The Russian Orthodox church, along with much of Russian society, went thourgh a period of reform in the mid-17th century. This caused a major schism in the church, and the reactionary opponents of the changes were known as Raskolniks, or Raskolniki.

The church reforms were initiated by the leader of the Russian church, Patriarch Nikon, and were singularly uncomprimising. Some of the reforms were entirely justified, such as correcting parts of the lituragy that had become corrupted over centuries of isolation from the Greek church. Others were administrative changes necessary to counter the highly organised Polish Jesuits, who were spreading Catholicism. Yet others, however, were needlessly pedantic, such as the pronounciation of the name Jesus and the method of making the sign of the cross. The educated classes generally accepted the reforms, either due to to support for modernization in general, or fear of Tsarist retribution. The peasants, however, being generally superstitious and traditionalist at heart, were outraged and chaos errupted.

The Raskolniki, who called themselves the "Old Believers" were those who resisted the reforms. From the start, things went badly for the Raskolniki; the Tsar tolerated no dissent and persecuted them tirelessly. Many, convinced the end of the world was nigh, commited mass suicide by locking themselves in burning churches.

Though Nikon himself was soon ousted, his reforms lived on, as did the Raskolniki, who continued on as a subversive element in Russian society. Further reforms to the church by Peter the Great were similarly contested. As very few of the clergy joined the movement, it futher subdivided over the issue of whether a hierarchy was necessary at all. The Bezpopovsti, or priestless sect, survived to some extent, although with no formal hierarchy they mostly disintegrated into tiny communities of believers. The Popovtsi, or priestly sect, evolved into a formal church with a parallel hierarchy to the Russian Orthodox church.

The Raskolniki, as has been mentioned above, were (in a way, are) a group of Russian Orthodox who refused to accept Patriarch Nikon's reforms

Their chief difficulty was the fact that among them numbered no bishops. Thus, they were unable to replace their priests and at the same time, follow Church laws--a bishop is required to ordain new clergy members. One sect of Raskolniki, the Bezpopovzi (those-without-priests), dealt with this by wholly abolishing the hierarchy.

One group of them, known as the Belokrinitzians, survive, but they are not accepting of new members. They found a bishop (from the parish of Belaya Krinitza in the modern-day Czech Republic) who was willing to ordain one of their number a bishop, but there was some controversy over the validity of the Czech's own baptism.

The author Lev Tolstoy is known to have financially and otherwise supported a sect known as the Beguny("runners"; they would literally run from village to village fleeing the Tsar's agents), to assist them in fleeing to Canada, where their descendants remain.

Ras*kol"nik (ras*kol"nik), n. [Russ. raskolenik' schismatic, heretic.] (Eccl.)

One of the separatists or dissenters from the established or Greek church in Russia. [Written also rascolnik.]


© Webster 1913

Ras*kol"nik (?), n.; pl. Raskolniki (#) or Raskolniks (#). [Russ. raskol'nik dissenter, fr. raskol dissent.]

The name applied by the Russian government to any subject of the Greek faith who dissents from the established church. The Raskolniki embrace many sects, whose common characteristic is a clinging to antique traditions, habits, and customs. The schism originated in 1667 in an ecclesiastical dispute as to the correctness of the translation of the religious books. The dissenters, who have been continually persecuted, are believed to number about 20,000,000, although the Holy Synod officially puts the number at about 2,000,000. They are officially divided into three groups according to the degree of their variance from orthodox beliefs and observances, as follows: I. "Most obnoxious." the Judaizers; the Molokane, who refuse to recognize civil authority or to take oaths; the Dukhobortsy, or Dukhobors, who are communistic, marry without ceremony, and believe that Christ was human, but that his soul reappears at intervals in living men; the Khlysty, who countenance anthropolatory, are ascetics, practice continual self- flagellation, and reject marriage; the Skoptsy, who practice castration; and a section of the Bezpopovtsy, or priestless sect, which disbelieve in prayers for the Czar and in marriage. II. "Obnoxious:" the Bezpopovtsy, who pray for the Czar and recognize marriage. III. "Least obnoxious:" the Popovtsy, who dissent from the orthodox church in minor points only.


© Webster 1913

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