Ivan Zavoloko


There is a moment in each person s life, when some special questions occur: “Where did I come from?”, “Who are my ancestors, how did they live and wheather should I go their way?” Sometimes it seems, that in our world living in modern rythm with fast changes in all spheres there is no place for sentimental thoughts about everyday traditions of the past, that world outlook and interrelations between people. That is because our life differs immensily to that one, we have different values and aims in life. Nevertheless nowadays the past appears too frequently to be neglected, and then we find ourselves in Behind-the-Mirror of the Past and there our personal world view and estimation of things have the same value as a historical event, because the past exists as long as we remember it and the mode of remembrance is also important in this case.

Ivan Nikiforovich Zavoloko is one of the few Latvian Old Believers whose name is known in his mother-land and abroad as well. For example, in summer 1968 Zavoloko s name was mentioned in Soviet, England and Japan newspapers – a very rare thing in the context of that life! A modest pensioner from Riga donated the Institute of Russian Literature (Pushkin House) in that time Leningrad a unique 17th century manuscript – the life-story of protopop Avvakum wrtitten by himself. This event was considered to be an oustanding among academicians, though Ivan Nikiforovich Zavoloko continued to live his unpretentious life in a house in Pardaugava, where were not even water-pipe, telephone and other goods of civilization. But behind its fragile walls unclaimed treasures were kept in hiding from hasty world – countless printed texts and manuscripts, old and new books, ancient icons and... the spirit of true belief. Acquaintances knew that this bearded man with one leg who spoke with equal cleverness and vehement both on Old Russian manuscript attributes and beekeeping is “protopop Avvakum in miniature” – such was Ivan Zavoloko s name in 1920-1930, when he was young, believing passionately, a little bit stubbornly but very consistently trying to fulfil aim that one person cannot do – to unite all Baltic Old Believers and to prove that that the ancestors culture can take a propriate place in moderm life and it can be interesting not only to Old Believers themselves, but to everybody, who is opened for a dialog with the past. Ivan Zavoliko was arrested and blaimed for Anti-Soviet activities in October 1940, six month after being appointed by Old Believers a preceptor. He spent 8 years in Siberian camps and then lived 9 years in village Severnoye, Novosibirsk area. It were his belief and strong spirit that helped him to live and not to loose human dignity. He never gave up to circumstances: after the camp he finished medicine courses, worked in village Severnoye as a laboratory assistant. It was a lucky chance that he got a permission to return to Latvija: specialists from the Pushkin House began to show interest in him because of his many Old Russian manuscripts knowledge and discoveries in this field. But in accordance to Zavoloko himself this period of his life was a logical continuation of things that he started when being young.

Ivan Nikiforovich Zavoloko was born and brought up in the Old Believer family, which ancestors were very religious and pious. His grandrelatives influenced Zavoloko inmmensely and he already in chidhood began to pay interest to the past, to the history of the Ortodoxy and to Old Russian culture. It were Old Believers who did everything to preserve and give to the future generations both the rite of the Old Russian Orthodox Church and everyday life traditions of their ancestors. A part of Orthodox Christians did not admitted corrections in church literature and changes in church rite as the result of Nikon s church reforms in the midst of the 17th century. They considered the church not to be a sphere where one could justify any changes especially those which are inspired by “the order from above”. That is why these religious people became undesirable in their motherland and were forced to search after shelter in other places, where religious problems were not the object for government concern. In modern Latvian territory (especially in Latgale) the first Old Believers villages and worship houses appeared already in the late 17th century. Old Believers could preserve their belief, language, cultural traditions due to their true respect of their ancestors experience and following their pattern. In each family old prayer books and icons usually were carefully preserved as sacred things – witnesses of strength of the beliefe and its keepers. The family upbringing and the parish gave the only chance Old Believers children to get education for almost two and a half centuries, because until the Tsar Nikolay the Second Manifesto 1905 the Old Believers in all across the Russian Empire were persecuted as unfaithful citizens and this process was more severe than towards catholics and protestants – the government s attitude to the latter was more or less tolerant. Religious life of Old Believers until 1905 was kept away from the outside people, all divine services and rites were made almost in secrecy, because each Old Believer s activity was controlled by the Tsar government officials.

Consistent persecutions and general changes in culture historically brought to the situation when Old Believers following the pattern of their ancestor religious life lost the status of an undisputable norm. In the beginning of the 20th century already a large part of Old Believers lived in cities and consequently forgot the strict norms of the belief, which sometimes was very hard to follow in urban circumstances. Still it was in the independent Latvian Republic where Old Believers got all juridical rights for the first time in their history, and these rights had not any other confessional group. Henceforth Old Believers were allowed to express freely their religious conviction, to attend divine services, to form new communities and to build new worship houses, to organize communities and to take part in the state political life. The problems that Latvian Old Believer communities solve were connected mainly with preserving traditional everyday life pattern, with reconstruction of religious practice and drawing the youth in active religious life.

Ivan Zavoloko returned to Latvija in 1927 after studies in Prague in Karlov University at the Russian faculty of Law. Prague was called that time Russian Oxford due to large number of Russian intellectual emigrants, the president of Czechoslovakia T. Masarik announced „Russian action” that time, he gave scientists and teachers drawn from the Soviet Russia opportunity to continue their work. Thus Ivan Zavoloko managed to get a very good education and it was quite an exceptional case among Old Believers – they were forbidden to receive any secular education for a long time. Zavoloko s experience in Prague influenced not only his activities in 1920-1930 but his general life position. His communication with the best representatives of Russian historians, philosophers and theologians stimulated him to think of Old Believers destiny in Latvia. Russian intellectual emigration in the early 1920s took responsibility for real Russian culture preservation far from the boarders of the bolsheviks tormented Russia and Ivan Zavoloko the same way accredeted necessity to unite Old Believers in Latvia and the Baltics for preservation of the unique cultral heritage, which was accumulated during ages and was the foundation for many Russian s ethnic and religious identity.

He organized a society for young men - The Circle of Adherents of the Olden Time (Кружок ревнителей русской старины) at Riga Grebenschikov community in June 1927 for the main purpose – to form Old Believers national and religious self-confidence. Such kind of Old Believers organizaton was something unusual for quite an unsociable Old Believers life. They traditionally got the basic knowledge of the essence of their believe ang the order of religious life at home and in parish, it was orally transmitted from the previous generation. Ivan Zavoloko s Circle assignment was to combine Old Believers practical following the everyday traditions of their ancestors with a sort of science and exploration. Ivan Zavoloko thought that it is necessary to pay main attention to the youth, because it is the one who can preserve their father s believe as a part of real life, not a museum display. That is the reason why the Old Believers young men circle started to work in several spheres – ethnography, education, publishing. Forms of activity were different: both closed arrangements (“spiritual nights”, lectures, talks) and opened ones, where each person interested in the subject could join (open lectures, nights of spiritual verse, exhibitions of old divine service manuscript collections and ethnographic materials). Due to Ivan Zavoloko s initiative and personal contacts members of the Circle could attend lectures given by repsentatives both Russain intellectuals (writer S.Minclov, professor of law V.Sinaysky, folklore specialist I.Fridrih) and foreign guests (leader of the the Russian Student Christian Movement (РСХД), professor S. Zavadsky from Belgrad Circle of the Right Russian Language Adherents, P. Muratov from Paris Society “Icon”). The Circle has its own library (approximately 700 books), museum of Rissian antiquities, icon workshop and chorus. The most active participants of the Circle went to expeditions across the Baltics to visit places inhabited by Old Believers, for example, in Latgale, in Peipusi lake area, in the Carpathian Mountains (Mukachev and Hust districts) and in Poland (Old Believers cloister in Voynovo) every summer. In these expeditions students got down the texts and melodies of Old Believers spiritual verses, bought old manuscripts, collected examples of Old Believers costumes and ornaments, they sang themselves spiritual verses, arranged meetings and talks with local Old Believers. Three Russian Folk Art exhibitions in Riga and a concert for a wide auditorium were arranged as the result of these investigations, and there was given the Old Believers spiritual verse concert in Riga s Blackhead Men House honouring the 10th anniversary of the Circle. Due to Ivan Zavoloko s energy and vehemence Latvian Old Believers started hand-in-glove coopertaion with Old believers in Estonia and Lithuania. The Circle had branches in Jelgava, Daugavpils, Rezekne and contacts with various organizations in their mother-land and abroad. Ivan Zavoloko these contacts considered to be those ones that strenghten the Baltic Old Believers unity and help to know better the heritage of the past and the modern secular situation and people, that are maintaining Old Believers culture. Besides that Ivan Zavoloko issued by his own means and donations meatly, multiple magazine “The Native Olden Time” (Родная старина) (1927-1933, 13 issues), two collections of spiritual verses (1933, 1937), two albums with Russian stitchcraft and ornament examples (1929, 1939).

In 1930s Ivan Zavoloko was involved in one more sphere of activity, that is education. He took an active part in working out a program for learning the foundation of the belief to stimulate children religious education in primary schools. After regular meetings at Riga Grebenschikov community Ivan Zavoloko managed both to summarize the contents of the program so that it was affirmed in 1931 by Ministery of Education and to form a respective book for studies which was also accepted by the Ministery and issued by Riga Grebenschikov Old Believers comunity. Nevertheless Ivan Zavoloko understood that spiritual upbringing in schools is possible only by means of specially educated teachers. That is why he together with persons who shares his views arranged in Daugavpils courses for religious teachers. And participants of the Circle of the Olden Time Adherents arranged in 1931 Sunday School for children at Riga Grebenschikova Old Believers community. It was so popular that in 1938 it was attended already by 300 children and a part of them sang in children chorus.

When reading Ivan Zavoloko s letters it seems that this person has unbounded inner strength and confidence that it is possible to do works that are utopian for common sense, and a person needs for this belief, possibility for hard working and assistance of pesons who share the same views. Taking into account the ideas which were fulfiled by Ivan Zavoloko, and evaluating his donation into maintainance of Old Believers cultural heritage and Old Believers integration into social life, it is possible state that Ivan Zavoloko belongs to those persons which Russian historian L. Gumilev called passionaries – persons, who influence historical paths because of their active position and personal responsibility for their own activities.