Raskol’niki, or schismatics, was the term applied to numerous members of the clergy and people of Russia who rebelled against the ritualistic reforms introduced in mid-17th century by the Patriarch nikon. Nikon was supported by Czar Alexis in an effort to bring the ceremonial of the official church into closer conformity with the Greek usages of Constantinople and the Ukraine. The Ukrainian Rada voted allegiance to Great Russia in the year following the Nikonian reform (1654).
The famous Russian dissenters called themselves Old Ritualists or Old Believers. Their protest of 1653 was a nationalistic reaction against the introduction of foreign elements into Russian religion; it was indicative of the traditional confusion and identification of external rite (obrι[symbol omitted]d ) with the underlying dogmatic truth or faith (vera ) symbolized by the outward sign. Thus thousands of Russians were to die as zealous martyrs for the sake of form.
Background . The precise nature of the process involved is not clear, but with the passage of years since the 10th-century conversion of St. Vladimir and his Russia to the Catholicism of Byzantium with its Greek usages, a peculiarly Russian manner of external worship developed, differing in certain details from the Greek way of Constantinople. Differences may have arisen originally with the hasty translation of Greek service books in the attempt to give Russians the Faith in something like the vernacular. The existence of such "errors" in formula had been apparent previously to such churchmen as Maksim the Greek and to the Council of the Stoglav in the days of Ivan IV; but all attempts at modifying the Muscovite practices in favor of the Greek failed. Thus, in their processions during the divine liturgy, priests of the Muscovite patriarchate, unlike those of Constantinople, "marched with the sun." They differed from the Greeks in their spelling of the Savior's name, and intoned the Alleluia twice. The faithful made the sign of the cross with two fingers in honor of the two natures in Christ; the Greeks prescribed the use of three fingers to commemorate the Triune God. The churches of Muscovy were adorned by an eight-pointed cross.
Origin . In 1653, during a period of general unrest and riot following Czar Alexis' legal codification (Ulozhenie of 1649), which made serfdom the law of the land, the Patriarch Nikon issued a pastoral letter decreeing that henceforth Greek usages alone would be permitted in the state Orthodox Church. Many of the minor clergy and their people looked upon the reform as an innovation that violated Moscow's stand on the union reached at the Council of florence. To them it represented a corruption of the Greek faith, and was contrary to the tradition of Moscow as the Third Rome. The reform seemed also to undermine the position of Moscow as an independent patriarchate. The Nikonian reforms were confirmed three times by the Church Sobor (synod) in Moscow. Opponents of the liturgical changes were anathematized as schismatics (Raskol’niki ) in 1666. Bishop Paul of Kolomna was degraded; Neronov, Loggin, Danilo, the Archpriest avvakum, and others were exiled, tortured, and martyred for their recalcitrance.
History . The Russian government continued its oppressive measures against the dissenters until 1900. In the 17th century alone, more than 20,000 Old Ritualists voluntarily surrendered, or burned or buried themselves alive as fanatic martyrs for the sake of form. From the standpoint of political ideology Russia's Raskol’niki have constituted a nationalistic conservative group traditionally hostile to officialdom, government, and the established Church. The opposition of these right-wing revolutionaries to the czar at the time of the break was based not on the czar's assumption of ecclesiastical power at the downfall of Nikon (1666), but rather on the ruler's acquiescence in the abolition of old Russian ceremonials, his betrayal of a Russian national tradition.
Among these revolutionary Old Believer schismatics numerous offshoots and strange religious aberrations developed, and a number of Russian sects evolved: Popovtsy, Bezpopovtsy, Khlysty, Skoptsy, Molokane, Dukhobortsy, etc. In 1917, between 20 and 25 million Old Believers of one variety or another existed in Russia.
Bibliography: p. pascal, Avvakum et les débuts du raskol (new ed. The Hague-Paris 1964). s. bolshakoff, Russian Nonconformity (Philadelphia 1950). v. pleyer, Das russische Altgläubigentum (Munich 1961). p. hauptmann, Altrussische Glaube (Göttingen 1963); Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 8:993–995. j. ledit, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables générales 1951) 14.1:292–304.
[f. l. fadner]