My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,
Christ is in our midst! He was, is, and ever shall be.
THE SPIRITUAL FATHER IN THE LIFE
OF THE ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN
Every human being has a father according to the flesh, a biological father to whom he owes his biological arrival to life. The Christian, however, in addition to his natural or biological father, also has a spiritual father. The spiritual father is he who gave him spiritual REBIRTH, who introduced him TO LIFE IN CHRIST, and who guides him on the path of salvation. The natural birth brings us into life; it makes us members of the human race. Our REBIRTH IN CHRIST, however, makes us members IN THE COMMUNITY OF OUR CHURCH AND OFFERS US THE ABILITY TO LIVE A LIFE IN CHRIST GOD. Saint Symeon the New Theologian, one of the most genuine advocates of spiritual fatherhood to whom we will refer often, writes: "We conceived you through teaching, we travailed you through repentance, we gave you birth through patience, labor, great pains, and daily tears" (Epistle 3:1-3).
In the early Church, where the vast majority of the faithful received Holy Baptism as adults, the spiritual father (for the Christian) was the ecclesiastical shepherd, the one who was in charge of his religious instruction or catechesis, who would take him through the Mystery (Sacrament) of Baptism, and who would then continue to be his guiding hand in the life of Christ. Today, since most of us receive our baptism as infants, the Christian’s spiritual father is not necessarily the priest who baptized him but the one who at some point in his life "touched him," "reached him," and began to GUIDE HIM ON THE JOURNEY toward a conscious faith and a responsible Christian life.
Addressing the Christians of Corinth, Saint Paul writes, "For if you have myriads of tutors in Christ, yet YOU HAVE NOT MANY FATHERS, for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel" (1 Corinthians 4:14-16). Saint Paul was indeed the father of the Corinthian Christians and not just a tutor. A spiritual father who gave them spiritual rebirth and introduced them to the family of THE REDEEMED. His Apostolic heart was ablaze from the love for his spiritual children. He wished to offer them not only the Gospel but his soul, as well as he, writes in 1 Thessalonians 2:8-9).
Metropolitan Kallistos Ware writes: "Within the continuity of the life of the Christian community, it becomes evident to the faithful people of God–the true guard of Holy Tradition–that this or that person has the grace of the spiritual fatherhood or motherhood. Afterward, with a rather free and unofficial, unpretentious way, people begin to flock to him or her for advice and direction" (Kallistos Ware, The Kingdom of God Within).
The Mission of the Spiritual Father
What exactly is the mission of the spiritual father? Saint Basil the Great tells us that it is "The caretaking of souls having been bought by the blood of Christ" (St. Basil the Great, Ethics). The spiritual father IS OUR GUIDE IN THE LIFE OF CHRIST JESUS, the doctor of the soul who "with much compassion and according to the statutes of the Lord’s teachings HEALS THE PASSIONS and helps his spiritual child to achieve HEALTH IN CHRIST, living faith, and a solid spiritual life." The spiritual father ought to show them the path that leads to communion with Christ, TO THEOSIS.
According to Saint Gregory the Theologian a shepherd must be an organ "completely and harmoniously tuned to the beat of the Holy Spirit." Thus, before the spiritual father can guide and assist others to the Christian life, he first needs to live it himself. He must be a "prime example to the believers" (1 Timothy 4:2). His example must speak louder than these words. He must inspire with his virtuous lifestyle. He needs to build people up with his love and fatherly affection since according to Sant John of the Ladder, "a true shepherd shows forth or is proven through his love because the Great Shepherd was crucified out of love."
Even though the selection of a spiritual father is entirely a personal choice, something left to our discretion, the discovery of an experienced spiritual guide, in the final analysis, can only be a great gift from God. For this reason, Saint Symeon the New Theologian further advises: "Brother, beseech God extensively in order to reveal to you a man who is capable of guiding you properly, to whom you need to obey as God Himself, and to act upon his words without reservation, even if his precepts go against your own judgment and even if his rules initially seem harmful and nonsensical to you." (Catechism 20 SC 104 pg. 334).
The bond developed between the spiritual father and the spiritual child is characterized by A RECIPROCAL LOVE. The faithful responds and lives up to the love shown by the spiritual father. Saint John Chrysostom observes, "Nothing is so effective in the area of teaching as loving and being loved" The spiritual bonds are stronger than the natural ones. The love towards the spiritual father is genuine when expressed as "faith," and this faith is manifested when we show trust in his person, when we place our entire well-being in his hand and when we recognize him AS OUR GUIDE to the path of salvation. Consequently, we must trust him. We need to follow his precepts without reservations and inner doubts.
Now, if the spiritual father is watchful and vigilant over the soul of his spiritual child, the child must also obey and follow his directions faithfully (Hebrews 13:17). Through our spiritual father, God Himself is speaking. Essentially, when we show OBEDIENCE to him, we are obedient to God’s will. We insure and protect ourselves from mistakes that we would certainly fall into when we follow our own will. Finally, we acquire inner freedom, and we attract the grace of God.
Once more great responsibility of the father is the Mystery (Sacrament) of Repentance/ Confession. To our spiritual father, we confess with confidence everything. "Do not keep a single movement of the soul secret," Saint Basil exhorts, "but unclothe the hidden areas of your heart." We must keep nothing from our spiritual father. With humility and with a "son-to-father" trust, we must place everything at his feet. This is THE ONLY WAY TO HAVE OUR SINS FORGIVEN BY GOD, TO FREE OURSELVES FROM THE WEIGHT OF GUILT, AND TO UPROOT OUR PASSIONS. In this context, the spiritual father is enabled to guide us in our spiritual life with assurance.
Changing Spiritual Father
The selection of a spiritual father is a matter of personal choice and preference. However, our God-bearing Fathers forewarn that the changing of spiritual fathers includes dangers as well, Saint Symeon writes, "Do not wander here and there searching for big-name monks and don’t become a curious examiner of their lives. By the grace of God, if you happen to meet a spiritual father, tell all your concerns to him only."
"Glory Be To GOD
– Saint John Chrysostom
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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry)
The sinner and unworthy servant of God
+ Father George