Old Believers

Eastern Orthodox Christians who resist reforms of Nikon in 1652–1666, religious movement in Imperial Russia

In the Russian Orthodox church history, the Old Believers (Russian: старове́ры or старообря́дцы, read starovery or staroobryadtsy) became separated after 1666-1667. They split from the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church as a protest against church reforms introduced by Patriarch Nikon. Old Believers continue liturgical practices which the Russian Orthodox Church followed before the reform.

Detail of the painting Boyarynya Morozova by Vasily Surikov. A defiant Old Believer is being arrested. She holds up two fingers (instead of three) referring to the dispute about the proper way of cross-signing.

Russian-speakers refer to the schism itself as raskol (раскол). This word comes from a Russian word расколоться, that means "to cleave apart").

Background change

Patriarch Nikon (1605-1681; 1651-1658 as patriarch) wanted to bring the Russian Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church closer together. For this reason, he changed a few rituals and texts in 1651. These changes were made to the Russian rituals to be closer to the Greek ones of Nikon's time. According to the Old Believers, Nikon did this without the support of the clergy. and without a council. When the changes were done, people who still practised the old rites were persecuted.