The indigenous Russian population — Russians of the Old Orthodox faith have been living in Estonia from the 12th-13th century. First Old Believers came from Russia to southern Estonia (Livland) in the late 12th century. In the early 13th century, the Fedoseevtsy group of Old Believers founded the Räpina monastery. The founder of the Fedoseyan belief Feodosi Vasilyev did not live in the monastery. He was re-buried at the Old Believer cemetery in the Räpina manor, however. The monastery flourished until 1718, when the prior Konstantin Fyodorov took new believers’ side. Soon, as a result of a false denunciation, a military commando was sent to the monastery and some Old Believers were arrested. The Räpina Old Believer skits were finally destroyed in 1722. A part of those, who managed to escape, settled in Chornaya (Mustjõe) village near Narva. The majority moved to Prichudye (the Lake Peipus area) and Dorpat (Tartu).

In the 13th century, building of Old Believer wooden worship houses started. It is known for a fact that the worship house in Kikita was opened in 1740. By the early 19th century, the worship houses emerged in the cities of Reval and Dorpat as well as Kasapel (Kasepää), Krasnye Gory (Kallaste), Chernoye (Mustvee), Voronye (Varnja), Mezhi (Piirissaare) and Kolki (Kolkja) villages.

There were about 3000 Old Believers in southern Estonia (Livland) in the early 19th century. They lived compactly in 19 villages on the coast of Lake Peipus in Dorpat district (uezd) in manors Flemmingshof (Laiuse-Tähkvere), Wottigfer (Vötikvere), Kokora, Alatskivi, Kavastu, Kaster (Kastre) and Aiya (Ahja). There were about 150 Old Believers in the city of Dorpat at the time.

In northern Estonia (Province of Estland – G.P.), the Old Believer population concentrated around the two main centers: Reval in north-west and the northern coastline of Lake Peipus (Oleshnica, Alajõe) as well as Chornaya (Mustjõe) and Uha (Uhha) villages in north-east. In the period from 1827 to 1857, the Old Believer population of Estonia decreased from 208 to 27 inhabitants. The Tallinn (Reval) community became 6 times smaller than in 1811. Nevertheless, the worship house and cemetery with asylum existed in Tallinn until the early 1870s. In the 1880s, Old Believers appeared in the environs of Narva, in Kreenholm, where the light industry was developing. By the end of the 19th century, the number of the Old Believers, working at the Yoala manufacture, reached 91. The almost extinct Old Believer population was reinforced on the account of Old Believers coming from other districts.

Under Nicholas I, the government’s repressive policy in respect to the Old Believer population applied to the Baltic provinces as well, although to a lesser extent than in the inner provinces of Russia. Starting from the 1820s, the annual census of the Old Believers was conducted, building of the new worship houses was prohibited, the old worship houses were being closed. There existed the worship house at the cemetery in Tallinn, yet registration of new members was strictly forbidden. Almost all village worship houses in the Lake Peipus area, except Kasepää, were sealed. A number of Old Belief preceptors (nastavniki), who were accused of re-baptizing of Orthodox church members, propaganda of the Old Belief or critique of the Orthodox belief, were sent to Orthodox monasteries or Vesenberg (Rakvere). After the government failed in its attempt of inculcating the Nikonian belief upon Old Believers, it tried to impose edinoverie (unified faith) on them in the early 1840s. A unified faith chapel was opened in the former worship house in Chernoye village (Mustvee) in 1848. In 1849, it was consecrated as a church. The property requisitioned from the Kikita and Mustvee worship houses was transferred to the chapel. After Nicholas I’s death, the condition of Old Believers’ life somehow improved, yet their worship houses functioned semi-legally as before. Taking advantage of the liberal policy of the 1860s, Old Believers started to build new worship houses, but the building and repairs were legalized with certain restrictions only in 1883. At the time, the worship houses in Tartu, Kallaste, Kasepää, Raja and Kikita were renovated. The Old Believer preceptors or certain elected community members were made responsible for keeping laced metrical books that had been kept by rural district (volostnye) or police departments before. The books were sealed with special seals with names of Old Believer communities.

The development of capitalism had an impact on Old Believers’ lives. Many of them worked at the city factories. By the end of the 19th century, the small Tallinn community was reinforced by newcomers. According to the all-Russian census of 1897, 46 Tallinn inhabitants claimed themselves as Old Believers. The Old Believer population of Tartu grew much faster, due to the influx from Prichudye villages. It was 438 people by the end of the century.

In the early 20th century, the two important laws were ratified: the law on the religious tolerance (April 17, 1905) and the law on the order of organization of Old Believer communities (October 17, 1906). From 1907 to 1913, the six communities were officially registered: Yuryev (Pomorian), Kasepää (Old Pomorian), Malye Kolki (Fedoseyan), Kolki (Pomorian), Krasnye Gory (Pomorian) and Chernoye (Pomorian) community. The famous icon painter and lover of old art G. Frolov built and decorated the church in Rayushi. The worship houses in Kasepää, Varnja and Mezhi were built or repaired. Old Believers eventually began to participate in society and political life. In 1906, the Voronye preceptor K. T. Krasovsky took part in the Northwest Area Old Believers’ Congress in Vilnius. In 1909, the preceptor F. P. Savostkin participated, as the representative of the Prichudye Old Believers, in the first Russian Old Belief Sobor in Moscow.

In the early 20th century, conservative political forces strived to win the Old Believers over. In 1907, the Orthodox priest A. Lebedev founded a branch of the Union of Russian People on Piirissaar Island. The branch organization included both Orthodox and Old Believers. However, during the 1912 State Duma election campaign, the Baltic Old Believer magazine «Old Russia», published in Riga, called to vote for the democratic parties.

World War I marked the beginning of changes in the stable everyday life of Old Believers. Men were recruited as soldiers. The Old Believers were granted the right to be promoted to an officer rank without changing the Old to Orthodox Belief only in January 1917. A great number of refugees and wounded military concentrated in Estonia. Influx of newcomers and decrease of the work-capable population because of recruiting had a bad impact on the economical situation.

After the February revolution of 1917, the Province of Estland acquired the new borders and was unified with the part of Livland inhabited by Estonians (Tartu, Võru, Viljandi, Pärnu and Saare County). The question of the independence of Estonia arose. For this reason, meetings of the representatives of Tartu County villages, including Prichudye with its Russian population, took place in spring 1917. A delegation was sent to Petrograd to petition for the autonomy of the area and the status of a separate administrative unity (Prichudye Russian district of the Russian Empire). An Old Believer P. Baranin acted as the deputy from the Mustvee community. After the fall of the Provisional Government and defeat of the Russian Army on the Western front, Estonia claimed independence in February 1918. The Tartu peace treaty was signed by Estonia and Soviet Russia in February 1920. Prichudye and Pechory (Petseri) district were claimed the Estonian territory. The new period of the history of the Estonian Old Believers' community as a national and confessional minority of equal standing began. First time Old Believers legally took part in the political life and parliamentary elections. They joined the Russian National Union or Russian Peasants' Labor Party. The Old Believer P. Baranin was elected a member of the second (1923–1926) and third (1926-1929) complement of the Parliament (Riigikogu) as the deputy from the Lake Peipus area.

In the course of 20 years, 14 All-Estonian Old Believers’ Congresses took place. According to the Estonian new law on societies, 12 Old Believer communities had been registered anew by 1926: the city and suburb communities of Tallinn, Tartu, Mustvee and Kallaste as well as the village communities of Raja, Kolkja (two), Kasapel, Kikita, Varnja, Piirissaare (Mezha), Saareküla (Zhelachek). There were about 10 000 Old Believers in Estonia at the time. In July 1928, the 5th All-Estonian Old Believers' Congress adopted the Charter of the Old Believer Church (Union) of Estonia and elected the Central Council consisting of Y. Gishakov, Z. Kuznetsov, P. Baranin, F. Prussakov, I. Dolgoshev, D. Blokhin. F. Savostkin, S. Kuznetsov and G. Sysh’ikov were elected the members of the ecclesiastical committee, F. Pavlov, K. Malyshev and F. Kislyakov — the members of the auditing committee. In 1936, the Charter was re-registered. From 1928 the Central Council of the Old Believer Union was in Tartu, from 1936 in Tallinn, from 1938 in Mustvee.

In the 1930s, the Old Belief had a strong impact on the Prichudye Russian population, yet a tendency toward the decline of the traditional way of life was perceptible as well. The All-Estonian Old Believers’ Congresses repeatedly draw attention to this tendency. Special efforts to support traditions and belief as well as new methods of work with youth were necessary. This was the purpose pursued by the Old Believer youth circle that acted in Tartu from 1932 till 1940 under Z. Kuznetsov’s and Y. Grishakov's guidance. Young people not only listened to the presentations and studied the history of the Old Belief, but also learned kriukovoe (‘hook’) chant under I. Kulev's guidance. The cultural-educational courses were organized in Mustvee and Kikita.

The beginning of the 1930s was marked by the opening of the largest in Estonia worship house in Chernoye (Mustvee) suburb. A new worship house was built in Tallinn. The bell tower in the Tartu worship house was enlarged. The Kikita worship house was renovated. The interior design of the most beautiful in Estonia Rayushi worship house, decorated by G. Frolov and his pupils, was finished. The Old Believer communities of Estonia had regular contacts with Riga, the spiritual center of the Baltic Old Believers. The Riga Old Believers' choir as well as a prominent figure of the Baltic Old Believery I. Zavoloko visited Estonia repeatedly. Zavoloko recorded spiritual songs and lectured here. G. Frolov's icon studio became very famous. Frolov's pupil P. Sofronov was invited to Vatican not long before World War II. The books on the znamennoe singing and Old Believers’ spiritual life were published.

The Soviet as well as German rule caused irreparable damage to the Old Believers' life in Estonia in the 1940s. Old Believers were subjected to repressions, and their houses were nationalized as state property. Aggressive atheist propaganda was unleashed in mass media. The circles of militant atheists were organized in Prichudye.

Some Prichudye families were evacuated to the Soviet rear in the very beginning of World War II. Many of those, who remained, were deported to work in Germany or to camps. The attempts to hide were persecuted by death penalty. Old Believers tried to evade a co-operation with German occupation forces. Very few of them served in the German Army. Old Believer churches were damaged during the war. In July 1941, an incendiary bomb burned down the Tartu Old Believer worship house. As a result of military actions, the worship houses in Mezhi and Kikita as well as the Mustvee church were burnt down. In 1944, the Rayushi church was destroyed.

During the first post-war years, despite the difficult life conditions and strict limitations, a number of Prichudye worship houses were built anew. Teachers were to record their parish members and were themselves under the permanent control of organs of inner security and the representative committee for religious affairs at the Council of Ministers of the USSR. Mainly women and elders attended worship houses. The Lake Peipus area got empty, youth moved to the cities. Antireligious propaganda mocked Old Believers as ignorant and backward people. The prominent dialectologist T. Murnikova (born Prussakova), who worked in the University of Tartu, was permanently under suspicion as a “sectarian”. Her suitability for the work of a university lecturer was repeatedly questioned. The authorities created different obstacles for preceptors’ activity to prevent dissemination of old faith.

Restoration of independence in Estonia in 1991 made possible the renaissance of the Old Belief. In 1995, after the long break, the Union of Old Believer Communities of Estonia continued its work. The 50-meter high bell tower was restored in Rayushi. The restoration of the unique books of the Rayushi library began. The museums of Old Believer culture were founded in Kolki, Varnja and Mustvee. In Prichudye schools, Old Believers' children studied the Church Slavonic language and Biblic law. Church feasts were celebrated in Mustvee, Kallaste and on Piirissaar Island.

Nowadays the Old Belief evokes interest and gains support of the society and different organizations. In April 2000, the international workshop “Russian Old Believers Abroad” took place in Tartu University. The presentations were published in a separate volume under the same title. In 2003-2004, the project “Study of the Russian Old Believer Culture”, directed by the chairman of the Society of Old Believer Culture and Development P. Varunin, was carried out. The project was sponsored by the Foundation of Enterprise Development in the framework of the local initiative program. As a result, the first collection “Essays on the History and Culture of Old Believers in Estonia” (Tartu, 2004) was published. Some materials are published on the website The Estonian Science Foundation supported several research projects on Old Believery. Film director P. Simm shot a film on the Estonian Old Believers that run on TV and was demonstrated at different scientific or cultural gatherings.

Although Estonians treat the Old Believers friendly, the decades of atheistic education have had an impact on the destiny of the Old Belief in Estonia. Preceptors are not young, as a rule. There is a lack of preceptors in several worship houses. Sometimes women perform the functions of the preceptors. The young people attend the church only on holidays. There are no experts in znamennoe singing. Old Believers do not observe traditional rules: they smoke and do not fast. Nowadays the number of Old Believers is twice smaller than in the pre-war time (5000 instead of 10000). The Old Believer community in Mezha village disappeared. There are no Old Believer newspapers or magazines in Estonia. Blossoming of tourist business in Prichudye inhibits the development of the traditional religious life. After the Estonian-Russian border was closed and rich fishing collective farms destroyed, the Prichudye inhabitants lost the St Petersburg market. Unemployment is rather high. Fishing is allowed only at the distance of 12 kilometers from the Estonian shore on Lake Peipus. It is difficult to sell vegetables; therefore the area of cultivated soil is 8 times smaller than before. Youth move to the cities, the local population grows older. The economical problems have a negative impact on the Prichudye inhabitants, who are scared of the future changes. In September 2003, the majority of them voted against Estonia’s joining the EU. Nevertheless, in May 2004, Lake Peipus became the border of the EU.