In their public discussions the disputants could find no common ground on which to argue, for the simple reason that their fundamental conceptions were different. The monk spoke of the Church as the terrestrial representative of Christ and the sole possessor of truth, whilst his opponents knew nothing of a Church in this sense, and held simply that all men should live in accordance with the dictates of Scripture. Once the monk consented to argue with them on their own ground, and on that occasion he sustained a signal defeat, for he could not produce a single passage recommending the veneration of Icons—a practice which the Russian peasants consider an essential part of Orthodoxy. After this he always insisted on the authority of the early Ecumenical Councils and the Fathers of the Church—an authority which his antagonists did not recognise. Altogether the mission was a complete failure, and all parties regretted that it had been undertaken. “It was a great mistake,” remarked to me confidentially an Orthodox peasant; “a very great mistake. The Molokanye are a cunning people. The monk was no match for them; they knew the Scriptures a great deal better than he did. The Church should not condescend to discuss with heretics.”
It is often said that these heretical sects are politically disaffected, and the Molokanye are thought to be specially dangerous in this respect. Perhaps there is a certain foundation for this opinion, for men are naturally disposed to doubt the legitimacy of a power that systematically persecutes them. With regard to the Molokanye, I believe the accusation to be a groundless calumny. Political ideas seemed entirely foreign to their modes of thought. During my intercourse with them I often heard them refer to the police as “wolves which have to be fed,” but I never heard them speak of the Emperor otherwise than in terms of filial affection and veneration.
Dissenters not to be Confounded with Heretics—Extreme Importance Attached to Ritual Observances—The Raskol, or Great Schism in the Seventeenth Century—Antichrist Appears!—Policy of Peter the Great and Catherine II.—Present Ingenious Method of Securing Religious Toleration—Internal Development of the Raskol—Schism among the Schismatics—The Old Ritualists—The Priestless People—Cooling of the Fanatical Enthusiasm and Formation of New Sects—Recent Policy of the Government towards the Sectarians—Numerical Force and Political Significance of Sectarianism.