Holy Women of Russia
by Brenda Meehan
Since I grew up in the Orthodox Church I grew up hearing and reading Lives of Saints. In a way, Brenda Meehan’s book seemed a great deal like a non-Orthodox version of those Lives. Meehan does a fabulous job of presenting the lives of the five women she examines in a respectful manner. At the same time, it is very clear that she is not Orthodox and does not speak from that point of view. Specifically, it is very clear that Meehan wants to apply several aspects of modern feminism to the women she writes about. This jarred for me in several places, but I appreciate that she realized that the women worked within a system rather than rebelling against it.
One of the most interesting aspects of the whole book comes in the first line of the introduction.
I have had great difficulty writing this book. I am convinced now that it is because the women I am writing about–vibrant, spiritually intense women–didn’t like the way I was originally telling their story, making it part of a dry analysis of the rise of women’s communities in nineteenth century Russia….these women jumped up from the pages, refusing to be neatly contained within my chapters and withing a framework that stressed the sociohistorical at the expense of the spiritual. They insisted that I listen to the inner stirrings of their hearts and take seriously the spiritual paths they had trod. And I think they also wanted to say that holiness and spirituality are timeless.
I think that it was Meehan’s allowance for that point of view which takes this book from the realm of academic research into a real evaluation of the lives of five Orthodox women who tried to serve God in their own ways. It takes them seriously and it asks how we can follow their lead–even those of us who are not Orthodox. Later in the introduction Meehan says, “These women believed, and shock us into believing, in a world in which virtue has meaning.” This book is a wonderful introduction to five holy women who sought to find virtue in others and cultivate it in themselves.