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 startsy 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 starsy, we find the reason for this quest. Should I complain to my employer about working conditions in his factory? Such were the questions asked of Macarius. His response was invariably concrete and not a generalised rule of conduct for all. Yet, at the same time, Macarius's words of counsel reflect a tradition stretching back to the Desert Fathers. This realisation of freedom within tradition, so characteristic of true Orthodox spirituality, makes Macarius's advice to 19th century Russians pertinent for us today we well.