Russian Saint Under Construction: Portraits and Icons of Starets Nikolay
In post-Soviet Russia, as the society underwent rapid and crucial social changes, secular political elites and the broader public paid exceptional attention to the Orthodox elders as part of the process of looking for the “usable past”. This past would become the foundation of a new national myth, which was greatly needed at that time. Not surprisingly, the most comforting variant of the national past for most peoplewas its “cultural” variant as presented by the Orthodox religion, which started to be represented as the Russian national culture. In their search for the comfortingshared past different Russian elites,including bohemian circles, the so-called intelligentsiya, and new business and political elites, turned their attention to the old, modest religious men and women whom they combined in the category of startsy created at that particular time. These people were believed to live ascetic religious lives that were separate from all of the political intrigues of the Church, which was blamed by many for its collaboration with the Soviet (and later post-Soviet) state. In their remote parishes and monasteries, they represented, in the eyes of believers and sympathizers, a sort of ahistorical past, a national heritage, equal in its authenticity to the Russian song, fairy tale, or landscape.