starets (Russ., lit. “old man, elder”; pl.
startsy) is a spiritual adviser in the Orthodox Church, not necessarily a priest, recognized for his piety and spiritual insight. The choice of an experienced ascetic (Asceticism) who deserved special honor as an older Christian (Gk.
gerōn = Russ.
starets) to act as a confessor was an early feature of Eastern monasticism (Orthodoxy Christianity). In view of the Russian term for
gerōn, such men came to be known as startsy toward the end of the 18th century, when they became most influential in Russia. With the development of monasteries the abbot in rare cases might take on also the role of starets. Usually the startsy had a kind of charismatic character (Charisma) in institutionalized monasticism and were regarded in various ways as a lower order. The most important of the startsy were selected by pilgrims for many different reasons, but especially as confessors and counselors (Pilgrimage; Penitence). In 1746 the Ukrainian Paisi Velichkovsky (1722–94) became a monk on Mount Athos, where his austerity attracted a large community of Romanians and Slavs. In 1763 he left Athos with 60 pupils, going to the Dragomirna Monastery in Moldavia, where he became the abbot and the leading figure in the revival of both Hesychasm and the startsy in Russia. The greatest starets of the 19th century, and one of the greatest of all Russian saints, was Seraphim of Saro…