How were the tensions that resulted from the religious schism in the Russian Orthodox Church brought on by Patriarch Nikon vs. the followers of Avvakum Petrov similar to the religious schisms in...

How were the tensions that resulted from the religious schism in the Russian Orthodox Church brought on by Patriarch Nikon vs. the followers of Avvakum Petrov similar to the religious schisms in Western Europe?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Religious tensions between Nikon and the followers of Avvakum refer to what is called raskol, which took place between 1652 and 1666. The raskol was initiated by Nikon who, seeing a lot of ritual and textual differences between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church, modified the rites to match the Greek rites. The changes were not very substantial, but since he acted without consulting the clergy or forming a council, his changes incited a great deal of protest, especially since those who believed in upholding the old rites were suppressed because Nikon's revisions were sanctioned by Tsar Alexis I. Some of the changes Nikon was responsible for can be seen in the spelling of the name Jesus, some slight difference in wording in the Creed, initiating a new practice of using two fingers to make the sign of the cross rather than the old practice of using three, dropping seven Prosphora in the liturgy to just five, saying alleluia three times instead of two, and changing the direction of church processions from clockwise to counterclockwise. Avvakum Petrov particularly rebelled against the new changes, minor though they would seem to be. He saw them as a corruption of the Russian Orthodox Church and was frequently imprisoned for his opposition until finally being executed. However, despite Avvakum's execution, he had many supporters who called themselves Old Believers, and Old Believer churches still exist today.

The schism, or raskol, of the Russian Orthodox Church can be somewhat compared to the schism in the Catholic Church called the Protestant Reformation, which was started by Martin Luther in 1517, over a hundred years before the raskol. However, the schism that began the formation of the Protestant church was very different in that Luther set forth some major changes for the Western Christian doctrine. For one thing, Luther laid out Ninety-Five Theses in which he protested what he saw as being 95 different clerical abuses. He particularly asserted "justification [salvation] by grace through faith" rather than through works or the selling of indulgences. He rejected the Pope as the sole authority of the Church, rather arguing that the Bible is the sole authority instead. He even rejected the idea that believers could only communicate with God through a priest and rather propositioned a "priesthood of all believers," meaning that all believers act as priests, priests being defined as mediators between God and man, and can communicate directly with God. Finally, he also insisted that church services should not be given in Latin, the language of only the educated, but should rather be given in the native language of the people.

Beyond the fact that the Russian Orthodox schism was drastically different from the Catholic Church schism in that Luther proposed a completely new doctrine, the two schisms were also drastically different in the amount of violence that resulted. While some violence resulted from the raskol, the violence that ensued from the schism issued by Martin Luther carried on for 30 years, resulting in a death toll of 3 million to 12 million.

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