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22 September 2018

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Those Who Return

Author: Álvaro Laiz
Translation: Sarah Richardson
Illustrations/Images by Álvaro Laiz

Mar/Apr 2016
Religion & Spirituality
Page 50   ( 8 pages)

Summary: They left Russia in droves after the Revolution, now some Old Believers whose ancestors put down roots in South America are returning to live in the Russian Far East.


The village of Dersu lies beyond the Ussuri River. In order to get to this lost village in the taiga you need a good all-terrain vehicle; a wooden barge if the water hasn’t frozen over; more than a day to make the trip from the nearest inhabited town; and lots of faith in God.

To protect themselves from the influence of the outside world, Russian Starovery (?????????), or Old Believers, choose to live in the most isolated, wild, and inaccessible places. “The fewer people there are, the closer we are to God,” they explain. Some call them the “Russian Amish.”

It all started 350 years ago, in 1666. In that year, reforms of the Russian Orthodox Church begun by Tsar Alexei and Patriarch Nikon, with the goal of bringing it closer to the Greek Church, came to a head at the Great Moscow Synod (which also saw Nikon defrocked – see Calendar, page 19). Previously accepted liturgical rites and texts, and those practicing them, were anathemized. What is more, those who insisted on continuing to adhere to the old ways were persecuted as “schismatics” (???????????) or “Old Ritualists” (????????????).

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