Transcript of Old Believers
Postproduction Script of Old Believers
Demestvenny chant of cantor (over montage of icons).
NARRATOR (William Clarke): In the year 1666, a great schism divided the Russian Orthodox Church. A patriarch of Moscow forced reforms upon the Church—reforms in traditional text and ritual. But pious millions refused to accept these reforms, because a change in outward ritual would mean a change in inner faith. These people—known as “Old Believers”—were persecuted, as enemies of the tsar. Some were tortured and burned at the stake. Others fled to the wilderness and to foreign lands.
(Over pages of Kievan psalter) Their descendants continue to live according to the written acts of Ecumenical Councils—that met over a thousand years ago—setting down the doctrines, church services, and rules for living.
(Chant up, over St. Nicholas icon. Kiril Kutsev with sons, singing from chant book.)
TITLES: OLD BELIEVERS (dissolves to Russian)
NARRATOR (over Russian words spoken, overheard conversation, shots of Russian people picking berries, all ages working together): The Old Believers came to Oregon in the 1960s to preserve their way of life. They had kept the faith of their ancestors for 300 years, living apart, and migrating thousands of miles across the world. Here in the Willamette Valley, they settled near one another in towns and on farms. With hard work they bought homes and land. Today the people live as a community, maintaining their church, rituals, and traditions. Fringed belts, beards, and hair styles have Biblical origin. Their dress reflects peasant costume of 17th Century Russia—and religious belief. But only the older men and women have ever lived in Russia. One who remembers the homeland is Feodora Seledkova. . .
Oral History Sequence
FEODORA SELEDKOVA (weaving, with voice-over English translation): I was born in Russia, in the village Kamenka in the Maritime Province. There was bread, there were cattle. Nothing more. In the winter it got very cold with lots of snow. If we needed something, we went to Spaask in the winter, for salt, goods, or some pretty boots. Then in the summer we picked berries. And there were wild flowers there. All the fields were so beautiful. There were forests too big to cross. There were rivers, and fish in the rivers—good fish, and lots of them.
(over still photos of men seated on a bench, women seated on a bench) Then we went to China, near Harbin. We crossed the border and lived there. Why? There was a revolution. My parents left, the people left. I was thirteen years old.
(photo of people with horses in front of log house) We faced all kinds of situations. Mainly they required hard, heavy work—work on the land. No machines.
(photo of hunters and tigers) Grandchildren like best to hear about the time when my husband was a hunter, and I was at home doing the household work.
NARRATOR: The men sold tigers to zoos, and to the Chinese for medicines. When Communists gained power in the 1950s, the families escaped, hidden in trucks and on foot. From Hong Kong, some resettled in Australia and New Zealand; most migrated to Brazil.
(Kiril Kutsev and Stepan, seated on a sofa) Kiril Kutsev was a young man then. Today he’s a farmer, tree thinner, fisherman, and cantor of his church. He recalls for his son Stepan the events that took them to the hot, dry climate of Brazil, where rice crops failed, and the people went hungry.
(Photographs of his father and mother, of men standing)
STEPAN KUTSEV (translating his father’s words, over a photograph of their family in Oregon, with a car): It was really hard to live there. . . . So far, we know the best place to live is in America, the United States. Nobody tells us not to believe in God.
NARRATOR (over scenes in the berry fields): Other Old Believers had come from Central China—still others from Turkey, where they’d lived 200 years. In Oregon, three groups found a culture in common, preserved from a time before Peter the Great. Soon after harvest, weddings begin. When a boy is to marry, his family prepares braga, a Russian wine, made from the berries. The marriage traditions are very old, echoing countrysides of long ago, when a wedding and its celebration, the svad’ba, kept a whole village entertained for days. Weddings today repeat the ancient patterns.
(Scenes of young people in a park, over a folksong sung by Maria Mametieva) On Sunday afternoons, the park is a meeting place. Engagements can happen suddenly—sometimes after a visit away from home. Families in Oregon keep close ties with relatives in Brazil, Australia, Alaska, and Canada. Fevrusa Kuznetsova’s family left Oregon several years ago. . . .
FEVRUSA KUZNETSOV (a shot of Stacy holding the krosota, then of Fevrusa or “Lucy”) trying on her krosota at a mirror and then photos of her and Antip or “Andy”): I was eleven years old when we moved to Canada—I came here for a visit. Then when I met Andy at the party, he asked me to get married about a week later after I met him. I said, “wait a little while—and know each other a little bit better.” Then I asked him if he could come to Canada with me to meet my mom and dad. Then we talked to my parents and they gave me permission to get married.
NARRATOR (Elizabeth Bunker): After the contracting of the marriage, the devichnik begins—a time of preparation, usually lasting a week. Traditionally the girls sew and sing folksongs; in the evening the boys come to visit. On the first day of the devichnik, the bride’s friends come and make her krosota of soft silk; the headdress symbolizes her last days of girlhood and beauty. She asks her best friend to be her podruga, whose traditional role was protection. A bride must have new clothes—dresses for the svad’ba and for her married life. Her aunts, cousins, and girlfriends gather to help with the work.
(Over pool of fabric. Ms. Martishev rips fabric.) Garments are made without patterns. Fabric is torn or cut to fit the body; tiny pleats will shape the fullness of a dress. To the groom the bride gives new shirts. To the groom’s family she will take gifts: aprons or scarves to the women, belts to the men. The exchange of gifts symbolizes the union of families.
FEODORA SELEDKOVA (with voice-over translation, as she weaves): Christian folk wear belts. You must always have a woven belt on you. Belts are given for baptism, and then for getting married, and again for getting buried—so that comes to three times. When I learned to weave, I was ten years old. I learned from my mother. We taught everything to each other.
There are many Russian people here, and nobody knows how to weave belts. In general, they work in factories, and it’s hard. The young now cannot weave, it’s only the old. And furthermore, the young aren’t interested. They can work one day and earn enough to buy two belts. In China everyone wove belts for himself. When we went to Brazil, people started to get, well, a little better off. And when there’s money, it’s better to buy than to make it yourself, right? And then we came to America. People really started getting rich. In America everybody buys their belts. If there’s to be a wedding, then they buy fifteen to twenty belts. There’s the belts the bride gives to the groom—there’s a number right there. And the rest they give to the uncle, the father-in-law, the aunt, the brothers of the groom—it takes a lot.
( Displays belts.) There’s weaving on cards, and pick-up, and braided, and the kind braided on bottles.
(Pile of belts, photos of grandchildren.) Now my grandchildren are learning from me too—only they don’t want to; they have no time.
(Parkersville School: children run through the trees to playground. Older girls on bar.) They’re in school all the time. All this schooling! When is there time to teach them anything?
NARRATOR (Zina embroidering, baby in zipka.): Traditionally girls marry when they are thirteen, fourteen, or fifteen years old. By the time they marry, they know how to cook, sew, embroider, and care for babies.
(Over folksong, Rose and Anna embroidering, and their embroidery.) During the devichnik, the bride’s chest fills with handworked linens and clothing. A girl prepares from the time she is age six or seven. She needs to know how to embroider shirts and blouses and decorate her home.
(Anastasia at table.) Skill with a needle shows that a woman can use her hands creatively.
(Icon curtains.) On entering a house, a person first stops to pray before the icon corner, acknowledging the presence of God in the house. Embroidered panels stand beside the icons.
(Anastasia’s work.) Igolochkoy is done on the fabric’s reverse side. Old Believer men adapted the hypodermic needle for this embroidery.
(Greeting card design.) In Oregon, the embroidery is vibrant—sometimes designs come from greeting cards.
(Chinese piece, Brazilian piece.) Early work done in China was more abstract . . . changing to vivid flowers and fruit in the tropical climate of Brazil.
(Embroidery montage, over folksong.)
(Fevrusa and Anastasia at Fevrusa’s dressing table in her bedroom.) On Friday, the last night of the devichnik, friends and relatives come to the bride’s house to congratulate the couple and say farewell.
(Anastasia braids Fevrusa’s hair.) Soon the bride will no longer wear the single braid of unmarried girls. After marriage her hair will be worn in two braids, covered with a shashmura and scarf.
(Her bride’s chest.) She is leaving her own family and friends to live in the house of her husband’s parents.
(Fevrusa’s face in mirror.) One time of life ends . . . another begins.
NARRATOR (as Antip arrives and Fevrusa bows and kisses him and they sit at a table):
Fevrusa is marrying Antip Alagoz, whose family came from Turkey. Her own parents were born in China and later married in Brazil. Now Antip and Fevrusa sit at the devichnik table in the poses of their ancestors.
(Dissolve to devichnik party, with people at the table, Fevrusa greeting relatives, onlookers, boys and girls join the table.) The girls sing very old devichnik songs for the bride and groom. They play a game with the boys, who pay for their songs with money and kisses. The elders see a difference between religious rituals and folk traditions. They tend to frown on devichnik parties and the fooling around. (People depart.)
KIRIL KUTSEV (with voice-over translation): The groom’s parents also get people together and they prepare the braga and start making the things ready to feed guests. (Men building a shed.) Many of our Russian people have a great number of relatives, and they want to invite them all. This is Christian love.
NARRATOR: Often the groom’s family slaughters a cow or a lamb. The Alagozes also built a new outdoor stove for the cooking.
NARRATOR (over shots of women cooking; meatballs sizzle in tubs over fire): To prepare several meals for the 100 to 200 invited guests, the women cook for days. Food traditions vary: meatballs from Turkey, pilmenyi from China and Siberia, piroshki from Russia—and braga, made from the berries. (Men unloading barrels of braga.)
NARRATOR (over shots of men unrolling plastic roof over shed): Building a plastic-covered shed for the wedding feast is a new tradition that began in Oregon. It came about when a home was no longer big enough to hold the guests, because of so many relatives through intermarriage. Now a special shed is always built. The saying goes, “In case of rain, no one will get wet.”
(Sunset shots, field, and the house of the Zharkovs, Fevrusa’s godparents.) After the work is done, on the eve of the wedding, the groom comes to collect the bride. Hundreds of years ago in Russia, the selling of the bride was for entertainment, during the farewell to her family and friends.
(Interior—“selling” in progress.) Now on Saturday night, Antip has arrived with his driver, his spokesman, and a woman attendant. Each person has a role to play. Antip’s party bargains to buy the bride’s krosota, the bride herself, and her single braid. Fevrusa sits covered by a shawl. Her younger brother represents her. The svashka peeks to be sure it’s really Fevrusa—sometimes tricks are played. Most of the money goes to the bride’s friends who helped her prepare for the wedding.
(Bread and salt ceremony ends—the party rises holding scarf.) A “chain” forms, of bride, groom, and attendants, symbolized by a scarf. The “chain” must remain unbroken till the end of the wedding day.
(Antip and Fevrusa bow down before the Zharkovs.) Fevrusa’s godparents are standing in for her parents, who are in Canada.
(People exit into the black night.) The wedding party leaves for the groom’s church, a few miles away, where they’ll join the regular early Sunday morning service in progress. Then, afterward, the marriage ceremony is performed. The people have asked that their sacred services not be filmed.
Wedding Celebration Sequence
(Daylight exterior at the Alagoz house; the wedding “chain” advances, Fevrusa wearing her new headdress.) On Sunday morning, after the ceremony in the church, the celebration begins. About eleven o’clock, Fevrusa’s relatives arrive with her trunk, which they must sell to Antip and deliver into the house. His relatives serve food and braga to the “sellers” to coax them in with the trunk. Without the wine, they’d refuse to move!
(Joking—men and women.) Long ago, humorous skits followed a wedding. Sometimes, still, young men dress up in costume to add to the jesting.
(Horseplay with plants.) When at last the price is agreed on, the “sellers” must find every excuse they can for delay—and more braga—till finally the trunk gets carried through the door.
(Interior of the house.) The groom’s mother, Evdokeya Alagoz, is a widow. Throughout the festivities, a large, supportive family helps her. Within the next hour, her house is redecorated with the handiwork from Fevrusa’s trunk. The bride’s relatives hang the embroidered pictures and hand-sewn curtains to be admired.
(The Zharkovs seated.) A special seat is arranged for the poklony—the ceremony of giving gifts to the newlyweds, and advice about how to live.
Traditionally, members of the groom’s family get tossed to the ceiling—to congratulate them on a new daughter-in-law.
(The “chain” stands before the seat.) The svashka standing next to Fevrusa receives gifts on a tray, as the bride and groom don’t receive things with their own hands. The other svashka takes gifts away, and invites other guests to take their places for giving. Eventually, the money paid for the bride’s trunk is returned. When the tysyatsky speaks for the couple, giving thanks for gifts and advice, Antip and Fevrusa bow down. Gifts, often money, are generous.
Now Antip’s uncle speaks to them. . . .
ANTIP’S UNCLE (seated on the poklony, gives words of advice):
Christ save you.
You already know what I’m going to say.
Don’t forget your relatives.
Don’t forget each other.
Don’t leave each other.
You’re standing here now in front of us.
God grant that we always see you this way.
NARRATOR: The svad’ba lasts two days or more—and the giving continues.
(Over a folksong sung by a group of women.) For everyone this wedding is important. Antip and Fevrusa begin their life together, with new places in the community; the children learn how things are done—their turn will come; and the elders reminisce about times past. The shared work and the festivity draw people together, to renew friendships, mold traditions, and sustain a way of life.
Return to Daily Life
NARRATOR: (Dissolve to community shots; girls walk down the street, a car passes.) After the celebration of a svad’ba comes to a close, everyday affairs resume. Living in the midst of American society, Old Believers have seen much change in fifteen years. The group has grown to 5,000 people. Economically everyone is better off. But here in the modern setting it’s hard to keep the old traditions and value. Some families moved on to Alaska and Canada. Many local industries employ Russian seamstresses, such as this sportswear factory.
FEVRUSA ALAGOZ: To me there’s a very big difference between Canada and Oregon. You don’t have everything in Canada like you have everything in Oregon. I prefer to live down here.
Well, I’d like for my children to have the same life as I had. I had everything I wanted. . . . they’d have to stay in the religion. That’s the way I was brought up—I never forgot my religion. I’d be happy if they wouldn’t forget their religion, too.
KIRIL KUTSEV (voice-over translation): The only thing I want is to be able to preserve our religion as our grandfathers and our fathers before us did—so that it will be that way for our children.
STEPAN KUTSEV: It’s really hard for young people down here for Russian religion, ‘cause, you know, we can’t go out drinking, smoking, and all that stuff, so it’s really hard right now.
FEODORA SELEDKOVA (voice-over translation): But it is possible to maintain the old life style. Every person who is intelligent prays to God. It’s best not to drink, not to smoke, to work calmly. It’s like that, in my opinion.
NARRATOR: The Old Believers’ heritage lives on. Svad’bas continue through late autumn, and on, between the times of fasting. To survive, Old Believers have lived many places in the world, accommodating to other cultures, yet they have preserved their own. The elders once fled for their lives, carrying the icons and holy books, so the old ways could pass on to the young. The children learn the rituals and traditions that express life’s values. Yet the children, attending school today, learn new knowledge and different ways. As they find their way in the world, what will their future be? Like their forebears, they find challenges of their own—and life goes on.
Photographed by Harry Dawson, John Stewart
Sound by Dan Adams, Glen Micallef
Edited by Harry Dawson
Script by Margaret Hixon
A Film by Margaret Hixon
© 1981 Margaret Hixon