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Monasticism and spiritual fatherhood


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#41 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 27 October 2006 - 05:12 PM

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


This is still certainly true!

INXC, Matthew

#42 Theopesta

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Posted 27 October 2006 - 05:53 PM

Excuse me, I think seeking and searching about the Elder make the mind concerned with other goal than the real.

I do not know if my perception is right or wrong, forgive me, all the Great father had passed with confusion time when they sought behind the Elder concept but when they try to find who is the true live GOD they become true ELDERS.

It seems to me that the true Elder is the hiden one, maybe in a liaty clothes but his inner being find the true roat, if we found him, it would be enough to discern his actual presence even hiden.

theomariam

#43 Theopesta

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Posted 28 October 2006 - 03:39 AM

I hope my words do not offend anyone, but the true, sincere obedience dynamic not restricted in certain words or external behaviours and actions as we and many of the elders try to limit it.

the external things could be imitated by the Foxes

the pristine monastic obedience appears as a dynamic growth of precious and special love, and this feeling should remain growing, not restricted for making the monastic way always creative way to those who like it.

#44 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 28 October 2006 - 02:30 PM

I am very grateful to all who have contributed to this thread since my mention of the late, blessed Father Seraphim. I personally feel that there is value in all that was said by Andreas, Owen, Fr. Raphael, Fr. David, Matthew, and Nun Theopesta.

Owen, Fr. Raphael, and Fr. David brought to me the essential clarity of the position of Orthodoxy in America in those times, even sadly up until now, since in the '70's and 80's I did not live in North America.

Andreas underlined the words of Bishop Kallistos (Ware) that spiritual guidance has "retained its full significance up to the present day in Orthodox Christiandom."

Matthew's contribution is extremely worthy of note because, if I am understanding him correctly, Great Britain, nor Europe are free of those who want to draw people to themselves, rather than to Christ.

I especially appreciated Nun Theopesta's comment in post #43:

"the pristine monastic obedience appears as a dynamic growth of precious and special love, and this feeling should remain growing, not restricted for making the monastic way always creative way to those who like it."

Is it not also true in the world of arts and science and other disciplines that students will seek out teachers suited to their goals and needs? All the Olympic sports have, I believe, coaches and tutors. Musicians train for years under teachers who have been recognized by others as qualified to teach. The list could go on and on.

The essential point has been noted in the above posts: the true teacher does not draw the student to him/herself but to love of the art.

The true spiritual father/mother equally does not draw those entrusted to them to themselves, but rather as St. John the Baptist, prefers to diminish and ultimately lay down his life for the Truth, for Christ.

Andreas made a point earlier on that neither Father Symeon nor Father Zacharias liked to be called geronda or staretz.

This was equally true of Father Sophrony in all the years that I knew him. He never permitted any of us to address him as 'Elder'.

It was only after his repose in the Lord (+1993) that people were free to apply these appelations.

Speaking personally, regarding myself; Fr. Sophrony's concern was that I learn the way of Christ, amongst which was a constant emphasis on humility.

#45 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 21 November 2006 - 09:43 AM

God willing my health will allow me to continue this topic. As always I ask for your prayers.

I would like to take this opportunity to ask your prayers and fervent intercession for Mother Sergia of the Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Essex, England, who reposed in the Lord on Saturday the 18th of November.

MEMORY ETERNAL

Mother Sergia was from Cyprus and married an English man, named Peter. They lived their married life in England and raised three daughters. Peter died in the 1990's after a long illness. Mother Sergia's name in the world was Anneta. Her eldest daughter, Stella, entered the Monastery in 1977 and became Sr. Paula, she has two younger sisters, Marina and Joanna.

They were one of the very first families who came each Sunday for the Liturgy. After Peter's repose and with the Monastery's blessing Anneta became a nun, as is a very common practice in Orthodox countries.

Mother Sergia was an inspiraton to us all. Her patience was remarkable. As Father Raphael (Noica) would say 'her humility was her strong point'. She was blessed with many gifts of the Holy Spirit, loving in her advice, a pillar of strength in illness. I will miss her dearly.

She was a true Spiritual Mother.

Lord, now let Thy servant depart in peace...

#46 Trudy

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Posted 21 November 2006 - 12:32 PM

May her Memory be Eternal!

May God grant each of us the humility such as He granted Mother Sergia.

Fr. Seraphim, you remain in my prayers. I look forward to your further thoughts as God wills.

In Christ,
Athanasia

#47 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 21 November 2006 - 08:13 PM

Thinking of Mother Sergia, I feel moved to write of another nun who lived at the Monastery of St. John the Baptist. She entered the Monastery when she was 70 years of age and reposed in the Lord at the age of 100. Thus, thirty years in monasticism, after a full life lived in the world. She became through her deep love of Christ and her fervent repentance a true spiritual mother. Her name was Mother Elizabeth.

She was born in Germany and was a well known actress. During the Second World War, due to in part to Jewish ancestary, she was forbidden to perform by the Nazis. She was received into the Orthodox Church by the late Archbishop Vitaly (ROCOR). She prayed for him her entire life.

I remember very well the long lines of pilgrims waiting to see her. She always prayed the prayer to the Mother of God, in Slavonic, during our services devoted to the Jesus Prayer and prayers for all humankind.

She was a loving Mother to all who came to her for consolation.

Of interest, she reposed 13 days after Father Sophrony, so that though the Monastery followed the New Calendar, according to the Old Calendar they reposed on the same day.

Glory to God for all things.

Memory Eternal.

#48 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 23 November 2006 - 08:43 AM

Dear All,

I would just like to share with you an instance of the humility of the authentic spiritual father. My wife returned to Moscow last night from the Holy Trinity St Sergius Lavra, and she related this. The starets of the Lavra is called Kyrill. He is now very old, and is paralysed and blind (but of course sees more clearly than most). The Lavra fathers went to ask him to whom they should turn when they could no longer turn to him. He said, 'go to Father Philaret'. The response of Fr Philaret was, 'who? Me?', and he has withdrawn from the Lavra and lives in a small skete in the forest about 10km away. He has a handful of monks with him. There are no concessions to anyone's idea of comfort but the setting, my wife said, looks like a scene in a painting by Nesterov. My wife and her brother, Andrei, went to see him and found him full of love, kindness, simplicity and humility. Andrei asked if he could visit again. Fr Philaret replied by asking, 'do you know how to cut grass [meaning the old way, with a scythe]?' Andrei was taught how to do this by his grandfather who had a farm, and he's good at it. 'Yes', replied Andrei. Fr Philaret said, 'that's good - we don't know how to do it. Please come and stay as often as you like. And sometimes you will cut grass.'

As you can imagine, I'm looking forward to going there!

In Christ,

Andreas.

#49 Celinda Grace

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Posted 23 November 2006 - 11:08 AM

I realize that this was posted some time ago but I would like to reply nevertheless. First though I would like to express my deep appreciation for the time you have taken to post this thread. It is both valuable and inspiriing to read the words of those who have pursued Christ fully. It provides a spur to follow as best one's circumstances allow.

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?


Considering that this Life in Christ is a healing of our estrangement from God at ever deepening levels, and considering that God loves us and has initiated this healing, then I think that we must say that this Life is available to all "He who did not spare His own son but delivered Him over to us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" (Rom 8:32)

I have seen many questions regarding how to live this outside of a monastic setting and would like to mention some ways this might be approached.

Men of Christ that I respect have recommended that when one does not have a spiritual father or mother to obey one must live by the obedience of faith. (Whatever is not done in faith is sin. Whatever you do, do it as unto the Lord.) Also chastity for those who have not taken the vow of celibacy must be lived as fidelity and integrity in all of one's relatioinships. It is a matter of righteousness - right relating to the best of what we know. Again this goes back to the obedience of faith -being faithful to obey what we know and trusting that God in His mercy forgives our mistakes and will meet us where we are and teach us better. Poverty, non-possessiveness, in my own tradition is taught as faithful stewardship. All that we have and even our very selves must be viewed as belonging to God and our part is to be simply faithful stewards with it. Oswald Chambers in his book, My Utmost for His Highest, explains the fullness of this as becoming a bond-slave of Christ. One gives up all rights and surrenders fully to Christ in us.

Certainly to live this out in the world with no direct guidance is full of many problems. Without direct guidance, it can be difficult to discern what is required in any given circumstance but we have a God who looks not at deeds but at the heart. "For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him." (II Chron 16:9)

#50 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 23 November 2006 - 11:49 AM

Following upon Andreas' comment about Fr. Philaret, I would like to pay homage to a living spiritual father, or duhovnik, as they are called, presently living in Romania.

His name is Father Iustin (Pirov). He is the Staretz (Romanian for Abbot) of the Holy Monastery of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel. His monastery, which began contrustion in 1993, is located in the Neamts region of Romania, not far from the famed monastery of Sihastria, where Elder Cleopa (+1998) lived, just up from the village of Petru Voda.

I went to Romania orginally, with the blessing of my spiritual father, to see my monastic brother, Father Raphael (Noica) with whom I laboured at the Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Essex.

After serving Father Sophrony and the entire Monastery for over thirty years, with Father Sophrony's blessing he became a hermit on top of a majestic mountain, in a most splendidly conducive area for prayer.

A short while after staying with Fr. Raphael I was visiting the womens' Monastery of Varatec, where dwell 500 nuns. A kind nun showed me around, and at the moment of saying goodbye, she handed me, quite spontaneously, a photo in colour of a monk. All she said to me was: "Does he not have a beautiful face!"

This photo jumped out at me, exactly in the same way that Staretz Silouan's photo had affected me when I first saw it, in the first English edition of what would later become 'Saint Silouan the Athonite', then titled
'The Undistorted Image' while I was staying at a Syrian Orthodox Monastery in India.

Though 'The Undistorted Image' clearly stated that Staretz Silouan had reposed in 1938, my heart was captured by the desire to find Father Sophrony.

A similiar desire entered my heart when I looked upon this picture handed to me by this nun from Varatec Monastery. As soon as I saw his face, I said to myself: "I do not know where he lives, nor his name, or if he is even alive, but if he is, I must find him."

The following morning I turned over the photo and saw, lightly written in pencil, 'Fr. Iustin (Pirov), Petru Voda'. I immediately took out my map of Monasteries in Romania (yes, such a map exists!!) and realized I was only twenty miles away from him at the most. So great was my excitment, that I found a monk willing to drive me to the Monastery where dwelt Father Iustin.

I arrived very late at night, about ten in the evening, before the midnight service commenced.

When I walked into his cell I was enveloped with the atmosphere of Father Sophrony. I quickly realized he spoke French, and thus began what is now a six year knowledge of this most remarkable ascetic and servant of God.

Living there was like living in Optina. It is estimated that two thousand pilgrims per month go to Father Iustin for Confession and consolation.

I used to sit in Father Iustins' cell for so long that he had to kick me out. Such blessed days, so filled with grace-filled words and counsel. As with Father Sophrony, just to be in his presence filled one's heart with joy and courage.

While in Romania I had the blessing to visit many remarkable duhovniks, both male and female - almost too numerous to list.

The other Elder with whom I felt the proximity to Father Sophrony was Father Sofian of St. Antim's Monastery in Bucharest. He was very ill and confined to his cell, but his cell servant kindly let me see him. Such blessings from God.

It is said that Romania is the second Garden of the Virgin Mary, after Mount Athos.

In my experience, this is absolutely true.

Greatly is God glorified in His Saints!

#51 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 23 November 2006 - 01:45 PM

Dear All,

It has occurred to me that my post about Fr Philaret at the Lavra could suggest the thought that Fr Philaret foreknew Andrei's grass-cutting skills. There was, apparently, no such suggestion.

Andreas.

#52 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 23 November 2006 - 05:54 PM

It would appear to me that Father Philaret did indeed know Andrei's talent with the scythe. I have run across so many similarly 'cloaked' requests, that personally I feel that there is more to this account than meets the eye.

#53 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 27 November 2006 - 04:28 AM

I telephoned the youngest daughter of the reposed Mother Sergia on Friday and she informed me that the Burial Service for Mother Sergia will be on Tuesday the 28th, of November.

It is at moments like this that I wish I had written down more detail of Anneta/Mother Sergia's life.

I kept very detailed daily entries in journals throughout all the years I was in Essex. Sadly, the journals which were in storage (in a basement) while I was in Romania, suffered the fate of the basement being submerged in six feet of water. Alas. Since I had always written with a fountain pen all my careful notes are lost.

For many years I was Father Soprhony's cell servant and I used to sit with him for hours and then run back to my cell and write down what he had said. Now, I will be forced to try and remember the details that the flooding washed away.

I will certainly be at Mother Sergia's Burial Service in spirit - how blessed those who live in Great Britain and can simply hop on the train.

I will pray that the Lord grants me to know more of the actual details of the marriage of Anneta and Peter, the raising of their daughters, the entrance of the oldest daughter into the Monastery, the long and tragic illness of her husband, so that God-willing I could publish it for the benefit of souls...There is much I could say and much I did witness with Mother Sergia, perhaps it is better that it remains with the Lord for the moment.

But without the slightest hesitation I can state that she fulfilled the grace of her monastic vocation and this after many years of joys and trials in the married state.

I have been blessed to meet many, many women who upon the repose of their husbands became monastics. Such joy and warmth the memory of my time with them brings to my heart!

There is one such woman, born in Cyprus, married, who could not speak a word of English yet came everyday for two months to sit by my bed at the Royal London hospital. Despite the heavy rain that summer she did not miss one day. I marvelled at her patience and willingness just to sit with me. After the repose of her husband, she became a monastic in Cyprus and was quickly raised to the blessing of the Great Schema.

Truly God is glorified in His Saints!

#54 Trudy

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Posted 28 November 2006 - 02:45 AM

I kept very detailed daily entries in journals throughout all the years I was in Essex. Sadly, the journals which were in storage (in a basement) while I was in Romania, suffered the fate of the basement being submerged in six feet of water. Alas. Since I had always written with a fountain pen all my careful notes are lost. Truly God is glorified in His Saints!


Glory to God for all things!

Oh NO! What a shame!

May I humbly suggest, Fr. Seraphim, that you tape record your thoughts and allow someone to transcribe them for you onto the computer. Then they can be burned to a disc for safety. Then from there they can be published.

May I offer my unworthy skills to assist you if you find this idea worthy of merit?

In Christ,
Athanasia

#55 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 28 November 2006 - 06:31 AM

Dear Athanasia,

How wondorous is our Lord, and so unkown His ways!

This is a marvellous idea, which I have never, never thought of. It solves many difficulties presented as seeming obstacles by my illness.

My spiritual father telephoned me today on his cell phone while he was driving on the highway (or as they say in England, the motorway) to Ottawa. The poor man - I absolutely poured out my heart to him. Great is his patience, and as a healing balm, his words.

It is, in my opinion, absolutely necessary for all Orthodox Christians to have a spiritual father.

Such a spiritual father as my late blessed Father in God, Archimandrite Sophrony, did not waste time after the repose of his spiritual father, Saint Silouan, to ask our Lord for another father to guide him carefully.

In fact, with the precious writings of Staretz Silouan in his care, he writes: "...I should have preferred to conceal myself and publish this work (Saint Silouan the Athonite) anonymously in order not to belittle the great Staretz by my own inadequacy. But this could not be - I felt it essential to take on the responsibility and testify to him. In part-justification of my temerity I will say that the wishes and urgent requests of many people impelled me to do so, as well as the obedience laid on me by my spiritual father, a wise staretz now still flourishing - Hieroschemamonk Pinuphrius. (italics, mine)

'Nevertheless, I had a long struggle with myself because spiritual writings contain an energy of a particular kind. Whoever dares to write is the first to be judged by his words, and so, naturally, I accept the abuse I merit, and know that I shall be condemned by God and man.

'My conscience is slightly eased, however, by the fact that the present book contains no ideas of my own - it is based entirely on homilies pronounced by the Staretz and discussions with him...

'The Staretz' message - an extraordinarily noble one by virtue of its spiritual perfection - bears witness to the holy life that it was given him to lead. To many, his life will remain incomprehensible, inaccessible, despite its clarity, its simplicity.

On the 10th anniversary of his death, 11/24 September 1948, Father Soprony completed his labour and wrote this prayer:

'Forgive me, holy father, for having ventured in my folly to write of that which thou didst deign to entrust to me.
Grateful to God that He accorded me the unmerited happiness of knowing thee, of being with thee during thy lifetime here below, may I, I beseech thee, ask this:

'Now that thou has crossed over from this earthly life and dost behold the searchless beauty of thy beloved Lord
and His most holy Mother,
has the sweetness of Divine love caused thee
to forget our world plunged in tribulation?

'Or dost thou continue to pray yet more fervently,
because, as thou didst say
love can neither forget nor find rest
until the ultimate desire be attained?

'And though now my benighted soul
can no longer hear thy voice,
yet thy words remain with us
and afford us thine answer:

"The soul that has known God
her Creator and Heavenly Father,
can have no rest on earth."

'And the soul thinks,

"When I shall appear before the Lord,
I shall implore His mercy on all Christian peoples"

'and at the same time,

"When I shall behold His beloved Face,
for joy I shall not be able to
utter, for suffused with love man cannot find a single word."

'And again she thinks,

"I shall pray for the whole human race,
that all people may turn to the Saviour
and find peace in Him, for Divine love
would have all men to be saved."

The Monastery Registar says of him:

'Schema-monk Father Silouan. Name 'in the world' - Simeon Ivanovich Antonov. Peasant from the province of Tambov, district of Lebedinsk, village of Shovsk. Born 1866. Arrived Athos 1892. Professed 1896. Schema 1911. Performed his duties of obedience at the mill, at Kalomar, at Old Russikon, and as steward. Died 11/24 September 1938.'

Staretz Silouan was canonized in 1988.

#56 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 04 December 2006 - 10:12 PM

It is rather remarkable to realize that it is over one full month now since I mentioned the statement of Fr. Serpahim (Rose):

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

I greatly appreciated the replies of Fr. David and Fr. Raphael concerning this, as I was not in North America at the time, nor was I in the least familiar with the spiritual atmosphere of Orthodox monasticism in North America.

Fr. Nicholas (Sakharov) suggests some reasons which may have lead Father Seraphim (Rose) to make this statement.

I would like to continue with his interpretation of events...

'Eldership in Russia and Its Crisis

'The study of the ascetic writings of medieval Russia suggests that the tradition of obedience was far from being a controlling feature of monastic life at that time. We find that in Russian practice the concept of spiritual father applied not to the spiritual guide as such but to the priest-confessor. (S. Smirnov, The Father-Confessor in Ancient Russia, Moscow, 1913,pg. 8) Early documents such as the Kievo-Pechersky Patericon, reveal little elaborated understanding of the relationship between the novice and the elder outside the sacrament of Confession.

'The lives of Russian saints suggest that there was eldership in Russian monasteries, but it did not play a crucial role in asceticism, as the authors did not dwell on it. The scarcity of the written evidence on that theme indicates that there was no developed doctrine of eldership on the level of the Byzantine patristic tradition.

'More attention is paid to eldership in the life of Saint Sergius of Radonezh. Even then, the term "elder" was applied to St. Sergius not without certain reservations. Russian ascetic literature of that period did not produce any significant "heroes of obedience," as we find in the ascetic writings of the first millennium.

'The renewal of eldership in Russian monastic tradition is generally linked with the name of St. Paisy (Velichkovsky)[1722-1794). Having spent a few years on Mount Athos, Paisy had a good command of Greek, which allowed him to read and translate patristic writers into Russian. It is through them that he restored within Russian monasticism the centrality of obedience.

"Everyone," he writes, "should have someone experienced in spiritual direction to whom he fully delivers his will and obeys, as though it were the Lord himself."(V. Poljanomerulsky, Life and Works of the Moldovian Staretz Paisy Velichkovsky, Moscow, 1847, pg. 235; 246-47, 262). He reintroduced the patristic criteria - dispassion, purity of the soul, possesion of the Holy Spirit, and a capacity of spiritual discernment - for the elder.

'By the nineteenth century ascetic obedience in Russia became widely accepted in monasticism, as a result of the growing interest in the patristic heritage inaugurated by St. Paisy.

'Saint Seraphim of Sarov advances the understanding of eldership as prophetic ministry. The replies of the elder, according to St. Seraphim, are based on the will of God. He explains how the elder comes to know the will of God:

"I count the first thoughts [i.e., after prayer] which comes to my soul as an indication of the will of God. I speak without knowing what my interlocutor has in his soul, but only believe that the will of God is indicated for his benefit...but when I spoke from my own understanding, then mistakes would occur." (V. Ilyin, St. Seraphim of Sarov, Paris, 1930, pg.60)

'The growth of eldership in Russian monasticism attracted the attention of Russian intellectual circles. Thus, the center of Russian monastic spirituality of the nineteenth century - the Monastery of Optina, famous for its startsy (elders) - became a place of intellectual and spiritual pilgrimage for Gogol, Kireyevsky, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and Soloviev. The attention of the literary world and the religious philosophers to eldership provided a significant matrix for the integration of this monastic practice into current philosophical thought.

to be continued

#57 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 05 December 2006 - 08:32 AM

Continuing from Fr. Nicholas (Sakharov):

'We find an idiosyncratic example of this integration in Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, where the figure of the elder Amvrosy of Optina is used as a prototype for the character of the elder Zosima. On the basis of his interest in morality and excellent capacity for psychoanalysis, Dostoyevsky contributes toward the theological justification of eldership by his stress on love: the elder through love "takes the novice into his own soul and will." He restates the patristic idea that obedience to the elder leads to absolute freedom, but he views it from the angle of psychology - it is freedom from "self."

'In the Russian interpretation of the principle of ascetic obedience one may detect a certain breach of harmony between the trust of the novice on the one hand and the spiritual proficiency required of the elder on the other. The latter seems to have been completely dominated, even superceded, by the former. The faith of the novice is deemed a sufficient prerequisite for profit from the answer of the elder, whatever his spiritual qualities may be.

'The imbalance is manifest in A. Soloviev: "founding itself on faith in God, for the sake of whom the novice submits himself to obedience, faith in the words of the elder is effective on its own, irrespective of the spiritual condition of the elder." (A. Soloviev, Starchestvo according to the Teachings of the Holy Fathers and Ascetics, Semipalatinsk,1900, pg.84)

'This reduces obedience to a mechanical practice determined by an almost purely subjective criterion: faith of the novice is the only significant prerequiste for the revelation of the Divine will. Soloviev further supports himself by referring to the words of Amvrosy of Optina, who says: "If you seek and accept my words with faith then even though the sinner you may gain profit, but without faith, with doubt and examining the words and actions, this will not bring profit even if the elder is righteous." (G. Borisoglebsky, The Life of Hieromonk Ambrosy the Staretz of Optina, Moscow, 1893, pg.53.)

'A similiar view is held by Theophan the Recluse who believes that the faith of the one who asks is the guarantee of the appropriate answer. He writes: "The guide, no matter who he might be will always give exact and true counsel once the guided one entrusts himself with all his soul and faith." (Theophan the Recluse, The Path of Salvation, pg.214)

'With such emphasis on the faith of the novice, the spiritual requirements for the elder were hardly discussed by the Russian writers. This resulted in a distorted conception of the role of the elder, according to which virtually anyone could give spiritual advice. Therefore, the institution of ascetic obedience came to be misinterpreted and consequently abused. Seraphim's prophetic principle of seeking the divine will through prayer was replaced by the idea that whatever the elder says always works for the benefit of the novice.

'Russian ascetic writings (unlike the Byzantine tradition) do not dwell on the important fact that the novice has to abide by certain criteria when choosing the elder. In the fathers, as Hausherr demonstates, these criteria are rather strict: the elder must be a man who has all the virtues, with knowledge of the scriptures, who loves God and is humble, without anger, vainglory or pride. Spiritual guides should possess the charisma of the word; they belong to a special category of ascetics. (Hausherr, Direction spirituelle en Orient autrefois, pp. 181-86)

'The fathers warned that it is important to make the right choice of instructor to avoid spiritual disasters. Thus, we find in Cassian that "many of the elders have brought about harm instead of profit, bringing the one who asks into despair rather than offering consolation." (Conf. 2.12, 124.)

Climacus warns that before embarking on the way of obedience we should "discern, examine and test, so as to say, our navigator, so that we should not choose a simple rower instead of a navigator, a sick man instead of a physcian, a passionate man instead of a dispassionate one." (Scala parad. 4, PG 88:860D; cf Issac, Gr. Hom. 46, 191.)

'Monks Kallistos and Ignatius write: "It is not easy to find an instructor who would be undeluded in everything: in deed, in words, in understanding. One can discern the undeluded one by the fact that he has a testimony from Scripture for both deeds and for understanding, having humble thinking about things." (Kallistos and Ignatius, Cap. 14, 26)

'Climacus recommends that the choice of the elder should be determined by the spiritual condition of the novice himself: "we should choose an instuctor who would fit our illness according to the types of our passions." (Scala parad. 4, PG 88:725C) Thus, in the patristic tradition the disciple's obedience is not mechanical but has personal dimension, which was forfeited in Russian spirituality and replaced by an impersonal faith. (G.Gould, The Desert Fathers on Monastic Community, Oxford, 1993, pg.87).

'Because of the Russian stress on the faith of the questioner at the expense of the effort of the elder, the triangular scheme of relationship (God-elder-novice) loses its balance. The absolutism of this onesided perception was such that the unfailing involvement of God in the answers of the elder was taken as guaranteed. Kontsevich highlights such critical dangers in the understanding of eldership and points out the possibility of being mislead by a pseudo-elder: if "the true elder communicates the will of God, the pseudo-elder hides God behind himself." (I. Kontsevich, The Acquistion of the Holy Spirit in Ancient Russia, Paris, 1952, pp. 35-36.)

'The distortion provoked doubt, fear, criticism, and even persecution of the practice throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and entailed its gradual decline. Thus Ignaty Bryanchaninov, in highligting the distortions in contemporary Russian practice, advised abandoning the principle of eldership as a necessary element of the ascetic life. By the beginning of the twentieth century we find that among Russian intellectuals the concept of eldership became obscured; the very word itself is pronounced with a certain aversion.

'Thus, Berdyaev rejects the idea of obedience altogether: "As Christian spirituality was formerly understood, the greatest abuse was made of obedience and humiity, especially perhaps in Orthdoxy. The way of spiritual ascent was not one of illumination and transfiguration of the will, but of exhausting and deadening it." He understands obedience as if "man should not possess his own will, but must be obedient to another will" and protests against 'a perverted interpretation of humility," which "transforms man into a slave" and "debases God's image and likeness." (N. Berdyaev, "About the New Christian Spirituality," Sobornost 25, 1934, pg. 37)

'The rejection of eldership in the twentieth century even penetrated monastic circles. Thus Seraphim Rose writes: "There are no more elders like Paisius today. If we imagine there are we can do irreparable harm to our souls." (D. Christensen, Not of this World: the Life and Teaching of Fr. Seraphim Rose. Pathfinder to the Heart of Ancient Christianity, Forestville, 1993, pg. 633.) The cause of this crisis according to Smirnov, is the abuse of the institution by people who do not meet the requirements of the elder. (Smirnov, The Spiritual Father in the Eastern Church I. Sergiev Posad, 1906 [in Russian])

'In Hausherr's words: "What destroyed the institution [of eldership] was ambition and the spirit of denomination." (Hausherr, Direction spirituelle en Orient autrefois, pg.228)

to be continued

#58 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 05 December 2006 - 07:59 PM

Having finally arrived at the point where Fr. Nicholas writes what he may feel was the groundwork which leads to the position of Fr. Seraphim (Rose) regarding spiritual fathers, that it is primarily due to the history of eldership in Russia, I must pause and reflect.

The historical argument I can see. Certainly Fr. Nicholas provides witnesses to support this apparent loss of direction in Russian monasticism. To further understand North American Orthodoxy of the period (the 1970's) I spoke by phone with a prominent theologian (who happens to live in Winnepeg).

There is more to Fr. Seraphim's statement than meets the eye.

Afterall, Fr. Seraphim (Rose) did not live in Russia, nor was he of Russian ancestary. Yet clearly it was the Optina Fathers, and St. Paisy wherein much of his inspiration drew its source. Not to mention the Saints of the Northern Thebaid and St. Sergius and his multitude of disciples.

Herein, we touch upon, not a lack of desire for ascetism, repentance and prayer, indeed the multitude of the beauty that comprises Orthodox monasticism, rather as the Desert Fathers said 'what will those who come after us accomplish?'

In my years of monasticism and reflecting upon the 'cloud of witnesses' that have gone before us, I am constantly reminded of this question of the Desert Fathers.

When St. Silouan arrived on the Holy Mountain, he met monks who had personally known St. Seraphim of Sarov.

Father Sophrony writes: "The Staretz' message is a gentle, often affectionate one, healing the soul, but to heed it requires great and ardent resolution - to the point of self-hatred." (Luke 14:26)

What we often miss in reading the lives of the Saints, is the absolute burning fire of repentance, that by grace, will stop at nothing, not even death.

Fr. Sophrony repeatedly told us, that if we did not pray for this grace, we would fall short of our monastic desire.

For instance, in Fr. Sophrony's account of the Staretz, how did Fr. Sophrony know that the Staretz was unwell? Because, upon entering the Staretz' cell he beheld something he had never witnessed before.

The Staretz was half-reclining on his bed.

Father Sophrony had never seen Staretz Silouan on his bed. Each night the Staretz kept vigil on a stool, for 45 minutes, perhaps a bit longer.

Permit me to return to Fr. Nicholas:

'However, we still find the traditional ideal of ascetic obedience maintained within the Russian Athonite tradition, and notably in Silouan the Athonite, through whom it passed to Fr. Sophrony. In his teaching Silouan maintains that there is a certain guarantee of God's action through the elder in the subjective trustful predisposition of the disciples, warning thereby against the dangers of prideful self-guidance. But Silouan also points out the objective requirements for the spiritual father: he warns of serious harm if they are not met.

Fr. Sophrony on Obedience

'Fr. Sophrony's approach reinstates eldership in Russian asceticism. He both restores the concept of obedience and advances it to a new theological level. This was possible, once again, through hs focus on the principle of persona.

'Fr. Sophrony's fresh return to the patristic sources and his acquaintance with living contemporary Athonite ascetic tradition helped to revive interest in the practice of obedience within contemporary Russian Orthodoxy. The centrality of persona in Fr. Sophrony's approach made clearer the lack of the personal element in much Russian interpretation of ascetic obedience. Furthermore, he thus answers the claims of the twentieth-century Russian religious thinkers that obedience destroys personal freedom.

to be continued

#59 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 11 December 2006 - 06:33 PM

'The Principle of Operation of Eldership

'In Fr. Sophrony we may find various types of obedience within the monastic community. On the one hand, there is the "administrative" obedience to the abbot, which may or may not have charismatic significance. The abbot may impose various tasks on the members of the monastic community in accordance with the general needs of the community and of each individual. The degree of personal element may vary in this type of obedience. On the other hand, in accord with the eastern tradition, there is an obedience to the spiritual father, which rests on personal guidance. Fr. Sophrony points out that the elder may be an ordained priest or a nonordained person. His own elder - St. Silouan the Athonite - was not ordained. (In similiar fashion, nor was Elder Joseph the Hesychast [+1959] - note, mine.) Alongside guidance by Silouan, Fr. Sophrony had his father-confessor. However, Silouan himself did not connect the sacrament of confession with eldership, to the extent that he would come for confession and advice to any father-confessor at the monastery and follow the counsel obediently.

'For Fr. Sophrony, the elder, whether ordained or not, must necessarily meet certain requirements. Through the purity of his heart, he must have the ability to discern the voice of God and his will in his own heart. He should be a mediator between God and the novice. There are various levels of intensity, or depth, of one's commitment to the elder. On the one hand, one may inquire only about cardinal issues in the circumstances of the choice in life. On the other, there is a more intensive obedience, which is recommended by Fr. Sophrony. In daily life the novice consults the elder about every kind of issue, and whatever the elder recommends and advises the novice will follow, or obey.

'It includes the practice of confession of thoughts. Monitoring thoughts includes examining initiative and intentions. Thus, before any action is undertaken on the part of the novice, it is either approved or disapproved by the elder. Fr. Sophrony justifies this intensity by the conviction that in the monastic life there are no trivial issues: "Everything is important." This echoes St. Anthony the Great, who advises the monk "to ask the elders about every step which he takes in his own cell and about every drop of water he drinks." (Birth into the Kingdom, pg. 141; cf., Anthony, Ad fil. mon., PG 40:1082D; Cassian, Inst. 4:10, 132-34; Barsanuphius, Repl. 344, 186-87.)

'In accordance with tradition, Fr. Sophrony gives to obedience the highest place on the scale of ascetic virtues. For him, obedience is "the basis of monasticism." As a virtue it is even higher than chastity: "Many think that the main distinction between monastic and common ways of life is celibacy. But I, following the ancient fathers and modern ascetics, attribute greater significance to obedience, since often people live their life as celibates, without becoming monks either in terms of sacrament, or in spirit." (Birth into the Kingdom, pg. 135)


'Freedom From and Freedom For

'Fr. Sophrony echoes the the fathers in his conviction that obedience overcomes the fallen human condition and sustains the novice's freedom from and for.

'Fr. Sophrony agrees with patristic anthropology in admitting the sinfulness of the present human condition. Obedience is a way to eschew the effects of this condition. Echoing Dorotheus, Fr. Sophrony maintains that the personal attempt to discern directly the will of God is hampered by one's sinful condition: "the majority of people do not hear the voice of God in their heart, do not understand it and follow the voice of passion living in their soul and suppressing the lowly voice of God by its noise."

'The spiritual father is free from partiality of judgement concerning the issue in question, and is capable of seeking the will of God with an impartial heart: "He can see [things] more clearly [than the one who poses the question], and is more easily accessible to the action of God's grace." (St. Silouan the Athonite, pg. 80; cf., Dorotheus, Instr. 5.63, 252-54)

'This does not presume that the spiritual father needs to possess infallibility, or perfection. It is God who is believed to act through the spiritual father.

'Moreover, obedience provides a necessary framework for the development of pure prayer. If the novice is free from the responsibility of making decisions concerning issues that arise, then obedience helps him to remain impartial. This results therefore in liberation: the present reality no longer controls his existential concerns. Since he is not involved in the decision making, the novice's mind is no longer preoccupied at the level of "earthly cares." He can entirely give his mind over to prayer and meditation. This liberation affords him the possibility of achieving the state of pure prayer.
Fr. Sophrony states:

"Monasticism above all means the purity of the mind, which is unattainable without obedience. That is why there can be no monasticism without obedience. It is possible to receive great gifts of God - even the perfection of martyrdom - outside the monastic condition; but purity of mind is a special gift of monasticism, unknown on other paths, and the monk can only reach this state through obedience." (Birth into the Kingdom Which Cannot Be Moved, in Russian, edited by Fr. Nicholas Sakharov, Essex, 1999)

'Fr. Sophrony observes the impact of the purity of the mind on other aspects of monastic life. Thus, via control and purity of one's mind, chastity, vigilance, and a humble predisposition are maintained. At this point Fr. Sophrony refers to a similiar idea in Climacus, who states that obedience leads to the contemplation of God. (Scala parad. 4, PG 88:681A.)

'Purity of mind and heart, achieved through obedience, makes one more "sensible to the tender voice of God within us, to perception of his will." By allowing one to put aside all earthly care, obedience brings about the state of dispassion and therefore "true freedom," just as it does in Barsanuphius and Climacus. (Birth into the Kingdom, pg. 137; cf., Climacus, Scala parad. 4, PG 88:709B; Barsanuphius, Repl. 226, 140)

'The novice's conscience is not burdened by responsibility for his actions, becoming thereby irreproachable for this action, or "inaccessible to sin." Fr. Sophrony's formula encapsulating this principle is borrowed from the sayings of the Athonite fathers: "God does not judge twice." That is, God will require an answer for any action faithfully accomplished only from the elder responsible for commanding it.


'Eldership as a Sacrament

'The examination of Fr. Sophrony's writings in relation to eldership as a "charismatic" sacrament of the church again confirms his dependence on the fathers. However, in his approach this idea becomes an explicit definition: "Obedience is a spiritual sacrament in the Church, and therefore the relationship between the elder and the novice has a sacred character." The divine action is ineffably at work: "Notwithstanding its inadequacy, the spiritual instruction, if accepted with faith and effectively heeded, will always lead to an increase of good." (St. Silouan the Athonite, pg. 80)

'In the case of unbelief on the part of the novice, obedience loses its sacramental significance. This echoes the above-mentioned patristic idea: the novice's relation to the elder is absolute divine-like trust.

'In Fr. Sophrony the balance between the participation of the elder and the novice (which was lost within the Russian tradition) is restored. Eldership depends on the spiritual proficiency of the elder on the one hand, and the faith of the novice on the other: God acts in proportion to the novice's faith. Yet God acts through the elder. The elder must seek in his heart the voice of God and not say things from his own mind. Fr. Sophrony expresses this perception of the will of God as "feeling of the divine will."

'In another passage, echoing St. Seraphim of Sarov, he refers to the first thought that arises in the heart of the elder after prayer as an indication of divine will. As for the questioner's predisposition, he should accept the first reply of the elder as being in accord with divine providence. However, Fr. Sophrony does not go so far as to suggest that the elder is infallible in his decisions. The spiritual father always remains a vehicle of the divine action and not the source. The desire to comply with the will of God is required on his part. The spiritual father "seeks in prayer enlightenment from God." This harmony between God, the elder and the novice is expressed thus: "A spiritual confessor's reply will usually bear the imprint of imperfection, but this is not because he lacks the grace of knowledge but because perfection is beyond the strength and grasp of the one inquiring of him." (ibid., pg. 80)

to be continued

#60 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 21 December 2006 - 11:03 PM

'Obedience and Persona

'The integration of traditional elements in his teaching on persona allows Fr. Sophrony to provide a deeper theology of eldership. Obedience serves as an effective means to the realization of persona in man. For Fr. Sophrony, persona is the main constituent of the concept of human likeness to God, and this explains why he makes much of the dynamic dimension in human likeness to God. Man, as the image and likeness of God, is called to the fulness of immediate communion with God. Obedience as a dynamic praxis assists the novice in entering the current of the eternal divine will and thus in becoming a partaker of the divine life. It introduces man into divine life as the realization of his God-likeness.


'Obedience and the Trinity

'Fr. Sophrony explores the perichoresis in the Trinity in an original fashion, to shed light on the obedience of Christ and to draw out its ascetic anthropological implications. The Byzantine tradition also sets Christ's obedience as a model for monastic obedience. However, the Fathers do not link the kenotic obedience of the Christ-man with the theology of the Trinity, because there was hardly any overtly kenotic element in their teaching on the Trinity. Patristic commentaries on Philippians 2:6 link it with the incarnation. If they use the Christ-man as a human model in this passage, they stress its pastoral and moral significance. Thus, for Barsanuphius of Gaza obedience likens one to the Son of God. (Repl. 251, 154-55) Cassian also sees in Christ an example of obedience:


"in [my] utter submission to [my spiritual] father I could to some extent imitate the one about whom it is said, 'He humbled himself, being obedient even unto death' (Philippians 2:8), and I could be vouchsafed to pronounce humbly his word: 'I did not come to do My will but the will of the Father Who sent Me' (John 6:38)". -(Conf. 19.6, 46)


'Fr. Sophrony goes further than this, applying the idea of Christ's example on the level of the Trinity. Fr. Sophrony refers to traditional triadology, which teaches that "each hypostasis is the bearer of the absolute fulness of the divine being." He explains that this mutual dynamic fulness is due to the kenotic self-abasement of one hypostasis in relation to the other. The Father empties himself, the fulness of his own being, to the Son and the Son "returns" it to the Father. Obedience in this context presupposes not merely fulfilment of the will of the other persona; it includes embracing the full scope of all the manifestations of the other persona. Through this ultimate kenotic obedience within the Trinity the dynamic perichoresis of the personae finds its realization. In such a kenotic trinitarian perspective, obedience is the expression of divine love. In fact, in the trinitarian model the distinction between obedience and love is somewhat erased.

'The "return" of the Son to the Father is also seen in the incarnate Christ in his existential hypostatic orientation toward the Father, expressed in his "not-I-but the-Father" sayings: "I live by the Father" (John 6:57; cf 5:30, 7:18, 15:15). Christ, though the incarnate God, avoids any "divine action" of his own, so much so that the Father's hypostasis is manifest absolutely through the absolutely "transparent screen" of Christ's self-emptied hypostasis. ('La felicitie de connaitre la voie', pg. 44 [John 14:9]) Through this kenosis it becomes the "express image of the Father" (Hebrews 1:3).

'The projection of perichoresis onto the level of human relationship is assisted by Fr. Sophrony's theology of image and likeness. Mankind is modeled upon the prototype of the Trinity. As such mankind is to imitate trinitarian life, and this was manifested in and by Christ.

to be continued




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