Vsevolod Chaplin: ''Old Believers can enchant — I think they have enchanted Putin as well''

The new life of the old belief? The column of Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin about Old Believers and the precipitate Nikon reforms

President of Russia Vladimir Putin has recently visited Metropolitan Korniliy, Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church bishop. In media, this seemingly ordinary meeting with the representative of the traditional denomination has received an incredible coverage. The case with a dove at the residence of the priest became an Internet meme. A columnist of Realnoe Vremya Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin said that Old Believers for the representatives of the liberal intelligentsia, who pay close attention to this confession, are not allies. In the newspaper column, written for our newspaper, he shares his thoughts how in contemporary conditions the Moscow Patriarchate and the society should build relations with the Orthodox brothers, with whom they separated several centuries ago.

New Edinovertsy

The recent visit of President Putin of the Old Believers' center in Rogozhskaya Sloboda for several days has attracted media attention to the Old Believers, triggering talks of expanding the prospects of this religious community, which is quite numerous by the way. There are about a million of nominal believers of different persuasions and consents in the country, out of the country — a quarter of them. Active members of the old believer communities are unlikely to be more than a few tens of thousands, but there are undoubtedly growth reserves. Especially that among the current old believers, especially in the cities, at least a third refers not to the hereditary members of this community but to young converts. Among old believer intellectuals they are, I think, the majority.

In the Russian Orthodox Church, there are also many parishes that use the ''old'' rite, and their appearance has become a post-Soviet phenomenon that involves almost exclusively the urban intelligentsia. Yes, the Edinoverie — praying according to pre-Nikonian rite in the ''Nikon'' Church — existed even in the 18th-19th centuries, when some of the Old Believers reunited with the dominant Church. However, by the last years of the Soviet power, it almost completely disappeared: I remember how in the only for all Moscow Edinoverie church in Rogozhskaya Sloboda they used the same rite as the rest ''Nikon'' parishes.

''Old Believers can enchant, and I think, they have enchanted the president as well. Similarly, in my eyes atheists, Jews and Protestants were also charmed. Because the severity of manners and firmness in faith is always more attractive than liberal relativism.'' Photo: kremlin.ru

Today's Edinovertsy are completely new people, who twenty or thirty years ago were usual ''Nikonians'', if not atheists or agnostics. For example, in Edinoverie, or even to the Old Believers there came many supporters of the famous philosopher Alexander Dugin; he himself prays according to the old rite, in the temple of Edinoverie of suburban Mikhaylovskaya Sloboda. The community of the Moscow Church of St. Nicholas in Bersenevka also uses pre-Nikon rite and is also not composed of ''hereditary old believers''.

Why have the Old Believers enchanted Putin?

What is the attractive force of the old rite and associated with it lifestyle? Is it a ''protest'', which the liberal society relies on, suddenly showed interest in ''Old Believers''? No, absolutely not. People are looking for something opposite to lightweight protests, especially left and liberal ones. The lifestyle of the Old Believers is extremely strict that excludes immorality and harmful habits, supposing the women wearing a headscarf (even at home), and men — a beard, the rejection of technological innovations in the temples, and most importantly, the conviction that the Kingdom of God can be achieved only by the followers of the true faith, even if the entire planet there are only a couple thousand or even a couple of hundred people. The Old Believers can enchant, and I think, they have enchanted the president as well.

Similarly, in my eyes atheists, Jews and Protestants were also charmed. Because the severity of manners and firmness in faith is always more attractive than liberal relativism, which in reality is almost always a simple apathy, essentially excluding the true faith and the true God. People see that behind the kaftans, beads-lestovkas, znamenny chant and wax candles in a huge panikadilo there is something much more: it is the belief and willingness ''not to knuckle under the changeable world''.

Therefore, the liberals can hardly count on the Old Believers as a ''support'' against the Church of the majority. The Old Believers are traditionalists and statists. With their rejection of the Royal power, which pursued them two and a half centuries, they do not welcome the power of global centres, identifying them with the forerunners of the Antichrist. Moreover, the Old Believers remember everything all related to them historical mistakes, for example, the fact that the Bolsheviks, financially supported by their fellow Savva Morozov, soon began to exterminate them and destroyed them almost completely.

So, the president met not with ''the secret hope of the liberals'' but with the traditionalist part of the society.'' Photo: kremlin.ru

One should not rely on the Old Believers as the model of modesty in relation to the ''ordinary'' Orthodox hierarchy. The adherents of the ''old godliness'' just had no money. Today, the clothing and life of the higher clergy is also great — as it should be in the Orthodox tradition, where the best was always given to the temple and the priest. In an old building in Preobrazhenka, returned to the Old Believers, prayer house is adjacent to the business offices, a secular TV station, and a dining room — and nothing sinful in that is not seen (although in the past the Old Believers could not eat near the followers of another faiths, and they threw away the used dishes as ''unclean'').

So, the president met not with ''the secret hope of the liberals'' but with the traditionalist part of the society. One of the main old believer intellectuals, Aleksandr Antonov, after a meeting even explained: ''Our Church has always prayed for the Imperial power, and even fort he power in the Soviet era. Not for the Communist and atheistic ideas, just for the mere principle of power. The Lord gave the power to maintain stability and order in the world, otherwise everything falls apart.''

Having drawn attention to the gift of the president — the pre-Nikon edition of the life of Saint Nicholas, a conservative writer Vladimir Semenko even writes: ''In response to the ecumenic propaganda, openly attracting the great Saint and Wonderworker in its allies, the president stresses his respect for that most typical zealot in the history of the Russian Church (Archpriest Avvakum — editor's note) and clearly demonstrates that the veneration of Saint Nicholas (in Rus', he was venerated more than all the saints) is not the exclusive prerogative of the ecumenists and Church reformers.''

To recognize Patriarch Nikon's reforms hasty and drastic

The Moscow Patriarchate has long noticed that far not the worst people go in Edinoverie and sometimes even in the Old Believers. They see it and do not prevent the extension in the ''usual'' Orthodox parishes the rites of the Znamenny chant and even the use of an ancient charter in its all force, especially as the 1971 meeting of the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church recognized this ritual is equal to the current. Sometimes there are quite fresh ideas about a greater degree of recognition of the Church of the Old Believers. So, an Orthodox social activist Leonid Sevastyanov, a native of the old believers' environment, believes that the Moscow Patriarchate should recognize the Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church ''its part, even if between them there is no canonical communion. They just need to say it and to build not the traditional form of canonical communion, and to seek new forms.'' Anyway, in relation to some other old believers consents there is less enthusiasm.

''In order to win the sympathy of the old believers, more drastic steps could be done, for example, abandoning the ''new rite'', to acknowledge hasty and too drastic liturgical reforms of Patriarch Nikon and refrain in the future from any such reforms.'' Photo: augustborg.ru (Portrait of Patriarch Nikon with the brotherhood of the Aascension monastery. The beginning of the 1660s)

So, the Russian Old Orthodox Church is not particularly welcomed in view of the fact that its head refers to himself as the Patriarch (the head of the Russian Old-Rite Church Metropolitan Korniliy, in contrast, doesn't wear his white hood similar to ''Patriarchal'', during state receptions, where Patriarch Kirill participates). Bezpopovtsy, in their turn, who also do not have sacraments (and without them, according to the Orthodox teaching, salvation is impossible), can hardly be considered part of the true Church.

Anyway, in order to win the sympathy of the Old Believers, more drastic steps could be done, for example, abandoning the ''new rite'', to acknowledge liturgical reforms of Patriarch Nikon hasty and too drastic and refrain in the future from any such reforms, for which there are no reasons in the Orthodox faith by definition (except such a desire of half-believing critics to simplify and modernize ''to please the modern person'')…

However, the problem is that the Old Believers believers do not seek to unite with anyone. They also do not do missionary work – it is enough for them of those who come themselves, mostly from the ''Nikon'' Church. What is more, these people are not accepted straightway. Even among the denominations, there is no agreement.

The most that we will probably be able to see in our lifetime — it is a certain general old rite coordinating body for issues of relations with the state, public and cultural work. Perhaps, it will appear after scheduled for 2018 World Old Rite Forum. But no matter how successful the forum is, the Old Believers will surely prove themselves faithful — theological differences and the idea of fidelity to the only truth for them is much more important than practical use and formal relationships even in the old believer world.

Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin