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 16, 2009

World Renouncers Reject Technology

[There are] “...estimates of Old Believer membership at...20 million in 1922, ...Bespopvotsy...far outnumbered Popovotsy...”

“The Pomortsy are the most worldly and accommodative to political power among the Bespopovtsy.”

“There is disagreement among Soviet writers as to whether the Stranniki and True Orthodox Christian Wanderers [Bieguni, Beguny] are just two different names for the one group, or whether they are two distinctly different groups.”

“Stranniki divided into ‘worldly’ and ‘true’ Wanderers. While the ‘true’ Stranniki completely broke with the world and led an ascetic and devout wandering life, the ‘worldly’ group stayed in society providing sustenance, shelter and permanent organization for their wandering brethren and vowing to become ‘true’ Wanderers at a later stage in their lives. Naturally only the ‘true’ Stranniki were a spiritual elite, keeping themselves ‘clean’ from the corrupting influence of the world in which Antichrist ruled. Some Stranniki perceived Antichrist in concrete terms, seeing the Tsars, especially Peter the Great, as impersonation of him. Others thought of Antichrist as a spiritual force, an unclean power, permeating all aspects of worldly society. In the years after the Revolution, they were only called Stranniki and were mainly of the ‘worldly’ kind. They maintained their traditional dogma, equating Antichrist now with Soviet power. In the 1920s, the ‘true’ Stranniki became prominent by gaining recruits from among those opposing the new political regime, especially during the collectivization period... They have cut themselves off completely from economic, social and cultural life of Soviet society. Their settlements are connected with the outside world only by narrow footpaths through the taiga. They maintain themselves by a combination of gathering and cottage industry and gardening. In the old communities of the ‘worldly’ Stranniki, minorities withdrew into hermitage and became known as Mirootrechniki (Engl. World Renouncers).

In the postwar years groups with the same characteristics appeared under the name True Orthodox Christian Wanderers. The differences between the two branches of Old Belief, if the one available description of a group of True Orthodox Christian Wanders is, as its author implies, typical of the other, are of the following kind. While the ‘true’ Stranniki cut themselves off from civilized society, both physically and spiritually, by withdrawing into the natural wilderness, the True Orthodox Chhristians Wanderers stayed in the inhabited world but withdrew from spiritual contact with it into artificially constructed hideouts...”

“The political disloyalty of the Stranniki today appears to be a frozen gesture and does not manifest itself in any spontaneous expressions of political hostility. The continuation of their isolation is more the maintenance of an old tradition than a gesture based on strong political sentiment. As most of them have had no contact with Soviet society since the early twenties they no longer know the enemy they are continuing to fight. The suggestion by one author, that their intransigent stance no longer expresses a social protest, therefore carries conviction.

The True Orthodox Christian Wanderers, however, are a different case. Unlike the Stranniki they know the society and political order they are fighting, and their equation of Soviet power with Antichrist is based on strong sentiments which periodically find expression in anti-Soviet actions. The schools for young sectarians not only foster a nostalgia for Tsarist Russia and a hate of Soviet society but also acquaint students with practical details about the present social order so that they are better equipped to fight it. Thus the syllabus of the Yani-Yul school contained lessons of Marxism and the Communist Party. A search of the hideout of one group of True Orthodox Christian Wanderers produced much anti-Soviet material...”

“There is an uncanny similarity between the political hostility of the sect of True Orthodox Christians and the Old Believer branches of Stranniki and, even more so, of the True Orthodox Christian Wanderers...

[There isn’t] “any significant difference in socieal characteristics between Bespopovtsy of the larger branches and Popovtsy... It is also true to say, as many Soviet writers do, that Old Believers do not differ much socially from the Orthodox. Like Orthodox, Old Believers are predominantly elderly and old, female and poorly educated, but the proportion of members over 50 years of age and of women is consistently a little lower among Old Believers, particularly among the Baltic Old Believers. This difference also comes out in the representation of the sexes on the church council: a far higher percentage of male Old believers than Orthodox men are involved in church administration. As among Orthodox, younger people (under 40 years of age) are said to be extremely rare in Old Believer congregations...”

“...Old Belief is now based on family life and Old Believer families are very patriarchal and strict...

Among Stranniki and True Orthodox Christian Wanderers a different picture prevails. Unfortunately no systematic data have been collected on members of either branch but the qualitative information on their communities are based on family units and that members are totally insulated from the secularizing effect of Soviet society must mean that the social composition of these groups roughly corresponds to that of society at large in terms of sex and age. All we can say about social characteristics of True Orthodox Christian Wanderers is what we know about members of one group which has been studied. Of the eight people mentioned, all, except the regional leader who was middle-aged, were very young people. The group consisted of a young student from a technical college, a young woman with technical education, three schoolgirls, and two you skilled workers, one of them being the ‘benefactor.’ Thus the group differs entirely from other Old Believers groups, but whether it is typical is difficult to know. The fact that the sect has organized several schools expressly to equip young people for proselytizing work indicates that there must be a fair number of young people in the sect...”

“Individual beliefs [of Old Believers] correspond more to the official religious system than is common among Orthodox, and they are less vague and uncertain. Old Believers are more likely to adhere to literal interpretation of the Bible and primitively concrete ideological notions...

...It is generally implied in the Soviet sociological literature that saliency of belief is stronger among Old Believers than among Orthodox [Church members]...

...The lack of dependence on professional spiritual leaders and fixed houses of worship among the Bespopovtsy has rendered them flexible and less vulnerable to the impact of anti-religious ideas than has been possible in the ‘church’-type organizations [Popovotsy]...

...belief has both more width and more depth among Bespopovtsy than Popovtsy... Among the Bespopovtsy there is a distinct continuum in these two respects from the large Pomortsy branch upward to the small branches of the Stranniki and True Orthodox Christian Wanderers. Among the latter, the old eschatological notions have been maintained with almost undiminished force, and interpretations of dogma have, in increasingly losing authority among believers. It is also indicative of truly ‘religious’ motivations for these acts rather than of a yielding to pressure from religious leaders or to a desire for a ‘beautiful occasion’.”

“ unbaptised child is at the mercy of Antichrist...”

“...Among the Stranniki and True Orthodox Christian Wanderers there is no strict division between public and private worship and the hours devoted to worship in general are high among both. Thus, among the Siberian Stranniki discovered in the taiga in 1965, the peasant log hut was both a homestead and a church and every hermit both a priest and a worshipper. On ordinary days these sectarians would spend up to ten out of twenty-four hours on prayer services and on holidays, even more. The members of the Alma-Ata group of True Orthodox Christian Wanderers spent virtually all their time on religious matters leaving even the housework mainly to their ‘benefactor’.”

“...Old Believers have always considered fast a necessary means for the attainment of salvation, and fast has been understood widely as a time ‘during which the soul renews itself, is raised or even prepared for its heavenly domicile’. It thus means a lot more than the mere abstinence from food and refers to a total spiritual state. Prayer is an integral part of fasting. Prayer among Old Believers is carried out according to set rules and occupies a great deal of their time. Those who pray regularly spend up to five out of every twenty-four hours in prayer. The World Renouncers prayed up to eight hours per day.

...[Fasting] among the True Orthodox Christian Wanderers in the Alma-Ata group was consistently observed, or probably carried even further than Old Believer faith prescribes. Members lived extremely ascetically, eating fast-type food regularly or often going without any food at all. Extra fasting was also imposed as punishment for transgressions. Information about Old Believers’ attitude toward icons is rarely offered in the literature, and it is not even clear whether all branches venerate icons. One study of the ‘Family’ Old Believers in two villages of the Zabaikal area showed that nearly all houses had icons and eight-ended crosses.”

“The religious practice of Old Believers is most clearly distinguished from that of adherents of other Christian faiths by the inclusion of ‘avoidance’ ritual. The great courage, spiritual steadfastness and close community of Old Believers developed during the centuries of fierce persecution by state and church fostered in them a sense of being a spiritual elite which must set itself apart from the world where Antichrist rules. To safeguard their exclusivity and to avoid any contamination from contact with the world which would prejudice their chances of salvation they established avoidance ritual. This permeates the everyday life of believers and regulates their relation with heretics and their world. Avoidance ritual flows from the complex of anti-Christological beliefs prominent in Old Believer ideology, especially that of Bespopovtsy.

According to these notions, all those who have not adopted Old belief live in a world ruled by the spirit o Antichrist. The rule of Antichrist began, of course, with the Nikonian reforms in 1666. Not only people are considered spiritually unclean but, by association, all material good, practices and institutions adopted since the rule of Antichrist are also thought to be polluted in this way. Like adherents of many primitive religions, Old Believers therefore have traditionally distinguished between people and life-style which are spiritually pure and those which are unclean, and they have to avoid ritual pollution...

Traditional Old Believer avoidance ritual may be separated into those practices regulating contact with heretics themselves and those taboos forbidding contact with various aspects of the material and intellectual culture. Avoidance of contact with heretics and their world has been developed to varying degrees in different branches. At one extreme the really ‘pure’ Old Believers in the small branches have avoided all contact whatsoever with the outside world, while members of other branches have only regulated the degree and manner of that contact. Marriage out of he community therefore has been taboo in all branches. Medical care by heretics has also been rejected. When social contact could not be avoided, Old Believer practices have been aimed at minimizing physical contact, such as upholding a strict separation of eating and drinking utensils. Visitors from outside their community have been given ‘the worldly dish’, and on visits to heretics Old Believers have brought their own spoon and cup. Post-Nikonian introductions to Russian material and intellectual culture, which are rejected as spiritually polluted, are various foodstuffs and provisions (such as tea, sugar, potatoes, sweets, matches, soap), technological inventions (e.g. electricity, piped water and modern transport), social customs (e.g. smoking, shaving and modern clothing) and even new expressions or words. All such avoidance practices are extremely difficult to maintain in any advanced industrial society with a socialist ethos where collective endeavor is being continually counterpoised to aspiration for exclusivity. Seen in this societal context, Old Believer avoidance practices, although rapidly declining, have been remarkably persistent.

Complete separation from ‘the world’, as we have shown above, was still current in the sixties among some Stranniki and True Orthodox Christian Wanderers. In some Stranniki communities in the Siberian taiga and northern Urals separation from the world is said to be enforced occasionally by devious means. If it is noted that a member is weakening in his religious commitment other members will dare him to prove himself by some illegal exploit which is then later used for preventing his departure into the world.

In recent years there has been left little of the hostility to outsiders that Old Believers were once known for, but they have still been keeping themselves aloof from the surrounding population. Religious endogamy has remanded the norm among Old Believers from which departures have caused severe conflict between the generations. But in recent years this norm has been increasingly disregarded by the younger generation of some branches.

...Practices which were considered terrible sins not so long ago, such as potatoes and sugar or smoking, shaving and listening to the radio or using the medical service, have become widely accepted [among compromised communities]... Avoidance rituals and various taboos were still being preserved by a relatively large section of believers in the smaller branches in the Siberian areas, or in areas where compact groups of one Bespopovtsy branch from a village or figure prominently in the population. Thus some Pomortsy in compact communities of Ryazan region still kept ‘worldly’ eating utensils, and in the village exclusively settled by Pomortsy the middle-age and elderly men neither smoked nor shaved... In the Udmurt ASSR some Bespopotsy still abstained from the use of electricity, piped water and modern transport. In two settlements of he Tuvin ASSR, too, the more committed believers still declined the use of electricity, and children were not given sweets or toys.

An especially good picture of adherence to these avoidance rituals is given for the compact Bespopovtsy communities in the Komi ASSR. Although here, too, many believers have given up these practices, a very sizable minority continued to observe some or all of them...”

Copied entirely from this book preview online  pp. 114, 117, 118, 121-32