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Father George Florovsky on the Russian Schism of 1666/1667.

Oct 30, 2015
Not many people in the West realize that the Russian Orthodox are divided into Old and New Ritualists following a massive schism in their Church in the 17 th century which is considered by many to be one of the most important events in Russian history. Originally it was about Liturgical matters but in time greater differences in approach emerged for instance the Old Ritualists tend to have congregational singing, don't move around at all during the Liturgy and make the sign of the Cross always at the same time which makes the Divine Liturgy much more of a communal event. Also they reject polyphony in chanting and stick to ancient forms of Icon writing. They are seen by many as the custodians of the Piety of Old (as in pre-Peter the Great/Peter the Snake) Russia.

Alexander Dugin who is probably the most famous and globally influential Russian political thinker of our times belongs to the Old Ritualists or Old Believers as they are usually called in the West.

Father George Florovsky was probably one of the most important Russian Orthodox theologians of the 20 th century and also of interest because though a theological conservative he engaged in Ecumenical dialogue with Western Christians and stayed away from the Tsarist Church in Exile. This is from his most controversial books that maddens a lot of Russian Orthodox conservatives due to the fact that well it is a bit Russian bashing- he was a Byzantinist and tended to exalt everything Byzantine over everything Russian.

Anyway I found the colourful he paints this important event in Russian history interesting so I thought I would share;


Kostomarov 44 once rightly noted that the "Schism hunted for tradition and attempted to adhere as closely as possible to it; yet the Schism was a new phenomenon, not the old life." Therein lies the Schism's fatal paradox: it did not embody the past, but rather a dream about Old Russia. The Schism represents mourning for an unrealized and unrealizable dream. The "Old Believer" [Starover] is a very new spiritual type.
Division and split wholly constitute the Schism. Born in disillusionment, it lived and was nourished by this feeling of loss and deprivation, not by any feeling of power and possession. Possessing nothing, losing everything, the Schism, more with nostalgia and torment than with routine and custom, could only wait and thirst, flee and escape. The Schism was excessively dreamy, suspicious, and restive. There is something romantic about the Schism, hence its attraction for many Russian Neo-Romantics and Decadents.
The Schism, consumed by memories and premonitions, possessed a past and a future but no present. For their "blue flower" [goluboitsvetok] 45 the Old Believers possessed the semi-legendary Invisible City of Kitezh 46 The Schism's strength did not spring from the soil but from the will; not from stagnation but from ecstasy. The Schism marks the first paroxysm of Russia's rootlessness, rupture of conciliarity, [sobornost'], and exodus from history.
The keynote and secret of Russia's Schism was not "ritual" but the Antichrist, and thus it may be termed a socio-apocalyptical utopia. The entire meaning and pathos of the first schismatic opposition lies in its underlying apocalyptical intuition ("the time draws near"), rather than in any "blind" attachment to specific rites or petty details of custom. The entire first generation of raskolouchitelei ["schismatic teachers"] lived in this atmosphere of visions, signs, and premonitions, of miracles, prophecies, and illusions. These men were filled with ecstasy or possessed, rather than pedants: "We saw that it was as if winter was of a mind to come; our hearts froze, our limbs shivered" (Avvakum) One has only to read the words of Avvakum, breathless with excitement: "What Christ is this? He is not near; only hosts of demons." Not only Avvakum felt that the "Nikon" Church had become a den of thieves. Such a mood became universal in the Schism: "the censer is useless, the offering abominable."
The Schism, an outburst of a socio-political hostility and opposition, was a social movement, but one derived from religious self-consciousness. It is precisely this apocalyptical perception of what has taken place, which explains the decisive or rapid estrangement among the Schismatics. "Fanaticism in panic" is Kliuchevskii's definition, but it was also panic in the face of "the last apostasy."
How was such a mood created and developed? What inspired and justified the hopeless eschatological diagnosis that "the present Church is not a church; the Holy Sacraments are not sacraments; Baptism is not baptism; the Scriptures are a seduction teaching is false; and everything is foul and impious?" Rozanov 47 once wrote that "the Typicon of salvation provides the mystery of the Schism, its central nerve, and tortured thirst." Might it not be better to say: "Salvation is the Typicon?" Not merely in the sense that the Typicon as a book is necessary and needed for salvation, but because salvation is a Typicon, that is, a sacred rhythm and order, rite or ritual, a ritual of life, the visible beauty and well-being of custom. This religious design supplies the basic assumption and source for the Old Believer's disenchantment.
The Schism dreamed of an actual, earthly City: a theocratic utopia and chiliasm. It was hoped that the dream had already been fulfilled and that the "Kingdom of God" had been realized as the Muscovite State. There may be four patriarchs in the East, but the one and only Orthodox tsar is in Moscow 49 But now even this expectation had been deceived and shattered. Nikon's "apostasy" did not disturb the Old Believers nearly as much as did the tsar's apostasy, which in their opinion imparted a final apocalyptical hopelessness to the entire conflict.
At this time there is no tsar. One Orthodox tsar had remained on earth, and whilst he was unaware, the western heretics, like dark clouds, extinguished this Christian sun. Does this not, beloved, clearly prove that the Antichrist's deceit is showing its mask? 50
History was at an end. More precisely, sacred history had come to an end; it had ceased to be sacred and had become without Grace. Henceforth the world would seem empty, abandoned, forsaken by God, and it would remain so. One would be forced to withdraw from history into the wilderness. Evil had triumphed in history. Truth had retreated into the bright heavens, while the Holy Kingdom had become the tsardom of the Antichrist.
A public debate about the Antichrist had been present from the outset of the Schism. Some immediately detected the coming Antichrist in Nikon or in the tsar. Others were more cautious. "They do his work even now but the last devil has not yet to come" (Avvakum) At the end of the century the teaching of a "mental" or spiritual Antichrist became established. The Antichrist had come, but he exercised his rule invisibly. No visible coming would occur in the future. The Antichrist is a symbolic, but not a "real" person. The Scripture must be interpreted as a mystery. "When the hidden mysteries are spoken, the mystery is to be understood with the mind and not with the senses." A new account is now present. The Antichrist stands revealed within the Church. "With impiety he has entered into the chalice and is now being proclaimed God and the Lamb." 51
Yet the diagnosis, the "approach of the last apostasy," did not change. Disruption of the priesthood in Nikon's Church, cessation of its sacraments, diminution of Grace served as the first conclusion from such a diagnosis. However, the disruption of the priesthood by Nikon's followers meant an end to the priesthood generally, even among the adherents of the Schism. No source could "revive" this diminished Grace. A "fugitive priesthood" [begstvuiushchee sviashchentsvo] did not resolve the problem, while ritual purification taken by "fugitive priests" implied that a genuine and unexhausted priesthood existed among the followers of Nikon. Disagreements and debate about the priesthood developed very early in the Schism. Comparatively quickly the "priestly" [popovtsy] and the "priestless" [bezpopovtsy] diverged and divided. 52
The priestless segment was magistral. Compromises and concessions were not that significant, and only the priestless carried their ideas to a logical conclusion. The priesthood ended with the coming of the Antichrist. Grace withdrew from the world, and the earthly Church entered upon a new form of existence: priestlessness and absence of sacraments. Priesthood was not denied, but eschatological diagnosis acknowledged the mysterious fact or catastrophe that the priesthood had withered away. Not everyone accepted this conclusion. Varying estimates were made about the degree of the coming lack of Grace. After all, if necessary, even laymen could baptize (and "rebaptize" or "correct"), but could baptism be complete without the chrism? In any case, the Eucharist was impossible: "according to theological calculation, at the fulfillment of 666 years, the sacrifice and sacrament will be taken away." Confession was scarcely possible. Since no one could give absolution, it was more prudent to settle for mutual forgiveness. Marriage generated particularly violent quarrels. Could marriage still be permitted as a "sacrament?" Was a pure marriage or a pure bed possible without priestly blessing? Moreover, should one marry during these terrible days of the Antichrist, when it was more fitting to be with the wise virgins? The "anti-marriage" decision possessed a certain boldness and consistency. A more general question arose about how the liturgy could be conducted without priests. Was it permissible in case of necessity for unordained laymen and monks to perform or consummate certain sacraments? How should one proceed? Should ancient services and rituals be preserved untouched and unaltered? Could the liturgy be performed by unordained laymen by virtue of some "spiritual" priesthood? Or would it be safer to submit and be reconciled to the fact that Grace was gone?
The so-called "negativist" movement [netovshchina], that maximalism of apocalyptical rejection, provided the most extreme conclusion: Grace had been completely and utterly withdrawn. Therefore, not only could the sacraments not be performed, but the divine liturgy as a whole could not be conducted in accordance with the service manuals. Oral prayer, or even breathing, was inappropriate, for everything, including running water, had been profaned. Salvation now would come not by Grace or even by faith, but through hope and lamentation. Tears were substituted for communion.
The Schism created a new antinomy. Once Grace had been withdrawn, everything depended on man, on works or continence. Eschatological fright and apocalyptical fear suddenly became transformed into a form of humanism, self-reliance, or practical Pelagianism. 53 Ritual took on particular importance during this exceptional moment of withdrawal. Only custom and ritual remained when Grace departed and the sacraments lost their potency. Everything became dependent upon works, for only works were possible. The unexpected participation of the Old Believers in worldly affairs, their zeal for custom (as an experiment in salvation through the relics of traditional life) derives from this necessary dependence on works. The Schism made its peace with the vanishing of Grace only to clutch at ritual with still greater frenzy and stubbornness. Grace had been extinguished and diminished, but the Schism tried to replace it with human zeal. By doing so, the Schism betrayed itself, prizing ritual more highly than sacrament and overestimating its value. Enduring life without Grace was easier than enduring a new ritual. The Schism attached a certain independent primary value to the "office" and "regulation." Even when in flight from the Antichrist, the dissenters strove to organize an ideal society, although doubts were raised in some quarters about the possibility of doing so during the days of the last apostasy. The Schism withdrew to the wilderness, making an exodus from history and settling beyond its frontiers. "For God dwells only in the wilderness and the hermitages; there He has turned His face."
The Schism always organized itself as a monastery, as "communities" and "hermitages," and strove to be a final monastery or refuge amidst a corrupt and perishing world. The Vyg experiment — the Thebaid and "pious Utopia of the Schism" — is especially characteristic. The Vyg community was built by the second generation of Old Believers on the principle of the strictest communism (so that no one had a penny to his name) and in a mood of eschatological concentration: "care nothing about earthly things, for the Lord is near the gates." This community probably represents the high point in the history of the Schism.
For in this Vyg wilderness preachers orated, wise Platos shone forth, glorious Demostheneses appeared, pleasant men as sweet as Socrates were to be found, and men braveas Achilles were discovered. 54
The Vyg community was not merely a significant commercial and industrial center (Peter the Great highly valued the work of the Vyg settlers at the mines in Povenets and Olonets). The Vyg "panwilderness assembly" was actually a great cultural center, particularly during the lifetime of Andrei Denisov, who is described as "clever and sweet in word," and certainly the most sophisticated and cultured of all the writers and theologians during the early years of the Schism. Denisov 55 was consumed by the Apocalypse. 56 Yet he did not thereby lose his clarity of thought, and one can detect in him a great intellectual temperament. Denisov was not merely well read; he must be recognized as a theologian. His Pomorskie otvety ["Replies of the Shore Dwellers"] is a theological work and an intelligent one. Vyg possessed a well assembled and magnificent library where Old Believers studied the Scriptures, the Fathers, and the "literary sciences." Andrei Denisov himself "abridged the philosophy and theory of Ramon Lull" (a very popular book judging by the number of copies which have been preserved). 57 It is particularly interesting that the Denisov brothers, Andrei and Semen, set about assiduously reworking the Great Reading Compendium or Menologos [Velikie chet'i minei] 58 as a counterweight to the agiographic labors of Dimitrii of Rostov, who borrowed heavily from western books. 59 The Vyg scholars also worked on liturgical books. Vyg housed ateliers for painting icons and contained other workshops.
One is least justified in speaking of the "well-fed ignorance" among the Vyg Old Believers. Their community was a center in the wilderness. Still, Vyg was only a refuge, where its members for a time might be concealed from impending wrath and live in impatient expectation of the last moment. All their business skill and "religio-democratic pathos" derived from this sense of having abandoned the world. In the absence of Grace, the priestless Old Believer knew that he depended only on himself and had to be self-reliant. The Vyg Old Believers took a quiet departure from history.
The "newly discovered path of suicidal deaths" served as another, more violent escape. Preaching in favor of suicide combined several motifs: ascetic mortification (for example, the flagellants, [zaposhchevantsy]), the "fear of the Antichrist's temptation," the idea of baptism by fire ("everyone is begging for a second, unprofaned baptism by fire," relates the Tiumen' priest Dometian, 1679). 60 Such innovative preaching produced horror and disgust among many Old Believers. The elder Evfrosin's "Epistle of Refutation" [Otrazitelnoe pisanie, 1691] 61 is particularly important in this regard. Nevertheless, Avvakum praised the first suicides by fire when he said "blessed is this desire for the Lord." His authority was constantly cited. "The notion of suicidal death was first expounded by the disciples of Kapiton. Such men conceived this evil practice prior to the immolations among the Viazniki and Ponizov'e" (Evfrosin) Kapiton was a crude fanatic who kept rigorous fasts and wore chains. In 1665 an investigation was ordered into his "knavery" and "fanaticism." However, his disciples and "fellow fasters," known as the "Godless hermits" [Bogomerzkie pustynniki], continued their fanatical practices. Preaching in favor of fasting unto death began in the conditions arising from such ascetic flagellation and fanaticism.
Yet other arguments were soon advanced. Vasilii the Hirsute (Volosatyi), acclaimed "legislator of suicides," "did not preach confession or repentance, but entrusted all things to fire: cleanse yourselves from all sin by fire and fasting, thereby being baptized with a true baptism." He did not preach this message in isolation. A certain priest called Aleksandrishche insisted that "in this age Christ is unmerciful; He will not accept those who come without repentance." One foreigner by the name of Vavila 62 belonged to the early "Kapitons." The Russian Vinyard [ilinograd rossiiski] describes him as a man "of a foreign race, of the Lutheran faith accomplished in all the arts, who had studied many years in the celebrated Academy of Paris, knew many languages well and how to speak most beautifully." 63 Vavila arrived in Russia in the 1630's converted to Orthodoxy, "proving to be of perfect diamond hard endurance." It was not so important that in their enthusiasm some "Godless hermits" determined to commit suicide. More important is the fact that many different strata of the Old Believer movement quickly seized upon their fanatical ideas. This "death bearing disease" rapidly became something approaching a dreadful mystical epidemic, a symptom of apocalyptical terror and hopelessness. "Death, death alone can save us." The Vyg community had been founded by the disciples of the self-immolators and dwellers along the shores of the White Sea.
The feeling of alienation and self-imprisonment entirely constituted the Schism, which sought exclusion from history and life. The Schism cut its ties, wishing to escape, not in order to return to tradition or to a fuller existence, but as an apocalyptical rupture and seduction. The Schism was a grievous spiritual disease. It was possessed. The horizon of the Old Believers was narrow: the Schism became a Russian Donatism. 64 In that regard, it is appropriate to recall the words of St. Augustine, "The field is the world and not Africa. The harvest is the end of the world-not the time of Donatus."
Oct 30, 2015
Here is an attack on the Council of 1666/7 by a Russian Orthodox New Ritualist who is sympathetic to the Old Believers/Old Ritualists (some are very sympathetic, some consider them total whack jobs who are probably demonized);

The Robber Council of 1666

"I stated: "Could it possibly be due to the fact that the
Russians DID NOT (past tense!) smoke in church during
their services?"
That, at least, was one of the "complaints" brought against the
Russians by the iniquitous "Greeks" from the "Levant", who manifested
their wicked Russophobia at the infamous robber council of 1666-67 in
Moscow in their attempts to destroy the traditional beliefs that the
Russian Church had held for some eight centuries, as well as to
destroy the doctrine of Church-State symphonia, and, ultimately, to
depose Patriarch Nikon himself, who, most likely, was beginning to
realize the great error that he had made in attempting to "reform"
the Russian Church in accordance with recent -- and not ancient (as
he had been led to believe) -- Greek texts, printed in Venice!
That so-called "Great Council of Moscow" was (as mentioned above)
nothing other than a robber-council convened under the auspices of a
"fifth-column" of iniquitous Jesuit-financed and
Rosicrucian-manipulated Levantine-Greek conspirators -- consisting of
such virulent Russophobes as Dionysios "the Greek"; Arsenios "the
Greek" (a crypto-Uniate and crypto-Muslim); the deposed metropolitan
of Gaza, Paisios Ligarides ("a shameless opportunist" and
self-appointed counterfeit "legate" for Constantinople, who was
instrumental in getting Patriarch Nikon deposed); Makarios of Antioch
(who condemned the Russians FOR NOT SMOKING during the
Liturgy and for crossing themselves in the "Armenian" manner -- i.e.,
with "two fingers", rather than with "three", the former being, in
actuality, a more ancient and venerable form than the latter, which
was introduced in the East by the Crusaders); and Paisios of
Alexandria -- all of whom presided over that infamous "council" of ill memory.
Is it any wonder, then, that most of the decisions and decrees of
that pseudo-"council" -- which annulled and cursed the decisions and
decrees of the saintly and venerable Stoglav Council (a/k/a [in
English:] the Council of the Hundred Chapters [1551]) and split
asunder the Russian Church nearly seven centuries after its
"official" founding (in AD 988) during the reign of Grand Prince St.
Vladimir "the Ruddy Sun" -- were NOT accepted by the majority of the
Russian faithful? Or that Protopope Avvakum, the noble leader of the
resistance to its uncalled for innovations (who was martyred for his
stance in 1682), is reputed to have stated:
"Once they begin to unravel the strands of the [Orthodox] Faith, even
if it be bit by little bit, they will never stop, until they have
destroyed it all..."
In that respect, let us not forget the late Metropolitan Vitaly's
sage words, to the effect that:
"There are frequently such decrees as seemingly have been dictated by
a Bishops' , but these decrees are not carried out. The Church
organically refuses to accept them, and that is it; and so these
decrees expire away; they vanish, and no one remembers them any more.
The Church is the Church, and each and every lay-person is just as
much a member of the Church of Christ [as any bishop]."
(<"Pravoslavnaya Rus'"> ["Orthodox Rus'"], No. 12, 1992 [my
translation from the Russian)
And so, it comes as no surprise that, even though it took some three
centuries, the decisions, decrees and anathemas hurled by this
"council" have themselves become "of none effect", having been
annulled in recent decades by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad --
and even, for its own purposes, by the so-called Moscow Patriarchate!
So, we can only but console ourselves with the fact that this
so-called "Great Council Of Moscow" (1666-67) likewise will
ultimately find itself consigned to oblivion in the waters of Lethe
and go the way of other suchlike councils, historically convened and
presided over by soul-destroying heretics, but leaving untouched the
hearts and souls of true believers.
It will not have been the first time in history that ostensibly
Orthodox bishops have participated in such "robber councils," which
the Church, in her wisdom, subsequently rejected, and the decrees of
which she has annulled and invalidated -- such as the infamous
"councils" of Ephesus (449), Toledo (589), Constantinople (754),
Frankfurt (794), Aachen (809), Constantinople (889-870), Lyons
(1274), Florence-Ferrara (1437-1439), Constantinople (1923), and Moscow (1923)."

Comment: If the 1666 Council is to be cast aside, then all of its decisions should be nullified, right?