Guiding ‘starets’: Russian youths discover Orthodox monasticism | 9/19/2017 | Catholic News Service
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On Christmas night two years ago, Anya Bulochnikova, 29, first discovered Optina Monastery’s golden onion-shaped domes rising above the bucolic hills and snowdrifts of Russia’s Ugra National Park.

“It was just like a dream,” Bulochnikova said. “There was no electric lighting, but only candles inside the church.”

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“There were other young people, just like us, attending the beautiful Christmas services,” she said. “We felt that our souls were warm and full of grace; I will remember this feeling of celebration forever.”

Bulochnikova’s discovery of monastic worship exemplifies a growing identification with Orthodoxy among Russians since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

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According to a recent study from the U.S.-based Pew Research Center, the number of Russians who identify themselves as Orthodox Christians rose from 37 percent in 1991 to 71 percent today. At the same time, weekly church attendance remains low — 6 percent — according to the survey.

Optina Monastery is one of the main centers of Orthodox monasticism in Russia, famous for its monks’ reputation for holiness.

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The monks are so virtuous that “you feel you don’t even have a right to speak to them,” Bulochnikova said.

For Father Kalinnik, a monk of Optina, it’s that reputation of sanctity that draws pilgrims to the monastery each day.

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“Monasticism is a spiritual root of the Orthodox Church that nourishes the whole body,” he said. “This way of life can give you the deepest possible spiritual experience.”

“The history of the Orthodox Church proves this, as the greatest saints were mainly monks,” Father Kalinnik said. “It is harder to become a saint living in the secular world.” While monks in the Orthodox Church must be celibate, married men can...
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