We are all at different stages of our spiritual journey. The Orthodox way of life can be complex and difficult to determine just is the best way to practice our Orthodox Life. We cannot just ‘pick and choose’ like a cafeteria. The Tradition of our Church is to have a spiritual father who is guiding us in our daily life. Our spiritual father knows us. He knows our challenges. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knows how to guide us to make the best use of the Orthodox Tradition.
My brothers and sisters, I wanted to speak today about our tradition in the Orthodox Church of a spiritual father. A spiritual father is important to our journey in the church. All of us, if we’re willing to admit it, all of us are at a different level of journey. Some are closer to Christ. Some are further away from Christ. Some of us are brand new in our faith. Some of us have been Orthodox since we were six months old, but we don’t remember anything from Sunday school and everything in between. And the Orthodox life is very complicated.
For example, we know we have to fast as Orthodox. Yeah. The question isn’t whether or not we should be fasting. The question is, how do we fast? And this is where the tradition of the spiritual father comes into play because the life of the church tried and tested for 2000 years plus, is one that has developed over time, to the needs of people.
And so, one of the things that we fall into the trap of, especially as Americans, is we read something from the fathers, or we read something from the Holy Mountain, and we think that every single thing we read applies to us.
We forget, for example, that maybe St. Paisios was not writing to me, but he was writing to a particular person. Or even Saint Basil was writing not to city folk, but to monastics. We forget that just because something is part of our church tradition, we forget that it is not universally applied to each and every member of the church. Some things are. Some things are a little bit more, as we say, gray.
And so the reality of our spiritual father, someone who knows us, knows our journey, knows our weaknesses, and our strengths, and our history, and where we are struggling in life. Our spiritual father, knowing the richness of our tradition, applies the tradition to us.
I have a spiritual father. I speak with him on a regular basis and he guides me and teaches me how to live my orthodox life. The advice he gives to me is not necessarily what he gives to somebody else, because he knows me.
Now, why do you think that’s important? Because just last week we heard in the celebration of the cross, Christ says, “Whoever desires to come after, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” The life of a Christian is a struggle, but the first thing Christ said was, deny ourselves.
Well, how can we deny ourselves if we pick and choose what part of the church we want to live by? “I like this rule. I’m going to follow this rule.” “I don’t like this rule. This rule’s not going to apply to me.” This is not the orthodox understanding of life.
Now, what does any of that have to do with the gospel? In the scene, in the gospel, Christ is using the fishermen to teach. They have been out all night fishing. They knew exactly how to fish. Christ says, now, after he was done teaching, he says, “Take the boat. Go out into the deep water and throw out your nets.”
And they said, “But we’ve been fishing all night long.” In their own minds, it didn’t make sense to go fishing, but because they trusted in Christ, when Christ said, “Now go there and fish,” when they were obedient to Christ, who was of course all of our spiritual father, they had rich blessings. When they were dependent upon their own logic, when they thought they knew better than anybody else, they caught nothing. This is what I wanted to get through to all of us today. We are not rogue individuals. We are united to each other in Christ, and we are committed to living together, one communal life.
In the divine liturgy, we talk about dedicating and committing our entire life to Christ, our God. We don’t have… We know we have 10,000 people here in Tarpon Springs. We don’t have 10,000 individual lives in Christ. We have one life in Christ and it’s our spiritual father. For most of you, that’s me because I’m the priest. We learn together and we grow together, always being taught.
One of my favorite Greek sayings. Γεράσκω αεί παν διδασκόμενος. We translate that in English normally to, I grow old, always learning. Have you ever heard that expression? Well, the English expression is wrong. The original Greek, means being taught. You see, learning can happen by yourself. Being taught requires a relationship. And so even the ancient Greeks knew that we can’t go it alone. And so my brothers and sisters, we have to trust in the tradition of our church.
There are other examples. Every now and then, I hear people debating the liturgy schedule of the church. Some people like nine o’clock in the morning. Some people prefer 10 o’clock in the morning. Some people prefer, “Father, I’d like to get my golf game in. Maybe we can start a little earlier.”
When we schedule the services of the church to cater to individual needs, now, hear me now. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with golf, although I don’t golf. But when the church says, “Okay, I will schedule a 10 o’clock service for you and a nine o’clock service for you, and a three o’clock service for you.” I know, right? The church is not teaching us to be taught. The church is teaching us that we get whatever we want, whenever we want it. But Christ says, “Deny ourselves.” Christ says, “Take up our cross.”
We cannot always have what we want, when we want, how we want. And the only way, trust me on this. The only way to learn that lesson is to embrace the tradition of a spiritual father, where we are accepting how we are going to fast. We are accepting how we are going to pray. We are accepting how to live the Orthodox life, not because our spiritual father is somehow superior, but because if we’re going to learn to give up our will for God, we learn to do that by giving up our will to our spiritual father.
And a spiritual father is answerable to God. You see these fringes on my robe. They represent all of you. I will answer at the throne of God for each and every word I teach. That’s my responsibility to God and to you.
But let’s listen and follow the example of the apostles in this morning’s gospel. They put down their nets. They listened to Christ. They didn’t go their own way. And when they listened, instead of using their own ideas, they were blessed with abundance from God. And I want all of us to have an abundance from God. And I’m not talking about cars and boats and big fancy houses. I’m talking about blessings from Christ. But we can’t get there following our own path. We have to go out into the deep, with Christ, and be guided on our spiritual journey.
We’re starting the new season now, starting as we prepare in the fall. We’re starting now with the Gospel of Luke and we’re starting the cycle over again. Let this year be new and refreshing for you in your life. Embrace a new challenge in your faith. Take a step further, trust in the tradition of the church, and I promise you, God will bless all of us.