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.
Fr Seraphim (Black)
Only a man who has successfully traversed the path of spiritual labor himself can lead others along this path…A true elder must have the gift of discernment.
‘If you wish to renounce the world and learn the evangelical life,’ said St. Simeon the New Theologian to the monks of his time, ‘do not entrust yourself to an inexperienced or passionate master, lest instead of the evangelical life you learn a diabolical life. For the teaching of good teachers is good, while the teaching of bad teachers is bad. Bad seeds invariably produce bad fruits. Every blind man who undertakes to guide others is a deceiver. and those who follow him are cast into the pit of destruction according to the word of the Lord: if a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a hole (Matt. 15:14). . . .’
“If there is no good director available,” continues Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov “it is better for an ascetic to be without one altogether than to submit himself to an inexperienced one. . . . It is a terrible business to take upon oneself duties (of eldership) which can be carried out only by order of the Holy Spirit and by the action of the Spirit. It is a terrible thing to pretend to be a vessel of the Holy Spirit when all the while relations with Satan have not been broken, and the vessel is still being defiled by the action of Satan (i.e., dispassion has not yet been achieved)! Such hypocrisy is terrible. It is disastrous both for oneself and one’s neighbor; it is criminal in God’s sight, blasphemous. . . .
Eldership is a special gift of grace, a charisma exercised under the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit, a special kind of sanctity. An elder never imposes himself on anyone; one always submits to him voluntarily. Such a high calling cannot but be bound up with a high moral level, with purity of heart, with personal sanctity. “He must have the manner of the Lord. From his manner may be distinguished the false prophet and the (true) prophet,” says one of the oldest works of Christian literature, the Didache (The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles)
While the grace-filled elder is the bearer of God’s will, the pseudo-elder overshadows God…Humility always accompanies sanctity.
The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit in Ancient Russia [Ivan M. Kontzevitch, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Translation from the Russian by Olga Koshansky]
A soul that is troubled about anything should inquire of the Lord and the Lord will give understanding…. We must always pray to the Lord to tell us what to do, and the Lord will not let us go astray.... Without Him we cannot even think a good thing. Therefore we must humbly surrender ourselves to the will of God, that the Lord may guide us.” On the Will of God, by Saint Silouan the Athonite
We need to pray fervently so that God will find us worth of this great gift. The St. Symeon writes, “With prayer and tears, keep pleading with God to send you a holy and passionless guide,” a guide for our journey to the heavenly kingdom.
Prayer to Find a Spiritual Father: “O Lord, who desirest not the death of a sinner but that he should turn and live, Thou who didst come down to earth in order to restore life to those lying dead through sin and in order to make them worthy of seeing Thee the true light as far as that is possible to man, send me a man who knows Thee, so that in serving him and subjecting myself to him with all my strength, as to Thee, and in doing Thy will in his, I may please Thee the only true God, and so that even I, a sinner, may be worthy of Thy Kingdom”.
—St.Symeon the New Theologian (SC 129,186-188).