Avvakum – Archpriest leader of the Old Believers

The Burning at the Stake of Archpriest Avvakum

The Burning at the Stake of Archpriest Avvakum

Archpriest Avvakum, was one of the most influential of the Old Believers movement which was started in opposition to the reforms of Patriarch Nikon between the years 1652-66. Avvakum believed that the changes were abominations in the eyes of God and would not agree to them. The following of the old ways continues to present day where there is an estimated 2 million followers in Russia.

The schism, known as the raskol (which means cleaving apart) caused great consternation within the Church and Russia. The reforms were caused by findings that the Russian Orthodox rituals and writings had deviated from the Greek Church over the centuries. It was thought that the changes were due to poor transcription and translation from the original Greek.

Patriarch Nikon had full support from Tsar Alexis I (Episode 25) who called a synod (meeting of the church hierarchy). It was agreed that major deviations occurred which led to an over 400 page report making the changes law of the church. Many church goers refused to follow the changes. Many fled Russia and headed to the north and east. Those that remained were harassed and persecuted. The leaders were arrested and sent to exile in Siberia.

Avvakum was imprisoned countless times for the rest of his life after first opposing the changes. He began to write an autobiography which has been reprinted and translated numerous times over the centuries. His final 14 years were spent in a sunken, log-framed hit in the ground in the town of Pustozyorsk which was above the Arctic Circle before he burned at the stake.

Over the years, the Old Believers were persecuted. Peter the Great double taxed them for refusing to shave their beards. Nicholas I viewed them as a threat to his rule and harassed them mercilessly.

About Mark Schauss

Hi, I'm Mark Schauss and I an internationally known lecturer on environmental and nutritional health issues having spoken in North America, Asia, South America, Europe and soon in Australia. I also have a deep interest in history, especially Russian history because of my heritage through my mother's side of the family. Another large influence on my love of Russian History is my college professor the late Dr. Paul Avrich. His classes were always full and his passion for history was amazing. I wish he could have found out about my podcast before he passed away.

One Response to Avvakum – Archpriest leader of the Old Believers

  1. Pat H December 2, 2012 at 6:26 am #

    If I understand the Old Believers correctly, and I very may well not, I’ve never been able to grasp quite how this story played out, theologically.

    The Orthodox view is that they are an Apostolic Church, with a line is succession stemming form the original Apostles, a view of them shared by the Catholic Church, with of course the split between the Catholics and the Orthodox coming from, principally, their view of the authority of the Bishop of Rome. Taking that to this dispute, the Old Believers took the position (invalidly in my view) that the reforms of this period were not authentic, and therefore invalid. But, if they went into schism in the name of retaining an authentic Apostolic position, they oddly damaged it by not retaining any line of Apostolic succession, which is unique for schisms of this type. That is, if I understand it correctly, they failed to consecrate Bishops, and therefore cannot consecrate Priests, and therefore they soon had no sacraments at all.

    Am I correct?

    If so, that’ seems to be a particularly odd thing to do, particularly as their original goal was to retain what they viewed as authentic (although, again, I think they may have failed to grasp what the reforms were seeking to do, which seem to have had the same goal).

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