I will begin my speech with the famous words of Generalissimo Suvorov: “We are Russians; what a delight!” The great words of a great man perfectly convey the feeling that from birth is inherent to a true Russian – a sense of pride in their people and their country, a feeling of joy in realising their belonging to these two endless universes – the Russian nation and the Russian power.
For more than a thousand years they exist indissolubly – Russians and Russia. Their existence is interconnected and inextricable. If there are no Russians, there will be no Russia. If there is no Russia, there will be no Russians. Therefore, we can safely say that in our day the state support of the Russian people, their language and culture, their faith, is a task of primary importance, if you like, a defensive and strategic task.
After all, not only the army and navy, missiles and airplanes, the latest weapons and military talent protect the country from aggressors. Let us recall our history. Let us recall, for example, the troubles at the beginning of the 17th century or of 1812, when the enemy approached Moscow and even occupied it. Then many, even the boldest of hearts, were filled with despair and despondency.
But Russia was nevertheless saved! By whom? God and the Russian people!
Pushkin wrote about this brilliantly: “Who helped us here? The frenzy of the people”. Frenzy, that is, noble rage and anger at those who encroached on Orthodox shrines.
So it was in 1613, in 1812, and in 1941. So it will be forever. Sometimes circumstances seemed hopeless and it seemed like everything was over. But the Russian people, frantic from the impudence of the enemy, rose and stood up to their full height and resolutely cleared their land of a foreign foe, of a hated enemy.
In the battles of those great wars they fought shoulder to shoulder with Russians and the best sons of other peoples of Russia – Ukrainians and Belarusians, Tatars and Bashkirs, Kalmyks and others.
Also during these battles for the Russian land, our ancestors – the Old-believers – covered themselves eternal glory. In particular, the name of the hero Old-believer, Ataman Matvei Platov, is still remembered by many. But the names of thousands of other Old-believers, who gave their lives for the freedom of Russia, are now known only to the Lord God. Archaeologists who are excavating the Borodino field and the battlefields of World War II, find among the human remains many Old-believers’ cast crosses and small icons – commemorations of those countless Orthodox Ivans, Peters and Vasiliys, who did not return home from the bloody battles.
The Old-believers – these are those simple people that always constituted the glory and honour of Russia, its historical memory and pride, the golden reserve of our culture. No wonder Solzhenitsyn called the Orthodox Old-believers “the best part of his tribe”.
Old-believers have a special place in Russian history and culture, due to the position that they, at times forcibly, occupied in Russia.
Pushkin said: “Modern history is the history of Christianity”. It can also be argued that Russian history is the history of Christianity, the history of Orthodoxy.
The tragic church Raskol of the 17th century divided the Russian people into two camps, led to the formation of two religious trends in the Russian people: supporters of the reforms of Tsar Aleksey Mikhailovich and Patriarch Nikon and opponents of these reforms, church antiquitarians.
The innovations of Aleksey Mikhailovich and Nikon were followed by the cruel reforms of Peter I. Cultural and domestic changes compounded the church “noviny” (innovations) – European clothes, shaving of beards and moustaches, and smoking of tobacco. Old-believers did not accept these innovations, so until now our way of life retains many of the features characteristic of ancient Russian culture and life.
The Old-believers expelled from their native Russian land, even in other countries managed to preserve what our ancestors lived by 300–400 years ago. And it’s not just about the outward appearance, not about some beards or traditional attire – caftans and sarafans, which are still worn for prayers in churches, but about the fact that the Old-believers managed to preserve the vital core of our ancestors, that spiritual component for which Ancient Rus’ is called Holy Rus’.
And today in the houses of Old-believers, prayer sounds daily, the fasts prescribed by the Church’s rules are observed. The true Old-believer, entrusting to the Holy Gospel and the canons of the Church his thoughts and feelings, words and deeds, tries to live in faith and in peace with God and people. Faithfulness and honesty, truthfulness and decency, diligence and commitment – not empty words for the Old-believer!
But the Old-believers are known not only for religiosity and hard-work. Until now, Old-believers’ families have many children. Russia grows by the Old Belief! Everywhere, wherever Old-believers live: on the Don or in Pomorye, in the Volga region or in the Urals, in Altai or in Siberia, children are considered to be a blessing from God, therefore abortion is a grave sin. The upbringing of the younger generation in traditional Orthodox culture is usually conducted from a very early age. In Old-believers’ families, the unchanging Russian spirit is passed down from generation to generation, that Russian beauty, which is exulted by our great poets and artists.
Let’s not forget that in the 19–20th centuries it was the Old-believers who settled new vast lands attached to the Russian Empire. They fled there from persecution or were forcibly moved by the authorities to the uninhabited territories. Their large families settled in new places, established houses and gardens, ploughlands and herds. Even in the most adverse conditions, in the worst lands, the hardworking Old-believers, with God’s help, achieved excellent results and flourished.
Literacy and love of the book has always distinguished them. At a time when the Synod issued decrees prohibiting the wedding of those who did not know the prayer “Our Father”, many Old-believers knew the whole church service cycle. The Psaltyr and Horologion were handbooks, but reading was not limited to prayer texts. The Old-believer loved and still loves the teachings of the holy fathers, the lives of the saints of God, Christian parables and chronicles. Many Old-believers had extensive libraries in which ancient manuscripts and printed books were carefully kept. Icons and other items of church antiquity were also collected. Architect Alexey Shchusev wrote: “The Old-believers were great conservatives in art. In their sketes and churches, they retained many examples of iconography, which otherwise could have perished irretrievably. This is the great objective merit of the Old-believers”.
A government official “in the fight against the Raskol”, the writer Melnikov-Pechersky, described the process of the collection of native antiquities by the Old-believers: “The progeny of the boyars, okolnichy (highest rank of boyars) and other people of the Duma and servicemen of old Moscow spent the inheritances of their grandfathers, and flippantly concerned themselves with the ancestral records of the family life of their forefathers, cast them aside for nothing in order to acquire with the money they retained dandy towels, gold-embroidered caftans and robes, French wigs and laces, rare snuff boxes, etc. Old-believers eagerly bought old household utensils and ancestral manuscripts from them. Old-believers especially strived to buy up ancient icons. The Old-believers have preserved these sacred objects as the pupil of the eye, as a priceless heritage”.
Many beautiful icons, now kept in the best museums of the country, come from the Old-believers’ churches and from the collections of Old-believers’ merchants. Unfortunately, the reforms of Aleksey Mikhailovich and Nikon and the subsequent transformations of Peter changed not only the artistic tastes of the upper class of Russian society, but also literary biases, sharply turning them towards the West.
Old-believers kept the ancient manuscripts, rewrote them and created new ones. They also kept the oral works of our people – Russian folklore and its most valuable part – bylina (Russian traditional heroic poem). It was from the Old-believers’ storytellers in the Russian North, in Pomorye and along the shores of Lake Onega, wonderful poetic works about Ilya Muromets and Alyosha Popovich, Prince Vladimir and Nightingale the Robber, now known to us from childhood, were recorded.
Truly the Old Russian Orthodox faith is living water – washing, refreshing, sating and preserving for centuries what seemed to be irretrievably lost. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself enlivens this wonderful water, and I am convinced that it is this, that is the fundamental aid for all the problems and troubles of modern Russia. If all our people could bathe in it! If they could fall before that pure source, whence they themselves, as a matter of fact, come from!
Our old faith holds considerable potential. It is addressed not only to the glorious past, to holy antiquity, but also boldly looks to the future, responding to the difficult challenges of our time.
President of the Russian Federation V.V. Putin in his latest message to the Federal Assembly noted: “Russia’s responsibility is growing in today’s world development, as a key guarantor, as a guarantor of stability, as a state that consistently defends and protects international law, sovereignty, independence and identity. There are more and more people in the world, – the president stressed, – supporting our position on protecting traditional values, which for thousands of years constituted the spiritual and moral basis of the people: the values of the traditional family, genuine human life, including religious life, not only material life, but also spiritual. Of course, this is a conservative position, – the president remarked, – but, in the words of Nikolai Berdyaev: “The meaning of conservatism is not to impede movement forward and upward, but to obstruct movement backwards and downwards, toward chaotic darkness”.
According to the providence of God, Old-believers, since the time of the Raskol, carried out this task – to stop the slide of Russia into disbelief, chaos and the movement to a hellish precipice.
Recently, K. Kozhurin’s book “The Daily Life of Old-believers” was published, which ends with the words: “The invaluable spiritual experience that the Old-believers learned from their “withdrawal”, should become the property of all mankind. It may be the last chance not only for Russia in its deep spiritual crisis, but also for the agonising West, which has already thoroughly forgotten about its Christian origin. After all, the “Old Belief” is not just some kind of “national variety” of Christianity, as it is sometimes depicted, but Christianity in its purest and most universal form”.
The Old Belief is a healthy conservative force, for centuries successfully opposing the destruction of traditional values: religious, state and family. I am sure that there is a lot for society and the country to learn from the Old-believers, if they desire to successfully confront modern threats, both external and internal.
And the modern conditions of fruitful cooperation between the Russian state and traditional denominations, perhaps more than ever in our history, contribute to this kind exchange of experience. We are open to dialogue with all who sincerely love their Native land.
Without antiquity, there is no novelty, without the past, there is no future, and there is no modern Russia without Holy Rus’. And what constituted Holy Rus’? What makes us Russians Russian?
Even Dostoevsky said that Russian is a national concept, but an ideological one. Russian means Orthodox. And Dostoevsky brilliantly remarked: “the words Russian and Orthodox are synonyms”.
We remember that after the fall of Constantinople, the honour and dignity of New Rome, the Third Rome, were transferred to Rus’, to Moscow. Since then, the Russian people and the Russian state have borne the sacred duty to keep the Orthodox faith pure and unchanged.
In this connection, esteemed participants of this gathering, I invite you to visit our sacred places – the cathedrals of the Moscow Rogozhskoe settlement, our spiritual centre. Here you will be able to see and hear a glimpse and echo of living Ancient Rus’ (as Old-believers’ academic Dmitry Sergeyevich Likhachev called it) and, perhaps, to understand why our Motherland was called Holy Rus’.
In the book of the thinker and researcher from the beginning of the 20th century, I.A. Kirillov, “The Truth of the Old Faith”, is written: “The Old Belief retained that small mustard seed of the light of Christ, from which would be developed, if destined by the Highest Providence, true Christian enlightenment. If Russia is destined to be great and free, it will be, but it will grow under the rays of enlightenment brought from the distant past by the Old-believers”.
Turning to the history of the Old Belief, one can find answers to the question – what can unite the Russian people and contribute to their spiritual and moral revival. Speaking about the essence of the Old-believers, I.A. Kirillov wrote: “The true nationality of the Russian people is where the Russian soul lives, where the Russian heart beats, where the Russian faith speaks in the Lord Christ! The peculiarities of Russian nationality were most fully and vividly preserved in the Old Belief”.
The return to the Old Russian Orthodox faith, in which the soul of our people lies, is the basis of the moral, and with it the material rebirth of Russia, the rebirth of the Russian spirit. This is the answer to the Russian question!