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Monasticism and spiritual fatherhood


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#1 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 24 August 2006 - 11:23 PM

I would like to share some of the experiences of my brothers in the monastic life in hope that it will be of benefit to all, monastics and laity.

Not desiring to speak of myself, I shall first turn to a disciple of the late, blessed Archimandrite Sophrony (+1993). The following are quotations from the book: 'Christ, Our Way and Our Life, a Presentation of the Theology of Archimandrite Sophrony', by Archimandrite Zacharias.

I have chosen this as a possible new thread since I have noticed considerable discussion on the role of a Spiritual Father, the need for one, and how this comes about.

I would like to make it clear that though I am beginning with Archimandrite Zacharias and his exposition of the teaching of Father Sophrony, what follows applies equally to Spiritual Motherhood.

"Monasticism as a gift of the Holy Spirit"

'...Monastic ascetic struggle is dedicated wholly to the acquistion of the perfection that the Heavenly Father seeks from the children of His Kingdom. Thus, the theme of monasticism leads inevitably to consideration of Christian perfection, as Christ revealed it through His word and the example of His Life.

'Christian perfection surpasses human measure. It is not an attribute of created nature, but a gift of the Holy Spirit. Perfection was manifested in the human nature assumed by Christ from the holy Virgin, yet it remains unattainable to us within the limits of earthly life. However, Christ desires this perfection for man, created by Him, and sets it forth as a commandment (Matt. 5:48).

'Perfection is above all perfection in divine love. Fr. Sophrony identifies it with the 'greater love' (cf. John 15: 12-15) of Christ's sacrifice. He admires more than anything the example of Christ making his way alone to Golgotha, and enduring extreme sufferings to deliver mankind from death and bestow eternal, divine life upon all. Fr. Sophrony envisages as the 'ultimate perfection' the perfection of Christ's love, which overturns the pyramid of all created being and places Him at its inverted summit. Thus, Christ takes away the sin of all humans and takes upon Himself the curse of death, which had wounded them. This perfection flows from the incomprehensible love of Christ (cf. Eph. 3:18-19). It is the 'one eternal Act' of Christ's decent to the lowest places of the earth and His ascent 'above the heavens.' In a single act the 'only-begotten Son, co-eternal with the Father embraces heaven and earth and the nether regions' (Eph. 4:8-13). The descent and ascent of Christ are the source of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and in those who follow Christ, they are the confirmation of the Spirit's presence. These charisms are heavenly gifts (cf. Jas. 1:17) and they lead those who partake of them with humility to the perfection of the 'stature of the fulness of Christ' (Eph. 3:13).

'The path leading to the acquistion of perfection is the one traced by Christ. It is the path of the Cross; the path of Christ's self-emptying. For Fr. Sophrony, kenosis and perfection are closely bound together; as Christ Himself showed, 'utter self-emptying precedes the fulness of perfection.' If monasticism is not a human invention but 'the third grace', (St. Theodore the Studite, quoted in 'Principles', p. 260) it is because it ensures the conditions for a man's potential downward progression, which leads to spiritual perfection.

'The path of monasticism presents three great virtues: obedience, virginity and chastity, and poverty or 'non-acquisitiveness'. Practicing these virtues, the monk becomes an imitator of Christ's kenosis, and consequently also a participant in His heavenly perfection. It was not the omnipotence of God, but the 'weakness' (1 Cor. 1:25) and the 'passibility' (cf. Acts 26:23 '...that Christ be subject to suffering') of His Love, which saved the world from the proud delusion of the enemy. The 'reproach' (Heb. 11:26. 13:13) borne by the meek and lowly Christ restored glory to humanity, which had been dishonoured by sin, and He re-established love as the 'bond of perfection' (Col. 3:14). The power of this promise is contained precisely in the humble spirit of the self-emptying path that He followed.

'According to an expression of Father Sophrony, monasticism 'constitutes a categorical imperative of the spirit' of someone who tastes the gift of the Spirit of God and comes into contact with the fire of the 'greater love' of Christ - love which sacrifices itself for the life of others and receives death from them. ('Conversation on Monasticism', English translation not yet published.) This contact quite naturally provokes in man's conciousness a requirement to respond in his turn by an inclination to follow the 'model' of Christ. It is in this manner that someone is led by the Holy Spirit to monasticism as the most appropriate route towards likeness to Christ. It is the path which most closely imitates the self-emptying love of Christ, who 'endured the cross, despising the shame' (Heb. 12:2), and who thereby proved Himself to be 'wisdom, and righteousness, and the sanctification, and redemption' (1 Cor. 1:30). Along this way, the humble movement towards 'self-diminution' prevails, and the proud tendency towards 'self-exaltation' disappears. The direction is downwards, and this heals man from the consequences of orginal sin. ('On Prayer', Fr.Sophrony, pp. 24, 174)

'The Lord Jesus, in order to sanctify the faithful by His divine blood, showed the 'exceeding greatness' (Eph, 1:19) of His humble love and suffered 'outside the gate' (Heb. 13:12). Monks likewise, in order to repay their debt of humble gratitude towards their 'Lord that bought them' (1 Pet 2:1), 'go forth unto Him outside the camp' of this world. There they 'bear His reproach' (Heb. 13:13) and endure the shame of their spiritual poverty. Thus, in this noble and God-befitting repayment, the monastery becomes a place of thanksgiving and a place of repentance. It furnishes the monk with the possibility of being trained in the practice of self-emptying descent like that of the Only-Begotten. However, just as His descent was voluntary and sinless, so also the monk's downward path gains advantage from the fact that he is following the example of the divine Redeemer voluntarily. Sharing in the descent of Christ, he becomes also a partaker in His ascent. He becomes familiar with the gifts and charisms of His Spirit.

'Going outside' gives monasticism an otherworldly character and situates it in an eschatological perspective. Monastic life provides favourable conditions for release from many earthly cares and inspires a firm devotion to the commandments of Christ. A monastic model of life is presented by Fr. Sophrony as an imitation of angelic life, and even as 'the descent to earth of the angelic world'. (St. Theodore the Studite, 'Principles', p. 260) This furthers the one and only will of God. According to the word of the Apostle, 'the fashion of this world passes away' (1 Cor. 7:31); the only thing that has permanent value is the fulfilling of God's commandments (cf. 1 Cor. 7:19). Single-minded consecration of one's life to this task is what justifies monasticism. Fr. Sophrony envisages the aim and meaning of monasticism as the utmost dedication to the keeping of the Gospel commandments, so that they become for the believer 'the sole and eternal law of his being'. ('Conversations on Monasticism') This state is expressed by perfection in the charisms of the Holy Spirit and by 'greater love', which witness to Christlikeness in the most complete way possible.

'Thus, we see that the way of monasticism is a gift of the grace of the Holy Spirit. It secures the possibility for a way of life in which 'God is well-pleased' (Heb. 13:6). A monk's life is a sacrifice to God, which glorifies His name and His love for mankind. It attracts divine grace, which purifies the heart and prepares it to become a dwelling-place of the Holy Trinity. On this path, by fruitful fulilment of the monastic vows, the monk is conscious, as we shall see below, that this being broadens to include the whole Adam, and this renders him truly hypostatic, a bearer of the fulness of all being, both human and divine. ('Conversations on Monasticism') Man becomes universal, and this universality is stamped with the seal of his prayer for 'all Adam as for himself'. ('Conversations on Monasticism)

'Particularly through the ascetic effort of monastic obedience, the monk learns to accept within himself the will and the life of his fellow-ascetics. In his prayer be bears in his heart the entire brotherhood. He progresses from the 'I' of self to the 'we' of all humanity. He experiences its pain and its personal destiny as a matter of burning human concern. Thus, monasticism becomes the spiritul 'locus', where man can be introduced into the hypostatic form of existence. By bearing within him a small brotherhood, in the end the monk comes to be in the likeness of Christ; he becomes capable, like the Lord, of embracing the totality of humanity in time and space.' (pp. 126-131)


The following excerpts will deal with: 'Fidelity to the monastic vows heals the estrangement brought about by original sin,' 'The Vow of Obedience,' 'The Vow of virginity or chastity', 'The Vow of Poverty', 'Spiritual Fatherhood as a ministry of reconciliation between man and God.'

That which I would like to ask, is this, essentially "Life in Christ" to quote St. Nicholas Cabasilas known in its fulness only to monastics? Or is this "descent to earth of the angelic powers" open to all Christ's sons and daughters?

#2 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 25 August 2006 - 01:53 PM

Fr Seraphim asked

That which I would like to ask, is this, essentially "Life in Christ" to quote St. Nicholas Cabasilas known in its fulness only to monastics? Or is this "descent to earth of the angelic powers" open to all Christ's sons and daughters?


Certainly what is described above in the theology of Fr Sophrony is open to all whether monastics or not. But this then involves a life of self-sacrifice, a life of humbly putting oneself 'at the bottom' as Fr Sophrony puts it. All must respond to this call which ultimately is similar for all.

I guess the question arises though because of the degree of monastic obedience and asceticism. The laity rightfully ask to what degree they should be following this also?

The answer I think is, 'to the degree that is right for them'. At first sight this might seem like a lot less than a monastic. But if pursued faithfully it could well be that it is actually as great as anything offered by monasticism.

Take obedience which Fr Sophrony sees as emulating Christ's obedience to His Father and humbling of Himself before humanity. This also is what all are called to within the Church.

And the end point of obedience or its purpose which Fr Sophrony sees as being a love which embraces all of creation is also certainly a calling common to us all.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#3 Theopesta

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Posted 26 August 2006 - 11:42 AM

If the spiritual father loses his inernal light and getting busy to satisfy a large number of people no more, to be always the father, if he loses the basic signs in the way that necessery to his children, Is it right for the spritual child to remain in his trust even he still keep his love and respection to his father?

#4 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 26 August 2006 - 01:48 PM

If the spiritual father loses his inernal light and getting busy to satisfy a large number of people no more, to be always the father, if he loses the basic signs in the way that necessery to his children, Is it right for the spritual child to remain in his trust even he still keep his love and respection to his father?



The tie between spiritual father and child should never be broken except for cases of heresy or immorality. Faith & obedience overcomes the human weakness which in any case cannot be completely avoided.

It can happen though that a spiritual relationship allows for also seeking spiritual advice from others besides ones own spiritual father. Whatever the reason for this though it should be blessed by ones spiritual father. The point is that one should not lose trust in ones spiritual father as that special intercessor for us before God.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#5 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 26 August 2006 - 04:59 PM

I am grateful to Fr. Raphael for both of his posts on this thread.

His first response draws attention to a pressing need and in my personal experience an often expressed concern of the laity. In the writings of St. Silouan (+1938) he makes it very clear that our Lord gives to each the proper vocation, whether monastic or lay, and neither is to be understood as superior. Thus, salvation is to be found in the fulfillment of the vocation given to each by our Lord.

Fr. Raphael's second response to Nun Theopesta's concern is very important: 'Faith & obedience overcomes the human weakness...' and 'The point is that one should not lose trust in ones spiritual father as that special intercesssor for us before God'.

I would like to quote from Father Sophrony's book, 'Saint Silouan the Athonite':

'Concerning Spiritual Fathers

'At Vespers during one Lent at the Monastery of Old Russikon-on-the-Hill the Lord allowed a certain monk (St. Silouan, speaking in the third person - my note) to see Father Abraham, a priest-monk of the strict rule, (Great Schema - again my note) in the image of Christ. The old confessor, wearing his priestly stole, was standing hearing confessions. When the monk entered the confessional he saw that the grey-haired confessor's face looked young like the face of a boy, and his entire being shone radiant and was in the likeness of Christ. Then the monk understood that a spiritual father ministers in the Holy Spirit, and the sins of the repentant sinner are forgiven him by the Holy Spirit.

'If people could behold in what glory a priest celebrates the Divine Office they would swoon at the sight; and if the priest could see himself, could see the celestial glory surrounding him as he officiates, he would become a great warrior and devote himself to feats of spiritual endurance, that he might not offend in any way the grace of the Holy Spirit living in him.

'As I pencil these lines my spirit rejoices that our pastors are in the likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ. But we, the flock, though we have grace but in small measure - we, too, are in the likeness of the Lord. Men ignore this mystery but St. John the Divine told us clearly: "We shall be like him", (1 John iii:2) and this not only after death but even here and now, for the merciful Lord has given the Holy Spirit on earth, and the Holy Spirit lives in our Church, lives in all virtuous pastors; lives in the heart of the faithful. The Holy Spirit teaches the soul to fight the good fight; gives the strength necessary to fulfill the commandments of the Lord; stablishes us in all truth; and has so adorned man that he has become like unto the Lord.

'We must always bear in mind that a father-confessor performs the duties of his office in the Holy Spirit, wherefore we must venerate him. Know this, brethren, that if anyone should die with his confessor present, and, dying, say to him: 'O holy father, give me the blessing that I may behold the Lord in the Kingdom of Heaven,' and the confessor should answer, 'Go, child, and look upon the Lord,' it would be with him according to the confessor's blessing, for the Holy Spirit both in heaven and on earth is one and the same.

'Great power lies in the prayers of a spiritual father. For my pride I suffered much from devils but the Lord humbled me and had mercy on me because of my spiritual father's prayers, and now the Lord has revealed to me that the Holy Spirit dwells in our father-confessors, wherefore I hold them in deep respect. Because of their prayers we receive the grace of the Holy Spirit, and joy in the Lord, Who loves us and has given us all things needful for our soul's salvation.

'If a man does not open his heart to his confessor, his will be a crooked path that leads not to salvation; whereas he who keeps nothing back will go straightway to the Kingdom of Heaven...

'Whoever would pray without ceasing must have fortitude and be wise, and in all things consult his confessor. And if your father-confessor has not himself trodden the path of prayer, nevertheless seek counsel of him, and because of your humility the Lord will have mercy on you, and keep you from all wrong. But if you think to yourself, 'My confessor lacks experience and is occupied with vain things, I will be my own guide with the help of books,' your foot is set on a perilous path and you are not far from being beguiled and going astray. I know many such who reasoned thus and so deceived themselves, and they did not thrive because they despised their confessors. They forgot that the saving grace of the Holy Spirit is at work in the sacrament of confession. In such wise does the enemy delude those who fight the good fight - the enemy would have no men of prayer - while the Holy Spirit gives good counsel to the soul when we harken to the advice of our pastors.

'Through the father-confessor the Holy Spirit operates in the sacrament (of confession), and this is why the soul, on leaving her confessor, feels renewed through peace and love for her neighbour. But if you are troubled when you leave your confessor, it means that you have not made a clean confession of your sins, and have not in your soul forgiven your brother his transgressions.

'A confessor should rejoice when the Lord brings him a soul for repentance, and according to the grace given to him he should heal that soul, wherefore he will receive great mercy from God, as a good sheperd of his sheep.'
(pp. 403-406)

#6 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 26 August 2006 - 11:09 PM

I would like now to continue with Father Zacharias' exposition on 'Monasticism and spiritual fatherhood'.

'Fidelity to the monastic vows heals the estrangemnt brought about by original sin.

'Monasticism is a gift of grace. When someone receives this charism, he or she becomes capable of following the example of the Lord and of emulating the angelic way of life. The 'extreme humility' which Christ's Face inspires, and the unbridled desire for God which monastic life cultivates, attract divine grace towards man, freeing him from passions and making him, in the likeness of Christ, supra-cosmic.
'In paradise, man was in communion with God, and God was life and security for Him. Disobedience, and the fall into sin, disrupted this life-giving union with God, and thus death entered the life of man with all its devastating consequences. Man lost the security and support that he had from God, the Giver of life. Out of fear and the struggle for survival, he then conceived his own way of life, based thenceforward on his natural created powers. Previously, he had kept the commandments of God and enjoyed every good thing and lived in incorruption. After the transgression, however, wishing to be protected from the threat of extinction, he took refuge in the following three substitutes of pseudo-supports: i) self-will and the persuasiveness of his logical reasoning; ii) the pleasure of the senses and the desires associated naturally with reproduction; iii) the possession of material goods.
'Each of these three 'alienated him from the life of God' (Eph. 4:18) in their respective fashions. i) By relying on the persuasiveness of his own logical judgement and his own will, man undergoes the first estrangement and falls into the luciferic delusion of self-deification, building a wall between himself and God. ii) In succumbing to the lure of procreation and the pleasure of the senses he puts on the 'garments of skin' (cf. Gen. 3:21) and undergoes the second estrangement. Although life is maintained, it is changed into death, that is, into a life of self-love combined with spiritual death. iii) Finally, through his attempt to acquire 'much goods for many years (Lk. 12:19) so as to feel secure, he undergoes the third estrangement, which completely darkens his intellect and hardens his heart. He is thus given over to vainities and to the folly of idolatry.
'The fall into the whirlpool of these three forms of alienation disposes the conscience of man negatively with regard to God, to his neighbour, and to the world. In his relationship with God, he gives preference to himself. In his relationship with his neighbour, he is led by the passionate desire to dominate, and in his relationship to the material world, he is given over to the frenzy of acquistiveness.
'Monasticism aims to annihilate the above threefold alienation and thus to restore man to a genuine hypostatic form of existence. This aim is realized by the accomplishment of the three corresponding monastic vows: i) obedience; ii) virginity or chastity; iii) poverty. Obedience is of particular importance, because the other two vows draw their power from its natural corollaries. (St. Theodore the Studite, 'Principles' p. 270.) - Archimandrite Zacharias, 'Christ, Our Way and our Life' pp. 132-133

'Concerning Obedience' - Saint Silouan

'Rare are they who know the mystery of obedience. The obedient man is great in the sight of God. He follows in the footsteps of Christ, Who in Himself gave us the pattern of obedience. The Lord loves the obedient soul and affords her His peace, and then all is well and the soul feels love towards all men. - 'Saint Silouan the Athonite' by Archimandrite Sophrony, pg. 420

'On the Will of God and on Freedom'

'How are you to know if you are living according to the will of God?
'Here is a sign: if you are distressed over anything, it means that you have not fully surrendered to God's will, although it may seem to you that you are living according to His will. 'Saint Silouan the Athonite' by Archimandrite Sophrony, pg. 335


After the fall of humankind, which of the three substitues of pseudo-support most undermine humankind now? Which of these defense mechanisms most severely damage each of us in our pursuit for the Life in Christ? In light of the supreme importance of Obedience for all, laity or monastics, which 'support' most undermines us?

#7 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 27 August 2006 - 04:58 AM

Some sayings of Father Sophrony which I pray will be helpful to us all:

'To learn the science of life in Christ, it is not necessary to read dozens or hundreds of books. My spiritual father advised me only to read a pew pages per day. To read for a quarter of an hour; half an hour, but being careful to apply in life what I read.

'What Saint Peter says of the Royal Priesthood can be effectuated by our participation in the Liturgy. Be seriously afraid to attend the Liturgy from mere habit. Make an effort to live more deeply each time what Christ lived during the Last Supper, when He established this great mystery of the eucharistic sacrament. In this way the Liturgy will become salutary not only for you but for all those taking part. It is not only the priests who should live in their heart the sufferings of God for the whole world held fast by sin and death.

'If you seek the will of God with simplicity and humility, God can transform any situation whatsoever, even the most negative. For example, if you obey your spiritual father, if you trust him, you need not be afraid of being badly guided. God will always find the way to reveal the truth to you. To proceed with obedience is to make your heart more sensitive to the way your spirit moves at every moment in your life.

'It does not matter if our spiritual father's insight is imperfect. To the extent that our actions are accomplished in obedience and faith in Christ, God will correct them. What seems wrong will turn out right. On the other hand, what seems to our reason to be perfect will very often be merely the reflection of our sinful will, and God will not be with us.

'The simplest way is to obey, not to give orders. Obedience is the most powerful war against the passions.

'In order to understand the mystery of salvation in Christ, we must travel the path of obedience. And we must do so with great attention. To the extent that a person's spiritual vision is correct, he can have a very high degree of inspiration even while accomplishing the simplest work, such as cooking. On the contrary, without obedience, even if he is a patriarch, a bishop, or a priest, he may perish.

'We bear in us original sin, that poison of the first temptation of Adam ("Ye shall be as God"), but obedience can free us from it.

'Everything depends on our relationship with God. If we have confidence in His providence, we will have the courage to follow the world of our spiritual father. The logic proper to everyday life and to our reason is not enough. God abandons the person who has too much confidence in his own intelligence. It does not matter if a word goes against what we would wish, or if the advice we are given seems to contradict "good sense"; if we are ready to follow it, if we trust our spiritual father, God will in the end always arrange things in a positive way. The mystery of obedience is one of the most cardinal realities on the path of salvation.

'May the Lord preserve you! As for you, keep a correct attitude! Outwardly, nothing is visible; our life is such that nothing particular can be said about it. But inwardly, thanks to obedience, we are in a state of permanent tension. That is what a Christian should be: a high tension "cable" on which a little bird can perch without the least harm, yet through which passes an energy capable of blowing up the whole world. This is how we will gain entry to the eternal kingdom of Christ.

'By the small ascetic effort of obedience, man passes into the eternal Being of God who is without beginning.

'Obedience is necessary for eternal salvation. Prepare your heart and your mind for this effort; keep a positive interior attitude.

"To be in the likeness of God". One cannot attain this except by obedience like that of Christ, of the Holy Virgin, and of all those who have followed in their steps.'

from "Words of Life", Archimandrite Sophrony, pp. 36-38

#8 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 30 August 2006 - 10:30 PM

From Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov):

'The Role of Father-Confessor (from the Notes of a Spiritual Father on Mount Athos)

'Divine Providence - suprisingly, inscrutably - placed me in circumstances which meant that over a long period I was witness to the spiritual life of many an ascetic of the Holy Mountain. (A number of them were disposed to reveal to me matters which they surely did not speak of to other people.) I was deeply moved to come upon God's elect behind their humble appearance. Sometimes they themselves, preserved by God, did not realise the rich blessing that enveloped them. First and foremost it was given to them to preceive their own short-comings - at times to such an extent that they did not presume even to imagine that God dwelt in them, and they in Him. A number of them were led to contemplation of the Uncreated Light without recognizing its spiritual reality, partly because they were little acquainted with the works of the Holy Fathers describing this form of grace. Their ignorance protected them from any possible vainglory. In keeping with the custom for the Orthodox monastic confessor I did not explain what in fact the Lord was bestowing on them. To foster an ascetic's piety one must talk to him in such a way that his heart and mind are humbled - otherwise any further ascent is halted. I remember how Staretz Anatol on Old Russikon exclaimed to the young Silouan, "If you are like this now, what will you be when you are an old man!" (The Monk of Mount Athos, p. 25) In saying this, Anatol for many a year cast Silouan into fiery temptation. True, Silouan emerged victorious but at a bitter price. The power of the vision of God granted to him transcended the dynamism of the assaults of the enemy, and he issued from his exceptional spiritual battle enriched as were only a few in the whole history of the Church, and he left for our instruction his message regarding the difference between ascetic humility and the 'indescribable humility of Christ'. But for him, too the risk of downfall was great, as it is for every Christian, every human in general. Pride is the root of spiritual disaster. Through pride we become like demons. Humble love is natural to God, bringing redemption for them that are fallen away from the Kingdom of the Heavenly Father.

'A confessor must sense the rhythm of the interior world of each and every man who turns to him. With this aim he prays the the Divine Spirit to guide and inspire him to give the necessary counsel to each.

'The work of a spiritual father is both a dread and a fascinating one. Painful but inspiring. He is a 'labourer together with God.' (cf. I Cor. iii: 9) His is fecund work of the highest order, of incomparable honour - creating gods for eternity in the uncreated Light. In all things, of course, Christ is his example. (John xiii:15) Here is Christ's teaching:

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, The son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth; and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel. For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them, even so the Son quickeneth whom he will." (John v: 19-21)

'It is enormously difficult to find the right words in which to communicate spiritual conditions to the listener. It is vital that the confessor himself should have personal experience of, if possible, the whole gamut of spiritual states concerning which he ventures to speak to others. In his 'Counsels to a Spiritual Pastor' St. John of the Ladder says this: 'The spiritual guide is he who has received from God, and through his own ascetic striving, such spiritual strength that he is able to rescue the storm-tossed soul from the very depths...The true teacher is he who has received directly from God the volume of spiritual wisdom traced in the mind by the Divine finger - that is, through the action of enlightenment - and has no need of other tomes...It ill befits teachers to recommend precepts taken from the works of others...If you are going to instruct the lowly, you must first study that which is from on High...For the earthly cannot heal the earthly.' Chapter 1:2 et seq.

'It was this very admonition that was given to me when I embarked on the ascetic struggle of spiritual service. Intrinsically, this envisages the begetting of God's word in the heart through prayer. Thus, when someone told St. Seraphim of Sarov that he had second sight, he replied that it was not so at all but that while he was talking to the penitent he prayed, and the first idea that came into his heart he accepted as coming from God.

'Hearing confessions is awesome work, because if people come to the priest in the hope of clearly learning God's will, and instead of that the priest offers advice of his own, which may not be pleasing to God, he thereby puts the penitents on the wrong track and does harm. St. Seraphim again said that when he spoke his own thoughts, mistakes could occur. And Blessed Staretz Silouan once added in a discussion on the subject that the 'mistakes' might not be fearful but they could be extremely consequential, such as he himself suffered at the beginning of his monastic life.

'Conscious of how far I was from due perfection, I myself prayed the Lord long and painfully not to let me blunder: to keep me in the ways of His real will, to inspire me with the right words for my brethren. And in the course of the confession I would try to keep my mind alert in my heart, in order to detect God's thinking, and often even the words in which to convey it.

'Investigation of the sacred principle of Orthodox tradition in practice is incredibly difficult. People, educated people, cling to a different starting-point - their own understanding. Every word the priest utters is simply that of another human being, and so subject to scrutiny. Blindly to comply with the spiritual father's injunctions would appear absurd to them. - (Bold highlighting, mine)...to be continued.

#9 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 31 August 2006 - 05:31 PM

continuation of Archimandrite Sophrony's 'The Role of Father-Confessor':

'What the spiritual man discerns and accepts is rejected by the pragmatist because the latter lives on a different plane. (cf. I Cor. ii: 10, 13) I myself, when I remember people who are quided by their own impulses and who reject the counsel that the priest has received through prayer, refuse to solicit God to reveal to them His holy and all-perfect will. Thus I do not place them in a situation of conflict with God, merely telling them my own personal opinion, which may be reinforced by reference to the works of the Holy Fathers or the Holy Scriptures. I do not cause them to be impious - I allow them the right, as it were, sinlessly to refuse my advice as being merely that of another man. This, to be sure, is far from what we seek from the sacramemts of the Chrurch.

In these days of mass apostasy from Christianity the priestly function becomes more and more difficult. In his striving to extract people from the hell which their own contradictory passions have created, he constantly finds himself up against the death that has befallen them. The very feeling of time takes on a strange character - now tediously slow, now apparently non-existent, in the absence of any intelligent purpose.

'It is impossible to understand people. Either they are blind and 'know not what they do,' (Luke xxiii: 34) or they suffer from spiritual and mental daltonism. Often they see things in diametrically-opposed lighting, like a photographic negative. Like this, it is impossible for them to discover the actual reality of life, and their condition leaves no room for any word of counsel. They are hostile to any impulse of godly love. Patient humility they consider to be hyprocrisy. Any disposition to help them must spring from petty self-interest. The Christian spirit of not rendering evil for evil (cf. I Thess. v: 15) encourages them almost to insolence and they affront the clergy unwarrantably, attributing designs to them that had never occured to them, mercilessly humiliating them and accusing them of arrogance. Their whole ambiance is ill-suited to the presence of a priest, whom they yet criticize if he declines contact in such circumstances. And so on, and so on.

'I thank God Who opened up this enigma to us. The Lord forewarned us by His teaching, guided by His example. And were it not so, we should fall into utter despair. A bishop wholly devoted to helping the suffering, who rescued many souls from inner and outer catastrophe, once wrote to me: 'I have come to fear love.' (Bold-highlighting, mine)

...to be continued.

#10 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 31 August 2006 - 07:16 PM

continuation of Archimandrite Sophrony's 'The Role of Father-Confessor':

'Some time later on I came to understand what he was saying. He meant that people who we helped by him attached themselves to him, and at first were of assistance to him in his sacred office. But later on, become self-confident and indispensible, they encroached upon his indepenence and made difficulties when he wanted to turn his attention to newcomers. At the time I received his letter I did not understand the dreadful significance of his words, which became clear to me afterwards, when I was serving as a priest in Europe. More than once was I reminded, and still am, of his paradoxical words: 'I have come to fear love.'

'But at the same time there is another aspect to our mission. People relate to a priest in the same way as they do to God - carelessly rejecting Him as superfluous, yet taking for granted that the moment they need Him, they will call on Him, and He will be back. 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'

'In France, having arrived from Greece, I met with the sort of people I had become unfamiliar with during my twenty-two years on the Holy Mountain - especially during the latter period when I was spiritual confessor to several hundred monks representing every aspect of the ascetic life on Mt. Athos. I make no secret of the fact that I was completely disorientated. The psychology of the monks, their patience and stamina, so far excelled all and everything that I encountered in Europe that I simply could not find either words or outward forms for contact. What the monks accept gratefully, in Europe shattered people. Many of them spurned me, considering me abnormally hard-hearted, a distortion, even, of the Gospel spirit of love. And I concluded that the 'norms' of monastic ascetics and those of people of Western culture differed profoundly. There can be no doubt that the most 'abnormal' of all, both for the world of the 'Great Inquisitor' and our own contemporaries, would be Christ. (bold-highlighting, mine)

'Who can hear Christ, or even more follow Him? What monks acquired after decades of weeping, our contemporaries think to receive after a brief interval - sometimes even a few hours of pleasant 'theological' discussion. Christ's words - His every word - came to this world from on High. They belong to a sphere of other dimensions and can be assimilated only by means of prolonged prayer with much weeping. Otherwise, they will continue incomprehensible to man, however 'educated' he be, even theologically. Someone once said to me: 'Weighed down by the incomprehensible, one suffocates.' Yes, we are all, every one of us, stricken when we try our utmost to understand Christ's word. The Lord Himself said: 'Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.' (Matt. xxi: 44)

(As a personal aside, during a certain period, in the 1970's, everytime Father Sophrony saw me, he would take me aside, and ask me, what did I think our Lord meant by this. Needless to say, I grappled with this for a long time.)

'Encountering this constituent of Christ's word, we gradually comprehend that it opens up to us the eternal spheres of the unorignate Spirit. And then everything in us that resists Christ's word, we sense like the presence of death in us. And so, we carry on in a state of profound dichotomy - on the one hand, gratitude like a sweet pain pierces us to the heart; on the other, we feel unbearable shame for ourselves, and are appalled at the remoteness of our goal.

'Both constant striving towards the Light of Christ and determination to endure all the consequences of this striving here on earth are imperative for every Christian. Only then do we reach understanding of the Gospel word - but we cannot observe how this happens because we are concerned with the real presence of God with us which is indescribable.

'In every other sphere of human culture it is possible to observe 'progress' but this is not so in our life. Often the Holy Spirit withdraws from us because of one or another impulse of our heart, or perhaps a thought. But this withdrawal may occur because the Spirit sees us relaxed and content with what we have received or attained, and so retires, in order to show us how far distant we still are from what we ought to be.

'It is not at all easy for a monk to bear the burden of being a confessor. On the one hand it is beneficial for him personally when people think poorly of him, since censure fosters humility. More urgent prayer rises to God from the ailing heart. It is easier for him to cry to God for the salvation of the world, since he himself exists by suffering, like the suffering of the great majority of the inhabitants of the earth. On the other hand, if he is engaged in the work of a spiritual father, every negative word about him instills distrust in him on the part of people in need of exhortations, comfort and support. His sorrow is twofold: for himself as being unworthy of his calling, and then for the harm brought on the whole Church, on all mankind, when the authority of the priest is undermined. Unheeding a spiritual father's injunctions is tantamount to rejecting the word of Christ Himself. ('He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth...him that sent me.' [Luke x: 16]) (bold-highlighting, mine)

(May our Lord protect and guide us!)

#11 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 01 September 2006 - 09:24 PM

continuation of Archimandrite Sophrony's ' 'The Role of Father-Confessor':

'It is vitally important that priests and bishops should have the most genuine mutual respect and deference; that they should stop accusing each other, struggling for supremacy and envying superior talents. Even if one or the other servant of the Church exhibits certain shortcomings (and who is perfect?), it is better to encourage the penitent to have confidence in the priests who are available to them, either georgraphically or for some other reason. The very fact of being trusted will inspire a priest to utter true counsel. (italics, mine) We know from the Lord's own words that unworthy men 'sat in Moses' seat', (cf. Matt. xxiii: 2) yet Christ enjoined the people to observe and do whatsoever they bid, without emulating their way of life or their works.

'Staretz Silouan did not have a settled spiritual father (in the sense of one only - note, mine) during all the years of his monastic life. He turned to whoever was at hand and available at the particular moment. He would pray beforehand that the Lord would be favourable unto him, and through the confessor grant him remission of sins and healing for his soul.

'When I am dealing with the sick my attention concentrates on their spiritual state: whether they know God and do they trust Him? Their sufferings, their pain and even life's catastrophes recede into the background.

'However trifling their cause may seem, a man's woes cannot be ignored. Often - too often even - the source of people's misery lies in their indefatigable pursuit of sinful pleasures. Even in such circumstances the confessor has only one thing in mind - how best to heal this soul that has approached him. The slightest incident may occasion acute pain to the destitute and overburdened, and the priest's prayer is directed to the heart of the suffering. Sympathy for every form of human grief naturally evokes prayer in the confessor's soul. And it is characteristic of the servant of Christ to see this preoccupation with the pleasures of the flesh as the root-cause of all the distress and difficulties of the universive. The sufferings of the whole world accumlate in his heart, and he prays with sorrowful tears for each and every man.

'Contact on the Holy Mountain with the monks who were ill was considerably easier than were encounters with the sick after my return to Europe. Monks are inwardly inclined towards God, and everything is translated on to the spiritual plane, whereas in Europe the psychological stresses prevail - which compels the priest to show interest on that level also, if he is to help people. Sitting at their bedside it would sometimes happen that I entered into their sufferings, in spirit, mentally and even physically, so that my body, too, prayed for them. It did not occur often but there were cases when God heared my prayers and fulfilled my petition.

'It is still not clear to me why less intense prayer on my part might occasionally cause the illness to take a favourable turn, whereas at other times more profound supplication brought no visible improvement.

'I noticed that if in the course of prayer for someone the grief in my heart resolved into peace and joy, that was always a sure sign that my prayer had been heard, and healing granted.

'I did not seek the gift of being able to heal physical illnesses. When praying fo the sick I would commit all things to the will of God, Who knows what each man needs for his salvation. I am not at all convinced that this avoidance on my part of any personal presence caused my prayers to be ineffectual. I had no wish whatever to be a 'miracle-worker' - the idea alarmed me. And yet, contrariwise, so to speak, there were occasions - when prayer bore no fruit and left the believer saddened - when the thought would occur that it is vital for priests to have confirmation from God that He hears their prayers and fulfills their petitions. Upgrowth for help for those who pray for help through a priest would strengthen the faith of many in the Church. Moreover, the Lord Himself prayed to the Father: 'Father...glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee.' (John xvii:1)

(I remember an occasion in the '80's when Fr. Sophrony prayed over me intensely, as my health was in severe decline. The following day, as he entered the trapeza (refectory), he looked at me with alarm on his face. We met later that day, and I inquired as to why he appeared so alarmed and saddened as he entered the trapeza. He said: 'Because God has not heard my prayer - your health has not improved at all.' To which I replied: 'Whatever may be the case regarding my physical health, I feel, since your prayer, such an overwhelming peace throughout my being.' To which Fr. Sophrony replied: 'Then my prayer has been answered, just not in the way I expected.')

'It is more often in prayer for the living that our heart finds grief transformed into joy. But something similiar occurs also with prayer for the dead - even the long ago dead. It is a wonderful experience to meet in spirit with souls long since departed, whom we may not even have known when they were alive. Such contact with the other world occurs particularly in prayer to the saints. But it can happen, too, though not often, in prayer for the departed, whether we knew them or not, that the heart is informed of their condition, be it good or bad. Real unity in the Holy Spirit with the souls of people who died recently or hundreds of years ago testifies to their personal immortality in our God. The encounter of our love with the love of them who are in our mind in the hour of prayer 'imparts unto us some spiritual gift, to the end we may be established.' (cf. Rom i 11-12)

'People like darkness, wherein lies death, and reject the light which is life, both temporal and eternal. If the priest has a heart that loves God's people, his soul is filled with compassion when he finds it impossible to communicate to them the light which is life. I have more than once dwelt on the strange aspect of spiritual service. And this is natural since it accompanies the confessor during the whole time of his mission. 'Death worketh in us, but life in you,' wrote St. Paul to the Corinthians. (II Cor. iv:12) Nor is this all: because they carry the light of life many people detest the servants of Christ, as before they hated the Lord Himself: 'If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you...Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep your's also.' (John xv: 18, 20)

...to be continued.

#12 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 14 September 2006 - 07:12 PM

continuation of Archimandrite Sophrony's 'The Role of Father-Confessor':

'The same commandments have been given to every one of us, from which we may conclude that all men are equal in the sight of the Lord. Ascent to the top rung, to 'the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ,' (Ep. iv: 13) is barred to none. (Italics - mine) In the coming age the hierarchy of this world, both ecclesiastical and social, may find themselves overturned: God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and ...the weak things of the world to confound the things which are depised...and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are.' (I Cor. i:27, 28; I Cor. xv: 24-28)

'...Shifts from one state to another - often from acute suffering to profound joy, from despair to contemplation and inspired hope, from prolonged weeping to sweet peace and so on- are natural to one who prays long and fervently. Much and persistent prayer, together with abstinence in all things, refines perception - the soul becomes like the most sensitive hearing-aid, instantly reacting to the faintest sound, even to an inaudible stirring in the air. And when our spirit has hundreds of times repeated the same cycle of rise and fall, the soul assimilates both states that she continually lives both heaven and hell within her. This may seem paradoxical to many but in fact it is an indication of increasing love - an approaching to likeness to Christ. Here is St. Paul writing of himself: 'Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?' (II Cor. xi: 29) And he bade the Romans: 'Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.' (Rom. xii. 15) According to the pastoral principle of the Fathers - one must not urge one's flock to try for what one has not achieved oneself. I do not think that St. Paul in this respect was less strict than the Fathers. Approach to the confessor of souls in trouble cannot be regimented or arbitrarily organized. It is impossible to appoint set hours - one time for hearing people in trouble and another for those who feel joyous. This means that every pastor must at all times be ready to weep with them that weep and rejoice with the joyous...to despond with them that are in despair and restore to faith those that have gone astray. But here, too, as all through our life, the Lord Himself is our paramount model. We see from the Gospels and especially from His last days and hours how He lived at one and the same time the fulness - unattainable for us - both of suffering and of triumphant victory: both death and Divine glory. 'Ye know that after two days is the feast of the Passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified' (Matt. xxvi. 2)...'I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day, when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.' (Matt. xxvi: 29)...'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' (Matt. xxviii: 46) 'Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise' (Luke xxiii: 43)...'and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground' (Luke xx: 44)...'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do' (Luke xxiii: 34)...'My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death.' (Matt. xxvi: 38) 'Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.' (Mark xiv 61-62)

'And if we really do Christ's bidding, all that He went through will be repeated in us, be it to a lesser degree. The intensity of Christ's sufferings cannot be gauged. Entering into them makes it possible for us to know the eminence of Divine providence for us and achieve the perfection of love. After death our sufferings will cease to be fatal, as may happen with us in our worldly state: they will no longer be able to injure our new life, so abundantly granted to us, our inheritance that cannot be taken away. The spirit of man retains the capacity to suffer with all who are deprived of Divine glory - genuinely suffer - but this will be merely one of the many different manifestations of all-embracing love - death has no power over those who are redeemed in Christ. Here on earth spiritual torment sometimes drives us to the threshold of death; but often in answer to prayer strength abundant descends on us and restores what has been destroyed - sometimes even intensifying the life energy in us. If we were even to a tiny degree capable of entering into the Mother of God's measureless grief as she stood by the cross, it would be clear to us that without help from on High the earthly body, could not bear such suffering. But the love of the Holy Spirit, abiding with her since the day of the Annunciation, prevailed over deathly pain - she stayed alive, and saw her Risen Son taken up to heaven, and from the Father sending down the Holy Spirit on the Church born in His blood.

#13 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 15 September 2006 - 06:11 PM

continuation of Archimandrite Sophrony's 'The Role of Father Confessor':

'...Saint Isaac of Syria makes a fearful statement, difficult to understand and painful to grasp: "Do not liken them that work signs and wonders and powerful deeds in the world with them that elect to fast and pray in the desert. Prefer inner stillness rather than feeding the hungry in the world, and the conversion of many peoples to the worship of God." (Bold highlighting - mine)

'Prefer the apparent inaction of inner silence to feeding the hungry? (italics - mine) There are two kinds of hunger - physical and spiritual. '...Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it. In that day shall the fair virgins and young men faint for thirst. They that swear by the sin of Samaria, and say, Thy god, O Dan, liveth; and, The manner of Beer-sheba liveth; even they shall fall, and never rise up again.' (Amos viii: 11-14) Now in our day we see dismay everywhere, and increasing despair. More books are published than ever before but, alas, most of them are syncretic, attempting to conjoin heterogeneous elements into a single whole - elements in their very core contradictory and in practice incompatible. Thus our ever-increasing confusion. St. Issac of Syria believed repentance and the silence of the anchorite to be a surer way to knowledge of God and life in Him. And it is just this - now so rare in the world - that for him was the most important thing of all. The loss of true knowledge of God - given to us by Christ and the Holy Spirit - would damage the whole world irreparably.

'...Not long before his demise Staretz Silouan quite unexpectedly said to me, 'When you become a spiritual confessor, do not refuse those who turn to you'. At that time I felt physically on my last legs, exhausted by malaria, a mild form of which harassed me throughout those years. I did not know how long I had to live, and so did not pay much attention to the Staretz' words. He does not realize, I thought, how ill I am. And indeed, his behest did not stay long in my mind.

'I remembered it four or five years later when, likewise unexpectedly, I was asked by Higoumen (Abbot - note, mine) Archimandrite Seraphim to be confessor to their Monastery of St. Paul. Naturally, obedient to Staretz Silouan I made no objection and agreed to go to them on the day appointed.

'The ascetic task of being a spiritual confessor radically altered my life - not making it more profound but causing me to lose grace. (italics - mine) The integrality of my former strivings was infringed. Focussing attention on what was said to me in confession interrupted my concentration on my inner being. I knew that there, within, was the beginning and there the end and the crowning. Thence the departure and thither the return. Without concentrated prayer from the heart, beseeching God all the time for His word and blessing, the office of the spiritual confessor is in vain. Without constant enlightenment from on High even the Church would become another of the half-blind powers of this world, the conflicts between which bring destruction to the life of the universe. Wherein lies the task of the spiritual confessor? Painstaking concern for every individual, to help him enter the sphere of Christ's peace; to assist in people's inner rebirth and transfiguration through the grace of the Holy Spirit; to give courage to the faint-hearted to strive to live according to the Lord's commandments. In short, the spiritual education of each and everyone. A Serbian bishop (Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich) wrote admirably on this theme: What or whose image is being created in our contemporary schools? Which of these schools knows that man was made in the image of God without beginning? And He appeared on earth and was revealed to man; and now we know that true education consists in restoring to the descendents of Adam the image of Christ that was destroyed in the fall.

'The spiritual confessor is bound by his calling always to pray for people close and far away. In this prayer he is plunged into a life novel for him. In praying for those in despair over the insuperable difficulties of the stuggle for existence, he worries and feels anxiety for them. Praying for the sick, he senses their fear in the face of death. Praying for those in hell (the hell of the passions), he himself experiences that infernal state. All of this he lives inside himself, as his own torment. But in reality it is not he himself - he merely takes on the burdens of other people. In the first instant he does not understand what is happening - why is it that again and even more than before he is attacked by passions, many of which he did not know in the past? (italics - mine) Only later does he discover that he has been brought into other people's battle for life; that his prayer has met with the spiritual reality of those for whom he prays to God. He is overwhelmed by the breath of death that strikes the human race. Both his personal and liturgical prayer takes on cosmic dimensions. The struggle for the life of those entrusted to him by Providence is sometimes of short duration - a few words from the heart to the God of love. But it can continue for a long time. Though he surrenders his own life, the spiritual confessor is still not entirely free from the passions. He prays for others as for himself, since their life has now merged with his. He repents for himself and for them. He prays for remission of sins for all of us. His repentance becomes repentance for the whole world, for all mankind. In this impulse of his spirit there is a likeness to Christ, Who took upon Himself the sins of the world. It is a difficult prayer - one never sees the sought-for outcome. The world on the whole spurns it. (italics -mine)

to be continued...

#14 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 18 September 2006 - 07:43 PM

continuation of Archimandrite Sophrony's 'The Role of Father Confessor':

'In praying for people one's heart often senses their spiritual or emotional state. Because of this the spiritual father can experience their psychological state - contentment and happiness in love, exhaustion from over-work, fear of approaching hardship, the terror of despair, and so on. Remembering the sick before the Lord, in spirit he bends over the beds of millions of people at any moment looking into the face of death, and suffering agonies. Turning his attention to the dying, the priest naturally enters mentally into the other world, and participates either in the soul's tranquil going to God or her apprehension of the unknown which shocks the imagination prior to the actual moment of departure from this world. And if standing at the bedside of only one person dying in agony affords us a vision shattering in its contrast to our conception of the first-created man, the thought of all the suffering of earth is more than our psyche, even our body can endure. For the priest-confessor this is a crucial threshold - what must he do? Shut his eyes on it all, obedient to the instinct for self-preservation natural to all of us? Or continue further? Without the preliminary ascetic effort of profound repentance, the gift from on High, this 'continuing' is beyond man. In actual fact it is already a question of following Christ to the Garden of Gethsemane and on to Golgotha, in order to live with Him, by His strength, the tragedy of the world as one's own personal tragedy; of, outside time and beyond space, embracing in spirit with compassionate love, our whole human race bogged down in insoluble conflicts. The fact that we have forgotten, even rejected, our primordial calling lies at the heart of the universal tragedy. The all-destroying passion of pride can only be overcome by total repentance, through which the blessing of Christ-like humility descends on man, making us children of the Heavenly Father.

'Not only our psycho-physical make-up refuses to enter into Christ's world-redeeming prayer and sacrifice of love - our spirit, too, quails before this reality, and our mind lacks the strength to rise 'up there', to the highest, spiritually, of all other mountains, where the Lord surrendered Himself into the hands of the Father. "With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible." (Mark x: 27) Rising 'thither' occurs without any preliminary idea concerning this event. The soul is lifted up, naturally, as it were, in her prayer of repentance for her sins, for her fall, which unites her through this state with all the preceding centuries of the history of mankind. And this happens suddenly, unexpectedly, unwittingly. In intense weeping over herself the soul, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, is led existentially into the essence of our sinning, into its metaphyical dimensions, as the fall from blessed, imperishable life in the Light proceeding from the Countenance of the Father of all. This is not philosophical contemplation, nor intellectual theologizing - it is a fact of our being: in the fall of Adam mankind spurned God. The really dreadful thing is that in our blindness we do not see our sin. Its nature begins to be revealed to us through faith in Christ-God.

"Jesus said, I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come...Ye are from beneath; I am from above; ye are of this world; I am not of this world. I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he [that was revealed to Moses on Sinai], ye shall die in your sins. Then they said unto him. Who art thou? And Jesus saith unto them, Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning." (John viii: 21-25)

'Thus we see that our personal sin is the sin of all mankind. And the priestly prayer for forgiveness of sins for the world is repentance for all mankind. Everyone who truly repents of his offences against the Father's love, by the power of this same God is borne into this sphere that is mysterious for us now. I am an insignificant being but I belong to the great body of mankind, and cannot detach myself from it. My sin - I at first live it as only my sin. But later on it becomes clear to me that it is that selfsame sin described in the Bible, in the Book of Genesis. (Ch. iii) I am of no account but what is taking place inside me is not insignigicant - not worthless in the eyes of Him Who created me. Did He not 'empty' Himself to the utmost, give Himself over to humiliation that passes our understanding? This He did whilst in His nature continuing to be the infinitely great God. And He did so in order to save us.

'For many a long year now I have been trying to persuade those who turn to me to apprehend the trials that befall them not only within the bounds of their individual existence but also as a revelation of how mankind lives and has lived it its millennium existence. Every experience, be it of joy, be it of pain, can bring us new knowledge vital for our salvation. When in ourselves we live the whole human world, all the history of mankind, we break out of the locked circle of our own 'individuality' and enter into the wide expanses of 'hypostatic' forms of being, conquering death and participating in divine infinity.

'This amazing itinerary is unknown to all except the Christian. At first departure from the narrow prison of the individual can seem paradoxical: we ourselves feel crushed by our own sufferings - where shall we find the strength of spirit to embrace in compassion all the millions of people who at any given moment are suffering like us, and surely even more than we are? If we feel joyful, we can manage it better somehow but when we cannot cope with our own pain, sympathy for the multitudes only increases our already unbearable torment. Nevertheless, try this, and you will see how with the profound weeping of prayer for all suffering humanity energy will appear, of another order, not of this world. This new form of compassion, coming down from on High, differs from the first impulse shut tight inside oneself, in that now, instead of destroying, it quickens us. The horizons of our own individual life are immeasurably widened, and many passages in the Gospels and the Epistles we can interpret as applicable to our own case - even what we might remark outside ourselves. For instance, "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceful fruit of righteousness." (Heb. xii: 11) Or, "...Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God..." (Heb. xii: 2) By opening ourselves to greater suffering in spirit, we surrmount our individual ordeal. Especially will it be like this at the end: death overcomes death, and the power of Resurrection prevails.

to be continued...

#15 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 19 September 2006 - 08:37 PM

continuation of Archimandrite Sophrony's 'The Role of Father Confessor':

'It is vital that we should all pray long and hard; that through years and years of fervent prayer - prayer of contrition, particularly - our fallen nature may be so transformed that it can assimilate the Unoriginate Truth made manifest to us. And this, before we depart from this world. Christ - Who showed us this Truth to us in our flesh - draws us to Himself and calls us to follow after Him. Our eternal abiding with Him in the unshakeable Kingdom depends on our response to His summons. The measureless grandeur of the task set before us inspires heart and mind with fear - the fear of love, since we may prove utterly unworthy of God. Fear because we are confronted with the painful ascetic effort - the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence . (Matt. xi: 12) The battle is indescripable. "Outer darkness" (cf: Matt. viii: 12; xiii: 41-43) threatens those who are mastered by pride or base passions. On the other hand, "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith." (Rev. iii: 21-22.)

'We are faced with a mighty battle but an especial, holy battle, not like the fratricidal wars that crowd the history of our world ever since Cain killed his brother Abel. Our common and only real enemy is our mortality. We must grapple painfully with the death that prevades all things, first and foremost ourselves. The Lord's gospel belongs to another, higher, celestial plane, where everything is "not after man, and not of man." (cf. Gal i: 11-12). It would be criminal to belittle its eternal dimensions - that would cancel its power of attraction and even meaning for people. Of course, Christ's commandments, "Love your enemies...Be ye perfect, even as you Father which is in heaven is perfect" surpass our mind and our strength. But Christ in our flesh manifested this perfection: "He overcame the world." Which means victory can be given to us, too, when we are with Him. Speaking of His word, Christ said, "The seed is the word of God." (Luke viii: 11) May it be in us as seed not of this world. After death, having fallen in compatible soil, it will produce imperisable fruit.'

'The Role of Father-Confessor [from the Notes of a Spiritual Father on Mt. Athos], pgs: 87-118, "On Prayer" by Archimandrite Sophrony

#16 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 19 September 2006 - 10:50 PM

I would like now to return to Archimandrite Zacharias' exposition on 'Monasticism and Spiritual Fatherhood':

i) The vow of obedience

'Obedience is the first condition for monastic life; without it, monastic life has no solid basis. Obedience is cultivated by a human ascetic effort, but also, and primarily, it develops as a gift of God. ('Unless the Lord Himself instruct him in the way of obedience the novice can learn nothing of man.' St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, quoted in Principles, p. 274.) According to Fr. Sophrony, obedience is a 'sacred mystery', in two senses: it is a 'secret' revealed only by the Energy of the Holy Spirit, and it is a sacrament of the Church. The life into which it elevates man is indescribable and incomprehensibe. (Principles, p.270)

'It is Christ who first gave us the model and example of perfect obedience. He came into the world "in the Father's name" and not "in His own name" (John 5:43), which would have betrayed a luciferic tendency to self-divinization. (On Prayer, p. 155) He taught us that His Father's commandment is eternal life (John 12:50). He voluntarily (cf. Heb. 10:7; John 5:30) accepted this commandment and fulfilled it without sin (cf. John 14:30-31), as we learn from Scriptures. As only-begotten Son He was unceasingly and constantly the bearer of the good pleasure of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, in order to save us He demonstrated perfect and exact compliance to the will of His Father, obeying unto death and accepting the shame of the Cross (cf. Phil. 2:8; Heb. 12:2). But the righteous God did not let His holy Child Jesus "see corruption" (Acts 2:27). He raised Him and exalted Him to be a Prince and Saviour of the world (Acts 3:15; 5:31; Heb. 2:10). By His obedience Christ, the New Adam, initiated a new law of life and became the healthy root of the "new humanity" (cf. Eph. 2:15, 4:24).

'When the monk fulfils his obedience, he is imitating Christ. He sets himself on the path of the Lord's will. Only a psychologically healthy soul can undertake obedience. Psychological health is demonstrated by the monk's awareness that he himself is unfit for immediate knowledge of the great and perfect will of God. He follows the wise exhortation of the Scriptures: "Ask thy father and he will show thee; thine elders and they will tell thee" (Deut. 32:7). He holds to the general rule of monastic ascesis: 'Do not trust in yourself.' He thus has recourse to his spiritual father, confident that to him has been given to know God's will more clearly. (Principles, p. 275) In this way, he recognises that the true God is the God of his father (cf. Gen. 31:5 et al.; Ex. 18:4) as well as the God of our Fathers, and he over-comes the disorder of "doubleminded" (Jas. 1:8) fallen man, who cannot discover a sure path of life. Having this humble predisposition the monk becomes fit enough to put his hand to the salutary plough of obedience (cf. Lk. 9:62).

'When the monk seeks the will of God with the disposition of a lowly disciple, he is prepared to accept the 'first word' (Saint Silouan, pp. 85-86) of his spiritual father as coming from the mouth of the Lord, in whose name, likewise, he had asked advice.

Since this 'first word' is so integral to discerning the will of God let us turn to the pages of the book 'Saint Silouan' quoted above. (bolding and underlining - mine)

'Discerning the Divine will and submission to the Divine will are bound up in the closest possible way with the question of obedience, to which the Staretz attributed the utmost importance, not only for monks and Christians individually but in the life of the whole body of the Church, in her fulness (pleroma).

'...He (Staretz Silouan) would pay quite exceptional attention to inner spiritual obedience to his Higoumen and spiritual father, considering this like a Church Sacrament, like a gift of grace. When he turned to his spiritual father he would pray that the Lord through His servant might have mercy on him, reveal to him His will and the way to salvation. And knowing that the first thought (italics - mine) that comes to the soul after prayer is a sign from on high, he would seize on his confessor's first words, his first intimation, and go no further. In this lies wisdom and the secret of true obedience (bold-highlighting - mine), the purpose of which is to know and fulfil God's will, and not man's. Spiritual obedience of this kind, with no objections, no resistance, expressed or unexpressed, is the sine qua non for receiving living tradition.

'Living tradition, flowing down the centuries from generation to generation, is one of the most vital and at the same time subtle aspects of the Church's life. Where he meets with no opposition the preceptor in response to faith and humility finds it easy to open up his soul, maybe fully. But the instant the spiritual father encounters resistance, however slight, the thread of pure tradition is broken (bold-highlight - mine) and the preceptor's soul closes up.

'Many people make the mistake of looking upon a spiritual guide as just an ordinary man like themselves, having like failings. (They think they must 'explain all the circumstances to him, otherwise he won't understand'. He may easily 'get it wrong' and must therefore be 'put on the right track'.)

'But those who contradict and correct their spiritual father place themselves above him and are no longer disciples. True, nobody is perfect, and there is no man alive who would venture to teach like Christ, "as one having authority" (Matt. vii:29), for teaching is "not of man" and "not after man" (Gal. i:11-12) but the potter's clay encompasses the priceless treasure of the gifts of the Holy Spirit - not only priceless but by their very nature not to be made known, and only he who pursues the path of true and absolute obedience can penetrate into this secret storehouse.

'The prudent novice or penitent approaches his confessor in this wise - briefly he mentions the thoughts that trouble him, or explains the essentials of his condition, and then leaves the confessor free. The latter, in prayer from the very outset, awaits enlightenment from God, and then if he feels inspired pronounces his judgement, which must be the end of the matter, because if the confessor's 'first word' is let slip, the efficacy of the sacrament is sapped and confession can become an ordinary exchange of opinions.

'...In the vast sea which is the life of the Church the true tradition of the Spirit flows like a thin pure stream, and he who would be in this stream must renounce argument. When anything of self is introduced the waters no longer run clear, for God's supreme wisdom and truth are the opposite of human wisdom and truth. Such renunciation appears intolerable, insane even, to the self-willed, but the man who is not afraid to "become a fool" (cf. I Cor. iii:18-19) has found true life and true wisdom. (bold-highlighting - mine)

continuing Archimandrite Zacharias:

'He gradually obtains knowledge of the divine will and becomes capable of discerning the machinations of the enemy (2 Cor. 2:11). This discernment is necessary if he is to refute every delusory suggestion, because the will of God in this world is manifested in the same relative outward forms in which the natural human will and the demonic will present themselves to the human mind. (Principles, p. 273)

to be continued...

(note: I failed to mention that 'Principles' is the shortened form of 'Principles of Orthodox Monasticism' in 'The Orthodox Ethos ' ed. Philippou (Oxford: Holywell Press, 1964). I apologize for any confusion.

#17 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 21 September 2006 - 08:33 PM

Today I received an e-mail from a good friend in England, who is also a member of Monachos. It was an excerpt from another Orthodox chat group, which basically summed up spiritual fathers as 'simple, old men who could not be relied upon'.

If there is anything that I have tried to bring to light in the above passages, it is that the wisdom of Spiritual Fathers and Mothers is absolutely dependent on the humility of the Spiritual Child: 'the thread of pure tradition is broken' at the very moment that we question or analyze.

God-willing, I will try now to continue with Archimandrite Zacharias' on 'Monasticism and Spiritual Fatherhood'

'It is worth emphasizing at this point that obedience, like every other Christian virtue, must be a free and voluntary act in order to have eternal value before God. Obedience means free denial of a man's will and opinion, a giving over of his logical judgement to the authority of another person - his Superior, his Elder, his father confessor. Not withstanding man's creation as a free being in God's image, when sin intervened in his life his will was distorted and his intellect was darkened. Instead of desiring to think on things Above, he wants to set his mind on things here below. He is attached to objects and values of this world, which are 'unprofitable' (Heb. 13:17) for his soul.

'The free will of man, together with his reason, are the most precious of his natural gifts, (Principles, p.273) and when obedience is at work, it offers both of these as the most pleasing sacrifice to God. Then the monk receives as recompense from God the supernatural gift of the knowledge of the good and perfect divine will. By the free exercise of obedience, the monk makes himself a servant after the example of the Son of God, and for this voluntary enslavement he is given the freedom of the children of God. The schooling of obedience aims at introducing man into the life-giving and saving will of God. (Principles, 272; cf. Ps. 30:5 (LXX) 'Life is in His Will.' see also Rom. 12.2) This initiation makes him like Christ (We Shall See Him, p. 41) and leads him to the perfection of Christian life, to the acquistion of the Holy Spirit. (Principles, pp. 271-272)

'When the monk accepts the word or the decision of his spiritual father, he learns to accept within him the life and will, firstly of God, and then of his brethern. By this means, the shell of his isolated individuality is shattered, and his being is expanded. He is perfected in love and he finds harmony and perfection in his relationships towards God and his brethren. (Op. cit., pp. 272-273)

'At first, he has to struggle to bear within himself the will of his confessor and his fellow monks. However, as he progresses in knowledge of the divine will, his hypostasis becomes enlarged, and he contains the life of the entire world, which he embraces in his prayer. His little 'individual' will is denied. He puts aside his broken earthly reasoning and receives as a gift the wisdom and the divine universality of Christ. This aspect of obedience qualifies it to be considered a sacrament of the Church, for it fashions hypostases who are truly universal. The spiritual father becomes a 'labourer together with God' (1 Cor. 3:9) in the sacred and never-ending task of creating gods 'for eternity in the uncreated Light'. (On Prayer, p. 88. See also Principles, pp. 272-275)

'By the practice of obedience, the monk crucifies his intellect and his will, and thus removes from his life the 'supports' and the 'security' by means of which he had previously hoped to oppose death. By obedience accomplished in God's name, he concentrates his spirit on the advice or commandment given him, and thus, freed from every care over transient matters, he directs his mind uninterruptedly to prayer. Because he is not relying on himself, he places all his trust in God 'who raises the dead' (2 Cor. 1:9). He is freed from bondage to all created things, and attains to purity of intellect. (Principles, p. 271)

'Purity of intellect is the most precious fruit of obedience. This purity is also a necessary precondition for pure prayer, which re-establishes the primordial living communion of the creature with the Creator, and brings his person face to Face before the unoriginate God.

to be continued...

#18 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 26 September 2006 - 06:18 PM

I would like to continue with Archimandrite Zacharias and his exposition on monasticism and spiritual fatherhood in the light of the teaching of Archimandrite Sophrony.

I would also like to ask the prayers of the Community as my health continues to be a major obstacle and many days pass in which I am able to accomplish very little.

continuing: 'The vow of obedience

'From the above it is clear that obedience is radically different from discipline, and surpasses it as heaven surpasses earth. Discipline means submission to a superior human will, for the sake of earthly benefit. Discipline subjects man in an impersonal way to a 'rule', to the 'Law', the 'Typicon', the 'Institution', the 'Administration'. Discipline favours the general over the particular, or the majority over the individual. In contrast, obedience is a free act of faith in God and is always accomplished in His name. (Principles, p.274)

'The most perfect form of obedience, which bestows on man the fulness of the hypostatic principle, is seen, as Fr. Sophrony observes, when his spirit is led by the the 'greater love' of Christ. Then a man attains to the grace of theology as a spiritual state and becomes a receiver of revelations. This obedience fulfils all the commandments and becomes the means whereby the Church's living tradition is assimilated. (Saint Silouan, p. 85)

'By cutting off his own will and denying his own reasonings the monk does not lose his personality, nor does he come to self-annihilation, (Principles, pp. 270-271) as it seems to people in the world. On the contrary, he rises above the limits of his created nature and becomes manifestly a true person-hypostasis. He becomes the bearer of divine life, and a bearer of humanity in its entirety.

'The vow of virginity or chastity

'Virginity or chastity constitutes the second vow of monasticism. The dogmatic basis for this is the life of Christ, who is indeed the prototype for the monk's ascetic effort. In its highest form, virginity is spiritual, requiring the fullest possible following of the first commandment of love for God, and purity of the intellect. For this reason, the state of spiritual virginity presupposes obedience and is unattainable without it. (Op. cit., p. 271)

'Christ was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. His birth did not involve sensual pleasure, which, according to the ancient law of life after the Fall, is followed by a just sentence of death. Neither did Christ ever base His conduct on kinship 'according to the flesh'; rather, He was consumed by zeal for His Father's House. He offered up the bonds of physical kinship in sacrifice for the sake of His heavenly patrimony.

'The monk, following Christ's example of unwavering obedience, attains to humility, and attracts the grace of God, which purifies the intellect. This purification is a necessary precondition of spiritual virginity, as is indicated by Christ's word about 'adultery in the heart' (Matt. 5:28). Furthermore, grace brings the sweetness of love for Christ. These two effects of grace, the purification of the intellect and the sweetness of love for Christ, instil in the monk's spirit the exigency to strive for spiritual virginity.

'In no sense do these sweetening effects of grace descend to the level of fleshly satisfactions or pleasures. Rather, they inspire unmitigated temperance, and they distance the monk's soul as if instinctively from every thought or act that does not conform to divine love. (Op. cit., p.281)

'They bring forth an unrestrained attraction towards God and an unquenchable thirst for Him. (Ibid) Then the monk desires to respond to the Lord's love by gratitude. Just as Christ lived His earthly life in virginity, so the monk too follows His example and emulates Him (John 13:15). He breaks every natural bond, and freed from every care, seeks only the presence of the loving God.

'According to the great Apostle Paul, our first concern in this life is to please the Lord perfectly. This goal is feasible for the monk who is without earthly cares and has 'presented his body as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God' (cf. Rom. 12.1). Living in this way the monk is not reconciled to the law of corruption and death, which came into the world through the pleasure originating in disobedience. He transforms every energy into a spiritual force, so as to keep his spirit in constant association with the Spirit of God. A life of spiritual virginity is an exalted art and culture, whose fundamental value lies in the 'guarding of the intellect'. The most important rule in this contest is not to surrender the mind to passionate thoughts or images. (Op. cit., p. 281)

'The presence of the living God gradually dissolves the 'garments of skin' and vouchsafes the monk to be born anew into the kingdom that cannot be moved, where dwell 'the spirits made perfect', that is, the spirits that have become 'hypostatic' (cf. Heb. 12:23). The divine presence destroys the fraudulent security of fleshly kinship, and halts death in the monk's person. By steadfastly remaining in the presence of God, the monk is imbued with eternal life, and he becomes a temple of the Godhead.

to be continued by 'The vow of poverty'...

#19 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 26 September 2006 - 07:43 PM

continuing Archimandrite Zacharias:

'The vow of poverty

'The third condition of monastic life is 'non-acquisitiveness'. This is a natural consequence of observing obedience and chastity.

'During His earthly life Christ denied Himself any security from material things. He had 'nowhere to lay His head' (Matt. 8:20, Lk. 9:58); He taught people by deeds and words to 'seek first the kingdom of heaven' (Matt. 6:33) and to 'have no anxiety for the morrow' (Matt. 6:34). He pointed out to us that where our heart is, there our treasure is also (cf. Matt. 6:21).

'Monastic poverty derives its power from obedience. Practising obedience, the monk is trained to disregard, for the sake of pleasing God, both his own soul and body and anything else in his life that is precious to him. In this way, his spirit is liberated from the very desire for material possessions. (Principles, pp. 271, 283) He attains spiritual poverty, that is, he is freed from making any 'provision for the flesh' (Rom. 13:14), and the kingdom of heaven becomes his sole desire. He is thus healed of the alienation brought about by greed for possessions, and he vanquishes the temptation of its sham security. He becomes 'rich towards God' (Lk. 12:21), and keeps his soul 'unto life eternal' (John 12:25). He becomes one who 'having nothing, yet possesses all things' (cf. 2 Cor. 6:10).

'The observance of these three vows, together with the fourth vow of stability, has as its aim the attainment of pure prayer and perfect likeness to Christ, the Son of God. (Op. cit., p. 282) Monasticism offers man the possibility of emulating Christ in humility, in crucifixion, without being destroyed.

'All Christ's disciples, led by the Spirit of God, make their way downward, towards the apex of the upturned pyramid, in order to be united with Him. (Saint Silouan, pp. 237-239) The more deeply a monk goes downward by the practice of obedience and repentance, the higher he ascends, by the grace of Christ who exemplified this path. Monasticism is thus pre-eminently a spiritual gift of humility, which is cultivated in particular by the ascetic effort of obedience. The monk submits to 'every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake' (1 Pet. 2:13), and, united with the head of the inverted pyramid, he receives the gift of sharing the same state as that of Christ. That is, he takes within himself the whole human race and prays for it. This grace, the gift of a man's 'dilation' to the point of infinity, is the prize of the monastic vocation for those who fulfil it with exactitude. It transforms man into a true hypostasis like that of the New Adam, Christ.

'This path could seem to be self-centred. Such a claim is in a certain sense justified. At first man is in need of healing. He recognizes that Christ the Physician cannot be the 'minister of sin' (Gal. 2:17); it is he who must be conformed to the Lord and not the other way round. He also knows that He commanded: 'Do not give what is holy to dogs' (Mat. 7:6). But when he struggles legitimately and persuades God that he is not a 'dog', God then accepts him as His son and entrusts him with His 'holy things', that is, with all the riches of His eternal life. Christ condescends, and through that man operates His ministry to the world in the work of salvation. This is the most precious service offered by the monk to the world.

'The monk does not have a specific, liturgical priesthood. But through his humble life of repentance, he becomes the priest of his own salvation, and through his prayer for the world he becomes a partaker in the royal priesthood of Christ, the Saviour of the whole Adam.

'The forms of alienation, or pseudo-supports, creatd by the Fall of Adam became laws that determine how people relate to each other. They are recognized in terms of morality and even considered valuable in people's eyes. Even so, it is obvious that they do not witness to anything except love for this world and for the flesh. Scripture says that this love is 'enmity' towards God (Rom. 8:7, Jas. 4:4), and its tenets are an abomination in the sight of God (cf. Lk. 16:15). It is therefore easy to understand why the foundations of the earth are shaken when someone shows monastic leanings. He comes into collision with the ethos, the principles, and the ideologies that govern this world on a cosmic scale. But when, with the grace of God, he makes the leap of faith and follows the Lord on the road of monasticism, he too, like Christ, overcomes the world. The unutterable gifts of the Holy Spirit make him supra-cosmic, and declare him an immortal hypostasis who can share divine life in the bosom of the Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

to be continued with: 'Spiritual fatherhood as a ministry of reconciliation between man and God'

#20 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 10 October 2006 - 06:39 PM

Despite my health I hope to continue with Archimandrite Zacharias' exposition of Archimandrite Sophrony's theology, in particular regarding Spiritual fatherhood.

'Spiritual fatherhood as a ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18) between man and God

'In Archimandrite Sophrony's ascetic theology and practice, spiritual fatherhood is linked with the mystery of the word of God, which is begotten in the heart of man through prayer. (On Prayer, p. 89) The prophet Isaiah says that when a word 'proceeds from the mouth of God', it does not find rest or return void unless it has first accomplished its work (cf. Is. 55:11). He also says that it is a fiery coal, which purifies and sanctifies those it touches (cf. Is. 6:7). Such prophetic ministry of the word of God is the service of the spiritual fathers of Christ's Church. Spiritual fathers are those who, with fear of God, remain 'unwavering in the pre-eternal current of the will of God' (From a Prayer for Spiritual Fathers - English translation not yet published) and are vouchsafed to hear the 'still, small voice' of Christ and to obey it with humility and discernment, overmastering their own 'psychological' inclination whether or not this coincides with what Christ inspires. They become bearers of the word of God, and they transmit it 'for the edification' of the people, and 'minister grace unto the hearts of the hearers' (cf. Eph. 4:29). This living word accomplishes the spiritual regeneration of the faithful.

'Christ was announced prophetically in the Old Testament as 'the Father of the world to come' (Is. 9:6). By His ineffable 'generation' (Is. 53:8) He came and 'spoke to us' the creative and life-giving 'words' of His Father. (cf. Jn. 6:63: "The words which I speak unto you are spirit and life.") Even more: 'He was led as a sheep to the slaughter' (Is. 53:7, Acts 8:32), and in His blood He 'purified unto Himself' a new 'peculiar people' (Tit. 2:14) The dread dispensation of His humble descent below all the creation, and His ascent 'above the heavens' (Eph. 4:10), has 'filled all things' with the deifying power of His presence. Nothing in the created world remained 'not manifest in His sight' (cf. Heb. 4:13). His living word sowed an 'incorruptible seed' (1 Peter. 1:23) and by the grace of His Spirit He gave to man the gift of adoption as sons; that is, He begot the Church and made the faithful into children of the resurrection and 'a kind of first fruits of His creatures' (Jas. 1:18). The completion of His way and His works set forth Christ as head and father of a new race, which 'awaits' Him (cf. Phil. 3:20) as 'Saviour of all men, especially those that believe' (1 Tim. 4:10).

'To redress the injustice of inequality, which infiltrated human life after the Fall, Christ overturned the pyramid of human authority and placed Himself as the head of the now inverted pyramid. He bore the sin and the infirmity of the whole world and restored true justice as an inalienable claim for the spirit and consciousness of man. He attributes equal value to each of us, giving to everyone the same commandments and His own unique example, which denies to no-one the 'ascent to the top rung' (On Prayer, p.98) of perfection.

'A spiritual father has himself trodden the path of obedience for long years. We have seen that the great value of monasticism lies in the path of humility which it follows, the downward path towards the 'summit' of the inverted pyramid. In the measure that the monk approaches Christ in his descent, he will also become a partaker of Christ's spiritual fatherhood.

'Obedience principally engages the heart of man, and its characteristic is to disclose the deep heart, where lies the principle and the centre of his hypostasis. This is the 'place' where the 'incorruptible seed' of God's word is sown, bringing forth fruit in the apprenticeship of the commandments of Christ. As Fr. Sophrony affirms, God is characteristically good to those of contrite heart. (Op cit., p. 178) This 'goodness' transmits to them the 'knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven' (cf. Matt. 13:11). Such knowledge is necessary for a spiritual father, to enable him to differentiate clearly between created things and the uncreated gifts of God, so that in the light of these gifts he may weigh up with wisdom and exactitude every phenomenon in life, and raise it to the spiritual level. Greater benefit is derived when this knowledge is as full as possible, covering the whole gamut of spiritual states about which he ventures to teach others. (On Prayer, p. 89)

'Fr. Sophrony expresses with enthusiasm his admiration for the task of the spiritual father, saying that it is 'both a dread and a fascinating one. Painful but inspiring.' (Op. cit., p.88) It is a vocation and a gift of incomparable value and serves a supreme creative purpose: the spiritual father becomes 'a collaborator of God in the creation of immortal gods', (Prayer for Spiritual Fathers) who can be led into 'eternity in the uncreated Light'. (On Prayer, p. 88)




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