I occasionally have to answer the question from the non-Orthodox who wonder why we refer to priests as “father,” particularly when the Scripture says, “Call no man father.” Of course, the verse following that would also forbid the use of the word, “mister,” but few seem to notice. St. Paul uses the term “father,” however, and it became and has remained a useful term, not because there is any disdain for the teaching of Christ, but because there is a recognition that there is such a thing as spiritual fatherhood and there always has been. It is a gift of Christ and a traditioning in the manner of a father with his children, as Christ gave to His own apostles.
We actually live in an age when fatherhood, even natural fatherhood, is in crisis. Adolescent youths (particularly young men) generally do not need to associate with lots of other young men their age (they usually just wind up in trouble). What they desperately need is apprenticeship – an opportunity to learn how to be a man and for someone to model and show them what that looks like.
The same is certainly true for Christians. We need spiritual fathers – men who can model what it is to be truly whole and truly a follower of Christ. This is not just true of men – we need the same thing for young women – spiritual mothers who can model what it is to be truly whole and truly a follower of Christ.
The proper role of a Bishop with his people, and particularly with his priests, is to be a spiritual father. In my years in the Diocese of the South, both before my conversion and after, I have found this phenomenon to be alive and well in the ministry of my Archbishop DMITRI. Being with him this week is simply another immersion in the model and the reminder of what everything is truly about. When he teaches the gospel there is a simplicity but a simplicity that reaches to the very depths of the Christian life. There is a joy in his presence and an abiding sense that you are loved and cared for. What child could ask more of a father?
We are celebrating the 30th year of our diocese, and a ministry of a bishop that is slowly drawing to its close. But the light does not grow dim as things draw to a close, but only grow brighter and clearer. To stand with him in the altar this morning as one of the concelebrants, was to remember again what it is to be a priest and what the meaning and the depths of the sacrifice truly mean. I saw a man ordained a deacon, and another, priest – and remembered my own ordinations at the hand of this blessed man. And found rekindled in me again the hope that what I have done as a priest has been faithful to what was given me.
This is the true fullness of Tradition. It is tremendously personal as, indeed, it should be. The Tradition is finally a gift of the Holy Spirit but always mediated through the ministry of the Church. To stand with a successor of the Apostles, indeed with a true Apostle to the South, is one of my life’s greatest honors. May God grant him many years!
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