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The variety of sects in the Russian Empire
The variety of sects in the Russian Empire

There were times when the vastness of Russia was inhabited by very outlandish Orthodox sects. They had funny names, quirky customs, and you would consider them a humorist invention.

According to the unforgettable Count Uvarov, the Russian Empire was based on three pillars: Orthodoxy, autocracy and nationality. There is a special conversation about the last two whales, but the whale of Orthodoxy has always been difficult and sometimes so fidgety that it required considerable skill in horse riding. The Orthodox congregation was large and diligently supervised. For falling away from Orthodoxy, for converting to another faith, for unauthorized marriage with a non-Christian, for raising children outside the Orthodox tradition until 1913, penal servitude was imposed, for neglect of confessions and services - jail and fines

Of course, there were Mohammedans, Lutherans, Catholics, Jews, and even some pagans from the unwanted, but tolerant, like Buddhists. Although these were considered second-class citizens, and some were third-class citizens, they were watched over, they knew their place, and their mullahs and priests regularly cooperated with the Holy Synod, and with the Ministry of Spiritual Affairs, and with the office of the Chief Prosecutor.

And yet the main headache of all those responsible for the spiritual bonds of the Russian Empire was not heterodox. Much sadder was the fact that Orthodoxy itself in our vast state was sometimes perverted by local craftsmen so shamelessly that you would not have time to turn around, and at your fingertips, in some Vologda province, such a filthy heresy was already blooming in terry color that the Antichrist himself would not have thought of it. And our gullible people are already ready to defend this heresy and take the pitchfork, and drown themselves in the villages in the river, and wade into hard labor.

Orthodox inquisition

Until the end of the 18th century, until the reign of Elizabeth, who did not respect the death penalty, we were periodically tortured, burned and drowned in tar of sorcerers, heretics, schismatics and apostates. Catherine the Great actually banned the persecution of Old Believers in general, which made the struggle for the purity of Orthodoxy much more difficult, and demanded punishment for the rest of the heretics no more severe than whipping and hard labor.

And then, of course, the heretics got completely loose.

They live in the forest and pray to the wheel

The main problem of Christianity in general and Orthodoxy in particular is, of course, the lack of precise and clear instructions in its main Holy Book. That is, the Old Testament part is full of them, but they are all written for the Jews!

It turns out to be a terrible confusion. If your most important book says that every male child must be circumcised, otherwise God will get angry, but at the same time the church authorities will send you to Siberia on foot for circumcising a Christian baby, you start to get a little confused.

What if the Bible forbids you to work on Saturday on pain of immediate death, but the abbot of the monastery will skin you for not going out to hay on a holy day, and even suspect you of hereticalism?

And what do you feel when you look at the priest who eats a ham and horseradish on a short day, and remembering all the troubles that Jehovah promises to the one who defiles himself with the unclean meat of a pig?

With Christ it is also incomprehensible. He demanded not to kill anyone, and they send you in his name to stab the Turks. He forbade idols and idols, and you have the whole church in icons and sculptures. He preached modesty in dress, and his ministers bend under the weight of golden pots on their heads.

It is not surprising that Catholics for so long refused to translate the Bible into national languages, so as not to lead the people into temptation; Orthodox hierarchs preferred to conduct services in Church Slavonic, and for religious enlightenment to give the flock only collections of prayers and lives, published with the approval of the Holy Synod.

The future priests, who on duty had to get acquainted with the primary sources, in the seminaries and seminaries reliably hammered into their heads the idea that the understanding of faith is accessible only to spiritual vision, and spiritual vision should be such as ordered by the authorities, and there is no need to argue about, about which your stupid head is not supposed to think.

A very effective method.But sometimes it still didn't work.

And yet another young priest, sent to Smorguli for failure in science and taking communion there with cranberry liqueurs, sometimes had a great temptation to acquire his own spiritual vision, revealing the truth. What truth he sometimes shared with the flock - under great secrecy. And after some ten or fifteen years, the next inspector from the Ober-Prosecutor's Office will have to, drowning in liquid mud, trudge to Smorguli on a denunciation: something has appeared here a new extremely insidious sect worshiping the Savior in the form of a giant cranberry.

Hit-parade of the sects of the Russian Empire

Since the 15th century, the emergence of more than half a thousand sects has been recorded in the Russian Empire, the fight against which was waged with varying success. Sects were divided according to the degree of their "harmfulness". This classification was first established in 1842 and included a division into "harmful", "harmful", and "less harmful". We just chose the most colorful, in our opinion.


A sect that arose in the times of Peter the Great, which did not recognize the church and all its rituals. The Khlysty believed that this world consists of two parts: a) spiritual, divine and b) sinful, bodily. Man is a spirit trapped in a filthy, sinful body. And you can help this spirit by diligently torturing the nasty flesh. The Khlysty preached strict sexual abstinence (except for the purpose of childbearing, and even then it is better without it at all), fasting and humility.

At night, they gathered in communities and organized prayer services with "boats": they walked, huddled together, in a circle, sang their spiritual songs, whirled and beat themselves with whips until they lost consciousness, so that the flesh would not interfere with the spirit soar higher. Many brought themselves to such exercises to ecstasy and hallucinations, during which they managed to communicate with the angels, the Mother of God, and even with the Creator himself and receive a couple of valuable soul-saving advice.

Heresy of the Judaizers

One of the most serious Protestant sects that fought against Russian Orthodoxy in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. The founder of the heresy is considered to be the semi-mythical Novgorodian "Jew Shariya" (he is also the "Taman prince Zakhariya"). The Jews considered it important to observe many of the canons of the Old Testament (that is, the actual Jewish religious requirements), and also denounced the church in lawlessness, love of money, servility to the authorities, etc.

Among the secret Judaizers there were many high-ranking secular and church leaders. In many ways, the heresy of the Judaizers is similar to the European Protestant teachings, which is not surprising, because mostly educated people who were well acquainted with the religious life of Europe became sectarians. They fought against the Judaizers, too, by completely European methods - hastily created services with inquisitorial powers and bonfires.


They were considered a "most harmful" sect, and, I must say, not without reason. The Skoptsy agreed with the church that lust is a mortal sin, but, unlike official Orthodoxy, they preferred to resolve the issue radically: by removing external sexual characteristics, both in men and women. At the same time, as we understand, reproductive functions were not lost, and the "virgin wives of eunuchs" periodically brought babies in a miraculous way.


One of the most widespread sects, existing since the 18th century, somehow survived the Soviet era and has survived to this day. The name comes from the concept of "spiritual milk", with which Christian souls should be fed.

The Molokans sincerely despised the ROC, considering it a servant of the devil and secular authorities, they did not obey the authorities, did not honor icons and relics and wanted only one thing: to be left alone.

Being serfs, they fled from their masters, and those taken into recruits - deserted. They went to Siberia, where they set up settlements for themselves far from the authorities, both secular and ecclesiastical.They prayed as best they could, tried to comply with the requirements of the Old Testament (for example, did not eat pork), loved to work and were in many ways similar to the Old Believers.

But the refusal to pay taxes and obey the authorities made the Molokans the worst enemies of the empire, which persecuted them from the 18th to the 21st centuries more zealously than eunuchs or Khlystov.


A sect that existed in the 18th – 19th centuries. The balers were sure that only those who were martyred would enter the Kingdom of God. Therefore, the tylers brutally killed (baled) every family member and co-religionist who fell ill with a serious illness. And sometimes they could exterminate a perfectly healthy person, who did not even belong to their sect, solely out of special love and respect for him.


They are similar to the Molokans in that they consider power to be an invention of Satan, and the ROC is his watchdog. Therefore, non-payers usually drove out priests from their villages, did not pay taxes, and did not join the army. When the troops came to their villages to admonish them, the defaulters collected their simple belongings and made their feet in the direction of Mother Siberia. Until now, defaulters can be found in Yakutia and Eastern Siberia. Even the Soviet regime ultimately gave up on them.


A sect that gave a lot of headaches to both Orthodox hierarchs and Jewish rabbis. Since Catherine's times, every now and then various groups of people suddenly had the idea to read the Bible and find out that the Jews are the chosen ones of God, who, by and large, wanted to sneeze at all other nations, but was ready to hang out for days over the Tabernacle of the Covenant in order to properly explain to his favorites how to properly go to the toilet and brush your teeth.

And since the Jews are pleasing to God, you had to become Jews, right? Subbotniks (who also called themselves foundlings, fosterlings, Judaizers, new Jews, etc.) observed all Jewish traditions, sent scouts to synagogues to observe all rituals exactly, and sometimes even reproached the Jews for their poor knowledge of their tradition.

The Jews, who never burned with the desire to make everyone around them Jews and who without that had a lot of problems with the secular and church authorities of Russia, ardently and sincerely wished Subbotniks to fall into fiery hell.

Some of the Subbotniks managed to get to Palestine, although most of them were massacred by the Arabs and mowed down by the local unfriendly climatic conditions. The issue of subbotniks in Russia was finally resolved in the 70s of the XX century, when the Soviet government sent them all to Israel, which, being in a state of permanent war with the surrounding Arab countries, expressed its readiness to accept even the Chukchi, if they consider themselves Jews and wish to defend the sanctity of the native land of Israel.


These sectarians argued that no man of sincere faith would die. After all, it is written in the Gospel! Christ died for us and was resurrected, and now all true Christians are completely delivered from death. The main thing is to believe fervently, and the coldness of the grave will never reach you. And if a person nevertheless dies - well, it means that he himself is to blame. Poorly believed!


A sect that believes in both Christ and the transmigration of souls, considers any violence a crime. Soon after their appearance, the Dukhobors were very much liked by Emperor Alexander the First, who saw in them “people of the meek of the true Christian spirit” and immediately populated Crimea with them.

On the lands taken from the Crimean Tatars, the Dukhobors peacefully grew rye and wheat under the protection of the bayonets of the regiments stationed here, and the Tatars, looking at the Dukhobors, were supposed to learn meekness from them. Also, the Dukhobors were settled in the Caucasus and the territory of modern Azerbaijan. They were parachuted into an area that received a name like "Slavyanovka" or "Ivanushkovo", and they regularly worked and multiplied there, not entering into conflicts with the population, but as if infecting it with their complaisance and obedience to fate.

With the accession of Nicholas the First, the sweet life of the Dukhobors ended. For refusing to carry out military service, they began to be flogged, driven to military settlements, sent to Siberia and set against them the Orthodox Church. At the end of the 19th century, the Russian intelligentsia, with the active participation of Leo Tolstoy, raised funds and helped most of the Russian Dukhobors move to Canada. Their descendants still live there.

American folk singer Pete Seeger dedicated his hit Do as the Doukhobors Do to them.


A small but vibrant sect that believes that you should pray strictly to the east, while you should not be hindered by any wall or obstacle. What to do if the windows in your hut are directed in the other direction, and it is cold to open them in winter? Make a hole in the eastern wall, plug it with tow, but you have to pray - take out the tow and pray in the hole.


They believed that there was no God. That is, there is nowhere else but in a person. And Christ is a mystical key with which everyone can open their soul, and then God will enter into it.

The conversationalists lived in large communes with common property, and the male communities were always led by a woman, and the female ones by a man, for they believed that "a woman's soul needs a man's eye, and a man's soul needs a woman's." The leaders of their communities and generally respected people, regardless of their gender, were awarded the titles Christ, Sabaoth, Mother of God, Prophet and Archangel.

Therefore, it was a common thing to meet “theotokos Mikhei Savvich” or “Christ Matryona Timofeevna” there. In spite of such obvious blasphemy, the conversationalists were referred to as "minor" sects - apparently because they treated the ROC with great respect, regularly attended all services, devoutly worshiped icons and generously donated to churches.

Lyubushkino consent

A sect of the Russian North that flourished in the 19th century, in which it was believed that the main thing was love. Yes, in all its expressions. Therefore, the sect in official documents was called nothing other than "the most shameless debauches." The only ones who were not allowed to have sex with each other, according to the rules of the sect, were the married couple, for "the love between them was so great that the flesh was also harmful here." Therefore, the "Lyubushkin" spouses were looking for carnal love on the side, and with each other they lived in complete, but pure spiritual unity.


Teleshi believed that by joining the sect, they were freed from sins and were like Adam and Eve before the Fall. Therefore, they performed all their secret night services being completely naked: both the priest and the parishioners.


"And this is how stupid people get!" - wrote an official who, at the end of the 19th century, dealt with a new sect of Paniashkovites, followers of the self-styled prophet Paniashka (aka schema-monk Alexei Gavrilov). The Paniashkovites believed that a person who is pure from God is polluted by an unclean spirit that enters him (in the Gospel it is written in detail about this).

Therefore, a person begins to stink from the inside. And in order to preserve the God-given purity, after each prayer and after each meal, you need to fart loudly - expel the unclean spirit from yourself. If the spirit is not expelled, then the body must be flogged with rods or a whip until the required action is performed by it and the spirit is expelled.

Sectarianism was practically exterminated only with the emergence of the USSR - a state of atheists who, having driven the Orthodox Church out of the big arena, simultaneously destroyed all of its heretical branches. Religious consciousness was declared harmful stupidity, prayer services were replaced by party meetings, and services were replaced by political information. Lacking the nutritious soil of faith, heresies came to naught, but today they are experiencing a small renaissance together with the strengthening of the role of religion in society.

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