July 26, 2021
— 50 years ago, the local council of the Russian Orthodox Church decided to cancel the “curses on the old rituals” imposed by the Great Moscow Cathedral in 1667. What has changed for the Old Believers after the 1971 cathedral?
— Undoubtedly, this step is an evidence of the intention of rapprochement, an attempt to achieve peace and harmony. However, we are compelled to admit that there was nothing concrete and new in that conciliar decision. Moreover, this is nothing new for Old Believers.
The Orthodox Old Believers had been praying according to the old rite for 300 years before that, not paying attention to any curses from the outside.
The only conclusion from this decision of the New Rite Church is the following: the ROC allowed the Old Believers to enter its churches and pray in them, even with two fingers.
This step is not new. Even an early opponent of the “reform” Ioann Neronov, after he submitted to the church authorities, was allowed to pray using two fingers and old books. The same was offered to saint Protopriest Avvakum and saint Noblewoman Morozova. They offered them to reconcile only formally, for the sake of appearance. Otherwise, pray as you like. However, the holy martyrs did not agree to this.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the Synod of the New Rite Church established Yedinoverie (“Common Faith”). Yes, adherents of Common Faith announced clear terms for the canonical reunification of Old Believers with New Believers. However, the modern church differences caused by the consequences of the reform do not allow us to accept such a compromise.
At the Council of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1971 not a word was said about the recognition of the canonicity of our clergy. The Common Faith clergy is recognized by the ROC. Ours is not recognized.
In general, the local council of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1971, in our understanding, is only a kind of reanimation of the “New Rite union”, that is, Common Faith.
— Are the adherents of the Common Faith the same Old Believers, only inside the Russian Orthodox Church?
— Common Faith appeared in 1800 under Metropolitan Platon (Levshin). In Common Faith, while it is possible to preserve the old rite, ancient Orthodox Christians must obey the Synod. The Synod ordains priests for them. Common Faith was often imposed by force, but we must admit it had certain accomplishments in the preservation of old printed books, old icons, church utensils, znamenny chant and, in general, the pre-schism church liturgical culture.
The Old Believers for the most part did not accept Common Faith. The rejection of Common Faith, which recognizes the legality of the old rituals, suggests that our separation from the church, created by the followers of Patriarch Nikon, is based not on differences in rituals, but on the desire to preserve the faith of Orthodox Holy Russia.
«It’s not about the fingers»
— Recently, the head of the foreign policy department of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Hilarion, said that the Russian Orthodox Church sees no obstacles to the reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Old Rite Church in the bosom of a single church. Do you think this is possible?
— We propose, but God disposes. The one who proposes to reunite must present a program of reunification. On what basis are we going to reunite?
It is not so simple, it is not possible to recognize the split “as if it has never been” – the wound is too deep. Someone does not see obstacles, but we see.
— So what exactly prevents the unification of the two churches, is it really just disagreements in church rituals?
— What do you mean by “disagreements in church rituals”? Just the combination of fingers? No, we are divided by a huge number of fundamental church positions in various issues and spiritual traditions. For example, for someone the combination of two fingers is “just a church rite,” but for us it is a symbol and a way of expressing Orthodox dogmas. It’s not about the fingers. Fingers are not dogma. It is important that the meaning of what is called a “rite” has a doctrinal character. And so it is in everything. Every detail in the form of the Orthodox divine service is not accidental, but has a deep meaning.
In general, our attitude to the church tradition is different. Apostle Paul teaches: “brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thess. 2:15). But Nikon introduced the tradition of changing the liturgical tradition of the church, which was expressed in the distortion of liturgical texts, performance of the sacrament of baptism without full immersion three times (for which the 50th Apostolic canon prescribes defrocking a priest), replacement of canonical icons with Western carnal painting and unison znamenny chant – with theatrical sensual part-song, as well as a significant reduction of the divine service.
— Is it possible, in your opinion, to overcome these disagreements?
— Everything is possible for God. We would like these differences to be overcome through the revival of pre-schismatic Orthodoxy, but when and how it will be, only God knows.
— Is the Russian Orthodox Church trying to start negotiations on unification with the Old Believers?
— The first attempts were made since the adoption of Common Faith by the Synod (Common Faith was regulated in 1800 by Metropolitan Platon, who was looking for an possibility to reconcile the ruling church with the Old Believers by introducing Common Belief. – “Kommersant”). As the history of the 20th century has shown, the ROC finally recognized the old rite as salvific. We are not aware of all the intentions of the Russian Orthodox Church, but periodically in different regions there are interreligious contacts in the field of scholarship, theology, history, culture, and simply interpersonal communication.
— Does it mean, that no one from the Russian Orthodox Church has officially approached you with an initiative to unite?
— The canonical doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church says that for Old Believers the doors of new Rite churches are open. Individual hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church say the same from time to time. There have been no official appeals or letters to the Old Believer Church calling for unification.
— On what terms would the ROORC agree to unite with the ROC?
— It’s hard to say at the moment. The ROC has already taken the first steps towards this. It recognized, albeit with a proviso, the “old rite.” It stopped open administrative persecutions, although in some writings of individual theologians of this church there are still attacks against us. But the problem is different.
The situation itself will reveal when there is a real intense interest in unification on both sides. It is not so at the moment.
— What is the attitude of the ROORC to the ROC?
— The study of church history has proven the senselessness and uselessness of violent church reforms of the 17th century, which is partly recognized by the decision of the ROC Council of 1971, which abolished the curses on the old rituals. From the canonical point of view, these curses are illegitimate and invalid. In the main body of church laws, the book “Kormchaya” (“Rudder”), it is written: “The bishop, who has incorrectly imposed an oath, draws this oath to himself” (rule 4 of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, rule 134 of the Carthage Council). It turns out that the Moscow Patriarchate, as a result of the unjust innovations of Patriarch Nikon and Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, was under these oaths for more than 300 years.
Having recognized the equality of new and old rituals at the Council in 1971, the ROC tried to create a union, just like the Catholics several centuries ago suggested recognizing the equality of Eastern and Western rituals. But in the Orthodox teaching there is no separation of faith and ritual, they are one – they are the internal component and the external expression of the spiritual sacraments of the Church.
50 years after the Council of 1971, we can state that its decisions did not bring visible results in the unification of the Russian Church. We believe that the basis of the unification, if it is pleasing to God, can be the repentance of the New Believers’ Church for the cruel persecutions and executions of the Old Believers, similar to the repentance of the Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in 2000. Repentance, as a complete change in thinking, in the inner worldview, should be expressed not only in words, but also in deeds – in the return to the fundamental patristic traditions and principles of Holy Russia, which are preserved by our Russian Orthodox Old Rite Church.
The call of the council of the Moscow Patriarchate of 1971 to recognize the legality of the old rituals and return to them has not been realized for 50 years, and the decisions of the council are, in fact, “as if they had not been.”
— What is the relationship between the Old Believers and the Moscow Patriarchate now?
– Peaceful, good-neighbourly. We live in the same state, we belong to one people, we speak one language. We have a lot in common both historically and culturally. Today in our Russian society there are many problems in the solution of which all traditional confessions can help the state: spiritual and moral education of young people, fight with alcoholism, tobacco smoking and drug addiction, abortion, with the propaganda of negativity, aggressiveness and vices by the media; this is the preservation of Russian language, folk traditions and much more, in which we can unite our efforts so that our Fatherland flourishes.
“The state started to speak with us as equals”
— In 2017 the President of the country visited the center of Russian Old Believers – Rogozhskoe. Has this visit influenced the life of the Old Believers in Russia?
— The visit of the head of state to the spiritual centre of the ROORC can be called a historic, even an epochal, event. At different times the leaders of the country treated the Old Believers differently. Some persecuted it, others sympathized it, favoured and even helped. However, in 2017, something happened that had never been done by any ruler in the entire history of Old Belief: the head of state personally visited Rogozhskoe.
This event is an indication that relations between the state and our church reach a new level, that the state’s trust in the Old Believers acquires a qualitatively new level.
We start to speak on equal terms, which by itself opens up new horizons for cooperation. The Old Believers, with their unique sound and, in a good sense of the word, conservative culture, have something to say to the state and society, something to share.
Our spiritual experience may well be relevant in contemporary realities.
— What exactly can Old Believers offer the state?
— Preserved traditions and values that can become state-forming. Patriotism. Despite almost 300 years of persecution, the Old Believers sincerely loved their homeland and have always been law-abiding.
Old Believers have many children. Their example can help to change the demographic situation, which now in Russia is grievous.
Love for work and honesty. The work ethic has always been inherent in the Old Believers.
The historical experience of survival of the Old Believers can today help the Russian people on the path of revival. This experience consists in self-organization, relying on the help of God, mutual assistance and our own strength, in standing up for our way of life and traditions, in the pious upbringing of children, in honest work, in good-neighborly relations with the surrounding heterodox society and in participation in all matters for the good of our Motherland.
Old Believers-businessmen showed an example of care about the prosperity of Russia. Having considerable fortunes, they sought to spend them not for personal pleasures, but for the benefit of their neighbours: construction of educational institutions, hospitals, alms-houses and churches, gaining an eternal treasure in the heavenly Fatherland. It would be great for today’s rich people to remember the motto of the Morozov dynasty: “The good of the Fatherland is our good”!
Today, the traditions of Old Believer business are especially relevant. Its contribution to the development of Russian industry is truly enormous. Suffice it to recall that the Morozov textiles and Kuznetsov porcelain were famous not only in Russia, but also abroad, that the first Russian cars were produced in Moscow at the AMO plant founded by the Ryabushinsky (later ZIL), that the Volga Shipping Company was created by the Old Believers. Surnames such as the Soldatenkovs, Bugrovs, Zimins, Maltsevs, Sanins, Lyubushkins, Zenkovs, Gusarovs, Gromovs firmly occupy a worthy place in the history of Russian business.
A characteristic feature of the Old Believers is their love for the land, which can now be seen first-hand in the first results of the agricultural activities of the Old Believers who returned to Russia from abroad. Natural, environmentally friendly products without any chemical additives are in many ways a guarantee of the nation’s health.
— How does the state help Old Believers and how else could it help?
— In the last thirty years our relations with the authorities acquired a new format. It happens on different levels, from the president to regional local administrations. Our requests about the return of cultural and historical sites, the allocation of land for the construction of new churches are mostly fulfilled. The authorities also assist us in holding various cultural events.
We have something to be grateful to the state and the current government for.
Answering the question on how the state could help us in the future, I will say: perhaps it is not to change the attitude towards the Old Believers for the worse, or simply not to interfere with our development.
— Do you pray for the Russian government?
— During the Divine service, we offer prayers “for our Russian country, for those who are in the power and those who care for the Russian land”, for the granting of “peace, silence, health and salvation, an abundance of earthly fruits” and other blessings from the Lord to them.
— With the support of Vladimir Putin in 2007, the reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia took place. Have you received any proposals from the presidential administration to start the process of unification with the Moscow Patriarchate?
— Thank God, in our contemporary Russian state, the secular government does not interfere in church and interchurch affairs. Our government is well aware that the relationship between the churches is the internal affair of religious organizations, and the authorities do not force us to unite, realizing that this can lead to new schisms. The authorities cooperate with religious organizations not through dictating their will, but by assisting in the preservation and development of culture and traditions, where we can be useful for our society.
author: Pavel Korobov