May 19, 2021
Dear guests and participants of the International Forum of Old Believers of all denominations! I want to greet you from myself and from all Old Believers with Easter greeting: Christ is risen!
Orthodoxy, brought to Russia by the first Old Believer – holy prince Vladimir, became that unifying force, that main bond that determined the Russian world, created Holy Russia, and engendered many holy ascetics in our land. Orthodoxy has kept our Fatherland from disintegration and capture by foreigners throughout the thousand-year history of our country. Orthodoxy has always preserved Holy Russia – the Third Rome, after the strengthening of which there will be no fourth.
The completeness and immutability of the foundations of Orthodoxy, which our pious ancestors defended after the tragic church schism of the 17th century, now distinguish Russia from the rest of the world, being a guarantee of its development and setting an example to the whole world in the firmness of preserving the faith and patriotic spirit.
The Old Faith is the true Orthodoxy. Old Believers are Russians par excellence, they are the keepers of Russian culture, the Russian spirit. Despite the long-term persecution by the authorities, they have always prayed and are now praying for the Russian country protected by God. Despite all the trials that fell to the lot of our Church during the years of the atheistic God-fighting regime in the 20th century, we, the Old Believers, keep the precepts of our ancestors: to live according to the commandments of Christ, according to the laws of justice, conscience and mercy, in love for our Fatherland. The defender of our Old Faith from unrighteous slanders is the very history of the Old Faith, as Feodor Tyutchev said: “The true defender of Russia is its history.” The Old Faith is not only the past, but also the future of our Russia. But we should understand what it cost to defend the values that the Old Believers preserve.
The past, 2020, and the present, 2021, years were marked by a truly epoch-making date – the 400th anniversary of the birth of Protopriest Avvakum. This name is known to every Old Believer. However, the celebration of that jubilee went beyond the circle of Old Believers, and this is not surprising, for Protopriest Avvakum is a unique phenomenon of the entire Russian culture: literature, preaching and strong faith.
In connection with the anniversary celebrations, a number of festive scholarly and cultural events were organized, both in the capital and in other regions of the Russian Federation. In Rogozhskaya Sloboda according to the project of Fr. Leonty Pimenov, a chapel pillar was erected with the image of the Old Believer saints: Metropolitan Ambrose of Belaya Krinitsa, Bishop Pavel of Kolomna, Protopriest Avvakum, Martyr Theodora (noblewoman Morozova). In the town of Borovsk, according to the project of sculptor Oleg Molchanov, a monument to Protopriest Avvakum was erected. In addition, various meetings were held in the capital and in all regions of the country, exhibitions were organized, museums were opened, films were shot, conferences and round tables were held related to that significant anniversary.
First of all, on behalf of the Russian Orthodox Old Rite Church, I would like to express gratitude to the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and the presidential administration, representatives of ministries and departments, the Moscow city authorities for their direct participation in organizing and holding festive events, returning cultural and historical objects to Old Believers, as well as for helping in the resettlement of Old Believers from abroad. I would like to thank the governors, representatives of regional authorities for their assistance in holding events related to the anniversary and resettlement of Old Believers. In accordance with the program approved by the government, hundreds of Old Believers have already been resettled, mainly to the Far East, to the Primorsky Krai. The pandemic has stopped this process, but it will continue in the nearest future. Several hundred more people are ready for relocation. Governor of the Primorsky Krai Oleg Kozhemyako supports this process. Unfortunately, today there is no one responsible for the support of the migrants on the part of the regional administration. I think, that appointment of a responsible person will greatly facilitate the solution of the issues of resettlement and adaptation of our compatriots from abroad.
I would like to say a few words about church unity and divisions. Christ Himself established the principle of spiritual unity in the Eucharist. In the book of the Acts of the Apostles it is said: “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication” (Acts 1:14).
However, the unity of Christianity, unfortunately, was not destined to survive. Even during the time of the Ecumenical Councils, a number of Eastern Churches fell away from church unity. In the eleventh century, the Church was shaken by perhaps the most painful schism, when Western Christians began to invent their own dogmas. The 16th century saw the rise of Protestantism…
Thus, we are faced with a paradox: Christ calls everyone to unity, but we Christians follow the path of separation …
To our great regret, schisms and upheavals have not spared our Russian Church either. The church schism of the 17th century, caused by a change in liturgical orders and the so-called “correction of books”, provoked division in Russian society, and the most persistent, most faithful people refused to accept what was created forcibly by Patriarch Nikon with the help of dubious Greek correctors.
After the schism, the fate of the Old Believers in Russia turned out to be unenviable, since the new faith was imposed by force. Free church life for Old Believers in cities and villages became impossible. There was a massive departure of the adherents of the old rituals to the outskirts of the state, to the taiga wilderness, to the north and abroad. The Old Believers tried to establish a full-fledged church life, for without the Eucharist one cannot call a person’s spiritual life full.
The authorities and the Synodal Church did everything to make the Old Faith disappear: chapels and old printed books were burned, objects necessary for the church services were forcibly confiscated. The clergy were under particular scrutiny. Already Nikon, using the example of holy martyr Bishop Pavel of Kolomna, emphatically showed what would happen with someone who deviated from the new order.
Because of the difficult situation the Old Believers could not maintain church unity among themselves. This is truly a tragedy for all of us. This happened because Councils that support church unity were banned. Those who tried to convene Councils were subjected to repression, imprisonment, and physical destruction.
But, despite all the divisions among them, the Old Believers still have more in common than differences. The most important thing is one and a half thousand years of common history, starting from the times of the Gospel and up to the end of the 17th century. One Bible, one Kormchaya (“Rudder”), one Sacred Tradition. Agreement on fundamental dogmatic issues. Hundreds of common saints we pray to.
All Old Believers, regardless of denomination, once experienced the tragedy of the schism of the Russian Church and suffered persecution for their religious beliefs, they all had the desire to preserve the Old Faith, the true pre-schism Russian Orthodoxy.
In addition to the use of two fingers, which were used for prayer by venerable Sergiy of Radonezh and all of Holy Russia, we use the same liturgical texts and objects, we adhere to the same canons in icon painting, church singing, the Old Believers have a common form of church clothing and order in the church.
We have common ancient Orthodox religious culture, we preserve the Russian language, create Old Believer history museums, teach new generations church singing and traditional crafts.
Today, common Old Believers’ cultural and social events are organised: exhibitions, conferences, round tables, meetings, disputes, where entrance is open to all Old Believers of any denominations and to anyone who is interested in ancient piety.
Our Church is power made perfect in weakness. The Lord said: ” Fear not, little flock, I am with you.” The Church is outside politics and not of this world, but this does not contradict our desire for openness, for dialogue with the authorities and with our entire society.
We are glad that now the state is turning to us, Old Believers, to learn from the experience of survival in difficult, sometimes extreme, conditions. Statement by the Minister of Defence of the Russian Federation Sergey Shoygu that the Special Forces will adopt the experience of the Old Believers is very important for us.
However, we are concerned about some aspects of the life of modern society. Social networks and virtual reality discourage young people from thinking independently, sometimes pushing them to commit crimes. We are not saying that the Internet should be banned, but the uncontrolled thoughtless use of the Internet is today a great danger for our society, and primarily for young people. Today’s media abound in lawlessness, lies, calls for violence, for violating God’s laws, sometimes we see negative attitude towards the Old Believers, slander, falsification of history. Today, thank God, we are not being persecuted, but we are not yet receiving attention of the media. As well as everything traditional, Russian, spiritual. And we have a lot to tell Russian society on these topics. I would like the voice of the Old Believers to be heard in the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation, where many traditional confessions are represented.
The present Old Believers’ forum is a living testimony of our desire and striving to create together for the benefit of our entire society. It is about the opportunity to jointly resist the spiritless globalization, about the preservation and enhancement of the Orthodox tradition to live according to God’s law, conscientiously and honestly work for the good of our Fatherland.