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.

Friday, November 6, 2009

a.k.a. Stowaways

Harvard Theological Studies, X, Russian Dissenters,
The Bezpopovtsy, The Stranniki, Pages 156-9

An incipient reconciliation in the last quarter of the XVIIIth century of the Raskol with civil society explains the fact that there arose about that time among the Rigorists or followers of Philip [from Vyg], a teacher named Euthymius, a native of Pereyaslav in Poltava, who regarded any accommodation with normal society, with State or Church, as backsliding and impiety. Pressed into the army, he deserted and hid himself first in Moscow, then in the Philipovski sketes of Pomor, last of all in the forests of the Yaroslav Government. The time came when, repelled by the over-facile compliance of Philip’s sect with the Church and State, he set himself seriously both to write a book and to found a sect of his own. He got together in the village of Korovin in that Government a number of sympathizers; and, assuming for the gathering the dignity of a council, he solemnly condemned other Raskol groups, and embodied his complaint in a work called The Peroration. In it he condemned the act of inscribing their names in the registers as Raskolniks as tantamount to abjuring the name of Christian and as subservience to Antichrist. One who so registered himself and his family deified the Antichrist. His philippic against those who simulated orthodoxy was of the sternest, and brings before us in a lively manner the disabilities to which dissenters were subjected. They as good as admitted themselves, he says, to be adherents of a heretical body, and condemned themselves to go cadging for favors to the state priest, e.g. for the billets de confession, without which they could not obtain passports, they had to seek his permission to dig graves for their dead, to receive him into their houses on feastdays and give him alms. Such people, he writes, have made their confession to the Devil, have disavowed Christ, presented themselves at an unholy altar (trapeza), bowing and scraping before; they even invite the priest to enter their houses, when on festivals he comes rapping at their doors and widows and calling for the master of the house to give him something for church purposes, thanksgiving offerings, and the rest; they debase themselves by stuffing his bag with bread, pastries, cakes. What, he indignantly asks, is all this but to crucify Christ afresh, to pretend to love heretics and be at peace with them? Piety is extinguished, he laments, and impiety reigns everywhere. All the Old Believers had bowed the knee to Baal and no longer had the baptism of Christ.

He accordingly baptized himself a third time, for he had been first baptized in the Orthodox Church, next when he joined the Philipovtsy, and now in despair of finding any real baptism on the face of this earth he performed the rite first on himself and then on his followers; and he made it his principle to wander abroad on the earth, because we have here no abiding city. He must be literally an outcast and in an alien world break every tie with society. He has nowhere to lay his head, but is a wanderer (stannik), a fugitive (begun), a stowaway.

This sect has above all others distinguished itself by its fierce denunciations of the Tsars and Tsardom, and the orthodox priests as lying prophets of Antichrist. They have obstinately refused to register themselves, to pay taxes, to bear passports. Their doctrine is the last word of the Bezpopovtsy against the regime of the Antichrist. Certain of the sectaries of the Pomorians who pray for the Tsar were careful to justify their action by citing the precepts of St. Paul in favor of praying for Gentile or infidel sovereigns. So also the Thedosyevtsi or sect of Theodosius were careful to indicate that they only paid the Tsar's taxes, because the New Testament inculcates submission to the Powers which be. The ‘Wanderers’, however, were guilty of a very disrespectful comparison of the Tsar with the heathen rulers, obedience to whom was counseled by the Apostles. They were no better than servants of the Devil, but the Tsar is Satan himself. You can do nothing but make war on him.

No permanent community or society higher than gypsies can be founded on the mere precept to wander and hide. The early followers of Jesus soon found that it was not enough to wait for the Second Coming, and that even to keep the faith alive they must organize. Euthymius’ tenets excluded all idea of settlement; but presently, after his death, when the bond of his strong personality and preaching was removed, it became an urgent question how to assure to his Church any sort of stability or future. Continual vagabondage through ‘desirable deserts’ afforded no bond of union, nay render permanent ties between its members precarious. A number of poverty-stricken, homeless itinerant friars might attract to themselves fugitive criminals, but not people with settled notions of life and anything to lose. The members of the sect therefore met to consider whether in the future they should continue to wander or settle down in fixed homes. An elder named Yakov Yakovlev urged that no one could be regarded as a member who did not imitate the Master, but a lady named Irene, who had been Euthymius' companion in travel, as also the Elder or ‘director’ Krainev, proposed a compromise, by which they should only receive as members of the society those who took a vow to become Stranniki some day, even if for the present they kept their homes and went on living in them. After warm discussion the comprise was accepted, and a distinction was henceforth drawn between imperfect members who might live in town and village and only vow themselves to become adepts in the Christian faith later on, and those who pursued the original ideal of Euthymius in its entirety. It was stipulated however that those who lived in fixed abodes should maintain shelters or asylums of refuge for the true wanderers and extend their hospitality to them whenever they appeared.

The student of early Christianity will at once recognize the parallelism of the Strannik society with the earliest Church. Ivanovski describes in detail the life of concealment led by the Strannik missionaries with evident gusto, as if they reflected no discredit on the persecuting Church of which he is so distinguished an ornament. The refuges, he tells us, of these sectaries are furnished with secret ways in and out; they mostly consist of underground cellars or garrets constructed in courtyards, kitchen-gardens and so forth. There are also hiding places for the missionaries under staircases, in closets, in cupboards; sometimes they are concealed behind walls or under the roof, sometimes under the stove. Whole secret villages of Beguni have been discovered, in which each house communicated with the rest by secret passages, and the secret entrance of the last in the street opened into the garden or into a thicket or somewhere out on the highroad.