иеромонахи Кирилл и Мефодий (Зинковские)

Spiritual Guidance in Mount Athos and Russia and the Theological Notion of Person

Содержание

The Theological Perspective The Purposes of Spiritual Guidance Eldership as an Ideal of Spiritual Leadership The Historical Overview: Kievο-Pechersky Monastery The Hesychasm Movement, St. Serge of Radonezh and His Disciples St. Paisios of Moldova and a Wave of Spiritual Revival in Russia The revival of Russian monasticism on Mount Athos Distinctive Characteristics of the patterns of Orthodox Spiritual Guidance Personal Relationship and its Dynamics in Spiritual Guidance Catholicity and the Person’s Embracing of other Persons Freedom in Spiritual Guidance Creativity and Uniqueness in Spiritual Guidance Humility and Morality in Spiritual Counselling Love, Integrity and Discernment in Spiritual Fatherhood  

 

We will consider the great importance in spiritual guidance of the theological notion of the divine and human person. Our main thesis is that it is only through the person and personal communion that the guidance patterns found in the Bible and in the Holy Tradition of asceticism can be understood. Various examples of the influence of the ascetic tradition of Mount Athos on Russian and European religious revivals are highlighted in the framework of personal guidance. St. Paisios Velichkovskiy, the Optina elders, St. Silouan and Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), all of whom derived a rich experience from the Athonite treasuries, are vivid exemplars of personal spiritual guidance in the Orthodox Tradition. Due to its personal character this guidance possesses unique characteristics which distinguish it from other guidance experiences and techniques used in various human activities.

‘Send me a man, who would know Thee’

Symeon the New Theologian.

In this paper we aim to show that Mount Athos, as a living, natural part of the Orthodox Tradition, has given us an abundant experience of the importance of the personal character of the relationship between the one who aspires to certain spiritual achievements and the one who guides him on this way. We do not claim that it is exclusively and only Mount Athos which has preserved the Tradition of spiritual life and guidance throughout Church history. In fact there were unhappy times when Mount Athos was preserving its spiritual treasury more in the manner of a library than as a living evidence of Tradition. For example, in the XVIIIth century, neither St. Paisios (Velichkovsky) nor St. Makarios of Corinth succeeded in finding there a true spiritual harbour. However, we do hope to be able to show that the experience of personal spiritual guidance preserved on the Mount, either in life or in the letter, through the writings of the Church fathers, has been an inspiring factor for Russian Church life through the centuries. In one way or another Mount Athos has acted as a sort of ‘catholic lens’, accumulating the spiritual experience of different Christian ascetics (not exclusively belonging to Athos itself) and continually inflaming by its spirit anyone who desired to take advantage of these treasures.

The Theological Perspective

If we wish through the Person of Christ to establish an on-going personal relationship with all of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity we cannot achieve it without a certain preparation in which we are called to build a subtle relationship with other human persons. But there is a need to select among those human persons a single person as our spiritual guide who, possessing a certain vivid experience of a personal relationship with God, can teach us through our everyday life what this personal relationship ought to be. As Metr. Kallistos has put it in one of his works ‘orthodox tradition insists upon the need for direct spiritual direction, person to person1.

‘The person is a source of absolute singularity’ and at the same time this ‘singularity does not imply withdrawal into self’. On the contrary, the human person is meant to be open to everything2, though without any damage to its identity. An authentic spiritual leadership should foster these two seemingly opposite qualities: absolute singularity and all-embracing consciousness.

It is important to underline here briefly that balanced personalism sees the human being as a living image of God and considers man to be an ontological unity of his hypostatic-personal, natural-essential and energetic-expressive elements. In this triangular scheme of intertwined elements in the human being none of them should ever be confused with another or neglected and not taken into consideration.

However, since the personal, hypostatic element –– which can be defined as the bearer of existence –maintains a sort of internal monarchy in the ontological triangular scheme under consideration, it is exactly the personal aspect which will be highlighted in our analysis of the process of Christian spiritual guidance.

According to Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov) ‘the main principles of personalistic obedience are closely linked with our theological notion of Person’3. If we add to this that our spiritual route follows the way of the Name4, we can state that the personal name simultaneously expresses the uniqueness of the person being named and its calling to a dialogue and communion with other persons. It is exactly through naming that we are able to enter into personal communion. And personal dialogue in the process of spiritual guidance receives its uniqueness as soon as the names of the participants are defined.

The theology of the Name is closely linked to the theology of the Image. Outside the notion of the Person, images and names threaten to be obtrusive and to impose themselves on the ones invoking them. It is only in the realm of the person that images and names can be evoked constructively without harming –– indeed even emphasising –– personal uniqueness and identity.

The Purposes of Spiritual Guidance

The idea of spiritual guidance is a necessary part of almost all religious-ascetic traditions5. However, understanding of the purposes of this guidance differs drastically depending on the different theological presuppositions. In pantheistic approaches the final goal is seen as a dissolution of the person. Self-consciousness should be stripped of any unique form of its own and be dissolved in the contemplated ‘essence’6. In the ‘narrow’ monotheism of Judaism and Islam we encounter ideas of identification of the person being guided with the one who guides or with God Himself according to the formula ‘he is He’ which also results in the oblivion and loss of one’s own self7.

In the Orthodox Christian tradition obedience is required not for the sake of ‘abolition of the Self, but for the sake of mortification of the evil in the Self’8. The person of the spiritual director is given to us to help in the activation of our own personal element, teaching us to control our own modes of existence, harmonising these modes with the mode of existence of the God-Man –– Christ. Instead of the situation in which our mode of existence is determined by our nature corrupted by sin, it begins to be coordinated with the person of our spiritual counsellor who is believed to possess a sanctified will coordinated with the will of Christ. That is how the idea of obedience to the spiritual father as to the Lord Himself arises9, as well as the greater importance attached to the example of life than to the words10.

We should note here that the early Russian saints have left us little in the way of written works or homilies11. We take this fact as indicating a certain preference among Russians for the practical aspects of the spiritual life, and an intuitive understanding of the importance of a practical personal adoption of those specific modes of spiritual life which allow us to receive the flow of divine energies without too much abstract speculation on the subject. However, this point has both positive and negative sides to it. The positive side is that there are fewer empty words. For example, St. Serge of Radonezh ‘would utter few words, but rather gave an example to the brethren by his deeds’12. The negative side is that as soon as the spiritual intuition is weakened, practice without theory might grow into a law of the letter of the misunderstood tradition as it happened with the so called ‘old-believers’.

As Christ the Son of God hypostatically subdued His natural human will into obedience to His Father, so it is to foster the development of the personal element within themselves that the holy apostles offered their obedience to Christ, and Christians offer obedience to their spiritual guides13.

Eldership as an Ideal of Spiritual Leadership

Clement of Alexandria called God the ‘Eternal Elder’14 which already implies the possibility of a wise eldership able to pass on a divine teaching. The spiritual director is called an ‘elder’ if he has reached such a state of transparency15 that, rather than overshadowing God by his own person, he is able to reveal Him and lead the disciples towards Him. He should be an image of Christ16, as Christ is the image of His heavenly Father. Thus, the relationship between a disciple and his teacher follows the same pattern as the relationship between the holy apostles and Christ17.

At the same time, the person of the Christ-like counsellor experiences kenosis, self-emptying which resembles the personal kenosis of the Holy Spirit, Who leads us to Christ but remains personally concealed as He stands by, rejoicing at our encounter with Christ. The spiritual director should become a sort of humble transmitter of the words and images from God that are needed for each of the persons who come to him18. St. Seraphim of Sarov admitted that his counsels could be mistaken when they were said ‘from himself’19, out of his own personal reasoning without sufficient prayer. The person of the elder is called on to achieve harmony with the breathing of the Spirit in order to be able to convey through his natural human energies the authentic divine will and to assist in the labour of spiritual perfection20.

We should emphasise here the idea explicitly expressed by Prof. Lossky and by Metr. Kallistos and often implicitly present in the Holy Tradition that ‘initially the divine grace exists within a person in such a subtle way that he is unaware of its presence and does not understand that it is within him’. And it is specifically through our relationship with our spiritual guide that we are helped to attain this personal awareness of the Spirit’s presence21. The closer the spiritual director is to God the more he is able to discern in each human being ‘the unique person created in the image and likeness of God’22 and to stimulate the dynamic process of personal development.

The Historical Overview: Kievο-Pechersky Monastery

St. Anthony of the Kievο-Pechersky monastery (983–1073), having returned to Russia from the Athonite Esphigmenou monastery, was not content with the quality of monastic life in Kiev. He established his own monastery where he arranged spiritual guidance for the monks and, though he was not a priest, the monks would confess their thoughts to him23. That practice of confession to a non-ordained elder had obviously been brought by St. Anthony from Athos and was quite unusual afterwards in medieval Russia.

St. Anthony’s disciple, St. Theodosius (1008–1074), unwillingly, by obedience became the abbot of the monastery and a spiritual father to the monks and would listen to their confessions every morning24. St. Theodosius also became a spiritual father to many of the civil authorities of the city of Kiev. In spite of the quickly growing number of monks their community remained a large spiritual family which would share both labours and prayers. If some monk would refuse to perform a job of any kind St. Theodosius would do it himself, setting a good example of humility.

We cannot agree with those historians who doubt that the eldership existed in the Kievo-Pechersky monastery25. They claim that the authority of the abbot had forced the eldership out and diminished the role of spiritual guidance in the whole of Russia in the High Middle Ages and later on26. On the contrary, the fathers of Russian monasticism were undoubtedly Spirit inspired votaries of Christ and authentic spiritual counsellors27. Their monastery yielded many abbots and bishops to the Church and became a sort of cradle of spiritual leadership which played a significant role in the spiritual life of ancient Russia. A good proof of the respect for spiritual obedience in the Kievo-Pechersky monastery is the story of St. Nikita, the bishop of Novgorod, who, as a simple monk in Kiev, disobeyed the abbot, became a recluse instead of serving the community and was deluded by the demons. And it was not by any administrative order but only through the joint prayer of the brethren that Nikita was eventually freed from his delusion and repented of his willfulness28.

We should also emphasise here that, partly due to the vastness of the Russian territories and partly because of the natural maximalistic propensity to high ideals, which was also characteristic of Byzantine spiritual culture, the right to administer the sacrament of confession was given to any priest after his ordination29, as Christians would not wish to remain without the sacrament of confession for too long a time.

The Hesychasm Movement, St. Serge of Radonezh and His Disciples

St. Gregory of Sinai (1255–1346), one of the teachers of hesychasm, who spent over 20 years in Mount Athos and gathered many disciples there, has exercised a powerful influence on Russian spiritual life. Due to the spread of Islam he had to move to Thrace (Θράκη) which was inhabited by a large number of Slavs, and his disciples dispersed throughout Slavonic countries bringing with them the practice of the noetic prayer and thorough spiritual guidance30. Under the patronage of Patriarch Philotheos (Kokkinos) hesychasm, which holds the practice of spiritual guidance in high esteem, spread through Russia with the help of Metropolitans Alexis (†1378) and Cyprian (†1406). The latter was also a disciple of St. Gregory of Sinai31 and brought Athonite monks to Russia, in particular the famous iconographer Theophanes the Greek (†1410).

Of course, there existed other lineages in which spiritual guidance was revered as an extremely important tool of personal development, but we should stress that it is, remarkably, always and only through certain distinct personalities that this tradition was passed down. And it is not by chance that hesychasm –– which is so attentive to words and names as means of prayer, and to the relationship between the human and divine personalities –– has always zealously revered the practice of spiritual guidance in which the word becomes a flexible tool.

As abbot of the Radonezh monastery, St. Serge of Radonezh was never able to visit Mount Athos, but his links with it are obvious. He had a good relationship with Metropolitans Alexis and Cyprian and Patriarch Philotheos (Kokkinos). St. Serge of Nurom, Greek by origin, tonsured in Mount Athos, became a monk in the Radonezh monastery and a spiritual son of St. Serge. Radonezh monks practiced confession of thoughts32 while the abbot himself never attempted to subdue the will of other persons by using his administrative power33. This absence of strictness in St. Serge could even be regarded as a weakness, but it concealed a great inner force34.

St. Cyril of the White Lake and St. Paul of Obnora and other pupils of the holy abbot of Radonezh founded many monasteries in the Northern and Eastern parts of Russia, keeping the practice of thorough obedience combined with intense inner prayer. The XVth century text ‘A Precept of an Elder to His Disciples on the Monastic Life’, dedicated specifically to the principles of spiritual guidance and the relationship of an elder with his disciples, originates from the disciples of St. Serge35. Spiritual guidance concerned not only the monastic order but also lay people. For example, St. Cyril in his Last Spiritual Letter calls Prince Andrew of Mozhaysk his ‘spiritual son who had been confessing his sins to him’36.

St. Nilus of Sora, who was tonsured in St. Cyril's monastery and spent several years in Mount Athos, set forth the theoretical fundamentals of spiritual guidance in detail37, showing his familiarity with Greek patristic literature. It can be said that he established a whole ascetic school which included at least three generations of elders and their disciples who labored ascetically in the Trans-Volga Region38.

Among the best known Russian hesychasts we find also the names of St. Stephen of Perm (1340–1396), St. Andrei Rublev (1360–1428) –– whose masterpieces are believed to be fruits of the hesychast tradition despite attempts to blame hesychasm for suppressing creativity39, St. Paisios of Moldova, the Optina elders and St. Seraphim of Sarov.

St. Paisios of Moldova and a Wave of Spiritual Revival in Russia

Although the holy Tradition of the Church can never be interrupted altogether there are periods when it is greatly weakened in its influence on our ecclesiastic life. And the XVII–XVIIIth centuries could be judged as the worst in Russian history for the practice of spiritual guidance40. It is through Paisios Velichkovsky (1722–1794), who was to become St. Paisios of Moldova, that a wave of spiritual revival gradually spread all over Russia.

Father Paisios spent over 15 years (1746–1763) in Athos. Throughout his life he collected and translated the texts of the Greek ‘Philokalia’ and became, so to speak, the God-father of many Russian elders. His attention was directed mostly to obedience, ‘noetic’ prayer, reading of the Church Fathers and frequent disclosure of thoughts. These principles proved to be very fruitful. St. Paisios’ monastery hosted monks of over 10 nationalities and by the end of the XVIIIth century41 they numbered as many as 10,000. It was the largest monastery in the Eastern Orthodox Church of that time. The very number of the saints who can trace their lineage back to these holy spiritual leaders is proof of the fruitfulness of their methodology of personal spiritual guidance42.

As a result of the diligent work of St Paisios and his disciples, translations of the Philokalia into Slavonic and Russian were made which spread all over Russia in numerous handwritten and printed copies43. St. Paisios influenced over 100 Russian monasteries through his more than 200 disciples as well as through the translations which were to drastically change the character of Russian monasticism for decades and even centuries ahead44. For example, the Slavonic translation of the Philokalia became a reference book for Prochor Moshnin who was to become the great Russian saint, Seraphim of Sarov.

St. Leo, St Makarius and other elders of Optina, whose number had reached 14 by the first quarter of the XXth century, were direct descendants of St. Paisios. They practiced obedience to each other to their dying day. According to eyewitness accounts, monks would openly look into the Optina elders' eyes with a combination of reverence and love. Elders would act with simplicity as if they were surrounded by their own natural family45.

The holy elders of the Glinsky monastery were also successors of the school of St. Paisios through its famous abbot, Philaret46. The Glinsky elders loved the Athonite monastic rite and practiced the confession of everyday thoughts to a confessor able to understand the benefit of it and to hear them with benevolence47.

The elders of both Optina and Glinskaya performed a great service not only to the monks and nuns but also to a multitude of lay people, simple and aristocratic, rich and poor, who clung to their advice and leadership with the intuition that is typical of the ‘people of God’.

The best of Russian bishops understood well that the revival of spiritual life required not administrative orders but experienced spiritual guides and so they supported their activities48. Metropolitan Gabriel (Petrov) was one of those bishops who helped in the revival of the monastic life in Valaam and other monasteries which had been badly damaged by the reforms of Peter the Great and his successors.

The revival of Russian monasticism on Mount Athos

If we turn to the history of the Russian monastery on Mount Athos we can clearly see that its spiritual revival in the XIXth century was also directly linked to the restoration of personal spiritual guidance. In the first quarter of the XVIIIth century (1726) the St. Panteleimon monastery accommodated only 2 Russian and 2 Bulgarian monks – in the end it was turned officially into a Greek monastery. But after the arrival of Elder Jerome (Solomentsov, 1805–1885) and his disciple Abbot Makarius (Sushkin) the number of monks went up very abruptly to 800! Elder Jerome was revered by all the monks on Mount Athos as a wise and loving spiritual adviser. He did not seek this reputation but it was the natural consequence of his ascetic life, spiritual experience and warm-hearted sympathy for everyone. Again we see that it is due to specific personalities and active personal spiritual guidance that spiritual life flourishes and blossoms forth!

As for the holiness of St. Silouan we believe it had been prepared by the labours of Elder Jerome. Here we can quote Fr. Sophrony (Sakharov) who stresses the fact that though Fr. Silouan did not become the disciple of any particular elder49 he profited from the general current of the tradition common to the monastery. Fr. Silouan attached a particular importance to internal spiritual obedience both to the abbot and to the appointed spiritual fathers of the cloister, considering it to be a great Church Sacrament and gift of Grace50.

Archimandrite Sophrony enjoyed the bliss of personal spiritual guidance through a non-ordained but spiritually experienced monk, Silouan. And in spite of the ridicule of more learned monks, he appreciated this personal relationship with a seemingly simple spiritual adviser as a key condition for his own growth in the Spirit. Afterwards Fr. Sophrony’s experience and ‘acquaintance with the living ascetic tradition of Mount Athos have prompted a revival of interest in the feat of obedience in contemporary Russian orthodoxy’51.

Distinctive Characteristics of the patterns of Orthodox Spiritual Guidance

We aim to show that the Orthodox tradition of spiritual guidance is not just a set of techniques for passing spiritual experience (whatever it might be) from one human individual to another, not just copying, transition or induction of a similar mode of inner psychic life, but a manner of awakening the God-given hypostatic element through a very subtle, Spirit inspired relationship of human persons exercised for the sake of knowledge of God and self-cognition. In order to do this we have to analyze some different examples of spiritual guidance in order to prove the presence of personal qualities such as an inability to reduce the person to a natural phenomenon and ability of personal possession of nature and of its energies; catholicity and relativity; freedom of choice; creativity; consciousness; uniqueness; integrity; morality and discernment.

Personal Relationship and its Dynamics in Spiritual Guidance

Metr. Kallistos points out that the primary task of a wise and experienced guide consists in establishing between himself and his disciple mutual interpersonal relations52. The ‘personal dimension’53 is extremely important in the process of spiritual guidance. ‘Eldership consists in maximal individualization of spiritual participation and its minimal generalization’54. At the same time it is important that a man should find his own personal spiritual father55, who will help him, possibly throughout his whole life, to aspire consistently to the realization of the purpose of a Christian life which is ‘the acquisition of the Holy Spirit’56. According to Archimandrite Sophrony, ‘without the culture of true Christian obedience man is bound to remain a “closed unit”... opposed as it is to the Hypostatic principle’57. And it should be noted that within the correct personal relationship between the spiritual father and his spiritual child ‘the Abba grows and changes as well as the disciple’58.

One of the most dramatic examples of a great personal trust in Russian spiritual guidance is probably the story of St. Helen (Manturova) of Diveyevo who died by obedience to her spiritual father St. Seraphim. St. Seraphim just asked her whether she could die instead of her seriously ill brother Michael who had been helping St. Seraphim greatly with the affairs of the Diveyevo nunnery. And Helen’s answer was: ‘Yes, as you bless, father’. Then she feebled, lost her conscience and died several days later.

Catholicity and the Person’s Embracing of other Persons

St. Nilus of Sora, referring to the words of Christ about two or three gathered together in His Name (Matt. 18, 20), observes that it is good for a spiritual father and son, assisted by the Holy Spirit, ‘to strive together’. St. Nilus even explains the ‘impossibility of constant soaring in the heights of prayerful bliss by the economy (oikonomia) of love’. He speaks of the necessity for the experienced ascetics ‘to care about their brethren and to see to them through the service of words’59. It can even be argued that Russian spirituality tended somewhat more than the Greek tradition to implementation of the principles of catholicity in spiritual guidance. It was ‘harder’ for the Russian elders to abstain from embracing the new and ever newer personalities that were coming to them.

Realizing how great is the mystery of the personal indwelling of Christ and the Holy Spirit in the relations between the spiritual guide and his flock, we should remember that another condition of the catholicity of spiritual guidance is a correct personal orientation on the part of the participants on the human side. The Optina elders emphasized the importance of trust on the part of the inquirers, saying that ‘faith with hope on the part of the inquirers draws upon us the grace of God'60. The catholic co-presence of the Person of the Spirit ‘within’ human relations is not a mechanical phenomenon. The spiritual father is also expected to make a spiritual effort to implement the principle of catholicity. ‘The sophisticated heart’ of the spiritual father and his child ‘become susceptible to the subtle voice of God’61 and their prolonged spiritual dialogue acquires more and more catholic characteristics.

The ability of our person to embrace and to incorporate the existence of other persons within its own existence62, without suppressing them, and, on the contrary, giving them increased freedom of action, constitutes one of the crucial features that distinguish the personal element from the natural one.

A good example of the catholicity principle in guidance would be that of St. Ambrose of Optina saying to a very ill and poor young woman, who wished to become a nun, but had been brought to him lying on a stretcher: ‘Even rubbish like that –– will fit into our flat!’. We have to remember that it was almost impossible for a physically ill and poor woman to become a nun in the post-Peter the Great period. But the elder’s heart couldn’t escape the need to incorporate even such an unfortunate person, although it meant additional burdens upon the nunnery of Shamordino which the elder actually was running financially with the help of his spiritual children.

Irreducibility to the Natural Element and the Element of Meta-Rationality in Spiritual Guidance

The God of Revelation cannot be ‘taken hold of’ or ‘grasped’ by any technical means, even if these means themselves are correct in essence. No holy person can give a ‘guarantee’ of success through a specific set of actions and obedience. Correct spiritual institutions may even be at a certain stage ‘an obstacle to spiritual growth’63. As Fr. Sophrony would put it, true obedience is possible only in relation to the personality, not to the rule. And personality can always place us in front of another unexpected face of its uniqueness. Many spiritual things cannot be put in words, but can be only ‘conveyed through a direct personal encounter’64, yet realized through the communion of personal natural energies. For example, Fr. Isidore, an elder of the Gethsemane skete, near to the Radonezh monastery, upon leaving his skete for some purpose without permission of the abbot, having been met by another monk and asked whether he had left by permission or not, answered in a childish way: ‘You’d better keep mum!’.

Irreducibility to the natural aspect can also be seen in the fact that, though the purpose of the spiritual path is acquisition of the grace of the Spirit, yet even the grace of priesthood or the ascetic experience of a spiritual father do not become an unconditional guarantee of success in achieving this goal. Only the person who has established a unique hypostatic relation with God is endowed with a full ability to guide other persons in their spiritual growth. Thus, in Church history ‘confession to the elders was different from the sacrament of confession, since it was based not on the grace of priesthood, but on gifts that were personal and God-given’65. ‘The history of the Russian Church of the XVIIIth to XIXth centuries bears witness to this, when whole companies of devout ascetics, the bearers of great Grace, avoided priesthood and monastic tonsure in order to be able freely to give themselves up to their exploits outside the control of the officially established institutions’66. For example, one of the Diveyevo nuns St. Pelagia threw back into the face of the bishop the holy prosphora he had given her as a mark of respect. Through this act she taught him that he had taken a wrong decision in the turmoil the nunnery was going through after the repose of St. Seraphim.

The irreducibility of the personal element to the natural one also accounts for the presence of a certain irrational or meta-rational ‘remainder’ in spiritual guidance. Thus, St. Ambrose of Optina remarked that although he had been a cell attendant to his elder Macarius for 4 years, he was still not able ‘to puzzle him out’67, i.e. had failed to solve the mystery of his person.

From the Orthodox perspective, even despite possible errors on the part of the spiritual father, if his instruction is accepted with faith, paradoxically it adds to goodness. For even if it may inflict a certain ‘technical’ damage on the spiritual child, the latter, not relying on his own thoughts and feelings, perceives the energies ‘proceeding from the heart’, from the innermost being of his guide68, which is irreducible to the logic of natural thinking.

Freedom in Spiritual Guidance

Personal freedom is both a prerequisite and an ultimate goal of the spiritual path. In its initial state our ‘personality is almost blind and helpless’, ‘it does not know how to choose and too often yields to the promptings of nature, which has become a slave to sin’69. However, even as we embark on our path, God holds in high regard ‘the free inclination of our will to God’70. St. Macarius of Egypt pointed out that the human will is an essential condition of any spiritual progress71. Obedience, as a seeking of God’s will, is ‘a religious act’, and ‘as such, it must necessarily be free’72. That is why the best spiritual fathers were said to avoid importunate ‘instructions’, though this did not mean that they gave up their fatherhood or indulged erroneous manifestations of human will73.

Having overcome the conflicts of existence within himself, and having brought the two ‘poles’ of man – the hypostasis and the nature – into the ‘identity and harmony of eternal life’74, a true spiritual father helps a Christian to launch out on the path of overcoming ‘the fallen state’ and achieving the restoration of true freedom75.

The elder experiences a personal kenosis in descending to the level of the one who seeks his advice in order to maximize the freedom of this person and at the same time to show him the path of ascension. In his turn, ‘an obedient spiritual child… is granted freedom and peace in God’76, his soul becomes free from his own selfishness77.

A good example of the decisive importance of personal freedom is that of St. Seraphim of Sarov strongly and repeatedly insisting on St. Helen (Manturova) not becoming a nun but marrying a husband. St. Seraphim was testing her personal intentions as he knew that she had initially decided to go to a nunnery in a moment of great fear and despair which could not result in a free personal decision.

Unfortunately, for various reasons, the history of the Church has seen many occasions on which the principle of personal freedom in spiritual guidance has been violated. Thus, for example, in Russia, in the era of Peter the Great, Christians were attached to particular parishes and thus prevented from exercising the free choice of a spiritual father78. And in the pre-Petrine period a Christian who wanted to change his spiritual father ‘was not able to abandon him’ if the latter would not let him go. And no one ‘could help the believer who had the misfortune to choose the wrong or inappropriate spiritual father’79. Such a ‘legalistic’ approach to the matter of spiritual guidance is directly linked with the rejection of a creative and responsible attitude to the spiritual path. Fr. G. Florovsky has warned against this, seeing in the Fall a desire to submit ‘one’s spiritual life to the physical law of mechanical causality’80.

Creativity and Uniqueness in Spiritual Guidance

Since spiritual guidance is aimed at the development of the personal divine image in a human being it should arouse creative potentialities, which vividly mark out the personal uniqueness of each individual. And consequently personal guidance should be exercised creatively by both participants in the process.

A careful analysis of the experience of the Church will reveal quite a wide variety of creative approaches in the efforts of the spiritual fathers to solve different everyday spiritual problems. Some of the approaches of these holy spiritual guides can be called not only totally unexpected in their ingenuity but sometimes may even seem provocative. For example, St. John (Kryukov) of the Sviatogorsky Lavra (1795–1867), who started his monastic life in Glinsky monastery81, having been asked to help a violent man possessed by a demon, brought the man into his cell, closed the doors and started praying. By the next morning, the monks of the monastery got very worried about Fr. John as there was no sign of life in his cell. So they decided to break in and to their amazement they found St. John sleeping on the floor next to the man, embracing him with his hand. Upon awakening the man proved to be absolutely cured.

Sometimes spiritual fathers would resort to humor. Thus, a monk of the Glinsky monastery being overcome with grief went to his spiritual father Arkhip. Having welcomed the depressed monk informally, the elder sat him down to tea and began to recite funeral texts from an Epistle of the Apostle Paul. Quite inexplicably, the monk ‘was seized with uncontrollable laughter’ which ‘dispelled all his grief’, and he ‘was completely comforted’82. St. Ambrose of Optina would often relieve a burdened soul with a funny proverb or a couple of child-like words83 which would even arouse in some Christians doubts about the elder’s holiness.

Humility and Morality in Spiritual Counselling

Pride, being an illness of the hypostatic element in man, comprises the core of the spiritual fall84 and only a humble person can ‘heal his fellow brother’85. A true spiritual father always ‘respects the personality of another man’86, fearing to hurt his soul, waiting for years for a man to realize his mistakes and shortcomings’87.

The true ascetic aspires ‘to remain in obedience over his whole life despite all his spiritual experience’88. ‘Anthony the Great at the age of 95 would visit Paul of Thebes who was 115’89, considering himself not worthy of being his pupil. The elders of Optina took advantage of mutual guidance through all their lives. The Russian Athonite Elder Macarius, an elderly abbot of the monastery who had hundreds of monks under his own guidance, ‘bowed like a child who had done something wrong at the feet of his great spiritual director,’ Fr. Jerome, ‘begging for forgiveness’. Considering Elder Jerome to be his only ‘treasure on earth’, Fr. Macarius ‘obeyed Fr. Jerome unquestionably and often received reprimands from him’. He was reprimanded even in the presence of strangers and ‘from the ordinary point of view his alleged faults were not only blameworthy, but, on the contrary, were worthy of approval and reward’90.

In Russia the personal relationship of spiritual fathers and their spiritual children had a tendency to bear a ‘moral and family character’91. Obedience ‘from the first word’92 was expected not by reason of fear, but of humbleness before the person of the spiritual father. With such an approach even the confession of sins ‘did not break, but consolidated the bond of the moral relations’ between the spiritual father and the penitent child93.

However, it should be noted that the realities of life do not always correspond to the ideal and people who do not understand the meaning of spiritual fatherhood often treat a priest ‘as they would treat God Himself: reject him with a frightening ease, as something indecent, for they are sure that as soon as they have a need for him, they will summon him and he will not refuse to come’94.

Love, Integrity and Discernment in Spiritual Fatherhood

Christian spiritual guidance suggests an unceasing growth of personal love both for God and for man. Great spiritual fathers were always burning with a fiery love which attracted people to them ‘as a magnet attracts iron’95. It was precisely in the personal character of Divine love that they derived the strength and patience needed for the complicated task of the spiritual guidance of Christians. Examples abound. St. Daniel of Pereyaslav (†1540) ‘as a wise and skillful physician healed human sinful passions and spiritual wounds with gracious words’ and many addressed themselves to him96. Another prominent Russian spiritual father said: ‘my heart is full of love to all … I desire to comfort everyone. If it were possible, I would tear myself to pieces for the sake of others’97.

The personal love that exists between the Persons of the Trinity in eternity represents a unifying power through which human persons can be gathered together without their own uniqueness suffering any harm. True elders are such gatherers and ‘living prototypes of the Spirit’s integrity’98. Their personal prayer acquires ‘cosmic dimensions’99, embracing the whole world and every man.

The integrity and simplicity of their personalities is ‘not thoughtless’100 but takes into account the whole diversity and hierarchy of the states of the human spirit. Such wisdom in love bears the name of discernment. ‘Skill is halfway to holiness’, –– the elder Leo of Optina used to say. As a spiritual father discerns the ‘logoi’ as ‘inner principles’ or ‘purposes of God’ in the spiritual life of his children, he is able to train them not only in such insight but also to prepare their personalities for a rational engagement with the God-given semantic field of ‘logoi’. At the same time we must note that the spiritual gift of discernment does not always fit into the framework of natural logic. Being nourished by the personal love of God and of the spiritual man, such discernment exceeds the laws of human rationality.

Conclusion

‘The grain of the person or hypostasis’ in man is a ‘subject to growing and violent threats from the powers of this world’101. The dynamic and positive development of the human person is almost impossible without the sacraments of the Church and the help of a more spiritually experienced person, which enable the individual to correctly navigate the vast sea of events and phenomena, impressions and words, problems and tasks of our life.

The Orthodox Christian tradition has throughout its history, especially on Mount Athos, preserved and developed the principles of spiritual guidance possessing essential personal characteristics which, if properly put into practice, make it possible to foster the personal growth of man along the full length of his earthly existence. The Russian Church has profited greatly from the Athonite tradition of spiritual guidance through outstanding personalities who were able, like wise bees, to collect and implement the nectariferous principles of spiritual guidance in their own lives and in the lives of those who entrusted their souls to them.

No wonder that the Russian book called ‘The Son of the Church’, one of the first Russian catechisms102, states that if a person dies not having a spiritual father, ‘it would have been better for that man if he had not been born’103. Saint Seraphim of Sarov, emphasised that ‘there is nothing higher than obedience’104. However, outside the theology of the human person it is impossible to correctly interpret and implement the principles of the complex process of spiritual guidance and the obedience of one human person to another.

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* * *

1

Kallistos (Ware), bish. How Do We Enter the Heart? // Paths to the Heart Sufism and the Christian East / Ed. by James S. Cutsinger. p. cm. – (Perennial philosophy series). Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data. 2004. P. 18 // http://www.scribd.com/doc/74567498/Paths-to-the-Heart-Sufism-and-the-Christian-East 11. 07. 2012.

2

Verchovsky S. God and Man. The Teaching About God and His Knowledge in the Light of Orthodoxy. N. Y., 1956. P. 281.

3

Sophrony (Sakharov),archim. The Initiation into the Ushakable Kingdom. St. John the Baptist Monastery. Moscow, 2000. P. 177.

4

Kallistos (Ware), bish. How Do We Enter the Heart? P. 18.

5

Nicholas (Sakharov), hierodeacon. The Teaching of archim. Sophrony about the Eldership. Eldership and Obedience in the Theology of Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov) / Transl. by А. А. Melnikov // Nachalo (journal IBiF). SPb, 2001. № 10. Pp. 84–112, here: p. 84–85.

6

Horuzhy S. S. Constitution of Person and Identity in the Perspective the Ancient and Contemporary Practices of the Self // http://synergia-isa.ru/lib/lib.htm 20. 11. 2012.

7

Sholem G. The Main Trends in Judaic Mystics. Moscow: The Culture Bridges, 2004. Pp. 187–188, 189–190.

8

Ieropheos (Vlachos), metr. One Night in the desert of the Holy Mountain. The Lavra of the Holy Trinity, 1997. Pp. 148–149.

9

St. Symeon the New Theologian deemed his spiritual father to be equal to the Apostles and spoke of him as of ‘my helper whom I revered as the Lord Himself’, Basil (Krivoshein), archbish. St. Symeon The New Theiologian. Moscow, 1995. P. 82.

10

Sophrony (Sakharov), archim. Our Monastic Life // Idem. Sacrament of the Christian Life. The Holy Trinity Sergius Lavra. St. John the Baptist Monastery, 2009. Pp. 45–68, here: p. 46.

11

John (Kologrivov), hieromonk. Essays on the History of Russian Sanctity. Siracusa: Ed. ISTINA, 1991. P. 42.

12

Life of St. Sergius of Radonezh // http://www.stsl.ru/lib/book2/chap_e1.htm 24. 05. 2012.

13

The Letter of archim. Paisios (Velichkovskyi) to Protasieva M. The Life and Writings of the Moldavian Elder Paisios Velichkovskyi. Kozelskaya Optina Pustin. 1892. Pp. 239–247, here: p. 244.

14

‘άίδιος γέρων’, Clemens Alexandrinus. Paedagogus 3. 3 PG 8. 580 A.

15

Kallistos (Ware), metr. Personal Experience of the Holy Spirit according to the Greek Fathers // http://www.reshma.nov.ru/pr_sov/bogoslovie/kallist_duh_otsi.htm 24. 05. 2012.

16

Life of Hieromonk Nikon. Moscow: Ed. Vedensky Optina Pustyn, 1996. P. 317.

17

Kirill (Zinkovskiy), hieromonk. Eldership in the Teaching and Life of the Church. SPbDA, 2002. P. 185.

18

Sophrony (Sakharov), archim. On Prayer. Ed. 3. The Holy Trinity Sergius Lavra. St. John the Baptist Monastery, 2009. P. 101.

19

Lossky N. O. Venerable Sergius of Radonezh and Seraphim of Sarov // Put’, 1926. № 2 (January). Pp. 122–124, here: p. 123.

20

‘Ἄνθρωπος μὲν γὰρ ἀνθρῶπῳ συνεργεῖ εἰς μετάνοιαν’ –– ‘A man is the other man’s co-worker in repentance’, S. Anastasius Sinaita. Quaestiones. PG 89 373 D.

21

Kallistos (Ware), bishop of Diokleia. Personal Experience of the Holy Spirit According To the Greek Fathers // http://www.reshma.nov.ru/pr_sov/bogoslovie/kallist_duh_otsi.htm 24. 05. 2012.

22

Idem. The Spiritual Father in Orthodox Christianity // Idem. The Inner Kingdom. Kiev: Dukh i Litera, 2003. Pp. 161–188, here: p. 170.

23

Marchenkov A., deacon. Kozelsky Vedensky Optina Pustyn in the History of Russian Eldership. MDA, 1988. P. 27.

24

Leonid (Polyakov), archim, Athos in the History of Russian Monasticism, (spiritual relations), X–XVIII c. MDA, 1969. P. 57.

25

Smolich I. Russian Monasticism, 988–1917. V. 2. Translated from German, typescript. Library of SPbDA, 1952. P. 801.

26

Smirnov S. Ancient Russian Spiritual Father. Moscow: PSTGU, 2004. Pp. 8, 25, 26; Nicholas (Sakharov), hierodeacon. The Teaching of archim. Sophrony on Eldership. P. 92.

27

Kirill (Zinkovskiy), hieromonk. Eldership in the Teaching and Life of the Church. P. 141.

28

Abramovich D., prof. Kievo-Pechersky Paterikon. Kiev, 1930. Pp. 124–127.

29

Kontsevich I. M. Acquisition of the Holy Spirit in Ancient Russia. Ed. department of the Moscow Patriarchate, 1993. Pp. 47–48.

30

Kallistos (Ware), metr. Jesus Prayer in the Teaching of St. Gregory of Sinai. 1972 // http://apologet.spb.ru/ru/духовная-жизнь/70-духовная-жизнь/1073-iisusova-molitva-v-uchenii-sv-grigoriya-sinaita 24. 05. 2012.

31

Nahum, metr. Strumichsky, Школа за исихазам, основна. Манастир Воведение на Пресвета Богородица Елеуса, Велјуса. Струмица, 2011. Pp. 46–47.

32

Life of St. Sergius of Radonezh // http://www.stsl.ru/lib/book2/chap_e1.htm 24. 05. 2012.

33

Lossky N. O. Venerable Sergius of Radonezh and Seraphim of Sarov. P. 124.

34

John (Kologrivov), hieromonk. Essays on the History of Russian Sanctity. P. 97.

35

Kirill (Zinkovskiy), hieromonk. Eldership in the Teaching and Life of the Church. P. 145.

36

Venerable Cyril, Therapont and Martinian Belozersky. St. Petersburg, 1993. P. 187.

37

Marchenkov A., deacon. Kozelsky Vedensky Optina Pustyn in the History of Russian Eldership. P. 43.

38

Smolich I. Russian Monasticism. V. II. P. 808.

39

See, for example: Ulyanov O. G. The Influence of the Holy Mount Athos on the Veneration of the Holy Trinity in Metropolitan Cyprian’s Time (to the 600-th anniversary of the saint’s passing away) // Materials of International Scientific Conference 5–6 декабря 2005 / Ed. T. V. Chumakova. St. Petersburg: Lemma, 2005.

40

Innocenty (Prosvirin), archim. Russian Eldership and Optina Pustyn, article in the collection. Millenium of the Baptism of Russia. Moscow, 1989. Pp. 215–216.

41

Exactly, in 1790.

42

For example, there were over 100 holy disciples descending from St. Serge of Radonezh. Multiple pupils of Optina and Glinskaya elders are also clear evidence to this phenomenon.

43

Nahum Strumichsky, metr. Школа за исихазам, основна. Pp. 52–53.

44

Chetverikov S. Elder Paisius Velichkovsky. Paris: YMCA-PRESS, 1988. Pp. 5–6.

45

Muraviev A.N. Journey to the Holy Places of Russia. Pt IV. St. Petersburg, 1863. P. 62.

46

Fr. Philaret was a pupil of Elders Basil (Shishkin) and Theodisius of Moldova, who were direct disciples of St. Paisios.

47

Chesnokov A. Glinskaya Desert and Its Elders. TSL, 1994. P. 124.

48

Contrary to the Age of the Enlightenment. Life and Works of Reverend Gabriel (Petrov), Moscow, 2000. P. 201.

49

Either due to a great amount of monks at the monastery by the beginning of the XX-th century, or due to the absence of a particular elder who would match St. Silouan’s outstanding personality.

50

Sophrony (Sakharov), hieromonk. Elder Silouan. Life, Teachings and Writings. Minsk: Luchi Sofii, 1998. P. 82.

51

Nicholas (Sakharov), hierodeacon. The Teaching of archim. Sophrony about the Eldership. Pp. 96–97.

52

Harrison N. V. The Uniqueness of Man and Human Solidarity // http://www.bogoslov.ru/text/1259567.html 01. 12. 2010.

53

Gould G. The Desert Fathers on Monastic Community. Oxford, 1993. P. 87.

54

Lossky N. O. Venerable Sergius of Radonezh and Seraphim of Sarov. Pp. 122–123.

55

The Great Watch. Life and works of the blessed memory athonite elders hieroshimonk Jerome and shiarchim. Makary. In 2 vols / Ed. Hieromonk Joachim (Sabelnikov). Moscow Patriarchate, 2001. V. 1. P. 300.

56

Sophrony (Sakharov), hieromonk. The Basics of Orthodox Asceticism // Idem. Elder Silouan. P. 492.

57

Nicholas (Sakharov), hierodeacon. The Teaching of archim. Sophrony about the Eldership. P. 105.

58

Kallistos (Ware), bish. The Spiritual Father in Orthodox Christianity // http://silouanthompson.net/2008/09/spiritual-father/ 09. 06. 2012.

59

John (Kologrivov), hieromonk. Essays on the History of Russian Sanctity. P. 175.

60

Life of Hieroschemamonk Lev. Moscow: Ed. Vedenskaya Optina Pustyn, 1994. P. 342.

61

Sophrony (Sakharov), archim. Initiation into Unshakeable Kingdom. P. 175.

62

Nicholas (Sakharov), hierodeacon. The Teaching of archim. Sophrony about the Eldership. P. 108.

63

Sophrony (Sakharov), archim. Our Monastic Life. Pp. 53–54.

64

Kallistos (Ware), bish. The Spiritual Father in Orthodox Christianity // http://silouanthompson.net/2008/09/spiritual-father/ 09. 06. 2012.

65

Tkachenko А. А. Spiritual Father // Orthodox Encyclopedia. Moscow, 2007. V. 16. Pp. 418–420, here: p. 418.

66

Sophrony (Sakharov), arthim. On Prayer. P. 114.

67

Poselyanin Ye. Elder Ambrose. Righteous Man of Our Time. Moscow: Nicea, 2012. P. 85.

68

Brief Description of the Life and Exploits of Hieroschemamonk Macarius. Elder of Glinskaya Desert. Odessa, 1901. P. 12.

69

Lossky V. N. Essay of Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. Kiev, 1991. Pp. 176–177.

70

Aspiration to Christ. The Spiritual Successor of St. John of Kronstadt, Fr. Alexander Ilyin, Moscow, 2001. Pp. 161–162, 101.

71

‘Ἡ οὖν τελεσιουργία τοῦ Πνεύματος ἐν τῷ θελήματι τοῦ ἀνθρώπου κεῖται’ –– ‘Since the perfection via the Spirit lies in the will of man’, S. Macarius Aegyptus. Homilia XXXVIII. PG 34. 757 A.

72

Sophrony (Sakharov), hieromonk. The Basics of Orthodox Asceticism. P. 495.

73

Silouana, nun. He Saw Christ in Every Man // Disciple of ven. Silouan of Athos. St. Petersburg, 2010. Pp. 220–228, here: p. 226.

74

Sophrony (Sakharov), archim. To See God as He Is. Stavropegic monastery of St. John the Baptist. Essex, 1985. P. 196.

75

Nicholas (Sakharov), hierodeacon. The Teaching of archim. Sophrony about the Eldership. Pp. 90–91.

76

Silouan of Athos, ven. On Obedience // Sophrony (Sakharov), hieromonk. Elder Silouan. P. 399.

77

Nicholas (Sakharov), hierodeacon. The Teaching of archim. Sophrony about the Eldership. P. 93.

78

Tkachenko А. А. Spiritual Father. P. 420.

79

Smirnov S. I. Ancient Russian Spiritual Father. P. 111.

80

Florovsky G., fr. Ingenuity of the Mind // Idem. Christianity and Civilisation / Compiled by I. I. Yevlampiev. St. Petersburg: Ed. RHGA, 2005. Pp.49–60, here: p. 59.

81

He spent in Glinsky monastery 11 years before he was moved by obedience to Sviatogorsky Lavra.

82

Life of Elder Arkhip the Glinsky Ascetic. Odessa, 1902. P. 50.

83

Poselyanin Ye. Elder Ambrose. Rightious Man of Our Time. P. 87.

84

Sophrony (Sakharov), archim. On Prayer. P. 101.

85

Our Reverend father Abba Dorotheus Edifying Instructions and Epistles with Enclosed Questions and Answers of Barsanuphius the Great and John the Prophet. Moscow: Ed. Moscow Monastery TSL, 2005. P. 224–225.

86

Silouana, nun. He Saw Christ in Every Man. P. 221.

87

Seraphim (Baradel), schemahegum. Disciple and Attendant of the Elder // Disciple of Venerable Silouan of Athos. St. Petersburg, 2010. Pp. 98–104, here: pp. 99–100.

88

Sophrony (Sakharov), archim. Thoughts on Prayer // Idem. The Mystery of Christian Life. The Holy Trinity Sergius Lavra. St. John the Baptist Monastery, 2009. Pp. 13–44, here: p. 19.

89

Anatoly of Optina, ven. Letter of 27 января 1889 // The Life and teachings of hiero-shi-monk Anatoly (Sertzalov). Moscow: Ed. Optina, 1994. P. 211–212.

90

Great Watch. P. 155.

91

Smirnov S. I. Ancient Russian Spiritual Father. P. 111.

92

Agapit (Belovidov), schemarchim. Life of the Reposed Optina Elder Hieroschemamonk Ambrose. Pt 1–2. Moscow: Ed. the Vedensky Optina Pustyn, 1900. Pt 1. P. 149; Life of Hieroschemamonk Nikon. Moscow: Ed. the Vedensky Optina Pustyn, 1996. P. 325.

93

Kontsevich I.M. Acquisition of the Holy Spirit in Ancient Russia. P. 38.

94

Sophrony (Sakharov), archim. On Prayer. Pp. 105–106.

95

Life and Writings of the Moldovian Elder Paisius Velichkovsky with enclosed introductions to the books St. Gregory of Sinai, Philotei of Sinai, Hesychius the Presbyter and Nilus of Sora, composed by his friend and co-faster, the Elder Basil Polyanomerylsky, on sensible abstinence and prayer. Moscow: Ed. Kozelsk Vedensky Optina Pustyn, 1892. P. 70–71.

96

Smirnov S. I. Ancient Russian Spiritual Father. P. 246–247.

97

Anthony (Putilov), hegumen. Epistles to Various People, Moscow, 1969. Pp. 267, 323.

98

Lossky N. O. Venerable Sergius of Radonezh and Seraphim of Sarov. P. 122.

99

Sophrony (Sakharov), archim. On Prayer. P. 128.

100

John Climacus, ven. Ladder Ascending to Heaven. Moscow: ‘Dar’, ed. department RPT, 2006. Pp. 67–68.

101

Horuzhy S. S. The Aphonite Asceticism as a School of the Person and Strategy of Socialization. Report at the International Conference ‘Athos as a Unique Cultural Heritage of the Contemporary World’. Weimar, 23–26 июня 2012. P. 4 // http://synergia-isa.ru/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/hor_talk_veimar2012.pdf 24. 05. 2012.

102

XVII-th century.

104

Chronicle of the Seraphim Diveyevsky Monastery / Compiled by Seraphim (Chichagov), archim. Moscow, 2002. P. 324.

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