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The Russian Orthodox Old Believer Church

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“It was not a reform, but a chaos of Orthodoxy”

When Old-believers are asked the question of what authors to read to learn more about the Old-Rite faith and about the church split of the 17th century, they will often answer: Kutuzov, Melnikov, Urushev. But while historians F.E. Melnikov and D.A. Urushev are deeply religious and dedicated members of the Old-Rite Church, those who are interested from the Russian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate (new members of the Old-Rite Church most often join from the New-Rite Church) are advised to read the book of Boris Pavlovich Kutuzov. Kutuzov is one of the greatest researchers of the Old-believers, who, oddly enough, attends the New-Rite church of the Descent of the Holy Spirit in the Danilovsky cemetery… However, at the same time, what he writes and says about the Old-believers is surprising in its objectivity and depth. As Boris Pavlovich declares in his interview, “all these books I wrote for myself, not looking back at either the New-believers or the Old-believers, that is, I was striving for a completely objective consideration of the issue.”

“It was not a reform, but a chaos of Orthodoxy”

You wrote that the concept of “Moscow – the Third Rome, and the fourth will not happen” was falsely interpreted after the church schism as a claim to the imperial path of development. What, in your opinion, was the original, primordial, meaning of this concept by Filofey and the venerable Joseph Volotsky?

— “The Third Rome” should only be considered in a spiritual understanding. Very little in the external or political. Yes, the Russian tsar was considered, as Filofey said, the only Orthodox tsar and only Ivan the Terrible correctly stated: I do not need other lands – the land God has given is enough for me, I do not need any other lands. He did not fall for the Jesuitical hook of Antonio Possevino and he was not tempted by the throne of Constantinople. 

The idea of ​​the “Third Rome” in practical terms was implemented by the Grand Duke Vasiliy II, who imprisoned metropolitan Isidore and labeled him “a fierce wolf, a false pastor, a soul destroyer” for signing the Union of Florence. They gave the metropolitan the opportunity to return to the Catholics. Thus, secular power through Basil II, who was considered almost a king and sovereign, saved Orthodoxy in Russia. A pivotal role in preserving the purity of faith from heresies was also played in Byzantium, starting with the emperor Constantine the Great, who convened the First Ecumenical Council.

— That is, the original meaning of this concept was that the Russian people were chosen by God to keep the true faith in a world of all-consuming apostasy?

— Yes, we needed to keep this treasure – this was and still is God’s chosen people as keepers of the ancient faith. However, this is not something to take pride in, especially as it is not fitting for an Orthodox Christian to be proud. It is something to be humbled about and carries much responsibility. The “Third Rome” still exists in this spiritual understanding and its main driving force is, of course, the Old-believers. Such as the venerable monks Andrei Oslyabya and Alexander Peresvet. The war is going on … not with flesh and blood, but against the spirits of malice. Therefore, quite the contrary as something to take sinful pride in, the “Third Rome” is a huge spiritual responsibility, it is the last community of faithful Christians, the keepers of the ancient faith, who must be prepared to stand faithfully for it at all costs.

— Who launched a false interpretation of the idea of the “Third Rome”? You wrote that the predecessors of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich did it.

— A false and purely political interpretation was driven by two conspirators – patriarch Filaret (Fyodor Nikitich Romanov), together with the patriarch of Constantinople, Cyril Lukaris. Filaret also played a disastrous role in the upbringing of Alexei Mikhailovich, who was greatly influenced to accept the Byzantine throne. Filaret was, in actual practice, king. His son Mikhail was only a mere pawn on the throne and perceived the world through the eyes of his father-patriarch. So Filaret was essentially the first ruling Romanov. He, by the way, was a completely unreligious man. Completely! As N. Konyaev wrote, he was always called the thieves’ patriarch. He would even have the vanity to have a barber come to trim his mustache and beard. As for Cyril Lukaris, he created plans for the liberation of Greece from the Turkish domination – he was more a politician than a patriarch. He received the throne of Constantinople six times, lost it, and then would acquire it again…

Now at various public sites, even in the State Duma, the expediency of restoring the monarchy in Russia is being actively discussed. In your opinion, would the restoration of the monarchy be beneficial for Orthodoxy?

— Under no circumstances do we need to restore any monarchy, because in that case they will again ask for the anointed one. Then it will be worse than the Pope, in the sense that the words of the anointed will not allow for discussions – much less, criticisms. We have already experienced this. The anointing of the emperors is the Byzantine invention of Tsarina Pulcheria and the Russians took the example from the Greeks. As Mr. Winston Churchill said, “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others”. I also think along these lines and that it’s best to remain a democracy under a president.

— About a year ago, the President of the Russian Federation visited the spiritual center of the Old-Rite Church, which was the subject of close attention of the general public and the expectations of some major changes related to this visit. It is evident that in society there is a need for an idea that can unite and elevate the spirit of the people. Some believe that this need should be placed on the Old-believers. How do you assess the risk of making the Old-Rite Church into an alternative “department of the Orthodox confession”, which some Old-believers fear?

— I consider the President’s visit to the Rogozhskoe settlement in Moscow to be a positive factor. This, perhaps, will push the New-Rite hierarchs to eliminate the schism. They should, at least, recognize the Belokrinitsky Old-believer hierarchy. Why is it that the hierarchy is still not recognized? This is a disgrace and shame. I am completely with the Old-believers in this regard. In the latest edition of the “Messenger of the Metropolia” newsletter which metropolitan Korniliy gave me, there are questions published from the New-Rite Church to the Old-believers, including the question of the canonicity of the hierarchy. The Old-believers gave them very knowledgeable answers. The famous writer and historian, Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, correctly denounced the New-believers: they do not want to return to the Old-believer Church because of pride, and what kind of Christians are they, if they shed so much blood of the Old-believers and have not yet repented of this, unlike the foreign church? Can a Christian pray without reconciling with all his enemies? So the reluctance of the New-believers to join the Old-believers is also a shame and disgrace. Of course, it is difficult, but steps need to be taken in this direction. Or should the Old-believers leave the right texts and turn to the wrong ones?!

— How everything was established in the beginning, as we read in the biography of archpriest Avvakum, that is the way it should always be.

— Yes, “let it lie so forever and ever.” In these words of Avvakum lies all wisdom. So many disputes have been and still are going on around these reforms, the schism. Two thousand years ago, the apostle John the Theologian said that the whole world lies in evil (1 John 5:19). And the Savior grieved: when I come the second time, will I find faith on earth? (Luke 18:8). That is, the disappearance of faith is an objective process. I think that now, only 2-3% of the population goes to the New-Rite Church, which is how it was in Soviet times. Back then, they thought that the Soviet authorities interfered, which was not the case. Yet, there are journalists today who write that about 80% of people are Orthodox Christians. Does anyone who goes to church once a year, and even then, for just half an hour on Pascha before the first “Christ is Risen” is sung, can they truly count themselves as Orthodox? There is an anecdote that goes: One person asks another, “Do you go to church?” “Yes – answers the other person – they are always singing one and the same “Christ is Risen”!

In the 17th century, when church fences were demolished, so to speak, a muddy sea rushed into the New-believing church of all kinds of evil and uncleanness from the West and from everywhere. All the enemies of the Church rejoiced.

— Most probably, the enemies of the Old Belief would not have been able to overcome us and there would not have been a catastrophic revolution and the Soviet period, if it was not for this dominant external invasion – first in the form of reforms according to the modern Greek pattern, then in the form of other foreign influences.

Everything is interconnected. Solzhenitsyn correctly said that the 17th year [of the 20th century] came out of the 17th century, that in the Old-Rite Russia, the Bolshevik revolution would have been impossible. I support this idea. It was not by chance that someone from the New-Rite elite said that if it were not for the Old-Rite, then our court nobility would have been swallowed up by Protestantism, and the people – by Catholicism.

Whatever the policy of the leaders, our business is to be spiritually saved. The late patriarch Alexei II praised the Old-Rite, calling it the supreme shrine, the liturgical treasure, which must be preserved as the apple of the eye. Patriarch Alexei II died early. If he had lived for another ten years, I think he would have taken other steps towards the Old-believers.

— Boris Pavlovich, why then do few of the New-believers join the Old-Rite?

— The main reason for this is that people do not know about the Old-Rite faith and the facts of the schism. After all, many still believe that the Old-believers are wrong, moreover, that they are schismatics… This myth must be dispelled. The dissenters are the New-believers! They are the ritualists – they put to death people who used a two-fingered formation when making the sign of the cross. Is this not ritualism to the extreme?

Another reason is that people believe the Old-believers’ way of life is too strict, too ascetic, but in fact, each believer should do what he is physically capable of to pray to God. If a parishioner is physically unable to withstand a whole service, some allowances can be made: for example, some Old-believers come to a six-hour vigil not at the start at three o’clock in the afternoon, but by six in the evening and this can be considered permissible, for they otherwise could not endure a full service. Ultimately, you try and serve God to the best of your physical ability.

— How did you come to study the Old-believers in the complex times of the Soviet period, when nothing seemed to be conducive to this kind of research?

— This interest was produced by one random episode from my life that occurred during a church service in the Danilov monastery. The fact is that I was baptized only in 1968. Before that, I thought that there was no God… But gradually, by the age of 30, I read a lot of things, thought a lot about them and decided to be baptized. Like many ardent newcomers, I was very passionate to the faith. It was not enough for me to be a simple parishioner, I wanted to be a priest! Therefore, I quit my secular job (I worked as an engineer at the Ministry of Energy) and entered the seminary in 1971. Since I had a higher education, although a technical one (I graduated from the Ural Polytechnic College as a heat-and-power engineer), I immediately entered the 3rd class after passing the exams. I only had to study at the seminary for one year and in 1972, I graduated. I remained with the church and served as an altar boy in the Nikolo-Khamovnichesky church. Then I transferred to the church of the martyr Trifon, near Riga station, where the rector put me in the choir. Oh, I did not want to! But I had to. The fact is that all my life I studied music and played the piano. As a child, I lived in Borovoe in northern Kazakhstan. There was no music school there, so I was taught by private teachers from eight years old until twenty-three years old and then I independently reached the conservatory level.

I served in the church near Riga station for about ten years and in 1984, I moved to the newly opened Danilov monastery, which is located near my house. It was here in 1985 that the Old-Rite Psalter came into my hands. At that time, people from everywhere carried icons and old liturgical books to the monasteries. I decided to see how the Old-Rite Psalter differs from the New-Rite one. Well, I wrote out many differences! It was then that I realised that this was not a straight-forward matter. I became interested in the question of what the Old-believer schism was. Now I say “the New-believer schism” – the dissenters are not at all the Old-believers. The schismatics are those who followed patriarch Nikon – the New-believers. Nikon was a schismatic and the main schismatic was Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich. If it were not for the king, there would not have been a split. Were it not for Nikon, the tsar would have found another, because the king from a young age was focused on accepting the Byzantine throne. He was raised in such a way that everything Russian, he did not like and even hated it. That’s why I say that the world lies in evil and the enemy of the human race acts from the very beginning, even before Adam and Eve lost their paradise. The enemy is at the head of all evil. I briefly noted this in my book, therefore, my book should be read carefully.

— Boris Pavlovich, how did you find literature for your studies during the Soviet era?

—I had this impression that the necessary books where put in front of me, as though the books themselves “walked” to me. The library in the Danilov monastery has gathered many, many books! I set myself the question: what was the church reform of the 17th century – a tragic mistake or sabotage? My first work was published in 1992 by the Grebenshchikovskaya community in Riga, entitled “The Church Reform of the 17th Century – its true reasons and goals” [this book was published in Russian]. I just gave read my materials to father John Mirolyubov to read and he took and published them, which I did not expect. In 2003, I independently published my book titled “The Church “reform” of the 17th century as an ideological diversion and a national catastrophe” [this book was also published in Russian]. I consider this edition the top benchmark. All that was published before and after, contains errors. The publishers ‘Eksmo’, ‘Algorithm’ and others gave their own titles and abridged the text without consulting with me. What they wanted, they did. The word “reform” in the title of the book is enclosed in quotes, because it was not a reform, but a chaos of Orthodoxy. The impostor was given instructions by the Jesuits on how to introduce a union in Russia and a brief plan for the Nikon reforms. In a recently published, well-known book about the Old-believers, written on the first page is that the main reason for the reforms was the joining of Ukrainians and Belarusians … This is a conscious lie of an academic.

Historians are called investigators. I wrote all my books for myself, without looking back at either the New-believers or the Old-believers, that is, I was striving for a completely objective consideration of the issue. So, after writing a chapter on the difference between crossing oneself with the two finger formation or the three finger formation, I began to cross myself with the two finger formation already about twenty years ago.

– But at the same time, you attend a New-Rite church?

– I live in Dukhovsky Lane, about 300–500 meters from the church of the Holy Spirit, which is located in the Danilovsky cemetery. I can manage this distance, but I am weak and it is difficult for me to walk. I go there only when I need to do confession and take communion. However, if the Old-believers had their Old-Rite church on Khavskaya street returned…