Old Believers

Old Believers
Boyaryna Morozova by V.Surikov (1884-1887, Tretyakov gallery).jpg
Vasily Surikov's Boyarynya Morozova (1887), depicting the defiant Feodosia Morozova during her arrest. Her two raised fingers refer to the dispute about the proper way to make the sign of the cross.
TypeEastern Orthodox
ClassificationIndependent Eastern Orthodox
GovernanceBelokrinitskaya and Novozybkovskaya hierarchies (Popovtsy)
StructureIndependent councils (Bezpopovtsy)
Region15 or 20 countries
LanguageRussian, Church Slavic
LiturgyByzantine Rite (Russian modified)
FounderAnti-Reform dissenters
Tsardom of Russia
Separated fromRussian Orthodox Church
Members5.5 million[citation needed]
Other name(s)Old Ritualists
Old Believers
(including Lipovans, Molkans)
Regions with significant populations
 Russia400,000 (2012 estimation)[1]
 Latvia34,517 (2011 census)[2]
 Romania23,487–32,558 (2011 census)[3][4]
 Lithuania23,330 (2011 census)[5]
 Armenia2,872 (2011 census)[6]
 Estonia2,605 (2011 census)[7]
 Moldova2,535 (2014 census)[8]
 Kazakhstan1,500 (2010 estimation)[9]
 Azerbaijan500 (2015 estimation)[10]
 United Kingdom1 (2019 estimation)[11]

In Eastern Orthodox church history, especially within the Russian Orthodox Church, the Old Believers or Old Ritualists (Russian: старове́ры or старообря́дцы, starovéry or staroobryádtsy) are Eastern Orthodox Christians who maintain the liturgical and ritual practices of the Eastern Orthodox Church as they were before the reforms of Patriarch Nikon of Moscow between 1652 and 1666. Resisting the accommodation of Russian piety to the contemporary forms of Greek Orthodox worship, these Christians were anathematized, together with their ritual, in a Synod of 1666–67, producing a division in Eastern Europe between the Old Believers and those who followed the state church in its condemnation of the Old Rite.

Russian speakers refer to the schism itself as raskol (Russian: раскол), etymologically indicating a "cleaving-apart".


In 1652, Patriarch Nikon (1605–1681; Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church from 1652 to 1658) introduced a number of ritual and textual revisions with the aim of achieving uniformity between the practices of the Russian and Greek Orthodox churches. Nikon, having noticed discrepancies between Russian and Greek rites and texts, ordered an adjustment of the Russian rites to align with the Greek ones of his time. In doing so, according to the Old Believers, Nikon acted without adequate consultation with the clergy and without gathering a council.[12] After the implementation of these revisions, the Church anathematized and suppressed—with the support of Muscovite state power—the prior liturgical rite itself, as well as those who were reluctant to pass to the revised rite.

Those who maintained fidelity to the existing rite endured severe persecutions from the end of the 17th century until the beginning of the 20th century as "Schismatics" (Russian: раскольники, raskol'niki). They became known as "Old Ritualists", a name introduced under the empress Catherine the Great who reigned from 1762–1796.[13] They continued to call themselves simply "Orthodox Christians".