Old Believers - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Practitioners. Among Priestly Old Believers, an ordained priest is the primary religious practitioner; Priestless communities elect a preceptor ( nastavnik ) to lead their services. The Soviet government did not permit Old Believer communities to open seminaries or academies to train their religious leaders, but some groups (especially the Wanderers) founded underground schools to teach pastors and missionaries. Before the Revolution, Old Believer missionaries were in contact with the Tatars of western Siberia and the Finno-Ugric peoples, especially the Cheremis and the Mordva.

Ceremonies. Priestly Old Believers continue to observe the liturgy of the pre-Nikonian Orthodox church. Priestless Old Believers, on the other hand, celebrate as much of the old service as they can; because they have no priests, they simply omit those parts of the Orthodox liturgy that the priest must recite.

Old Believers observe the twelve traditional feast days and the four annual fasts of the Orthodox church. Outside the church, they celebrate the Christmas holidays (24 December-6 January) and Butter Week (which precedes Lent) with folk dances, organized fistfights, and elaborate costumes.

Arts. Old Believers have for centuries copied and recopied religious manuscripts that predate the Nikonian reforms and record their own history. They also have preserved a rich oral tradition of songs and folklore as well as valuable icons and other religious objects manufactured before 1653.

Medicine. Most Old Believers have access to modern medicine but may choose instead to consult a folk practitioner. Many groups maintain a rich oral tradition that includes information about medicinal herbs as well as charms and prayers designed to ward off or heal disease.

Death and Afterlife. Old Believers have traditionally held that only those who accepted their faith could enter heaven after death. Old Believers express their continuing kinship with the dead on Pentecost, when they eat a meal of eggs on the graves of their ancestors. They also revere the graves of those coreligionists they consider to have led particularly holy lives.

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