Spiritual Obedience

Apostle Jason of the Seventy and those with him

Apostle Jason of the Seventy and those with him

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



"He who has My Commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him...If a man loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and we will come and make our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father's Who sent Me" (Saint John 14:21-24).


In the Holy Orthodox Christian Tradition, obedience is a basic virtue: obedience to the Lord, to the Gospel, to the Church (St. Matthew 18:17), to the leaders of the Church (Hebrews 13:7), to one's parents and elders, to "every ordinance of man" (1 Peter 2:13; Romans 13:1), "to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Ephesians 6:21). There is no spiritual life without obedience, no freedom or liberation from sinful passions and lusts. To submit to God's discipline in all of its human forms, is the only way to obtain "the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Romans 8:21). Our Creator disciplines us as His children out of His great and unconditional love for us. "He disciplines us for our good, that we might share in His Holiness" (cf. Hebrews 12:3-11). Our obedience to God's Holy Commandments and discipline is the exclusive sign of our love for Him and His Beloved Son.

By definition, an Orthodox Christian is one who strives to be obedient to the Commandments and, at the same time, obediently tries to fulfill the requirements of an Orthodox Christian way of life, as revealed by Holy Scripture and Tradition. Thus, obedient attendance at divine services, frequent reception of the Mysteries (Sacraments), observance of the seasonal fasts, the giving of alms (charity), acquiring the spirit of charity...

Saint Porphyrios says, "for Christians as well as those outside the Church, probably no topic is as misunderstood as obedience. And yet, obedience is foundational not only to our relationship with Christ but for the whole of the Church's life. Obedience to Holy Tradition, to our bishop and our conscience all serve to keep us united to God and our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Again, for many people--Christian or not-obedience is morally problematic. In most cases this reflects not ill will but a lack of understanding. In the Holy Scripture the command to be obedient is not a command that we give a mechanical submission to an authority (Divine or human). Obedience is not passive submission of the vanquished to the victor; it is not 'giving in' or 'surrender' but freely chosen, voluntary mutual cooperation--or synergy."

In Wounded by Love: The Life and Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios, Geronda Porphyrios (+ 1991), a Greek monk and priest "tells the story of his life and, in simple, deeply reflected and profoundly wise words, he expounds the Christian Faith today." Writing on obedience he recalls that as a young monk: "My whole life was a Paradise: prayer, worship, handicraft, and obedience. But my obedience was the outcome of love not coercion. This blessed obedience benefited me greatly. It changed me. I became sharp-witted, quick and stronger in body and soul...Obedience shows love for Christ. And Christ especially loves the obedient" (Wounded by Love, p.25).

At a minimum, obedience requires the absence of coercion. There can be nothing abusive or forced if obedience is going to be true to what it means to be human. Obedience properly so called is always an appeal to human freedom and an affirmation of human dignity.

For the Holy Fathers of the Church, freedom is "one of the manifestation of God in human nature." According to Saint Gregory of Nyssa, "Man became Godlike and blessed, being honored with freedom (αυτεξουσίω)" (Sermon of the Dead). For this reason, the Church in her pastoral practice and spiritual guidance takes so much care of the inner world of a person and his freedom of choice. Subjection of human will to any external authority through manipulation or violence is seen as a violation of the order established by God."

"...Freedom, love and joy; these are characteristic of Christian obedience. But these are also all inter-personal; they are social and not merely individual. Being obedient means learning to make choices that foster freedom, love and joy not simply in my life but yours as well. It isn't so much a matter of my being obedient to you (or the other way around) but our being obedient to God Who is the Source of all good things. Obedience, in other words, is mutual; what we do together and not what I do alone.

To be obedient means to live as a member of a community in which we work together for the flourishing, sanctification and salvation of each other. It is the end of mere individualism and the beginning of life patterned after the Holy Trinity." (Source: Saint Porphyrios on Obedience by Rev. Gregory Jensen)

"All that Jesus has and is, He has received from God the Father. From all eternity, the Son has listened to the Father in order to do His work and to accomplish His will. The will of God is that the Son should become man, take up the sins of the world and die in the flesh in order to raise the dead that "nothing would be lost." Jesus has accomplished this in Divine and Perfect obedience, giving the example to all.

"My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt...if this cannot pass until I drink it, Thy will be done" (Saint Matthew 26:39,42).

There is no degradation in obedience to God, nothing shameful or demeaning. On the contrary, to do the will of God is glory and Life. It is the highest dignity of man, his greatest joy and delight (cf. Psalm 119). It is the way of perfection for all, even for the man Jesus Himself. "Although He was a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered, and being made perfect He became the source of salvation to all who obey Him" (Hebrews 5:8-9).

Disobedience to God and His Son Jesus Christ is the source of all sin. Refusal to submit to God in all things is the cause of sorrow and death. Those who hear the Gospel and fail to enter into the eternal rest of God, do so only "because of disobedience" (Hebrews 5-6, cf. Deut. 4:29-31). (Orthodox Church in America)

According to Rev. John Chryssavgis, "Authority in the Church is never the monopoly of an ordained few (cf. Ephesians 4:11-12) whether bishops or other clergy. Authority is the responsibility of all (cf. Ephesians 5:34). Likewise, obedience is not the obligation of an "inferior" laity or lower clergy, but a requirement of all faithful (Christians believers), lay and ordained. In the history of Christianity, centuries of institutionalism and clericalism, followed by the "lay revolution," in conservative and anti-hierarchical churches alike, have rendered the concepts of authority and obedience problematic a point of contention and almost disdain. Nevertheless, clergy and laity cannot exist without one another; spiritual elder and child must be existentially united. Together they constitute the Living Body of Christ; together they experience the mystery of Christ. Any distinction between them is merely functional and provisional, not essential. What is essential is the relationship of love and trust in Christ. Unity lived out even in diversity is precisely the promise of God to His Church. Any form or expression of authority, then, must not be the expression of human pride but of humility before God, of assimilation to the Divine Hierarchy, and of obedience to the will of Him Who alone is called Father (cf. St. Matthew 23:9). Such obedience is of the very essence ("esse") not simply the well-being("bene esse") of humanity. Hierarchy exists in order to reveal the priestly vocation (cf. 1 Peter 2:9) and function of all within a world that is beautifully ordered by its Creator as cosmos.

"Obedience is good, but [only] if it is done for God's sake."

In the ascetic tradition and spiritual formation of the Church, obedience is considered "the first of virtues." For monastics, in particular, perfect obedience, understood as "the mortification of the will" (cf. Phil. 2:8), is integral to all ascetic endeavor. Monastic life would indeed be unthinkable without the basic notion of obedience...

"...The virtue of obedience occurs within the context of loving trust and personal relationship between two people in Christ, which in itself reveals the presence of Christ (cf. St. Matthew 18:20). Without this special relationship, one gains nothing from authority but pride, and nothing from obedience but guilt. Such feelings, however, defeat the very purpose of spiritual authority and hierarchy in the Church...

"...Authority in the Church is always identified with the vivifying breath of the Spirit. There must be synergy, not tyranny. The role of the holy people of God does not replace the responsibility of the bishops. The bishops are called to lead their people in taking up the cross of love and freedom in Christ. Orthodoxy has never reduced the Christian faith to a few charismatics, nor has it relied upon the bishops alone. On the contrary, it is the communal aspect of the Church which is constantly affirmed.  

That the laity must obey clergy is a commandment from the earliest Apostolic times. Saint Ignatius of Antioch encourages the Trallians to be:

"submissive to the bishop as to Jesus Christ...and also to the presbytery as to the Apostles...and to respect the deacons... for without these no Church is recognized."

"...Present realities are structures will continue to exist. Yet we must learn to be more open, allowing the Spirit to be more active in them. In the course of His Ministry, Christ was asked on several occasions by what authority He acted. In fact He never explicitly answered this question. Rather, He responded by the way He lived, that is by the Authority of love incarnate. Authority outside this Christ-like love is an arbitrary tyranny. Authority lived in the laying down of life for one's neighbor (cf. St. John 10:11), on the other hand, is creative and life-giving. (Source: Obedience and Authority: Dimensions of a Hierarchical Church by Rev. John Chryssavgis)





"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom


With sincere agape in Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George