The Spiritual Father According to the Light of Orthodox Tradition

Venerable Paul the Simple of Egypt

Venerable Paul the Simple of Egypt

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our God and Our Only True Savior,

Adapted from Symeon P. Koutsas

How Spiritual Fatherhood Developed within the Historical Journey of the Church

As time went on and the Church began to develop as an institution, the establishment of the spiritual father also took root and developed. It is true that the desert cultivated this relationship more so than the parish, and from the space of the monastery, it spread out, infusing the spiritual life of the entire Church. Consequently, terms often found in ascetic literature and in the writings of the desert Holy Fathers, "abba" ("father") and "geronta" ("elder") in the Greek Orthodox Tradition, "starets" in the language of our Russian Orthodox brothers, are familiar to all of us. What is the criterion that moves someone to exercise the position of "geronta" (elder)? Who authorizes and institutes someone to act as a spiritual father? These questions have been asked and answered by one of the well-known bishops of the charismatic character of spiritual fatherhood (The Kingdom of God Within Us, "Akritas" Athens, 1194 pg. 117). From his answer, I will relate his most basic positions:

"The spiritual father, the elder, is essentially a charismatic and prophetic personality who has received this liturgical function from the direct energy of the Holy Spirit. He is not ordained by a man's hand but by the hand of God. This happens to be an expression of the Church as 'fact' and not some institution or office of the Church. However, the two elements in the life of the Church, the prophetic and the established, are not necessarily independent of each other, but the one develops within the other one, and it becomes intertwined with it. Consequently, the function of the elder, while charismatic in essence, also relates to a clear and specific function within the institutional place of the Church: that of the priest confessor...Even though the sacrament of confession provides a great opportunity for spiritual guidance, the function of the elder does not coincide with that of the confessor. The elder advises and councils not only during confession but in many other situations. It is true that even though a confessor must always be a priest, a simple monk can be an elder...Now if the elder is not ordained, and not necessarily positioned by a specific action of the official hierarch, how does he proceed to assume such a responsibility? 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. Afterwards, with a rather free and unofficial, unpretentious way, people begin to flock to him or her for advice and direction" (Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, The Kingdom of God Within Us, pg. 117-119).

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." If the definition and purpose of Christianity is the imitation of Christ as the St. Basil the Great teaches, then "those who were entrusted with the guidance of the ones yet weak in faith by their mediation ought to help advance them to the likeness in Christ." The spiritual fathers ought to show them the path that leads to communion with Christ, to theosis (deification); consequently, our spiritual fathers are experienced guides and eve-so-tireless supporters.

However, for a shepherd to serve in such a lofty calling, he needs to be truly spiritual, an organ "completely and harmoniously tuned to the beat of the Holy Spirit," according to the writings of Saint Gregory the Theologian. Only he who knows something from experience can in turn give to others. 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) and "fully living the gospel." According to Saint Basil the Great, "his very life must reflect a prime example by following every commandment of the Lord." His example must speak louder than his words. He must inspire with his virtuous lifestyle. He needs to build people up with his love and fatherly affection since according to Saint John of the Ladder, "a true shepherd shows forth or is proven through his love, because the Great Shepherd was crucified out of love (For the Shepherd 24 pg. 88, 1177B)



The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.


Glory Be To GOD For All Things!


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George