On Spiritual Fatherhood

“For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet ye have not many fathers” (1 Cor. 4:15).

While making my initial journey into the Orthodox Church, I felt fatherless. It is not because I did not have a good dad – my biological father is a wonderful man. Yet I needed something more, a spiritual father.

I frequently met with my pastor, we had great conversations that dove deep into the Gospels, but he and everyone else were brothers to me. Nobody, not even older men in the faith, were spiritual fathers. I remember reading the above verse from St. Paul and feeling a longing in my own soul for such a spiritual father.  I was an orphan surrounded by other orphans pretending such a broken state was perfectly fine and normal.

There are some men who have embraced spiritual fatherhood in the Protestant communities, but they are rare. In our culture of egalitarianism, I think it is frowned upon to be a spiritual father. Instead, total equality is embraced as if that is somehow more Christ-like.

The latter half of the verse that I quoted above states, “…for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.” St. Paul was saying, “I am your spiritual father and you are my children.” He did not say that with any shame.

Some Protestants are quick to point out the saying of Christ, “And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, who is in heaven” (Matt. 23:9) as being proof that we are all meant to be brothers. But that is not what Christ meant. Instead, he meant that the divine institution of fatherhood comes from God alone. All fathers, when acting in a godly manner, are an image of the heavenly Father for us here on earth. For that reason, no Protestant man that I know tells his children, “Stop calling me ‘dad;’ instead just call me brother.” I think we would do a great deal of psychological harm to our children if we refused them the privilege and the right to call their biological fathers by their proper title.

Children need father figures in their lives, just as they need mothers.  And we spiritual children need spiritual fathers in our lives to help us properly grow.

In the Orthodox Church, I found myself frequently encountering men who embraced spiritual fatherhood.  It was a like a breath of fresh air – it was beautiful and I could see it is exactly how God wants the Church to be.  None of these men were perfect – all of them had multiple flaws, sometimes quite apparent.  But that didn’t matter.  No child scorns his father simply because his dad isn’t perfect.  He loves him anyway and they live and grow together.  It is the same in the Orthodox Church.

Now that I’ve been Orthodox for several years and I am in seminary, I know even more priests who have embraced the role of spiritual father.  Some are amazingly virtuous, but most are ordinary men struggling along the path of salvation with the rest of us.  And I respect that deeply.

Thank you, men, who have embraced the calling of God on your lives to be spiritual fathers and role models in our Church.  May God be with you and may He preserve you for many years.

Me and my spiritual father

Featured image by hungerartist.

5 thoughts on “On Spiritual Fatherhood

  1. WaitingForYeshua November 1, 2022 — 6:01 pm

    Thank you for this! I’m very new to
    the orthodox church and just met my spiritual father. Already it feels amazing. Being called “my dear son” is something I never realized I needed but it’s like healing ointment. God bless and protect our spiritual fathers. God bless you for this article.

    1. Much agreed! And I’m glad you’re finding spiritual healing. May God bless you as well!

  2. Fr. Jeremy, I am an Assemblies of God pastor/evangelist and I contend that Spiritual Fathering is a “Charism” of the Holy Spirit. I am writing a dissertation on “Spiritual Fathering: Its Meaning, Implications, and Future.” I have learned so much from the Orthodox Church and am so grateful. I am searching for teaching of the Ancient Fathers on Spiritual Fathering and am wondering if you have any resources? Thank you, God bless you, and Happy Thanksgiving, Gary Grogan

    1. Hello Gary, spiritual fathering has some similarities with pastoral care. For the latter, there’s St. Gregory the Great’s “Pastoral Care”, Valery Lukianov’s “Blessed Pastorship”, Archbishop John Shahovskoy’s “The Orthodox Pastor.”

      There are more extreme examples like “My Elder Joseph the Hesychast.” But the desert and monastic fathers lived a very different lifestyle than we do in the world. So, spiritual fatherhood is going to look a little more like pastoral care in the non-monastic context.

      1. Thank you Jeremy! I have read a lot on the Desert Fathers and all of “The Ladder of Divine Ascent,” Saint John Climacus. Interesting stuff for sure but their heart for God is what I so admire. Thank you for feedback and blessings to you! Gary Grogan

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