The Divine Service Church Reform introduced by Patriarch Nikon of Moscow in the mid-17th Century has led to the Raskol — the splitting of the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as the prolongated social conflict and the emerging of the so-called Old Ritualists. The Old Ritualists considered it their duty to preserve the “true” faith; they abandoned their homes and fled from the Tsar’s persecution, escaping to Poland, the White Sea regions, the Nizhny Novgorod region and Siberia. 

The first Old Ritualists’ settlements in Altai were established towards the end of the 17th century. At the time Altai, which is located in South Siberia, was a poorly accessible and underdeveloped territory. Almost the entirety of the region’s terrain is covered by mountains which made it possible to hide behind the ridges and “preserve the true faith”. Later on, in the mid-18th century the government legalised the Old Ritualists’ status as well as their settlements, which allowed for further preaching the God’s word in compliance with the old traditions. Nonetheless, the arrival of the new Soviet regiment became yet another tough test for Old Ritualists. These are believed to be the factors that have contributed towards the Old Ritualists community being enclosed and isolated alongside having high endurance and hardworking qualities. 

At the present time the Altai Old Ritualists still exist and reside within the Uymon Valley and some separate villages at the Altai foothills. The reason for my travelling to and meeting the inhabitants of those Old Ritualists villages was not merely to seek out individuals who have completely preserved the Old Ritualist ways in its many manifestations and traditions and to reveal my findings to the world. Instead, I was pursuing the desire to discover and experience a certain spirit; the state of the descendants from those migrant escapists who, after having been chased away and persecuted, once found their heaven on Earth among the beauty and abundance of nature; who, beside the animalistic self-preservation instinct, were driven by unshakable faith in God and relentless faith in life itself.