The Christian Science Monitor

Once banished by czars, a centuries-old sect finds new life in modern Russia

A garden grows outside a typical log 'izba' in Tarbagatay, Russia, an Old Believer village of about 5,000 people. Source: Fred Weir

This sprawling village, set in a green mountain valley in southern Buryatia, is an unmistakably Russian place.

It’s noticeably different from nearby communities of cattle-breeding, mostly Buddhist ethnic Buryats. Solid Siberian-style izba log houses are framed by large garden plots and dirt streets, with a small white Christian church at the center. The houses have brightly painted gables and fences, the gardens are laid out in military-straight rows, and everything looks freshly repaired.

Tarbagatay, Russia, is one of the largest surviving communities of Old Believers, religious dissenters who were violently repressed and twice exiled by the czars. They finally found refuge amid the wilds of Siberia 250 years ago. They survived by keeping to themselves, stubbornly maintaining their faith – which, to an outsider, doesn't look too different

Exiled by the czarsA return to Russia's fold?

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