How to Choose a Spiritual Father
The other day, I wrote about the tradition of the spiritual father in the Orthodox Church. I realize that it is one thing to speak about having a spiritual father, and it is quite another thing to choose a spiritual father. If we are going to be obedient to him, then we should know, as much as we are able, that he is leading us to the kingdom. Not every spiritual father is the same.
One of the complications in choosing the ‘right’ spiritual father is we seem to have different rules. We like rules, or at the idea of rules anyway, so when we see our spiritual father give us different rules than somebody else, we begin to wonder. Is our spiritual father the ‘right fit’ for us, or should we have another? One reason for this is the old Greek saying, (translated) “New Priest, New Gospel.” I preached about this phenomenon a few years ago.
As I mentioned in the sermon, every time a new priest arrives in a community, everything seems to change. The essence of this perception is due to the breadth of Church history and tradition. I also blogged about this a few years ago when I wrote about the ‘Top Ten Things’ an Orthodox Christian should do each day. Not everyone is doing all ten, so if one priest focuses on #5 (let’s say) and other on #7, it APPEARS that different priests are teaching something different.
One difference that can be very obvious is the requirements for Holy Communion. One spiritual father might require 3 days of fasting from meat to receive Holy Communion, while another does not. One might require Holy Confession every time someone receives Holy Communion, while another does not. Is one right and one wrong? One spiritual father might even require different things for different people. Is he being inconsistent?
My point in this today, isn’t to encourage ‘shopping around’ for the spiritual father you think will give you the advice you want, but the advice you need. A good spiritual father will sit with you and discuss your journey to determine your needs, since your journey is unique. So long as your spiritual father isn’t leading you away from Christ and His Church, you ‘should be’ ok with your choice. I would warn you about one thing though. If your spiritual father gives you requirements that make your life in Christ unbearable to the point where you choose to avoid Church and Holy Communion, you may want to rethink the relationship.
I will leave you with this. Christ said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6.53) The Holy Apostles taught that we should be come every Sunday to receive Holy Communion. (Didache) If your spiritual father leads you away from these core teachings about the source of life, you may want to rethink your relationship.