One of the greatest revelations I had in my journey to Orthodox Christianity was the powerful theological truth preserved in the timeless Christian tradition of calling our clergy “father.”
You may object by telling me that Jesus commanded “Call no man ‘father’” in Matthew 23:9. And on the surface that might seem to be the end of the discussion but you may want to sit down here!
If this were truly an absolute prohibition then I could not even call my dad “father.” Of course, this isn’t what Christ meant at all. He was attempting to move the people away from their unthinking flattery of their teachers without these same teachers having any of the attributes of loving fathers in the community. The power of the word “father” had been reduced to a mere formality and that is always the way of the Evil One to empty powerful words of their meaning so that the truth remains obscured! Confusion breeds spiritual immaturity!
But the true power of spiritual fatherhood is always and only as we reflect the only true Father we humans have, and that is our loving Creator; our Father in heaven (hallowed be Your Name!).
In today’s Gospel Lesson we read our Lord’s instructions to His disciples in the power of loving fatherhood. Look at Luke 11:9-13:
The Lord said to his disciples, “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
God, the Father, is greater than our earthly fathers in loving us, wanting the best for us, and knowing that our greatest need is a close, active, and growing relationship with Him. So the Lord encourages His disciples not to take this relationship with the Father for granted and not to act as if this relationship isn’t freely offered to us time and time again by our heavenly Father. And He uses our own love for our children to show us this desire of our heavenly Father to give us what we so desperately need. He compares our natural desire to see our children fed with God the Father’s desire to give us the Holy Spirit. What man among us who thinks of himself as a loving father would withhold food from his children? If we know this about good fatherhood then surely this natural desire reflects the image of our Father, our Creator. Like us, God desires to provide us with the “food” our souls need to survive and thrive. And this “food” is the Spirit that cultivates a healthy spiritual life just as physical food cultivates a healthy physical life.
Today, what kind of relationship do you have with your Father? Are you trusting Him to give you what you need in your life? Do you know Him well enough to accept His “food” for the health of your soul? Perhaps it’s time to stop starving your spirit by regularly being with your Father at His house and developing a healthy “spiritual diet” of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to have as healthy a soul as you do your physical body. You se, dear one, this is the path to being Orthodox on Purpose!