Chapter XVIII - The Dissenters
We must be careful not to confound those heretical sects, Protestant and fantastical, of which I have spoken in the preceding chapter, with the more numerous Dissenters or Schismatics, the descendants of those who seceded from the Russian Church--or more correctly from whom the Russian Church seceded--in the seventeenth century. So far from regarding themselves as heretics, these latter consider themselves more orthodox than the official Orthodox Church. They are conservatives, too, in the social as well as the religious sense of the term. Among them are to be found the last remnants of old Russian life, untinged by foreign influences.
The Russian Church, as I have already had occasion to remark, has always paid inordinate attention to ceremonial observances and somewhat neglected the doctrinal and moral elements of the faith which it professes. This peculiarity greatly facilitated the spread of its influence among a people accustomed to pagan rites and magical incantations, but it had the pernicious effect of confirming in the new converts their superstitious belief in the virtue of mere ceremonies. Thus the Russians became zealous Christians in all matters of external observance, without knowing much about the spiritual meaning of the rites which they practised. They looked upon the rites and sacraments as mysterious charms which preserved them from evil influences in the present life and secured them eternal felicity in the life to come, and they believed that these charms would inevitably lose their efficacy if modified in the slightest degree. Extreme importance was therefore attached to the ritual minutiae, and the slightest modification of these minutiae assumed the importance of an historical event. In the year 1476, for instance, the Novgorodian Chronicler gravely relates:
"This winter some philosophers (!) began to sing, 'O Lord, have mercy,' and others merely, 'Lord, have mercy.'" And this attaching of enormous importance to trifles was not confined to the ignorant multitude. An Archbishop of Novgorod declared solemnly that those who repeat the word "Alleluia" only twice at certain points in the liturgy "sing to their own damnation," and a celebrated Ecclesiastical Council, held in 1551, put such matters as the position of the fingers when making the sign of the cross on the same level as heresies--formally anathematising those who acted in such trifles contrary to its decisions.
This conservative spirit in religious concerns had a considerable influence on social life. As there was no clear line of demarcation between religious observances and simple traditional customs, the most ordinary act might receive a religious significance, and the slightest departure from a traditional custom might be looked upon as a deadly sin. A Russian of the olden time would have resisted the attempt to deprive him of his beard as strenuously as a Calvinist of the present day would resist the attempt to make him abjure the doctrine of Predestination--and both for the same reason. As the doctrine of Predestination is for the Calvinist, so the wearing of a beard was for the old Russian--an essential of salvation. "Where," asked one of the Patriarchs of Moscow, "will those who shave their chins stand at the Last Day?-- among the righteous adorned with beards, or among the beardless heretics?" The question required no answer.
In the seventeenth century this superstitious, conservative spirit reached its climax. The civil wars and foreign invasions, accompanied by pillage, famine, and plagues with which that century opened, produced a wide-spread conviction that the end of all things was at hand. The mysterious number of the Beast was found to indicate the year 1666, and timid souls began to discover signs of that falling away from the Faith which is spoken of in the Apocalypse. The majority of the people did not perhaps share this notion, but they believed that the sufferings with which they had been visited were a Divine punishment for having forsaken the ancient customs. And it could not be denied that considerable changes had taken place. Orthodox Russia was now tainted with the presence of heretics. Foreigners who shaved their chins and smoked the accursed weed had been allowed to settle in Moscow, and the Tsars not only held converse with them, but had even adopted some of their "pagan" practises. Besides this, the Government had introduced innovations and reforms, many of which were displeasing to the people. In short, the country was polluted with "heresy"--a subtle, evil influence lurking in everything foreign, and very dangerous to the spiritual and temporal welfare of the Faithful-- something of the nature of an epidemic, but infinitely more dangerous; for disease kills merely the body, whereas "heresy" kills the soul, and causes both soul and body to be cast into hell- fire.
Had the Government introduced the innovations slowly and cautiously, respecting as far as possible all outward forms, it might have effected much without producing a religious panic; but, instead of acting circumspectly as the occasion demanded, it ran full-tilt against the ancient prejudices and superstitious fears, and drove the people into open resistance. When the art of printing was introduced, it became necessary to choose the best texts of the Liturgy, Psalter, and other religious books, and on examination it was found that, through the ignorance and carelessness of copyists, numerous errors had crept into the manuscripts in use. This discovery led to further investigation, which showed that certain irregularities had likewise crept into the ceremonial. The chief of the clerical errors lay in the orthography of the word "Jesus," and the chief irregularity in the ceremonial regarded the position of the fingers when making the sign of the cross.
To correct these errors the celebrated Nikon, who was Patriarch in the time of Tsar Alexis, father of Peter the Great, ordered all the old liturgical books and the old Icons to be called in, and new ones to be distributed; but the clergy and the people resisted. Believing these "Nikonian novelties" to be heretical, they clung to their old Icons, their old missals and their old religious customs as the sole anchors of safety which could save the Faithful from drifting to perdition. In vain the Patriarch assured the people that the change was a return to the ancient forms still preserved in Greece and Constantinople. "The Greek Church," it was replied, "is no longer free from heresy. Orthodoxy has become many-coloured from the violence of the Turkish Mahomet; and the Greeks, under the sons of Hagar, have fallen away from the ancient traditions."
An anathema, formally pronounced by an Ecclesiastical Council against these Nonconformists, had no more effect than the admonitions of the Patriarch. They persevered in their obstinacy, and refused to believe that the blessed saints and holy martyrs who had used the ancient forms had not prayed and crossed themselves aright. "Not those holy men of old, but the present Patriarch and his counsellors must be heretics." "Woe to us! Woe to us!" cried the monks of Solovetsk when they received the new Liturgies. "What have you done with the Son of God? Give him back to us! You have changed Isus [the old Russian form of Jesus] into Iisus! It is fearful not only to commit such a sin, but even to think of it!" And the sturdy monks shut their gates, and defied Patriarch, Council, and Tsar for seven long years, till the monastery was taken by an armed force.
The decree of excommunication pronounced by the Ecclesiastical Council placed the Nonconformists beyond the pale of the Church, and the civil power undertook the task of persecuting them. Persecution had of course merely the effect of confirming the victims in their belief that the Church and the Tsar had become heretical. Thousands fled across the frontier and settled in the neighbouring countries--Poland, Russia, Sweden, Austria, Turkey, the Caucasus, and Siberia. Others concealed themselves in the northern forests and the densely wooded region near the Polish frontier, where they lived by agriculture or fishing, and prayed, crossed themselves and buried their dead according to the customs of their forefathers. The northern forests were their favourite place of refuge. Hither flocked many of those who wished to keep themselves pure and undefiled. Here the more learned men among the Nonconformists--well acquainted with Holy Writ, with fragmentary translations from the Greek Fathers, and with the more important decisions of the early Ecumenical Councils--wrote polemical and edifying works for the confounding of heretics and the confirming of true believers. Hence were sent out in all directions zealous missionaries, in the guise of traders, peddlers, and labourers, to sow what they called the living seed, and what the official Church termed "Satan's tares." When the Government agents discovered these retreats, the inmates generally fled from the "ravenous wolves"; but on more than one occasion a large number of fanatical men and women, shutting themselves up, set fire to their houses, and voluntarily perished in the flames. In Paleostrofski Monastery, for instance, in the year 1687, no less than 2,700 fanatics gained the crown of martyrdom in this way; and many similar instances are on record.* As in all periods of religious panic, the Apocalypse was carefully studied, and the Millennial ideas rapidly spread. The signs of the time were plain: Satan was being let loose for a little season. Men anxiously looked for the reappearance of Antichrist--and Antichrist appeared!
* A list of well-authenticated cases is given by Nilski, "Semeinaya zhizn v russkom Raskole," St. Petersburg, 1869; part I., pp. 55-57. The number of these self-immolators certainly amounted to many thousands.
The man in whom the people recognised the incarnate spirit of evil was no other than Peter the Great.
From the Nonconformist point of view, Peter had very strong claims to be considered Antichrist. He had none of the staid, pious demeanour of the old Tsars, and showed no respect for many things which were venerated by the people. He ate, drank, and habitually associated with heretics, spoke their language, wore their costume, chose from among them his most intimate friends, and favoured them more than his own people. Imagine the horror and commotion which would be produced among pious Catholics if the Pope should some day appear in the costume of the Grand Turk, and should choose Pashas as his chief counsellors! The horror which Peter's conduct produced among a large section of his subjects was not less great. They could not explain it otherwise than by supposing him to be the Devil in disguise, and they saw in all his important measures convincing proofs of his Satanic origin. The newly invented census, or "revision," was a profane "numbering of the people," and an attempt to enrol in the service of Beëlzebub those whose names were written in the Lamb's Book of Life. The new title of Imperator was explained to mean something very diabolical. The passport bearing the Imperial arms was the seal of Antichrist. The order to shave the beard was an attempt to disfigure "the image of God," after which man had been created, and by which Christ would recognise His own at the Last Day. The change in the calendar, by which New Year's Day was transferred from September to January, was the destruction of "the years of our Lord," and the introduction of the years of Satan in their place. Of the ingenious arguments by which these theses were supported, I may quote one by way of illustration. The world, it was explained, could not have been created in January as the new calendar seemed to indicate, because apples are not ripe at that season, and consequently Eve could not have been tempted in the way described!*
* I found this ingenious argument in one of the polemical treatises of the Old Believers.
These ideas regarding Peter and his reforms were strongly confirmed by the vigorous persecutions which took place during the earlier years of his reign. The Nonconformists were constantly convicted of political disaffection--especially of "insulting the Imperial Majesty"--and were accordingly flogged, tortured, and beheaded without mercy. But when Peter had succeeded in putting down all armed opposition, and found that the movement was no longer dangerous for the throne, he adopted a policy more in accordance with his personal character. Whether he had himself any religious belief whatever may be doubted; certainly he had not a spark of religious fanaticism in his nature. Exclusively occupied with secular concerns, he took no interest in subtle questions of religious ceremonial, and was profoundly indifferent as to how his subjects prayed and crossed themselves, provided they obeyed his orders in worldly matters and paid their taxes regularly. As soon, therefore, as political considerations admitted of clemency, he stopped the persecutions, and at last, in 1714, issued ukazes to the effect that all Dissenters might live unmolested, provided they inscribed themselves in the official registers and paid a double poll-tax. Somewhat later they were allowed to practise freely all their old rites and customs, on condition of paying certain fines.
With the accession of Catherine II., "the friend of philosophers," the Raskol,* as the schism had come to be called, entered on a new phase. Penetrated with the ideas of religious toleration then in fashion in Western Europe, Catherine abolished the disabilities to which the Raskolniks were subjected, and invited those of them who had fled across the frontier to return to their homes. Thousands accepted the invitation, and many who had hitherto sought to conceal themselves from the eyes of the authorities became rich and respected merchants. The peculiar semi-monastic religious communities, which had up till that time existed only in the forests of the northern and western provinces, began to appear in Moscow, and were officially recognised by the Administration. At first they took the form of hospitals for the sick, or asylums for the aged and infirm, but soon they became regular monasteries, the superiors of which exercised an undefined spiritual authority not only over the inmates, but also over the members of the sect throughout the length and breadth of the Empire.
* The term is derived from two Russian words--ras, asunder; and kolot, to split. Those who belong to the Raskol are called Raskolniki. They call themselves Staro-obriadtsi (Old Ritualists) or Staroveri (Old Believers).
From that time down to the present the Government has followed a wavering policy, oscillating between complete tolerance and active persecution. It must, however, be said that the persecution has never been of a very searching kind. In persecution, as in all other manifestations, the Russian Church directs its attention chiefly to external forms. It does not seek to ferret out heresy in a man's opinions, but complacently accepts as Orthodox all who annually appear at confession and communion, and who refrain from acts of open hostility. Those who can make these concessions to convenience are practically free from molestation, and those who cannot so trifle with their conscience have an equally convenient method of escaping persecution. The parish clergy, with their customary indifference to things spiritual and their traditional habit of regarding their functions from the financial point of view, are hostile to sectarianism chiefly because it diminishes their revenues by diminishing the number of parishioners requiring their ministrations. This cause of hostility can easily be removed by a certain pecuniary sacrifice on the part of the sectarians, and accordingly there generally exists between them and their parish priest a tacit contract, by which both parties are perfectly satisfied. The priest receives his income as if all his parishioners belonged to the State Church, and the parishioners are left in peace to believe and practise what they please. By this rude, convenient method a very large amount of toleration is effectually secured. Whether the practise has a beneficial moral influence on the parish clergy is, of course, an entirely different question.
When the priest has been satisfied, there still remains the police, which likewise levies an irregular tax on heterodoxy; but the negotiations are generally not difficult, for it is in the interest of both parties that they should come to terms and live in good- fellowship. Thus practically the Raskolniki live in the same condition as in the time of Peter: they pay a tax and are not molested--only the money paid does not now find its way into the Imperial Exchequer.
These external changes in the history of the Raskol have exercised a powerful influence on its internal development.
When formally anathematised and excluded from the dominant Church the Nonconformists had neither a definite organisation nor a positive creed. The only tie that bound them together was hostility to the "Nikonian novelties," and all they desired was to preserve intact the beliefs and customs of their forefathers. At first they never thought of creating any permanent organisation. The more moderate believed that the Tsar would soon re-establish Orthodoxy, and the more fanatical imagined that the end of all things was at hand.* In either case they had only to suffer for a little season, keeping themselves free from the taint of heresy and from all contact with the kingdom of Antichrist.
* Some had coffins made, and lay down in them at night, in the expectation that the Second Advent might take place before the morning.
But years passed, and neither of these expectations was fulfilled. The fanatics awaited in vain the sound of the last trump and the appearance of Christ, coming with His angels to judge the world. The sun continued to rise, and the seasons followed each other in their accustomed course, but the end was not yet. Nor did the civil power return to the old faith. Nikon fell a victim to Court intrigues and his own overweening pride, and was formally deposed. Tsar Alexis in the fulness of time was gathered unto his fathers. But there was no sign of a re-establishment of the old Orthodoxy. Gradually the leading Raskolniki perceived that they must make preparations, not for the Day of Judgment, but for a terrestrial future--that they must create some permanent form of ecclesiastical organisation. In this work they encountered at the very outset not only practical, but also theoretical difficulties.
So long as they confined themselves simply to resisting the official innovations, they seemed to be unanimous; but when they were forced to abandon this negative policy and to determine theoretically their new position, radical differences of opinion became apparent. All were convinced that the official Russian Church had become heretical, and that it had now Antichrist instead of Christ as its head; but it was not easy to determine what should be done by those who refused to bow the knee to the Son of Destruction. According to Protestant conceptions there was a very simple solution of the difficulty: the Nonconformists had simply to create a new Church for themselves, and worship God in the way that seemed good to them. But to the Russians of that time such notions were still more repulsive than the innovations of Nikon. These men were Orthodox to the backbone--"plus royalistes que le roi"--and according to Orthodox conceptions the founding of a new Church is an absurdity. They believed that if the chain of historic continuity were once broken, the Church must necessarily cease to exist, in the same way as an ancient family becomes extinct when its sole representative dies without issue. If, therefore, the Church had already ceased to exist, there was no longer any means of communication between Christ and His people, the sacraments were no longer efficacious, and mankind was forever deprived of the ordinary means of grace.
Now, on this important point there was a difference of opinion among the Dissenters. Some of them believed that, though the ecclesiastical authorities had become heretical, the Church still existed in the communion of those who had refused to accept the innovations. Others declared boldly that the Orthodox Church had ceased to exist, that the ancient means of grace had been withdrawn, and that those who had remained faithful must thenceforth seek salvation, not in the sacraments, but in prayer and such other religious exercises as did not require the co- operation of duly consecrated priests. Thus took place a schism among the Schismatics. The one party retained all the sacraments and ceremonial observances in the older form; the other refrained from the sacraments and from many of the ordinary rites, on the ground that there was no longer a real priesthood, and that consequently the sacraments could not be efficacious. The former party are termed Staro-obriadsti, or Old Ritualists; the latter are called Bezpopoftsi--that is to say, people "without priests" (bez popov).
The succeeding history of these two sections of the Nonconformists has been widely different. The Old Ritualists, being simply ecclesiastical Conservatives desirous of resisting all innovations, have remained a compact body little troubled by differences of opinion. The Priestless People, on the contrary, ever seeking to discover some new effectual means of salvation, have fallen into an endless number of independent sects.
The Old Ritualists had still, however, one important theoretical difficulty. At first they had amongst themselves plenty of consecrated priests for the celebration of the ordinances, but they had no means of renewing the supply. They had no bishops, and according to Orthodox belief the lower degrees of the clergy cannot be created without episcopal consecration. At the time of the schism one bishop had thrown in his lot with the Schismatics, but he had died shortly afterwards without leaving a successor, and thereafter no bishop had joined their ranks. As time wore on, the necessity of episcopal consecration came to be more and more felt, and it is not a little interesting to observe how these rigorists, who held to the letter of the law and declared themselves ready to die for a jot or a tittle, modified their theory in accordance with the changing exigencies of their position. When the priests who had kept themselves "pure and undefiled"--free from all contact with Antichrist--became scarce, it was discovered that certain priests of the dominant Church might be accepted if they formally abjured the Nikonian novelties. At first, however, only those who had been consecrated previous to the supposed apostasy of the Church were accepted, for the very good reason that consecration by bishops who had become heretical could not be efficacious. When these could no longer be obtained it was discovered that those who had been baptised previous to the apostasy might be accepted; and when even these could no longer be found, a still further concession was made to necessity, and all consecrated priests were received on condition of their solemnly abjuring their errors. Of such priests there was always an abundant supply. If a regular priest could not find a parish, or if he was deposed by the authorities for some crime or misdemeanour, he had merely to pass over to the Old Ritualists, and was sure to find among them a hearty welcome and a tolerable salary.
By these concessions the indefinite prolongation of Old Ritualism was secured, but many of the Old Ritualists could not but feel that their position was, to say the least, extremely anomalous. They had no bishops of their own, and their priests were all consecrated by bishops whom they believed to be heretical! For many years they hoped to escape from this dilemma by discovering "Orthodox"--that is to say, Old Ritualist--bishops somewhere in the East; but when the East had been searched in vain, and all their efforts to obtain native bishops proved fruitless, they conceived the design of creating a bishopric somewhere beyond the frontier, among the Old Ritualists who had in times of persecution fled to Prussia, Austria, and Turkey. There were, however, immense difficulties in the way. In the first place it was necessary to obtain the formal permission of some foreign Government; and in the second place an Orthodox bishop must be found, willing to consecrate an Old Ritualist or to become an Old Ritualist himself. Again and again the attempt was made, and failed; but at last, after years of effort and intrigue, the design was realised. In 1844 the Austrian Government gave permission to found a bishopric at Belaya Krinitsa, in Galicia, a few miles from the Russian frontier; and two years later the deposed Metropolitan of Bosnia consented, after much hesitation, to pass over to the Old Ritualist confession and accept the diocese.* From that time the Old Ritualists have had their own bishops, and have not been obliged to accept the runaway priests of the official Church.
* An interesting account of these negotiations, and a most curious picture of the Orthodox ecciestiastical world in Constantinople, is given by Subbotiny, "Istoria Belokrinitskoi Ierarkhii," Moscow, 1874.
The Old Ritualists were naturally much grieved by the schism, and were often sorely tried by persecution, but they have always enjoyed a certain spiritual tranquillity, proceeding from the conviction that they have preserved for themselves the means of salvation. The position of the more extreme section of the Schismatics was much more tragical. They believed that the sacraments had irretrievably lost their efficacy, that the ordinary means of salvation were forever withdrawn, that the powers of darkness had been let loose for a little season, that the authorities were the agents of Satan, and that the personage who filled the place of the old God-fearing Tsars was no other than Antichrist. Under the influence of these horrible ideas they fled to the woods and the caves to escape from the rage of the Beast, and to await the second coming of Our Lord.
This state of things could not continue permanently. Extreme religious fanaticism, like all other abnormal states, cannot long exist in a mass of human beings without some constant exciting cause. The vulgar necessities of everyday life, especially among people who have to live by the labour of their hands, have a wonderfully sobering influence on the excited brain, and must always, sooner or later, prove fatal to inordinate excitement. A few peculiarly constituted individuals may show themselves capable of a lifelong enthusiasm, but the multitude is ever spasmodic in its fervour, and begins to slide back to its former apathy as soon as the exciting cause ceases to act.
All this we find exemplified in the history of the Priestless People. When it was found that the world did not come to an end, and that the rigorous system of persecution was relaxed, the less excitable natures returned to their homes, and resumed their old mode of life; and when Peter the Great made his politic concessions, many who had declared him to be Antichrist came to suspect that he was really not so black as he was painted. This idea struck deep root in a religious community near Lake Onega (Vuigovski Skit) which had received special privileges on condition of supplying labourers for the neighbouring mines; and here was developed a new theory which opened up a way of reconciliation with the Government. By a more attentive study of Holy Writ and ancient books it was discovered that the reign of Antichrist would consist of two periods. In the former, the Son of Destruction would reign merely in the spiritual sense, and the Faithful would not be much molested; in the latter, he would reign visibly in the flesh, and true believers would be subjected to the most frightful persecution. The second period, it was held, had evidently not yet arrived, for the Faithful now enjoyed "a time of freedom, and not of compulsion or oppression." Whether this theory is strictly in accordance with Apocalyptic prophecy and patristic theology may be doubted, but it fully satisfied those who had already arrived at the conclusion by a different road, and who sought merely a means of justifying their position. Certain it is that very many accepted it, and determined to render unto Caesar the things that were Caesar's, or, in secular language, to pray for the Tsar and to pay their taxes.
This ingenious compromise was not accepted by all the Priestless People. On the contrary, many of them regarded it as a woeful backsliding--a new device of the Evil One; and among these irreconcilables was a certain peasant called Theodosi, a man of little education, but of remarkable intellectual power and unusual strength of character. He raised anew the old fanaticism by his preaching and writings--widely circulated in manuscript--and succeeded in founding a new sect in the forest region near the Polish frontier.
The Priestless Nonconformists thus fell into two sections; the one, called Pomortsi,* accepted at least a partial reconciliation with the civil power; the other, called Theodosians, after their founder, held to the old opinions, and refused to regard the Tsar otherwise than as Antichrist.
*The word Pomortsi means "those who live near the seashore." It is commonly applied to the inhabitants of the Northern provinces--that is, those who live near the shore of the White Sea, the only maritime frontier that Russia possessed previous to the conquests of Peter the Great.
These latter were at first very wild in their fanaticism, but ere long they gave way to the influences which had softened the fanaticism of the Pomortsi. Under the liberal, conciliatory rule of Catherine they lived in contentment, and many of them enriched themselves by trade. Their fanatical zeal and exclusiveness evaporated under the influence of material well-being and constant contact with the outer world, especially after they were allowed to build a monastery in Moscow. The Superior of this monastery, a man of much shrewdness and enormous wealth, succeeded in gaining the favour not only of the lower officials, who could be easily bought, but even of high-placed dignitaries, and for many years he exercised a very real, if undefined, authority over all sections of the Priestless People. "His fame," it is said, "sounded throughout Moscow, and the echoes were heard in Petropol (St. Petersburg), Riga, Astrakhan, Nizhni-Novgorod, and other lands of piety"; and when deputies came to consult him, they prostrated themselves in his presence, as before the great ones of the earth. Living thus not only in peace and plenty, but even in honour and luxury, "the proud Patriarch of the Theodosian Church" could not consistently fulminate against "the ravenous wolves" with whom he was on friendly terms, or excite the fanaticism of his followers by highly coloured descriptions of "the awful sufferings and persecution of God's people in these latter days," as the founder of the sect had been wont to do. Though he could not openly abandon any fundamental doctrines, he allowed the ideas about the reign of Antichrist to fall into the background, and taught by example, if not by precept, that the Faithful might, by prudent concessions, live very comfortably in this present evil world. This seed fell upon soil already prepared for its reception. The Faithful gradually forgot their old savage fanaticism, and they have since contrived, while holding many of their old ideas in theory, to accommodate themselves in practice to the existing order of things.
The gradual softening and toning down of the original fanaticism in these two sects are strikingly exemplified in their ideas of marriage. According to Orthodox doctrine, marriage is a sacrament which can only be performed by a consecrated priest, and consequently for the Priestless People the celebration of marriage was an impossibility. In the first ages of sectarianism a state of celibacy was quite in accordance with their surroundings. Living in constant fear of their persecutors, and wandering from one place of refuge to another, the sufferers for the Faith had little time or inclination to think of family ties, and readily listened to the monks, who exhorted them to mortify the lusts of the flesh.
The result, however, proved that celibacy in the creed by no means ensures chastity in practice. Not only in the villages of the Dissenters, but even in those religious communities which professed a more ascetic mode of life, a numerous class of "orphans" began to appear, who knew not who their parents were; and this ignorance of blood-relationship naturally led to incestuous connections. Besides this, the doctrine of celibacy had grave practical inconveniences, for the peasant requires a housewife to attend to domestic concerns and to help him in his agricultural occupations. Thus the necessity of re-establishing family life came to be felt, and the feeling soon found expression in a doctrinal form both among the Pomortsi and among the Theodsians. Learned dissertations were written and disseminated in manuscript copies, violent discussions took place, and at last a great Council was held in Moscow to discuss the question.* The point at issue was never unanimously decided, but many accepted the ingenious arguments in favour of matrimony, and contracted marriages which were, of course, null and void in the eye of the law and of the Church, but valid in all other respects.
* I cannot here enter into the details of this remarkable controversy, but I may say that in studying it I have been frequently astonished by the dialectical power and logical subtlety displayed by the disputants, some of them simple peasants.
This new backsliding of the unstable multitude produced a new outburst of fanaticism among the stubborn few. Some of those who had hitherto sought to conceal the origin of the "orphan" class above referred to now boldly asserted that the existence of this class was a religious necessity, because in order to be saved men must repent, and in order to repent men must sin! At the same time the old ideas about Antichrist were revived and preached with fervour by a peasant called Philip, who founded a new sect called the Philipists. This sect still exists. They hold fast to the old belief that the Tsar is Antichrist, and that the civil and ecclesiastical authorities are the servants of Satan--an idea that was kept alive by the corruption and extortion for which the Administration was notorious. They do not venture on open resistance to the authorities, but the bolder members take little pains to conceal their opinions and sentiments, and may be easily recognised by their severe aspect, their Puritanical manner, and their Pharisaical horror of everything which they suppose heretical and unclean. Some of them, it is said, carry this fastidiousness to such an extent that they throw away the handle of a door if it has been touched by a heretic!
It may seem that we have here reached the extreme limits of fanaticism, but in reality there were men whom even the Pharisaical Puritanism of the Philipists did not satisfy. These new zealots, who appeared in the time of Catherine II., but first became known to the official world in the reign of Nicholas I., rebuked the lukewarmness of their brethren, and founded a new sect in order to preserve intact the asceticism practised immediately after the schism. This sect still exists. They call themselves "Christ's people" (Christoviye Lyudi), but are better known under the popular name of "Wanderers" (Stranniki), or "Fugitives" (Beguny). Of all the sects they are the most hostile to the existing political and social organisation. Not content with condemning the military conscription, the payment of taxes, the acceptance of passports, and everything connected with the civil and ecclesiastical authorities, they consider it sinful to live peaceably among an orthodox--that is, according to their belief, a heretical-- population, and to have dealings with any who do not share their extreme views. Holding the Antichrist doctrine in the extreme form, they declare that Tsars are the vessels of Satan, that the Established Church is the dwelling-place of the Father of Lies, and that all who submit to the authorities are children of the Devil. According to this creed, those who wish to escape from the wrath to come must have neither houses nor fixed places of abode, must sever all ties that bind them to the world, and must wander about continually from place to place. True Christians are but strangers and pilgrims in the present life, and whoso binds himself to the world will perish with the world.
Such is the theory of these Wanderers, but among them, as among the less fanatical sects, practical necessities have produced concessions and compromises. As it is impossible to lead a nomadic life in Russian forests, the Wanderers have been compelled to admit into their ranks what may be called lay-brethren--men who nominally belong to the sect, but who live like ordinary mortals and have some rational way of gaining a livelihood. These latter live in the villages or towns, support themselves by agriculture or trade, accept passports from the authorities, pay their taxes regularly, and conduct themselves in all outward respects like loyal subjects. Their chief religious duty consists in giving food and shelter to their more zealous brethren, who have adopted a vagabond life in practise as well as in theory. It is only when they feel death approaching that they consider it necessary to separate themselves from the heretical world, and they effect this by having themselves carried out to some neighbouring wood--or into a garden if there is no wood at hand--where they may die in the open air.
Thus, we see, there is among the Russian Nonconformist sects what may be called a gradation of fanaticism, in which is reflected the history of the Great Schism. In the Wanderers we have the representatives of those who adopted and preserved the Antichrist doctrine in its extreme form--the successors of those who fled to the forests to escape from the rage of the Beast and to await the second coming of Christ. In the Philipists we have the representatives of those who adopted these ideas in a somewhat softer form, and who came to recognise the necessity of having some regular means of subsistence until the last trump should be heard. The Theodosians represent those who were in theory at one with the preceding category, but who, having less religious fanaticism, considered it necessary to yield to force and make peace with the Government without sacrificing their convictions. In the Pomortsi we see those who preserved only the religious ideas of the schism, and became reconciled with the civil power. Lastly we have the Old Ritualists, who differed from all the other sects in retaining the old ordinances, and who simply rejected the spiritual authority of the dominant Church. Besides these chief sections of the Nonconformists there are a great many minor denominations (tolki), differing from each other on minor points of doctrine. In certain districts, it is said, nearly every village has one or two independent sects. This is especially the case among the Don Cossacks and the Cossacks of the Ural, who are in part descendants of the men who fled from the early persecutions.
Of all the sects the Old Ritualists stand nearest to the official Church. They hold the same dogmas, practise the same rites, and differ only in trifling ceremonial matters, which few people consider essential. In the hope of inducing them to return to the official fold the Government created at the beginning of last century special churches, in which they were allowed to retain their ceremonial peculiarities on condition of accepting regularly consecrated priests and submitting to ecclesiastical jurisdiction. As yet the design has not met with much success. The great majority of the Old Ritualists regard it as a trap, and assert that the Church in making this concession has been guilty of self- contradiction. "The Ecclesiastical Council of Moscow," they say, "anathematised our forefathers for holding to the old ritual, and declared that the whole course of nature would be changed sooner than the curse be withdrawn. The course of nature has not been changed, but the anathema has been cancelled." This argument ought to have a certain weight with those who believe in the infallibility of Ecclesiastical Councils.
Towards the Priestless People the Government has always acted in a much less conciliatory spirit. Its severity has been sometimes justified on the ground that sectarianism has had a political as well as a religious significance. A State like Russia cannot overlook the existence of sects which preach the duty of systematic resistance to the civil and ecclesiastical authorities and hold doctrines which lead to the grossest immorality. This argument, it must be admitted, is not without a certain force, but it seems to me that the policy adopted tended to increase rather than diminish the evils which it sought to cure. Instead of dispelling the absurd idea that the Tsar was Antichrist by a system of strict and evenhanded justice, punishing merely actual crimes and delinquencies, the Government confirmed the notion in the minds of thousands by persecuting those who had committed no crime and who desired merely to worship God according to their conscience. Above all it erred in opposing and punishing those marriages which, though legally irregular, were the best possible means of diminishing fanaticism, by leading back the fanatics to healthy social life. Fortunately these errors have now been abandoned. A policy of greater clemency and conciliation has been adopted, and has proved much more efficacious than persecution. The Dissenters have not returned to the official fold, but they have lost much of their old fanaticism and exclusiveness.
In respect of numbers the sectarians compose a very formidable body. Of Old Ritualists and Priestless People there are, it is said, no less than eleven millions; and the Protestant and fantastical sects comprise probably about five millions more. If these numbers be correct, the sectarians constitute about an eighth of the whole population of the Empire. They count in their ranks none of the nobles--none of the so-called enlightened class--but they include in their number a respectable proportion of the peasants, a third of the rich merchant class, the majority of the Don Cossacks, and nearly all the Cossacks of the Ural.
Under these circumstances it is important to know how far the sectarians are politically disaffected. Some people imagine that in the event of an insurrection or a foreign invasion they might rise against the Government, whilst others believe that this supposed danger is purely imaginary. For my own part I agree with the latter opinion, which is strongly supported by the history of many important events, such as the French invasion in 1812, the Crimean War, and the last Polish insurrection. The great majority of the Schismatics and heretics are, I believe, loyal subjects of the Tsar. The more violent sects, which are alone capable of active hostility against the authorities, are weak in numbers, and regard all outsiders with such profound mistrust that they are wholly impervious to inflammatory influences from without. Even if all the sects were capable of active hostility, they would not be nearly so formidable as their numbers seem to indicate, for they are hostile to each other, and are wholly incapable of combining for a common purpose.
Though sectarianism is thus by no means a serious political danger, it has nevertheless a considerable political significance. It proves satisfactorily that the Russian people is by no means so docile and pliable as is commonly supposed, and that it is capable of showing a stubborn, passive resistance to authority when it believes great interests to be at stake. The dogged energy which it has displayed in asserting for centuries its religious liberty may perhaps some day be employed in the arena of secular politics.