In the last century a cross-section of Russian society--peasants, nobles, writers, soldiers--streamed to the Optino Hermitage for advice--and received it, from a succession of startsi, or "elders," monks whose God-given wisdom and insight enabled them to serve as spiritual guides to others.
In these letters of spiritual direction by Macarius, second of the Optino startsi, we find the reason for this quest. "Should I complain to my employer about working conditions in his factory?" "How can I get along better with my husband?" "How should I pray?" Such were the questions asked of Macarius. His response was invariably concrete, and not a generalized rule of conduct for all. Yet, at the same time, Macarius' words of council reflect a tradition stretching back to the Desert Fathers. This realization of freedom within tradition so characteristic of true Orthodox spirituality makes Macarius' advice to nineteenth-century Russians pertinent for us today as well.
Other books on Orthodox spirituality from St Vladimir's Seminary Press include: St Gregory Palamas and Orthodox Spirituality by Fr John Meyendorff; His Life is Mine by Lev Gillet; The Monk of Mt Athos by Archimandrite Sophrony, and its companion volume, Wisdom from Mt Athos; and Russian Piety by Nicholas Arseniev. All five works help to illumine the spiritual tradition so faithfully embodied in Staretz Macarius.