Sunday, December 12, 2010

Spiritual Father in Orthodox Christianity -4

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 4)

Obedience and Freedom

Such are by God's grace, the gifts of the starets. But what of the spiritual child? How does he contribute to the mutual relationship between fatherand son in God?Briefly, what he offers is his full and unquestioning obedience. As a classic example, there is the story in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers about the monk who was told to plant a dry stick in the sand and to water it daily. So distant was the spring from his cell that he had to leave in the evening to fetch the water and he only returned in the following morning. For three years he patiently fulfilled his Abba's command. At the end of this period, the stick suddenly put forth leaves and bore fruit. The Abba picked the fruit, took it to the church, and invited the monks to eat, saying,"Come and taste the fruit of obedience." [21] Another example of obedience is the monk Mark who was summoned by his Abba,while copying a manuscript, and so immediate was his response that he did not even complete the circle of the letter that he was writing. On another occasion, as they walked together, his Abba saw a small pig; testing Mark,he said, "Do you see that buffalo, my child?" "Yes, Father," replied Mark."And you see how powerful its horns are?" "Yes, Father", he answered once more without demur. [22] Abba Joseph of Panepho, following a similar policy,tested the obedience of his disciples by assigning ridiculous tasks tothem, and only if they complied would he then give them sensible commands.[23] Another geron instructed his disciple to steal things from the cells ofthe brethren; [24] yet another told his disciple (who had not been entirelytruthful with him) to throw his son into the furnace. [25]Such stories are likely to make a somewhat ambivalent impression on the modern reader. They seem to reduce the disciple to an infantile or sub-human level, depriving him of all power of judgment and moral choice. With indignation we ask: "Is this the 'glorious liberty of the children of God'?"(Rom.8:21)Three points must here be made. In the first place, the obedience offered by the spiritual son to his Abba is not forced but willing and voluntary. It is the task of the starets to take up our will into his will, but he can only do this if by our own free choice we place it in his hands. He does not break our will, but accepts it from us as a gift.

A submission that is forced and involuntary is obviously devoid of moral value; the starets asks of each one that he offer to God his heart, not his external actions.The voluntary nature of obedience is vividly emphasized in the ceremony ofthe tonsure at the Orthodox rite of monastic profession. The scissors areplaced upon the Book of the Gospels, and the novice must himself pick them up and give them to the abbot. The abbot immediately replaces them on the Book of the Gospels. Again the novice take the scissors, and again they are replaced. Only when the novice him the scissors for the third time does the abbot proceed to cut hair. Never there after will the monk have the right to say to the abbot or the brethren: "My personality is constricted andsuppressed here in the monastery; you have deprived me of my freedom". No one has taken away his freedom, for it was he himself who took up the scissors and placed them three times in the abbot's hand.But this voluntary offering of our freedom is obviously something that cannot be made once and for all, by a single gesture; There must be a continual offering, extending over-our whole life; our growth in Christ is, measuredprecisely by the increasing degree of our self-giving. Our freedom must be offered anew each day and each hour, in constantly varying ways; and this means that the relation between starets and disciple is not static but dynamic, not unchanging but infinitely diverse. Each day and each hour, under the guidance of his Abba, the disciple will face new situations, calling for a different response, a new kind of self-giving.In the second place, the relation between starets and spiritual child is not one- but two-sided. Just as the starets enables the disciples to see themselves as they truly are, so it is the disciples who reveal the starets to himself. In most instances, a man does not realize that he is called to be a starets until others come to him and insist on placing themselves under his guidance. This reciprocity continues throughout the relationship between the two.

The spiritual father does not possess an exhaustive program,neatly worked out in advance and imposed in the same manner upon everyone. Onthe contrary, if he is a true starets, he will have a different word fo reach; and since the word which he gives is on the deepest level, not his ownbut the Holy Spirit's, he does not know in advance what that word will be.The starets proceeds on the basis, not of abstract rules but of concrete human situations. He and his disciple enter each situation together; neither of them knowing before hand exactly what the outcome will be, but each waiting for the enlightenment of the Spirit. Each of them, the spiritual fatheras well as the disciple, must learn as he goes.The mutuality of their relationship is indicated by certain stories in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, where an unworthy Abba has a spiritual son far better than himself. The disciple, for example, detects his Abba in the sin of fornication, but pretends to have noticed nothing and remains under his charge; and so, through the patient humility of his new disciple, the spiritual father is brought eventually to repentance and a new life. In sucha case, it is not the spiritual father who helps the disciple, but the reverse. Obviously such a situation is far from the norm, but it indicates that the disciple is called to give as well as to receive.In reality, the relationship is not two-sided but triangular, for in addition to the starets and his disciple there is also a third partner, God. OurLord insisted that we should call no man "father," for we have only onefather, who is in Heaven (Matthew 13:8-10). The starets is not an infallible judge or a final court of appeal, but a fellow-servant of the living God;not a dictator, but a guide and companion on the way.

The only true"spiritual director," in the fullest sense of the word, is the Holy Spirit.This brings us to the third point. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition at its best, the spiritual father has always sought to avoid any kind of constraint and spiritual violence in his relations with his disciple. If, under the guidance of the Spirit, he speaks and acts with authority, it is with theauthority of humble love. The words of starets Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov express an essential aspect of spiritual fatherhood: "At some ideas you stand perplexed, especially at the sight of men's sin, uncertain whether to combat it by force or by humble love. Always decide, 'I will combat it by humble love.' If you make up your mind about that once and for all, you can conquer the whole world. Loving humility is a terrible force; it is the strongest of all things and there is nothing like it."Anxious to avoid all mechanical constraint, many spiritual fathers in the Christian East refused to provide their disciples with a rule of life, a set of external commands to be applied automatically. In the words of acontemporary Romanian monk, the starets is "not a legislator but a mystagogue."[26] He guides others, not by imposing rules, but by sharing his life with them. A monk told Abba Poemen, "Some brethren have come to live with me; do you want me to give them orders?" "No," said the Old Man. "But, Father,"the monk persisted, "they themselves want me to give them orders." "No",repeated Poemen, "be an example to them but not a lawgiver." [27] The samemoral emerges from the story of Isaac the Priest. As a young man, he remained first with Abba Kronios and then with Abba Theodore of Pherme; but neither of them told him what to do. Isaac complained to the other monks and theycame and remonstrated with Theodore. "If he wishes", Theodore repliedeventually, "let him do what he sees me doing." [28] When Varsanuphius was asked to supply a detailed rule of life, he refused, saying: "I do not want you tobe under the law, but under grace." And in other letters he wrote: "You know that we have never imposed chains upon anyone... Do not force men's freewill, but sow in hope, for our Lord did not compel anyone, but He preached the good news, and those who wished hearkened to Him." [29]Do not force men's free will. The task of the spiritual father is not to destroy a man's freedom, but to assist him to see the truth for himself; not to suppress a man's personality, but to enable him to discover himself, togrow to full maturity and to become what he really is. If on occasion thespiritual father requires an implicit and seemingly "blind" obedience fromhis disciple, this is never done as an end in itself, nor with a view to enslaving him. The purpose of this kind of shock treatment is simply to deliver the disciple from his false and illusory "self", so that he may enterinto true freedom. The spiritual father does not impose his own ideas and devotions, but he helps the disdple to find his own special vocation. In thewords of a 17th-century Benedictine, Dom Augustine Baker: "The director is not to teach his own way, nor indeed any determinate way of prayer, but to instruct his disciples how they may themselves find out the way proper forthem . . . In a word, he is only God's usher, and must lead souls in God'sway, and not his own." [30]In the last resort, what the spiritual father gives to his disciple is not a code of written or oral regulations, not a set of techniques for meditation, but a personal relationship. Within this personal relationship the Abba grows and changes as well as the disciple, for God is constantly guiding them both. He may on occasion provide his disciple with detailed verbal instructions, with precise answers to specific questions. On other occasions hemay fail to give any answer at all; either because he does not think that the question needs an answer, or because he himself does not yet know what the answer should be. But these answers or this failure to answerare always given the framework of a personal relationship. Many things cannot be said in words, but can be conveyed through a direct personal encounter.

(To be Continued....)

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