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The “Quaker Heresy” in Siberia

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In the 1670s, from his underground prison in Pustozersk, the Old Believer leader Archpriest Avvakum, misled by Anglican propaganda, equated the “Quaker heresy” with bestiality. Decades later, the Russian sought to eradicate a religious movement that it mislabeled the “Quaker heresy” (better known as the khlysty or flagellants): two special commissions in 1733–1739 and 1745–1756 arrested, imprisoned, and exiled hundreds of peasants and townsmen who had participated in secret meetings, where they prayed, danced, prophesied, and spoke in tongues. Rather than destroy the movement, however, exile only encouraged the spread of the “heresy” into Russia’s eastern frontier. By 1760 the “heresy” had appeared in Viatka and Tobol’sk dioceses, where the Ukrainian metropolitans Varfolomei (Liubarskii) and Pavel (Koniuskevich) tried to eliminate it, without much success. Using printed and archival sources, this article examines the Siberian “Quakers” and the discourse surrounding them; the portrayal of the heresy in legal documents emerged from deep conflicts about the nature and role of Orthodoxy in the Russian empire. The so-called “Quakers” insisted on their Orthodox piety, while their accusers portrayed them as practitioners of a dangerous alien faith.

Affiliations: 1: Arizona State University


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