Old Believer

Old Believers are the Latvia’s 4th strongest faith, but with 1,7% as its adherents it falls far behind in numbers beyond the first three. It is followed by ethnic Russian communities whose forefathers arrived to Latgale fleeing persecution in Russia.

Traditional Old Believer churches are small and wooden, located in their own isolated villages. As the centuries passed, many Old Believers moved into cities, with one of the largest Old Believer churches in the world now operating in Riga.

Grebenščikova Old Believer monastery
Grebenščikova Old Believer monastery. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Old Believers follow an older form of Russian Orthodoxy. After Patriarch Nikon reformed that faith in Russia in 1653, following the old rites was banned there. Subsequent persecutions caused many Old Believers to seek refuge in the neighboring countries such as Latvia.

 Old Believer village church now in Riga skansen
Old Believer village church now in Riga skansen. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Every Russian regime tended to view Old Believers as a dangerous sect and their numbers thus went down under Soviet occupation of Latvia (their population share stood at 5,49% in 1935 with 13,85% in Latgale alone).

 typical wooden and modest Old Believer church (1888) in Jēkabpils
A typical wooden and modest Old Believer church (1888) in Jēkabpils where Old Believers have settled as early as 17th century. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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