The Stranniki (Russian for Runaways or Wanderers) are the strong Pomorsky Old Believers who rejected prayers for Tsar Peter and all government papers (identification, passports, money, etc). They would not wear clothing contrary to Old Orthodox Russia, nor eat with those of contrary Faith and Practice. Keeping themselves separate from the antichrist society they went far into the Siberian wilderness. This blog is about these people and my effort to conform my life to theirs.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Do Good Works Save Us?

St. Mark the Ascetic

Even though knowledge is true, it is still not firmly established if unaccompanied by works. For everything is established by being put into practice. Often our knowledge becomes darkened because we fail to put things into practice. For when we have totally neglected the practice of something, our memory of it will gradually disappear. For this reason Scripture urges us to acquire the knowledge of God, so that through our works we may serve him rightly. When we fulfill the commandments in outward actions, we receive from the lord what is appropriate; that any real benefit we gain depends on our inward intention. If we want to do something but cannot then before God, Who knows our hearts, it is as if we have done it, this is true whether the intended action is good or bad.

The intellect does many good and bad things without the body, whereas the body can do neither good nor evil without the intellect. This is because the law of freedom applies to what happens before we act.

Similarly, those who pray are protected from despair... Do you see how every virtue that is performed to the point of death is nothing other than refraining from sin? Now to refrain from sin is from within our own natural powers, but not something that buys us the kingdom.

While men can scarcely keep what belongs to him by nature, Christ gives the gift of sonship through the cross.

There is no perfect prayer unless our mind evokes the Lord.

Prayer is the mother of all virtues.

Excerpted from The Philokalia, Vol. 1 pages 126, 7

Thursday, November 19, 2009

‘Spiritual’ Marriage

Harvard Theological Studies, X, Russian Dissenters,
The Bezpopovtsy, The Stranniki, Pages 160, 2-3

...the [Stranniki] initiates are under a vow themselves to adopt the wandering life before they die. In old age or in case of sickness felt to be mortal they retire into a wood, and there live till death overtakes them. The excuse for their disappearance from the ranks of society is usually that they have set off on a pilgrimage. ...The sick person is withal removed to a neighboring house or into a hiding place where he spends his time ‘in concealment and salutary fear,’ till presently he is received, baptized and installed a ‘perfect’ Stranniki. His vocation is then complete.

The dead are buried in obscure places, in a fest, a field; children often under ploughland or in kitchen-gardens. A Stranniki’s grave is unrecognizable, for no mound ever marks it...

Ivanovski [an untrustworthy New-Rite author] states, ...Beginning with Euthymius, everyone on of their leaders or elders kept a mistress... But it is possible that the ‘mistress’ of Eitheymius was a ‘spiritual’ wife, a relationship common though often reprobated in the Early Church from the time of St. Paul onwards for about four centuries. The Stranniki certainly regarded marriages contracted before a Nikonian or orthodox priest as mere fornication...

Such a relationship led to grave scandals in the Early Church: ...The institution was plainly incompatible with the idea of religious vagabondage, of inhabiting neither city nor village; and yet the conditions of human life had to be met, and in the sixties of the last century [that is the 19th century] the followers of Euthymius found themselves suddenly compelled to make their decision, whether or no a Strannik after initiation could or could not continue to lead a family life.

A convert, Nicholas Ignatiev Kosatkin in the Government of Novgorod, had fallen sick and sought ‘perfection’ ere death should overtake him. But in making his confession prior to being baptized he avowed no intention of parting from his wife, and even declared he would abandon the sect if its statues and if scripture were so interpreted. Nevertheless the prior or spiritual authority, deputed to ‘receive’ him, admitted him to baptism, because he was so grievously ill, and so he became a full member of the sect. Then he recovered after all, but refused to abandon his wife and children, nay, begat a new child. Thenceforth he began a propaganda in favor of marriage in the sect.

He found an ally in one Miron Vasilev, and it was resolved by most of the society under their guidance that marriage was allowable, along with the two other sacraments of baptism and penance, until the second advent - a sensible conclusion. Forthwith members who were married before they joined the sect began to live together again, where they had not done so all along. There was a minority however that held out against marriage, and met the argument that the early Chrisitans allowed it with the counter agerment that these only fled into the desert to escape persecution and hoped to return when the persecution was ended, whereas they, the Stranniki, had fled into the desert for good and ever, never meaning to return and live in an unregenerate world. In view of Uzov’s account of the sect one suspects that Ivanovski somewhat over-generalizes and accepts as valid and significant for the entire sect of Stranniki events and quarrels and decision that only really concerned a section of it.

There were other questions also which led to dissensions in the society, for example the trivial one whether a Strannik should carry in his pocket coins that bore the stamp of Antichrist. Euthymius had avoided this problem but one of his stricter followers Vasili Petrov raised it, and an insignificant minority followed him in his objection to money, and were known as the ‘moneyless’ ones. They got over the practical inconvenience by getting novices to carry money for them and make their disbursements...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Stranniki Would Never Pay Taxes

The Stranniki would have nothing to do with any aspect of Antichrist; they would not touch money, which bore the ruler’s portrait and the state coat of arms; they would not obtain a passport [identification], pay taxes, etc.

From the book, The Structure of Russian History, page 99

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A “Padpolniki”

In many villages there was reserved a place in a cellar, called “Padpolniki” for a chance strannik, or wanderer. A strannik must agonize himself even during sleep. Hence he would not rest in a lighted and airy room, or in a bed. Among the wanderers one sometimes met men of great intelligence who, seized by a religious mania, or plagued by an accusing conscience, would abandon their palatial homes, don rags for clothes, wrap their feet in straw, and wander, praying and crossing themselves as they trudged along.

From the book, Fakers Old and New, pages 50-1.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How To Completely Renounce The World

A certain young monk asked an elder, “Father, now do I have to completely renounce the world?”

“Fear not,” answered the elder, “if you live a really Christian life, the world will immediately renounce you.”

Monday, November 9, 2009

If we obey God, God will obey us.

The early desert father, Abba of Iliu, said, “Obedience begets obedience, if a man obeys God, God will obey him.” (Vol. 2, Paradise of the Desert Fathers, p. 55).

“I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.”

St. Mark the Ascetic once asked a visitor if there were still people in the world able to command and say, “mountain be moved into the sea,” and as the ascetic spoke those words the mountain before him began to move and so he said, “I did not mean for you to move,” and it re-settled.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Worthless Gold

The New-Rite Greeks have Kosmas Aitolos whom they call a holy prophet that spoke of the end times in this manner, “we would give thousands of gold coins but still will not find a little bread.”

Even the Protestant Larry Norman says a piece of bread will buy a bag of gold, so many believe gold is about worthless.

A Old Russian Proverb goes, “All that glitters is not gold.”

Visiting patriarchs to the 1666 Council of Moscow each received both 20,000 rubles in gold and furs for their participation (Zenkovskij S.A., 1995, 2006).

And silver is not much better, as Peter said, “May your silver perish with you...”

St Anthony of the Kiev Caves had no gold, but he built a monastery which became the first spiritual center of Rus.

The Teaching of the Apostles, Book I, Section II - Do not put a gold ring on your fingers, for all these ornaments are signs of lasciviousness and is solicitous in an indecent manner and does not become a good man.

Two negatives is a negative, “Riches will not profit in the Day of Wrath.”

It costs more than gold to redeem souls from destruction, if we would escape we must moderate our worldly attachments, renounce our sinful projects and hold ourselves in continual readiness to leave all and follow Christ. If we should be called to part with, not only our wealth, but every temporal comfort, the perfect freedom of his service will give a relish to our meanest provisions.

Sit loose from the world. Let not your hearts be overcharged with the cares of this life, nor filled with the love of the world, and that day take you unaware. The fashion of this world passes away, therefore live as strangers and sojourners. Lay up your treasure in heaven and get your affections set on things above. Be ready to suffer whatever the Lord calls you unto, patiently and in well doing, for in due time ye shall reap, be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, because your labor shall not be in vain. Whatever afflictions ye suffer for Christ, they are light and momentary, but the glory which Christ will give is weighty and eternal.

Money will not help in the end, but it is possible that neither will poverty. If a man be wicked as well as poor (as great numbers of people are) their poverty will excite no pity.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Harsh Life of Renouncing the World

Excerpted from The Philokalia, Vol. 1, page 202

St. Nilus Ascetic

The Apostles received this way of life from Christ and made it their own, renouncing the world in response to His call, disregarding fatherland, relatives and possessions. At once they adapted a harsh and strenuous way of life, facing every kind of adversity, afflicted, tormented, harassed, naked, lacking even necessities; and finally they met death boldly, imitating their Teacher faithfully in all things. Thus through their actions they left behind a true image of the highest way of life.

Although all Christians should have modeled their own life from this image, most of them either lacked the will to do so or made only feeble efforts. There were, however, a few who had the strength to rise above the turmoil of the world and to flee from the agitations of cities. Having escaped from this turbulence, they embraced the monastic life and reproduce in themselves the pattern of apostolic virtue.

They preferred voluntary poverty to possessions, because this freed them from distractions. So as to control the passions, they satisfied their bodily needs with food that was readily available and simply prepared, rather than with richly dressed dishes. Soft and unnecessary clothing they rejected as an invention of human luxury, and they wore only such plain garments as are required for the body. It seemed to them a betrayal of philosophy to turn their attention from heavenly things to earthly concern more appropriate to animals. They ignored the world, being above human passion.

They did not seek excessive gain by exploiting each other; nor did they bring lawsuits to one another, for each had his own conscience as an impartial judge.

Friday, November 6, 2009

a.k.a. Stowaways

Harvard Theological Studies, X, Russian Dissenters,
The Bezpopovtsy, The Stranniki, Pages 156-9

An incipient reconciliation in the last quarter of the XVIIIth century of the Raskol with civil society explains the fact that there arose about that time among the Rigorists or followers of Philip [from Vyg], a teacher named Euthymius, a native of Pereyaslav in Poltava, who regarded any accommodation with normal society, with State or Church, as backsliding and impiety. Pressed into the army, he deserted and hid himself first in Moscow, then in the Philipovski sketes of Pomor, last of all in the forests of the Yaroslav Government. The time came when, repelled by the over-facile compliance of Philip’s sect with the Church and State, he set himself seriously both to write a book and to found a sect of his own. He got together in the village of Korovin in that Government a number of sympathizers; and, assuming for the gathering the dignity of a council, he solemnly condemned other Raskol groups, and embodied his complaint in a work called The Peroration. In it he condemned the act of inscribing their names in the registers as Raskolniks as tantamount to abjuring the name of Christian and as subservience to Antichrist. One who so registered himself and his family deified the Antichrist. His philippic against those who simulated orthodoxy was of the sternest, and brings before us in a lively manner the disabilities to which dissenters were subjected. They as good as admitted themselves, he says, to be adherents of a heretical body, and condemned themselves to go cadging for favors to the state priest, e.g. for the billets de confession, without which they could not obtain passports, they had to seek his permission to dig graves for their dead, to receive him into their houses on feastdays and give him alms. Such people, he writes, have made their confession to the Devil, have disavowed Christ, presented themselves at an unholy altar (trapeza), bowing and scraping before; they even invite the priest to enter their houses, when on festivals he comes rapping at their doors and widows and calling for the master of the house to give him something for church purposes, thanksgiving offerings, and the rest; they debase themselves by stuffing his bag with bread, pastries, cakes. What, he indignantly asks, is all this but to crucify Christ afresh, to pretend to love heretics and be at peace with them? Piety is extinguished, he laments, and impiety reigns everywhere. All the Old Believers had bowed the knee to Baal and no longer had the baptism of Christ.

He accordingly baptized himself a third time, for he had been first baptized in the Orthodox Church, next when he joined the Philipovtsy, and now in despair of finding any real baptism on the face of this earth he performed the rite first on himself and then on his followers; and he made it his principle to wander abroad on the earth, because we have here no abiding city. He must be literally an outcast and in an alien world break every tie with society. He has nowhere to lay his head, but is a wanderer (stannik), a fugitive (begun), a stowaway.

This sect has above all others distinguished itself by its fierce denunciations of the Tsars and Tsardom, and the orthodox priests as lying prophets of Antichrist. They have obstinately refused to register themselves, to pay taxes, to bear passports. Their doctrine is the last word of the Bezpopovtsy against the regime of the Antichrist. Certain of the sectaries of the Pomorians who pray for the Tsar were careful to justify their action by citing the precepts of St. Paul in favor of praying for Gentile or infidel sovereigns. So also the Thedosyevtsi or sect of Theodosius were careful to indicate that they only paid the Tsar's taxes, because the New Testament inculcates submission to the Powers which be. The ‘Wanderers’, however, were guilty of a very disrespectful comparison of the Tsar with the heathen rulers, obedience to whom was counseled by the Apostles. They were no better than servants of the Devil, but the Tsar is Satan himself. You can do nothing but make war on him.

No permanent community or society higher than gypsies can be founded on the mere precept to wander and hide. The early followers of Jesus soon found that it was not enough to wait for the Second Coming, and that even to keep the faith alive they must organize. Euthymius’ tenets excluded all idea of settlement; but presently, after his death, when the bond of his strong personality and preaching was removed, it became an urgent question how to assure to his Church any sort of stability or future. Continual vagabondage through ‘desirable deserts’ afforded no bond of union, nay render permanent ties between its members precarious. A number of poverty-stricken, homeless itinerant friars might attract to themselves fugitive criminals, but not people with settled notions of life and anything to lose. The members of the sect therefore met to consider whether in the future they should continue to wander or settle down in fixed homes. An elder named Yakov Yakovlev urged that no one could be regarded as a member who did not imitate the Master, but a lady named Irene, who had been Euthymius' companion in travel, as also the Elder or ‘director’ Krainev, proposed a compromise, by which they should only receive as members of the society those who took a vow to become Stranniki some day, even if for the present they kept their homes and went on living in them. After warm discussion the comprise was accepted, and a distinction was henceforth drawn between imperfect members who might live in town and village and only vow themselves to become adepts in the Christian faith later on, and those who pursued the original ideal of Euthymius in its entirety. It was stipulated however that those who lived in fixed abodes should maintain shelters or asylums of refuge for the true wanderers and extend their hospitality to them whenever they appeared.

The student of early Christianity will at once recognize the parallelism of the Strannik society with the earliest Church. Ivanovski describes in detail the life of concealment led by the Strannik missionaries with evident gusto, as if they reflected no discredit on the persecuting Church of which he is so distinguished an ornament. The refuges, he tells us, of these sectaries are furnished with secret ways in and out; they mostly consist of underground cellars or garrets constructed in courtyards, kitchen-gardens and so forth. There are also hiding places for the missionaries under staircases, in closets, in cupboards; sometimes they are concealed behind walls or under the roof, sometimes under the stove. Whole secret villages of Beguni have been discovered, in which each house communicated with the rest by secret passages, and the secret entrance of the last in the street opened into the garden or into a thicket or somewhere out on the highroad.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Skeptics Say Stranniki Are Authentic

Russians held stranniki, Holy Fools and startsy in awe. Thought they often had the appearance of dirty, deranged outcasts, their clothing threadbare, their hair filthy and uncombed, their manner wild-eyed and intimidating, still they were believed to possess a rare holiness, to be, by their very nature, channels for the divine. Many cures were ascribed to them, and they were believed capable of foreseeing the future. The credulous gathered around stranniki and Holy Fools with unreasoning fervor, but even the skeptical, among them educated, sophisticated people who questioned the existence of God, conceded that these shabby, half-incoherent holy beggars possessed authentic and inexplicable powers.

So when Alix and Nicky welcomed holy Matrena, a wandering fortuneteller, and Vasya Tkachenko, another stranik, and Antony the Wanderer to the palace they were following an established Russian custom, which called for well-off people to provide charity to “God’s slaves,” as the wanderers were sometimes called. And when they took the Holy Fool Mitya Kozelsky, a mute simpleton with deformed legs who “talked” by means of hand gestures, they were seeking a blessing, a glimpse of God, a message of comfort.

Alexandra: The Last Tsarina, pages 122,3.