Spiritual Fatherhood

A very interesting discussion was taking place yesterday on Facebook. I posted several things from the conference, one liners if you will, and it sparked a mini conversation. This is what is good about social media. We can post topics and get a discussion going.

Anyway, on Sunday I was sitting at table during the banquet, with a priest who has been ordained for 43 years. Now that is remarkable on the face of it, but the most amazing thing is that he has been in the same parish for that long. He went to the church the year after I was born! Wow, and I thought six years was a long time.

So I posted that on Facebook and people started to ask questions about leaving a priest in one place for that long of a period of time. In the Roman Catholic world, six years is usually a term and then the priest might be transferred or stay for another six year term. That may not be that way everywhere But I believe it is the norm in the Archdiocese of Boston.

So I got to thinking about the rationale behind why we would leave someone in one place for an extended period of time. I thought about this topic last night and this morning at breakfast. In the Orthodox world we have a very deep sense of Spiritual Fatherhood. It takes time to get to know your people and that does not happen after only six years trust me.

In the Romanian tradition, not every priest is given faculties to hear confessions and to be a spiritual father. This is usually reserved to the parish priest and some Monks. The idea is you confess to your priest, or father as the case may be. This way over the course of a few years a relationship will start to form. My former spiritual father, who was my spiritual father for almost 10 years, knew me so well that he could tell if I was holding things back in confession. That relationship only builds over time.

Another quotation that put up on Facebook had to do with a presentation we had from Zoe for Life. Zoe for Life is the Pro Life organization in the Orthodox Church in North America. During the presentation, the woman mentioned that the Orthodox have a higher per capita rate of abortions than any other faith group. I will not get into the discussion on the validity of that statement as I was just passing on what I heard. So someone asked the Orthodox position on Therapeutic Abortion. Therapeutic Abortion is defined for this purpose as when the life of the mother would be in jeopardy.

The first thing one needs to understand is that the Orthodox do not really have official positions on issues as we do not have one single voice that speaks for the entire Orthodox Church. With that being said, there are some great writers on these moral issues in the Orthodox Church. The most recent writings suggest that allowance for an abortion if the life of the mother is in jeopardy would be allowed but with consultation not only from the medical people but also the Spiritual ones. Ones Spiritual Father should be consulted on all of these matters. There is also allowance for abortion for cases of rape and incest but it need to be within three days of intercourse.The Orthodox position is a very pastoral one and takes many things into consideration. The pastoral is never divorced from the daily life of an Orthodox Christian. Orthodox Christians should seek out guidance from their spiritual father for any major change in their life, job, home, marriage, etc.

With this very real sense of Spiritual Fathership in mind I feel this is why Orthodox Church should never grow larger than say 300 people. 300 is a number than can be managed well by one priest and you have the opportunity to really get to know your parishioners. The Shepherd knows his sheep and they know Him. If a church grows larger than that is starts to get very impersonal, or another priest will be to be brought on board and then the relationship gets even muddier.

Imagine in your family you had six kids. Well for some six kids might be too many to handle to we are going to bring in another father into the picture, not really the best scenario now is it. Divorced and remarried family often struggle with the roles of the parents new spouse in the child raising. Having a stable, I mean the person in one place for a long period of time, is what we should strive for. There are drawbacks of course, but the bottom line is the benefits outweigh the downside.

1 Comment

  1. My friend is a Roman Catholic,she tells me that every time they take a priest from her church and replace him,the entire church goes through a period of moarning.
    when the new priest comes in everything is changed and a new friendship and trust has to be started all over again.
    she says it is very hard to completely trust this new person because you know they will not be with you long and everything that the church strives for can be undone in a matter of days.
    a new priest means a new personality,new ways of doing things and a whole new set of trust issue.
    kind of like being a foster child living with a new parent.
    I guess thats why priest are called fathers and not uncles.linda

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