spiritual elders (startsy) - Leonid (Nagolkin), Makarii (Ivanov) and Amvrosii (Grenkov), the model for Dostoevsky's Father Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov - were to achieve, from 1829, 'a kind of informal reintegration of Russian culture, in both its high and low variants, in a way which neither the imperial state nor the intellectuals were able to emulate'.58 Their inspiration came from Mount Athos. Alienated by the scholasticism imparted to pupils at Kiev's Mogila academy - 'within their souls there is darkness and gloom, though upon their tongues there be all manner of wisdom'59 - Paisii (Velychkovskii) travelled to Athos in search ofspiritual enlightenment in 1746. Seventeen years later, he left to establish his own monastery at Neamf in Moldavia, attracting some 700 monks by the time of his death in 1794. It was from there that his disciples transmitted to Russia the hesychast tradition of spiritual direction that inspired so many prominent nineteenth-century intellectuals, from Ivan Kireevskii to Leo Tolstoy.60
The startsy's care for female souls is only one reason for Russia's participation in the European feminisation of religion. While some women ultimately acquired a sufficient aura of holiness to dispense spiritual advice of their own,61 most Russian nuns were humble in both origin and intent. Though individual motives are often obscure, economic need almost certainly added urgency to the spiritual conviction of many peasants who devoted their lives to God. The scale of the movement is not in doubt. Between 1850 and 1912, the total numbers of male religious, including novices, rose from 9997 to 21,201: but this represents relative stagnation alongside the growth in female numbers from 8533 to 70,453.62 Responding to popular demand, Catherine II authorised the first autonomous women's communities almost immediately after the secularisation of 1764. Some 217 such communities had been formed by 1907, 86 of them after 1890. Of the 156 founded between 1764 and 1894, two-thirds ultimately became official convents, as the hierarchy, led by Filaret (Drozdov), belatedly recognised the opportunity to sponsor rather than to spurn exemplars of a disciplined, communal life.63 Most such communities were small,
58 G. Hosking, Russia: people and empire, 1552-1917 (London: HarperCollins, 1997), 241.
59 The life of Paisij Velyckovs'kyj, trans. J. M. E. Featherstone (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), 18.
60 R. L. Nichols, 'The Orthodox elders (Startsy) of imperial Russia', Modern Greek Studies Yearbook 1 (1985), 1-30.
61 B. Meehan-Waters, 'The authority of holiness: women ascetics and spiritual elders in nineteenth-century Russia', in Church, nation and state in Russia and Ukraine, 38-51.
62 I. Smolitsch, Geschichte der russischen Kirche 1700-1917 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1964), 1, 713.
63 B. Meehan, 'Popular piety, local initiative, and the founding ofwomen's religious communities in Russia, 1764-1907', in Seeking God: the recovery of religious identity in Orthodox Russia, Ukraine, and Georgia, ed. S. K. Batalden (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University
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