OLD-RITUALISTS OR TRUE ORTHODOXY? | Russian Oldbeliever Church

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The Russian Orthodox Old Believer Church

The official website of the Moscow Metropolitanate.

Address: Russia, Moscow, Rogozhsky Poselok street, 1A, 5.
Phone: +7 (495) 361-51-91
e-mail: mmitropolia@gmail.com


The history of the followers of the Old-Rite unfairly begins with church reform of the 17th century. It is generally accepted that reform is the moment of foundation of certain “Old-Ritualist churches”, which opposed themselves to the state and society, closed themselves off and did not allow anyone into their conservative world. However, to someone who is even a little familiar with the history, culture and life principles of the followers of the Old-Rite, it’s clear that most popular beliefs about the followers of the Old-Rite are mistaken.



What today is commonly called the “Old Rite”, Russia accepted together with baptism in the 10th century. The Church’s prayers, customs, and values were adopted together with Orthodoxy and reverently preserved. Orthodoxy found fertile ground in Russia – and here new ascetics and preachers of the Word of God appeared, magnificent temples were erected, many books about the Faith written, icons painted, beautiful services composed, chants arranged.

The history of the followers of the Old-Rite is the history of the Russian people who accepted holy baptism in A.D. 988. This is the story of everyone whose ancestors were born and lived on Russian soil.  The history of the Russian state together with the Orthodox autocrats and simple believers. The history of a nation that manifested great saints, including St. Sergius of Radonezh, Righteous Prince Alexander Nevsky, holy wonder-workers Peter and Fevronia of Murom and many others.

“If we are schismatics and heretics, then all our holy fathers are the very same,” says archpriest Avvakum in a letter to Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich. The 17th-century church schism is just one of the tragic and difficult stages of the history of Orthodoxy, which has been invariably and unshakably preserved in the Church which is now called the Old Believers.


The term “Old-Ritualists” arose involuntarily. In official documents, for a long-time Orthodox, who did not accept the Nikonians’ innovations, were called “schismatics” (raskolniks). Later in secular literature in the nineteenth century the term “Old-Ritualists” appeared, which emphasized sheer primacy of rites. But the Old Believers were convinced that the Ancient Faith is not only the ancient rituals but also the totality of the church dogmas, worldview truths, special traditions of spirituality, culture, and life. The Orthodox Old-Rite Church has retained the unchanged liturgical tradition, received in Russia from the Orthodox Greeks in the 10th century. She is guided by the rules received from the Apostles, confirmed by the Oecumenical Councils, likewise by the Councils held in Russia before the reform of Patriarch Nikon.


The Church’s artistic culture: strictly according to the rules of ascetic icon painting, unison singing, temple architecture, the arrangement of the church interior – established in the heyday of Orthodoxy in Russia, these are alive and carefully observed by the followers of the Old-Rite. This is an integral part of their prayer life. The Church Reform of the 17th century, as a rule, is considered a series of ritual changes in church tradition. The Great Russian Encyclopedia, for example, writes about it this way:

“The reform of Patriarch Nikon did not affect the fundamental tenets of Orthodoxy and concerned only the ritual side of church life. The followers of the Old-Rite preserved the rites common in ancient Rus’ traditions and fixed by the decisions of the Stoglav Sobor[Council] of [A.D.]1551: the two-fingered form[1] for the Sign of the Cross (after the Reform — the three-fingered[2] ) and the bishop’s blessing (name blessing), “one-letter” spelling for the name of the Savior “Jesus”[«Исус»] (in contrast to “Jesus”[«Иисус»]), a double Alleluia (in contrast to the triple proclamation in the new tradition), prostrations in the time of church service, leading processions according to the sun (clockwise) at processions, the form of stamp on the prosphora (round, with the 8-point [three-bar] Cross, unlike the post-Reform square with a 4-point cross). The service continued being conducted according to old printed books (published before 1654).”


“Everything flows [forward in time], everything changes,” someone will say, “and out of obstinacy the followers of the Old-Rite refused to recognize that there are reforms in the Church.” To some extent, indeed, church tradition is subject to change: over the years, the charter of church services developed, the corps of twelve holy days did not appear immediately in full form, the rules of fasting and the number of fasting days developed. However, changes are possible in church life only to a certain, to a small extent. It is worth remembering that what is outwardly displayed is an expression manifesting what is within a person, and an exchanging of the outwardly-displayed, that is, the ritual, parts [of the Ancient Orthodox Faith] for some other’s entails a swap of the explanation signified by them, and such changes are unacceptable.

So, for instance, making a sing of a Cross on oneself all around with the two-fingered sign of the Cross was not just a ritual act for a Russian person, but a confessing of the [Russian, Ancient Orthodox] Faith: “The index and middle fingers are out-stretched together, though the middle finger is slightly bowed. These fingers symbolize the two natures of our Lord Jesus Christ: The Divine and the human. By this, we testify to our belief that Jesus Christ is the true God and is a true man. The bowing-down of the middle finger means the descent of the Son of God to our Earth, for our salvation. The thumb, ring finger, and little finger are required to be joined together as a sign that we confess the One Divinity in three Persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

On the eve of the Great Fast [Great Lent], which the Russian people always perceived as a time for particular spiritual watchfulness and repentance, Patriarch Nikon sends a “memorandum” to the parishes: “… It is not fitting to cast oneself on one’s knees in church, but you ought to make a bow from the waist, and also that three-fingered would the sign of the Cross [henceforth] be made.”

“A change in such an important part of the Orthodox rite as the making of the sign of the Cross, with an individually-determined, unsought directive,” comments S.A. Zenkovsky [renowned 20th century Russian émigré historian of Rus’, b.1909, d.1990]], – <…> was something unheard of in the annals of not only the Russian, but also of a Christian Church anywhere. Even now, when ritual and religion play a much smaller role in the life of nations, a change in the sign of the Cross by a [single] Catholic bishop, or by the pope [alone] himself, or by a [single] patriarch of the Orthodox Church seems unthinkable. And in the Russian Church of the 17th century, significant changes in the rite, without consulting a Council, were not made even by such an authoritative head of the [Russian] Church as Patriarch Filaret [r. 1619-1633 A.D.]. As for the sign of the Cross, it retained the two-fingered form of the Greeks of the first epoch from the most ancient times of the Christianization of Rus’, and when at the beginning of the 16th century a New Greek form of configuration began to spread in Russia, it was condemned and banned by the Stoglav Sobor[Council] in [A.D.]1551 <…> Now, at this moment, Nikon decided by his personal, individually-determined order, and even on the eve of the Great Fast, which always began a period of great religious tension in Russia, to replace the ancient Russian and ancient Greek sign of the Cross with the New Greek one.”

In the tradition of the followers of the Old-Rite, it is customary to make a sign of a Cross on themselves with the two-fingered sign, since this symbolizes the Christ “Who for the sake of Man and for our salvation” was crucified (the Symbol of the Faith) – His divine and human nature is symbolized by the index and middle fingers. According to the teachings of the followers of the New-Rite, the three-fingered sign symbolizes the three Persons of the One Divinity, while the ring finger and little finger are appointed to be “held down unproductively.” Even if one does not delve into the history of the origin of the finger-configuration, the symbolic content of the two-fingered form has a greater rationale and holds more depth of meaning.


The epochs are changing, the times are changing. Once upon a time, representatives of the [Russian] Synodal Church and State Authorities burned ancient manuscript books – now these books are admired by the whole world behind glass windows in museums. The icons were painted over, which are now carefully cleared by restorers. The language was reduced for prayer singing, the harmonies, and complexities of which today art historians marvel at. ‘The world has changed. Why can’t you forgive and reconcile?’

Forgiveness is possible and needed. And the followers of the Old-Rite forgave right away because from childhood they were instructed to forgive according to the commandment of Christ: “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5, 14). But to be reconciled to …

At the local council of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1971, pre-Reform and post-Reform rituals were recognized as equally valid, and the anathemas on the Old-Ritualists, as it were, became as if they had never been. But in the Faith, there can be only one authentic form. Reconciling would be good. But you probably need to reconcile yourself to the authentic form?


The followers of the Old Rite are faithful sons of the Fatherland, and after the Split, they fully shared with their people all their troubles and sorrows, to the last drop of blood they defending their Homeland in wars. Their feat is not only a manifestation of patriotism, but the fulfillment of God’s commandment to love one’s neighbor.

They defended Russia during the invasion of Napoleon. History remembers the name of the Cossack Ataman, General of the Light Cavalry, Matvey Platov. He took part in all the wars of the Russian Empire at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century. His troops especially distinguished themselves in the battles of Borodino, Smolensk, and Gzhatsk. In the battle of Leipzig, the corps under the command of Platov defeated the French, capturing 15,000 soldiers and their officers.

Matvey Platov

When Napoleon entered Moscow and the mayor of the city, Count Rastopchin, hastily fled from the capital, Procopius Shelaputin assumed the post of mayor. He came from an old Old-Ritualist family, was a merchant of the first guild and had the title of Commerce Advisor.

Don Cossack units comprised of followers of the Old-Rite were entrusted to guard the Tsar. In the terrible days of February 1917, when everyone turned away from Nicholas II — the government, the State Duma, the army, and the synodal Church — the tsar trusted only the followers of the Old-Rite from whom his guard was formed.

Modern author Professor Dmitry Pospelovsky notes:

“Abdicating the throne, the tsar remembered not the Russian Orthodox Church officially headed by him, but the Old-Ritualists … I wonder if he understood at that moment what a fateful mistake his predecessors made by persecuting the Old-Ritualists for almost 250 years, that is, precisely that religious movement of the Russian people, which due to its fundamental conservatism should have been the main pillar of the dynasty?”

With the outbreak of World War I, the premises of the Moscow Rogozh almshouses were given to hospitals. Archbishop of Moscow John (Kartushin) gave his blessing to give his personal chambers to the hospital, and he himself moved to the Solovyev house on the Rogozhskoye outpost, where he died in April 1915. The example of the followers of the Old-Rite in the Rogozhskoye was followed by many other communities in central Russia. Most of the 30 first graduates of the Old-Ritualist Institute went to the Front. Almost all of them died there courageously.

The appeal of the Primate of the Church in those years of Archbishop Irinarch (Parfyonov) eloquently speaks of the participation of the Old Believers in the Great Patriotic War:

“Beloved children of the Ancient Rite Church of Christ, who are in German captivity and occupation … From the center of the followers of the Old-Rite — from glorious Moscow, from the Rogozhskoye outpost, I, your archpastor and supplicant before God, appeal to you with words of comfort and hope and an appeal to render all possible resistance to the enemy. Help the partisans, join their ranks, be worthy of your ancestors who fought for their holy Russia. Remember how our glorious ancestors, driven by love for the Motherland, utter annihilated and drove out of their land the twelve heathen nations of the proud conqueror with only the humblest of weapons. And how many of them left Russia? Miserable bunch! The liberation of our motherland from the original enemy and destroyer of the Russian people – the Germans – is a nationwide holy cause. Help our army exterminate and drive the enemy from our sacred land and thereby bring closer the joyful hour of unity with you. Here we offer the Lord God unceasing prayers so that he will save you from evil and destruction and give you the strength of our ancestors in the struggle to free our homeland from invaders.”

Invisible and unaccepted in their Fatherland, the Old Believers, nevertheless, having kept their hearts pure from evil and resentment, responded from the first to the calls of the Motherland for help, not expecting honors and rewards. The main reward for them would be the opportunity to offer prayers to God in their native land, without existing in the shadows and bearing reproaches for this. However, the brief periods of relief were replaced by a new series of repressions and desolations.


Over the past 300 years, Orthodoxy has experienced a series of persecutions: first, from the tsarist authorities with an attempt to persuade them to adopt the official religion, then repressions of the Soviet regime. As a result of the persecution, the Old Believer Church became numerically small, which, however, never embarrassed Christians who preserved true Orthodoxy.

The Church will inevitably have to dwindle so much that “the Son of Man, having come, will He even find the Faith on the earth?” (Luke 18, 8) The Gospel says: “Do not be afraid, little flock! for your Father is well-pleased to give you the Kingdom”(Luke 12, 32).

Under Peter I, the way of life, natural and normal for the followers of the Old-Rite, was prohibited by law: you could not wear a Russian dress, a special tax was imposed for having a beard, and followers of the Old-Rite were charged double taxation.


The beard token of the times of Peter I, indicating the payment of tax on the beard

The older sister of Peter I, Princess Sophia, published the famous “Twelve Articles”: which ordered that the adherents of the Old-Rite be beaten with rods, imprisoned in monasteries, deprived of property, tortured in every possible way, and those who remained at their convictions were burned alive in log cabins. Even those who simply handed a cup of water to the Old Believer were supposed to be punished:

“Which people, being keepers and abettors of the Schismatics, having come to acquaintance with them, and for the sake of their delusive doctrine, didn’t submit the information [to the authorities], and those who on seeing them did not apprehend them or fetch anyone or were bought off by these: and so for this there shall be fixed harsh punishment, whipping and banishment to remote places of habitation; and if they were aware, yet kept the same ecclesiastical oppositionists in their home, performing mercy to them, or who come and see them to learn from them, bringing food or nourishment, or from such are bringing certain persons letters by mail, and even though they didn’t adopt their delusive doctrines, they did not also keep themselves clear according to the evidence, and thus, there is for the concealment of those thieves, a remedying punishment, the floggings as well as others, depending on the case, also banishment; but there are those who bore themselves carelessly, and in such case there is to be a purgation, and by way of reparative punishment, a beating of rods.”

For most of the nineteenth century, the followers of the Old-Rite were proscribed: they lost their citizenship, their marriages were declared illegitimate, and their children bastards. The centers of the Old-Ritualists, which formed on the country outskirts, periodically went bankrupt.

On May 10, 1827, the Committee of Ministers forbade priests from moving from one county to another to perform any rites. In case of neglect of the prohibition, it was ordered to “deal with them like vagrants.” Nicholas I, made an annotation on this decision: “Quite just.” [9] Thus, people who lived far from the priest could neither perform the sacrament of baptism nor bury the dead according to church rules. By such a measure, a person was forced to go into Edinoverie (parishes of the official Church, in which it was allowed to pray according to the pre-schism books), so that he could live legally and after death hope for at least some kind of church burial.

Despite all these harsh measures, according to official estimates, in pre-revolutionary Russia, 4-5 million people out of a population of 125 million in the Russian Empire called themselves followers of the Old-Rite.

No less scary was the Soviet era when first they were shot for the Faith and made to starve in the prison camps, and later they were forbidden to discuss the Faith. A lot of correct and good knowledge passed into the world beyond those who knew it but were afraid to even hint to their children about God. The most that believing parents and grandparents could do was sew a cross in the secret pocket of a child’s school uniform. This child, who lived up to the difficult years of the 90s, probably remembered that “Grandma was a Believer” and began to search for the Faith, but went “where it is much closer”.

Having abandoned the idea of building communism, the official authorities gave the go-ahead – “allow the Church to exist”. But the “goodness” concerned mainly those whom the pre-revolutionary official authorities recognized. The followers of the Old-Rite did not straightway manage to recover from the horrors of the Soviet years. For a long time, they were not taken seriously, being lumped together with the sects that then appeared in a huge number.

Today they talk a lot about the followers of the Old-Rite, write books about them, make films about them, and admire how they managed to preserve the ancient culture in such harsh conditions. They sympathize. But they do not rush to join. Why? Because today it is customary to rely on oneself, and not on God. Because the Domostroy today is “not humane” and does not contribute to “personal development”. Because of a long skirt, a scarf and five children are clearly not in fashion today. Because to believe means “to deny oneself, to take up your cross and follow after Christ” (Matthew 16, 24), and this is difficult. It’s easier to “keep the faith inside oneself.” But for those who have opened themselves up to the ability of God to fully exist, the Faith becomes the foundation on which it is possible to build a spiritual lifestyle, even in today’s frenetic environment.


You can’t immediately single out the follower of the Old-Rite in the crowd. Yes, men certainly have a beard, and women cover their heads with a scarf and wear long skirts. Otherwise, in everyday life, they look the same as most of their contemporaries. It is quite another thing in the Ancient-Rite church. Here you can witness fully the ancient traditions in clothing. Men are often more likely to wear traditional Russian tunics, without fail with girt with a belt around the loins, or kaftans, full-length and of dark color. The women – sundresses “to the floor” and scarves “pinned up under the chin.” Some follow these clothing traditions in secular life, but not all do and not all the time. But the core appearance of a man who truly believes is the same in the world and in the temple.


The follower of the Old-Rite is a man of prayer. His prayer life is not confined to the premises of the temple; every day begins and ends with prayer. He constantly compares his life with the Gospel commandments and tries to live tomorrow better than he lived yesterday.

The follower of the Old-Rite keeps the Fasts. What today is presented as new programs of a healthy lifestyle – diets, proper nutrition, healthy food – in Russia was necessary and natural and was expressed in the form of the Orthodox Fasts.

His world is founded on the family. He does not choose a partner in life for the next few years, but for life. He has many children because he himself grew up in a large family. He cares for parents. Not only because it was ordered back in the Old Testament to “honor his father and mother” – he simply cannot act otherwise: generation after generation in his family did the same.

The Old Believer does not indulge in alcoholism and does not smoke. Smoking was always banned, even when the whole world smoked, including the bishops who are today glorified by the Russian Orthodox Church in the fashion of holy men.

A free man is he who follows the Orthodox Old-Rite. Such is free, first of all, from the imposed stereotypes of the modern world and able to control their passions.


The followers of the Old-Rite are a phenomenon of exclusively Russian origin. However, persecution forced these Orthodox Russians to flee far beyond the borders of their homeland: to Western Europe, and even Australia and the Americas. Today, the followers of the Old-Rite are scattered around the world. They have temples in the principle large cities of Russia, as well as villages and towns where there are large communities. There are five communities of the followers of the Old-Rite in Moscow, three communities operate in St. Petersburg and two in Nizhny Novogrod. Outside of Russia, often they still live in settlements entirely of themselves – in order to maintain faith outside the homeland, you have to stay close together.

Knowledge of ancient Orthodoxy has become available to everyone in the world, thanks to the Age of Information Technology. Convinced of the veracity of the Orthodox of the Old-Rite, some communities in Uganda in 2013 and in Pakistan in 2017 were received by them.


The Old-Rite Church is represented today by two Metropolises: the Moscow Metropolitanate, whose primate is Metropolitan Kornily of Moscow and All Russia, and the Belokrinitsky Metropolitanate – the Primate being Leonty, Archbishop of Belokrinitsky and Metropolitan of all Ancient-Orthodox Christians. The center of the Moscow Metropolis is Moscow, the seat of the Moscow Metropolitan being found within the Rogozhsky cemetery park.


Metropolitans Leonty (left) and Kornily (right) after the service at the Kazan Cathedral

The Moscow Metropolitan pastors the parishes of Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, and Kazakhstan. The Belokrinitsky Metropolitan has his seat in the city of Braille (Romania). The primate of this metropolis pastors the parishes of Western Europe and the USA. The supreme governing bodies of the Church are the Consecrated Council and the Bishops’ Council.


The Church is the convocation of believers: both those on earth, and those who have already left earthly life and are in the eternal realm. The head of the Church is Christ, and the Metropolitan is the primate of the earthly Church. All his cares and concern are about those who are on the way to salvation. As to his way of life, he is a monk – a man who has renounced worldly cares and devoted his life to prayer and God. As to office, he is a bishop with the right to equip the spiritual life of many: to consecrate churches and ordain for the priesthood.

The persecution of the Old-Rite Church resulted in all its Orthodox bishops being exterminated. The last Orthodox bishop, Paul of Kolomna, was burned in 1656. The church was left without bishops, that is, without the opportunity to ordain clergy. For almost two hundred years, the liturgical life of the Church, as well as the performance of sacraments, remained possible due to the fact that priests ordained in the official Nikonian-Reformed Church repented of their deviations from Orthodoxy. The followers of the Old-Rite received such priests and accepted their service, without losing faith in the fact that someday there will be a bishop who will recognize as true the truth of Orthodoxy, as preserved by the followers of the Old-Rite. In 1846, the Metropolitan Ambrose of Bosno-Sarajevo was so accepted, and the fullness of the hierarchy in the Orthodox Old-Rite Church was restored.

Bishop, Archbishop, Metropolitan, and Patriarch are different dignities within the same sacred [episcopal] degree. All of them have equal duties and powers. The patriarch is the highest rank of honor of the bishop. The Metropolitan is one step lower in the hierarchy, the archbishop is even lower, and finally the bishop. For the Old-Rite parishes in Europe, Metropolitan Ambrose, who joined himself with the Church of the followers of the Old-Rite, ordained Metropolitan Kiril (Timofeev), and from thence has come to a succession of metropolitans in the Belaya Krinitsa Metropolis which has never ceased. For the eastern parishes, which experienced much severer oppression and attracted increased attention of the authorities, Metropolitan Kiril ordained Archbishop Anthony (Shutov). For a long time, the primate of the Russian Church was called the archbishop, until, in 1988, he was elevated to the rank of metropolitan.

There is no sense today in raising the Old Believer Metropolitan to the dignity of the patriarch in view of the small number of bishops who hold the rank of metropolitan.

It is customary to address the Metropolitan as “Your Eminence” in official matters, but in everyday life – “Vladyka”. They greet the Metropolitan, as well as other bishops, with a bow of the earth and a request “pardon for Christ’s sake”, to which the bishop, as a rule, responds with a blessing, covering one with a sign of the cross done with both hands.


“Where two or three are gathered in My name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:19-20). Mindful of these words of Christ, Christians attach particular importance to common prayer, and without fail together make any important decisions. The highest governing body of the Church is the Consecrated Council. The consecrated Council is convened by the Metropolitan once a year and discusses urgent church problems, adopting resolutions that guide the Church in her day to day life.

Participants of the Consecrated Cathedral go to the meeting room after the service

The Metropolitan, all bishops, priests, deacons, as well as the laity elected in their parishes, will certainly take part in the Council (Sobor). Questions submitted to the Council are announced in advance,  discussed at a meeting within the community, and the delegate from the community at the Council votes not guided by their personal opinion, but by the community.

The Consecrated Council in the Moscow Metropolis, as a rule, is convened in the fall after the Feast of the Protection of the Holy Virgin, and about two hundred delegates participate in it. The work of the Council begins with a supplicatory service to the Holy Trinity. Then, Metropolitan Cornelius reads out an Address to the Council together with a report on the main events in the Church over the past year. The meetings last three days, and, according to their results, Resolutions of the Consecrated Council are issued.


As needed, the Metropolitan convenes the Council of Bishops, which includes all the bishops of the Metropolitanate. Meetings of the Council of Bishops are held behind closed doors, and decisions are not always made public, since the decisions of the Council of Bishops concern priests.

The Council of Bishops selects bishops from among the candidates and submits them for approval to the Metropolitan, and makes decisions on the termination of the ministry of bishops and priests or their transfer to another place of service.


To help the Metropolitan in his compositions on the governance of the Church, the Council of the Metropolis was created. Meetings of the Council of the Metropolis are headed by the Metropolitan. The Council certainly includes all the bishops, economies and deanery of the dioceses, as well as some priests and laity who are invited to a specific meeting. To solve certain problems requiring systematic work, commissions are created for a specific issue. The Council is convened by the Metropolitan as necessary, but at least twice a year. Today, the priesthood gathers at the Council of the Metropolitanate in February, May, and September. Its decisions are adopted by open ballot and drawn up in the Decisions of the Council of the Metropolis.


The Metropolis is divided into dioceses – administrative-territorial units, which are governed by bishops. The bishop within the framework of his diocese, like the metropolitan, ordains clergy, solves other personnel issues, and consecrates churches. In a diocese where for some reason there is no bishop, the Metropolitan performs the functions of a bishop.

Unfortunately, even in our information-saturated world, few people have an accurate picture of the followers of the Old-Rite. Few people know the history of it, and few understand the essence. The Metropolitan of Moscow and All Russia Andrian said:

“What constitutes the Old-Rite Church, very many know very vaguely or in a very distorted form, and some do not know at all”

“Many people don’t know anything about the essence of the church schism of the 17th century,” notes the historian G.S. Chistyakov, “and they represent the dispute between the followers of the Old-Rite and the followers of the New-Rite as pointless discussion in the spirit of the conflict between the “Little-Endian” and “Big-Endian” in Jonathan Swift’s novel “Gulliver’s Travels”. “Theological, religious reasons for separation are considered very rare, and they try not to discuss or touch upon them at all.”

The followers of the Old-Rite are considered to be “separatists”, “who have chosen their own way” as “ritualists.” While, in fact, among the followers of the Old-Rite, Orthodoxy remained unchanged, which Russia had kept in its purity for six and a half centuries, from the time of the baptism of Russia until the reforms of Patriarch Nikon.

[1] “The ancient Christians used to make the sign of the Cross with a different configuration of the hand, that is, with only the two fingers of the hand, namely, the index finger and the middle finger, as St. Peter Damascene informs us (page 642 of Philocalia… But the custom now prevailing among Christians is for the two fingers to be conjoined with the thumb…to represent the Holy Trinity…” (Nikodemos of Mt. Athos, The Holy Rudder, footnote 2 to Canon 91 of St Basil, pg. 645 in the Greek edition, pg. 857 in the English version). In the 10th century Constantinople, whence Russia received her Baptism, in the “Order of Reception of an Armenian (Monophysite) into the Orthodox Church”, the two-fingered form appears, reflecting specific Patristic teaching. “By the signing of the holy and life-giving cross,…The holy fathers have, by their words, transmitted to us, and even to the unbelieving heretics, how the two raised fingers and the single hand reveal Christ our God in His dual nature but single substance.” (Athanasius the Great). “Hold three fingers, as equals, together, to represent the Trinity…not three gods, but one God in Trinity…Thus is the decree for these three fingers. You should hold the other two fingers slightly bent, not completely straight. This is because these represent the dual nature of Christ, divine and human… So is the bending of the fingers interpreted, for the One worshiped in Heaven comes down for our salvation. This is how you must cross yourselves and give a blessing, as the holy fathers have commanded.” (Theodoret of Cyrrhus) “The holy fathers have handed down to us the inner significance of this sign, so that we can refute heretics and unbelievers. The two fingers and single hand with which it is made represent the Lord Jesus Christ crucified, and He is thereby acknowledged to exist in two natures and one hypostasis or person.” (Peter of Damascus). Likewise, Chrysostom: “Let no man therefore be ashamed of the honored symbols of our salvation,…so let us bear about the cross of Christ…For of the salvation wrought for us, and of our common freedom, and of the goodness of our Lord, this is the sign… Since not merely by the dual fingers ought one to engrave it, but before this by the purpose of the heart with much faith. And if in this way you have marked it on your face, none of the unclean spirits will be able to stand near you, seeing the blade whereby he received his wound, seeing the sword which gave him his mortal stroke”(Homilies on St. Matthew, 54:7)

[2] Based on a 9th century instruction of Pope Leo IV for the eucharistic blessing with the three-fingered form, by the 11th century, “it seems to have been adapted popularly to the making of the sign of the cross upon oneself” (Thurston, Herbert. “Sign of the Cross.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912.) Thus, the 11th century Anglo-Saxon Abbot Aelfric of Eynsheim preaches: “With three fingers one must bless himself for the Holy Trinity” (Thorpe, “The Homilies of the Anglo-Saxon Church” I, 462). Later, Pope Innocent III, who authorized the Crusader conquest of Byzantium, establishes it in his manual On the Sacrament of the Altar: “The sign of the cross is made with three fingers, because the signing is done together with the invocation of the Trinity…” (Innocentius III, De sacro altaris mysterio, II, xlv in Patrologia Latina 217, 825C—D.)

[3] “Each individual commander designates such ensigns and gives orders that they be followed…But one who is a loyal soldier follows his own ensigns and does not recognize those of a stranger. Let us consider with some care and attention what these strange ensigns are. Christ has set His sign on the forehead of each one; the Antichrist sets his sign there also, that he may recognize his own…The devil and his servants set up their ensigns, but I did not know them because I was not a party to their deceits and I did not agree to their dominion.” (St. Ambrose of Milan, The Prayer of Job and David 7.26-7.27. Ambrose: Seven Exegetical Works, trans. Michael P. McHugh, Fathers of the Church series, vol. 65{Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1975}, 409-410).