Nature of Relation between Father Confessor and Spiritual Child

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Mahibere Kidusan – Mesfin Zegeye – September 2016

Each and every person has a biological father – the one to whom he owes his entry into this life. Apart from his biological father however, a Christian also has a spiritual father.

He is the one to whom he owes his spiritual rebirth – the one who introduces him into the life in Christ and guides him towards the path of Salvation. Our biological birth brings us into this life; it introduces us into the community of human beings. Our rebirth in Christ – a different kind of birth – introduces us into the community of the Church and provides us with the potential to actually live that life in Christ1.

The example of the Apostle Paul allows us to perceive the mystery of spiritual paternity in all its spiritual splendor. Paul is the spiritual father of the Christians of Corinth, as well as many other cities of his time.

When addressing the Christians of Corinth, he writes (in 1 Cor.4:14) : “I do not write these things to reprimand you, but advise you as beloved children of mine. For even if you have ten thousand teachers in Christ, you do not have many fathers; for I have begotten you in Jesus Christ, through the Gospel.”

Paul, therefore, to the Christians of Corinth was not simply their instructor and teacher in Christ; he was their father. He was the one who had given spiritual rebirth to them. He was the one who introduced them into the family of the Redeemed. His apostolic heart was ablaze with his love for his spiritual children. That in-Christ paternal love was the motive power behind his apostolic concern. He longed to transfuse not only the Gospel to them, but also his soul (1 Thess. 2:8).

He struggled painstakingly to form Christ within them (Gal. 4:19). He never ceased to advise “each one individually” and “with tears”, in his desire for their spiritual edification and their stabilization in the in-Christ way of life. (Acts 20:31, Ephes.4:12-16).

Priesthood is spiritual authority established by our Lord Jesus Christ and He bestowed upon them many spiritual tasks including helping the laity partake in His Flesh and Blood; as it is written, what is not done for Angels, is done for humans. Priests are given the authority to forgive sins or deny them, baptize, preach, (Math. 18: 19; John 20: 23, 21: 15). Priesthood is one part of the seven pillars of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church (EOTC).

According to EOTC, priests are ordained to perform many vital services within the Church and some of these are taking care of the laity through teaching the Word of God and inculcating Christian values; receiving confessions and cleansing sins, and teaching the laity to that end; baptizing and delivering the flesh and blood of the Lord.

Inappropriate Relations with Father Confessor
Many spiritual fathers teach, rebuke, and do many other things to make their spiritual children good Christians and be in a position to partake in the Flesh and Blood of Christ. On the other hand, a few other fathers go out of this proper spiritual relationship and are seen engaging in inappropriate conducts. These have resulted in the soiling of the reputations of good fathers and the services of the Church. Examples of unchristian like conducts include the following:

(A)Establishing relation based on known ties /locality, acquaintance/. Some spiritual fathers and potential spiritual children look for such a person based on considerations locality of origin. Worldly benefits and issues, instead of spiritual considerations apply in these cases.

(B)Establishing relationship based on benefits. Love of money is the root of all evil. Tangled up with this many did harm to themselves, as it is written. Some members of the laity and our own observation also show that some fathers are going out of line and choose spiritual children for considerations of money. These fathers visit the people with money far more frequently and carry out the wishes of their spiritual children more readily.

Although this practice is found among very few fathers, the practice resulted in the soiling of the name of good fathers and the kind of service the EOTC is providing. It is self-defeating on the part of spiritual children to let their spiritual fathers do their bidding by giving them money. The laity need to realize that these fathers lack knowledge on teachings of the Church and would be harmed by it rather than getting what they hope to get. These are a few instances of the malpractices in this regard. Such fathers want to have as many spiritual children as possible and this results in their being unable to provide the necessary spiritual advice, and sometimes they even become unable to tell whether they are their children or not.

There are things expected from both sides for spiritual father and child relationship to be along proper line. Spiritual fathers are expected to do the following, among other things:

(A) Spiritual fathers need to recognize their duty. Taking care of the laity is an enormous responsibility for spiritual fathers. Providing many services within the Church is not the whole of their duty. It should not be forgotten that teaching and taking care of the laity to produce many disciples, preachers, and so on is an apostolic tradition that fathers shoulder. Because of our failure to reach out to bring back the lost, and strengthen the hold on the laity, we will be held accountable before God and people.

(B)Having appropriate number of spiritual children. Due to lack of spiritual fathers in some places, which emanates from various problems, some fathers are obliged to have too many spiritual children. While some made lots of efforts and managed to follow up on their children, others reached a point of not being able to identify their children. The rationale behind being a priest is not to say “I have this number of children”. It is of central importance that we should have reasonable number of spiritual children taking into account the reality of each parish and focus on the spiritual growth of their children. John 10: 3 tells us that spiritual fathers need to know their children well and vice versa.

(C)Teaching spiritual children (facilitate for them to learn). In some monasteries and parish churches spiritual fathers undertake the exemplary work of creating a situation for their children to gather and receive lessons. These fathers are eye openers for the rest; as the prophet Hosea 4: 6 indicated. People lose their way for lack of knowledge. When the laity lack knowledge they become idol worshipers, sinners, blaspheme, etc. and hence fathers need to reach out to these people and build them in belief and good conduct.

When fathers carry out their duties it becomes possible to have well-established Christians. Learning buttresses belief and learning comes from the Word of God (Romans 10: 17). On the other hand, we should not forget that if we do not persevere in teaching and following up on spiritual children, we will be held accountable. The Word of God tells us that if we do not warn sinners and direct them to the appropriate path, the Lord will demand their blood from our hands.

(D)Follow up on spiritual children and realize their spiritual development. A primary target of the relationship between spiritual fathers and their children is for fathers to upgrade the spiritual standing of their children. The follow up should not be discriminatory based on blood, wealth, gender, or other considerations. Instead, they should treat all similarly and provide support taking into account their age and spiritual knowledge of the people, and help them bear fruit. Like the farmer cannot obtain his fruit unless he follows up on his farm, spiritual fathers need to do the same. As St. Paul said to St. Bernabas, it is necessary to visit the people to whom they preached the Word of God to see how they are. (Acts 15: 36). Thus, spiritual fathers need to look into the spiritual life of their children.

(E)Abiding by Church tradition. One of the major duties of Church fathers is preserving Church tradition. Sometimes, due to lack of knowledge or carelessness, the actions of some fathers are influenced by their attitude to some people instead of God’s wish and become careless and ignore their duties. The laity also bear the duty to avoid this sort of situation. On top of that, spiritual fathers who wish well for their children but do not teach and give them the support their need, let their children go through holy matrimony, partake in flesh and blood of the Lord, etc. The first thing such fathers need to do is learn themselves and follow the will of God rather than people.

However, the people that are let to partake in various holy services of the Church do not go far and benefit from taking part in these things. This is because like the land cannot give its fruits without being prepared well, without the proper spiritual guidance and support, people cannot bear the expected spiritual fruits. It is very important that one realize religion finds expression in one’s way of living and it is vital that one lives in accordance with the apostolic traditions of the Church. Everything needs to be done in the appropriate manners, as the Corinthians 14: 40 tell us.

Duties of Spiritual Children
The bond that is forged between the spiritual father and his spiritual child is one of mutual love. Spiritual bonds are far stronger than the natural ones, and the love that springs from Christ is far stronger than the one that is inspired by blood kinship.

We assign our entire self to our spiritual father. We acknowledge him as our guide on the path to salvation; therefore we must have faith in him, and follow without any hesitations and inner doubts whatever he advises.2

Without a wholehearted trust in our spiritual father we cannot progress in Christian living. If the duty of a spiritual father is to remain alert for the soul of his spiritual child, it is likewise the child’s duty to obey and faithfully observe his guidance (Hebr.13:17). God Himself speaks to us, through our spiritual father. With the obedience therefore that we show him, we are essentially obeying the will of God. Some of the duties of spiritual children are described below.

(A)Confession is one more important duty of the faithful. We trustingly confess everything to our spiritual father; not only the things have we done, but also our innermost thoughts. Nothing concealed from our spiritual father. With humility and filial trust, we should place everything at his feet. That is the only way our sins are forgiven by God. We are freed of the burden of guilt. We uproot our passions. And the spiritual father thereafter guides us safely through our spiritual life.3

(B)Recognizing the importance of having spiritual father. In accordance with the Lord’s message that the one you have forgiven in this world will also be forgiven in the next, God anointed fathers need not only be aware of that but also believe that in their heart and guide their children towards the Kingdome of God. Understanding the reason why we need spiritual father has a role in establishing the appropriate relationship. St. Paul in Ephesians 4: 11 said that by believing in and knowing God all come to unity, become whole, and pure. The service some members of the laity want from their spiritual fathers is only to have their houses blessed, for burial and similar ceremonies. It is crucial that these people realize these things are no use to them and be provided the necessary lesson about spiritual and Christian life.

(C)Relationship focused on spiritual issues. How much do we know about confession? Do we have confessions? Have we partaken in the Flesh and Blood of the Lord? Have we persevered in the good we started? Only spiritual fathers could answer these questions. They are assigned to identify our gaps and guide us in our spiritual life and development. Hence, their guide and support can be made available readily when we approach them and require from them such guidance. We need to learn God’s commandments and traditions of the Church from our fathers.

(D)Approaching them with respect. God has anointed Church fathers and given them authority to serve with the Lord of Earth and Heaven. Therefore, Church fathers need to be respected because of the authority bestowed upon them by God. Romans 13: 8 tells us to respect those who deserve it.
They need to be approached politely and addressed respectfully including appropriate use of their titles. They are held in high regard next to the Disciples; as Acts 16: 30; Anaphora of St Mary, no. 13 indicate.

Although spiritual fathers have heavenly authority, since they are flesh and blood they are bound to have minor failings. Sometimes however, the inappropriate approaches by the laity become an obstacle and trap to them. Hence, it is important that we need to pay attention to what we say to them, or our clothing, what should focus on, how much time we should give. We need to be aware of what to do in regard to these issues and forge relation with fathers accordingly.

(E)Stick with one spiritual father, unless special circumstance arises. Crucial considerations in choosing a spiritual father should be: flawless belief, recognized by the Church and serving at the time, and found in a nearby parish. As long as the spiritual father could provide help through prayer, advice, and in other ways within his capacity, one should not expect him to be perfect. His service as a father and using the blessings he has is good enough. If he is unable to teach some important issues of the Church, one should try to learn those from other fathers rather than starting looking for another father. If we fail to find all the medication from a medical doctor, we do not deny that he is a professional.

Similarly, we should not expect to get everything we desire from our spiritual father. Since we do not change our flesh father and spiritual father, we should help our spiritual father who is doing his best to help us rather than rushing away from him for the flimsiest of reasons. We should not forget sticking with one father has a lot of advantages. Because he knows our strengths and weaknesses, our spiritual status and related other issues.

It is our duty to have a permanent and steady spiritual father. At the same time, it is our right to choose the one whom we will judge as being the most suitable. Not the most “accommodating” one, but the most experienced one – a man who is truly of God – and one who we can feel spiritually “comfortable” with and with whom we feel safe.

The choice of spiritual father rests on our own free judgment and preference. Nevertheless, the God-bearing Fathers point out that a change in an existing spiritual father could entail risks to our spiritual progress, and even to our very salvation.
It is therefore unacceptable and spiritually risky to wander here and there, changing spiritual fathers every now and then, without reason. However, according to EOTC tradition, important considerations that could lead to the replacement of spiritual father include:

1.If the spiritual father dies,
2. If the spiritual father or the child go to another country,
3. If defect is found in the belief of the spiritual,
4. If idol worship elements is found in him.
If the spiritual father is found lacking in ethical behavior and is excommunicated, he could be replaced with another. When we go away from our spiritual father while he is alive, it is necessary that we tell him that and depart in peace. Unless, except the occurrence of these circumstances, it is recommendable to last together until one of them dies.

We should pray fervently, so that God will make us worthy of such a superb gift – a guide on our course for the heavenly Kingdom.

Source:
• Mainly taken and translated from Sem’a Tsidk News paper, a bimonthly News Paper published by Mahibere Kidusan on Hamle 16-30, 2008 E.C (July 23-August 22), 2016.

• Ibid1,2, 3,4 retrieved from: http://oodegr.co/english/psyxotherap/Spiritual_Paternity.htm [August 23, 2016].

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