Spiritual elders (startsy) are a quintessential part of Russian Orthodox spirituality, yet scholars have given relatively little focus to them. Elders whose authority came not from their position within institutional church but from their reputation for personal holiness were mediating agents between official and popular Orthodoxy. Acting as teachers, spiritual directors, counselors, and prophets, elders represented a particular form of ministry within the Church. The informal source of elders’ authority meant that their position was often in conflict with the bureaucratized Synod.
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