Fieldwork in Russia
Researching the post-Soviet situation of the ancient Orthodox spiritual movement, Old Belief, took me across the length and breadth of the Russian-speaking world.
It was in the Russian Far East that I learned most about trying to live as an Old Believer in the post-Soviet world from working and worshipping with a formidable congregation for whom Old Belief was not just a more authentically Russian Orthodoxy but a complete way of life. This community’s founder, an energetic and creative Arch-Priest, encouraged me to follow him on his tours of his diocese – a never-ending transcontinental journey taking him a thousand miles here (to a remote village in Selenginskii region, Buryatia, to administer a Holy Sacrament), and a 3-day train journey there (to Chita region to bless a pilgrimage).
Through his Apostolic inclusiveness I was privileged to meet many unique Old Believers, such as the Ataman of Ussuriysk Cossacks whose top-of-the-range Toyota Land Cruiser was indistinguishable from the rest of the Vladivostok’s ‘biznes’ fraternity, save for one detail: it had emblazoned across its back the rallying symbol of Old Belief, the two-fingered ‘sign of the cross’.
I rafted down the remote tributaries of the Amur with a band of Cossacks, reform school boys and Old Believers, who were retracing the exile of their Martyr-founder, Avvakum. Yet it was perhaps through witnessing those actions that these Christians performed to make possible their salvation, that I gained most insight into the fundamental significance that this ancient faith has today.