Fr. Rafail responds to one of the questions posed by St. Silouan, ‘why are there no longer spiritual fathers?’ He also talks about the Mystery of Confession and the relationship with the spiritual father in the Orthodox spiritual life.
Fr. Rafail: “Saint Silouan answered such a question saying: ‘because there are no longer good obedients…’ The good apprentice, the good obedient, is the man whose mind leans toward God and who seeks a response from God, not from people and who may turn to man because we can’t even reach God as Cain did… But when you turn to man, you must go with your attention towards God, with Whom you must have talked before then, praying that the man – your spiritual father – would give you the word. Take care of your inner self and, as Father Sophrony says, take hold of – seize, I’d say – the first word…”
Fr Sophrony Sakharov quoting from St. John Climacus establishes the connection between spiritual fatherhood and Christ Himself in his book ‘On Prayer’, p.89
“..spiritual fatherhood is linked with the mystery of the word of God, which is begotten in the heart of man through prayer Spiritual fathers are those who, in the fear of God, remain unwavering in the pre-eternal current of the will of God, and who are vouchsafed to hear the still small voice of Christ(I Kings 19:12), and to obey it with humility and discernment, overcoming their own psychological inclination,.”. Fr. Zacharias Zacharou, ‘The Enlargement of the Heart’ p.164, Mount Thabor Publishing, 2006.
“A spiritual father bears in himself the blessedness flowing from the knowledge of Christ way, and he thus becomes the means of leading the life of men out of the hell they have created, by the negative effect of their passions, and into pure Christian life and spiritual freedom.He is constrained by only one thought; how the person can be healed. ( Father Sophrony used to say that when the spiritual father prays for his children, as soon as he pronounces their names, he feels in his heart their state, weather they are in a good state or in a bad state, in comfort or in despair). The father confessor offers this sacred service on behalf of the little ones, the unfortunate ones who are themselves completely indifferent. He does not plot against their freedom, but instead considers exclusively his future reward. (That is to say, he must remain selfless, only consider God’s reward, and not expect to be rewarded by anyone or anything in this world).The spiritual father is the image of the ‘Good Shepherd’ who has greater love, and lays down his life for his sheep. John 10:11″ ibid p.174-175. “He offers repentance for himself and for all the sins of those whom God has entrusted to him”. ibid p.177.
“But if Christ is to send such a father, he is to be sought in fervent prayer and in a spirit of repentance. Symeon (The New Theologian) told a Christian; ‘humble yourself and say, O Lord, You do not desire the death of the sinner but that he be converted and live. You descended to earth precisely to resurrect the ones who have fallen and are dead in consequence of their sin. You enable them to see You, the true light, as far as this is possible to man. Send me a man who knows You, that by entirely submitting myself to his service as to Yours and by fulfilling Your will by doing his, I may please You, the only God, and be awarded Your kingdom, even, I a sinner’. A certain identification is made here between Christ and the spiritual father, but it is always Christ, the one true God, who remains the real father”. Archbishop Basil Krivocheine, ‘In The Light of Christ’ p. 92-93, SVS Press,1986
Bishop Kallistos Ware
The spiritual father or Elder is essentially a “charismatic” and prophetic personality, who has undertaken that ministry with the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit. No human hand ordinates him, only the hand of God. It is the Church’s expression of an “event” and not the Church’s expression of an institution. Nevertheless, there exists no dividing line between the prophetic and the institutional elements in the life of the Church; each develops within the other and is entwined with it. Thus, the ministry that the Elders provide – which is charismatic per se – is linked to a clearly defined function within the institutional framework of the Church, which is that of a Priest-Confessor… Although the mystery of Confession is definitely a suitable opportunity for spiritual guidance, the function of an Elder does not relate to that of a confessor. An Elder provides guidance, not only during a person’s confession, but also in many other cases. It is a fact, that while a confessor must always be a Priest, an Elder can be an ordinary Monk…
But, if an Elder is not ordained, nor instated by an act of the official hierarchy, how does he reach the stage of undertaking such a ministry?… Within the continuing life of the Christian community, it becomes apparent to the faithful people of God – the true guardians of Sacred Tradition – that this or that person has the gift of spiritual paternity or maternity. Then, with a free and unofficial manner, people begin to approach those persons for counsel or guidance.» (“The Kingdom Within”, Akritas publications, Athens 1004, p.117-119)
According to Bishop Kallistos Ware: «In reality, the relationship is not bilateral, but triangular, because beyond the Elder and his spiritual child there is a third party: God. Our Lord tells us that we should not call anyone “father”, because we have only one father – the one in heaven (Matth.23:9). The Elder is not some kind of infallible judge or appellate, but a co-servant of the living God; he is not a dictator, but a guide and companion on the journey. The only true “spiritual guide” – in every sense of the word – is the Holy Spirit» (The Kingdom Within, p. 139).