A Father in God

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!

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.





8 responses to “A Father in God”

  1. ConfesSword Avatar

    Oh aye…Amen.

    My evangelical Protestant of a father complains about the state of responsibility in American culture all the time.

    It’s utterly disheartening to hear about the latest stats on divorce, or the ever-present rhetoric about “deadbeat dads,” or (most disgustingly) the latest headline about a father killing his child in a rage.

    I wonder sometimes why the heck we have to disparage tradition so in this windswept, Western, individualistic excuse for a nation.

    Traditions of God would do America a world of good… 🙁

  2. Jake Belder Avatar

    Although I am a Protestant, I have always loved the way in which priests in the Orthodox tradition are referred to as Father. A title says a lot, and the idea of a spiritual father captures the fullness of what a priest should be. I know that in the Greek the words pastor and shepherd and related and that being a pastor is to be rooted in the idea of being a shepherd, but I also know that culture has a way of distorting the meaning of a word. I think pastor is used too loosely these days, and too many church leaders connect it with a more administrative type of leadership.

    That being said, I realize the discussion here is not one of semantics. I appreciate how you cast ministry in the light of fatherhood. Indeed, a model of God’s love, care, and guidance for us.

  3. Karen C Avatar
    Karen C

    Father bless! Add another amen to this post. I was also interested to learn from my (formerly Evangelical) Orthodox Priest that up until a 100 years ago or so, American Protestants typically addressed their pastor as “Father” while the Roman Catholics used the term “Master” (and perhaps also “Pastor”–my memory is fuzzy on the details) to address their parish priest. The Irish Catholics were the exception to this and tended to address their priests as “Father,” so as a result of the impact of the waves of Irish Catholic immigration to this country and their influence in American Roman Catholicism, many American Protestants switched to using the term “Pastor” to address their spiritual leaders in order to distance themselves from Roman Catholic practices. I’m sorry, I don’t know where this may be documented.

  4. Mary Avatar

    Having a wonderful spiritual father in my own priest is a blessing beyond description. As a convert to Orthodoxy, it took me a while to understand and to embrace it for my own life, but now I know I could not do without it.

    Father Stephen, I was in the choir for Wednesday morning’s Liturgy. It is always a blessing to be at the Cathedral, and to hear Vladyka speak. BTW, were you the priest with the wonderful tenor voice sounding from the altar? 🙂

  5. Paul Avatar

    Father, this has been on mind of late as well. Thank you for addressing it.

    If I might be so bold as to put a commercial into your blog. The Boy Socuts of America are trying to teach young boys to be men. We have some, but always need more males to help these young men live and grow into the person God created them to be. The BSa will be 100 years old in 2010. I am an Othodox Christian and a Professional Scouter by profession. We need good Christian men to help these boys even if you don’t have boys as children yourselves.

  6. fatherstephen Avatar


    Not the tenor, me. That was Fr. Paul Lazor whose lovely tenor priest’s voice is often the priestly tenor on liturgical recordings from St. Vladimir’s.

    My voice is the froggy baritone with a slight Southern twang.

  7. Andrea Elizabeth Avatar

    Father, it was such a blessing for my family and me to meet you after your talk Tuesday night. I hope you enjoyed the rest of the Assembly and your time in Dallas.

    I am much encouraged by how things were aired during the Town Hall Meeting, and at the Plenary Sessions, according to my son who attended the latter. Archbishop Dmitri and Abbot Jonah were inspiring amidst open and honest concerns.

    And my kids were very impacted by your Associate Priest, Father Justin’s, talk on Wednesday night. I look forward to hearing more details from them when we are reunited.

    Mary, it was good to see you again! And the way Father Paul’s voice filled the Cathedral was awesome.

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