Why did the Old Believers come to Estonia?
In 1652, a number of reforms were introduced to the Russian Orthodox Church. Ceremonies and religious texts were altered and certain traditions changed. For example, the sign of the cross would be made with three fingers instead of two, and the tradition of prayer with low sweeping bows was eliminated.
From a modern-day perspective, these changes seem trivial. At the time, some believers considered these changes a fundamental rejection of their faith. They protested, but the reforms were ratified, leading to a division in the Church. Those who adhered to the original traditions came to be known as the Old Believers.
In the years following the reforms, Old Believers were persecuted, tortured, and even executed. Some were burned alive; others had their hands and tongues cut off. Many fled to the edges of the Russian Empire; some fled even further. Old Believer communities were established as far away as Argentina, the United States, and Canada. It wasn't until 1971 that the 1667 ban on the Old Believer faith was finally lifted.
Unique Old Believer traditions
Today there are about 15,000 Old Believers and 11 registered parishes in Estonia. More tradition than belief unites them these days. If you travel along the road connecting Mustvee to Varnja, you can observe some of these unique, centuries-old traditions.