Last month, Smithsonian.com published the fascinating story of a family that lived in complete isolation for decades. The Lykov family, fleeing religious persecution in the 1930s, escaped to a remote corner of the Siberian wilderness where they remained for over 40 years. Events such as the Second World War, the rise of the Soviet Union as a superpower, and manned space flights went completely unnoticed. Their isolation was broken in 1978 when a team of Soviet geologists by pure chance happened upon the family, who by that time had eked out an existence on the very edge of survival.
The Lykovs were members of an ultra-conservative Russian Orthodox sect whose beginnings can be traced to ecclesiastical reforms enacted by Patriarch Nikon in the mid-17th century. Those who resisted changes in established liturgical practice—”Old Believers”—were stripped of basic rights and faced official persecution well into the 20th century. Over time, Old Believer communities subsequently emigrated far and wide in order to practice their faith.
The same resilience in a fast-changing world displayed most dramatically in the Siberian wilds can also be found in the Canadian West, as described in David Z. Scheffel’s In the Shadow of Antichrist: The Old Believers of Alberta. In Shadow of the Antichrist, Scheffel provides both a brief history of this remarkable sect and a detailed account and analysis of the manner in which their traditional lifestyle is kept up in three Alberta communities.
While not taking it to the extremes shown by the Lykov family, the Old Believers as examined by Scheffel remain a staunchly independent community, who, rooted in centuries-old traditions, “go to great lengths to nurture the ancient iconic relationship with God and the past, determined to withstand the onslaught of modernity.”
-Kris Gies, Publisher’s Representative