Russian Old Believers

In 1652 Patriarch Nikon introduced reforms to bring Russian Orthodox doctrine into line with the Greek Orthodox Church. Today, these liturgical reforms may seem trivial (including changes to the way the sign of the cross is made, the direction of a procession and the number of times that ‘alleluia’ should be said) but they were held to be vitally important by many believers. Those who rejected the reforms suffered torture or were executed, and many homes and churches were destroyed.

Over the next few centuries, thousands fled to the western shores of Lake Peipsi, where they erected new villages and worship houses. Although they escaped persecution, they were still governed by tsarist Russia and weren’t allowed to openly practise their religion until Estonia gained its independence in 1918. Today there are around 2600 Russian Old Believers in Estonia, living in 11 congregations, primarily along the shore of Lake Peipsi.