Archimandrite Zacharias Zacharou
Virtue is formed and shaped in us by the Holy Spirit in the Holy Tradition – that is, the practiced lives of saints who have embodied the virtues of Christ through the ages.
Of course, we can’t just go out and sign ourselves up for apprenticeship with a saint. Good people are often rare and saints even rarer. But the principle of discipleship – learning by action in the Holy Spirit in the life of Holy Tradition – remains.
In some corners of Christianity (and probably some corners of Orthodox Christianity as well) discipleship has been abused – generally when someone without the proper gifts imposes obedience on others. Such gifts (such as eldership, etc.) are quite rare, even within Orthodox monasticism. My Archbishop has always been quick to instruct parish priests to avoid the monastic practice of obedience in the parish on account of its spiritual dangers in the wrong hands. Those whom I have known who do have this gift exercise it with fear and trembling.
Nevertheless, discipleship remains the primary means of our spiritual growth. So what do we do in the absence of saints? First, we are never in the absence of saints. They are always present with us as we are, together with them, one body in Christ. We have the witness of their lives and the wisdom of their writings. We have the living Tradition of the worshipping Church in which the words of the saints bathe us with spiritual teaching.
Tito Coliander, in his little classic work, Way of the Ascetics, has this exquisite observation on obedience in our modern times:
Perhaps you ask: Whom shall I obey? The saints answer: you shall obey your leaders (Hebrews 13:17). Who are my leaders, you ask? Where shall I find any, now that it is so utterly hard to discover a genuine leader? Then the holy Fathers reply: The Church has foreseen this too. Therefore since the time of the apostles it has given us a teacher who surpasses all others and who can reach us everywhere, wherever we are and under whatever circumstances we live. Whether we be in city or country, married or single, poor or rich, the teacher is always with us and we always have the opportunity to show him obedience. Do you wish to know his name? It is holy fasting. continue…
From The Enlargement of the Heart by Archimandrite Zacharias Zacharou