Marriage in Old Belief's Tradition


The article investigates the problems of marriage in the Old Belief, the Russian phenomenon, initiated by religious reforms of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich and Patriarch Nikon. The state oppression of the Old Believers reached such an extent that even the most private and personal aspects of life of the Old Orthodox were strictly regulated and accompanied by a mass of oppressions. The government and the ruling Orthodox Church quite consciously and consistently pursued a policy of denying the Old Believers the legitimacy of their marriages, prohibiting marriage according to the old, Pre-Nikon rites and the introduction of their own metric books. In different historical periods, from the reign of Peter the Great to the Decree of Alexander II in 1874, the marriage between the Old Believers was subject to duties and fines or equated to a criminal act, including for not informing about that. This practice led to numerous abuses and corruption: bigamy, denial of inheritance rights, recognition of heirs and widows as legal heirs. The position of the Orthodox Church regarding its views on the institution of the family led to the need to separate the civil and religious elements in the marriage. On the other hand, irreconcilable contradictions in matters of marriage and family law most often gave rise to various Old Believers’ and sectarian groups. The most common forms of marriage in the largest Old Believers’ communities, the Popovtsy and Bezpopovtsy are analyzed. The most common way to marry Old Believers was the so-called «ukhod», «uvod», «tikhomatniy marriage», or «samokrutka», which consisted in the escape of the bride to the groom and the subsequent marriage in the Orthodox Church, with the imposition of community or family epithemium later. Among the Bespopovtsy, particularly the Fedoseevtsy there were a great variety of forms of family life, from complete celibacy among the Beguny to promiscuity in the Moscow Preobrazhenskaya community. In 1874, Alexander II signed the metric rules, according to which the Old Believers' marriages were recognized, and children born in such marriages were considered legal.
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