Old Believers

Old Believers, also known as Old Ritualists, are descendants of conservative members of the Russian Orthodox Church who refused to accept a reform imposed in the mid-17th century by the patriarch Nikon. With the exception of some congregations in the US, the approximately 5 million OB in the Ex-USSR, Europe, Australia, and South and North America are not in any way affiliated with other Orthodox churches.

Some 500 OB live in Canada, most of them in Alberta. A "bishop of Canada" was appointed by the Old Orthodox Church in 1908, but the first large influx of OB immigrants occurred 1924-28 as part of the postrevolutionary wave of Russian refugees. The only remnant of this wave is the congregation near Hines Creek, Alberta, which built the first known OB church in the Western Hemisphere. Its membership has been declining since Second World War because of dispersal of the young generation. The National Film Board produced The Old Believers: Staroveri, directed by John Paskievich, in 1989.

Two additional parishes were founded in northern Alberta between 1973 and 1975 by OB from Siberia/Manchuria who arrived via South America and Oregon. Only one remains today in the vicinity of Lac La Biche - approximately 500 residents adhere to traditions discarded by other Orthodox Christians, including appearance and dietary rules formulated in Byzantium and medieval Russia. Each household constitutes an independent economic unit, with agriculture and forestry as its backbone. Russian is spoken at home.

The OB do not differ in dogma from the official Russian Orthodox Church. They refuse, however, to use liturgical books printed during or after Nikon's tenure or to abandon Church Slavonic as the sole permissible liturgical language. Further differences include iconographic and ritual distinctions, such as the insistence of the OB on making the sign of the cross with two rather than three fingers, and on baptism involving a full triple immersion.