What is the Role of a Spiritual Father?

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These excerpts are from a paper on the Orthodox Christian monastic life, yet all they say about the role of the spiritual father, I find it equally relevant to those who live in the world.

“… you choose, or rather, recognize your spiritual father or mother, and he or she will recognize you as his/her spiritual child.

The spiritual father does not need to be some kind of clairvoyant elder. Rather, he is someone to whom you can open your heart. There is often a mutual recognition, that “this is my father,” and “this is my son.” Or, at least, that this is a person with whom I want to work out my salvation.

The discipler, the spiritual father or mother, is the one to whom you will promise obedience, as a means of being obedient to Christ. It is a sacramental relationship: obedience given to the spiritual father for Christ’s sake becomes obedience to Christ. The spiritual father will not give you something immoral or illegal—it would be your duty to disobey such a command. Being obedient means cutting off our own will. It is training. But it is also a means of grace, because we are obedient to Christ through our obedience to the spiritual father. This is itself a means of grace, a synergy or cooperation with God, and accomplished by the power of His energy. We strive to harmonize our will with God’s will, by cutting off our self-will in obedience. Then it becomes all grace, God’s activity within us. But the more we resist, rebel and protest, the more self-willed and independent we are, the more we reject the grace of God.

The passions of envy and jealousy, abandonment anxiety, pride, and anything else surface in the first few years [of the discipleship],  if things are working right.

Obedience is not about subjugation. It is not about depriving the disciple of his will, or much less surrender of one’s personhood. These are abuses. Rather, obedience is willing submission in love. 

It is a relationship of the most profound intimacy and openness.

The relationship between a spiritual father and son is a relationship of love and respect, mutual in every dimension. It becomes the context in which we authentically develop our personhood, and transcend our ego-centrism. Submission to a spiritual father means to enter into a mutual striving for salvation together (1Peter 5:5). It is a relationship of the most profound intimacy and openness. You come to know each other profoundly. And yet, the relationship of a spiritual father and son is also a participation in Christ’s own sonship to the Father. It is a relationship that is sacramental, full of grace. That grace does not depend on the charismatic gifts of the spiritual father, his maturity or clairvoyance. Of course he should be someone blessed by the Church to have such a ministry, and likely will be a priest. If the relationship is undertaken in good faith, on both parts, it becomes that sacramental bond in Christ by the Spirit.

We must remember that this relationship, because it is the very means of working out our salvation, will be tried by fire.

It is important to respect and have faith in your spiritual father. But know for certain that your spiritual elder is a sinful man with passions and shortcomings, like yourself. If you have the idea that he is sinless and infallible, you are only setting yourself up for a huge fall. And if you judge your spiritual father for his inevitable failings, you are also setting yourself up for a fall from your own pride and arrogance. We must remember that this relationship, because it is the very means of working out our salvation, will be tried by fire. Our faith in our spiritual father will be tried by enormous temptations, by his mistakes and shortcomings, and by our own brokenness, rebelliousness and arrogance. But what is important is to persevere through the temptations, and not allow ourselves to judge him. It is said that there are very, very few great elders in the world, but what is even more rare is the true disciple. We must remember that our judgment exposes our own hypocrisy, more than anyone else’s.

Our faith in our spiritual father will be tried by enormous temptations, by his mistakes and shortcomings, and by our own brokenness, rebelliousness and arrogance. 

The parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the Lord’s most vivid illustrations, and used extensively for the monastic life. How profoundly we betray our Father, going off and living prodigally, wasting his riches on harlotry and riotous living. Coming to our self, finally, we repent and return to the Father. How the Father has waited for the return of his beloved son, no matter how much the son’s insensitivity, words and actions have hurt the father. The Father does not assign us a place with the servants, but restores to us our birthright—now a gift of grace. So also does our spiritual father wait for us to repent, to return, so that we may receive the gift of his love.

‘Make haste to open to me Thy fatherly embrace, for as the prodigal I have wasted my life. In the unfailing wealth of Thy mercy, O Savior, reject not my heart in its poverty. For with compunction I cry to Thee, O Lord: Father, I have sinned against heaven and before Thee. ‘(Troparion at Monastic Tonsure)

You have found your spiritual father when knowing you, you realize that he loves you unconditionally.

Always in a spirit of unconditional love and acceptance, even when the passions are raging and the son is in a state of rebellion and stubbornness. 

The relationship to the spiritual father is the way to work out authentic self- acceptance. The spiritual father loves the spiritual son unconditionally, and that love is the foundation for the son to learn how to love the other, to accept himself, and to look at himself in naked honesty and love himself in a healthy way. Constant confession, opening the heart to the spiritual father, and exposing the most shameful and inmost thoughts and inclinations, is the way to this deep cleansing of the heart. The father must give his son both the encouragement and the rebukes that help him see himself. But this is always in a spirit of unconditional love and acceptance, even when the passions are raging and the son is in a state of rebellion and stubbornness.

All the rage, anger, rebelliousness and hatred that are concealed in the heart get projected onto the spiritual father.

So the spiritual father is called to be patient, no matter how hurtful the son can be. All the rage, anger, rebelliousness and hatred that are concealed in the heart get projected onto the spiritual father. The passions of envy and jealousy, abandonment anxiety, pride, and anything else surface in the first few years [of the discipleship], if things are working right.

The spiritual father is called to be patient, no matter how hurtful the son can be.

Obedience is one of the most important things to expose the passions. Obedience demands the cutting off of the will; and our passions are in what we will. Obedience also demands cooperation with the other brothers. We easily cooperate when we want to do something; when we don’t, that is the key point in the confrontation with our will. And if we have underlying passions, such as envy and jealousy, pride and arrogance—Why did he get to do that? [He]  loves him more than me… Why should I have to do that?… or I should have gotten to do that… etc.—so the real battleground of purification is obedience.”

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Dedicated with a love and gratitude which words can’t express to my spiritual father, one I recognised very soon, as “this is my father”, one who loves me unconditionally 

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Dedicated also to St. Dositheus, ο αληθής υποτακτικός,  the true obedient, a Saint I am personally very drawn to.

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Anything that the late Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh has to say is of the utmost importance for our spiritual life, even more so when such a gifted spiritual father talks about “SPIRITUALITY AND THE ROLE OF A SPIRITUAL FATHER”

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Confession of the Blind Woman

 

Mother Xeni’s poetry

Today I discovered a new member of my spiritual family, a blind, prescient Amma and a gifted poetess, who happens to be my own spiritual great-grandmother!  Mother Xeni served as  the Abbess of St. Nectarios’ (spelled also: St.Nektarios) newly-founded Monastery in Aegina (Greece) for nuns, and was the spiritual grandmother of my own spiritual mother, Sister Angeliki, who was tonsured a novice there and was ringing the bells upon St. Nektarios’ glorification! 

Glory to God! The circle of Grace expands like ripples in the pool!

 

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To God

 

A soul, of lamentations worthy, and sorrows, is sighing,

and with a loud and fervent voice, the name of God crying,

and saying, my God save me now, my God, have mercy on me,

O God, You’ve seen my darkness now, so shed Your light upon me,

my God, don’t turn away from me, but quickly hear my pleading,

enlighten my soul’s eyes, O God, spiritually leading;

because they have been blinded from the sins within my depths.

O wretched self, I cannot see; my God, I lose my steps.

Miserable me, I cannot see, my God, where I am going,

or where I stand, or that I am a stranger, past my knowing.

Many clouds and mists my soul in darkness shroud and cover,

and without measure I embitter You, my sweetest Savior.
O wretch, within I feel upheaval, mourning pierced my side,

for Your All-Holy Spirit, Lord, to me must be denied;

my soul must weep eternally her poverty of grace,

and without ceasing to lament in tears that woeful place.

I must avenge myself for all the pain sin makes me suffer,

and with the rivers of my tears, my deep repentance offer;

the tender earth to which I will return, with weeping drench,

to cleanse and flood away the traces of my sins’ foul stench.

I am no longer worthy, Lord, to hope in Your compassion,

I’m worthy only of hell-fire, and suffering, damnation.

But you, my refuge is in You, my God and my Salvation…

(transl. from Greek Fr Demetrios Serfes)

 

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Confession of the Blind Woman

 

People, hear and pity me, for this, my situation,

and pray to God to spare me, my wretched soul to give salvation.

Believe me, all of you, my brethren, truly I’ll explain,

in me is found abundantly the name of works I now will make plain.

If you would like to know which virtues I have called my own,

I’ll tell you: naked is my soul of good in every form.

Utterly devoid of virtue, sentenced to be damned,

and by every purity most utterly abandoned.

Poverty past bounds is mine, and wounds and ill diseases,

and being lost forever in the folds of death’s deep creases.

Severe insentitivity and stupor overcome me,

anger, pride, hard-heartedness and evil have undone me.

To virtue I am cold as ice, but warm to wickedness,

always ready for laughter’s lure and for talkativeness.

Instead of being compassionate, I’m totally unfeeling,

instead of weeping constantly, I laugh, the wretched worldling!

But there is something yet, that hides so perfectly these evils.

How long will I so fool the world, though I am like the devils,

with my false piety, fake virtue and hypocrisy?

When the world regards me highly, I rejoice and boast,

but when they criticise me, even kindly, I am sad, and mope.

Whomever of you knows me, I exhort you to feel piety,

and when reminded of me, weep for my iniguity.

Beg our God that someday He enlightenment will send me;

and by your prayers, my brethren, I hope that He will save me,

and from my somber wickedness and evil, He will free me.

(transl. from Greek Fr Demetrios Serfes)

 

Go here for an interview with a nun who knew Saint Nektarios and who lived with Mother Xeni

 


A SWEET AND BLESSED REPOSE,GERONDISSA XENI ! HUMBLY CRY OUT FOR OUR SALVATION TO OUR LORD GOD! 


 

“Gerondissa (Greek for Abbess) Xeni, was born in 1867, and reposed in the Lord 1923. Mother Xeni, was chosen to become an Abbess of St. Nectarios (spelled also: St.Nektarios) newly-founded Monastery in Aegina for nuns. This beloved handmaiden of our Lord was blind from the age of 9 months, and although physically blind, she was not spiritually blind. She lived under the spiritual guidance of St. Nectarios, and sincerely developed great Christian virtue, discernment and love. Even before the holy Saint Nectarios officially named her to preside over the Community of nuns in Aegina all the girls and women considered her to be their leader due to her piety, compassion and the great grace which dwelt in her sweet soul. This holy, pure, and chosen woman, though she fully realized the scope of her blessedness, did not “consider salvation a thing to be grasped” (Phil.3:13).

Gerondissa Xeni is mentioned in the “Life of St. Nectarios of Aegina“.

During the life of Gerondissa Xeni, she wrote her poetry, which is now becomming more and more well known. We truly discover the secret of her blessed familiarity and closeness both to the Saint, and to our God in Trinity: humility. Gerondissa Xeni poetry is spiritually remarkable, and full of love for God! Her poetry serves to help us, her readers, to be able to reflect on our own path to salvation.”

By Father Demetrios Serfes

 

Source: Orthodox Poetry Of Gerondissa (Abbess) Xeni Of Aegina, Greece (1867-1923), Compiled by Father Demetrios Serfes, Boise, Idaho, USA, Introduction by Father Demetrios Serfes

On the Forty Days of Lent

 

THE FIFTEENTH INSTRUCTION. ON THE HOLY FORTY DAYS OF LENT

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Abba Dorotheos

In the Law it is written that God commanded the sons of Israel to give a tenth part of all they had acquired during each year, and thereby bring a blessing upon all their deeds. With this in mind, the Holy Apostles established and committed to us as a help and benefaction for our souls something yet greater and more exalted–that we should set apart a tenth portion of the very days of our lives and devote them to God. Thereby might we also receive a blessing for all our deeds, and yearly cleanse the sins we have committed over the course of the whole year. Thus discerning, they have sanctified for us out of the 365 days of the year these seven weeks of Holy Great Lent.
So they set apart these seven weeks; but later the Fathers deemed it wise to add yet another week: first of all, so that those wishing to initiate themselves in the ascesis of the fast over the course of this week might accustom themselves to it and prepare themselves for it; and secondly, in order to render honor to the number of days of the Great Fast which our Lord Jesus Christ fasted. For after subtracting Saturdays and Sundays from the eight weeks we have forty days; the fast on Great Saturday is particularly honored, because it is most sacred, and the only Saturday throughout the year on which a fast it kept.
Seven weeks minus Saturdays and Sundays make thirty-five days, then to this is added the fast of Holy and Great Saturday and half of the Bright and Light-bearing night; thus we have thirty-six and a half days, which equals exactly a tenth part of the 365 days of the year. For the tenth part of three hundred is thirty, the tenth part of sixty is six, and a tenth part of five is one-half (of the Bright Day). So, as we have said, there are thirty-six and a half days–the tenth portion of the whole year which, as I have said, the Holy Apostles have sanctified for us for repentance and the cleansing of the sins of the whole year.

So blessed, O brethren, is he who preserves himself well in these holy days as he should. For though it might happen that being human we sin out of infirmity or negligence, still God has given these holy days in order that, striving with heedfulness and humility of wisdom, we take care for ourselves and repent for all of our sins, and we will be cleansed of the sins we committed during the whole year. Then our souls will be delivered from their weight, and we will arrive at the Holy Day of the Resurrection cleansed, receive Communion of the Holy Mysteries uncondemned, having become new through the repentance of the Holy Fast. In spiritual rejoicing, with God’s help, we will celebrate the entire Holy Pentecost season–for the Pentecost season, as the Holy Fathers say, is the repose and resurrection of the soul. This is signified by our not kneeling during whole Holy Pentecost season.

Thus he who desires during these days of Lent to be cleansed of the sins he has committed over the course of the whole year should first of all refrain from eating much food, for the lack of limitation in food, as the Fathers say, gives birth to every evil in man. … However we must not limit our temperance to food, but refrain also from every other sin. Just as we fast with our stomachs, we should fast also from every other sin; just as we fast with the belly, we should fast also with the tongue, restraining it from slander, from lying, idle-talking, from belittlement, from anger, and in a word, from every sin that is performed by the tongue. We must likewise fast with the eyes, that is, not look at vain things, not give freedom to our eyes, not look at anyone shamelessly and without fear. The hands and feet should also be constrained from every evil deed. Having fasted, as St. Basil the Great says, by a favorable fast, removing ourselves from all the sins of all of our senses, we shall attain to the holy day of the Resurrection, having become as we have said, new, pure and worthy of Communion of the Holy Mysteries. …

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Beating Christmas (and Life) Blues

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“My God, I cannot ‘stand’ your Love, because It is Immense and there is no place for It in my small heart ” (Translation of the scroll)

  1. Blessed are those who love Christ more than all the worldly things and live far from the world and near God, with heavenly joys upon the earth.

  2. Blessed are those who manage to live in obscu­rity and acquired great virtues but did not acquire even a small name for themselves.

  3. Blessed are those who manage to act the fool and, in this way, protected their spiritual wealth 

 

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4. Blessed are those who do not preach the Gospel with words, but live it and preach it with their silence, with the Grace of God, which betrays them.

  5. Blessed are those who rejoice when unjustly ac­cused, rather than when they are justly praised for their virtuous life. Here are the signs of holiness, not in the dry exertion of bodily asceticism and the great number of struggles, which, when not carried out with humility and the aim to take off the old man, create only illusions.

  6. Blessed are those who prefer to be wronged rather than to wrong others and accept serenely and silently injustices. In this way, they reveal in practice that they believe in “one God, the Father Almighty” and expect to be vindicated by Him and not by human beings who repay in this life with vanity.
 

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7. Blessed are those who have been born crippled or became so due to their own carelessness, yet do not grumble but glorify God. They will hold the best place in Paradise along with the Confessors and Martyrs, who gave their hands and feet for the love of Christ and now constantly kiss with devoutness the hands and feet of Christ in Paradise.

  8. Blessed are those who were born ugly and are de­spised here on earth, because they are entitled to the most beautiful place in Paradise, provided they glorify God and do not grumble.

  9. Blessed are those widows who wear black in this life, even unwillingly, but live a white spiritual life and glorify God without complaining, rather than the mis­erable ones who wear assorted clothes and live a spot­ted life.

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10. Blessed and thrice blessed are the orphans who have been deprived of their parents’ great affection, for they managed to have God as their Father already from this life. At the same time, they have the affection they were deprived of from their parents in God’s savings bank “with interest”.

  11. Blessed are those parents who avoid the use of the word “don’t” with their children, instead restraining them from evil through their holy life – a life which chil­dren imitate, joyfully following Christ with spiritual bravery.

  12. Blessed are those children who have been born “from their mother’s womb”(Mt. 19:12) holy, but even more blessed are those who were born with all the inherited passions of the world, struggled with sweat and up­rooted them and inherited the Kingdom of God in the sweat of their face (Cf. Gen. 3:19).

 

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13. Blessed are those children who lived from in­fancy in a spiritual environment and, thus, tirelessly ad­vanced in the spiritual life.

Thrice blessed, however, are the mistreated ones who were not helped at all (on the contrary, they were pushed towards evil), but as soon as they heard of Christ, their eyes glistened, and with a one hundred and eighty degree turn they suddenly made their soul to shine as well. They departed from the attraction of earth and moved into the spiritual sphere.

  14. Fortunate, worldly people say, are the astronauts who are able to spin in the air, orbit the moon or even walk on the moon.

Blessed, however, are the immaterial “Paradise-nauts”, who ascend often to God and travel about Paradise, their place of permanent abode, with the quickest of means and without much fuel, besides one crust of bread.

15. Blessed are those who glorify God for the moon that glimmers that they might walk at night.

More blessed, however, are those who have come to understand that neither the light of the moon is of the moon, nor the spiritual light of their soul of them­selves, but both are of God. Whether they can shine like a mirror, a pane of glass or the lid of a tin can, if the rays of the sun do not fall on them, it is impossible for them to shine.

 

 

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16. Fortunate, worldly people tell us, are those who live in crystal palaces and have all kinds of conven­iences.

Blessed, however, are those who have managed to sim­plify their life and become liberated from the web of this world’s development of numerous conveniences (i.e. many inconveniences), and were released from the frightening stress of our present age.

 

 17. Fortunate, worldly people say, are those who can enjoy the goods of the world.

Blessed, however, are those who give away every­thing for Christ and are deprived even of every hu­man consolation for Christ. Thus it is that they man­age to be found night and day near Christ and His di­vine consolation, which many times is so much that they say to God: “My God, Thy love cannot be en­dured, for it is great and cannot be fit within my small heart”.

  18. Fortunate, worldly people say, are those who have the greatest jobs and the largest mansions, since they possess all means and live comfortably.

Blessed, however, according to the divine Paul, are those who have but a nest to perch in, a little food and some coverings99• For, in this way, they’ve managed to become estranged from the vain world, using the earth as a footstool, as children of God, and their mind is con­stantly found close to God, their Good Father.

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  19. Fortunate are those who become generals and government ministers in their head by way of heavy drinking (even if just for a few hours), with the world­ly rejoicing over it.

Blessed, however, are those who have put off the old man and have become incorporeal, managing to be earthly angels with the Holy Spirit. They have found Paradise’s divine faucet and drink from it and are con­tinually inebriated from the heavenly wine.

  20. Blessed are those who were born crazy and will be judged as crazy, and, in this way, will enter Paradise without a passport.

Blessed and thrice blessed, however, are the very wise who feign foolishness for the love of Christ and mock all the vanity of the world. This foolishness for Christ’s sake is worth more than all the knowledge and wisdom of the wise of this world.

 

 

I beg all the Sisters to pray for God to give me, or rather take from me my little mind, and, in this way, se­cure Paradise for me by considering me a fool. Or, make me crazy with His love so I go out my self, outside of the earth and its pull, for, otherwise my life as a monk has no meaning. I became externally white as a monk. As I go I become internally black by being a negligent monk, but I justify myself as one unhealthy, when I hap­pen to be so; other times, I excuse myself again for be­ing ill, even though I am well, and so I deserve to be thoroughly thrashed. Pray for me.

 

May Christ and Panagia be with you,

With love of Christ, Your Brother, Monk Paisios

(“Timiou Stavrou”, December 2, 1972).

 

“Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger.
“Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
“Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did
to the false prophets… (Lk. 6:24-30)
“The Beatitudes” with Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (Taken from the Elder’ Sixth Epistle

“…

Sister Abbess Philothei, Your blessing,

Today, a kind of craziness took hold of me and I took the pencil, as does the madman who writes his outbursts on the wall with charcoal, and I sat down to write my own things on paper like one crazed, and, again, like a lunatic, to send them to you in writ­ing. I am doing this latter craziness out of much love for my Sisters, that they might be edified, even if only a little.

The reason for the initial craziness was five let­ters, one after the other, from various parts of Greece on a variety of subjects. While the events described were great blessings of Godthose who wrote to me had fallen into despair because they dealt with them in a worldly way. 

After replying accordingly to their letters, I took the pencil like a madman, as I have said, and wrote this epistle. I believe that even a fifty-cent piece from your journeying brother will be something toward a flint for each one of the Sisters so as to light a little candle in her cell and offer her doxology to our Good God.

I feel great joy when every Sister, with her particu­lar cross carries out the equivalent struggle with philo­timo. 

It is a small thing to give to Christ a heart equal in size and as luminous as the sun out of gratitude for His great gifts, and especially for the particular honour He showed us monks by conscripting us with personal sum­mons to His Angelic Order.

A great honour also belongs to the parents who were thus made worthy of becoming related to God. Unfor­tunately, however, most parents do not realize this and, instead of being grateful to God, are infuriated etc., for they see everything in a worldly way, like those people I mentioned earlier, who became the reason for me to take the pencil and write everything that follows. …”

 

 

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