(Please note: I am speaking from personal experience on the subject. I am not clergy or wife of a clergy. If you are and have anything to share on this subject, please comment below or message me and I will gladly add it here. Thanks!)
As an cradle Orthodox Christian, I never thought I needed a spiritual father outside of my parish priest or spiritual father.
I mean, I felt I was adult enough that I didn’t need one. I had my own father, right? I went to confession a few times a year from my own father confessor? And if I needed a little extra support, I call a friend, read a book, go shopping or exercise. It perked me right up.
But that didn’t help me understand to grow into my faith and Orthodoxy isn’t just for those who are Sunday churchgoers or semi annual churchgoers. It’s life.
My life was still very much of the world and I didn’t understand my faith.
Sure, there are nothing wrong with the above things. However, I was still living very much of the world and if you want to be Orthodox, you live in the world but not of the world. This can be complicated to understand because it is easy to take advantage of the abundance that’s available to us of the world especially when we are guided by our own instinct, desires, thoughts, needs and wants.
And when we let our thoughts guide us, of course we feel as if we can get by on our own. But there’s a difference in what we want and what Christ wants for us: gaining the self discipline to learn how to pray, learning a daily prayer rule, knowing when to to let Jesus take the wheel, learning to face reality, being cheerful, and how to live a quiet and ordinary life.
These are some attributes that you will learn once you declare a spiritual father. Having one does not mean you will be forced to live a meek, glum and boring life or you have to be sad all of the time. It’s quite the opposite. This year was the first I declared mine and felt myself growing spiritually and mentally in many ways I simply haven’t before. I have seen the church in a better light and have felt grateful for the waves of clarity that have continued to wash over me that has helped me understand my faith and my relationships better.
We can intimately get to know each other through our earthly relationships, but we can also intimately develop a relationship with Christ via prayer. Living intimately, from the depths of connection, we begin to feel for one another. We join in sorrow, and joy. Tears merge, until only one drop falls. It is how we come alive, together.
Anyone can have a spiritual father but it takes effort and a working relationship on both of your parts. Your priest wants to help you. A commitment to regular confession and obedience are two of the biggest hallmarks necessary to maintaining effort, improving your prayer and church life is next and the rest is God. As church, prayer, fasting and confession are all vital to being Orthodox, this is why having a spiritual father makes perfect sense to understanding the faith.
How do I find a spiritual father?
Some can dive right in but others cannot. If you’re in the latter camp, this part is for you. Finding a spiritual father takes time. He may be your parish priest, he may not. Most parish priests will be honored if you declare them yours but that is not always the case. You find one by getting in the habit of regular confession with your parish priest. If you’re traveling, get the blessing of your spiritual father and let them know you will be away. Each priest has a similar but slightly different confession style. If one makes you feel more comfortable confessing to them, this is a good sign.
Also, get in the habit of introducing yourself and striking up a conversation with the clergy at parish events. Act polite and respectful every time. The more you do this, the more you get to build a relationship with them. This is key and will make the transition much easier and smoother for whoever you declare as your spiritual father.
What will be required of me?
That depends upon your confessions and needs. At the minimum, going to services and confession regularly as well as obedience.
Can my spiritual father be different from my father confessor?
Know his role and yours.
Spiritual fathers are shared – by many other spiritual children, their wives, their children and maybe even grandchildren. Be grateful and make the most of when you two get to talk, but also respect their time.
Can my spiritual father be a monk?
Yes, but it’s not absolutely necessary. Usually, most people seek out a priest because they too can give them more relateable advice in comparison to monks who detached themselves from our world.
However, there are some monks that have some wise insight to share on marriage. St John Chrysostom’s On Marriage and Family Life comes highly recommended for engaged couples and he never married.
Can I have a spiritual mother?
What’s so wrong with the world?
We are still living in the world and will never truly separate ourselves from everything of this world but the idea is to remove temptations that distracts us from church life.
Since Adam and Eve, our world is fallen. Our world wants to continually remind us that we don’t need God. In Orthodoxy, we are instructed to let ourselves die in this world so we can be alive to the heavenly kingdom. Heaven is not a guarantee simply because we think we’re good people. We work and strive through our prayer and fasting and attendance of church services and belief against all odds that we may prove ourselves to our Heavenly Father.