Sunday, November 28, 2010

Spiritual Father in Orthodox Christianity -2

This article was shared by Dr. Roy Cherian at ICON . May it be edifying. ...........................................................................................................................................................

The Spiritual Father in Orthodox Christianity-- by Bishop Kallistos Ware ( Part 2)

Flight and Return: the Preparation of the Starets Although the starets is not ordained or appointed for his task, it iscertainly necessary that he should be prepared.The classic pattern for this preparation, which consists in a movement of flight and return, may be clearly discerned in the liyes of _St. Antony of Egypt_( (+356) and St. Seraphim of Sarov (+1833).St. Antony's life falls sharply into two halves, with his fifty-fifth year as the watershed. The years from, early manhood to the age of fifty-five were his time of preparation, spent in an ever-increasing seclusion from theworld as he withdrew further and further into the desert. He eventually passed twenty years in an abandoned fort, meeting no one whatsoever. When he had reached the age of fifty-five, his friends could contain their curiosity no longer, and broke down the entrance. St. Antony came out and, 'for the remaining half century of his long life, without abandoning the life of ahermit, he made himself freely available to others, acting as "a physician given by God to Egypt." He was beloved by all, adds his biographer, St.Athanasius, "and all desired to 'have him as their father." [6]

Observe that the transition from enclosed anchorite to Spiritual father came about, not through any initiative on St. Antony's part, but through the action of others.Antony was a lay monk, never ordained to the priesthood. St. Seraphim followed a comparable path. After fifteen years spent in the ordinary life of the monastic community, as novice, professed monk, deacon,and priest, he withdrew for thirty years of solitude and almost total silence. During the first part of this period he, lived in a forest hut; at one point he passed a thousand days on the stump of a tree and a thousand nights of those days on a rock, devoting himself to unceasing prayer. Recalled by his abbot to the monastery, he obeyed the order without the slightest delay; and during the latter part of his time of solitude he lived rigidlyenclosed in his cell, which he did not leave even to attend services inchurch; on Sundays the priest brought communion to him at the door of his room.Though he was a priest he didn't celebrate the liturgy. Finally, in the last eight years of his life, he ended his enclosure, opening the door of his cell and receiving all who came. He did nothing to advertise himself or to summon people; it was the others who took the initiative in approaching him,but when they came sometimes hundreds or even thousands in a single dayhe did not send them empty away.

Without this intense ascetic preparation, without this radical flight into solitude, could St. Antony or St. Seraphim have acted in the same 'degree as guide to those of their generation? Not that they withdrew in order tobecome masters and guides of others. 'They fled, not, in order to prepare themselves for some other task, but out of a consuming desire to be alone with God. God accepted their love, but then sent them back" as instruments of healing in the world from which they had withdrawn. Even had He never sent them back, their flight would still have been supremely creative and valuable to society; for the monk helps the world not primarily by anything that he does and says but by what he is, by the state of unceasing prayer which has become identical with his innermost being. Had St. Antony and St.Seraphim done nothing but pray in solitude they would still have been serving their fellow men to the highest degree.
As things turned out, however, God ordained that they should also serve others in a more direct fashion. But this direct and visible service was essentially a consequence of the invisibleservice which they rendered through their prayer."Acquire inward peace", said St. Seraphim, "and a multitude of men aroundyou will find their salvation."

Such is the role of spiritual fatherhood.Establish yourself in God; then you can bring others to His presence. A man must learn to be alone, he must listen in the stillness of his own heart to the wordless speech of the Spirit, and so discover the truth about himself and God. Then his work to others will be a word of power, because it is a word out of silence.What Nikos Kazantzakis said of the almond tree is true also of the starets:"I said to the almond tree, 'Sister, speak to me of God,' And the almondtree blossomed."Shaped by the encounter with God in solitude, the starets is able to healby his very presence. He guides and forms others, not primarily by words ofadvice, but by his companionship, by the living and specific example whichhe setsin a word, by blossoming like the almond tree. He teaches as much by his silence as by his speech. "Abba Theophilus the Archbishop once visited Scetis, and when the brethren had assembled they said to Abba Pambo,'Speak a word to the Pope that he may be edified.' The Old Man said to them,"if he is not edified by my silence, neither will be he edified by my speech.'" [8]
A story with the same moral is told of St. Antony. "It was the custom of three Fathers to visit the Blessed Antony once each year, and two of them used to ask him questions about their thoughts (logismoi) and the salvation of their soul; but the third remained completely silent, withoutputting any questions. After a long while, Abba Antony said to him, 'See, you have been in the habit of coming to me all this time, and yet you do not ask me any questions'. And the other replied, 'Father, it is enough for me just to look at you.'" [9]

The real journey of the starets is not spatially into the desert, but spiritually into the heart. External solitude, while helpful, is not indispensable, and a man may learn to stand alone before God, while yet continuing to pursue a life of active service in the midst of society. St. Antony of Egypt was told that a doctor in, Alexandria was his equal in spiritual achievement: "In the city there is someone like you, a doctor by profession, whogives all his money to the needy, and the whole day long he sings the Thrice-Holy Hymn with the angels." [10] We are not told how this revelation came to Antony, nor what was the name of the doctor, but one thing is clear.
Unceasing: prayer of the heart is no monopoly of the solitaries; the mystical and "angelic" life is possible in the city as well as the desert. TheAlexandrian doctor accomplished the inward journey without severing his outwardlinks with the community.

There are also many instances in which flight and return are not sharply distinguished in temporal sequence. Take, for example, the case of St.Seraphim's younger contemporary, Bishop Ignaty Brianchaninov (t1867). Trained originally as an army officer, he was appointed at the early age of twenty-six to take charge of a busy and influential monastery close to St.Petersburg. His own monastic training had lasted little more than four yearsbefore he was placed in a position of authority. After twetity-four years as Abbot,he was consecrated Bishop. Four years later he resigned, to spend the remaining six years of his life as a hermit. Here a period of active pastoral work preceded the period of anachoretic seclusion. When he was made abbot,he must surely have felt gravely ill-prepared. His secret withdrawal into the heart was undertaken continuously during the many years in which headministered a monastery and a diocese; but it did not receive an exterior,expression until the very end of his life. Bishop Ignaty's career [11] may serve as a paradigm to many of us at the present time, although (needless to say) we fall far short of his level of spiritual achievement. Under the pressure of outward circumstances and probably without clearly realizing what is happening to us, we become launched on a career of teaching, preaching, and pastoral counselling, while lacking any deep knowledge of the desert and its creative silence. But through teaching others we ourselves begin to learn. Slowly we recognize our powerlessness to heal the wounds of humanity solely through philanthropic programs,common sense, and psychiatry. Our complacency is broken down, we appreciate our own inadequacy, and start to understand what Christ meant by the "onething that is necessary" (Luke 10:42). That is the moment when we enter upon the path of the starets. Through our pastoral experience, through our anguish over the pain of others,' we are brought to undertake the journey inwards, to ascend the secret ladder of the Kingdom, where alone a genuine solution to the world's problems can be found. No doubt few if any among us would think of ourselves as a starets in the full sense, but provided we seek with humble sincerity to enter into the "secret chamber" of our heart, we can all share to some degree in the grace of the spiritual fatherhood. Perhaps we shall never outwardly lead the life of a monastic recluse or a hermitthat rests with God but what is supremely important is that each should see the need to be a hermit of the heart.

(To be Continued ....)

1 comment:

George Varghese said...

A wonderful talk on this by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom of Memory Eternal