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The Raskol, And Sects in Russia.

From the French of Anatole Leroy-Beaulieu



For more than two centuries Russian orthodoxy has been undermined by obscure sects, unknown to foreigners, and little known to Russians themselves. Beneath the imposing pile of the official Church have been hollowed out vast underground burrows and a labyrinth of gloomy crypts, which form a retreat for the popular beliefs and superstitions. We propose to descend into these catacombs of ignorance and fanaticism. We shall attempt to map them out, to explore their remotest nooks, and to lay hold in this, their hiding-place, of the character and aspirations of the people. Nothing could yield better means of acquaintance with the genius of the nation and the groundwork of Russian society. The Raskol, with its thousand sects, is perhaps the most original feature of Russia, and what most sharply distinguishes it from Western Europe.

Like rivers colored by the soil through which they flow, religions often change their characteristics according to the nations who practice them. The Raskol is Byzantine Christianity issuing from the Russian lower classes. In the thick and muddy waters of Muscovite sectarianism we can distinguish foreign admixtures, sometimes Protestant, sometimes Jewish, or even Mohammedan, more frequently Gnostic or pagan. The Raskol, nevertheless, remains wholly different, in principle and in tendency, from all the religions and religious movements of the world: it is original and national from the foundation up. So thoroughly Russian is it that outside of its native country it has never made a proselyte, and even within the empire has hardly any adherents excepting among the people of "Greater Russia," the most thoroughly national of all. So spontaneous has been its growth that in all its phases it is its own best interpreter, and if confined to an isolated continent, its development would have been the same. The Raskol is the most national of all the religious movements to which Christianity has given birth, and at the same time the most exclusively popular. It took its rise, not in the schools, nor in the monasteries, but in the mujik's hovel and in the shop; and it has never spread beyond its birthplace. Hence, the student of politics and the philosopher take a keener interest in ignorant heresies than is to be found in their doctrines alone. These sects of lately-liberated peasants claim an attention by no means due to their meagre theology, from their being the symptom of a mental condition and a social state for even a distant approach to which all Western Europe would be scoured in vain.

The Raskol (schism) is neither a sect nor a group of sects. It is, rather, an aggregate of doctrines and heresies, which are often divergent or even contradictory, with no other tie than a common starting-point and a common hostility to the official orthodox Church. In this respect the Raskol is more nearly analogous to Protestantism than to anything else. It is inferior to Protestantism in the numbers and education of its adherents, but it almost equals it as regards the variety and originality of its developments. Further the likeness cannot be fairly said to go. In the midst of their unfilial revolt, German Protestantism and the Russian Raskol preserve alike the signs of their origin, the stamp (so to speak) of the Church whence they have issued, as well as of the widely-differing states of society which gave them birth. In Western Europe love of speculation and a critical spirit gave rise to the larger part of modern sects, while in Russia they are the offspring of reverence and unenlightened obstinacy. In the West, the predominance of feeling over the value attached to the externals of religion has been the cause of religious divisions, whereas the same result has been produced in Russia by an extraordinary reverence for external forms for ritual and ceremonial. The two movements thus seem to be in absolutely opposite directions, but they have nevertheless terminated at the same point. In other words, the Raskol, when once freed from the authority which maintained the unity of the faith, was as powerless as Protestantism to establish any authority within itself. It has in consequence become a prey to the same license of opinion, to the same individualism, and, finally, to the same anarchy.

Few religious revolutions have involved results so, complex as the Raskol, yet few have been simpler in their inception. The countless sects which for two centuries have had their being among the Russian people took their rise, in general, from the revision of the liturgy. One stock produced them nearly all: only a few sects (though these, by the way, are by no means the least curious) date from an earlier time or have another origin than this liturgic reform. The Middle Ages in Russia, as elsewhere, were marked by the rise of heresies. Of these the oldest may have arisen before the Mongol conquest, from contact with Greeks or Slaves, particularly with the Bulgarian Bogomiles, the ancestors or Oriental brethren of the Albigenses. Other heresies sprang up later in the North, in the Novgorod region, from intercourse with Jewish or other Western traders. Of most of these the name alone remains: such are the Martinovtsy, the Strigolniki, the Judaizers, and so on. All these sects were dying away when the Raskol broke out; and it absorbed all the vague, embryonic beliefs floating in the popular mind. Some of these antique heresies—the Strigolniki, for instance—after having disappeared from history, seem to have come to light again in the shape of certain sects of our own days; and one might fancy that they had been for centuries running on in an underground channel.

In the dim disputes of mediæval times, however, one may make out with some clearness the fundamental principle of the Raskol: it is a scrupulous veneration for the letter—formalism, in a word. "In such a year," says a Novgorod chronicler of the fifteenth century, "certain philosophers began to chant, 'O Lord, have mercy upon us!' while others said, 'Lord, have mercy upon us!'" In this remark the whole Raskol stands revealed. Controversies like these begat the schism which has rent the Russian Church asunder. Religious invocations have for this people the nature of magical formulæ, the slightest change in which destroys their efficacy. The Russian clings to the heathen feeling, though he hides it under a Christian veil. He believes in the power of particular words and gestures. He still seems to regard his priest as a kind of chaman, religious ceremonies as enchantments, and religion in general as witchcraft. A fondness for rites (obriad) is indeed one of the characteristics of the inhabitant of Greater Russia. The way in which Russia was converted to Christianity has much to do with this. The mass of the people became Christians at the bidding of others, and with no sufficient preparatory instruction, without even having passed through all the stages of that polytheistic evolution from which other nations of Europe had emerged before their adoption of Christianity. The religion of the gospel was, in its highest statement, too far advanced for the mental and social condition of the people; and so it was corrupted, or rather reduced to external forms. Russia adopted merely the outside of Christianity; and there, even more strictly than in the West, it is true that the peasant was still a heathen. Other nations have adopted the outside of a religion, and have afterward absorbed its spirit: from its geographical and historical remoteness such an absorption was hard for Russia to achieve. It was separated from the centres of the Christian world by distance and by Mongol rule: its religion, like everything else, was debased by poverty and ignorance. Theology, properly speaking, utterly vanished, and its place was taken by ceremonial, which thus became the whole of religion. Amidst the general degradation a knowledge of the words and rites of public worship was all that could be exacted of a clergy which did not always know how to read.

The changes which had taken place in the traditional texts and ritual have little solid ground for the popular devotion entertained for them. The liturgy was corrupted by the superstitious veneration paid it by the ignorant. False readings had crept into the books which contained the various local "uses," to borrow a term from the Anglican terminology. Liturgical unity had imperceptibly disappeared amidst various readings and discordant ceremonies. In course of transcription absurdities had slipped into the missals, along with grotesque additions and arbitrary intercalations, while the new readings were received with the respect due to antiquity, and these sometimes unintelligible passages acquired a sanctity in direct proportion to their obscurity. The devout mind found in them mysteries and occult meanings. On such perverted texts were erected theories and systems which pious fraud from time to time expanded into treatises attributed to the Fathers of the Church. So wild was the confusion, and so palpable the alterations, that early in the sixteenth century Vassili IV., a Russian prince, summoned a Greek monk for the purpose of revising the liturgical books. But the blind veneration of the clergy and people rendered this attempt abortive. The reviser, Maximus, was condemned by a council, and confined on a charge of heresy in a distant monastery. The crisis was superinduced by the introduction of the press. Here, as elsewhere, the new discovery brought with it a taste for the study and revision of texts, and ultimately violent theological contests. The missals which issued from the Russian presses of the sixteenth century at first only aggravated the evils for which they should have afforded a remedy. The errors of the manuscripts from which they were printed received from these missals the authority and circulation of type. The copyists had introduced countless variations, but these acquired a fresh unity and unanimity from the very fact of their publication in such a form.

The Slavonic liturgy of Russia seemed in a state of hopeless corruption when, toward the middle of the seventeenth century, the patriarch Nikon determined upon a measure of reform. In addition to a degree of cultivation unusual in his age and country, and an enterprising and determined character, he possessed what was specially required for such a step: he had learning, firmness and power, for through his influence over Alexis, the czar, he ruled the State almost as thoroughly as he ruled the Church. In Russia, as it was before Peter the Great, a task so completely dependent on learning was indeed a bold undertaking. By order of the patriarch ancient Greek and Slavonic manuscripts were gathered from all quarters, and monks were summoned from Byzantium and from the learned community of Athos to collate the Slavic versions with their Greek originals. The interpolations due to the ignorance or whims of copyists were remorselessly stricken out, and into the ritual, thus purified, was introduced the pomp customary at the court of Byzantium. The new missals were printed and adopted by a council (through the patriarch's influence), and finally imposed, with all the authority of the state government, on every Russian province. "A sore trembling laid hold upon me," says a copyist of the sixteenth century, "and I was affrighted when the reverend Maximus the Greek bade me blot out certain lines from one of our Church books." Not less was the scandal under Peter the Great. The man who laid hands on the sacred books was everywhere held guilty of sacrilege. Whether from a knowledge of the propriety of the measure, or from the spirit of ecclesiastical fidelity, the higher clergy upheld the patriarch, but their inferiors and the common people made a determined fight. And even now, after the lapse of more than two centuries, a large body adhere immovably to the ancient books and the ancient ritual, which are made sacred to them by the approbation of national councils and the blessing of generations of patriarchs. Such was the inception of the schism, the Raskol, which still divides the Russian Church. Tracing the matter back to its source, the contest is seen to turn upon the knotty question of the transmission and the translation of the sacred texts, which has more than once divided the churches of the West. In Russia no one was competent to form a proper judgment of the essence of the dispute, and it was thus rendered only more lasting and bitter. Monks, deacons, plain sextons, denounced the innovations as novelties borrowed from Rome or from the Protestants, and as being tantamount to the bringing in of a new religion. When the Church brought to bear upon these recusants the pains and penalties everywhere employed against heretics, the only result was to give the schism martyrs, and with martyrs a fresh impetus. Ten years after the promulgation of the revised liturgy its rash author fell a victim to the jealousy of the boyards and to his own arrogance, and was solemnly deposed by a council. To the Raskol his deposition appeared in the light of a justification of their own course. The condemnation of the reformer seemed necessarily to involve the condemnation of the reform. Great, then, was the popular bewilderment when the council turned from deposing the author of the liturgic revision to hurl its anathemas against those who opposed that revision. The share taken in this excommunication by the Oriental patriarchs rather lessened than added to its weight, since the dissenters denied to Greek and Syrian bishops, who knew not a letter of the Slavonic alphabet, the right of passing judgment on Slavonic books.

The theological world is no stranger to subtleties, but never perhaps did causes so trifling breed such interminable quarrels. The sign and the form of the cross, the heading of processions westward or eastward, the reading of a particular article of the Creed, the spelling of the name of Jesus, the inscription to be placed over the crucifix, the single or double repetition of the Hallelujah, the number of eucharistic wafers to be consecrated,—such are the leading points in the controversy which ever since has rent the Russian Church. The orthodox make the sign of the cross with three fingers, while the dissenters follow the Armenian practice of only two. The former permit the cross with four arms, like our own: the latter cannot away with any but that with eight arms, with a crosspiece for the Saviour's head and another for his feet. Since the reform the Church chants the Hallelujah thrice, the Raskolniks only twice. The dissenters defend their persistence by symbolical interpretations, and delight to make a profession of faith out of the simplest rite. For instance, they insist that after their fashion of making the sign of the cross the three closed fingers render homage to the Trinity, while the two others testify to the double nature of Christ, so that, without uttering a word, the sign of the cross is an act of adherence to the three fundamental dogmas of Christianity—the Trinity, the incarnation and the atonement. In like manner they interpret the double Hallelujah following the three Glorias, and cast it in the teeth of their opponents that they ignore in their ritual one or another of the great Christian doctrines. Such interpretations, based on corrupted texts or feigned visions, show the grotesque blending of coarseness and subtlety which makes up the Raskol.

If we may judge from the origin of the schism, its essence lies in the worship of the letter, the servile respect for forms. To the anti-reforming Russian, ceremonies form the whole of Christianity, and liturgy is one with orthodoxy. The same confusion between faith and the outward forms of worship is revealed by the chosen name in which the dissenters delight. Not content with the title of Starovbriadtsy (old ritualists), they adopt that of Starovery (maintainers of the old faith), which amounts to styling themselves true believers, the genuine orthodox, since in religious matters, unlike those of human science, authority is on the side of antiquity, and even innovations must come forward invoking the past. Here, as often happens, there is little ground for the Starovery's boast, for if they preserve the ancient Russian books, their opponents have gone back to the old Byzantine liturgy; and the party which most loudly vaunts its claim to antiquity does so with least reason.

The principle of the Raskol, which sometimes runs out into the wildest dreams of mysticism, is essentially realistic. Under this materialistic cultus, however, there lurks a sort of idealism, of coarse spiritualism. Religious vagaries, with all their absurdities, always have a lofty, sometimes even a sublime, side. It would be wrong to fancy that there is nothing but ignorant superstition in the Starovere's scrupulous attachment to his ancestral worship. The vulgar heresy is, in fact, only an overdone ritualism, whose logic lands it in absurdity. The Old Believer's reverence for the letter comes from his belief that letter and spirit are indissolubly united, and that the forms of religion are as needful as its essence. Religion is to him, both as regards forms and dogmas, a whole, all whose parts hang together; and no human hand can touch this masterpiece of Providence without blemishing it. There is an occult sense in every word and in every rite. He cannot believe that any ceremony or formula of the Church is void of meaning or of efficacy. Divine service has nothing in it merely accessory, indifferent or unmeaning. Holy things are holy throughout: in the worship of the Lord everything is deep and full of mystery; and it is blasphemy to change anything or to withhold from it its proper veneration. The Starovere, of course, cannot formulate his doctrine, but if he could, religion would appear, according to his view, a sort of completed and adequate representation of the supernatural world. His simple logic exacts from all public worship an absolute perfection which it is impossible to realize. Looked at in this light, the Old Believer who marched to the stake for the sign of the cross, and sacrificed his tongue rather than chant another Hallelujah, grows highly respectable. From this standing-point the Russian schism is essentially religious: its mistake, so to speak, is the excess of religion. Symbolism is the principle of its formalism, or rather the Raskol is symbolism run into a heresy. This gives it originality and value in sectarian history. To these extravagant ritualists ceremonies are not simply the garb of religion: they are its flesh and blood, in whose absence dogma is but a lifeless skeleton. Thus, the Raskol is the direct opposite of ordinary Protestantism, which by its very nature sets small store by outward ceremonies, regarding them as needless ornament or a dangerous superfluity. Ritual to the Starovere is as much an integral part of traditional Christianity as doctrine: it, is equally the legacy of Christ and the apostles; and the sole mission of the Church and the clergy is to preserve both intact. This leaning to symbolism saves his scrupulous fidelity to outward forms from degenerating into a slavish superstition. On the other hand, the allegorizing tendency which clings fast to the letter sometimes takes odd liberties with the spirit of ceremonies and texts. It is the peculiarity of the symbolizing temper scrupulously to respect the form while arbitrarily dealing with the spirit. Thus, the ritual and the sacred books become a kind of heavenly charade, whose answer must be found by the imagination. And so, in their hunt after the hidden sense of narratives and words, some of the Raskolniks have allegorized the histories of the Old and New Testaments, and changed the gospel records into parables. Some have gone so far as to see in the greatest of the gospel miracles nothing but types. Such a system of exegesis easily leads to a kind of mystic rationalism: the forms of religion tend to gain more consistency than the essence, and public worship to be placed above doctrine. Some of the extreme sects of the Raskol have actually reached this point. A perfect carnival of wild interpretation prevailed among this ignorant rabble, and crazy doctrines and grotesque tenets were not slow in following in its train.

The Old Believer loves his peculiar rites, not only for the meaning he puts into them, but also for the sake of the authority on which he holds them: the moral and social rationale of the schism is a deep respect for traditional customs and for the habits handed down from his forefathers. But even in his slavish devotion to ancestral ritual and prayers the Starovere simply exaggerates a feeling which, if not properly religious, commonly links itself with religion and adds to its influence. All men and all nations set great store by the maintenance of their hereditary faith, and even the common rhetorical abuse of such phrases demonstrates its power. When thus intertwined with the associations of family and country, religion assumes the guise of an inheritance solemnly committed to our trust by the departed. This feeling is singularly powerful in Russia from linking itself with a superstitious veneration for antiquity. You can often get no other reason from many of these sectaries for the faith that is in them. Quite recently a judge tried to bring to reason a group of peasants who were under prosecution for celebrating clandestine religious rites, but he could extract no other answer than this: "Our fathers practiced these customs. Take us anywhere you please, but leave us free to worship as our fathers did." A like reply is said to have been made by the Old Believers of Moscow to the late czarovitch on occasion of a visit to their burying-ground at Rogojski.

The liturgic reform of the seventeenth century was a revolution in the simplest elements of worship: it called upon the son to unlearn the sign of the cross that his mother had taught him. Such a change would have been hazardous anywhere, but it caused a peculiarly serious disturbance in Russia, where all prayer is connected with a kind of ceremonial of repeated bowings and crossings, which more closely resemble the devotional customs of the Mohammedans than those of other Christian countries. The people violently rejected the new sign of the cross and the entire reformed liturgy. It mattered little that the new ritual was more ancient than their own. The ignorant Russian knows no antiquity older than his fathers and grandfathers, and his attachment to the outer forms of orthodoxy was only intensified by remembering the recent attempts of popes and Jesuits to gain a foothold in the country. If he suffered the least change in his cherished customs, he might risk being Romanized, and, like the United Greeks of Poland, one day wake up and find himself part and parcel of the spiritual dominion of the papacy. With such dim fears the Old Believer opposed to the orthodox hierarchy a blind fidelity to orthodoxy. Their dread of seeing the Church corrupted inspired people and clergy with suspicion of all foreigners, even of their brethren in the faith whom the czars or the patriarchs had invited from Byzantium and from Kief. The Russian alone, of all the orthodox nations, had maintained his independence against infidel and pope, and he held himself the people of God, chosen to preserve the true faith. Everything European was indiscriminately rejected by this long-isolated nation. Their detestation of the West, its churches and its civilization, leads some of the Old Believers to anathematize even the language of theology and learning. Not longer ago than the close of the last century one of their writers waxed hot against the orthodox priests of Lesser Russia, many of whom, he said, "study the thrice-accursed Latin tongue." He reviled them for their readiness to commit the mortal sin of calling God Deus, and God the Father Pater, as though the Deity could have no other than the Slavic name of Bog, or the change of appellation involved a change of God. A like spirit is evident in the resistance offered by the Staroveres to the correct spelling of the name of Jesus, whom they persist in calling Issous, rejecting as diabolical the more accurate form Iissous. Such peculiarities show a nation shut up in its own vastness and isolated by its position and its history. It is a kind of Christianized China, knowing, and desiring to know, nothing beyond itself.

The revolt against the innovating patriarch was, in reality, a revolt against foreign, particularly against Western, influences. Instead of the accusation that he leaned to Romanism or Lutheranism, it would have been a better representation of the real grievance to charge him and the czar with borrowing from the West, not its theology, but its spirit and civilization, and even this, perhaps, unwittingly. The outbreak of the Raskol synchronizes with the introduction of foreign influence; and the coincidence is not accidental. The schism was but the reaction against the reforms which the Romanoffs carried out in so European a spirit. The patriarch's enterprise has been sometimes attributed to his vanity or his thirst for literary fame, but it was really the first indication of the approaching revolution, and of a growing sympathy with the West, where (as in England, for instance) at about the same period analogous reforms gave birth to similar disturbances. If the former hermit of the White Sea invited criticism and learning to review the ritual of his Church, it was only in obedience to the same Zeitgeist which under Peter the Great's elder brother, who succeeded Alexis, was to found at Moscow a kind of ecclesiastical university modeled on that of Kief. The Church, not less than the State, felt the Western breeze that was rising on the Russian steppes. And, as the Western spirit first attempted to introduce itself in the sphere of religion, so religion confronted it with its most formidable barrier. From the historian's point of view, the Raskol is that same popular resistance to the introduction of Western novelties which under Peter the Great passed from its original aspect of an ecclesiastical and religious revolt into the further stage of a social and civil insurrection.



In spite of himself, Peter the Great both inherited and aggravated the schism. At the present day it is hard to picture the impression produced upon his subjects by Peter I. He not merely astonished and bewildered them: he scandalized them. An open, systematic and sometimes brutal attack was made upon the customs, traditions and prejudices of the people. The reformer did not confine himself to the civil institutions: he laid violent hands upon the Church, and forced his way into the family, regulating, as the whim seized him, both public affairs and the private life of the citizen. The old-fashioned Russian was a stranger in Peter's new empire. His eyes were shocked by the spectacle of an unaccustomed garb, and novel administrative titles fell strangely on his ear. Names and things, the almanac and the laws, the alphabet and the fashions of dress,—everything was transformed. The very elements of civilization were hardly recognizable. The year began on the first of January, instead of the first of September. Men were no longer to date from the creation, but must adopt the Latin era. The old Slavonic characters, hallowed by immemorial ecclesiastical use, were partly cast aside, and what were retained took a new shape. The masculine attire was altered and the chin was shorn of its beard, while the veil no longer might protect the modesty of the women. The impression made by such a succession of shocks upon a nation so bigotedly attached to its ancestral ways was comparable only to an earthquake rocking Old Russia to its foundations.

Many of these innovations, as being borrowed from the Romanists or the Lutherans of the West, had a religious significance for the people. The change introduced by Peter the Great in the ancient calendar, in the Slavonic alphabet and in the national costume seemed but a carrying out of those which Nikon had initiated. So natural was the parallel that the Old Believers held the one to be but the continuation of the other; and the notion took shape in a seditious legend, according to which Peter was the adulterous offspring of the patriarch. The popular aversion felt for the reforms of the latter was augmented by that aroused by the emperor's innovations: the social revolt took the disguise of religion, since it had been provoked by a Church measure, and still more because Russia had not yet emerged from that stage of civilization in which every great popular movement assumes a religious aspect. A national prestige was thus communicated to the Raskol, which in its turn lent to the popular resistance the energy of religion. By giving the social revolt the semblance of a struggle for the rights of conscience the schism imparted to it a vigor and persistency which the lapse of two centuries has not succeeded in crushing.

But the Raskol rebelled not only against innovations and the introduction of foreign elements, but still more obstinately against the principle of the reforms and the modern method of state administration. The Russian, like the Mohammedan East of to-day and all other primitive societies, was most keenly sensitive to the burdens and vexations made necessary by this imitation of the European governmental system. From this point of view the Raskol was the opposition of a half-patriarchal society to the regular, scientific, omnipresent, impersonal system of European administration. It kicks instinctively against centralization and bureaucracy—against the state's encroachments upon private life, the family and the community. It struggles to tear itself loose from the pitiless machinery of government, hemming every life within its iron pale. The Cossack took refuge in the wild freedom of nomadic life, and the Old Believer was equally averse to giving in to the complicated mechanism of government. He would have nothing to do with the census, with passports or stamped paper. He strove to elude the new systems of taxation and conscription, and to this day some of the Raskolniks are in a state of systematic revolt against the simplest of governmental methods. Religious grounds, of course, are found for this insubordination, and they have theological arguments to urge against the census, as well as against the registration of births and deaths. In the opinion of a strict Old Believer the right of numbering the people belongs to God alone, as is shown by the biblical record of David's punishment. Sometimes the official designations strengthen the scruples of these simple folk, with their tendency to attach a great importance to phrases and names; and hence, partly at least, the popular antipathy to the poll-tax under its Russian form, "soul-tax." The revolt against such phrases is the fashion in which this nation of serfs, whose body was chained to the soil, asserted its possession of a soul.

The struggle against the supervision and interference of the state has gone with some sects to the length of refusing submission to obligations imposed by every civilized country. The Stranniki (wanderers) in particular boast of keeping up a ceaseless struggle with the civil authority, and make rebellion a moral principle and a religious duty. From condemning the state as the protector and helper of the Church, they have come to cursing it for its own tendencies and claims. Thus, the singular spectacle is presented of the more extreme schismatics looking upon their native government with the same feelings as were entertained by some of the Christians of the first three centuries toward the pagan empire of Rome. To these fanatics the government of the orthodox czars came to be the reign of Satan and the dominion of Antichrist. Nor was this an empty metaphor: it was a clear, determined conviction, and it still exerts a strong religious and political influence upon the schism. The Raskolniks could see but one interpretation of the overturning of public and private order under Peter the Great, and for what they regarded as the triumph of darkness: to them it was the coming end of the world and the advent of Antichrist. The old customs, it seemed, must carry with them in their fall the Church, society and all mankind. For centuries the extremity of agony or of wonder has wrung this cry from Christendom. After political revolutions and disastrous wars, in the most enlightened countries of Europe, in France and elsewhere, religious persons, in the panic of calamity, have been seen to take refuge in this last solution for the woes of Church or of State, and proclaim with the Raskolniks that the time was at hand. But what must have been the state of mind in Old Russia when the stunning blows of Peter the Great seemed to be dashing everything to pieces? Even at the period of the liturgic reform the fanatics had cried that the patriarch's fall was the harbinger of the world's end. The days of man, they said, are numbered; the Apocalyptic woes are at hand; Antichrist draws nigh. With the accession of Peter the Great, while he was reducing everything to confusion before their bewildered eyes, and trampling under foot the old customs, along with morality itself at times, the Raskolniks were at no loss to recognize in him the coming Antichrist. Nations are not always clear-sighted: the creator of modern Russia was regarded by a considerable portion of his subjects as an envoy or representative of hell; and his empire has never ceased to hold the unexampled position of a government cursed by a part of its own people as the dominion of Antichrist.

This Satanic apotheosis derived no little support from some of the reformer's idiosyncrasies. He was to his subjects what a rejected claimant of the Messianic office may have been to the Jews—a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence to the people whom he came to bring to a new birth. His civil and ecclesiastical reforms, with the seeming decapitation of the Church by the abrogation of the patriarchate, were to the mass of the people an enigma only one shade less disreputable than the demeanor of himself and his courtiers. The repudiation of his legitimate wife, Eudoxia, and his adulterous connection with a foreign concubine, the death (perhaps by his own hand) of his son Alexis, even the morbid state of his health and the nervous twitching of his face, and his astonishing triumphs after equally incredible disasters, contributed to invest the sombre and gigantic physiognomy of the reformer with a kind of diabolic halo. The vices of Ivan the Terrible had been as monstrous, but even in the thick of his crimes he was a true Russian, as superstitious a devotee as the meanest of his subjects. But the astonishment and bewilderment inspired by Peter the Great were only deepened by the reverence felt by the old Russian for the person of his sovereign. Men could not help doubting whether such a man, who had cast aside his national and scriptural title for the foreign and heathen style of emperor, could be the true, the "white" czar. The story of the usurpers and the false Dmitri had not faded from the popular memory; and thus there grew up amidst the unlettered and bewildered Russian people a string of legends in which were harmonized their belief in the reign of Antichrist and the popular respect for the czar. In this way the Raskolniks have created a fantastic history which has been handed down to our own days, according to one version of which, as has been said, Peter the Great is the impious bastard of the patriarch Nikon (and from such a parentage only a devil's offspring could be looked for); while another asserts that Peter Alexovitch was a pious prince, like his forefathers, but that he had perished at sea, and in his stead had been substituted a Jew of the race of Danof, or Satan. On gaining possession of the throne, continues the legend, the false czar immured the czarina in a convent, slew the czarovitch, espoused a German adventuress and filled Russia with foreigners. Such is the Old Believers' explanation of the portentous phenomenon of a Russian czar engaged in destroying the institutions of Holy Russia. In the midst of the nineteenth century the incidents of Peter's career, whether insignificant or important—his vices not less than his glory—are used as proofs of his infernal mission. The remarkable victories with which he recovered from terrible disasters were miracles wrought by the help of the devil and the Freemasons. The extension of his power beyond that of all previous Russian monarchs and of all the ancient bogatyrs was effected by the determination of Satan that his offspring should receive divine honors. The same interpretation is applied to the simplest events. Thus, Peter's celebration with allegorical figures and festivals of the beginning of the year on the first of January was due to his desire to restore the worship of false deities and "the old Roman idol Janus." These silly fables, and this incapacity of understanding how a pagan name or emblem can be used without falling back into paganism, betray one of the peculiar features of the Raskol—namely, the realistic nature, of its symbolism, and its matter-of-fact determination to fill images, allegories and words with occult meaning.

When once the presence of Antichrist was clearly made out, there was nothing to hinder the application to Russia of the gloomy descriptions of the prophets. Their disposition to hunt out mysterious enigmas in names and numbers made it easy for the fanatics to find the whole Apocalypse in modern Russia; and the number of the Beast was sought in the names of Peter and of his successors. Each letter of the Slavonic alphabet, as of the Greek, has a numerical value, and the problem is thus to add up the total of the letters of a name, and so obtain the Apocalyptic number 666 (Rev. xiii. 18). By inserting, reduplicating or omitting certain letters, and not insisting too strongly on an exact result, the sectaries have discovered the infernal number in the names of most of the Russian sovereigns from Peter the Great to Nicholas. Such alterations are defended on the ground that to throw investigators off the scent the Beast changes the number which is meant to designate him, so that he should be recognized under the number 662 or 664 as clearly as under 666. Turning from the particular sovereign to the imperial title, the Raskolniks have unearthed the number of the Beast in the letters composing it. Singularly enough, it happens that all which is needed to obtain the Apocalyptic number from the word imperator is the omission of the second letter; whence they say that Antichrist hides his accursed name behind the letter M. By an equally odd and embarrassing coincidence the Council of Moscow—which, after deposing Nikon, definitively excommunicated the schismatics—met in 1666. Here, plainly enough was the fatal number, and when the reform of the calendar attracted the attention of the Old Believers to the point, they considered it a weapon thrust into their hands by their opponents. The year in question, accordingly, was fixed as the date of Satan's accession. But not content with turning the line of monarchs into so many emissaries of hell, some of these champions of Old Russia have managed, by the help of an anagram, to identify their native country with the mysterious land which is the object of so many prophetic curses. In the Asshur of the Bible they find Russia, and apply to it the anathemas launched by the prophets against Nineveh and Babylon.

The infernal sign, however, was visible to the Raskolniks not only in the title and the names of their rulers, but in all their innovations as well, and in all that they imported from abroad. Since Russia is under the dominion of the "devil, the demon's son," the truly faithful are bound to reject all that has been introduced during "the years of Satan." Encouraged by the notion of Antichrist, the Raskol's opposition against the modern reform of government spread until it embraces in its hostility everything brought from the West. In no other of its developments do we see more distinctly the characteristic features of the schism, its narrow formalism and its coarse allegorizing, its blind worship of the past and its national exclusiveness. It presented the novel spectacle of a group of popular sects holding in abomination every object of foreign commerce, everything new—material articles of consumption not less than the discoveries of science. While the products of the East and West Indies were pouring into the rest of Europe, the Old Believer rigorously excluded them. He frowned upon the use of tobacco, of tea, of coffee and of sugar, and by a curious transfer of his respect for antiquity to his meat and drink, he stormed against almost all colonial produce as heretical and diabolical. All that had come in since Nikon and Peter was put under the ban by the champions of the ancient liturgy. One Raskolnik forbade traveling on turnpikes, because they were an invention of Antichrist. More recently, another showed that the potato was the forbidden fruit which caused the fall of our first mother. On every side the Old Believer raised about him a wall of scruples and prejudices, entrenching himself behind his stagnation and ignorance, and anathematizing all civilization in a breath. To meet Peter's edicts enjoining a new costume or alphabet or calendar, the Raskol put forth a second decalogue: "Thou shalt not shave; Thou shalt not smoke; Thou shalt use no sugar," etc. In the North, where they are stricter and more numerous, many Raskolniks still have conscientious scruples about using tobacco and putting sugar in their tea. The scriptural arguments urged for this opposition are generally marked by the coarsest realism. The Old Believer who will not smoke adduces the passage, "There is nothing from without a man that entering into him can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man." The rebuker of the use of sugar urges that blood is used in its manufacture; whereas Scripture forbids the eating of the blood of animals—a prohibition, by the way, which seems to have been maintained longer in Russia than in any other Christian country. The true ground of the opposition to this or that article or habit is to be sought not in these theological arguments, but in its novelty and late introduction. As regards his way of life and his faith, his table and his devotions, he is minded to tread in his forefathers' footsteps. A Raskolnik and a member of the orthodox Church were drinking together, when the latter took a cigar. "Out on the infernal poison!" cried the Raskolnik.—"What do you, think of brandy?" asked his companion. "Oh! Wine" (vino, the Russian name for brandy)—"wine was Noah's favorite drink."—"Very good!" said the other: "now prove to me that Noah was not a smoker." These folk are still in the patriarchal stage, and an appeal to antiquity is an end of controversy, "Jeer not at the old," says one of their proverbs, "for the old man knows old things and teaches justice."

The parties to any political or religious contest need a standard—some outward sign which appeals to the eye and the intelligence of all. The most serious of the political questions that convulse France to-day are symbolized and summed up in the color of a flag; and thus in the Russian conflict between popular obstinacy and the modern propagandism the rallying-sign of the Old Believers, and the emblem of the champions of nationality and conservatism, was the beard. The national chin was the centre of a conflict less puerile than might be fancied. Long before Peter the Great imitators of Western ways had begun to shave, thus setting at defiance the Oriental custom which everywhere prevailed in Russia. Under Peter's father one of the Raskol leaders, the protopope Avvakum, denounced "these bold-faced" men—bold-faced meaning shaven. The prohibition of Leviticus (xxix. 27; xxi. 5) was first adduced, in conformity with the love for alleging religious scruples. Recourse was next had to the ancient missals and the decrees of the Stoglaf, a sort of ecclesiastical code attributed to a national council. The prohibition of the razor was at first confined to the clergy, but it spread by little and little to all the faithful of the orthodox Church. Up to the time of Nikon the patriarchs had laid hardly less stress on forms and on the exclusion of foreign ways than their future opponents of the Raskol, and had condemned shaving as "an heretical practice which disfigures the image of God, and makes men look like dogs and cats." This is the main theological argument of the foes of the barber, and their current interpretation of the verse of Genesis, "God created man in His own image," "The image of God is the beard," writes a Raskolnik about 1830, "and His likeness is the moustache." "Look at the old images of Christ and the saints," urge the Old Believers: "all of them wear their beards." And so cogent is the argument that the orthodox theologians are fain to hunt up the scanty list of beardless saints to be found in Byzantine iconography. Whatever the force of the arguments drawn from divinity, at bottom the opposition was only the simple folks' one way of seeing things—the same clinging to forms, the same compound of symbolism and realism. The living work of God is to them as sacred as the text of the divine word. Every word and letter of the sacred office must have its separate significance; and they cannot admit that the hair with which the Almighty has covered a man's face is without a meaning. It is to them the distinctive mark of the male countenance; to remove it is to change, and therefore to disfigure, the divine handiwork: it is, in short, hardly less than mutilation.

The beard, like the single repetition of the Hallelujah and the cross with eight branches, has had its martyrs. No later than last year (1874), on the Gulf of Finland a peasant who had been drafted for the navy obstinately refused to be shaved, and rather than betray his religion underwent a sentence of several years for insubordination. Scruples of this sort have led the government to grant permission to wear the beard in the case of certain corps (for instance, the Cossacks of the Ural) which are mainly composed of Old Believers. Peter the Great used every means to overcome these popular prejudices, but the beard was too much for the reformer. Finding himself unable to shave all the recusants by force, he bethought him of laying a tax on the wearers of long beards, but in vain. He was similarly foiled in his attempt to lay a double tax on the schismatic upholders of the ancient ways. He forbade them to live in the towns; he deprived them of civil rights; he forced them to wear a bit of red cloth on the shoulder as a distinctive badge; but these measures only marked them out as the bravest champions of national traditions, and increased the respect everywhere rendered them.

Such an attitude toward civilization leaves no room for mistake as to the social and political character of the schism. It is a popular protest against the irruption of foreign customs. It is a reaction against the reforms of Peter the Great, somewhat as Ultramontanism is a reaction against the spirit of the French Revolution. The Staroveres are the champions of ancient customs in the civil sphere as well as in the religious. The Old Believer is emphatically the old-fashioned Russian—the Slavophilist of the lower classes—and hence extreme to the point of absurdity. His revolt against authority has more resemblance to that of La Vendée than to that of the Jacobins. Like a conscript obstinately refusing to join his regiment, he holds back from all part and lot in the changes of modern Russia; and in this light the schism is the feature which above all others assimilates Russia to the East.

And just as the East has bound itself fast to externals, so the Raskolnik praises his fossilism to the skies, and would gladly run the risk of petrifying society in its inherited shape. With him, as with the child or the Oriental, wisdom and science belong to the infancy of civilization, and the maxims of antiquity leave nothing to be learnt. Under both aspects the Old Believer is reactionary, opposed to the very principle of progress—the hero of routine and a martyr to prejudice. His gaze turns naturally to the past, and if reform ever enters his mind, he dreams of a return to the good old times of yore. Even his struggle against authority is based on the old idea of sovereignty: his political motto, as well as that of most of the people, is, "No emperor, but a czar!" The czar was one day pointed out to a Raskolnik conscript. "That is no czar," he said: "he wears a moustache, a uniform and a sword, like all the rest of the officers. He is nothing but a general." These worshipers of the past, with their devotion to ceremonial, think of the czar only as a long-bearded man in a flowing robe, such as they see in the ancient images. The Old Believers are the exaggerated representatives of the spirit of stagnation which everywhere confronts the Russian government. Nothing gives a clearer conception of the obstacles still in the way of reforms which elsewhere would be matters of course (as, for instance, the substitution of the Gregorian for the Julian calendar) than the resistance which other measures have already encountered.

In principle the Raskol is conservative, not to say reactionary, but its attitude toward the Church and the State, and the habits engendered by two centuries of opposition and persecution, give it a revolutionary, or even an anarchical, character. A secret tie unites all the branches of public authority, and the rejection of one leads to the rejection of another. As has been said by an eminent historian of Russia, the refusal to submit to a single form of authority brings into activity a disposition to rid one's self of all social and moral ties. The Hussite revolt against Rome speedily results in the Taborite revolt against society: Luther calls the Anabaptists into being. The same phenomenon is repeated in Russia, in England and in Scotland. Once carried away by the spirit of revolt, an irresistible tendency sweeps the schism on in the direction of civil liberty; and both in theory and in practice some of these sects have reached the most unbridled license. Hence, by one of those contrasts which are so common in Russia, the Raskol is judged in two utterly different ways, each of which is partly correct. The reactionary movement in its inception had the appearance of an assertion of the rights of individual liberty and national life, as opposed to the autocratic government; and such it was, after a fashion—the fashion of refractory conscripts or of smugglers, not to say of brigands—the fashion, in short, in which all abuses and prejudices are defended. What it claimed was liberty, indeed, but liberty as the commonalty understand it—liberty to retain its customs, its superstitions and its ignorance—liberty to go and come as it chose. But in all this there was no notion of political freedom. With all his hatred of foreign importations, the Old Believer is no enemy to reform in the sense of national tradition or of furthering the interests of the lower classes, the artisan and the peasant. Like all popular movements, the Raskol is essentially democratic, and in some of its sects socialistic and communistic.

Two things which have especially tended to give the Raskol a democratic—or even liberal—complexion are serfdom and the bureaucratic despotism of the country. It was no mere coincidence which caused the Raskol to break out about half a century after serfdom was established. Much of its popularity and life was due to the enslavement of the mass of the people. The slave was proud of having a different faith from his master; and slavery is always a propitious soil for the growth of sects. This nation of serfs dimly felt the Raskol to be an assertion of religious liberty and self-respect against master, Church and government; and these were symbolized by the beard and the peculiar sign of the cross. The Raskol offered to all the oppressed a moral, and often a material, refuge, an asylum for all enemies of the master and the law, and a shelter for the fugitive serf, for the deserter, for public debtors and outlaws of every description. Some sects (as the Wanderers, for example) are specially organized for such purposes. In these respects the Raskol was unconsciously one form of the opposition to serfdom and official despotism; and hence the Old Believers are most numerous among the most refractory elements of Russia—in the North among the free peasants (the old colonists of Novgorod), and in the South among the independent Cossacks of the steppes. Religious and political opposition have joined hands, and to this combination is due the strength of the great popular movements of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as the Streltsy insurrections at the time of the revolt of Pougatchef, whose excesses curiously recall the wars of the Peasants and Anabaptists in the West before the abolition of serfdom. In the great Russian Jacquerie, and in all the seditions which held out the hope of emancipation, the first place was taken by the Old Believers and the Cossacks, most of whom held the same faith. These two forms of national resistance are naturally akin. They equally personify the character and the prejudices of the old Russian. Their main point is their character of protests, so that an Old Believer may be described as a Cossack in religion, transporting into that domain the instincts peculiar to the wild horsemen of the Don. But both Cossack and Starovere have found themselves forced to give way before the march of civilization, and the different branches into which the Raskol has split have reached very divergent conclusions both as to politics and religion.


Nothing is more logical than religious creeds—nothing more rigorously consequent in its deductions than the theological mind. Religious thought has an unimpeded course in the twilight of mystery where it takes its airy flight, and no material facts avail to check it or divert it from the chosen path. The innate logic of the Russian mind adds force to the kindred theological quality in its influence upon the Raskol, for the inhabitant of Greater Russia is distinguished for his logical consecutiveness and his acceptance of the extremest consequences of a position. This is partly the cause of the multiplicity and growth of the strange doctrines prevalent among them; and while this disposition frequently lands the schism in the most grotesque of absurdities, it gives a remarkable unity and regularity to even its apparent divergencies and variations. Irregularity and the play of chance have as little real place in this spiritual phenomenon as in one belonging to the region of physics; and a knowledge of the terminus a quo would have suggested its complications as well as the point ultimately reached. One is now and then tempted to look upon the various sects as utterly chaotic, but it is not difficult to trace the general course of their natural evolution.

A less robust faith might easily have been cast down by the obstacle which confronted the schism at the outset. The revolt aimed at maintaining the ritual, yet the lack of priests to officiate necessitated its abandonment. The defenders of the old faith found themselves, at the first step, deprived of the means of practicing its rites. A single bishop, Paul of Kolomna, had held out for the ancient books at the time of Nikon's reform, but he had been imprisoned, and perhaps put to death: at all events, he died without consecrating a bishop, and the Raskol was consequently left without an episcopate or a priesthood. Now, Oriental orthodoxy is not simply doctrinal in its character, but, as M. A. Réville has remarked of Catholicism, "is, above all, a method of establishing communication between man and God by the medium of an organized priesthood, whose successive members transmit uninterruptedly the divine powers which they hold from Christ;" and the death of Paul of Kolomna snapped the chain uniting the Old Believers with Christ, for ever depriving the schism of the powers conferred by Christ on the apostles and essential to the continuance of the priesthood and the Church.

The Raskol, so to speak, was stillborn. Unless they retraced their steps, there were but two paths to take—either to admit priests consecrated by a Church they had condemned, or to dispense with the clergy, who alone could celebrate the rites in defence of which they had revolted. There was little to choose between the two self-contradictory courses, and each had its partisans. This first check split the schism into two groups, whose hostility has not been allayed by the lapse of two centuries. According to some, as Christianity cannot exist without a priesthood, its complicity with Nikon's heresy has not deprived the Russian Church of apostolic powers—of the cheirotonia, or right to consecrate bishops and priests by the laying on of hands; and as their ordination is valid, the schismatics have only to bring back priests of the official Church to the observance of the ancient ritual. To this it is answered that by abandoning the ancient books and anathematizing the ancient traditions the sect of Nikon has lost all claim to the apostolical succession, so that the established clergy constitute no longer a Church, but the synagogue of Satan. All communion with these emissaries of hell is a sin, and ordination by the apostate bishops a defilement. The Oriental patriarchs have shared the heresy of the Russian prelates by agreeing to their anathemas against the ancient rites, and orthodoxy has carried with it in its fall the episcopate, apostolical succession and the lawful priesthood.

Thus, in the first generation the Raskol fell into two sections—the Popovtsy, who adhere to the priests, and the Bezpopovtsy, who do not. To recruit their clergy the Popovtsy were fain to have recourse to deserters from the established Church, and were thus dependent upon it; though we shall see that of late they have succeeded in getting an independent episcopate along with a complete ecclesiastical hierarchy. By maintaining a priesthood, however scanty and ignorant, the Popovtsy preserve the sacraments and the orthodox Christian system; and, despite the inconsistency of admitting the priests of a Church that they condemn, they have paused at the first step of schism and maintain the original position. It is almost impossible, on the other hand, for the Bezpopovtsy to stop on the slope down which their logic inexorably drags them. Involved in the abandonment of the priesthood is that of orthodoxy, or at least of the orthodox ritual, and the sacrament of orders carries with it the sacraments which none but the priest can administer. Of the seven traditional channels of divine grace, baptism alone remains open: the other six are dried up for ever. Thus, the first step of the Bezpopovtsy brings them to the destruction of the first principle of Christian worship. The more rigid of them do not shrink from this most glaring of contradictions. To save the entire ritual they have sacrificed its most essential parts. For the double Hallelujah and the sign of the cross with two fingers instead of three they have foregone the whole Christian life and the one visible link between man and God, which is to be found only in the sacraments. The abolition of the sacred ministry and divine service is their protest against the trifling changes introduced into their devotional customs by the established Church. In barring the entrance to Nikon's so-called innovations they have done away with the priesthood, and so with every dyke against sectarian whimsies or the very novelties against which they blindly contend.

In the melancholy upshot of the Bezpopovtsy movement there was nothing to satisfy the fondness for ceremonial and tradition to which the schism owed its birth; and it was hard to fill the gap left by the loss of priesthood and sacraments. The old orthodox law had become impossible to carry out, yet it had not been abrogated. Though perfectly united as to rejecting the priesthood, they accordingly fell into new fragments, marked now by hesitations and compromises, and now by grotesque fancies or by cruel doctrines. For the timid and for those who clung to public worship it was impossible to believe in Christian life and salvation without the divinely-appointed means; and in the perplexed effort to supply the loss of the sacraments their piety resorted to all manner of ingenious make-believes. Priestly absolution being out of the question, confession is sometimes made to the "elder" or to a woman, and the promise of pardon has to do duty for the direct absolution. As the Eucharist cannot be consecrated, famishing souls resort to types or memorials of the holy sacrament; and for this quasi communion rites have been devised which are sometimes pleasing, sometimes bloody and horrible. One of these is the distribution of raisins by a young girl; while one sect (which is, however, but indirectly connected with the Raskol) use the breast of a young maiden instead of the element of bread. To one of the Bezpopovtsy sects the name of "gapers" is given, because they are accustomed to keep their mouths open during the Maundy-Thursday service, that the angels, God's only remaining ministers, may give them drink from an invisible chalice, since, as they hold, Christ cannot have wholly deprived the faithful of the flesh and blood offered upon the cross.

Such are the expedients of the more gentle or enthusiastic to escape from the religious vacuum into which schism has precipitated them. Quite different is the course of the more strict and dauntless theologians; and the ascendency of logic over pious feeling carries with these the majority of the Bezpopovtsy. No consequence is too revolting for them, and no hesitating subterfuge worthy of a thought. The priesthood, they hold, is extinct, leaving only the sacrament of baptism, which the laity may administer. Make-believes are of no avail. The chain that linked Heaven with earth is snapped, and can be reunited only by miracle. Meanwhile, the faithful are like men shipwrecked on a desert island without a priest among them. Eucharist, penitence, chrism, and, more than all, marriage, are alike impossible. The priest alone can pronounce the nuptial benediction; and where there is no priest there can be no marriage. Such is the ultimate consequence of the schism—the rock on which the Bezpopovtsy split. With marriage the family goes, society with the family, and such teachings can never be in harmony with the feelings, with society or with morality. Marriage is their stumbling-block and the principal matter on which their discussions and divisions turn, giving rise to the wildest aberrations and strangest compromises. The more practical retain marriage as a social conventionality, while the more logical make celibacy universally binding, thereby fostering anything but asceticism. Among the Russian sectaries the familiar combination is repeated of sensuality and mysticism. Free-love has been both preached and practiced among them; and among the lower classes the grossest heresies of ancient Gnosticism have mingled with the wildest and most morbid of modern social theories. Most of their theological writers, while avoiding such extremes, urge the most extraordinary maxims in connection with their forbiddance of marriage, such as that immorality, being but a passing weakness, is less criminal than marriage, which is interdicted by the faith.... To such a point as this have the conscientious champions of old ceremonial been brought. They have carried with them a few shreds of ancient ritual, and they have not only abandoned Christian and natural morality, but in their struggle with modern government and civilization deny the principle which upholds all society.

Even fanatics must stand affrighted before conclusions like these, and the Bezpopovtsy feel the need of some justification for their subversal of the cultus and the morality of Christianity. They find but one solution for the awful enigma presented by Christ's abandonment of the Church and mankind, by the extinction of appointed sacraments and means of grace, and by the impious rupture of the tie between man and God. The downfall of Church and priesthood and the triumph of falsehood and wrong were foretold by the prophets. This is the time predicted in Holy Writ, when the very elect shall be wellnigh seduced, and when God shall seem to give up His own into the hand of the Adversary. The priestless Church is the Church in the state of widowhood foretold by Daniel in the last days. Thus, the Raskol was brought by the new path of theology to that belief in the approaching end of the world and the reign of Antichrist to which we have already seen it led by its aversion to ecclesiastical and civil reforms. That the reign of Antichrist is begun is the fundamental doctrine of the Raskol, and particularly of the Bezpopovstchin. In the light of this new dogma all the contradictions of the latter are explained and justified. This is the reason for the extinction of the priesthood, of marriage and of the family. Wherefore—many ask—wherefore continue the race when the archangel's trump is about to proclaim the end of humanity?

The end of the world was announced to be nigh even before Peter the Great; and they who proclaimed it are not yet weary of awaiting it. Like Christians in the West in other periods, they are not undeceived by the delay of the destined time, and are at no loss to explain it. Many consider the reign of Antichrist to be a period or era which may last for centuries, as one of the three great epochs in religious history, and as having, like those of the old and the new dispensations, a law of its own which abrogates what went before. All of the Raskolniks, or even of the Bezpopovtsy, however, do not agree as to Antichrist; for while his reign is generally admitted, it seems to be very differently understood. Those who retain the priesthood and the more moderate of their opponents hold his reign to be spiritual and invisible, and government and established Church to be the unconscious or unwilling tools of Satan; while the extremists of the Bezpopovstchin maintain that Antichrist reigns materially and palpably. He it is, as we have seen, who occupies the throne of the czars since Peter the Great, and his Sanhedrim that usurps the name of the holy synod. Trivial as the difference is, theologically speaking, its political consequences are considerable; for the state may arrive at some understanding with sects that only regard it as blind and misled, while even a truce is out of the question with those which look upon it as the incarnate enemy of souls.

Very singular are the vagaries to which the ignorant peasants are naturally led by this belief. Since the world is in subjection to "Satan, the son of Beelzebub," all contact with it was defiling, and submission to its laws nothing short of a denial of the faith. To escape the hellish contagion the best means was isolation or rigid withdrawal into inaccessible retreats or desert places. In their spiritual confusion and terror some of the sectaries saw no refuge but death, and murder and suicide were systematically resorted to for the purpose of shortening the time of probation and hastening their departure from the accursed world. With some fanatics, called "child-slayers" (dietoubütsy), it was held a duty to expedite the entrance to heaven of newborn children, and thus to save them infernal anguish. Others, called "stranglers" or "butchers" (duchelstchiki, tiukalstchiki), think they render a valuable service to their relatives and friends by anticipating a natural death, in hastening the end of those who are seriously ill. Taking with a savage literalness the text, "The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force" (Matt. xi. 12), they hold that none can enter into the kingdom of heaven but those who die a violent death. One of the most numerous and powerful bodies in the first century of the Raskol, the Philipovtsy, or "burners," like the Indian fakeers, preached redemption by suicide, and salvation by the baptism of fire, holding that the flames alone could purify men from the defilements of a world which had fallen under the rule of Satan. In Siberia and the neighborhood of the Ural these sectaries have been known to burn themselves in hundreds on enormous piles built for the purpose, or by families in their hovels, to the sound of hymns and chants. Such acts have been known even during the present century.

One insanity begets another, and belief in the presence of Antichrist leads to belief in the approaching restoration of the earth, the second advent of Christ and the millennium, which has infected the more extreme sects of the Bezpopovstchin, thus connecting it with Gnostic sects of various origins. Russian literalism, like many early Christian heresies, interprets the prophets and the Apocalypse in a purely material sense. The mujik or artisan looks for the establishment of Christ's temporal kingdom, and anticipates the dominion promised to the saints. Such a belief opens the door to a trust in prophets, and to all the extravagances and rascalities that come in its train. In vain does the Russian statute-book condemn false prophets and lying miracles: from time to time the country is overrun by illuminati proclaiming the Second Advent, and occasionally giving themselves out as the expected Messiah. They are frequently accompanied by a woman, who plays the part of mystical mother or spouse, and to whom they give the title of the Mother of God or the Blessed Virgin. Sometimes it is only the simple folk who are themselves hunting for the Redeemer; and not long since appeared a body of Siberian sectaries, called "Christ-hunters," maintaining that the Saviour was about to appear, and scouring desert and forest to find him. Peasants have even been known to refuse payment of their taxes under pretext that Christ was come and had done away with them. The Messiah of the Russian sectaries is sometimes sought in the person of a simple peasant, and sometimes in a native or foreign prince. Some have long beheld the expected liberator in Napoleon, for their persuasion that the Russian state is the reign of Antichrist easily led to welcoming as a Saviour any one who seemed destined to destroy it; and in the great enemy of the empire, the great furtherer of a general abolition of serfdom, many recognized the conquering Messiah of the prophets. It is said that at their meetings an image of Napoleon is worshiped, and busts of him are certainly nowhere met with more commonly than in Russia. An equal veneration is paid to pictures representing the first emperor surrounded by his marshals and floating above the clouds in a kind of apotheosis, which is literally accepted by the matter-of-fact Russian. The story runs among his worshipers that Napoleon is not dead, but has escaped from St. Helena and taken shelter on the shores of Lake Baikal, whence he will one day come forth to overturn the throne of Satan and found the kingdom of justice and peace.

The main point of these millennial hopes was the abolition of forced labor and the obrok, the emancipation of the serfs, and the equitable distribution of land and other property. A ready reception was sure to await such a gospel, with its combination of promises of liberty and faint dreams of communism; and something of the kind is necessary to explain the easy success of so many extravagant sects, lying prophets and feigned Messiahs. Dreams like these in the West incited the revolutions of the peasants in mediæval times and of the Anabaptists in the sixteenth century, but they must slowly vanish with the slavery which gave them birth. The age of freedom anticipated by the mujik, the kingdom of God of which he caught a glimpse in the promises of the prophets, is come at last: the Messiah and freer of the people has appeared, and his reign is begun. The emancipation of the serfs has given a blow to these millennial dreams, and consequently to the more advanced sects of the Raskol: its ruin will be completed by education and material improvement.

The sects whose general evolution we have sketched may appear to us ridiculous and childish. We are tempted to look with contempt upon a people capable of such extravagances; but such an estimate would be erroneous. Absurdity and extravagance have always found a ready welcome when presented under the garb of religion; and countries boasting of older and more widespread civilization are not behind Russia in this regard. The Raskol has its counterpart in the past and the contemporary sectarianism of England and of the United States. A strong likeness holds between the Puritans and the Old Believers; and both as to originality and religious eccentricities the Anglo-Saxon and the inhabitant of Greater Russia may be compared. The Russians delight in pointing out the resemblances between their country and the great republic of the New World; and this is not the least of them. The Americans have their prophets and prophetesses, just like the old Russian serfs, and no absurdity or immorality is too gross to find preachers and converts among them. How shall we account for so striking an analogy between the two most extensive empires of the two continents? To characteristics of race and an incomplete blending of different stocks, or to the nature of the soil, the extremes of heat and cold, and the strong contrasts of the seasons? to the vastness of their territories and the scanty diffusion of population and culture over areas so immense? or still again to the rapid and inharmonious growth of the two countries—to the lack of popular education in the one, and the low standard of the higher education in the other? Separately or combined, these causes fail completely to explain the curious phenomenon; and still they are the most striking points of resemblance between the two colossal powers. In some respects, the sectarian spirit presents itself in a different and almost opposite manner in the democratic republic and the despotic empire. In the United States the ranker growths of religious enthusiasm spring from an excess of individualism and enterprise—from the independent and pushing temper transported from politics and business into religion. In Russia, on the contrary, the popular mind has thrown off all restraint in the religious sphere, simply because this was long the only one in which it could disport itself unchecked. The religious boldness and extravagance which in the one country is the direct consequence of the state of society is in the other rather a reaction against it. Russia's advantage over America lies in the fact that there the excesses of fancy and zeal prevail in a more primitive, unsophisticated and childlike race. Some diseases are best passed through early in life, before the time of full development. It is no less true of some moral maladies: childhood suffers from them less than youth or maturity. Russia is still in that stage of civilization which is naturally subject to attacks of feverish and mystical religion, but one day it will emerge from it; and the precocious skepticism of a large portion of its educated classes shows plainly that no inexorable fate condemns the national character to credulity and superstition.

The Raskol is more than a morbid symptom or a sign of weakness. If it does little credit to the sense or cultivation of the people, it does much to its heart, its conscience and its will. Independence and individuality are often said to be lacking in it, but the Old Believers show that firmness and conception of duty which are as needful as intelligence to a nation's strength. Beneath the dull, monotonous surface of political society these sects give us a glimpse of the hard rock which is the groundwork of this seemingly inert race: its originality and stern individuality are what are dear to it. One day Russia will display in other spheres the originality and patient, sturdy energy which these religious struggles have called forth. That a considerable portion of the people have revolted against the liturgic reform shows that it is not the stupid, sluggish herd Europe has so long imagined. On one ground at least its conscience has displayed sufficient independence, and told despotism that it is not all-powerful. And if mere ritual alterations have aroused such opposition, what would result from a change of religion—from the transition to Catholicism or Protestantism so often dreamed of and advised by Western theologians? So far from being always docile and void of will and determination, the Russian people, even in their religious vagaries, have displayed a singular power of organization and combination.