The Stranniki (Russian for Runaways or Wanderers) are the strong Pomorsky Old Believers who rejected prayers for Tsar Peter and all government papers (identification, passports, money, etc). They would not wear clothing contrary to Old Orthodox Russia, nor eat with those of contrary Faith and Practice. Keeping themselves separate from the antichrist society they went far into the Siberian wilderness. This blog is about these people and my effort to conform my life to theirs.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Modernization As Apocalypse

“...the Beguny (escapers, fleers) or Stranniki (wanderers) determined that flight from Antichrist’s authorities and constant movement (to prevent being bogged down in the corruption of the present world) as the only possibility for salvation. The Beguny, or, to use their twentieth-century self-designation ‘Istinnio-pravoslavnye Khristiane-Stranstvuiusshchie’ (IPKhS - Truly-Orthodox Christians - Wanderers) were (and are) composed of a monastic core of wanderers supported by a network of settled supporters, who, in theory, will themselves take up the spiritual heroism of wandering when they are ready. The Stranniki avoid any contact with the personnel or accoutrements (passports, etc.) of the state power (whether Imperial or Soviet), which they identify as being that of Antichrist, and the most principled of them refuse to even touch money, since it bears the “mark of the beast” (double-eagle or sickle-and-hammer). However, it is important to note that the Beguny never made the ideological leap into true anarchism - although they denied the legitimacy of the present state power, they never reject the past ideal of the Orthodox Tsardom. The fact that this group extreme de facto anti-state thrust never took this theoretical step reveals, yet again the great vitality of the Tsarist idea in Russia.

Although small in number, the Beguny are worthy of note for several reasons. First, they were disseminators of apocalyptic ideas and interpretations, mobile missionaries of such views. They took their message not only to the settlements which they visited but also injected it into the pilgrim culture which was such a major part of Russian folk piety, thereby spreading these ideas among the most devout elements of the majority population. Also, they serve as an extreme and dramatic illustration of the alienation caused in traditional Russian society by the modernizing program of the Empire.

Another group, despairing of finding any reliable spiritual authority amidst the competing and mutually exclusive claims of various factions, took up the practice of auto-baptism (hence their name - the Samokreshchentsy, self-baptizers). One eighteenth-century Self-Baptizer gave an especially eloquent expression of the radical Old Believer theme on the defilement of the present world when he explained why he gathered rain water to carry out the sacrament on himself:

In the time of Antichrist there will be nothing clean on the earth; and therefore today not only all people, livestock and wild animals, but even the elements themselves are infected by the arrival of Antichrist. Therefore, there are no rivers, springs, or wells that have not been defiled by contact with the servants of Antichrist; the seas and lakes are full of the ships and other vessels of Antichrist; in a word, there is no water in which one could baptize oneself.

The mention of ships might be a reflection of Peter’s role in building the navy.”

Russia on the eve of modernity, p.70-1