Frequently Asked Questions About Old Believers
Not necessarily, however, there may be benefits to practising the faith with a Byzantine rite parish. I say this because there are so very few Old Believers (ROCCR) in existence today, and one would be hard pressed to find an active ROCCR parish. If you have the luxury of living in close proximity with a Byzantine parish, I would highly recommend speaking to one of the priests there about your situation. Granted, more often than not, the priest is not familiar with Pope Pius X’s “Nec plus, nec minus, nec aliter,” (“no more, no less, no different”).
No, not at all. Learning the Latin Mass would not be necessary, especially if you are not going to be attending a local traditional Roman Catholic Church. Most modernist parishes today no longer use the Tridentine Mass, much to the lament of traditional, conservative Catholics. However, if you decide to visit in order to hear Mass, it would not be a bad idea to be familiar with the basics. But as an Old Believer in communion with the Holy See, it is not necessary that you attend the Latin Mass, participate in it, or become a registered parishioner. Although, as I noted above, if you are isolated and and do not have a family to establish the Church in your home, then there are benefits to participating with a Byzantine Rite parish, or if that is not available, a Roman Catholic (Latin rite). A brief article on the history of the Russian Old Belivers sect on byzcath.org says that “Pope St Pius X declared that former Orthodox Old Believer communities entering communion with the Catholic Church retained the right to continue worshipping according to the liturgical forms that they had historically served.”
There are a great deal of differences between what Old Believers (Russian Orthodox) refer to as Divine Liturgy, and the Latin Mass. For one, the Divine Liturgy (the Mass) is referred to as the Divine Liturgy of St. Chrysostom. There are only faint similarities between the two. The Nicene Creed, called “The Symbol” among Orthodox, is different than that recited by Roman Catholics. For example, it does not contain the filioque. Where Roman Catholics say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son…”, Orthodox say, “who proceeds from the Father”, without saying “and the Son.” Those are only a couple of examples; there are too many differences between the two traditions’ liturgies to be listed on this page. You can watch a video of an Old Believers Divine Liturgy by clicking here.
If you come into communion with the Holy See, as an Old Believer who is in good standing (no outstanding criminal status), the words of St. Pope Pius X instruct that you do not have to change anything, “no more, no less, no different” than what you have been doing. This would not preclude you from adopting (and adapting) additional spiritual practices for your personal devotions. This might include sacramentals such as the rosary, using various prayers commonly used by the Latin rite, and so on. If you are living the life of a brother, under a rule, it is best to speak to a bishop who is both familiar and sympathetic toward St. Pope Pius’ comment. But if this is not possible, and you wish to continue living under the rule of your former religious order, this should be fine as far as it is possible for you. I would be more than happy to discuss this further with you, since I myself chose that option.
What does Pope Pius’ words “Nec plus, nec minus, nec aliter,” actually mean? How do I apply them as an Old Believer in communion with Rome? What does it mean for an Old Believer to be “in communion” with Rome?
St. Pope Pius X’s words, “Nec plus, nec minus, nec aliter,” literally mean “no more, no less, no different”. This is what His Holiness stated when asked by Old Believers who were aligning themselves with the Holy See what they should do as far as the liturgy and other traditions were concerned. Essentially His Holiness stated that nothing needed to be changed from what they were already observing. This does not mean that we are not permitted to use additional services, texts or practices that did not exist in the earlier days, it simply means that our old, respected, holy traditions are viewed as acceptable for us to continue practising. In other words, keep doing what you have been doing. Thus, as Orthodox we continue with our traditions, our liturgies and our various practices, spiritual and cultural, but at the same time, we recognise the Holy See as the pre-eminent authority of the Church. This is what it means for an Old Believer to be in communion with Rome. It doesn’t make us “Roman Catholics” or “Greek Catholics,” but rather, we remain Orthodox by continuing in our traditions as Pope Pius told us to, while at the same time remaining obedient to Rome as far as it is humanly and morally possible. The FSSPX news service puts it this way: “[I]n 1908, Pope St. Pius X, through the Vatican Secretary of State, decreed that the Russian Catholics should retain their liturgical and spiritual patrimony in full, without any alteration or admixture with another rite. What this meant is that Russian Catholic communities could use both the so-called Synodal form of the Byzantine Rite as had been approved for the Russian Orthodox Church by its leadership and the so-called Old Rite that had been suppressed violently in the mid-17th century. Those holding to the Old Rite, known as Old Believers, had been persecuted by the Russian state for centuries because they resisted reforms to the liturgy. Several Old Believer communities entered into communion with the Catholic Church during this period of time.” (“Russian Greek Catholic Church Meet for a Historic Congress”, FSSPX News)
If you are member of a local Latin rite parish, it is best that you have your children baptized by the priest of the parish of which you belong. It would be considered illicit if anyone else, outside of an ermergency, baptised your child. This is the responsibility of your priest. The same is true concerning the Penitential Rite (confession). In emergency cases, I do offer baptism, confession and certain other rites. Again, these must be extreme or emergency cases unless you are already an Old Rite member.
Under normal circumstances, the Catholic church does not “re-baptise” those who have already been baptised. There are circumstances that would allow for this, such as if you were not sure of your baptism (if you were baptized as a child there might not be a record of it in later years). In such a case, you would probably receive a “conditional baptism”. It would take more space than is available here to define the differences between “valid” or “invalid” baptisms, so suffice it to say that if a person was baptised according to the words of Christ in the Gospel of St. Matthew 28:19, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and keeping John 3:5 in mind, that “no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit,” (NRSV) then I consider the baptism to have been valid, irrespective of the person who performed it. A person is baptised into Christ, not an organisation or church. They become a member of a church or parish, or an order, but their baptism is in Christ. Thus, those who were baptised into an organisation, such as is the practice of certain cults, such “baptism” is not considered valid.
Yes, it is true. The Old Orthodox Believers hold the fingers in an entirely different manner than Roman Catholics and other Orthodox, using two fingers to represent the Cross, and three below it. Click here to see a video demonstration.
It is true, there are many different Old Believer sects, each having their own practices, traditions and governance. There are “priested” and “priestless” Old Believers, those who have accepted the Gregorian calendar, others who prefer the Julian calendar, and so on. The development has not only been due to political issues of old Russia and persecution, but also interpretation of the traditions and liturgy and whether or not clerics from other Orthodox jurisdictions (outside the Old Believers movement) are legitimate. Among the Old Believers are the more well known groups such as Popovtsy and Bezpopovtsy, both containing various “sub-groups”. There are several lesser known groups such as those who followed Father Dimitry in the 1970’s in his interpretation of the anti-Christ (believing it is Russia) and not accepting new converts, and the Old Rite Brethren, and many others — some of which have in their jurisdictions only two or three people left these days. There have been efforts in the past to unite various Old Believer sects, some joining the Russian Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Church of America, and so on. There have been some over-zealous attempts by certain individuals to “convert” the Old Believers to a particular jurisdiction, but for the most part there is no real effort these days that I am aware of. Each jurisdiction has their own organizing or policy making body or committee of elders who care for their communities, but there is no official “mother church” that represents all Old Believers. For some Old Believers, they gather themselves around a Bishop (if they have one) or a particular priest or brother (monk) to guide them or to provide the sacraments.
Church Slavonic and to a lesser extent, Russian, are the “official” languages of the original Old Believers. The Church Slavonic texts are translations of the older Greek texts. These days, moderate conservative Old Believers will also use the Septuagint (LXX), or a translation of it such as that of Sir Lancelot Charles Lee Brenton. Among some modern English speaking Old Believers in communion with the Holy See, you will find a variety of Bible translations such as the New Revised Standard Version (Catholic Edition), the New Jerusalem Bible, and so on. Personally, the translation I use most often is the Douay-Rheims. One can not say that there is an “official” translation of the Bible unless you consider Church Slavonic as official.
In the absence of a priest, the Old Rite laity in communion with the Holy See should be in the habit of conducting a reader service or something to that nature, using the current or chosen lectionary. The veneration of icons, lighting of candles and various sacramentals can be observed by the laity, whether alone or as a group. Each family is considered a church in its own right, with the head of the household, usually the father, leading the various lay services. Individuals and families living near a Byzantine Catholic or Latin Rite parish can receive the Body and Blood of Christ at those parishes. If one lives too far from such parishes he/she may request an Old Believer priest to travel to his/her area if that is possible. Because Old Believer priests are few and far between, it is rare that this accommodation can be made. You might be required to travel a lengthy distance. The Old Rite Brethren sect (and probably some others) allows for certain laity in good standing to reserve bread that has been blessed by a priest in their homes upon the domestic altar or shelf in the prayer corner. The lay person consumes a small amount each day with the Morning Prayers. However, this is not the same as the sacrament of Communion.
Not all Old Believer groups accept the validity of the priesthood of other Christian churches. There are some Old Believers who believe that only their group (not even other Old Believers) has valid Apostolic Succession. There are some Old Believers who do not believe in the existence of a priesthood today. The ecclesiastical jurisdiction to which I belong, considers the Orthodox, Old Believers (those with a priesthood), Catholic, Anglican, Polish National Catholic and Assyrian churches as having valid Apostolic Succession. However, there is some question regarding the Protestant Episcopal Church. Old Believers do not believe that Lutheran churches or other Protestants have Apostolic Succession, and that in many cases, their sacraments are likely invalid. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claims to have Apostolic Succession, however, Old Believers do not view their “priesthood” as legitimate, although depending on the circumstances, baptisms might be valid – for example, a person who was baptised in the LDS church could be a convert to certain Old Believers groups without being “re-baptised” — this would depend on the regulations of each Old Believer group.
Old Believers do not believe in women serving in the priesthood. Women may serve in many different capacities, but not as priests.
Nec plus, nec minus, nec aliter.
Please note that the questions on this page are answered from the perspective of an Old Believer priest in communion with Rome, and may not necessarily agree with all Old Believer groups in existence today. The Old Rite Brethren is a lesser known group among the many Old Believer sects. It consists of those who are the sons and daughters, and some converts from Judaism, who had converted to the Russian Orthodox Church prior to or during the time of Patriarch Nikon in the mid-1600’s. Today, the total membership is probably less than 100 scattered worldwide with most meeting in private homes for reader services. There are only five priests and most are isolated or professed hermits such as myself. Aside from baptismal records, a church census is not kept. These figures are based on communications and meetings, conferences or special events that have taken place over the years. The language of the liturgy is often in the vernacular, with other prayers and Scripture readings in Hebrew or Aramaic. More information is available at oldrite.com
Since establishing this web site, one question I keep receiving lately concerns whether or not the vestments of the Old Rite Brethren differ from than those of other Eastern Orthodox or Russian Orthodox in general. Yes, in fact they do — very much. During Divine Liturgy the priest wears a white alb over a black clerical shirt (heiromonks often wear a white clerical shirt during special services); a stole of the appropriate liturgical color is dawned along with the tallit and kippah. The kippah is removed before the blessing of the bread and wine. The celebrant covers his head with the tallit during the priestly blessing. A plain Orthodox Cross is worn by priests, while hieromonks (priest monks) usually wear a Greek pectoral Cross. There are no rules etched in stone concerning the latter. The history of using the Greek pectoral Cross specifically by hieromonks is unknown to me. It was presented to me at my ordination and to one other that I know of.
Another question is whether or not our priests wear the so called “Roman collar” and other clerical attire. Some do wear the tabbed clerical collar, but it is only required during the celebration of the sacraments. When attending Mass at other rites (for example, the Latin rite Mass), priests are asked not to wear the collar as it can cause confusion to the non-Old Believer parishioners, since he is not their priest – unless the particular parish is already familiar with the situation. Hermits or monastics usually wear a beige or “off white” robe with embroidered insignia when not officiating at the altar. On a side note, deacons existed in Old Rite Brethren parishes or homes up until around 2005. It was their custom to wear the tabbed collar in a grey shirt instead of black. Priests are permitted to wear the tabbed clerical shirt during “leisure time” as well.
Based on many of the questions I receive, there seems to be a lot of fascination with liturgical vestments and what priests wear from day to day. Another question is if priests are permitted to wear casual clothing. Yes, priests are permitted to wear casual clothing when doing day to day work, shopping or other activities when in the public. The casual clothing should be respectable and should be modest, and not “revealing”. A priest should carry with him a prayer book, a stole and holy water for various situations that may arise while in public.
Yes, Old Rite Brethren believe in the literal Presence of the Body and Blood of Messiah in the bread and wine after it has been blessed by the priest. This is what we refer to as the “Blessed Presence.” We do not argue or attempt to explain “how” the bread and wine contain the Presence of Messiah. This is a matter of faith. Out of respect for the Blessed Presence, it is forbidden for priests of the Old Rite Brethren to carry the “host” (or communion bread) with him, unless he is communicating the Eucharist to someone who is sick, or is unable to travel to the priest to receive communion. The priest, unless there is a legitimate reason, should not make any stops from the point of leaving the chapel or his home on his way to the sick person’s location. The same rule applies if there is any bread left after communicating the sick, as he travels back to the chapel or his home. A priest will guard the blessed bread and wine with his life if necessary.
While the monstrance is not part of our tradition, it is certainly not forbidden for the faithful to participate with parishes that celebrate the exhibition of the Eucharist. Personally, I encourage individuals to do this on the first Fridays and first Saturdays of each month if they have the opportunity to meet at a Latin rite parish.
Joining the Old Rite Brethren might be difficult if you are already a member of a Latin rite parish (or other Rite within the Catholic Church). There are canonical laws regulating how this is done and you would need to speak to your bishop regarding the matter. If you are not a member of any rite within the Catholic Church, including Byzantine Catholic rite churches, your particular situation will be assessed and you will likely be required to undergo a basic study of essential Catholic and Orthodox beliefs and practices (especially as they relate to this jurisdiction). The initial classes can take anywhere from three to six months depending on your progress and willingness to participate in available studies. If successful in your classes, and if you wish to continue, the next step is making your profession before an Old Rite priest and if you have never been baptised, you will then receive the sacrament, followed by chrismation (confirmation). If you are not sure you were legitimately baptised by another church (for example, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”), you will receive what we refer to as a “conditional baptism” by sprinkling of water. After chrismation, you will then be a confirmed member of the Old Rite Brethren. You can contact me for further information. I am always willing to write those who are sincerely interested in our heritage.
A lay reader service on a typical Saturday or Sunday morning is often conducted in the language of the parish, study group or the language of the local population. Before the reading begins, an opening prayer is recited by the group leader, followed by appropriate responses, and then the reading from the Old Testament. Another prayer is recited, followed by reading from the Prophets. Additional prayers follow, then a portion of an Epistle is read from the New Testament, which is then followed by the Gospel text. The readings are all according to the liturgical calendar. The reader wears a stole that is appropriate to his or her office. Yes, I said, “her.” Women can serve as readers in the Old Rite, since this is a lay position and not clerical. When serving in various capacities, women always wear a head covering (regular scarf, mantilla or veil). If a woman is chosen to read the Gospel, she is required to sit while doing so. It is preferable that a male member of the local parish or group read from the Gospel (standing and with head uncovered), but this is not always an option. Competent readers are appointed by a priest through a recommendation of the local parish or house where brothers and sisters meet. In a family setting, the head of the household usually serves as the reader, but he/she may choose one of the other family members if necessary. The latter does not require a letter of appointment from the priest. (Since publishing this page, I have been asked if children are permitted to read. If the child is at least 13 years of age and is able to read, he/she is certainly permitted to do so, and without permission of a priest).
When a priest is present, the reading of the scriptures is part of the Divine Liturgy and overall service of the church for that day. The priest always reads the Gospel text, but may permit a fellow priest, deacon or a brother (monk) to provide approved commentary or a homily after the Gospel reading. Depending on the circumstances, such as the liturgical day and other special observances, a service (with a priest) could last from 45 minutes to three hours, as opposed to a lay reader service which might last from 15 to 30 minutes or perhaps longer.
Yes, you can still join the Old Rite Brethren. For more information as to when there is no parish or no priest, click here for a response to a similar question.
Our beliefs (doctrines) are essentially the same as those of the Roman Catholic Church, although certain aspects of those same doctrines might be explained “diversely” because they are expressed in different cultural terms. As the Old Rite Brethren’s web site says, “Our doctrines are not different, but rather our heritage, cultural and liturgical practices differ from those who practice the Latin rite. We are fully Orthodox, subscribing to the ancient church of the East, and fully Catholic, being in communion with the Holy See since the time of St. Pope Pius X.” When we speak of our “practices,” we mean our calendar, our language, liturgy, attire, and so on; however, the beliefs or doctrines are the same as our Latin rite brothers and sisters. Otherwise, we would not be able to remain in communion with the Holy See.
Currently the Old Rite Brethren are not offering any formation or vocation programs and haven’t done so in any official capacity since 2015. There are only five priests (at the time of writing), and sadly, this jurisdiction is dwindling in numbers. The last known number of Old Rite Brethren members, as stated elsewhere, indicate that there are likely 100 worldwide. I suspect the actual number is less, probably closer to 60. Because of this we are not actively encouraging people to “join” our jurisdiction, neither do we forbid it. Some have written asking about our hierarchy such as bishops. We are without bishops, except for spiritual guidance from Russian Catholic bishops. The highest office of authority in the current state of the Old Rite is invested in the only two hieromonks that the Rite has (one in Russia and the other in the U.S.), with the other three priests in Europe serving as an advisory council. I have been asked if Byzantine rite or Latin rite bishops and/or priests could serve the Old Rite in a bi-ritual capacity. Due to canon laws and lack of priests in other jurisdictions, this is not likely to ever happen. Discussions have been taking place about the possibility of permitting duly trained and appointed monks to provide various sacraments to the parishes, families and individuals. Another option introduced to the council concerning the appointment of priests from other jurisdictions such as the Assyrian, Polish National Catholic, or other historical Orthodox Churches. The status of these agenda items were put on hold until we have our 2017 conference. So, in answer to the original question, at this time it is not likely to be feasible for someone to become a priest in this Old Rite church. Perhaps in the future.
Those who feel called to the monastic life can contact me for more information regarding canons regulating the solitary and community life, as well as initial qualifications. At this time we do not have professed nuns, however, there are two women living as anchorites.
When I first received this question, I was put off by it. However, after I started doing some research, I can now see how some people who are not familiar with history, or those who have been burnt by strange cults and various false religions, would ask this question. Many people not familiar with the various Rites within the Catholic Church, often called by the Latin name sui juris, have not heard of Old Believers. There are some Roman Catholics (Latin rite) who have no idea of the existence of their own Byzantine Catholic brothers and sisters. I have often heard some ask if the local “Greek Catholic Church” down the road is really “Catholic”, not realising the parish they are inquiring about is very much in communion with the Holy See. The various Byzantine rites and others in communion with Rome, are not “internet churches”. Each rite has its own history, liturgical texts and heritage that is cherished by its members. Many of the rites also memorialise the martyrs who died at the hands of its enemies (states and religions). These are very real, fully Catholic and fully Orthodox. The fact that someone has never heard of a certain jurisdiction does not de-legitimize it or negate its existence. I maintain this website for those interested in the history of the Old Rite Brethren and for the very few people who belong to this jurisdiction. These web pages serve as an educational resource and not as an “internet church.” Because the sacraments can not be received through the internet, there is no such thing as an “internet church.” The Old Rite Brethren, the Russian Orthodox Church in Communion with Rome, etc. are canonical according to the Roman Catholic Church because they were given such legitimate, canonical status by the Holy See more than 100 years ago, being welcomed by St. Pope Pius X himself in the early 1900’s.