When the time came for our Lord to ascend to the Father, after He had lovingly accomplished our salvation, the vital responsibility which He assigned to His disciples was to peruse a life of discipleship to Him and to His commandments, and to “make disciples” who would follow their model; He said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations… teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…” (1). This was the time when, in accordance with His enormous authority in heaven and on earth, He gave them the Holy Spirit: “He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit”(2); and on the Pentecost Day He poured the Holy Spirit (who proceeds from the Father) in them and gave them power from the highest to preach the gospel to the whole creation.
The Lord chose His disciples through His exploratory eye which sees the depths of every heart. He clearly explained to them saying, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain”(3). Thus, the call of the disciples and their preparation was one of Christ’s most imperative tasks in His plan for our salvation. He intended to personally lay the foundation of His church, so that everyone and everything in the church would be “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place for God in the Spirit”(4).
The Spiritual Discipleship
The church fathers attribute the success of service in any church and in any era to the faithfulness of her servants in following the spirit of discipleship pursuing the scheme which the apostles received from the Lord. The fathers, in turn, served and taught their disciples (clergy, servants, and congregation) their spirit and thought based on the same apostolic scheme. On this, St Paul says, “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for pattern”(5)
The Spiritual Fatherhood
The spiritual father aims at changing the person of his disciples to the better through his example and his didactic wisdom. Calling him “father” puts a great responsibility on his shoulders; for as the body-father’s responsibility is not limited to beget the children but it extends to their education and well being, so much more the responsibility of the spiritual father extends to guiding his disciples by the word of life. Our Lord emphasizes the efficacy of his words in edifying those who listen, He says, “The words that I speak to you are spirit and they are life”(6) The responsibility of the spiritual father and guide is to give his disciples life, even he had to carry the cross in their stead until the time comes when he will have to give a faithful account for his stewardship: “But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience… in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, y knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love… Now in return for the same you also be open”(7)
The spiritual fatherhood is not a job it is to a much higher level, a responsibility. Its duties are much greater than its rights. Our fathers, the apostles were so much faithful in fulfilling their responsibilities as to pay the ultimate price for the edification of the church. Yes, they shed their blood that we can live, and that the church of God can remain alive, glorious and joyous with her redeemer to the present day.
The Necessity of Spiritual Fatherhood (Discipleship)
A brother said, “I asked a disciple of Abba Pefnotius, (the disciple of Abba Makarius the Great) saying, ’Father give me a word by which I may live.’ He answered me, ‘Keep the stream which runs in your farm’ (He meant the source of wisdom and grace which flows through the spiritual guide.) I asked him, ‘How can I keep it?’ He answered, ‘If you do not live with a farmer how could you know what farming is all about, namely: plowing, sowing, keeping, watering, and harvesting?’ I asked, ‘What does this mean?’ He explained, ‘If you do not dwell with an experienced father to learn about monasticism, who is going to teach you about it?’ If you then moved from one place to another, or lived in seclusion, or if you became a father before you are equipped for it by God, then you are going to be in darkness all your life. You would not be able to reap the fruit of virtue instead you would waste the plant (which is how to teach the way of God.) Thus, you have to dwell with an elder to be able to obtain the last blessing.”
St John Climacus said, “The laborer, especially the beginner, needs a new Moses to guide him to the Promised Land. Then, how can we take the risk of climbing the spiritual ladder by ourselves with no guidance from the Leader?”
May the Lord who loved His church and gave her the guidance of His untainted apostles, whom he sustained with His Holy Spirit, to present her a pure virgin for Christ; support our shepherds and guide them, and make a hedge around His people so we live in peace and purity, joyous in the Holy Spirit enjoying His unlimited love.
1. Matthew 28:18-20
2. John 20: 22
3. John 15:16
4. Ephesians 2:20-22
5. Philippians 4:11
6. John 6:63
7.2 Corinthians 6:4-13