattern, given the Old Believers' isolation from the traditional centers of religious authority and the hazardous political and material conditions in which they lived.

The members of the community succeeded admirably in surmounting the formidable material difficulties that they faced. Although the community was located in one of the most forbidding regions of northern Russia, the ingenuity of its leaders and the hard work of its members brought it prosperity. At the height of its development, the economy of Vyg was a remarkably balanced blend of agriculture, stock-raising, workshop manufacturing, commercial fishing and speculative trade. The Old Believers' position as a religious minority helped rather than hindered the community's economic ventures; like other Old Believers, the members of Vyg depended on the help of a network of sympathizers scattered across Russia to provide capital, economic intelligence and various personal services. Moreover, its agents could trade freely with the servants of Antichrist unhindered by any moral sanctions or bonds of personal sympathy. The community's economic success, however, did nothing to resolve its political dilemma.

From the beginning, the Vyg community was caught between the demands of the state whose goodwill was essential for survival and the apocalyptic enthusiasm of its members. For nearly half a century, its leaders succeeded in mitigating the pressure from both sides, but in the end, Vyg was squeezed to death in the vise. Under the leadership of the Denisov brothers, Vyg maintained good relations with the Russian court by gentle deception. Although the rulers of the empire received countless letters and gifts from the community, its members avoided recognizing the legitimacy of the imperial throne by praying for its occupant. When faced with the choice between submission or the destruction of the community, the leaders of Vyg chose survival and continued ministry to the faithful. At this point, however, even a demanding monastic rule could not hold the members in line. The more militant would have none of the compromise and withdrew their support. Even though its leaders subsequently retracted their concession to the government, the crisis cost Vyg the support of many of its former adherents and, more significantly, its integrity.

Submission postponed the community's fate but could not change it. After the pivotal crisis of the 1740's, Vyg was, in no sense, a source of explicitly political opposition to the imperial regime. Yet, its very existence as a stronghold of a determined religious minority made it unacceptable to the government. The comparatively liberal regimes of the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth centuries did not disturb its tranquility, but when Nicholas I undertook his crusade against the Old Believer communities of Russia, Vyg was defenseless. The third road--the building of a community--also terminated in a blind end.

The history of the Vyg community, then, is the story of unavoidable failure. Its fate, however, does not diminish the significance of its achievements. The members of Vyg succeeded in building thriving settlements that brought prosperity to a poor and thinly populated forest region. Their community, moreover, became the spiritual capital of the numerous priestless Old Believers of Russia. From traditional materials, its leaders created a new culture which offered the Old Believers a satisfying alternative to the westernized culture of official society. Even today traces of its cultural influence can still be found in remote corners of Northern Russia. Admittedly, by the time that the official's assaults were launched, Vyg's membership had begun to dwindle and its creativity was gone. Nevertheless, what is remarkable about the history of Vyg is not that a community declined and was destroyed, but that, in the face of insuperable obstacles, it survived so long and achieved so much.

Preface to Robert Crummey's book

PREFACE (to the book by Robert Crummey)

In the many general histories of Russia, the Old Believers, like a river in the desert, appear at their source, the great church schism of the Seventeenth century, then go underground and thereafter appear only intermittently on the surface of national events. A good American textbook, for example, describes the liturgical reforms of Patriarch Nikon and the church council of 1666-67, then mentions the Old Believers thereafter chiefly as participants in the Moscow uprising of 1682 and the Bulavin rebellion of 1707, as opponents of the reforms of Peter the Great, and as victims of persecution in the reigns of Alexander III and Nicholas II at the end of its imperial period. Nevertheless, as the writer of the same text observes, Old Belief not only survived the original schism and the persecutions that followed, but increased in numbers and internal cohesion until "it claimed the allegiance of millions of Russians up to the Revolution of 1917 and after." An official of the imperial government estimated in 1868 that, that that time, approximately ten million subjects of Alexander II were Old Believers or adherents of the more radical sects that probably grew from the same roots.

Their numerical strength alone would make the Old Believers a significant element in the history of Russian society and culture. Yet the estimate that, at the turn of this century, the schismatics constituted roughly twelve to fifteen percent of the population of the Russian empire reveals nothing of the qualities that gave them a special role in their country's history. A preliminary glance over the landscape of Old Belief in the mid-Nineteenth century might well raise doubts that any common features could be found in such a confusion of shapes and colors. On the surface, the movement--and even so vague a word may be too precise for accuracy--consisted of a myriad of large and small sub-sects which fought endless skirmishes over minuscule questions of ecclesiastical ritual. Socially its adherents covered a spectrum ranging from wealthy merchants and industrial entrepreneurs to Cossacks and black-soil peasants. Their style of life varied from the busy and prosperous life of the pillars of the Moscow merchant community to the ascetic existence of the monks and nuns who lived in the hermitages scattered through the silent forests of the European north and Siberia.

In spite of their diversity, however, common attitudes and practices united the scattered branches of Old Belief. As their name suggests, all of them rejected the reformed service books which Patriarch Nikon introduced in the 1650's and preserved pre-Nikonian liturgical practices in as complete a form as canonical regulations permitted. For some Old Believers, the defense of the old liturgy and traditional culture was a matter of primary importance; for all, the old ritual was at least a badge of identification and a unifying slogan. The Old Believers were united in their hostility toward the Russian state, which supported the Nikonian reforms and persecuted those who, under the banner of the old faith, opposed the new order in the church and the secular administration. To be sure, the intensity of their hostility and the language and gestures with which they expressed it varied as widely as their social background and their devotional practices. Nevertheless, when the government applied pressure to one section of the movement, all of its adherents instinctively drew together and extended to their beleaguered brethren whatever help they could. While the chasms that divided the sects of Old Belief from one another were deep, none was so profound as the gulf that divided the most conservative of them from the state.

The Old Believers were likewise united in their rejection of the westernized culture and manners of officialdom and the upper classes. In theory, all of their chief sects attempted to preserve unchanged the literary and artistic styles, the costume, and even the handwriting of the early Seventeenth century. In practice, however, even an alienated and embattled minority cannot find nourishment in the petrified culture of a past age. In the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries, the Old Believers created their own distinct, substantially new culture as a counterpoise to the official culture of imperial Russia. True to their intention, they preserved as much as possible of the old ways; but new challenges forced them to create new arguments and new artistic forms based on the old or even to adopt the stylistic weapons of their official adversaries in their struggle to defend the tradition. At its best, the counter-culture of Old Belief was both staunchly conservative and impressively creative.

The creative ingenuity of the Old Believers is equally notable in their economic activities. As historians of Old Belief and of Russian economic development have often pointed out, the schismatics chief centers of population often achieved prosperity in spite of persecution and a hostile natural environment through hard work and careful marshalling of their resources. In the mid-Nineteenth century, moreover, a remarkably high proportion of the new class of industrial entrepreneurs were Old Believers.

The course of the movement's history, moreover, reveals almost as much about the policies and administrative methods of the imperial government as about the aspirations and achievements of its own members, Old Belief was a photographic negative of official society. The first opponents of Nikon's liturgical reforms and the disaffected who flocked to their banners armed themselves with anger at the existing order in church and society, but, beyond this, had no specific platform and no clear vision of the kind of society to which they aspired. As the years passed, it was the imperial government which, by the executioner's sword and the bureaucrat's pen, applied specific pressures to the Old Believers and elicited from them the specific responses which formed the foundation of their political theory and practice, their internal organization, and their economic practices. To a considerable degree, the imperial government was the unwitting creator of the institutions and attitudes of Old Belief, as they existed in the mid-Nineteenth century.

The history of Old Belief in the first two hundred years of its existence may be divided into two periods. From the first protests against the Nikonian reforms until the accession of Peter III in 1762, the raskol ("schism") was a persecuted underground movement. Most of its bulk was below the surface, hidden in silence or feigned allegiance to the official Orthodox church. The few open centers of the movement were located on the remote fringes of the empire's territory or even across the border in the sanctuary of neighboring states. The reigns of Peter III and Catherine II inaugurated the second period in the history of Old Belief. The two rulers dismantled all of the secular legislation designed to penalize or destroy the Old Believers and granted them toleration, and emancipation encouraged all but the most intransigent to come out into the open. Large communities of sectarians emerged from the underground and many of the émigrés returned to settle in their homeland. In the process, the center of gravity of Old Belief shifted from the old points of concentration on the frontier to the large and wealthy communities of Moscow. For several decades, Old Belief thrived. In the end, however, its very freedom was its undoing. When the government of Nicholas I began to persecute dissident and potentially dangerous minorities among his subjects, the main Old Believer communities were easy targets for his gendarmes. One by one, all of the main centers of Old Belief were disbanded or, at least, deprived of their functions as religious and administrative foci of the movement. Although its policy of renewed persecution failed to stop the steady increase in the number of Old Believers in the empire, Nicholas' regime succeeded in beheading Old Belief institutionally and socially.

(Excerpt from Chapter 1 -- "The Struggle Begins">

The populist historians viewed Old Belief primarily as a movement of political, social, and cultural opposition. According to A.P. Shchapov and his school, the Nikonian reforms were not so much the cause as the catalyst, setting off an explosive mixture of resistance to the increasing centralization and bureaucratization of the Russian state, serfdom, and the rising tide of western influence on Muscovite institutions and manners. Old Belief--the defense of the pre-Nikonian liturgy--was the banner under which the peasant rebels of Razin and Pugachev fought the tsar's armies. Under the same standard, the schismatic communities around the borders of the empire withdrew from Russian society to create their own communal institutions and their own traditionalist culture, which fulfilled the desires and channeled the creativity of the lower classes of Russia.
The liturgical reforms, one of the products of the nascent internationalism of the court circle, ran counter to the widely held attitudes usually summarized in the loosely tied bundle of historical conceptions known as the Third Rome doctrine. In their attacks on the liturgical reforms, Avvakum (one of the first leaders of Old Belief) and the other Old Believer spokesmen from among the parish clergy and the monks repeatedly stressed that, after the apostasy of the first Rome and of Bysantium, only Moscow preserved Christian orthodoxy. To be sure, Avvakum and his sympathizers were not alone in believing that Russian Orthodoxy was "the only currency in the economy of salvation"; members of the reforming party, including Nikon, shared the same views. From the doctrine, however, Avvakum drew conclusions quite different from those of Tsar Alexis and Nikon. For the Old Believers, the issue was simple, at least on the surface. If Ivan IV and his subjects possessed the true faith, then no detail of the dogma or the ritual of his time could be changed. For to change even "the last letter a" was to corrupt the faith. And what worse fate could befall the Russian church than to change its practices to conform to those of the apostate Greeks? The choice, then, was either Ivan IV or Nikon--to affirm or to deny the validity of Russia's past history. In Avvakum's mind, the liturgical reforms automatically and immediately posed such stark alternatives. . . . The defense of the old ritual became the defense of Russia's history. . . . As western influence continued to grow, it became a defense of native cultural tradition as well.



1. Of Icons and Motorcycles: a sociological study of acculturation among Russian Old Believers in Central Oregon and Alaska (Vol. II of Chapters III and IV). By Michael James Smithson. A dissertation presented to the Department of Sociology and the Graduate School of the University of Oregon for Degree of Philosophy. December, 1976.

2. The Old Believers and the World of Antichrist, Robert O. Crummey. The University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, 1970.

3. The Russian's World, life and language, Genevra Gerhart. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., San Francisco, 1974.

4. Manual for Educators of Russian Old Believers Children in Oregon, compiled by Marion County Russian Resource Committee, October 1976.

Russian Proverbs

Russian Proverbs
1. Chase after two rabbits and you won't catch one.
2. Nice to be a guest but there's no place like home.
3. Just let there be a forest and there's sure to be a forest spirit.
4. Everybody is both his own friend and enemy.
5. Don't impose your regulations on another's monastery.
6. One doesn't look a gift horse in the mouth.
7. The task fears its master.
8. Houses are not built with the tongue but with rubles (money) and hatchets.
9. Judge not others, look at yourself.
10. However well you feed the wolf, he keeps looking to the woods.
11. Like father, like son.
12. The key is master of the lock.
13. He who is destined to hang won't drown.
14. He who lied yesterday won't be believed tomorrow.
15. Forge the iron while it's hot.
16. A kind word is stronger than a cudgel.
17. If you like to coast, you must also like to pull the sleigh uphill.
18. Better late than never.
19. The husband is the brain, the wife--the soul.
20. No use reproaching the mirror if your mug is crooked.
21. No need for riches when there's peace in the family.
22. Honey on the tongue but ice in the heart.
23. All that glitters is not gold.
24. An uninvited guest is worse than the Tartar (Mongols who ruled Russia).
25. Don't spit in the well; the time may come when you may want a drink.
26. Repetition is the mother of learning.
27. The slower you drive, the farther you'll get.
28. Every frog brags about his mud hole.

List of Great Holy Days


Links to other sites on the Web

Novel -- Freedom for an Old Believer