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Is there a female version of the staretz in the Russian Orthodox Church?
Is there a female version of the staretz (‘startisa’) in the Russian Orthodox Church, an American friend asks in response to my previous posting?

The answer is, I think, yes, to a certain extent. There have been and are spiritually deep and wise women in the Orthodox church, whose advice has been and is sought. These include the higoumeni of certain women’s monasteries, able to guide the women in their own monasteries and pious women close to these monasteries, and also to assist senior clerics, often very discreetly, on key decisions. I have two in mind, Mother Olga, the former higoumena of the monastery of Bussy-en-Other in France, and the former higoumena of Puchitsa monastery in Estonia. (I use the qualifier ‘certain’ advisedly: the recent Maria Kikot scandal in Russia and my own observations cast doubts on the quality of leadership in a number of Russian women’s monasteries. )

Two of the three figures listed as equivalents by Malounamure (Hildegard of Bingen, and Teresa of Avila), fall into this category. (Catherine of Siena defies any neat classification!)

Outside of this there have always been women in Orthodoxy known to be persons of prayer, sometimes with healing powers. I remember travelling to visit one in a simple peasant house close to Yaroslav in 2000, said to say the Lord’s Prayer continually, and who was regularly visited by the local bishop.

There are also figures like St Xenia of St Petersburg and St Matrona of Moscow (the former more in the ‘fool for Christ’ category), both supposed to have powers of prophecy.

The latter is a complex case – not everyone accepts her sanctity, and she sits uneasy with me. Some have even called her an ‘Orthodox witch’. Which points to a fundamental problem of the borderline between holy woman and witch, which is not easy to draw. Men have always been cautious of subversive women, who undermine their (sexual) power, and Orthodox clergy, not the least macho section of society, are a case in point and may not always site this borderline correctly.

What sits particularly uneasy with Orthodox (male) clergy (which includes me) is the desire to have ‘staritsi’ (female startsi) for ‘sexual equality’ reasons. A case in point about 15 years ago was ‘Mother’ Rachel Goettman, wife of Fr Alphonse Goettman. The latter, an Orthodox priest, ran with his wife a monastery/spiritual centre in the French Vosges mountains, popular with a certain profile of Orthodox convert - intelligent, bourgeois, very often in the alternative medicine/psychology movement and a penchant to ‘New Age’. They set up Mme Goetmann as a spiritual counsellor in her own right. This did not go down well with the local Orthodox bishops and was a main reason for the monastery to be disowned by the mainstream Orthodox church.

And where is God in all this? This second ‘charismatic’ strand in my model (prophet-staretz) is essentially God-appointed, and God is sovereignly free. If God raises up staritsi, it is not for the Church to put them down. But equally, it is not for man or woman to create them for reason of sexual politics.

Lurking somewhere behind this is another question, of the very nature of the call of staretz/staritsa. It seems to me that the fundamental call, which is equal to both sexes, is not to be a ‘staretz/startisa’, nor indeed even a hermit or anchorite. It is one of deep prayer and intimacy with God, the very hiddenness of which often precludes it taking a publicly recognizable form.

That this hidden prayer, by men and women alike, exists in Orthodoxy as much as in Catholicism or Anglicanism, I am pretty much convinced. Indeed, by the very nature of the way God seems to work, I cannot conceive it being otherwise.

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Dunno, actually I think your assumption that "the desire to have ‘staritsi’ (female startsi) is for ‘sexual equality’ reasons" is more damaging even than the (possible) fact. Women are not really well respected in the Orthodox church, and subtle demeaning of brains and spiritual abilities of our sex (that is, your feeling that "statitsi" are accepted for tolerance, not for their spiritual life) sits uneasy with me.

(I would greatly like to respect your words fully, without excuses as "Well, Father X is one of the most mature Christians people I know and his words helped me and many others more times than I could count - but he _is_ a bit old-fashioned concerning the female sex…")
(Sorry if it sounds harsh, but, well, these assumptions are everywhere, and it is hard to battle through them all…)

"It is one of deep prayer and intimacy with God, the very hiddenness of which often precludes it taking a publicly recognizable form."

With that, I can fully agree. And I think I know one, a woman whom I sometimes call my "spiritual mom" (only for myself, I don't think that she would agree with that to her face - but we both recognise that we have this kind of relationship). A priest's wife, with PhD in philology and university job (plus family and two kids), she helped me many times to explain, to reconcile, to "stitch together" different areas of life, church and *lay* life, always looking at the workings of Christian faith in areas of family, or professional calling, or Christian faith and psychology (and psychological problems and how do they relate to sins and vice versa) - looking at modern, everyday life with eyes of faith and prayer, but also with some kind of reality check.

I do think nowadays we need this much more than hermitry…

If it is any comfort, one of the persons who has helped me most spiritually in the last two years - essentially by confirming certain directions in my prayer life - is a tiny Roman Catholic hermit-nun, who can see through me like no one else (not a man, and not an Orthodox - O dear!!)
‘subtle demeaning of brains and spiritual abilities of our sex’ – this I will accept, though suggest that the word ‘subtle’ is often unwarranted. Sometimes ‘flagrant’ and even ‘brutal’. Fear of competent women, especially by less competent and more macho priests: most definitely.
What we are coming down to is the availability of spiritual mature women to assist other women (and also men) and the acceptance of this role in the Church (even if it does not stick a ticket on them or put them in uniform). I fear that many women who could potentially play this role have been sidelined before they could even get there.
Indeed I am not certain that this is a female-only problem. Intelligent, spiritually sensitive males are not always popular either.
Also there is a reverse problem: of incompetent women (and men) who are too willing to give bad advice where the priest does not see it – at the back of the confession queue, at the other end of the table.

too willing to give bad advice where the priest does not see it -
- угу, вот прямо вчера наблюдала именно такую сцену.
И не заткнуть.
Я такая же юбка, как и советчица.

Where do you think I got the information from, if not you? But valuable, and quite worrying information...

Thank you. I have exited the spaces where said demeaning is brutal (sorry, I just can’t anymore) and must now endure *just* the subtle variations of it.
And the problems you highlighted - competent men and women are sidelined, and incompetent, bossy and all-to-glad to give bad advice - I fear, these problems are very real. This would be a suicide direction for every business corporation. Christ will come in the end, but till the end we must paddle through by ourselves…

The woman that I mentioned has more *speaking power* in her university (which can be pretty sexist in Russia) than she would ever have in church, even as priests wife (…and it is also jarring that Christian women can earn their own degrees in science and education, but still need *a man* to get some status in church.

Просто добавить в твое исследование два пункта -

Существуют "старицы", из бывших актрис, балерин, певиц, которые умело используют свое обращение в православие для продления сценической карьеры. Им зачастую помогают вполне земные дамские шармы, на которые равно клюют и женатые отцы, и неженатые епископы.
Самый, наверное, выдающийся пример - Жанна Бичевская https://azbyka.ru/otvety-molodym-d-andrej#otvet_82, https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%91%D0%B8%D1%87%D0%B5%D0%B2%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%B0%D1%8F,_%D0%96%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%BD%D0%B0_%D0%92%D0%BB%D0%B0%D0%B4%D0%B8%D0%BC%D0%B8%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%BD%D0%B0.
А по мелочи, приходского масштаба, более или менее удачливых, встречали, наверное, все.

Существует тенденция рядить в старицы умерших хороших женщин. При жизни такие (святые, или трудолюбивые, или самоотверженные, или талантливые, или бессребренницы и пр.) были ровно никем и звали их никак, но стоит им помереть - находится куча народу, готового прицепиться к этой (уже не опасной) юбке и самим расцвесть на пиаре их культа. Самый показательный пример - м. Юлиания (Соколова).

Edited at 2017-07-03 09:40 am (UTC)

Holy persons are so much easier to treat after their death. At last you can mould them to your pattern, use them to sell your particular version of Christianity ......

I must say that faded ballerinas posing as spiritual teachers have not yet crossed my paths ... perhaps I have a surprise awaiting me.

" faded ballerinas posing as spiritual teachers have not yet crossed my paths" - хаха, а основательницу прихода в Арлоне забыл :-))?

That had faded into distant and long-buried memory...... As far as I know she has disappeared from the scene...

Edited at 2017-07-03 01:26 pm (UTC)

Потому что сцена мааааленькая, темная и пахнет плесенью. Не растанцуешься.

Merci pour cette réponse plus complète que celle espérée !!

Pour cause: voir la première réponse de 'Istarni' à laquelle j'ai dü répondre.

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