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Orthodox Old-believers’ Humanities Institute in the name of Protopriest Avvakum: prospects for its revival

Among the topics of the previous Council of the Metropolitanate, which was held in the New Chambers in the Clerical House in Rogozhskoe on May 14-15, 2019, the discussion and approval of an important decision related to the revival of the Moscow Old-believers’ Institute became a sensation. The essence of this decision is set out in two paragraphs from the resolutions of the Council of the Metropolitanate:

3.1. To approve the proposed project of the formation of the Orthodox Old-believers’ Humanities Institute named after Protopriest Avvakum.

3.2. To recommend that Metropolitan Korniliy appoint Professor Victor Vyacheslavovich Soloviev as principal of the Orthodox Old-believers’ Humanities Institute in the name of Protopriest Avvakum.

This decision resounded within the Church, which is unsurprising – the theme of education aligned with original Orthodox tradition has long attracted the attention of Old-believers’ publicists and historians.

Orthodox Old-believers' Humanities Institute in the name of Protopriest Avvakum: prospects for its revival

Let’s begin with the material things

Everyone is aware that the return of the huge building of the former Old-believers’ Theological Teachers’ Institute in Moscow a few years ago was not a “celebration of revival”, but rather a burden, a ballast for many years. After all, if a building constructed of brick and concrete is not utilised and is not heated, it deteriorates. The Metropolitanate spent money on its security and on minimal repair “patches” and sought out sources of support. And now, for the preservation and revival of this most valuable heritage of our ancestors, there are both the necessary funds available as well as a manager leading the restoration and the adaptation of new tasks.

Orthodox Old-believers' Humanities Institute in the name of Protopriest Avvakum: prospects for its revival

Everyone is aware that it was the construction and commencement of operations at the Theological Institute a hundred years ago that were the first attempt at establishing a fully-fledged system of modern higher education. Here, for the first time, harmony was sought and attained by the Old Russian domestic and communal education, on the one hand, with the methods and pedagogy of the New Age, on the other hand. This is a complex creative task; and our ancestors were resolving it. But the catastrophes of the early 20th century lopped the first shoots of new Old-believers’ education. And, alas, we have as yet been unable not only to develop what was initiated in the 1910s, but even to restore what was founded then.

Orthodox Old-believers' Humanities Institute in the name of Protopriest Avvakum: prospects for its revival
Professor Victor Vyacheslavovich Soloviev

And so, Metropolitan Korniliy, who persisted in drawing attention to this issue, introduced to the Council of the Metropolitanate a man who was ready to bear the burden of helping to resolve this issue. “Bearing the burden” refers to their leadership experience, both in the implementation of new educational projects, and in the establishment of new enterprises, that is, a connection to the world of entrepreneurs who are capable of providing support.

As a result of the discussions, the candidate proposed by the Metropolitan, Professor Victor Vyacheslavovich Soloviev from Moscow, was appointed principal of the newly formed Orthodox Old-believers’ Humanities Institute named after Protopriest Avvakum. We asked Victor Vyacheslavovich to comment on the decision of the Council of the Metropolitanate.

– Victor Vyacheslavovich! As far as we know, previously you were not an active participant in the affairs of Old-believers’ communities; you were preoccupied with secular work. How do you think you will be able to apply your managerial, academic and scientific experience to achieve the goal set by the Metropolitan and the Council of the Metropolitanate, that is, the revival and development of formal education on the premises of the Orthodox Old-believers’ Institute in the name of Protopriest Avvakum?

– My wife, Tatiana Vladimirovna, and I are parishioners of the Intercession Cathedral in Moscow and have quite actively participated in communal life, though she engaged to a greater extent than I. To this point, I devoted most of my time to duties related to military and civil services, pedagogical and scientific work. In the near future, I will be turning 65 years old, at which point I will be able to quietly leave military service and devote myself to ecclesiastical work. This work is close to me in spirit, through my connection with my ancestors, which is consonant with my inner state of mind. A certain period of my service and scientific work is tied to the defence industry of the country and I cannot divulge any details as this is classified information.

However, I will say that I have experience with the organisation of work at educational and scientific institutions. At this time, we have drawn up a plan of priority measures necessary for the formation of the Orthodox Old-believers’ Humanities Institute. The first steps have already been taken: His Eminence Metropolitan Korniliy signed a decree on the formation of the Institute and the appointment of its principal, and the Council of the Metropolitanate approved a programme of activities to prepare for the formation of the Institute, the general operating direction of the university, its structure, and the conditions of study and development.

Our goals are clear: within a year, the Institute must obtain a license to carry out educational operations. Along with this, it will receive the right to partially finance its expenses from the state’s budget. Entrants will be accepted according to the results of the Unified State Exam, interviews, and recommendations from their confessor. Education, accommodation and catering at the Institute are planned to be granted completely free of charge; student scholarships have not yet been planned. Education will encompass specialties in basic humanities, including theology. Upon graduating from the university, students will be awarded with diplomas of qualification in accordance with the standards established by the state. It is assumed that education in the world’s only Old-believers’ Humanities Institute will be in great demand.

Orthodox Old-believers' Humanities Institute in the name of Protopriest Avvakum: prospects for its revival

– What are the primary tasks that you have set for the hasty revival of the Old-believers’ Institute?

– The first task is as follows: During the year, while work is underway on the reconstruction of the building of the Institute, we must prepare all the necessary documentation relating to the legal support of the Institute and become licensed to conduct educational operations there. Upon obtaining a license, that is, in a year, the recruitment process of applicants will begin, along with the employment of faculty, administrative and technical staff.

We plan to conduct the first recruitment drive in the summer of 2020. This year will mark the 400th anniversary of the Hieromartyr Avvakum. Concurrently, training programs and study guides in all disciplines will be developed, and the premises and classrooms of the Institute will be fitted out with all necessary equipment, teaching aids and office equipment. There is a lot of work ahead. There is an assurance that public funding will be granted to the Institute. The main thing is that the primate and clergy of our Church share an unambiguous will that is poised at achieving this goal. It is pleasing to see that the decision to revive the Institute was made unanimously at the Council of the Metropolitanate. This support is very important.

Not by bread alone

What spiritual benefit do the zealots of ancient Orthodoxy receive from the project to revive the Institute of higher education? Naturally, this question (the main one, in fact) has been discussed for many years among the Old-believers. Many remember how the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church repeatedly referred back to this. And now the moment of realisation of these particular actions has arrived. In these new circumstances, it is worth again addressing Metropolitan Korniliy with “old-new” questions:

– Your Holiness, why is so much attention and effort being directed toward the revival of the Orthodox Old-believers’ Humanities Institute? What significance, in your opinion, does the issue of education have on the development of the Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church?

– For Christians, education has always been important, both the spiritual type and the secular. Many ancient holy fathers were well educated in secular sciences, which helped them to serve God and the people with their knowledge. The long period of persecution of the Old-believers prevented them from organising a fully-fledged educational system for children and youth in accordance with Old Orthodox traditions. Education, to a greater extent, took place at home, but was rather widespread. It is known that there were more literate people among the Old-believers than within other communities. Even under conditions of persecution, naturally talented people appeared among the zealots of ancient piety, who often surpassed the most highly educated opponents with their knowledge and literacy.

As soon as the Imperial decree “On Strengthening the Foundations of Religious Tolerance” was issued in 1905, religious persecutions abated and our Orthodox Old-believers gained more freedoms and rights, and Old-believers’ schools and colleges began to be organised all over Russia. (It should be noted that before that there were attempts to attain the right to create Old-believers’ educational institutions. For example, as far back as the middle of the 19th century, N.S. Leskov wrote of this in several compositions dedicated to the bespopovtsy of Riga).

And an important part of this movement was the establishment in 1915 of the Old-believers’ Theological Teachers’ Institute in Moscow. After 1917, the Institute was shut down, and with the coming to power of the Bolsheviks, new persecutions of the faithful began, which again forced the clergy to return to self-education. But at present, when the state authorities do not limit our Christians in matters of education, we are working hard to create an education system for the Old-believers’ youth. This is important for training church personnel. This is important for the preservation of our traditions, culture, book-learning, and for our Orthodox teachings to persevere intact.

– How did you manage to resolve the issue of the restoration of the Old-believers’ Institute building and what sources of funding were obtained for the resolution of such a difficult task?

– We never lost hope in the revival of the Institute. For a long time the building was occupied by a general education school. After this it became possible to resolve the issue of returning the building to the Church, but it was very difficult to procure the funding for the restoration of the building. Now, finally, we see how this problem is being solved with God’s help. The visit to the Rogozhskoe of the President of Russia, V.V. Putin, helped to resolve the issue of acquiring funding for the restoration of the Institute. We thank the Moscow government for the help that our Church receives for the reconstruction of the Rogozhskoe Spiritual Centre, which has been simply transformed in recent years. And the Mayor of Moscow, S.S. Sobyanin, who has himself visited Rogozhskoe numerous times, has taken great heed of the problem of restoring the building of the Old-believers’ Institute. At this stage, we are now deciding upon contractors. We pray that the Lord will help us in this vital work.

I must also say that while the restoration of the building of the Institute is underway, it is essential to undertake equally important tasks: to register the Institute with the Ministry of Justice, and to settle many organisational issues related to the opening and further development of the Institute. The Institute is named after the Hieromartyr Avvakum, and through his prayers the Lord will assist us in everything.

What is the Orthodox Old-believers’ Humanities Institute, named after Protopriest Avvakum?

This issue was specifically discussed at the Council of the Metropolitanate. The candidate for the position of principal himself announced his vision for the project: what the goals, the structure, personnel and programmes of the Institute should be. The details, of course, will be further refined and discussed several times, but it is important to immediately outline the following. It is proposed to place not only the university itself (which will receive a state license and give graduates the opportunity to find employment both in church-communal structures and in government institutions, schools and universities of Russia) on the huge premises which has an area of ​​6,000 square meters, but also a college (intermediate vocational education), as well as primary and secondary schools. Nobody has ever suggested such a scale before, and in fact, only such a suggestion is both pragmatically valuable and rooted in the traditions of the Old Belief. Is it even possible to break the chain of educational courses and not make communal church life its spiritual centre?!

The discussion and clarification of these projects has became essential with their introduction. So, the ideas put forward by protopriest Vadim Korovin were accepted. One of these was that the future university should not be labelled as “Theological”, but rather given the title “Old-believers’ Humanities”, because it will graduate not only theologians or servants of the church, but also teachers, restoration craftsmen and other specialists in the field of humanities. In addition, a diploma bearing this title will open up wide employment opportunities for young specialists.

In addition, father Vadim proposed to name the Institute after the protopriest Avvakum: this is especially pertinent on the eve of the upcoming anniversary, for which all Old-believers and the public of the country are preparing. This is how he commented on the idea of ​​the revival of the Old-believers’ Institute.

– Father Vadim, you have serious experience in teaching canon law to candidates for priesthood and students at the Old-believers’ Theological School in Moscow. In your opinion, how much demand is there for such a higher educational institution in the Church? What kind of personnel do you think the Institute should prepare?

– In my opinion, the formation of an Orthodox Old-believers’ university is an epoch-making decision for our Church. This issue is not just ripe, but has long been “overripe”. The Church has need of comprehensively developed, educated people who are capable of responding to the challenges of our time. Such a higher educational institution would be able to nurture not only literate personnel for ministry in churches, but also preachers of Truth in the world. A school teacher who stands firmly on the basis of Christ’s faith, is someone who by their very life, by their example, “radiates” to people. This is especially crucial in our spiritually troubled times. It seems to me that the Institute should have two components of education: spiritual and secular, and each student should advance to some extent in both of these areas. This will contribute to the harmonious development of the student’s personality, and seriously prepare them for life in the Church and in the world.

– You suggested at the Council of the Metropolitanate that the reviving Institute should not be called a theological one, but a humanities one. What led to this renaming and how does it correspond to the needs of modern Old-believers’ youth?

– In the olden days, before the revolutions of 1917, the Institute had the title “Theological and Teachers’ Institute”. It trained school teachers and clergymen. At that time, the word “Teachers'” was in demand: for example, there were “teachers’ seminaries”. Today, this name looks like a clear anachronism. And the word “Theological” would overly narrow the educational horizon of a modern university; it does not correspond to those tasks that lay before it. Therefore, at the meeting of the Council of the Metropolitanate, I proposed to replace this word with a more secular one with a broader meaning – “Humanities”. This concept correctly reflects the specifics of the projected educational institution, designed to provide students with a broad humanities education, which would include not only secular academic disciplines, but also ecclesiastical ones: theology, both Old Orthodox and the discipline recognised by the state; the history of the Orthodox (Old-Rite) Church; practical liturgical disciplines (liturgics, service rules), iconography, restoration of icons and much more.

It is planned to have training at the Old-believers’ Institute available free of charge for students, which can help attract students from multi-child and low-income families, which will also comprise part of our Church’s social work. Nowadays, when “everything is measured with money”, a free of charge university is a “social elevator” for disadvantaged but talented young people, and this is essential. I think that such an educational institution will be very much in demand among our youth.

Seven decades of the state’s struggle with religion have yielded their bitter fruits, which we must consume to a large extent even now. There has been a generational gap, a kind of spiritual “demographic failure”. The youth of the 1920–1930s, who witnessed their faithful grandparents, fathers and mothers at home, who were introduced to the faith during their childhood, abandoned Christian life en masse. Having matured, they did not bring up their children in the faith. Years passed. Religion was again “permitted”, and the aged young people of the 1920–1930s returned to the Church in the 1990s, like the prodigal son of the gospel. The churches were filled with them, but not for long. This generation is all but gone. Their children should replace them, but… they did not receive lessons in faith from their parents during childhood, and most of them do not attend churches, preferring to spend their leisure time at the dacha or in front of the television instead of in prayer. Only the grandchildren of these people, who saw their grandmothers praying in the 1990s, can return to the churches, but this can only be expected in 20–30–40 years, and it is unlikely that there will be many of them. But the churches must continue to exist “here and now”. During the 1990s, in the wake of the “popularity” of going to church, many new communities were founded, and now their churches are falling into neglect: old parishioners are departing to the afterlife, but there are few young people, and they are more preoccupied with work and everyday worries, and attend church from time to time.

Both attendees and finances have grown scarce in churches. Many communities can barely pay their utility bills and are unable to support not only a priest, but even a protopsaltes (choir leader). For such communities, there are two realistic options: either to reconcile themselves with the fact that in the near future they will simply disappear from the face of the earth, or to find a priest and a protopsaltes who will be ready to serve without any salary, that is, they will support their families on their own. Currently, it is almost impossible to find such priests and protopsalteses.

Our university could prepare future priests and protopsalteses, who will simultaneously be qualified in secular professions. They could help such weakened communities by combining secular work with church service. Of course, this is not easy; it requires great purposefulness and strength of mind. But I believe that there are people with such qualities in the Old Belief.

In conclusion, I would like to heartily welcome the formation of the Old-believers’ Institute and to wish this great ship that is under construction a grand voyage!

Education for all nations

To comment on the decision of the Council of the Metropolitanate regarding the revival of the important centre of ecclesiastical enlightenment, we asked the head of the Enlightenment Department of the RPSC, father Michael Rodin.

– At the Council of the Metropolitanate, you raised the question of the need to organise the education of foreigners who do not speak Russian on the premises of the reviving Institute. What brought about the need for such work and what possible forms of training do you envision for foreign students attending the Institute?

– The problem of training personnel for the Old Believers’ parishes of Uganda and Pakistan has recently become more and more pressing. At the moment, we are attempting to resolve this dilemma with foreign exchange student programs at Rogozhskoe of various durations. But it is impossible to solve this problem only by means of foreign exchange programs for future parochial ministers, even within parishes such as the Rogozhskoe community in Moscow: in addition to participating in divine services and occasional religious rites, future clergy must be firmly established in the teachings of the Orthodox faith, study the Holy Scripture and the Holy Traditions of the Church, and be prepared to proclaim the truth within an unfriendly environment. For two years now, the question has regularly been raised regarding the organisation of courses for students from Pakistan who aim to become clergymen and Sunday school teachers in Pakistani parishes in the future. Such courses are now being organised on the premises of the Holy Dormition male Monastery in Cheremshan.

In the reviving Institute, the plan is to train Old-believers’ youth from all over the world – this will be an alma mater for intellectual Old-believers, a forge of pedagogical and ecclesiastical personnel for the Church. And such personnel are required not only for Russian communities around the world, but also for parishes in which Christians do not speak Russian. On the premises of the Institute, of course, the knowledge of secular universities (military, medical and others) which host established foreign exchange programs should be applied. There are two systems for the training of foreigners: firstly, all disciplines should be read in English; secondly, an intensive introductory Russian language course lasting at least six months should be undertaken, after which foreigners will be taught in Russian. I am confident that with the right approach, it is possible to organise training according to both paradigms. It is vital that the leadership of the reviving Institute recognises the strategic importance of this direction.

Orthodox Old-believers' Humanities Institute in the name of Protopriest Avvakum: prospects for its revival
The Enlightenment Department of the RPSC, father Michael Rodin

– You are not only a priest in our Church, but are also a candidate of philological sciences, and have extensive experience working in various universities. To what extent, in your opinion, is formal higher education possible and demanded within the Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church? What can the reviving Institute offer to students?

– Organising a system of education both in theological disciplines and in the field of the humanities is important not only for young people wanting to acquire fundamental knowledge and receive a quality education. It is also important for the “ecclesiastic intelligentsia”, for the intellectuals in the Church. The ability to impart knowledge to motivated, enthusiastic listeners inspires any sincere person: an appreciation of their relevance within the Church can encourage academics and teachers to strive to be as useful as possible.

The Church of Christ has always welcomed the intellectual development of Christians. Holy Apostle Paul wrote in his epistle to Timothy: “Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.” And the Apostle himself was superbly educated. I really hope that the reviving Institute will become a cradle for many young specialists. The potential is certainly great. A good fundamental education is in high demand in the Church. The main thing is for the educational process to be organised competently, for the bar to be set high, and for there to be no discounts in terms of the quality of education, no cases of limiting experience or shortening periods of work. If we seek to achieve a good result, we have “no time for a ramp-up”.

Naturally, the discussion and improvements which began at the Council of the Metropolitanate will continue, as they say, in working order. The main thing is that the “log jam has broken”, and henceforth it will be possible to solve the problems of restoring educational practices under new conditions in a businesslike manner.

In conclusion, we emphasise that the Enlightenment Department is extremely interested in implementing the proposed projects, and is ready to participate in them, providing both its informational, curricular and other insights, personnel, and hence awaits for the future graduates of the Avvakum Institute to enter their ranks, to expand upon the geography and scope of our work.

We (like all communities, all departments and structures of the RPSC) need young, highly educated and spiritually rich contributors, profound connoisseurs of Old Orthodoxy, burning with the desire to bear the light of Truth to their contemporaries.

Enlightenment Department of the RPSC