Hegumen Peter (Vasiliev): "We are friends with Old Believers of all denominations"

The Moscow Church of St. Nicholas in Studentsy is the only official Edinoverie parish in Moscow. Here they do not like it when Edinovertsy are called "Old Ritualists" and say about themselves: "We are not mere 'ritualists' but Old Believers in the bosom of the Russian Orthodox Church." And although until 1994 this church was not a Edinoverie church, for almost 30 years our pre-Raskol church traditions have been revived here. Under the spiritual guidance of the rector of the church, the hegumen Peter (Vasiliev), who told us about his path to Edinoverie and the milestones of its formation in Moscow in the post-Soviet years.

- Father Peter, let me begin with a personal question. How did you yourself come to Edinoverie?

- Unfortunately, there are few native Edinovertsy born into Edinoverie families today. But in my case it happened so that I am a Edinoverets by birth. Although I was not born into a Edinoverie family. My father was an Old Believer of the Belokrinitsa hierarchy, and my mother was a parishioner of an ordinary Orthodox church. In the end, by mutual consent, my parents decided to invite a priest from the St. Nicholas church in Rogozhsky cemetery to baptize me. At that time, this church, and the case was in 1965, was still a Edinoverie church. But they baptized me at home, which was common for those years.

- And how did you decide to become a Edinoverie priest?

- From childhood I was familiar with both Orthodox liturgical traditions. I was with my father in the Old Believer Holy Protection Cathedral on Rogozhskoye, and in many churches of the Russian Orthodox Church. As a teenager I often traveled to the Pskov-Caves Monastery, which never closed, and communicated with its elders, including Schema-hegumen Savva (Ostapenko), who in the 1970s told me about my future priesthood. But in terms of liturgical services I have always been closer to the pre-Raskol tradition. I believed that it was necessary to remain in the Russian Orthodox Church, but the service should be ours, the old one. However, by the end of the 1980s, Edinoverie in our country had practically ceased to exist. The Moscow Edinoverie Church on Rogozhskoye switched to the post-reform, new rite. There were only a few parishes in the hinterland, including in Maloe Murashkino in the then Gorky region. It was only in 1989 that the Edinoverie parish in Mikhailovskaya Sloboda near Moscow was revived.

- What about Moscow?

- That's the point: Moscow was left without a Edinoverie parish. And there were people who wanted to pray in the old way in unity with our Church. But they had no church. And in 1994 I, by that time already a Edinoverie hierodeacon serving in Mikhailovskaya Sloboda, was blessed by His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II to become the rector of a new Moscow Edinoverie parish. He also blessed Metropolitan Juvenaly of Krutets and Kolomna to make me a priest.

- That is, the Moscow Edinoverie community had already existed by that time?

- Yes, it was registered in 1992. And in 1993 it elected me as its chairman.

- What kind of people were they?

- Very different. There were very few indigenous Edinovertsy. Mostly, ordinary Orthodox people who wanted to attend services in the old way, and Old Believers of various denominations who wanted to be in unity with the Russian Orthodox Church. They were both ordinary people and representatives of science, including several doctors of science, including the last chairman of the USSR Higher Academic Commission, Academician Evgeny Ivanovich Shemyakin.

The procession to the consecration of the church, 1996.

- How did it happen that the community was allocated the church on Taganka? After all, historically the center of Moscow Edinoverie was the Trinity and Introduction churches near the Saltykov Bridge.

- God's mercy that we received the Church of St. Nicholas in Studentsy. We were given a small list to choose from of those churches that the state was ready to return to the Church, and we very quickly settled on ours. Firstly, it is a church of the XVII century, built in pre-Raskol architectural traditions. And secondly, we were well aware that our parishioners would not be residents of this district, but Edinovertsy from different parts of Moscow, and Taganka district turned out to be a very convenient location for everyone.

- What was the attitude of the clergy to the organization of a Edinoverie parish? Were there any opponents?

- The attitude was the warmest on the part of His Holiness the Patriarch and the local superior, Archpriest Leonid Roldugin*, one of the oldest priests in Moscow today, God give him good health! We were opposed by some Belokrinitsa Old Believers, who thought that we would start intercepting their parishioners traveling to Rogozhskoye. But we had no such thoughts! Although we had close friendships with many of their parishioners throughout the years. As well as with many Christians from other Old Believer denominations. But we never poached anyone, and if someone came to us, it was only of their own free will.

- Who of the famous Moscow Old Believers was the closest to your parish in the early years of its existence?

- There were many. But I can, for example, name a few people who are dearly remembered in our church. Victor Nikolayevich Milovanov, who designed our iconostasis and at one time was the head of our church choir. Igor Mikhailovich Lyubimov, who, being the chairman of the Rogozhskaya Belokrinitskaya community, very often sang on our kliros. Valery Viktorovich Vitushkin, nephew of the Old Believer Archbishop Ioann (Vitushkin). Alexander Georgievich Ustinov, who actually established kliros chanting and reading in our church. And of course, another representative of this famous Old Believer family, a longtime close friend of our parish, unfortunately, recently passed away, Leonid Mikhailovich Ustinov. Back in 1949 he was made a reader by the Old Believer Bishop Gerontius (Lakomkin), who is now glorified as a confessor among the Belokrinitsa Old Believers. Eternal memory to these good Christians who did a lot for our church!

From left to right: V.V. Vitushkin, I.M. Lyubimov, Fr. Peter (Vasiliev), L.M. Ustinov. 2003.

- But didn't they have problems that they were so close to the parish of the Russian Orthodox Church?

- Questions were asked, of course, but without scandals. In those years there was no Internet, and therefore scandalizers simply did not have the opportunities of today. Of course, we did not have Eucharistic unity with the Belokrinitsa Old Believers. However, Old Believers, with very few exceptions, confess and receive communion only from their spiritual fathers. But at the same time we never considered each other "strangers", but just friends and friends in a human way. And with the Belokrinitsky, and with the members of the Russian Old-Orthodox Church, and with many Priestless Pomorians, who realize that there must be priesthood and Sacraments in the Church. This is neither liberalism nor ecumenism; we have the same faith. And although only God knows whether we will be able to overcome the schism and reunite, we pray at every Divine Liturgy "for the peace of the whole world, and for the welfare of the holy Churches of God, and for the union of all".

- Are there differences between the parishioners of those years and those of today?

- No, the people are the same. Except there's a little more fuss, including because of the Internet. And so it is exactly the same: parishioners from other churches of the Russian Orthodox Church, who are interested in Old Believers and want to pray in the old way, and Old Believers from other denominations come to us. We do not force anyone. But if they want to be with us, of course, observing our rules, they are welcome.

- And in conclusion: what will it take to bring our few Edinoverie parishes closer together?

- There is no need to do anything artificial. Friendly relations are not formed on instructions from above. Of course, we need joint events, joint worship services. Of course, it is important to pray for each other. And then, with God's help, we will become closer. I should note that we do not need to strive for masses, the main thing for us is to preserve our faith, our ancient liturgical traditions. In unity with the Church of Christ. We pray that it will be so: now and ever, and forever and ever.


* Archpriest Leonid Roldugin passed away to the Lord on December 1, 2023 at the 87th year of life

Sat, 02/10/2024 - 06:52
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