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 5)
In the Absence of a Starets And what is one to do, if he cannot find a spiritual father? He may turn, in the first place, to books. Writing in 5th-century Russia,St. Nil Sorsky laments the extreme scarcity of qualified spiritual directors; yet how much more frequent they must have been in his day than in ours!Search diligently, he urges, for a sure and trustworthy guide. "However, if such a teacher cannot be found, then the Holy Fathers order us to turn tothe Scriptures and listen to Our Lord Himself speaking."  Since the testimony of Scripture should not be isolated from the continuing witness ofthe Spirit in the life of the Church, the inquirer will also read the works of the Fathers, and above all the Philokalia. But there is an evident danger here. The starets adapts his guidance to the inward state of each; books offer the same advice to everyone. How is the beginner to discern whether or not a particular text is applicable to his own situation? Even if hecannot find a spiritual father in the full sense, he should at least try to find someone more experienced than himself, able to guide him in his reading.It is possible to learn also from visiting places where divine grace hasbeen exceptionally manifested and where prayer has been especially concentrated. Before taking a major decision, and in the absence of other guidance,many Orthodox Christians will goon pilgrimage to Jerusalem or Mount Athos,to some monastery or the tomb of a saint, where they will pray for enlightenment. This is the way in which I have reached the more difficult decisions in my life.
Thirdly, we can learn from religious communities with an established tradition of the spiritual life. In the absence of a personal teacher, the monastic environment can serve as guru; we can receive our formation from the ordered sequence of the daily program, with its periods of liturgical and silent prayer, with its balance of manual labor, study, and recreation. This seems to have be en the chief way in which St. Seraphim of Sarov gained his spiritual training. A well-organized monastery embodies, in anaccessible and living form, the inherited wisdom of many starets. Not only monks,but those who come as visitors for a longer or shorter period, can be formed and guided by the experience of community life.It is indeed no coincidence that the kind of spiritual fatherhood that we have been describing emerged initially in 4th-century Egypt, not within thefully organized communities under St. Pachomius, but among the hermits andin the semi-eremitic milieu of Nitria and Scetis. In the former, spiritual direction was provided by Pachomius himself, by the superiors of each monastery, and by the heads of individual "houses" within the monastery. TheRule of St. Benedict also envisages the abbot as spiritual father, and thereis no provision for further development of a more "charismatic" type. Intime, of course, the coenobitic communities incorporated many of the traditions of spiritual fatherhood as developed among the hermits, but the need forthose traditions has always been less intensely felt in the coenobia,precisely because direction is provided by the corporate life pursued under theguidance of the Rule.
Finally, before we leave the subject of the absence of the starets, it is important to recognize the extreme flexibility in the relationship between starets and disciple. Some may see their spiritual father daily or even hourly, praying, eating, and working with him, perhaps sharing the same cell,as often happened in the Egyptian Desert. Others may see him only once a month or once a year; others, again, may visit a starets on but a single occasion in their entire life, yet this will be sufficient to set them on path. There are, furthermore, many different types of spiritual father;few will be wonder-workers like St. Seraphim of Sarov. There are numerous priests and laymen who, while lacking the more spectacular endowments of the startsi, are certainly able to provide others with the guidance that they require.Many people imagine that they cannot find a spiritual father, because they expect him to be of a particular type: they want a St. Seraphim, and so they close their eyes to the guides whom God is actually sending to them. Often their supposed problems are not so very complicated, and in reality they already know in their own heart what the answer is. But they do not like the answer, because it involves patient and sustained effort on their part:and so they look for a deus ex machina who, by a single miraculous word,will suddenly make everything easy. Such people need to be helped to an understanding of the true nature of spiritual direction.
Contemporary Examples In condusion, I wish briefly to recall two startsi of our own day, whom I have had the happiness of knowing personally. The first is FatherAmphilochios (+1970), abbot of the Monastery of St. John on the Island of Patmos, andspiritual father to a community of nuns which he had founded not far from the Monastery. What most distinguished his character was his gentleness,the warmth of his affection, and his sense of tranquil yet triumphant joy.Life in Christ, as he understood it, is not a heavy yoke, a burden to be carried' with resignation, but a personal relationship to be pursued with eagerness of heart. He was firmly opposed to all spiritual violence and cruelty.It was typical that, as he lay dying and took leave of the nuns under hiscare, he should urge the abbess not to be too severe on them: "They haveleft everything to come here, they must not be unhappy."  When I was to return from Patmos to England as a newly-ordained priest, he insisted thatthere was no need to be afraid of anything.My second example is Archbishop John (Maximovich), Russian bishop in Shanghai, in Western Europe, and finally in San Francisco (+1966). Little more than a dwarf in height, with tangled hair and beard, and with an impedimentin his speech, he possessed more than a touch of the "Fool in Christ." From the time of his profession as a monk, he did not lie down on a bed to sleep at night; he went on working and praying, snatching his sleep at oddmoments in the 24 hours. He wandered barefoot through the streets of Paris, and once he celebrated a memorial, service among the tram lines close to the port of Marseilles. Punctuality had little meaning for him. Baffled by hisunpredictable behavior, the more conventional among his flock sometimes judged him to be unsuited for the administrative work of a bishop. But with his total disregard of normal formalities he succeeded where others, relying on worldly influence and expertise, had failed entirelyas when, against allhope and in the teeth of the "quota" system, he secured the admission of thousands of homeless Russian refugees to the U.S.A. In private conversation he was very gentle, and he quickly won theconfidence of small children. Particularly striking was the intensity of his intercessory prayer. When possible, he liked to celebrate the Divine Liturgy daily, and the service often took twice or three times the normal space of time, such was the multitude of those whom he commemorated individually by name. As he prayed for them, they were never mere names on a lengthy list, but always persons. One story that I was told is typical. It was his custom each year to visit Holy Trinity Monastery at Jordanville, N.Y. As he left,after one such visit, a monk gave him a slip of paper with four names of those who were gravely ill. Archbishop John received thousands upon thousands ofsuch requests for prayer in the course of each year. On his return to the monastery some twelve months later, at once he beckoned to the monk, and much to the latter's surprise, from the depths of his cassock Archbishop John produced the identical slip of paper, now crumpled and tattered. "I have been praying for your friends," he said, "but two of them"he pointed to their names"are now dead and the other two have recovered." And so indeed itwas.Even at a distance he shared in the concerns of his spiritual children. One of them, superior of a small Orthodox monastery in Holland, was sitting one night in his room, unable to sleep from anxiety over the problems which faced him. About three o'dock in the morning, the telephone rang; it was Archbishop John, speaking from several hundred miles away. He had rung to say that it was time for the monk to go to bed.Such is the role of the spiritual father. As Varsanuphius expressed it, "I care for you more than you care for yourself."
1. On spiritual fatherhood in the Christian East, see the well-documented study by I. Hausherr, S. L., Direction Spintuelle en Orient d'Autrefois(Orientalia Christiana Analecta, 144: Rome 1955). An excellent portrait of agreat starets in 19th-century Russia is provided by J. B. Dunlop, StaretzAmvrosy: Model for Dostoevsky's Staretz Zossima (Belmont, Mass. 1972); comparealso I. de Beausobre, Macanus, Starets of Optina: Russian Letters ofDirection 18341860 (London, 1944). For the life and writings of a Russian starets in the present century, see Archimandrite Sofrony, The UndistortedImage.Staretz Silouan: 18661938 (London, 1958).
2. Apophthegmata Patrum, alphabetical collection (Migne, P.G., 65, pp.37-8).3. Les Apophtegemes des Pres du Desert, by J. C. Guy, S.jj. (Textes deSpiritualit Orientale, No. 1: Etiolles, 1968), pp. 112, 158.4. A. Elchaninov, The Diary of a Russian Priest, (London, 1967, p. 54).5. I use "charismatic" in the restricted sense customarily given to it bycontemporary writers. But if that word indicates one who has received thegifts or charismata of the Holy Spirit, then the ministerial priest, ordainedthrough the episcopal laying on of hands, is as genuinely a "charismatic"as one who speaks with tongues.6. The Life of St. Antony, chapters 87 and 81 (P.G. 26, 965A, and 957A.)7. Quoted in Igumen Chariton, The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology(London, 1966), p. 164. [Webmaster Note: I could not determine where thisfootnote appeared in the original article.]8. Apophthegmata Patrum, alphabetical collection, Theophilus theArchbishop, p. 2. In the Christian East, the Patriarch of Alexandria bears the title"Pope."9. Ibid., Antony p. 27.10. Ibid., Antony, p. 24.11. Compare Ignaty's contemporary, Bishop Theophan the Recluse (+l894) andSt. Tikhon of Zadonsk (+l753).12. Three of the great banes of the 20th century are shorthand, duplicatorsand photocopying machines. If chairmen of committees and those in seats ofauthority were forced to write out personally in longhand everything theywanted to communicate to others, no doubt they would choose their wordswith greater care.13. Evergetinos, Synagoge, 1, 20 (ed. Victor Matthaiou, I, Athens, 1957,pp. 168-9).14. Apophthegmata Patrum, alphabetical collection, Poemen, p. 8.15. For the importance of a spiritual father's prayers, see for exampleLes Apophtegmes des Peres du Dsert, tr. Guy, "srie des dits anonymes", P.160.16. The Book of Varsanuphius and John, edited by Sotirios Schoinas (Volos,1960), pp. 208, 39, 353, 110 and 23g. A critical edition of part of theGreek text, accompanied by an English translation, has been prepared by D. J.Chitty: Varsanuphius and John, Questions and Answers, (PatrologiaOrientalis, XXXI, 3, Paris, 1966). [Webmaster Note. This and many other finebookson spiritual direction are available from _St. Herman Press_(http://www.stherman.com/) .17. Apophthegmata Patrurn, alphabetical collection, Antony, p. 16.18. Ibid., John the Theban, p. 1.19. Mystic Treatises of Isaac of Nineveh, tr. by A. J. Wensinck,(Amsterdam, 1923), p. 341.20. "_Conversation of St. Seraphim on the Aim of the Christian Life_(http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/wonderful.aspx) ," in A Wonderful Revelationto the World (Jordanville, N.Y., 1953), pp. 23-24.21. Apophthegmata Patrum, alphabetical collection, John Colobos, p. 1.22. Ibid., Mark the Disciple of Silvanus, pp. 1, 2.23. Ibid., Joseph of Panepho, p. 5.24. Ibid., Saio, p. 1. The geron subsequently returned the things to theirrightful owners.25. Les Apophtegmes des Peres du Desert, tr. Guy, "serie des ditsanonymes," p. 162. There is a parallel story in the alphabetical collection,Sisoes, p. 10; cf. Abraham and Isaac (Gen. 22).26. Fr. Andr Scrima, "La Tradition du Pre Spirituel dan l'Eglise d'Orient."Hermes, 1967, No. 4, p. 83.27. Apophthegmata Patrurn, alphabetical collection, Poemen, p. 174.28. Ibid., Isaac the Priest, p. 2.29. The Book of Varsanuphius and John, pp. 23, 51, 35.30. Quoted by Thomas Merton, Spiritual Direction and Meditation. (1960), p.12.31. "The Monastic Rule," in G. P. Fedotov, A Treasury of RussianSpirituality, (London, 1950) p.96.32. See Thomas Merton, op. cit., pp. 14-16, on the dangers of rigidmonastic discipline without proper spiritual direction.33. See I. Gorainoff, "Holy Men of Patmos", Sobornost (The Journal of theFellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius), Series 6, No. 5 (1972) pp. 341-4.From Cross Currents (Summer/Fall 1974), pp. 296-313.**************************************