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19 Aug, 2007 04:07

Old Believers' faith carried by younger generation

It may have one of the harshest climates on the planet, but the Siberian taiga forest has been a sanctuary for one of Russia's most reclusive religious groups for centuries, the Old Believers.

They are a group of Russian Orthodox Christians who broke away from the main Church nearly 350 years ago over doctrinal differences. 

Old Believers teach that only a life of hard work and self-sacrifice will lead to the kingdom of heaven, and its demands start early. 

Children are expected to help their parents at home and in the fields starting from a young age and that means there’s often little time for school.  

Old Believers generally finish only four grades – most can read or write but higher education is virtually unknown and many are already raising families of their own by their mid-teens. It’s a traditional way of life which the modern world is only just starting to have an impact on. 

Driving a car, or even just using electricity, things which most people have taken for granted all their lives are only beginning to make a difference to the Old Believers in taiga.   

Most still live simple lives of faith like their fathers and none of them expressed a wish to change their existence there for any of the comforts that the city has to offer. 

Nina is 19 years old but has been married for two years and is expecting her first baby.  Her husband Semyon has just finished the first grade of school and has no plans to bring up his child differently. 

“I believe there’s no need to graduate from universities.  If children study too hard, they become just loafers; they lose their time, doing nothing,” explained Semyon Romashov. 

And most of his peers hold similar views. 

20-year-old Tonya lives with her husband Foma and their 3-year-old son. Both visit the region’s capital city Krasnoyarsk regularly, but say they’d never want their son to move there when he grows up. 

I believe there’s no need to graduate from universities.  If children study too hard, they become just loafers; they lose their time, doing nothing.

Semyon Romashov, Old Believer
“Why does he need to be so smart? He is smart enough to live in a village without college.  Even I am affected when I have to travel to the city. These days young people are learning fast, he could become a drug addict,” commented Foma Romashov. 

But there are some small aspects of city living that have reached the village. Tonya owns the community’s only washing machine but has drawn the line at buying a television. 

“When we go to a city people ask us, ”How can you survive without a TV set?“ When people come home from work in a city there’s nothing to do except watch TV. Here, you have plenty of things to take care of. You need to tend the garden, feed your animals, milk your cows. We don’t have time for things like TV,” said Tonya Romashova. 

She and her friends are content with an existence which has barely changed in centuries and they’re ready to make sure the Old Believers’ traditions live on through the next generation.