Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Need for a Spiritual Guide

Most of us when we set out to adopt an Orthodox way of life, do not immediately come under the direct guidance of God.  This is surely true in my case.  But there are some who do.  For example examine the life of St. Mary of Egypt, St. Paul of Thebes or St. Mark of Thrace.  They were saved through one decisive dedication of themselves to God.  But is not the normal path for most people.

Saint Theophan emphatically says,
Firm in that belief that only God converts, the penitent, in order to succeed, should without fail commit himself to a father and guide. This is necessary because we do not give ourselves totally to God...

A spiritual father is essential for us to find the true path.  We are engaged in a journey that is much like a a trip to a foreign land. In foreign territory we need someone to guide us.  You wouldn't think of taking off into the wilderness without a guide.  Neither should you think of engaging in a spiritual journey without a guide.

Saint Theophan says
Inside the beginner is fog, as from the steaming of stench and decay__from passions, unrighteous consequences and corrupted powers.  Everyone has this fog in greater or lesser density, depending on his former corruption.  How good and reliable is it to discriminate objects int his fog?...Only the experienced eye will be able to discern and explain what is going on.

I am continually amazed at how dumb I am in regards to my own spiritual journey.  What I once thought was the absolute truth later becomes a gross error.  One such case was my practice of the Jesus prayer.  I had turned it into a technique, much like Buddhist meditation. I was convinced that I know what I was doing until I asked for guidance from my spiritual guide.  At first I was hesitant but then I knew that I had to accept such guidance.  Very soon I knew the error of my way.  I would have never figured this out on my own due to my own prejudices and self-proclaimed expertise.

It is important when setting out on the Orthodox Way of Life to chose a guide and entrust yourself the them.  Once you seek one you will find one.  This is another spiritual truth.

Saint Theophan says,
Pray and the Lord will show you a guide.  Entrust yourself to this guide, and the Lord will teach him how to lead you.


  1. When I first read "Christ the Eternal Tao" I felt gung ho about the Jesus Prayer, sitting there with a chotki and trying to empty my mind as if it were Buddhist breath meditation, probably making the same errors as you mention that you made. I had not paid attention to the part in the book about proceeding with caution.

    Once I started to get more serious about being a Christian I decided to cool it on that practice, as I was not somehow better or more qualified to judge than the Saints and the Fathers. If they say that it can be dangerous who am I to say otherwise? I still had some Buddhist in me that wanting to go off like Pelagius and do everything myself.

    I read Hostage to The Devil and although it is not by an Orthodox priest or a Church Father, it scared the daylights out of me. I could see myself in Carl, the parapsychologist guy who gets posessed by trying to use eastern meditation to reach the secrets of the universe. I now proceed with caution since I do not have a spiritual father. Enlightening post here Deacon Charles. May you continue to grow in Christ.

  2. Justin thanks for adding this! What you highlight is too common of an error.

  3. One big step I have had to take ( and I imagine that everyone that becomes a Christian from Eastern practices has to take) is that you have to approach Christianity on it's own terms, emptying yourself of the baggage and preconceptions you bring from your past. It's tough because culturally we love our syncretism and relativism and because of things like the historical method, a method which, as you probably know, has little room for God, we deny that we can learn anything of value from the Fathers or Spiritual elders. I'd imagine that for an Orthodox Christian like yourself, you take seriously the observations made by the Spiritual Elders that fill the Philokalia, but many moderns who dabble in religion but have one foot in modernism probably look at the whole collection as a quaint set of stories from a prescientific age, their insights only relavant to their time and place. With this attitude it's easy to think you're better qualified than peopler who gave their lives to Christ to say the Jesus Prayer or whatever it is. It's challenging times isn't it? We can't deny that we have been tainted by these views in one way or another.

  4. An excellent point Justin. Humility. The Christian path requires a surrender to the wisdom of the Church and that what you seek is not within your own power to obtain. I can distinctly remember when I made the choice to surrender to the Church. I was able to see the depth of the wisdom it held and the limits of trying to figure it all out. Then the task became to learn how to assimilate this wisdom and put into practice. I set aside my analytical mind and started on a path to learn about obedience. As I travelled this path I became more and more certain of this wisdom She held. Continually I am being led to greater experiences of the Holy Spirit at work in me and the world. I become more and more aware of my own incompetence and limitations yet at the same time know I am growing in my faith in God. The wisdom of the Church is unending.