In Spiritual Elders: Charisma and Tradition in Russian Orthodoxy , Irina Paert presents the largely untold story of the role of spiritual elders, or startsi , in Russian history. Though one of Paert’s central arguments is that the roles of spiritual elders have changed throughout Russian history, we can begin with a very general definition. Elders are typically charismatic figures associated with the religious education, edification, and guidance of monks and/or laypersons, and often have attributed to them exceptional powers said to be gained by asceticism and mystical prayer, such as discernment of spirits, clairvoyance, and healing. Not all of these attributes were agreed upon at any given time in Russian history. In fact, Paert makes the compelling argument that there were often several rival “versions” of eldership vying for prominence. For example, one version emphasized their function as mentors for monastic novices, another their prognostic aid in the life of peasants. As the role of elders was debated between groups and changed over the centuries, eventually non-monastic elders, usually either married priests or charismatic villagers, also became popular. While monastic and clerical elders could be incorporated into the church structure and controlled to a certain degree, the
Numen – Brill
Published: Jan 1, 2012
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