Spiritual Fatherhood in the Orthodox Church

Over the last few years and very important aspect of my ministry has evolved that of spiritual fatherhood. Although each pastor of an Orthodox parish is the spiritual father of his community, the ministry of spiritual fatherhood goes much deep than the relationship of the local priest with their parishioners. This is not meant to degrade that relationship at all but it is much deeper.

The Celts called this the Anamcara, the Soul Friend. The Soul Friend is a guide; a person who guides you along your spiritual journey much like a mountain guide would guide you along the path up the mountain. This is a free and open relationship and in order for the relationship to work one must not hide anything from the Anamcara.

For as long as the church has existed there have been people that others have been attracted to for their spirituality. In the early days when people would retreat to the desert, people would come from the cities and become disciples of those who had withdrawn. Over time the relationship became more institutionalized than it was in the beginning. However the relationship still exists today and I fear that we have gotten away from this ministry in the Orthodox Church.

To begin with, not all spiritual fathers are confessors and vice versa. The ministry of confession in the Orthodox Church is not automatic with ordination to the priesthood. In the Romanian tradition, that to which I was ordained into, only the pastor of the parish is given that ministry and some monks. If one is to be a second priest in a parish then the ministry is not necessarily given to them. The spiritual father or mother by the way does not even have to be an ordained person. This person can be a simple monk, nun or a layperson.

The spiritual father is a charismatic figure given this ministry by the Holy Spirit. One does not need to run to a monastery to find a spiritual guide; perhaps your parish priest can fill this role. As one who serves both as a parish priest and a spiritual father I would suggest that your confessor should be your parish priest. As the father of the community that right should be given them first. If someone from another parish approaches me to begin this relationship I will contact their parish priest and receive their blessing especially is confession will be involved.

The spiritual father is blessed with three gifts. Insight and discernment allows the guide to perceive intuitively, to see into another person’s heart and to understand the hidden depths that the other person may not be aware of. The spiritual guide uses few words and listens and guides sometimes gently and sometimes no so gently. Through the silence he is able to “hear” what the other person is really saying. When words are used they are to guide the other deeper into their own heart and soul. This gift is exercised through the practice of disclosure of thoughts. This is deeper than confession as confession is reflective and this disclosure looks forward to look at the thoughts before they manifest themselves as sin. The idea is not juridical but helps the other to know them better, and to see them as they truly are.

Another gift is the ability to love others and to make others suffering their own. “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2. The Spiritual Father is required to take up the soul of his spiritual children into his own soul, their life into his life. We need to pray for our spiritual children and constantly intercede on their behalf. Intercession for your spiritual children is more important than any words could ever be.

The last gift is the power to transform the human environment both the material and non-material. The idea here is the spiritual father helps his disciples to see the world as God created it and as God desires it to be once more. It is the job of the guide to see the world as God created and to help others see that.

So how does this relationship work? Through full and unquestioning obedience of the father to the child and vice versa, the relationship goes both ways. The relationship not only helps the spiritual child to see themselves as they should be but also aids the spiritual father in seeing himself as he should be. The relationship is actually not just two sided but triangular as God is also involved in this relationship.

This relationship is not forced but is given willingly and voluntarily. It is through the free will of each person that the spiritual child places themselves in the hands of the Spiritual Father. The will of the child is not broken but is accepted as a gift, it is not forced but voluntary. This has to be done continually not just once and then never again.

Not every pastor is a Spiritual Father in this sense and not every person is ready for this relationship. It is hard to be open and honest with another person if we are not open and honest with ourselves. It is a wonderful gift that God has given His church and is you feel your ready I would encourage you to seek out an Anamcara.


  1. Father Pete…awesome, I really enjoyed reading this. Being a Spiritual Dad to a few I know the importance of this sacred honor. The opportunity to speak into someone's life should never be taken likely.

    Bless you!

  2. Thank you, Father. I've often wondered about this type of relationship but never quite took the time to ask or read about it.

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