The future of Edinoverie

The photo shows Nestor, Bishop of Togliatti and Zhigulyovo. Archipastoral old rite liturgy in Koltsovo village, 2022.

The history of the Old Believers' striving for unity with the Russian Church is complex and contradictory. It is full of drama, injustice, deceived hopes, but at the same time and certain victories, the embodiment of centuries-old aspirations of the people.

Over several hundred years of its existence the Edinoverie movement has passed a difficult path from a semi-legal union to a seemingly full intra-church equality. With the change in its official status and the final legalization of Edinoverie (as a result of the 1971 Local Council), its purpose also changed. Instead of remaining a refuge for "persistent ignoramuses of ritualism," today old ritualists in the bosom of the Russian Church rightfully act as guardians of old Russian culture, art, and piety.

How do we see the role of Orthodox Old Belief in today's rapidly changing world? A well-known old ritualist Vladimir Basenkov shared his thoughts on this topic in one of his unpublished works. With the author's permission we present the text:

"Prospects for the Development of Edinoverie in the Russian Orthodox Church and the application of the experience of Old Believer communities as a tool for intra- and extra-church mission.

Considering Edinoverie in our days as a phenomenon that continues to develop in an era of change, we can note a number of positive trends

1. Edinoverie as an instrument of intra-church mission. The high level of liturgical consciousness and traditions of piety can be an example for all the faithful of the Church. One characteristic that has always distinguished Old Believers is their attitude toward worship. In addition, the practice of lay services, preserved in Edinoverie communities, can be a great help in raising the self-awareness of believers of the Russian Church, as well as in the creation of new Orthodox communities and maintaining their prayer life. After all, it often happens that the absence of a priest, especially in remote communities, deprives entire parishes of worship services. In addition, independent immersion into services through the practice of lay worship, including at home, can increase the responsibility of the laity and bring clear benefit both to the souls of individuals and to the Church as a whole.

The same can be said of the traditions of piety, pious behavior, appearance, a certain culture of communication and manners, and attitudes toward various phenomena of life that have survived among Old Believers.

Communities of Edinovertsy also continue to be places of preservation of old church art, and this art is available to all the members of the Orthodox Church. The traditions of Znamenny chant and liturgical reading, icon painting, church decorations, and, in some places, church and folk arts and crafts, can be of interest to believers in the place where such a parish is located.

2. Edinoverie as a tool for reuniting Old Believer communities with the Orthodox Church. This was the original intent of the establishment of Edinoverie. Therefore, this task is ongoing, especially since it is being fulfilled: over the past 30 years of the church renaissance, there have been examples of both collective (whole communities) and individual experiences of reunion of representatives of various Old Believer confessions with the Church.

3. Edinoverie as an instrument of mission. Paradoxically, people in countries for which Orthodoxy is not a traditional religion and these people themselves do not have Russian roots also show an interest in the old rite. Most often they are Orthodox Christians themselves, but there are also many cases where non-Orthodox have a genuine interest in worship or the way of life. There is a large community of Russian Orthodox Old Ritualists on Facebook, which is devoted to Edinoverie in English. Conversation with community members revealed not only an interest in the old rite, the private practice of prayer by people in different countries, but also a desire to create an old ritualist parish in their area, even if there are no Old Believers in the immediate vicinity. This only shows that parishes of the Old Rite can be created with a missionary purpose in a non-Orthodox environment, bearing witness to Christ and spreading the word of God through forms of old Russian ecclesiastical tradition.

In addition, old rite parishes could become attractive to members of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and other religious cults, where emphasis is placed on ritual and external forms.

4. Edinoverie as a tool of "soft power". The opening of Old Believer parishes in the canonical territories of other Local Churches and under their omophorion can play a positive role in strengthening fraternal ties and, at the same time, become an element of Russia's "soft power" in other states. Such a proposal could arouse the interest of the hierarchy of the Polish Orthodox Church, since there are many communities of priestless Old Believers in Poland who could potentially take the path of Edinoverie with the Ecumenical Church. And for the Serbian and Bulgarian Churches, the experience of the Old Russian liturgy could be a good basis for studying their ancient liturgical tradition and reviving it on the basis of and with the help of the old rite. There is interest in this topic, as evidenced by dialogues with representatives of the clergy and laity of these South Slavic Churches. Perhaps the practice of opening parishes of the Old Russian liturgical tradition would also be relevant for other Local Churches, depending on their interest and the possibility of opening one such parish within the boundaries of their canonical territories and under their jurisdiction.

Thus, Edinoverie can become an effective tool for the mission of the Russian Orthodox Church, both internally in its outreach to the flock and externally in countries with traditionally non-Orthodox populations. In addition, the traditions of old Russian liturgy could be of interest to other local churches as a basis for the development of liturgical life and the strengthening of fraternal ties."

Thus, on the basis of the above points, we can conclude that Edinoverie today is developing, growing stronger, returning Old Believers to the bosom of the Mother Church and even arousing interest among non-Orthodox.

Let us add, however, that modern Edinoverie exists and holds fast mainly through the efforts of a few individuals who voluntarily strive to revive it. In other words, the "novoblagoslovenny confession" (Edinoverie's historical name) today is either zealous enthusiasts who have independently learned the liturgical rubric and chanting neums, or hereditary Old Believers, ignited by the words of the Savior - "That they all may be one" (John 17:21).

If we speak of the current successes of Edinoverie, they can be attributed primarily to the special Will of God, rather than to a systematic administrative result. By the way, in connection with the latter, especially noteworthy is the current "top-down" tendency to deprive old rite parishes of connection with historical Edinoverie, to make them merely an ordinary parish with podruchniks, devoid of old Russian piety and using a mixture of old and new rites. Would an Old Believer join such a parish if it were nominally "Old Believer" but only partially rooted in the old Russian tradition? This is a rhetorical question.

Today, against the background of real examples of individuals and communities joining the Church through Edinoverie, the following basic question arises: will Edinoverie be able to fulfill its potential? Time will certainly tell. But we can say with certainty that if the Lord continues to show active and talented figures of the old rite from among the clergy, chanters, and laity, the Orthodox Old Believers will be able to regain their rightful place in the bosom of the Russian Church for the sake of its strengthening and prosperity.

Philip Kaminsky

Tue, 05/30/2023 - 13:49
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