27 June 2013

Feodora Morozova goes into exile with two fingers raised

This will be my final entry on material derived from the remarkable book and television program about the Lykov family.  For newbies, see these background posts: Isolated for 40 years in the Taiga"Agafia's Taiga Life" (outstanding video), and Lost in the Taiga.

Here's an excerpt from Lost in the Taiga (p. 38):
A friend of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich's pious first wife, the young widow Feodosia Prokofievna Morozova was very rich (eight thousand serfs, a mountain of gold, a gilded carriage, horses, servants)...

In Surikov's painting we see Morozova being taken through Moscow on a peasant sledge on her way into exile.  In this remarkable canvas we see the face of the entire Schism: sniggering priests, the concerned faces of both common and distinguished people who obviously sympathize with the martyr, the stern faces of adherents of the old ways...
The State Tretyakov Gallery offers this description of the painting (click the top image for bigger, btw - it's quite a painting):
Surikov, Vasily Ivanovich. Boyarina Morozova. 1887 oil on canvas 304 x 587,5

Feodosia Prokopievna Morozova (?–1675), was a supporter of the spiritual leader of the old faith, archpriest Avvakum. Circa 1670 she was secretly tonsured as a nun; in 1671 she was arrested and in 1673 she was sent to the Pafnutief-Borovsky convent where she was starved to death in an earthen prison. The painting is devoted to the Church Schism of the 17th century. The Schism arose as a result of reforms by Patriarch Nikon to unify the rites and establish uniformity in the church service. The artist has depicted an episode when Boyarina Morozova is taken around Moscow to her place of confinement. In the centre is Morozova herself, her hand thrown up, blessing the crowd in the two-fingered manner of the Old Believers. The black spot of her clothing sounds the tragic dominant note of the painting. The crowd has divided. To the left, they are mocking the boyarina; to the right, they sympathize with her. Alongside Morozova is her sister Evdokia Urusova, who shared the fate of the Schismatics.
Wikipedia has an extended entry on the Old Believers.  First on a list of "Main differences between the Old Believers and post-Nikonian Russian Orthodoxy" is this entry:
Old Believers use two fingers while making the Sign of the Cross (the pointer finger straight, middle finger slightly bent, two fingers joined with thumb, held at point, three folded) while new-style Orthodoxy uses three fingers for the sign of cross (three fingers (including the thumb) held together at point, two fingers folded). Old Ritualists generally say the Jesus Prayer with the Sign of the Cross, while New Ritualists use the Sign of the Cross as a Trinitarian symbol. This makes for a significant difference between the two branches of Russian Orthodoxy, and one of the most noticeable...
Peskov made the same point in his book about Agafia:
Divergencies [sic] that seem ridiculous to us provoked special protest.  According to the new books, Nikon asserted, religious processions around the church should go counterclockwise, not clockwise; the word "hallelujah" should be sung two times, not three; people should bow at the waist, not to the ground; and they should cross themsleves with three fingers, not two, as the Greeks do.  It was a debate not about faith but about the rituals of the service, about isolated and relatively minor details of observance.
It was for these differences that Morozova was starved to death.  It was for differences like this that Agafia's father and her siblings abandoned civilization to flee into the wilderness of the taiga.  And it is this sort of insistence upon details of dogma and ritual that I believe constitute the greatest weakness of religions.  These almost arbitrary distinctions create schisms that exclude the "others" from the communion of believers and theoretically from eternal salvation.  It leads to wars between Sunnis and Shiites.

I remember in the 1960s how the Lutheran Church (itself subdivided into sects that seem ridiculously unimportant) tried to promote the "new ecumenism."  But true interfaith pluralism never emerged; I suspect every faith has much at stake in maintaining its identity distinct from all others. 

Addendum:  A hat tip to reader Robert "Chemsolver" who remembered that Zorba the Greek contained a reference to Madame Hortense not getting a proper burial because of the number of fingers she used to make the sign of the cross:
"Shall I go and call the priest? said Mimiko.
"What priest you fool?" said Kondomanolio furiously. "She was a Frank; didn't you ever notice how she crossed herself? With four fingers-like that-the infidel! Come on, let's get her underground, so that she doesn't stink us all out and infect the whole village!"


  1. How did Garrison Keeler put it? He was raised in a family that was a member of a church which split from the Mother Church because they couldn't agree on the colors of scarves that were appropriate for women to wear to church. Or something like that.

  2. Have you noticed that the web's 'this is a clickable image' icon very closely mimics the blessing gesture?

  3. Interesting painting and commentary. Thanks for sharing, Stan.

  4. While I agree that sometimes religious divisions get quite ridiculous, as an ELCA Lutheran, I have to point out that sometimes the splits are important. The ELCA ordains women and openly gay clergy. LCMS and WELS do not permit women to have authority over men or become clergy (WELS does not allow women to vote if it would have authority over men), and believe homosexuality is a sin. Some of the other differences are nitpicks, but those two are pretty major, I think. :) Sad that the Russian Old Believers and the New Orthodox split over such trivial differences though.

    The bottom of this page has a nice overview of the differences: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wisconsin_Evangelical_Lutheran_Synod

    1. I guess you're right, but it's just kind of disappointing.

  5. Too many people have been killed in the name of religion for me to believe in any of them. To me it's all superstitious nonsense although I was brought up in the Roman Catholic Church.

  6. good post... a very sad state of affairs for the human race.


  7. I was a young Lutheran (The old ALC, American Lutheran Church, forerunner of the ELCA) when the Ecumenical movement was happening. We were encouraged to visit other churches and see what we had in common and where we differed. Then, around the end of the 60's the charismatics and evangelicals started trying to take over. People like Dave Wilkerson and Jimmy Cruz started being invited to youth retreats and Jim and Judy Robbins visited.

    The Church recovered from that and is now very progressive again. I hope it sticksn this time.

  8. I am reminded of the Emo Philips joke:

    Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, "Don't do it!"

    He said, "Nobody loves me."

    I said, "God loves you. Do you believe in God?"

    He said, "Yes."

    I said, "Are you a Christian or a Jew?"

    He said, "A Christian."

    I said, "Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?"

    He said, "Protestant."

    I said, "Me, too! What franchise?"

    He said, "Baptist."

    I said, "Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?"

    He said, "Northern Baptist."

    I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?"

    He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist."

    I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?"

    He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region."

    I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative†Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?"

    He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912."

    I said, "Die, heretic!" And I pushed him over.

  9. yep. religion.

    side note: tomorrow i am going to church with the congregation that kicked me out a year ago.

    they kicked me out and when i protested they got an order of no trespass. tomorrow's service is at a different building and they have INVITED me to come.

    i do not know how THAT's going to go, but it will be interesting.

    wish me luck.

  10. In Michael Cacoyannis adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis' book "Zorba the Greek" there is a reference about number of fingers and making the cross. Madame Hortense did not get a decent burial because shoe crossed herself with four fingers.



    1. Interesting. I should add that to the post (after the weekend). Thanks, Unknown.

    2. Stan,
      I can't get my gmail name (chemsolver) to show up in those posts. What I wanted to add: I cannot remember if that scene was in the book.


    3. I found it, Robert, on page 265:

      "Shall I go and call the priest? said Mimiko.
      "What priest you fool?" said Kondomanolio furiously. "She was a Frank; didn't you ever notice how she crossed herself? With four fingers-like that-the infidel! Come on, let's get her underground, so that she doesn't stink us all out and infect the whole village!"


  11. As much as I would like to use this as an opportunity to complain about the faults of religion (and they are legion) it seems like standard human in-group / out-group behavior.

    I'm sure that these "minor details" of religious practice stood for some serious political issues in a time when daily life was almost entirely wrapped up in religion.

    Crossing yourself in the new way was surely a way to signify that you were forward thinking and on board with standardizing the rituals so that even the peasants in the hinterlands had the benefit of the best religious wisdom revealed to Patriarch Nikon and endorsed by the state in the form of Tsar Alexis I.

    Where as crossing yourself as the old believers did signified that you were in sympathy with the lords. You missed the independence formerly granted to local communities to preform the mass in their own ways. And likely you were in sympathy with the regional lords (Boyars) who believed the Tsar had become the puppet of Patriarch Nikon.

    The "trivial" signs were symbols helped people express which political group they belonged to and who they thought held legitimate power. Bloods and Crips don't actually *believe* many different things but their "trivial" symbols such as red or blue clothing identify their group membership and express their political affiliation in the community and who they believe should have power.

  12. I know it's been a while since this post was written, but BBC News just reported on another pair of people who ran to the wilderness during a time of upheaval and have lived there ever since.

    Unfortunately, it sounds like they are not being given the option to stay in the jungle; a description of the article on BBC's facebook update said that the father has already tried to escape from the hospital.



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