"There's nothing to match curling up with a good book

when there's a repair job to be done

around the house."

Joe Ryan



Agafia, a wonderful woman

John P. Jones III (Albuquerque, NM, USA) - See all my reviews This is truly a fascinating story of six "old believers" who found sanctuary for their strange beliefs deep in the Siberian forest. They cut their ties with "civilization" in 1938, lived quite primitively in a remote area of Siberia just north of the juncture of Mongolia and China. They had absolutely no contact with others until they were discovered by miners, using helicopters to survey this inaccessible region in 1982. One of the miners conveyed his findings to the Russian journalist, Vassili Peskov, who has written this book, which is in part a detective story uncovering the lives of the lives of these six, who composed the family Lykov. There are numerous "fundamentalists" among the monotheistic religions, be they Christian, Jewish or Muslim. Not often discussed are the fundamentalists of the Russian Orthodox Church. Peskov explains that there was a major schism in the church in the 16th century, in part due to a "reinterpretation" of the Greek sources by Czar Peter the Great. Beliefs changed, and suddenly it was important if one made the sign of the cross with three fingers or two. Peter also decreed that beards be shaved. The fundamentalist opposed these innovations, as well as the use of tobacco and alcohol, games, and songs. They also opposed much of the authority of the state, including its laws, military service, money and passports. As with other fundamentalists, be they those who are concerned about events on the plains of Karbala, or the ownership of land on the West Bank, the "old believers" are motivated as though Peter the Great was still alive. They followed the dictum of their 16th Century leadership, fleeing and hiding. None seems to have done it better than the family Lykov. As Peskov investigation of the family unfolds, he describes their bare subsistence living since prior to World War II. The family lived in hovels, had no salt, watched as their few iron tools rusted and broke, cultivated potatoes (ironically, one of the forbidden items in the 16th Century), eschewed the use of matches to start fires (the sulfur was also forbidden), relied upon the forest (taiga) to supplement their meager fare, and maintained the various "fetishes" of their fundamentalist beliefs. Naturally they had no health care. A spectra haunted this group, as well as other remote old believers - incest! Peskov never can definitely state this is the reason why the two brothers established separate dwellings six kilometers from the main housing unit, but certainly it is high on the speculation list. Peskov uses the English term "Robinsons" to describe them. In 1961 they were almost overwhelmed by famine, due to snows in June which killed their meager crops. The mother Lykov died shortly thereafter, no doubt weakened by inadequate food. Over the course of Peskov's contact with them, in the `80's, all died except the daughter Agafia. Would she elect to return to "civilization", or maintain her ways as a hermit of the forest? This is an excellent book, with insights into a radically different way of life, and is highly recommended in order to find the answer to that question, as well as numerous others. It also provides a "distant mirror" view of other fundamentalist groups.


Rabbi Lars Shalom said...


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Marie Mirandoline said...

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