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Old Believers

Dissident groups of Russian Orthodox, in schism (raskol, hence called also “Raskolniki”) since 1666, when Nikon, patriarch of Moscow, introduced reforms of ritual in line with Orthodox practice elsewhere, but declared heretical at a council of 1551. The dissidents adhered to the older practices calling themselves staroveri, adherents of the old rite, misrendered “[[Old Believers]].” Avvakum,* their leader, went into exile from 1664; others were exiled, and fierce persecution led many to flee to remote parts, e.g., Siberia and Karelia. Monks, peasants, Cossacks, and townfolk were among them. They regarded the official apostasy and their persecution as works of Antichrist. They were brutally treated and many suicides—e.g., self-immolation of whole groups by fire-are known, to escape their certain fate.