starets n : a religious adviser (not necessarily a priest) in the Eastern Orthodox Church [also: startsy (pl)]
A starets () is an elder of a Russian Orthodox monastery who functions as venerated adviser and teacher. Startsy are charismatic spiritual leaders whose wisdom stems from intuition rather than experience. It is believed that through ascetic struggle and prayer (Hesychasm), and the leading of a virtuous life, the Holy Spirit bestows special gifts onto the starets including the ability to heal, prophesy, and most importantly, give effective spiritual guidance and direction. Startsy are looked upon as being an inspiration to believers and an example of saintly virtue, steadfast faith, and spiritual peace.
Startsy are not appointed by any authority; they are simply recognized by the faithful as being people "of the Spirit". A starets, when not in prayer or in voluntary seclusion, receives visitors (some who travel very far) and spends time conversing with them, offering a blessing (if the starets is an ordained cleric) and confession, and praying. People often petition the starets for intercessionary prayers, believing that the prayer of a starets is particularly effective.
Personal confessions to startsy are encouraged, although not all of them are formally ordained to priesthood. Many of them have a reputation amidst believers of being able to know the secrets of a person's heart without having ever previously met the visitor, and having the ability to discern God's plan for a person's life. This, as all of the startsy's gifts, is believed to come from the Holy Spirit acting through the starets.
The institution may be traced to the beginnings of Christian monasticism in the 4th century. The original Greek term geron (meaning "elder", as in gerontology) was rendered by the Russian word "starets", derived from the Slavic adjective for "old". Sergius of Radonezh and Nil Sorsky were two most venerated startsy of Old Muscovy. The revival of staretsdom is associated with the name of Paisius Velichkovsky (1722-94), who produced the Russian translation of the Philokalia. The most famous starets of the early 19th century was Seraphim of Sarov (1759-1833), who went on to become one of the most revered Orthodox saints.
The Optina Pustyn near Kozelsk used to be celebrated for its startsy (Schema-Archimandrite Moses, Schema-Hegumen Anthony, Hieroschemamonk Leonid, Hieroschemamonk Macarius, Hieroschemamonk Hilarion, Hieroschemamonk Ambrose, Hieroschemamonk Anatole (Zertsalov)). Such writers as Nikolay Gogol, Aleksey Khomyakov, Leo Tolstoy, and Konstantin Leontyev sought advice from the elders of this monastery. They also inspired the figure of Zosima in Dostoyevsky's novel The Brothers Karamazov. Grigori Rasputin was styled starets by his followers, although he was not generally recognised as one. A more modern example of a starets is Archimandrite Ioann Krestiankin (1910-2006) of the Pskov Monastery of the Caves who was popularly recognized as such by many Orthodox living in Russia.
The concept of the starets may be familiar to many Western readers through J. D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey. In the novel, one of the characters refers to the 19th century anonymous Russian work, The Way of a Pilgrim. The title character of The Way of a Pilgrim (ostensibly, the author) is advised in the progress of his spiritual life by a starets, who uses the Jesus Prayer as a starting point for spiritual discipline.
starets in German: Starez
starets in Spanish: Starets
starets in French: Staretz
starets in Dutch: Starets
starets in Russian: Старчество (в православии)
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