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Spiritual Father/Mother

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8 replies to this topic

#1
froggielover

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Ok, so I have been thinking this morning on the idea of if it is or should be a Christian practice to have "spiritual fathers" and "spritual mothers." First, if you believe that we do/should have these people in our lives, how would you define them?

Personally, the idea is very foreign to me. I have always thought of the Body of Christ to be composed of brothers and sisters, meaning that we are all on the same equal footing in a way, with God as our spiritual father. I believe that God has no grandchildren. Sure we may have people in our lives that are not a real biological father to us that we treat like a real father, bu spiritually, do we have any other father except God?

What are your thoughts?

John 6:35 -Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. "

Fully Rely On God


#2
dkkev

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The apostle John, as a very old man, wrote in 1 John,

"Little children, guard yourselves from idols."
~1 John 5:21


So if he, in his old age, addressed those to whom he was writing as 'children," then it would be reasonable to assume they might refer to him as 'father'.

Yes, we are all equally loved by God; but those who have been Christian for an extended period, they could possibly be a great example of holiness and such. Paul wrote to the Corinthians,

"Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ"
~1 Corinthians 11:1


So if I had to define a spiritual mother/father: A fellow brother or sister in Christ who has progressed in sanctification for some extended period of time, so that they are an example of holiness (please note I am in no way implying we can become perfect, or even close to perfect in this lifetime). This person would also provide constant true (and needed) guidance and direction.

#3
AquinasD

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You could say that St. Thomas Aquinas is a spiritual father to me, as I would be apt to look to him for spiritual or theological guidance if the need occurred. There are also the early Church Fathers. Each priest is called father, if not because they deserve at least because they are supposed to be fulfilling that sort of role; a person to whom you can look for sound spiritual guidance and help.

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#4
RHJohnson

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Jesus tells us that we should call no man father, and no man teacher.

#5
AwedbyTruth

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Well, then I am in trouble since my job is being a teacher :)

#6
Alyosha

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The role of a spiritual father or spiritual mother is very common in traditional forms of Christianity. It has been neglected by modern neo-Christian groups, which is possibly why they are so foreign and far removed from what historically comprised 'Christianity.' The spiritual journey of an individual needs guidance in many ways. The spiritual father/mother of a person teaches them important aspects of the faith, and mentors them in their spiritual development. I am happy to have many such people in my life. A 76 year-old nun (who recently earned her Doctorate of Theology) has for the last year mentored me in many aspects of Eastern Christianity; proper protocols during the Liturgy, how to properly participate in the sacraments, the theology of St Gregory Palamas, etc. From her I have learned an enormous amount which has been spiritually beneficial as I have explored the realms of Eastern/Byzantine Christianity and walked awkwardly on the path between Orthodoxy and Catholicism. I would definately call her a 'spiritual mother.' I also have the pleasure of knowing a particular deacon (who is a university lecturer) who I stayed with for a week when I was traveling in New Zealand - he tought me almost everything I know about meditation, hesychia, contemplative prayer and other forms of Christian mysticism. He also tought me a great deal about ecumenism. I am still in touch with him and he has been a great guide and teacher - a 'spiritual father' for sure.

There are also the kinds of people who don't merely teach certain skills or theological tenets, but offer advice and wisdom on a wide range of issues and aspects of life. The counsel and wisdom of more experiences religious people is often very humbling and edifying, and helps the recipient enormously in developing proper virtue and mindset.

I am glad to have many such people in my life. A number of clergy, monastics and laypeople have given me great spiritual guidance and assistance and helped me along my path, and from them I have learned a lot. The role of the priest is to function as the spiritual father for his congregation, but it is quite normal for an individual's spiritual father to be someone who is not at their parish - for example, a friend of mine regularly travels back to Lebanon to speak with his spiritual father. I was talking to a Romanian priest and I mentioned the time when I attended a lecture by Fr Mikhail Popov (a Russian priest), to which the Romanian priest replied, 'yes, I know him very well, he has been my spiritual father and confessor for thirty years.' Hence, a person's parish priest is not necessarily their spiritual father.

The practice of a wise and learned individual serving as a spiritual teacher/guide for another less experienced person, within the framework of the Holy Tradition of the Church, is a very standard and ancient practice in Christianity.

That said, it goes without saying that a person needs to be careful to serve God first and foremost, and not be overly attached to spiritual fathers/mothers. It is a fairly regular problem on Mt Athos that young monks become overly attached to their abbots, and then leave the monastery when the abbot dies because they were not properly grounded in their own own spiritual journey.

It also happens in Dostoevsky's book The Brother's Karamazov, in which Alexei Karamazov is overly attached to his spiritual father, Elder Zossima, much to his own detriment. This can be seen in the Soviet adaptation of the book in this scene, when he has a crisis of faith after his spiritual father dies:



#7
froggielover

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Sorry for taking so long to respond back to this, I have been crazy busy lately. :) I have had some time to reflect on this a bit.

The apostle John, as a very old man, wrote in 1 John,

"Little children, guard yourselves from idols."
~1 John 5:21


So if he, in his old age, addressed those to whom he was writing as 'children," then it would be reasonable to assume they might refer to him as 'father'.[/b]

I see. I have always understood all Christians to be called and considered "children." Like we are all children of God. However, you have a point, I studied 1 John little bit because of this and found that he does refer to those he is adressing as "my little children" and "little children." I am not sure if he includes himself in this category or not. Also, he does refer to himself as their father in [url="http://"http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Cor.%204:15&version=NASB"]1 Cor. 4:14-15[/url]

There are also the early Church Fathers.[/b]

True, but when do you think that people started calling them that?

Jesus tells us that we should call no man father, and no man teacher.[/b]

Yes to the first part, not sure where you got the second part. However, many people call their biological dads "father" so I am not sure exactly what is meant by not calling anyone "father." I always thought that meant spiritual father.

The role of a spiritual father or spiritual mother is very common in traditional forms of Christianity. It has been neglected by modern neo-Christian groups, which is possibly why they are so foreign and far removed from what historically comprised 'Christianity.' The spiritual journey of an individual needs guidance in many ways.[/b]

Why the need to refer to them as a spiritual father/mother? You are right, we all rely on teacher's to guide us along the way, I do not think that anyone could/would claim otherwise. I am often guided by family members like my sister, yet I would not refer to her as a spiritual mother, but as my sister in Christ.

That said, it goes without saying that a person needs to be careful to serve God first and foremost, and not be overly attached to spiritual fathers/mothers. It is a fairly regular problem on Mt Athos that young monks become overly attached to their abbots, and then leave the monastery when the abbot dies because they were not properly grounded in their own own spiritual journey.[/b]

That is what I worry about. You make an excellent point, thank you for bringing it to light. It is hard, and we even see throughout stories in the Bible, to not take what a person has done and idolise it. We must check ourselves so that we do not fall into the same mistake.

Would any of you say that these people, no matter what you call them, are of a perrsonal nature and are not meant to be held in the same regard to everyone? Like someone I would consider a spiritual leader/father/mother to me should be thought of as one to all Christians?

John 6:35 -Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. "

Fully Rely On God


#8
AquinasD

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True, but when do you think that people started calling them that?[/b]


If I recall correctly, since the beginning. The earliest Fathers referred to the Apostles preceding them as "Fathers of the Faith" or summat like that, and then those earliest Fathers were grouped in also, and so on.

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Well, Bryce's answer is the logical one.


#9
blackswan41

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Dang, I just typed a lengthy reply here which was mighty good if I do say so myself, and the system logged me off in the process. Perhaps, the mods can assist me in finding it or I can work on my patience and fading memory and repost later. Im think "quick reply" means quick reply.

Meanwhile. ARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

"It is not my business to think about myself. My business is to think about God.
It is for God to think about me. That is where listening begins."--Simone Weil





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