Hesychast renewal also stimulated a particularly Russian spiritual institution of "startsy
" (plural), literally meaning elders, whose authority might be somewhat compared to the phenomenon of gurus or living holy men in India.
(28) When it comes to religious life in the 1920s-40s, we still lack proper studies on variations in divine service at the parish level; on the functioning of "holy places"; charismatic figures such as "elders" (startsy
) and "holy fools" (iuradivye); rituals such as prayer services, "readings," and processions; and the ideology and textual production of such groups.
Tolstoy's interaction with the elders is contextualized with a description of the spiritual milieu of nineteenth-century Russia, in which many notable authors sought advice from the startsy
(24) Indeed, the Zhitiie sviatykh [Saints' Lives] and words of advice from various church elders (most typically Optinskie startsy
[Elders of Optina Pustina]) and famous members of the priesthood before the Revolution, such as Fr Ioann Kronshtadtskii, have retained great authority.
The role of the spiritual centres and monasteries around the specifically Orthodox charismatic phenomenon of the startsy
(elders) -- of Optino, Valaam, Sarov, the holy Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, with the renewal of interest in the Philocalia, inspired by the saints Nicodemus the Hagiorite and Paissy of Moldavia, then St Ignatius Brianchaninov and St Theophan the Recluse, the rediscovery of the spiritual texts, the growing practice of prayer of the heart inspired by "The Way of a Pilgrim", and lastly the charismatic influence of St John of Kronstadt.
Likewise, many spiritual elders (startsy
) drew authority from both their official position in the church hierarchy and their personal charisma.
Hughes pays particular attention to the canonization campaigns launched by the Romanovs, the mysticism of Paul and Alexander I, the elevation of holy elders (startsy
), and the notorious influence of Grigorii Rasputin on both the court and the political agenda in the early 20th century.
Nichols, "The Orthodox Elders (Startsy
) of Imperial Russia," Modern Greek Studies Yearbook 1 (1985): 1-30, is still one of the best works on the subject.
Just because few startsy
(elders) were original writers, dare we neglect literary culture and the careers of Iosifov trainees to the point that we strip iosiflianstvo (what he terms Josephism) of the church- or realm-wide significance of the greatest of them?
In his activity as religious teacher and counselor, Lev Tolstoi consciously stepped into the tradition of the Orthodox startsy