Old Believers - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. An Old Believer considers Eastern Orthodox Christianity as expressed in the enculturated Russian Old Rite to be the true religion. It is a solemn obligation for a man and his family to preserve the faith as they await the end of the earth. Those who practice other religions, other rites, or other versions of the Old Rite must be avoided as ritually unclean. One cannot eat or drink from the same bowl or cup with unclean outsiders or pray with them. Services approximate the Orthodox monastic schedule. The faithful abstain from all animal products, including milk and eggs, usually every Wednesday and Friday and during long fasts throughout the year before the holidays of Christmas, Easter, Peter and Paul, and the Dormition of the Holy Mother. No celebrations or entertainments are permitted during fasting periods. Old Believers shun tobacco and may not drink tea, coffee, or any hard liquor. Instead, they make their own braga, either from bread or from fruit and berries. Men wear their hair shorn, but their beards untrimmed. Women do not cut their hair, and after marriage, they bind and cover it. Many of the Oregon kin groups prefer to wear the old-style Russian clothing: tunic shirt for men and shirt with sarafan jumper for women, both with a mandatory woven belt. Men don black prayer robes for services.

Ceremonies. The Orthodox church calendar requires frequent holidays, some major, some minor. These are celebrated at early morning services (from 2 to 8 A.M.). Later in the afternoon of the holiday, family and friends pay social visits to other in union friends. Christmas and Easter are celebrated in this manner for an entire week after the actual holiday. Baptism occurs within the first eight days of life, with the lay leader and the chosen godparent administering. Marriages are blessed in the prayer hall or church and celebrated for two to three days at the home of the groom's parents. The bride's trousseau and dowry trunk contains embroidery and woven presents for the new family, as well as embroidery decorations for the in-laws' living room of her new home.

Arts. For their own purposes, Old Believers have often had to copy church books, paint icons on wood, or cast metal icons. These activities are performed in a posture of prayer. For domestic decoration, men are skilled at carving and women at weaving and embroidery.

Medicine. Old Believers prefer to receive care in the following hierarchy: herb medicines and the healing touch of one of their own who is thought to have special competence; a chiropractor; and last, a physician with medicines. Old Believer midwives attend at the majority of births with complicated births referred to a hospital.

Death and Afterlife . Burial services occur within a day after death, attended by the congregation and all who wish to say farewell. The burial is followed by a funeral dinner at the home of the family which has been prepared by the kinfolk. Upon departing, each guest is given a gift ( milostinya ) with a request to pray for the salvation of the deceased. Characteristically, memorial services are held again on the third day after death, the ninth day, the fortieth day, and the year anniversary. The first forty days after death are considered a time of intense prayer in behalf of the deceased. It is on the fortieth day that they believe the soul is given final judgment and, if deserving, enters into heaven.


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