The Old Believers of Riga

Arnold Podmazov


Latvian Old Believers historically is a particular ethno-confessional group residing on the territory of contemporary Latvia since the second half of the 17th century. In the course of time there have arisen specific cultural features of the Latvian Old Believers, they have retained traditions and customs of their ancestors not only in their religious, but also in everyday lives. Despite a somewhat reclusive character of their culture, the Old Believers are an essential part of the society in Latvia, they take an active part in the life of present-day Latvia.

As of today in Latvia there are approximately 80 000 Old Believers and those coming from Old Believers’ families. For the most part they are Russians, though there are also Byelorussians, Ukrainians and other nationalities among them. The Old Believers of Latvia are united in 69 communities that are independent financially, but together constitute a spiritual and canonical entity - the Old Orthodox Pomorian Church of Latvia. The largest number of the Old Believers’ communities is in Latgale (in eastern Latvia).

In Riga there are two Pomorian Old Believers’ communities: the Riga Grebenshchikov Old Believers’ Community and the Riga Pomorian Theophany Community. The Grebenshchikov Community is one of the largest Old Believers’ communities outside Russia (the total number of parishioners is around 10000); it is renowned as the spiritual center for Old Believers in Latvia and abroad.

Alongside with Old Believers’ communities in Riga there are also two Old Believers’ public organizations: the Old Believers’ Society of Latvia (founded in 1908, reestablished in 1994) and the I.N. Zavoloko Old Believers’ Society (founded in 1999).