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The Russian Orthodox Old Believer Church

The official website of the Moscow Metropolitanate.

Address: Russia, Moscow, Rogozhsky Poselok street, 1A, 5.
Phone: +7 (495) 361-51-91

The Taiga hermitess – a living symbol of the Old Belief

Agafia Lykova has long been known to all of Russia and even beyond its borders, and interest in her does not fade, even though it would seem that the current aggressive flow of information should have, roughly speaking, rolled it into the asphalt. But no! She still attracts the attention of many people who feel in some deep-seated nature that behind the vital phenomenon of the Old-believers’ hermitess, who has lived in a secluded corner of the Siberian taiga for more than seven decades, stands something more voluminous and important than the unique ability to survive in the realities of untamed nature.

The Taiga hermitess - a living symbol of the Old Belief

“It is amazing,” we read in a newsletter of the Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church, “but none of the modern day Old-believers’ writers and publicists have had such a strong influence on the information space as a recluse from the shores of Abakan.” The great recluse and silentiary Agafia, unwittingly, turned out to be in the same league as engineers of human souls – writers and moderators of public opinion – publicists, although, apart from formal letters to acquaintances, she has not composed any other texts.

Moreover, many people believe that “Lykova, in the eyes of our compatriots, unwillingly became one of the symbols of the Old-believers’ world and her bright, characteristic features are connected in general with the entire Old Belief.”

It may be assumed what the authors of the newsletter specifically meant by “unwillingly”, is perhaps the incomprehensible peculiarity of Agafia’s fate, which was formed not by her personal choice, or, perhaps, the continual human interest of the hermitess living in our modern times in the taiga’s wilderness. But her fate was all due to Divine Providence. For indeed, there is no doubt – it was He who arranged that the Old-believers’ Lykov family, taking life-saving refuge in the late 1930s in the remote taiga from religious persecution, that they preserved for us, living in the 21st century, at least some of the civilizational code of Holy Rus’. Regarding Agafia, as well as all Old-believers, the writer Valentin Rasputin (1937–2015) said the following:

It is therefore now clear that the two-finger formation at the signing of the cross, the double alleluia, walking around the analogion according to the sun (clockwise), writing Isus [‘Jesus’ in Church Slavonic] with one “I” and other minor differences in rituals were not decisive for the faith, that the Old-believers were no heretics, that the Raskol took place on the border along which external disagreements divided the country on different sides of the fates destined to it.

And he advised:

It is not necessary to idealise the Raskol, but it is also impossible not to feel kinship and gratitude towards it. It is not known what Russia would be today if there was not a living and wary understanding of the forces, capable in the name of the assertion of its reckless and all-powerful impulse. The shadow of these tragic and terrible events still looms over Russia, like a lesson and a testament; smoke from the bonfires, in which tens of thousands of those who preferred physical death to national and moral killing were forcibly and voluntarily burned, which (Russia) now bears over its fields and forests. We should be grateful to the Old Belief for the fact that, for a good three centuries, it extended Rus’ in its customs, beliefs, rituals, song, character, foundations and face. This service can be no less than the defence of the homeland on the battlefield.

And in fact, if we consider the chain of dramatic post-Raskol events as a single whole, then we get a rather slender picture of the Old Belief’s service to the Homeland, into which the history of the Lykov family fits in organically with their seemingly irrational action – escape for decades from people and the world into the wild taiga. The comparison of the hermitess Agafia Lykova with the Solovetsky monastery and protopriest Avvakum – the main pillars of spiritual resistance for the adherents to the Old Belief – now acquires a completely distinct meaning: those Solovetsky monks and the rather forgotten confessor and martyr Avvakum are incomprehensible to modern man – they are too far from us in time; but Agafia is living here in our time, and she very much wants to help us understand what Holy Rus’ was strong with.

It is possible to visit to her, talk to her, live and work alongside her, to be filled with an extraordinary feeling of crystal clarity and optimism. So it is not for nothing that the authors of the newsletter placed her in the same symbolic rank alongside outstanding personalities of Russian history. And for us, this symbol is a bridge into a different historical reality, the possibility of virtual communication with historical characters from different epochs, which is always educational and interesting…