Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Spiritual Fathers

I'm beginning to get an appreciation for one of the (many, I'm sure) benefits of having a spiritual father.

Let me explain:

I was listening to another edition of Our Life in Christ, and one of the quotes they used was this: "St. Pachomius once met some people who were carrying a corpse, and saw two angels in the funeral procession. He asked God to reveal to him the mystery of the presence of the two angels at the burial of this man. What especial good had he done that two angels should escort him to the grave? Then, by the providence of God, the two angels came across to Pachomius and explained to him: One of us is the angel of Wednesday, and the other the angel of Friday. As this man fasted every Wednesday and Friday right up to his death, we are giving his corpse a solemn escort. As he kept the fast up to his death, so we are here to glorify him."

And I thought, yeah! I wanna do that! I mean, who wouldn't want an angelic escort at their funeral? (Or any other time for that matter...) So I went off (in my head) planning to find out *exactly* how the Orthodox fast, get myself an Orthodox calendar, and do it. And thereby get angels at my funeral. Seriously.

I didn't get *too* far in my planning, though, when I was listening to *another* episode, this time an interview (I believe) with a man called Papa Demetrios. It was about the healing of the nous. And he told the story (which I am paraphrasing from my memory) of a man who was doing hundreds of prostrations a day, and feeling very good about it and himself. He went to a his spiritual father and told him what he was doing already, and asked for a discipline to bring himself even closer to God. The father told him his discipline was this, to do only *ten* prostrations a day. The man sort of scoffed, after all, he was doing much more than that already, ten was nothing.

He came back in a few days, begging for a different discipline. Ten was too hard. Before, he'd been doing his hundreds with pride. Doing ten, in obedience, was too difficult.

So, that stopped me. I mean, why did I want to do the fast? Because I wanted the angels. I wanted 'bragging rights'. *sigh*

*That* sort of stuff, for me, makes it clear why having a spiritual father is an *excellent* idea. And, to be frank, it makes more sense to me than that whole, 'headship' thing I was trying to fit into my brain a while back. After all, again, what about me? Under the 'headship' plot, I'm s.o.l. And married, what if my husband goes off the theological rails? What if he's not the same faith? (No, we're not supposed to marry outside of our faith, but what if I married Orthodox and he later on became...Evangelical *hackspit*. That's not grounds for divorce, but still his spiritual advice, 'headship' would become useless.) On the other hand, the priest is separate from our marital issues. He's devoted his entire life to his faith, and to leading others in the faith, and his advice would be best. He wouldn't be subject to my pride or whims, but rather what is actually best for my soul and spiritual growth.


  1. I like the story about the man who did 100 prostrations and then was asked to only do 10. Sometimes less is more. You can do 1000 but if you don't sincerely mean them or you aren't doing them for the glory of God it really isn't going to make a difference how many you do. That is how prayer works. Doing a bunch of prayers but not meaning any of them or only doing them to get a reward really isn't going to get you anywhere. You're only partcially doing your part to receive help from God and His closeness. You have to mean it, you know?

    I agree that a priest is a much better guide then a husband.

    Loved this :)

  2. I think that the important thing for anyone who wants to approach God is to get rid of their self-sufficiency, if i could put it this way. Having a spiritual father keeps you safe from vanity as you do everything in obedience. In this manner you can attribute all your "succeses" to his praying for you, and you can trust all your failures in his loving hands. So you practically have nothing to worry about and nothing to boast about. That is also, i think, the greatest advantage of orthodox monasticism, that one entrusts their one judgement, will, and "opinion" in the wise judgement of the spiritual guide. M

  3. FOOTNOTE :)

    The word “obedience” in monastic parlance has two meanings:

    * obedience in the sense of being obedient, as a means of healing the infirmity of self-love which is common to all mankind, and overcoming the ingrained habit of attaching great significance to one's own opinion,
    * and obedience in the sense of a labor, an assignment or a deed which one carries out obediently, carefully and earnestly.

  4. sooo ... don't get married!


    Are you the same person you were 5 years ago - or even 10 years ago...


    anyways you have two beefy-beefcake angels that ride shotgun over you all the days of your life.... didnt you know already? :0D

    hummm... would recommend you read Silence and Honey Cakes... HUGE impact for such a tiny book...


    (get copy from library...)

    there's another one that I think you would enjoy tremendously... now if I only I could remember what it was... tetch

  5. Whoa, I loved the illustrations you shared especially the second one and how God wanted 10 sincere prostrations rather than 100 because it made you feel holier somehow. Remember how Jesus told the Pharisees that they added so much to the people that it was like burdens to be carried? I think the Pharisees -- who tithed of their mint -- wanted to show off how pious they were. Problem was, God saw their hearts and they neglected the weighter matters of the Law, like, oh, say justice, mercy and love.

    What good is giving God a tenth of your cumin and anise when you treat God's creation (your fellow man) like the ones who neglected the beat up man (think Good Samaritan story), as if they aren't our concern?

    Good stuff except maybe the part about Evangelicals. :-P***

  6. Cool stories. I really like the second one and get the message, but I am in a weird place where I can't imagine it being true that it would be so hard. Maybe I should try it and see what they mean.

    Yeah, headship has never made sense to me. I tried to get into the idea and convince myself of it the past two years, I just couldn't and really don't want to.

  7. LK,

    I think it's not just that you have to mean it, but that you have to also not be doing it for pride, or showing off, or anything else. It's harder than it sounds...

  8. M,


    'I think that the important thing for anyone who wants to approach God is to get rid of their self-sufficiency'

    I think that might be the crux of the matter, and also the hardest thing to do. How do you get rid of that impulse to go, '*I* can do it!' all the time? To give someone else charge over any part of your life? And yet, I'm beginning to think, *because* it's hard, it's worthwhile.

    Re: the footnote: Interesting. I would think that both would go hand in hand though. Wouldn't obedience in one sense help lead you to obedience in the other?

  9. Ahavah,

    'Sooo ... don't get married!'

    Hah! But I believe that marriage is a part of God's plan for me! Also, it wouldn't solve the 'headship' issue, if I went for that theory. Under that theory, I'd still need a man to direct me spiritually and tell me how to interpret the Bible and theology. So, lacking a husband, then what?

    'Are you the same person you were 5 years ago - or even 10 years ago...'

    Hmm...since I don't believe that people really change, but simply become more themselves, yes. That being said, do I believe the same things or act the same? In many ways no. I'm finding my true self.

    'anyways you have two beefy-beefcake angels that ride shotgun over you all the days of your life.... didnt you know already? :0D'

    Two? I know everyone has a guardian angel, but what's the other angel?

    *adds book to list to check out*

    If you remember what the other one is, let me know. There can never be too many books. :)

  10. Susanne,

    They are awesome stories, aren't they?

    'Good stuff except maybe the part about Evangelicals. :-P***'

    *grin* I knew that would get ya'. But, I did it on purpose! 'Evangelical' is the worst thing I could think of that I wouldn't consider grounds for divorce. So, heads up all potential husbands for me: convert out of Christianity, and I'll divorce your behind.

    I realized that my kids are going to grow up thinking 'Evangelical' is a bad word. I can picture them now, shouting 'Evangelical!' at each other when they get into fights. :)

  11. Sanil,

    'Maybe I should try it and see what they mean.'

    Let us know how it turns out. I can totally understand it being hard to be in obedience, maybe because I have issues with that all the time. :)

    re: headship: Me too. I've given it up as useless and not true.

  12. Amber, well at least we aren't divorce-worthy. :-)

    Actually, I'm curious what "Evangelical" means to you. I don't know if I fully fit the bill as what the supposed Evangelicals are like. I've seen here we even have Evangelical Catholics -- do you also dislike them or things they do? What is it you dislike so much?

    You should pray and ask God to give you compassion and love for them if you dislike them so much. Because!!! You just might have to spend eternity with (some of) them and, HOPEFULLY, even there I can tease you from time to time about the fox and little prince story!

    So there!


  13. Susanne,

    Yep. You have that. :)

    Oh, sure, ask me to define my irrational dislike. :p

    I'm gonna have to get back to you on that one. I need to think about it.

    I'm going to assume by 'Evangelical Catholic' you mean 'Charismatic' Catholic, in which case, yes. They annoy me too. *Possibly* more so than other Evangelicals, because I feel they're making a mockery of something sacred.

    It's not that I don't love them, because I'm certain that most of them are sincere and good people. It's...it's the Baptist thing, all over again. I think they're off the rails theologically, I don't appreciate being told that *I'm* going to hell because I don't get 'slain in the spirit' or need 50 exorcisms to get rid of the 'demon of moral turpitude' or whatever, I will damn well question God and whoever else I want, I refuse to believe *blindly*, and I see too many of their leaders running around, yelling '*insert natural disaster/tragedy here* was caused by the GAYS!' and going on and on about how 'God will bless you with riches, if you just send $19.95 to my ministry', and their 'followers' are scraping by, and they're living in multimillion dollar mansions! It even goes back to my 'cult of personality' thing! So many people think Joel Osteen or whoever is *perfect* and it just makes me want to scream.

    *takes deep, calming breath* See? I admit I *might* be a little irrational about this. Maybe. Possibly.

    I'm certain that some who call themselves 'Evangelical' will get into heaven. I don't judge on that sort of thing, personally, since I view that as something that belongs only to God.

    And, if, in heaven, you're still teasing me about the fox and the prince, I'll be extremely surprised, given how bad you've said your memory can be. ;-)

  14. I read your answer yesterday and wanted to reply, but I got busy. Then I thought of this again as I was trying to fall asleep last night. Ha, ha...I was formulating my reply as I was starting to snooze. Here goes.

    First of all, thank you for answering my questions. I greatly dislike many of the same things you do as well. You know how there are millions of Catholics in the US. Likewise, there are many who are labeled Baptist. It's in the millions as well, and, as in all groups, you have "good" and "bad" and various inbetweeners in there. For instance just in my state, you have Baptists who affirm homosexual unions as well as those who think homosexuality is a sin. Some liberal, some conservative, some moderate. And I would guess the Catholic Church is like this as well based on some Catholics I've met in real life.

    TV evangelists -- I totally understand your dislike of those who have those high-pressured sales pitches about sending your money to them while they are living in these huge houses, estates really. Ugh. I dislike them also - a lot. I don't see how they justify what they do. :-S I think there are some *good* TV preachers though and they serve an important function. For instance when my uncle was dying of cancer, he found much comfort in watching Charles Stanley (preacher from Atlanta) and my grandparents are shut ins so they listen to him as well. Shoot, my mom listens to Dr. Stanley while she's getting ready for church. I urge you to listen to him one day and see if he comes across the same way as some of those televangelists who *deserve* their bad names. Also like Dr. Stanley, the late Adrian Rogers was a good one. As well as Dr. David Jeremiah out of California. I think you would find these men admirable in most areas except you'd disagree with some of their Protestant theology. But as far as "good" people, they are as far as I can tell.

    I don't care for stupid statements about God causing X to happen because of gays or whatever. I think it's ignorant for people to use their platforms to make such silly statements, but I don't think ALL Evangelicals or Baptists or even all who watch the 700 Club (ha!) should be judged for one person's stupid comments.

    to be continued

  15. I grew up in a Baptist church and have visited several churches. NONE of them taught speaking in tongues or being slain in the spirit. Maybe there are a few that do, but I tend to associate those more with Pentecostals and Holiness churches. Most Baptist preachers think speaking in tongues was something God allowed at Pentecost and during Paul's time, but it's not a gift used today. *shrug* So, in case you think I'm one of those who has spoken in tongues or been "slain" in the spirit, I'm not. :)

    And I never ever was told not to question. In fact, there were many times my dad would refer me to books to *answer my questions.* Books outside of the Bible that would help me perhaps understand why we believe it, why we can trust it (e.g. archaeological finds, prophecies fulfilled, extra-biblical accounts, etc.) So I don't understand why you and others accuse all (most?) Baptists of saying "you should never question anything." That hasn't been my experience AT ALL. I don't think we should believe simply because our mommas taught us this way. We should KNOW why we believe a certain way and I was taught to study to show myself approved unto God according to the verse in the NT which teaches this so we can "rightly divide the word of truth" (II Tim. 2:15).

    When I say that I am Evangelical, I don't want all the baggage that comes with that label. Perhaps I should say I am "evangelical" with the small e. I think all who follow Jesus and His command (not suggestion) should be evangelical-minded because *for me* going into the world and sharing the Gospel and making disciples is evangelism. So that's what I mean by that word.

    Hope this clears up a few things as least as far as I am concerned. Thanks for the discussion. I appreciate your willingness to answer me. :-)

  16. Susanne,

    D'oh! You're going to have to forgive me, that post all sort of ran together and gave you the wrong idea. When I said it was the 'Baptist thing all over again', I meant that I think my aversion to Evangelical's (as I define them) is due to my own personal bad experiences with them, like my problem with Baptists is. I *know*, in my head, that they're not all like the ones I've had issues with, but it's left such a strong impression on me that my first reaction is 'gaahhhh!'

    See, you're proof that the problem is *me*, not all of *them*.

    I think, in every denomination, there's that subsection of what I think of as 'Evangelical'. It crosses the lines, so I don't use it, in my mind, so much as a label of denomination, but of action, and those things I listed are the ones that will push a person into that group for me.

    'So I don't understand why you and others accuse all (most?) Baptists of saying "you should never question anything." That hasn't been my experience AT ALL.'

    I say it only because it's been my experience with Baptists. I went to a Southern Baptist run private school for middle school and part of high school, and that's the way it was there. Until I started reading religious blogs, that was the only kind of Baptist I knew.

    'When I say that I am Evangelical, I don't want all the baggage that comes with that label. Perhaps I should say I am "evangelical" with the small e. I think all who follow Jesus and His command (not suggestion) should be evangelical-minded because *for me* going into the world and sharing the Gospel and making disciples is evangelism. So that's what I mean by that word.'

    And I agree with all that! We are called to evangelize! To spread the Gospel!

    So, what we need to do is come up for another term I can use for the people who annoy me instead of Evangelical, and then *you* can have the term for it's proper usage! :)

    So now I hope this's cleared up the misunderstanding I caused. :)

  17. Amber, I'm sorry you had problems with Baptists at the school you went to. Now I understand better where you are coming from. Yeah, some are like that, but thankfully not all.

    I appreciate your sharing all that. It helped me understand you better and that's always a good thing.

    Glad we agree on the TRUE meaning of "evangelical" as it pertains to following Jesus' command to share the Gospel. :)

  18. Susanne,

    Not a problem! :) I'm sorry my rambling rant was misunderstood!

    I know (now) they're not all like that.

    You, for example, are a shining example of your people! ;)

  19. "You, for example, are a shining example of your people! ;)"

    Uh oh, I'm shining? Now where did I put that face powder? Hmmm.

    LOL @ "your people." Ha, ha! Well, you know Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, Brad Pitt and Bill Clinton are/were Baptists at one time or another. So it definitely runs the spectrum of personalities and, um, things tolerated.


  20. 'Uh oh, I'm shining? Now where did I put that face powder? Hmmm.'

    *giggle* Perhaps you've got Moses' problem? *rummages for spare niqaab* Just in case it gets out of hand and you start blinding people. :)

    'Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, Brad Pitt and Bill Clinton are/were Baptists at one time or another.'

    I did not know that. Uh...I'm sorry for you? Every barrel has a few rotten apples? ;)


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