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Monasticism and spiritual fatherhood


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#21 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 12 October 2006 - 01:29 AM

continuing Archimandrite Zacharias' 'Monasticism and spiritual fatherhood':

'The spiritual father has his heart refined by repentance and continual abiding before God. At the same time, his intellect travels the length and depth and height of the way of the Lord. A 'world of indescripable magnitude is disclosed to [his] spirit through prayer. Prayer unfolds both the dark depths of hell and the luminous heavenly spheres.' (We Shall See Him, pp. 78-79) Knowledge of the Lord's way gives his life stability and deep peace. However, in order to be in a position to 'sense the rhythm of the interior world of each and every man who turns to him', (On Prayer, p. 88) it is still useful for him to take continual refuge in God with a painful heart, to seek fervently to find out God's will, and an appropriate word to express it in such a way as to bring benefit and inspiration to his brethren. Even during his conversations with people, he has the 'hearing' of his intellect alert in his heart so as to 'detect God's thinking', (Op. cit., p. 90) the first thought which is born there.

'The spiritual father's prophetic role, staying on the path of God's will through the prayer of repentance and announcing it to his brethren, comports many difficulties. A word that comes through prayer is given from on High. It 'opens up to us the eternal spheres of the unoriginate Spirit', (Op. cit., p. 93) which are in essence beyond description. Such a word is laden with the grace of the Holy Spirit, yet it must be addressed to 'psychological' human beings, who reject the 'things of the Spirit of God' and consider them as 'foolishness' (1 Cor. 2:14). If the word of God is to bring about the regeneration of man and not 'grind him to powder' (Matt. 21:44), the one receiving the word must be ready to make sacrifices. This word is a gift of God's love, and a call to the acquistion of such love. But this love begets within man 'a whole gamut of different torments for the spirit'. (We Shall See Him, p. 88) This spiritual martyrdom is metaphysical, and its dimensions are eternal. Because of this, when the spiritual father realises that the disciple is at a 'psychological' level and has not the resolution or the self-denial for struggle, he may not seek a direct word from God through prayer, preferring instead to condescend and speak from his own human experience. Out of pity for the person concerned, he thus avoids leading him into the grave sin of fighting against God. (On Prayer, p. 90)

#22 Trudy

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Posted 12 October 2006 - 02:22 AM

Father Seraphim,

As I've read and re-read a few of these exerpts, I keep coming up with the same question. Father Sophrony says that it is monastics who are spiritual fathers. I remember reading about Father Arseny who himself was a spiritual father yet was out of touch with his spiritual children until his release from prison.

Most Orthodox Christians have their priest as their spiritual father. Or is it that we turn to our priest during confession to seek his guidance, but not as a spiritual father. Is it fair to say that few Orthodox Christians have what is considered a "true spiritual father?" But all have as their father and guide, the priest of their church?

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


Though this quote indicates to me that priest's have this ministry.

Do you think that God calls (or perhaps better said, *uses*) those Orthodox not in monestaries as a spiritual father/mother? I don't know if that is even worth thinking of. I would think that if a person *thinks* they *can* be a spiritual father/mother, that pride is a good indicator that they don't have a clue. Ya know what I mean?

Thank you for continuing to post these exerpts. They have a way of quenching the thirst, yet making one thirst more.

Kissing your right hand,
Athanasia

#23 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 12 October 2006 - 05:31 AM

Dear Athanasia,

Thank you for your kind reply and your questions.

In general, the above quotes of Father Sophrony as interpreted by his disciple Father Zacharias are under the heading: "Monasticism and spiritual fatherhood". Thus, they have the atmosphere of a monastic approach and setting.

However, it is not the Church's teaching nor position that this ministry be confined or restricted only to monastics.

In the Greek Orthodox Church, those ordained to the priesthood, providing they have the blessing of their spiritual father, have a subsequent prayer read over them, blessing them with the ministry of spiritual fatherhood, which in a monastic setting, entails the daily 'hearing of thougts' and Confession; in a parish, this would be dependent upon the practicalities of the Priest, his responsibities both inside and outside the parish proper. It is also in a Parish setting up to the Priest, with his Bishop's blessing to be available to those parishoners who seek further counsel and spiritual nourishment.

In those Churches of the Slavic tradition, they being the Russian Orthodox, the Bulgarian, Serbian, Georgian, Ukrainian, Romanian etc., upon the laying on of hands by the Bishop during the ordination of the Priest, the responsibilities of spiritual fatherhood are therein present and operative. That is, there is no subsequent prayer enabling or not enabling the Priest to hear Confessions, as is the present practice in the Greek Church and on the Holy Mountain.

Thus, all Orthodox Christians have a spiritual father, their Parish Priest or Monastic Priest. And I might add that no matter how many years we have struggled to 'put on Christ' we all have need of a Spiritual mentor.

Sadly, and this is a point Fr. Sophrony brings up in a posting I wrote today, which has not yet appeared, the ministry of Spiritual fatherhood is a martyrdom and a daily crucifixion. Woe unto the person who feels himself capable of such a ministry. Thus, to answer your question: if a person 'thinks' they have the qualities necessary to be a spiritual mentor, this in itself is an immediate indication that this person is not called to this vocation.

The ministry of spiritual fatherhood/motherhood is a blessing bestowed upon those whose own spiritual mentors see and feel that this disciple is ready to take upon himself/herself this particular cross, which is both a source of boundless joy and the deepest sorrow.

Is it only a 'few' Orthodox Christians who have a 'true spiritual father'? This is dependent upon the humility of the one who approaches their Priest. Those who judge their priest, considering him unworthy to be privy to their inner most thoughts, are in severe spiritual danger. Whether one's Parish Priest is older or younger than oneself, the grace of the Priesthood is present, and the fulness of the Grace of the Holy Spirit is able to 'speak' through the heart of the Priest who is approached by the penitent with humility and trust in our Lord. How or rather the quality of the 'word' given by the Priest, is dependent upon both the Priest's deep prayer and repentance and the deep prayer, repentance and humility of the penitent.

The more 'simple' and undoubting the spiritual position of the penitent, the more so is the Priest's heart able to open to his spiritual child and the more enveloped the two are by the Grace of the Holy Spirit.

This is why Fr. Sophrony states that once he felt a 'resistance' in the penitent, he did not place the penitent in spiritual quandry. He would 'back away' and speak only from his own personal experience, not presuming to have caught the 'first word' from our Lord, which had entered his heart.

I pray this is of help and answers in some small way your very important questions.

May our Lord and His Most Pure Mother guide and comfort us all.

#24 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 13 October 2006 - 06:26 PM

continuing Archimandrite Zacharias:

'Even when the faithful show confidence in their spiritual father and 'receive him as a prophet in the name of a prophet' (Matt. 10:41), his ministry is not straightforward. He cannot rely on his previous successes or on the knowledge he has so far acquired. In every case, for every penitent, he needs to be led directly by the Holy Spirit. The spiritual father is pre-eminently a dispenser of the word of God, and the word given from Above is 'not after man' (Gal. 1:11). It goes beyond man's measure and thus appears 'hard' (cf. John 6:60). It is revealed in the sphere of eternal Light, and it bestows perfect knowledge. This word provokes a prophetic 'earthquake' (1 Kings 19:11) and, as the Gospel says, it 'cuts [a man] in two' (Matt. 10:35) by 'the sword of the Spirit' (Eph. 6:17). It causes his heart to break with unbearable shame over its own poverty, yet it also inspires man thereafter to sense 'everything in us that resists Christ's word' (On Prayer, p. 93) as the presence of death within him. If he resolutely and patiently bears the consequences and sufferings of this spiritual struggle, he becomes cleansed of all the corruption of the 'old man'. Then the presence of God within him increases, becoming like the 'voice of a light breeze (I Kings 19:12 LXX), without the possibility of being observed (cf. Luke 17:20). (Ibid.) This breeze is the humble love of Christ, which redeems fallen humans and opens to them the kingdom of the Heavenly Father.

'A spiritual father strives to bring the word of God to those who turn to him. When it is accepted, as we noted above, it cleaves the heart like a sword and allows man no rest; and yet it regenerates the whole man and renders him fit for the kingdom of heaven. This dividing asunder and tension created by the word of God must in no way be calmed or diminished by the spiritual father. On the contrary, according to Fr. Sophrony's understanding, it is profitable for him rather to intensify these effects to the highest possible degree and to quide his disciple as it were to 'the threshold of death', (On Prayer, p.101) so that he puts to death the old man, corrupt and sinful. This fearful and risky enterprise is undertaken by a spiritual father according to the measure of his discernment, his experience, and the power of the prayers he offers for his disciples.

'For his task, the spiritual father employs two methods: one positive and the other negative. Using the negative method, he points out the negative elements and insufficiencies in the conduct of the disciple. He tries with wisdom and finesse to preserve the disciple from vanity about the spiritual gifts he happens to have, because vainglory hardens the depths of the heart, the 'place of spiritual prayer.' (Op. cit., p. 11) When the disciple is made aware of his deficiency, his intellect and heart are humbled, while the desire for more profound spiritual knowledge is rekindled. (Op. cit., p.87) Of course, what is significant is the power of grace that accompanies the spiritual father's suggestions, rather than the expertise or eloquence of the words. If the word of the spiritual father is to transmit spiritual gifts, it must come from a burning heart, full of love for people and praying for them out of deep compassion. (Op. cit., p. 96) All the prophets applied this negative method, especially St. John the Baptist. He called those who came to him a 'generation of vipers' - yet the evangelist affirms that with such words 'by his paraklesis (this Greek word, usually translated here as 'exhortation', also has the meaning 'consolation', making for a paradox not apparent in English versions, translator's note - Sister Magdalen, Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Essex, England) he preached unto the people' (Luke 3:7, 18). The same method lies behind St. Paul's words when he says: 'Who is he then that maketh me glad, but the same which is made sorry by me? (2 Cor. 2:2). The 'hard words' of the Lord Jesus and all the spiritual who partake in Him have the purpose of breaking down the strongholds that man's arrogance erects, and of preparing in the faithful a humble disposition to learn from the meek and lowly Lord.

'The positive method is on a higher level; it is more creative, and more difficult to apply. It presupposes that the spiritual father knows not only the practice but also the theory of the ascetic life. This theorectical vision is the fruit of the 'greater love' of Christ, which His servant has assimilated and into which he strives to initiate his disciples. Theory that is informed by this love guarantees that everything be done for the glory of God and the good of man.

'The spiritual father, having accomplished in his personal repentance the descent to the point of the inverted pyramid, becomes one with Christ and shares in His very state. In His life in the flesh Christ 'lived at one and the same time the fulness - unattainable for us - both of suffering and of triumphant victory: both death and divine glory.' (On Prayer, p. 100) In the same way too, the servant of Christ becomes in his time capable of 'rejoicing with them that rejoice, and weeping with them that weep' (cf. Rom. 12:15). Christ took upon Himself the death of man, and His divine life swallowed it up (cf. 1 Cor. 15:54). In an analogical way the spiritual father too, firmly established in communion with the grace of Christ, takes on the death in his brethren and raises them up to divine life, (Op. cit., p. 96; cf. 2 Cor. 4:12) in which he himself is already a 'partaker' (2 Peter 1:4).

#25 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 17 October 2006 - 09:28 PM

I would like now to return to my first post #1 in this thread of "Monasticism and spiritual fatherhood" as I realize I should have quoted an essential part from the reference Father Zacharias makes in the paragraph where he writes:

'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. (Converstaions on Monasticism, English translation not yet published, Translator's note - Sr. Magdalene, Monastery of John the Baptist, Essex, England) 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. (ibid) Fr. Sophrony envisages as the 'ultimate perfection' (Saint Silouan, p. 237) the perfection of Christ's love, which overturns the pyramid of all created being and places Him at its inverted summit.'

Since so much of what will follow from Fr. Zacharias will refer to the 'inverted pyramid' and its understanding/role in the light of the ministry of spiritual paternity/maternity, I feel I should have quoted the reference to Fr. Sophrony's book on Saint Silouan. Thus, permit me to quote this now.

'In the structure of the world we observe a hierarchical order, a division into upper and lower - a pyramid of being. Yet the idea of equality is deeply rooted in our consciousness and is not to be denied.

'Some people, observing the psycho-physical world for the one part, and the empirically-given spiritual state of humanity for the other, and remarking a pyramid of inequality in both, arrive at the conclusion that inequality is something ontologically necessary to human nature. Then, either because of passion or calm and collected philosophical conviction, they stifle the demands of their conscience. Others, precisely on the grounds of conscience, tirelessly strain to achieve equality in mankind's existence.

'But is equality possible where liberty is the fundamental principle of existence? Millenary experience of the history of humanity suggests a reply in the negative.

'What, then, can be done to alter this state of affairs, so unacceptable to the human conscience? We can not ignore our longing to see all men equal in plenitude of divine life.

'Let us see how Christ resolved this dilemma.

'The Lord does not deny the fact of inequality, hierarchy, division into upper and lower, into overlord and servant; but He turns the pyramid upside down and thus achieves the ultimate perfection.

'The incontestable apex of this pyramid is the Son of man Himself, the Unique, True, Eternal Saviour; and He says of Himself that He 'came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.' (Matthew 20: 28) Concerning the angels, we learn that they are beings superior to us in their knowledge and mode of existence, in comparison with our terrestrial existence, but the Apostle speaks of them as 'ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation.' (Hebrews 1: 14) The Saviour bade His disciples follow the example He gave them when He washed their feet. (cf. John 13: 14-15)

'Ye know,' He told them, 'that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.' (Matthew 20: 25-27; Mark 10: 42-44) Here we are shown both the designation and the raison d'etre of the ecclesiastical hierarchy - to raise those low in the spiritual scale to a higher degree of perfection, as the Apostle put it, 'And he gave some apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.' (Eph. 4: 11-13)

'Christ as Creator - and in this sense, cause - of the created universe, took upon Himself the burden, the sin of the whole world. He is the summit of the inverted pyramid, the summit on which the whole weight of the pyramid of being falls.

'In an inexplicable way those who follow after Christ become like Him in taking upon themselves the burdens of the infirmities of others. 'We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak.' (Romans 15: 1)

'I speak here of all this in order to indicate the characteristics of the Christian way, and tell of what I could observe in the Staretz' spiritual life. But I am aware that there are no words or images to lay bare this life.

'The Christian goes downwards, into the depths of the over-turned pyramid where the crushing weight is concentrated - to the place where the Lord is, Who took upon Himself the sins of the world - Christ.

'When abundant grace touches the heart the Christian, animated by the love of Christ acting in him, really does descend to the base of the overturned pyramid, following after Christ, becoming like Him. In proportion to his strength man takes upon himself the burden of his brothers. The intensity of the pain endured in his life fills his heart with deep compassion for all who suffer. The love that feels for others is ready for sacrifice - total sacrifice - for the good of others, while at the same time sweeping the whole man up to God, mind, heart and the body itself. The entire being is drawn to God in ardent prayer, weeping for people, sometimes for a particular individual, known or unknown, sometimes for all humanity since the beginning of time. On other occasions, though, after a prolonged agony of love the soul abandons herself utterly to God and forgets the entire world.

'When the soul is in God, the world is all forgotten and the soul contemplates God.' (Saint Silouan)

'After this interior sacrifice has been offered - after total renouncement - there is a great calm in the soul. Deep peace takes over the soul, the peace of Christ - the peace of Christ 'which passeth all understanding.' (Phil. 4: 7)

'At the base of the overturned pyramid - the unfathomable base which is really the summit - is He Who took upon Himself the sins and burdens of the world, the Christ crucified in love for the world. And there we remark a quite especial life, a quite especial light, an especial fragrance. This is where love attracts the athletes of Christ. Love for Christ martyrises the chosen one, weighs heavily on him, makes his life unbearably hard, until this love arrives at its ultimate desire, and the ways the soul elects to attain to that ultimate end are peculiar.

'To pray for mankind is to shed blood.' (Saint Silouan)

(from Saint Silouan the Athonite, Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov) pgs. 237-240)

#26 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 17 October 2006 - 10:10 PM

I apologize that I incorrectly put unnecessarily or rather incorrectly a space in the scriptural quotes in post #25 of this thread. Thus, they lead to an incomplete quote of the scriptural texts, that is, when you 'click' on them.

I will endeavour to do better next time!

Please forgive the inaccuracy.

#27 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 18 October 2006 - 08:41 PM

continuing from Archimandrite Zacharias:

'Because the spiritual father knows the path to the lowest point of the inverted pyramid, he crosses over from old worldviews which Lucifer invented 'in the paroxysm of his pride', (On Prayer, p.96; cf. 2 Cor.4:12) into the new, 'inverse' approach which is the perspective of the Gospel. The Lord inaugurated the theory of this vision by His example and His word, which exalts the humble (Luke 14:11, 18:14) and abominates what is 'highly esteemed among men' (Luke 16:15). In this theological vision, Christ is to be found at the centre of all created being, bearing all the fulness of the Godhead. Just as, in the case of the inverted perspective in icons, the face or event portrayed emerges from the centre towards which everything is drawn, so also in this theory Christ becomes the point towards which all the purposes, thoughts and desires of man are directed. In the light of this theological vision, it is easy to understand that 'the last shall be first and the first shall be last' (Matt. 20:16); and 'he who hates his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal' (John 12:25); and also, that physical death does not touch the soul (cf. Matt. 10:28).

'In his ministry, the spiritual father strives to transmit to the faithful the vision of the inverted pyramid, which is the only one capable of inspiring the heart to repentance and transformation, according to the same Spirit who blows at the point of the inverted pyramid. Then the faithful travel resolutely 'downwards', and Christ becomes the reference point of their lives. Just as in Orthodox iconography the painter remains anonymous, so also the spiritual father, while showing all godly zeal to 'betroth' souls and present them pure to Christ (2 Cor. 11:2), has himself been released from the passion of lust for power, and he rejoices like John the Baptist to see Christ 'increase, while he decreases' (cf. John 3:30).

'In essence, the spiritual father accomplishes an apostolic work. He imitates the Apostle Paul and preaches exclusively 'Christ, and Him crucified' (1 Cor. 1:23; cf. Gal. 3:1), that men might know that He is also 'the power of God and the wisdom of God' (cf. 1 Cor. 1:24). Christians are inspired by the vision of the 'crucified God', of 'Christ the Lamb without blemish and without spot' (1 Peter 1:19) who carries the weight of the upturned pyramid, and they too prefer 'rather to take wrong' (1 Cor. 6:7), because to 'suffer wrongfully', 'on behalf of Christ', is a thankworthy gift from God. (cf. Phil. 1:29; 1 Peter 2:19-20) The spiritual father, propounding continually to his disciples the theory of the inverted perspective of the Gospel, ignites in them the effectual flame of God's grace and brings them to the blessed honour of bearing in their bodies the 'marks of the Lord Jesus' (Gal. 6:17) and of suffering wrong for the sake of Him who 'first loved us' and 'gave himself for us' (1 John 4:19). This theory held by the confessor can lead his spiritual children to perfect gratitude and inspiration, according to which their life's aim becomes the desire that Christ be magnified 'whether by life or by death' (Phil. 1:20).

'Thus, Fr. Sophrony affirms that in the perspective of the inverted pyramid, true victory - which remains inviolable for all eternity - is the victory won by the 'bruises' (Is. 53:5) of the good Sheperd. (On Prayer, p. 112) Those who follow in His footsteps, and in sufferings remain faithful to His love, become participants and heirs of this victory. Upon them 'the spirit of glory and of God rests' (1 Peter 4:14), and they bear unfading fruitfulness. (Ibid)

'The life of a spiritual father who abides in the protracted grief of repentance is rich in its fluctuations between joy and pain. Following Christ, who embraced 'in one eternal act heaven and earth and the nether regions',(We Shall See Him, pp. 60-61) so too His servant, with his repeated cycles of falls and rises, brings 'both heaven and hell' (On Prayer, pp. 99-100) stably and uninterruptedly into his heart. His perception is refined, and his heart, as Fr. Sophrony habitually put it, becomes 'like a radar which detects all at once the whole earth'. Fr. Sophrony actually saw in this 'an indication of approaching likeness to Christ.' (Ibid)

'The spiritual father, being in the same state as Christ, becomes for the faithful at every contact an opening to eternal life. As the Almighty Lord spoke 'the words of man', but through them opened up the eternal dimension of His Absolute Being, (On Prayer, p. 111) so also His minister pronounces common words, but transmits grace and becomes the means of regeneration for his brethren.

#28 Trudy

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Posted 19 October 2006 - 03:05 AM

Dear Fr. Seraphim, bless;

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory to Him forever! God's timing through these posts is perfect, as always. Thanks be to God for them.

From the purely visual aspect, I find the idea of the inverted pyramid and that a Christian plumbs the depth to the point, while we have the scriptural image of Jesus climbing the road to Golgotha, to the point of the cross. Another paradox?

This post is also timely for very personal reasons about which I will not burden the list but do seek everyone's prayers. Suffice it to say Fr. Seraphim, that my husband and I will be holding an intervention of sorts with our son. In light of that, these two passages leapt out at me

'In an inexplicable way those who follow after Christ become like Him in taking upon themselves the burdens of the infirmities of others. 'We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak.' (Romans 15: 1)

and

In proportion to his strength man takes upon himself the burden of his brothers. The intensity of the pain endured in his life fills his heart with deep compassion for all who suffer. The love that feels for others is ready for sacrifice - total sacrifice - for the good of others, while at the same time sweeping the whole man up to God, mind, heart and the body itself. The entire being is drawn to God in ardent prayer, weeping for people, sometimes for a particular individual, known or unknown, sometimes for all humanity since the beginning of time.


I am an arrogant and prideful enough sinner to think that I can help.

Thank you again for these posts Father. They have pierced my heart tonight. Perhaps I shall have an opportunity to write you later.

By your prayers,
Athanasia

#29 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 19 October 2006 - 04:36 PM

Dear Athanasia,

May our Lord and His Most Pure Mother comfort you and your family.

Absolutely, there is no pride or arrogance in either your hope for your son or in what you write.

As I wrote above in response to your other post on this thread, though the ministry of spiritual paternity/maternity is a particular blessing bestowed upon a particular person, this in no way limits the perfection that Christ calls us all to. Simply put, there is no caste system in our Christian prayer life.

In my many, many times in hospital I have witnessed the most amazing love and prayer by family members upon their loved one ill in the hospital bed.

And this supposed demarcation between monastic life and married life needs to be clarified.

Both states demand the laying down of one's life for the other, the kenosis of our being which brings us closer to the image of Christ.

Which life is more blessed or 'better'; the answer to this is the one that Christ has given us.

The monastic life has a definite order in its daily typicon of liturgical services, work, prayer in the monastic cell. It is in the 'inner heart' of the monastic where the true battle wages and who can measure this, but our Lord alone.

The married life is full of the most unexpected turn of events, which can equally lead a person to the deepest (highest) measure of prayer. I could fill the post with the potential threats and dangers that present themselves almost daily to married couples, both with children and without children.

On the surface, which life is easier? The monastic life or the married state? As the Apostle states: God never tempts us beyond our limit. But herein lies the crucifixion. Because more often than not the temptations (be they illness, loss of employment, motor accidents etc, etc,) do appear beyond our strength and have the potential to crush us.

Thus, the self-emptying (kenotic) prayer of the mother and father, and of the monk or nun. Once we set our foot upon the path of discipleship to Christ, we will be called to follow Him to Gethsemane, Golgotha and this is the way of the Christian, and never will it be another way.

Before the Resurrection we must all pass through our own crucifixion.

#30 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 19 October 2006 - 07:01 PM

continuation of Archimandrite Zacharias:

'A spiritual father knows both the way of Christ and the various temptations that are met with on this way before divine love is acquired; he can thus be a wellspring of inspiration for his disciples. Possessing an integral spiritual vision, he upholds the faithful and encourages them to become partakers of Christ's sufferings, and thereby to learn existentially how high is 'Divine providence for us'. (On Prayer, p. 100) The father confessor, by his word, his prayer and his example, strives to introduce every disciple into the sphere of Christ's peace. (Op. cit., p. 109) With patience and love, he cares for those whom the providence of the Most High has entrusted to him, in order that the image of Christ, darkened by the Fall, be formed and established in them. He bears their weaknesses and identifies with their lives. As one who is himself 'compassed with infirmity', (Hebrews 5:2) he offers repentance on behalf of himself and others. In this repentance he becomes like Christ, who took upon Himself the sin of the whole world. In the present epoch, which is antipathetic to the humble Spirit of Christ, this service is burdensome, and rarely attains the desired result. Hence Fr. Sophrony's observation that without continual and intense heartfelt prayer which seeks out a word from God and His divine blessing, this spiritual service is in vain. It becomes transformed into a 'half-blind' worldly activity. (On Prayer, p. 108-109)

'A spiritual father bears in himself the blessedness flowing from the knowledge of Christ's way, and he thus becomes the means of leading the life of men out of the hell they have created (by the negative effect of their passions) (Op. cit., p. 90) and into the pure Christian life and spiritual freedom. He is ground down by the death which has wounded them. Even more, he endures tribulations that are a consequence of the spiritual colour-blindness brought about by passions and human corruption. (Op. cit., p. 91) He is held fast by only one thought: how the person can be healed. (Op. cit., p. 95) He tries to diagnose the cause and the intensity of the passions and the measure of spiritual death due to the ignorance of God, so that with hope in Him, the sufferings and misfortunes of life may be overshadowed with divine grace and be reduced to second place. (Op. cit., p. 94) In the heart of the spiritual father the tribulations of the whole earth are heaped up, giving rise to fervent, tearful prayer, in which the petitions of every weak and suffering man are brought before God. When he feels - once again, in his heart - that tribulation has been changed into repose and joy, he accepts this as a sure sign that his prayer has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth and that it will have a beneficial effect. (Op. cit., p. 95) The father confessor offers this sacred service on behalf of the unfortunate 'little ones', who may themselves be completely indifferent. He does not plot against their freedom, because for himself he desires no earthly power, looking exclusively for future reward. (Op. cit., p. 112)

'The spiritual father is the image of 'the good Shepherd' who has 'greater love', and 'lays down his life for his sheep' (John 10:11, 15:13). To acquire this love, however, and to accomplish his work in a manner pleasing to God, it helps the spiritual father if he has passed through the fiery furnace of fear of God and the path of repentance, 'unto the breaking of his bones'. (Prayer for Spiritual Fathers, not yet translated into English) Only then will divine love dwell in his soul, and with it the divine fear that belongs to the perfect. This love is the 'precious pearl', of inestimable and incomparable value; a man trembles lest he lose this treasure. His fear preserves the love, and the love increases to the point of fulness. When the great love of Christ visits the heart and enlightens the intellect, man's spirit is enlarged and encompasses 'all creation in compassionate love'. (On Prayer, p. 103) This state demonstrates beyond any doubt that a man is united with the God of love.

'The prayer of repentance, accompanied by self-aversion, detaches man's spirit from everything created and transports it 'into light-bearing infinity, into indescribable depths', where 'all is transformed into love of God'. (Ibid) His soul would prefer to remain in the festal joy of divine love; but this love for Christ is linked inseparably with love for one's fellow-man. Furthermore, it was love for man that caused the self-emptying of the Son of God. Hence the spiritual father, in his turn also, has to stay in a state of grace which is not so extreme that it would render him unable to engage with this world as it is, or to take into his heart the difficulties and sufferings of his brethren. (Op. cit., p. 104) He patiently endures apostolic kenosis, and as St. Paul describes, he is 'spent' for the souls of the Christian faithful (cf. 2 Cor. 12:15). He finds himself in continual conflict and antagonism between the desire to be given over to the love of God and the need to collaborate with other people for the sake of their benefit and progress.

'The father confessor knows better than anyone that there is nothing more precious in the world than the knowledge of the true God, which is acquired by repentance and by training in sacred inner prayer and silence. But he cannot forget, either, the Lord's commandment: 'Go and teach all nations...' (Matthew 28:19). He is absolutely persuaded that 'one thing is needful' (Luke 10:24), but from love for people his soul does not cease to be anxious 'to help were it but a single soul to salvation'. (cf. Saint Silouan, p. 341) Both aspects of life are necessary if he is to fulfill God's plan: on the one hand for him to preserve safely the treasure of the mystery of divine love, and on the other, for him to 'commit it to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also' (cf. 2 Timothy 2:2). (We Shall See Him, p. 219)

'As we have seen above in our consideration of monasticism, and more particularly in the ascetic effort of obedience, the monk learns gradually to bear within himself the life of all the brotherhood, and eventually the life of the whole world. In a similar manner the spiritual father too, in fulfilling his ministry, is led to the hypostatic form of existence. He ceases to live only for himself; he is concerned for all mankind and prays for them, and his prayer covers all the possible states of life, positive and negative. He embraces the tragedy of the world and 'is overwhelmed by the breath of death which strikes the human race'. (On Prayer, p. 109) In his struggle to free the weak from their passions, he is himself attacked by these passions, and lives them as his own personal passions, even though in many cases he had not known them previously. He offers repentance for himself and for all the sins of those whom God has entrusted to him. His prayer increases and takes on cosmic dimensions. His repentance resembles the sacrifice offered by Christ for the sins of the world. (Op. cit., pp. 109-110)

'The spiritual father's hypostatic repentance and prayer confronts the whole drama of human sin: how it began in paradise, what were its consequences and how it is blotted out by the grace of repentance, given by Christ after His resurrection. Sin, says Fr. Sophrony, began with the pusillanimity of Eve and the brazenness of Adam. It continues to be manifested in fratricide, in the splitting apart of mankind's whole nature. It was finally overcome by 'the smiting of the Shepherd'. (Op. cit., pp. 110-112)

'With the break-up of human nature caused by sin, men ceased to see themselves in other human beings, and they did not recognise 'our common unity of life'. (Op. cit., p. 111)

#31 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 20 October 2006 - 05:52 PM

continuing Archimandrite Zacharias:

'A spiritual father who prays for people receives in his heart a sensation, "information", about the psychological state and the spiritual state of those for whom he supplicates God. He experiences the spiritual joy of 'the few' and the desolation in the souls of 'the many' (cf. Matthew 7:13-14). By the painful experience of the states and misfortunes of the people he serves, he becomes extended, so as to encompass the whole of mankind throughout the ages. At the same time of his repentance, he becomes a participant in Christ's state, and at the same time he is made aware of, and inspired by, the primordial idea of the Creator concerning man. Later, however, during his ministry the dramatic and striking contrast between this divine plan and fallen man with his passions - beyond his power of resistance - is revealed to him. He is overwhelmed by a critical dilemma: whether to confront this tragic vision psychologically, using his natural reasoning like therapists of this world, and as a result to survive without being totally broken by the tension of universal pain; or, as Fr. Sophrony expresses it, to 'continue further'. (On Prayer, p. 119) However, this 'further' is inaccessible to man unless he has been previously strengthened by fulness of faith and the grace of repentance. According to the same conception, 'continuing further' means that the spiritual father follows Christ into the garden of Gethsemane and goes up with Him to Golgotha, 'to live with Him, by His strength, the tragedy of the world as his own personal tragedy', (Ibid) or, as Fr. Sophrony puts it on several other occasions, to drink the 'cup of Christ', (For example: Saint Silouan, pp. 47, 240; We Shall See Him, pp. 31, 41, 200; On Prayer, pp. 28, 41) so that his spiritual service becomes identified with the Lord's redeeming work of reconciling the world with God.

'Consequently, as he accomplishes his service the spiritual father breaks the closed circle of his own 'individualism'; his being is expanded and he bears within himself the life of all the human race, and all the history of men's relations with God. As Fr. Sophrony notes, he enters 'into the wide expanses of "hypostatic" forms of being, conquering death and participating in divine infinity'. (On Prayer, p. 116)

'Spiritual paternity, because it is a path towards the wondrous hypostatic form of being, entails superhuman effort. Without the might of God, man is small, and as he follows Jesus in the ascent to Golgotha, he feels 'dazzled' and 'fearful'. His service as a spiritual father is made more difficult by the mass apostasy of our times (italics, mine), which Fr. Sophrony identifies with 'the hour, and the power of darkness' (cf. Luke 22:53). (Op. cit., p. 112)

'In a father confessor's ministry, his bodily constitution also resists; the body is exhausted (italics, mine), and because of its instinct of self-preservation, he wants to close his eyes to the vision of pain and of the innumerable calamities of mankind, his fellow-sufferers. But whoever has become a partaker of the Spirit of Christ cannot avoid meeting the ocean of human misfortune. (His Life is Mine, p.87) Just as in his repentance it was revealed to him that he belongs to that great body which is the totality of mankind, and is inseparably bound up with its lot, so also now, in order to 'continue further', he is opened up to greater spiritual sufferings, and with a deeper agony of prayer he embraces all of suffering mankind.


Father Zacharias' mention 'that he belongs to that great body which is the totality of mankind' reminded me of a quote of Father Sophrony's from his book 'Words of Life':

"Love thy neighbour as thyself". It was given to me to understand this commandment in the form of a gigantic tree, of cosmic dimensions, whose root is Adam. Myself, I am only a little leaf on a branch of this tree. But this tree is not foreign to me; it is the basis of my being. I belong to it. To pray for the whole world is to pray for this tree in its totality, with its milliards of leaves.' (Words of Life, p. 16)


'As he sheds intense tears, his soul 'suddenly, unexpectedly, unwittingly' (On Prayer, p. 114) becomes widened, and he enters ontologically into the essence of sin, i.e. separation from the light of the Face of God. His soul takes on supernatural dimensions. He also experiences his personal sin as the sin of the whole human race and as a repetition of Adam's sin. (Op. cit., pp. 109-110, 115) In prayer of total repentance 'energy will appear, of another order, not of this world.' (Op. cit., p. 116)

'The effect of this energy is that 'the horizons of (the spiritual father's) individual life are immeasurably widened', (Ibid) and individualistic limits are surpassed. That is, 'death (the voluntary death of repentance) overcomes death (the involuntary death caused by sin), and the power of the Resurrection prevails' (Op. cit., p. 117) which is the prize gained by hypostatic spirits. A lowly 'downward movement' of repentance overcomes the 'all-destroying passion of pride', and 'the blessing of Christlike humility descends on man, making us children of the Heavenly Father.' (Op. cit., p. 114)

#32 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 21 October 2006 - 10:26 PM

r Seraphim, your blessing - I just wish to add, if I may, a comment following on from your post of 12th October (06.31). Both Father Zacharias and Father Simeon at the monastery in Essex do not like people to call them 'geronda' and 'starets'.

#33 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 26 October 2006 - 06:26 PM

I have lost two long posts into the unknown realm of cyber space today. I am told that I am not logged in, yet clearly I am, help!!

#34 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 27 October 2006 - 01:11 PM

While living in the 1970's at the Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Essex, England I came across a rather remarkable statement by Father Seraphim (Rose) quoted in 'The Orthodox Word'.

We had naturally heard much of the wonderful ascetic labours of both Fr. Seraphim and Fr. Herman. I never had the blessing to meet Fr. Seraphim, but I had heard of him from pilgrims who had visited him at the Brotherhood of St. Herman of Alaska, in California.

Some years later in the early months of 1983 while living at Stavronikita, Mount Athos, Greece, I learned of his repose in the Lord.

Knowing that he had had a long spiritual experience of St. John of Shanghai and San Fransciso, and having heard of St. John from Fr. Sophrony from his own accounts of their encounters while both lived in Western Europe, I was somewhat taken aback by his statement. This is what he wrote:

"There are no more elders like Paisius today. If we imagine that there are we can do irreparable harm to our souls."

He was, of course, referring to the great Elder, St. Paisy Velichkovsky (1722-1794), who amongst other remarkable ascetic feats, had resurrected the Philokalia in his translation of that esteemed work from the Greek into Slavonic. His translation, aided by his disciples, was to cause wondorous spiritual fermentation amongst both monastics and laity of succeeding generations.

My surprise brought about by his statement was due to a number or reasons, one of which was that I was firmly convinced that I was living with such a spiritual father, Fr. Sophrony.

In upcoming posts I will endeavour to uncover what may have lead Father Seraphim to this statement.

#35 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 27 October 2006 - 03:47 PM

An odd thing to say indeed. All of us will think of St Seraphim of Sarov, the Optina Elders, St Nektarios of Aegina, St Seraphim of Vyritsa, and a host of others as well as the elders of our own times such as Paisios, Porphyrios, Joseph, and, of course, Father Sophrony. There are living elders (not many, it's true) such as Kyrill of the Holy Trinity St Sergius Lavra. If we have no elders, has not the Holy Spirit abandoned us?

#36 Owen Jones

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Posted 27 October 2006 - 04:03 PM

Well, there are a number of possible responses to the statement -- there are no elders today. 1) This is literally true; 2) If it is literally true the Holy Spirit has abandoned us and we are lost and the only response is a continuing state of despair waiting for the end; 3) If it is literally true then maybe I am supposed to become one; 2) maybe it is not literally true or not true in any absolute sense but true in the proximate sense, i.e, as far as any Orthodox person in the U.S. is concerned. What Fr. Seraphim is concerned about is postponing practicing the virtues right now, discovering the thebaid in your own back yard, because you are so busy looking for an elder...Sounds like sound spiritual advice to me.

#37 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 27 October 2006 - 04:35 PM

I have been greatly aided in coming to an understanding of Father Seraphim (Rose's) statement by the writings of Hieromonk Nicholas (Sakharov). Permit to begin with Fr. Nicholas' excellent writings on this.

'The idea of spiritual guidance is an indispensable element of any religious ascetic tradition. In Christian asceticism it plays a prominent role (see I. Hausherr, Direction spirituelle en Orient autrefois, Rome, 1955) and, as Kallistos Ware points out, has "retained its full significance up to the present day in Orthodox Christendom." (see K. Ware, "The Spiritual Father in Orthodox Christianity," in Word out of Silence: A Symposium of World Spiritualities, ed. J.-D. Robinson, Cross Currents 24:2-3, 1974, p. 296) Within the Christian tradition scholars distinguish various types of ecclesiastical leadership. Neyt employs the two-fold general classification: administrative and charismatic; Ware calls them institutional and prophetic. (F. Neyt, "A Form of Charismatic Authority," ECR 6:I, 1974, p.63; Ware, "The Spiritual Father in Orthodox Christianity, p. 297) These reflect two forms of spiritual authority within the life of the church. On the one hand there is a traceable apostolic succession, which comprises the consecutive ordained clergy. On the other there is an unrecorded succession of spiritual masters (the saints), who hand down from generation to generation the tradition of life in God. Unlike the institutional principle of authority, "charismatic" guidance is based on a person-to-person relationship between the spiritual guide and his/her child in God.

'The Greek tradition has produced titles for the ascetic-instructor, who has a special charisma to deliver the divine will to those who ask him: most commonly he is called abbas (father). However, there are other terms in ascetic literature for spiritual instructors, among which the most widely used are spiritual father and elder. Russian tradition prefers the word staretz (elder), and the whole principle of monastic guidance and discipleship is called starchestvo (eldership).

'However, in the eastern church these two types of leadership - institutional and charismatic - are not mutually exclusive: the administrative leader may be also a charismatic instructor. The presence of these two interpenetrating levels is reflected in the cenobitic monastic life, where institutional obedience (i.e., compliance with the monastery's administration, its rule and typicon is intertwined with obedience to the elder. We shall focus largely on the "charismatic' principle (eldership), since this point particularly attracts Fr. Sophrony's theological interest.

'Obedience in Eastern Monasticism'

'Within Christianity the image of the spiritual father had already been foreshadowed in the New Testament in the apostolic ministry of the apostle Paul: he calls himself paidagogos (I Cor. 4:15) and his addresses "little children" (Gal. 4:19). It is further developed in Clement of Alexandria and Origen: for them the task of spiritual guidance pertained to the function of the teacher. With the growth of monasticism in the fourth century the principle of eldership became deeply embedded in the eastern ascetic tradition. It became "the leitmotif of the religious revolution of late antiquity," to such a point that it even had political repercussions within contemporary Byzantine society. (P. Brown, "The Rise and Function of the Holy Man in Late Antiquity," The Journal of Roman Studies 61, 1971, 99ff.)

'St. Anthony, the father of Egyptian monasticism, valued obedience to an elder as a powerful means of ascetic growth. As an elder, he guided the hermits who lived around him in the desert. Obedience gains its supreme status as a basis of ascetic life, however, in the Pachomian cenobitic institution: eldership became a part of the monastic rule. Pachomius discerned the manifestation of Christian perfection not in miracleworking and visionary charisma but in submission to the will of God. (Hauserr, La doctrine ascetique des premiers maitres egyptiens du quatrieme siecle, Paris, 1931, p.282) While insisting on the absoluteness of obedience, he was less demanding in other aspects of asceticism: his other ascetic rules were marked by "mildness."

'Another center of development of spiritual fatherhood was Nitria, as reflected in the Apophthegmata Patrum. Since then, most ascetic writers of the first millennium, who influenced Fr. Sophrony, all valued obedience as the highest virtue. (Cf. John Cassian, Institutes 4.30, p.165) We should single out John Cassian, John and Barsanuphius of Gaza, Dorotheus of Gaza, John Climacus, and Symeon the New Theologian. Obedience is seen by this tradition as one of the fastest and most fruitful means for progressing along the scale of spiritual perfection. (Cf. Dorotheus, Instructions I.7, p. 156-57; John Climacus, Scala parad. 4, PG 88:677C; Barsanuphius, Repl. 248, p. 153)

'One point is often passed over by scholars: by the closing years of the Byzantine epoch the ascetic tradition was replete with exemplary stories of "obedience heroes," in which the virtue of obedience was singled out. These stories seem to imply that the virtue of obedience is "sufficient" for one's salvation. As examples we can cite the stories of John the Short and Abba Mucius (the second Abraham) in John Cassian, of Dositheus in Dorotheus of Gaza, and of Acacius in John Climacus. By virtue of obedience the ascetics could, for example, perform various miracles, cross crocodile-infested rivers, and stand in prayer for weeks. (Inst.4-27-28, 162; Dorotheus, Dosithee, 87-123; Scala parad.4, PG 88:720B-721A; Inst.4.27-28, 162; Verba Seniorum, PL 73:789BC; Hist. Mon. 24.1-2, 132) This building up of the stereotype of the "obedience hero" is a further reminder that obedience had become deeply significant for the spirituality of the Byzantine church.

#38 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 27 October 2006 - 04:37 PM

Well, there are a number of possible responses to the statement -- there are no elders today. 1) This is literally true; 2) If it is literally true the Holy Spirit has abandoned us and we are lost and the only response is a continuing state of despair waiting for the end; 3) If it is literally true then maybe I am supposed to become one; 2) maybe it is not literally true or not true in any absolute sense but true in the proximate sense, i.e, as far as any Orthodox person in the U.S. is concerned. What Fr. Seraphim is concerned about is postponing practicing the virtues right now, discovering the thebaid in your own back yard, because you are so busy looking for an elder...Sounds like sound spiritual advice to me.


This was also a time when very few had heard of Fr Sophrony or Elder Paisios. This is before people began going to Mt Athos in such large numbers or reading the spiritual books we have today. Actually at this time there was a distinct prejudice against these things.

Meanwhile there were all multitude of false & self-created elders running around leading many astray.

As we read Fr Seraphim's advice at the time we took it as meaning to beware that all that glitters is not gold & that we should turn to the true sources of spiritual wealth in our Church.

Interestingly Fr Seraphim reposed not long before the renewed focus on Tradition began in the late 80s within the larger Orthodox world.

He must have been praying for us.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#39 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 27 October 2006 - 04:49 PM

I think it's important to know that there are elders but that does not mean that one diverts oneself from one's task by seeking them out. Their influence can spread in more ways than by the giving of counsel directly. Didn't St Seraphim say, acquire grace and thousands around you will be saved? Not, I think, by an elder literally having thousands of spiritual children but simply by being in the world. We cannot say how God distributes the grace of an elder but I believe that the mere presence of elders in the world is beneficial for all.

#40 Father David Moser

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Posted 27 October 2006 - 05:10 PM

I agree largely with Fr Raphael's obserations. Fr Seraphim's words had a definite context of time and place and the society in which he found himself. They were first of all words of humility, because many people sought him out as some kind of spiritual elder, when he knew in his heart that he was not such a person. So in rejecting the existance of such spiritual elders in the modern world, he was in essence rejecting the notion that he was one. Secondly, they were words of warning. There was, at the time (and still is), in the American Orthodox world a plethora of false elders, spiritual gurus who gathered followings around themselves using the trappings of "Orthodoxy" to make themselves seem exotic and somehow unique. These charismatic individuals attracted weak and lost souls and rather than lead them to Christ, they led these souls to themselves. There were no genuine spiritual elders apparent at that time, but no end of the false guru "elders". It was as a warning against these that Fr Seraphim spoke.

He also spoke as a warning against the kind of mindset of the overly materialistic American culture that went about with itching ears seeking to find the last true elder and so ended up almost worshipping anyone who seemed in the least spiritual. He was preaching against a cultural trait that had been woefully and destuctively abused.

Finally these were words of instruction about the nature of the Church. Some of these "elders" were monastics who would encourage Orthodox Christians in parishes to rebel against and completely discount and disparage their own parish priest. They were told that they priests weren't "real priests" or that their priests were "superstitious" and foolish and that these enlightened spiritual children of their "elder" need not pay attention to anything the priest said (especially if it was not in complete harmony with the words of said "elder"). This was a very real danger during Fr Seraphim's life which threatened the good order and life of the Church and it was against this danger that he spoke.

At that time and here in this place, Fr Sophrony was known only as the spiritual son of St Silouan and the authro of a couple of (very good) spiritual books. He was not known as any kind of a spiritual elder (at least not that I recall). This was not directed at him (and in fact I doubt if Fr Seraphim himself had any first hand knowledge of him).

A final, sort of related comment, that I wanted to add on. This isn't about Fr Seraphim, but did come from one of his spiritual daughters. This woman, after the fall of the Soviet Union, heard about a particular spirit bearing elder in Russia and desired to meet him. She was facing some kind of major decision and so gathered the funds to take a trip to the monastery in Russia where this elder lived so that she could meet him. She spent many days in the monastery without getting to see the elder until finally, one day in the monastery Church she saw him leaving accompanied by his young monastic spiritual children. This was her chance - to approach him and ask his blessing. And then she was frozen in her tracks because she realized that if she did indeed believe that this man was a spirit bearing elder (in the mold of the Optina elders) and if she approached him and he gave her any direction at all with her question, she would have to follow that direction. She realized that she was not ready to receive such a blessing, nor was she ready to take with full faith the word of this elder and so she remained where she was as he passed. She did not speak with him, but returned home without posing her question. This is not a disappointment, but an enlightening of her soul that just the physical presence of this elder brought about. She saw the weakness of her heart and faintness of her faith and it is this blessing, not the one she sought, that she received from this elder (without even knowing it). When we seek for a "spiritual elder" do we really know for what we seek, are we really ready to accept what that elder has to give to us. And not only that, we may well receive that for which we did not ask but which we needed desparately - will we accept what God, through the elder, will give to us or will we insist on the blessing that we want.

Fr David Moser




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