A spiritual father will lead us discreetly by the hand to Christ

CONFESS your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

James 5:16.

AND many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds.

Acts 19:18.

**

A picture of a lady making her confession to an Orthodox priest

“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” (James 5:16)

**

SOME people ask about the time it should take in going to confession.

Certainly the answer cannot be the same for everyone. But it is necessary to say that what happens in the church has at its foundation man’s freedom. That is why the manner and time taken in keeping the “spiritual canons” differs from person to person.

Some wish to have a formal relationship with their confessor, who will simply listen at intervals to their sins, real or supposed, will give them counsel “the better to lead their lives”, and they will depart “relieved”.

Others wish to have a more substantial relationship with the spiritual father, to get in touch with him often and about all the issues in their lives. So their confession is part of the relationship they have with their spiritual father, and not something in isolation.

In this, care is needed, discernment.

What is at issue is not the time taken, but the manner of the relationship with our spiritual father. And again, that is substantially determined by our relationship with God and with his Church.

That is to say, if our relationship with a spiritual father is formal, confined to making confession at scattered intervals, then inevitably we walk alone in the finer points of the spiritual path. Again, if we are wanting an anthropocentric or emotional relationship, without a desire to know the “way of the Lord”, then we will find we are on the wrong road.

The spiritual father, like a father, should be in our life to walk with us, and lead us discreetly by the hand to Christ.

Elder Ephrem, Abbot of the Vatopaidi monastery, affectionately greets a fellow monk

“The spiritual father, like a father, should be in our life to walk with us, and lead us discreetly by the hand to Christ.” Elder Ephrem (right), Abbot of the Vatopaidi monastery, affectionately greets a fellow elder.

And we, from the other side, should be in his life like children who take an interest in him, offering him our love, our prayers, some human comforts.

It may be that we have learnt to live life at a distance from the clergy. This is however no part of our Orthodox tradition, which wants the priest to be found in every fold of the life of his children, and for people to feel that he is their father, that is, “flesh from their flesh”.

Responsibility for this certainly lies with the fathers themselves, who, fearing that they will be “exposed” as human beings, keep the world at arm’s length, with grievous consequences as much for themselves as for other people.

The former pass their lives in their isolation, without relationships or engagement; the latter are effectively orphans without a father dedicated to “the service of their religious needs”.

I think that confession, as it has come to be today by such as these, encourages the isolation of the clergy-laity and hides it.

Perhaps however a turning point is coming, in which the reality of the Church as a relationship, as a family of God, will be experienced, which will bring, despite the difficulties which accompany it, joy, health, maturity, growth, experiencing “the Kingdom of God within us”.

Fr Andreas Agathocleous. This is my non-expert translation, from Απόψεις για τη Μονή Βατοπαιδίου. The original “Letter” can be found here.

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