The original wooden Old Believers church, established by Aleksandr Grebenšhchikov on this site, was built in 1760. Its replacement, officially the Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos, was built in 1814 and remains home to one of the largest congregations of Old Believers in the world. The stunning tower and gold dome were added in 1906.
Who are these Old Believers? I hear you ask. Do let me tell you.
In 1666 the Russian Orthodox Church, under Patriarch Nikon of Moscow, made various ritual and textual changes to liturgies to achieve uniformity between the Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches. A section of the church, henceforth called the Old Believers, dissented and to this day continues to follow liturgical practices found in the Russian Orthodox Church prior to the 1666 changes.
Due to severe church and state persecution, beginning in the 17th century, the dissenting Old Believers, over time, fled Russia. This persecution continued until 1905 when Tsar Nicholas II signed an act of religious freedom, ending the persecution of religious minorities.
This was a short lived reprieve. Following the Russian Revolution, which undid the Tsarist autocracy and led to the creation of the Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox Church was unable of function freely. This restriction lead to the creation of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, centered in New York, in 1920. While still not officially connected with the Russian Orthodox Church (alternatively known as the Moscow Patriarchate) the Church Outside Russia shares a common faith with it.
In 1971 the Moscow Patriarchate revoked its censures imposed on the Old Believers in the 17th century and in 1974, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia did similarly, seeking forgiveness from the Old Believers for the wrongs done to them.
Despite the apologies from the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia most Old Believer communities, including this one in Riga, have not returned to Communion with the mainstream church (in either of its current forms).
Unfortunately, due to unsuitable attire (shorts), we were not permitted to enter the church and were left to admire the church’s exterior only.
Would be visitors, and in particular females, should be aware that dress standards for this church are particularly strict. Among the prohibitions (see picture 4 attached) are ‘women with made up lips’ and ‘women in men’s wear (trousers)’.
Photography inside the church is strictly prohibited.
Church opening hours
Irregular – around morning and afternoon prayer times. We were there around 10am (what day I can’t recall) and would have been admitted, had we been appropriately dressed.
Even if you can’t coincide your time with the church being open, the exterior is certainly worth a look if wandering around the Moscow District, as you should be.
Getting there from city
Tram 7 or 9 to the Daugavpils stop. From there you can’t miss the church’s shiny golden dome.
Address: Mazā Krasta iela 73