Russian Old Believers in Millville NJ

A few weeks ago we were con­tact­ed by some­one from the St Nicholas Cen­ter (http://​www​.stni​cholas​cen​ter​.org) ask­ing if they could use some pho­tos I had tak­en of the church my wife is attend­ing, Mil­lville N.J.‘s St Nicholas Ukrain­ian Catholic. Of course I said yes. But then my cor­re­spon­dent asked if I could take pic­tures of anoth­er church she had heard of: St Nicholas Old Believer’s Church. It’s on the oth­er side of Mil­lville from our St Nick’s, on an ancient road that dead ends in woods. We had to visit.

The Old Believ­ers have a fas­ci­nat­ing his­to­ry. They were Russ­ian Ortho­dox Chris­tians who refused to com­ply with litur­gi­cal changes man­dat­ed by the Patri­arch and Czar in the 1650s. As usu­al, there was a lot of pol­i­tics involved, with the Czar want­i­ng to cozy up with the Greek Ortho­dox to ally Rus­sia against the Mus­lim Ottomans, etc., etc. The the­o­log­i­cal charge was that the Greek tra­di­tions were the stan­dard and Russ­ian dif­fer­ences latter-day inno­va­tions to be stamped out (more mod­ern research has found the Rus­sians actu­al­ly were clos­er to the old­er forms, but no mat­ter: what the Czar and Patri­arch want, the Czar and Patri­arch get). The old prac­tices were banned, begin­ning hun­dreds of years of state-sponsored per­se­cu­tion for the “Old Believ­ers.” The sur­vivors scat­tered to the four cor­ners of the Russ­ian empire and beyond, keep­ing a low pro­file wher­ev­er they went.

The Old Believ­ers have a fas­ci­nat­ing frac­tured his­to­ry. Because their priests were killed off in the sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry, they lost their claims of apos­tolic suc­ces­sion – the idea that there’s an unbro­ken line of ordi­na­tion from Jesus Christ him­self. Some Old Believ­ers found work-arounds or claimed a few priests were spared but the hard­core among them declared suc­ces­sion over, sig­nal­ing the end times and the fall of the Church. They became priest­less Old Believ­ers – so defen­sive of the old litur­gy that they were will­ing to lose most of the litur­gy. They’ve scat­tered around the world, often wear­ing plain dress and liv­ing in iso­lat­ed communities.

The Old Believ­ers church in Mil­lville has no signs, no web­site, no indi­ca­tion of what it is (a life­long mem­ber of “our” St Nick’s called it mys­te­ri­ous and said he lit­tle about it of it). From a few inter­net ref­er­ences, they appear to be the priest­less kind of Old Believ­ers. But it has its own dis­tinc­tions: appar­ent­ly one of the great­est icono­g­ra­phers of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry lived and wor­shipped there, and when famed Russ­ian polit­i­cal pris­on­er Alek­san­dr Solzhen­it­syn vis­it­ed the U.S. he made a point of speak­ing at this sign­less church on a dead end road.

Links:
* Wikipedia: http://​en​.wikipedia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​O​l​d​_​B​e​l​i​e​v​ers
* Account of US Lithuan­ian Bespopovt­sy com­mu­ni­ties: http://​www​.synax​is​.info/​o​l​d​-​r​i​t​e​/​0​_​o​l​d​b​e​l​i​e​f​/​h​i​s​t​o​r​y​_​e​n​g​/​n​i​c​o​l​l​.​h​tml
* OSU Library on icono­g­ra­ph­er Sofronv (PDF): http://​cmrs​.osu​.edu/​r​c​m​s​s​/​C​M​H​2​1​c​o​l​o​r​.​pdf
* Solzhenitsyn’s 1976 vis­it: http://​www​.freere​pub​lic​.com/​f​o​c​u​s​/​f​-​n​e​w​s​/​2​0​5​7​7​9​3​/​p​o​sts

In album St Nicholas Old Believ­ers, Mil­lville NJ (9 photos)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Ricar­do

    Fas­ci­nat­ing. I was just read­ing Alek­sndr Men and have become quite inter­est­ed in the Ortho­dox belief and it’s sects. Greet­ings from Venezuela 

  • Ash­ley W

    Very inter­est­ing!  There are a lot of Old Believ­ers here in Ore­gon, but I’ve nev­er known much about them.

  • Mina

    Just found your blog — via a 2004 entry on SPICES tes­ti­monies — and start­ed brows­ing through the S. Jer­sey entries. I grew up in Mil­lville and my par­ents still live there. I had nev­er heard of this church. I’m quite curi­ous where it is.