In the Nicene creed, the basic statement of Christian belief , we declare that we believe 'in one, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.'
Indeed, the Lord Jesus Himself told
His disciples that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church.
The Holy Church was confirmed by the outpouring
of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
Strengthened by this Divine Grace, the apostles
fulfilled the Lord's command, preaching the Holy Gospel to the nations and baptising them in the name of the Father, and of
the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
By the Grace of God, generations of Christians have
coninued this work and two of them, the Holy Equals of the Apostles Kyrill and Methodius preached the Holy Faith in the Slavic
lands. Their own disciples continued this work of evangelisation, but it was not until 988 that the Christian faith was recognised
in Kievan Russia. In this year following the example of his grandmother St Olga, Vladimir the Great, Great Prince of Kiev
received Holy Baptism, followed by his subjects. Thus begins the flowering of the faith in Holy Russia.
In the mid 11th century the western papacy fell
away from the unity of the Catholic and Apostolic Church, which would now be called Orthodox (right believing). Yet,
the Eastern Roman Empire, centred in Constantinople, continued to preserve True Chritianity. Kievan Russia was part
of this family of Christian nations, preserving the Holy Orthodox expression of the Catholic and Apostolic faith of Christ's
Throughout occupation and overlordship by pagans,
then Muslims, Russia clung to the Orthodox faith.
Through the attempted invasion of Russia by the
Teutonic knights and Swedes , Russia preserved the faith, defending the Church from her enemies.
The piety and sanctity of Russia was ingrained in
the daily lives of Orthodox Christians. When the unity of the Church was attacked in the 17th century many people chose the
path of persecution and martyrdom in defence of this Old Orthodoxy - the faith of Holy Russia.
So, Old Orthodoxy, the Christianity
of the Old Believers, was not a new phenomenon that arose in the 17th century, but a continuation of the original Orthodox
faith of Holy Russia.
When Patriarch Nikon and his reformers
rejected the beautiful piety and tradition which had shaped Russian Orthodoxy from its very beginnings, the Old Orthodox,
known by the state as Old Believers, zealously defended the living faith that their forebears had received from Byzantium
at the end of the 10th century.
After the horrors and insecurity of
the 'Time of the Troubles' following the reign of Ivan the Terrible, God-fearing men and women sought to re-instil the Christian
ethos in the life of the nation. A group of churchmen, known as the 'Zealots of Piety' sought to purify the Church and the
religious life of the nation, making the Gospel the inspiration and guiding factor in all peoples' lives. They sought a Christian
renaissance after the troubles, looking for a return to a pure Orthodox faith. Orthodox Christianity had tranformed a collection
of pagan tribes into a Christian civilisation. In this Christian civilisation signs and symbols of the faith could be seen
everywhere, in both the towns and countryside alike - the crosses on the domes and cupolas of Churches across the land, in
the icons that dominated every aspect of life, in the words of the Holy Liturgy, in the spiritual songs of the people, in
the calendar which wove everyday life and the feasts of the Church together, and above all in the words of the Gospel.
There was no need to invent anything
in this revival of the Orthodox Christian Faith. Zealots such as St Avvakum looked back to the Ancient Piety as the force
which could resurrect Holy Russia. Native Christianity had matured and could tranform the lives of the people as it had transformed
the lives of their ancestors and of the nation.
Some of the main figures amongst
the 'Zealots of Piety' were to be the first leaders of the Old Orthodox believers who refused to renounce the traditional
Russian Orthodox ways of worship and living. They deeply loved and valued the path to God which is represented by
True Russian Orthodox spirituality. They looked back and recognised the uniqueness of Russian Christianity and its spiritual
tradition. Men such as our holy father St Avvakum, burnt alive at Pustozersk for his defence of our faith were men of the people, devout clerics and monastics who took
on the prophetic mantle, giving their lives for all that they held sacred. Our holy father Pavel, bishop of Kolomna
questioned the reforms, was banished and according to Old Believer history was also burned. Our holy mother the nun Feodosia,
in the world the Boyarina Feodora Morozova, was tortured for the faith and died as a result. Both rich and
poor, high and low suffered at the hands of the state and the the state Church in their defense of traditional Russian Orthodoxy.
|Holy Martyr Pavel of Kolomna, pray to God for us.
They didn't need to impose alien ways on the people, or bask in Greek
splendour to feel Orthodox. Their faith had been confirmed by centuries of God-pleasing men and women, glorified by God as
saints. A faith and piety that had produced such exemplary lives could not be faulty and erroneous, as the persecutors of
the Old Orthodox/Old Believers were to claim after the schism. However, not all of Zealots of Piety were of the same mind.
One of the zealots, Metropolitan Nikon
of Novgorod was elected Patriarch, and the root of the schism - lasting to this day - lay in his obsession with things Greek,
his desiring to be in complete liturgical harmony with the Greeks and his turning away from the traditional Russian expression
Taking the attitude that all that was
Greek was right, Nikon replaced venerable Russian traditions with those of the Greek Church, not understanding that greek
liturgical life had changed since the introduction of Christianity in Kievan Rus in the 10th century and that some of the
'authentic' Greek practices which he introduced were very recent innovations. He obsessively questioned foreign hierarchs
about insignificant details, showing paranoia about every detail of liturgical life and piety that made the Russians different
from the Greeks.
Many Russian believers rejected the
changes imposed by Nikon. Their ceremonies had been hallowed by centuries of use, reflecteing apostolic tradition and the
faith brought to Kiev centuries before. Their texts, though conataining some errors, preserved ancient Byzantine piety and
tradition, unlike the modern Greek books. The sign of the cross with two fingers was a beautiful dogmatic statement in which
the fingers representing and proclaiming Christ - the God-man - make the sign of the cross of our salvation. Why should they
suddenly make their Orthodoxy unrecognisable because of the rantings of a tyrant who sort to reinvent even the nature of the
The result of the witness of the first Old Believers was a new age of persecution.
Believers were tortured, mutilated, burned, frozen buried alive, drowned and subjected to horrible torture and death. At the
head of the persecutors of the people of God was a Romanov Tsar, a man whose descendents would continue to persecute the Old
Orthodox Christians until they too met a bloody and violent end.
The Old Ritualists faced difficulty as those clergy ordained before the
schism died out. The Holy Bishop Pavel of Kolomna died and the of the bishops faithful to the old piety, none were left. Many
Old Believers accepted priests from the state Church. They came of their own volition, read the confession of belief and were
annointed with the holy myron consecrated before the schism. This was the outward sign of their acceptance of Old Orthodoxy.
Other Old Believers rejected this and went into a priestless existence, at first intensly monastic, but later divided by the
propblem of marriage in a world without clergy. Although these believers were plunged into schism after schism and gave rise
to some unorthodox groups, there were nevertheless many very holy men and women amongst them. The Vyg monastery in the Olonets
region was a great beacon of faith, culture and learning - an embodiment of Old Russian Orthodox monasticism. Men such as
the Denisov brothers were spiritual giants who left an enduring mark on Old Russian Orthodoxy.
|Hierarch of Christ Amvrosii, pray to God for us.
For the majority of the priestly Old Believers
the life of the Church was 'regularised' when Bishop Amvrosii of Sarajevo embraced Old Rite Orthodoxy in 1846. The Belokrinitsa concord, named after the bishops residence and monastery in Austrian
Bukovina, was born. The successor of Bishop Amvrosii is His Beatitude, Metropolitan Leontii of Belayakrinitsa. The present
head of the Russian Metropolia is His Beatitude, Metropolitan Kornilii of Moscow and All Russia.
The regularisation of Church life by Bishop
Amvrosii was controversial, since the holy canons of the Church ordinarily require a minimum of two bishops to perform
valid consecrations. Because this rule could not be kept, some of the priestly Old Believers were unsure of the validity of Metropolitan
Amvrosii's actions. They preferred to be cautious and continue to rely on the ministrations of clergy who, having left the
New-Rite State Church embraced Old Orthodoxy, affirming their loyalty to the Tradition of Holy Russia through annointing
with chrism consecrated before the tragedy of the schism.
|His Eminence, Archbishop Nicholas of Saratov.
These Old Rite Christians were able to establish a hierarchy when
two former bishops of the state Church accepted the Old Belief in the wake of the Russian Revolution.
Archbishop Nicholas of Saratov was unable to accept the directions
taken by the state Church after the 1923 sobor (council), and after negotiations was accepted into the Old Orthodox Church
in his dignity of archbishop, through confession of faith and annointing with the Holy Chrism consecrated by Patriarch Joseph,
before the schism.
This took place in the Church of st Demetrius in Saratov, on November
4th 1923. He reposed in the Lord on September 1st 1934 and was buried in Moscow's Rogozhsky cemetry.
His succesor, Archbishop Stefan, was also accepted into Old Orthodoxy
from the state Church, but had an Old Believer upbringing among the edinovertsy Old Ritualists (the Old Rite Christians who
had submitted to the state Church) in Ekaterinburg, where he was born
Having joined the state Church, he was ordained to the priesthood in
the 1920's and was consecrated bishop by the non-commemorator bishop of Buguruslansk on September 16th 1939. This bishop belonged
to the edinovertsy.
He was accepted into the Old Orthodox Church by Archbishop Nicholas,
thereby securing the canonical conditions for a restored episcopate through the consecration of future bishops.
Bishop Stefan was arrested by the God-hating Soviets and died in prison in 1937.
|Patriarch Alexander, First-Hierarch of the Russian Old Orthodox Church
The present first hierarch of the Russian
Old Orthodox Church is His Holiness, Patriarch Alexander of Moscow, Novozybkov and All Russia. He is assisted by Their Graces,
Bishop Joseph of Gomel and All Ukraine, Bishop Barnabas of Belebeev and All Bashkiria, Bishop Lev of Kursk and Samara and
Bishop German of Perm and Solikamsk. There are parishes, not only in the CIS, but also in Rumania.
Other Old Rite Orthodox Christians have chosen to preserve their rites
and Tradition whilst belonging to New Rite bishops. This 'edinoverie' relationship shows a change of understanding during
the centuries since the tragedy of the Russian schism.
The acceptance of St Amvrosii as a valid Orthodox bishop by the Belakrinitsa
Old Believers implied the existence of valid episcopal and priestly orders outside the fold of Old Orthodoxy, even of the
position of New Rite clergy was irregular and needed regularising by the anointing with the ancient chrism. The same implications
are evident in the action of the Novozybkov Old Believers in their acceptance of Archbishops Nicholas and Stefan. The same
recognition led to the creation of the 'edinovrie' or united faith parishes, by which Old Believers - through necessity -
accepted the ministrations of bishops of the state Church. Since there was no episcopate within the Old Belief, it was necessary
to accept episcopacy from 'outside'.
Old Believers have been united to the Moscow Patriarchate since 1800. The
Nekrasov cossacks who left tsarist Russia and settled in Turkey were served by Old Rite clergy provided by the Ecumenical
Patriarchate and there is an Old Rite vicariate within the Russian Church Abroad, served by His Grace, Bishop John of Caracas.
|His Beatitude, Metropolitan Kornilii of Moscow and All Rus'
Russian Old Rite Orthodox Church, (Belokrinitsa
Official site of the Metropolia of Moscow and All Russia
Old Orthodox Church (Novozybkov Old Believers)