Gonna Coach You Up Good!

Gonna Coach You Up Good!

Here is a simple question (so don’t overthink it!): Who was your toughest teacher, professor, or coach? Got it? For me it was my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Lewis; a tough as nails, no-nonsense educator who knew that beneath my class clown exterior lurked a serious student in need of discipline. I actually thanked her years later for her tireless efforts in straightening me out.

Students and athletes understand the need for dedicated teachers and coaches willing to invest the time in our academic, athletic, and personal development and this principle is no less true in the spiritual life though it is frequently overlooked. Recent studies indicate that a key determinant in retaining our faith into adulthood is the influence of a non-family member who is serious about eternity.

In the Holy Orthodox Church, we are encouraged to place ourselves under the tutelage of a Spiritual Father or Mother; someone willing to establish a vested interest in our spiritual growth and to walk the path of salvation beside us. In the same way that we cannot effectively teach ourselves astrophysics or the nuances of a quality golf swing we cannot effectively be our own guide in the spiritual life.

So how do we go about finding a Spiritual Father or Mother? Can almighty Google help us out here? Not so much; and there are a handful of basic points to consider as we begin our search. The first is that having a spiritual director is of limited value if we aren’t regularly engaging the divine worship of the Church. Just as students won’t learn very well if they skip class and athletes won’t improve if they bail out on practice, Orthodox Christians are hard-pressed to make spiritual progress estranged from Church.

Next, we must disabuse ourselves of our consumer mentality in searching out a guide. We are conditioned from our earliest memories to view everything through the prism of our likes and opinions, seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. But as with teachers and coaches, the spiritual guide best for us is likely not one we would “select” for ourselves.

Nine times out of ten, (or more) the perfect spiritual father for each of us is simply our parish priest and particularly so if he has known you since your early childhood. Think about it, he will have baptized you, blessed you, communed you frequently, and anointed you when you were ill, heard your first confession, and encouraged you when you were low.

There is, in my observation, a very unhealthy “guru cultism” in our approach to this topic today that reminds me very much of the herd mentality of the 1960’s when young folk ran after one exotic guru after the next (and bonus points were awarded if the Beatles liked him!) And this is sad because in succumbing to this temptation we risk supplanting a healthy teacher/student relationship with a potentially idolatrous one; guided as much by conceit and a need to feel special than by the Holy Spirit.

Finally, proximity and access are really important considerations in finding a spiritual director. It makes very little sense to place oneself under the care of someone so distant from us that we cannot go frequently to him or her for advice and guidance. The most saintly father in Kiev or Kalavrita does me very little good if I live in Milwaukee.

But I am convinced enough in the immutable fact of God’s love for His children that He will bring into our lives the perfect Spiritual Father or Mother in that creative and often unexpected way that only God can do! Whenever I am able to visit with my geronda I run to him for confession and blurt out all my “stuff” because I trust him, I know that he loves me, he never judges me though he does push me, he is given insight into my soul by the Holy Spirit, and I absolutely know that he prays for me every day!

So please reconnect with your parish priest or spiritual father! They (that is to say “we”) reaaaally like hearing from you and knowing how better to pray for you in your journey to the Kingdom!

Love and blessings,
Fr. Apostolos Hill

About the Author

This is a guest post from Fr. Apostolos Hill at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix, AZ. Fr. Apostolos has been active in OCF in a variety of areas; hosting regional retreats, leading OCF Real Break trips to Greece, Guatemala, and Skid Row, and in the College Conference West.

Why Go?

Why Go?

Image from  MMCHS

Image from MMCHS

So, I went to the doctor recently since I wasn’t feeling at all well after dragging a cold around for a few weeks. As usually happens, it had locked my chest up tight and I wasn’t getting any better. The friendly receptionist checked me in quickly and, after taking my vitals, directed me to the examination room.

Soon enough the doctor entered the room and asked “What seems to be the problem?” I really wanted to tell him about my cold and chest congestion and how miserable I felt but was embarrassed and afraid that he might think poorly of me for not washing my hands frequently, not eating properly, and not exercising, so I mumbled; “Nothing.”

There I sat with relief from my suffering at hand but I couldn’t bring myself to admit the reality of my illness. So I left the office no better, with no prescription in hand, and no reason to hope I would improve anytime soon!

Rather silly, huh? We can easily understand how vitally important it is for us to level with our family doctor about our physical ailments but we struggle with applying the same logic to our spiritually lives. Simply substitute the word “priest” for “doctor” and “sins” for “a cold” in the anecdote above and you get the point.

In precisely the same way that we wouldn’t anticipate being judged for being ill (after all, even doctors get sick, right?) we should not anticipate being judged when we go to confession in our parish (after all, even priests sin, right?) As with the physician, so with the priest; confession is not about judgment, it is about divine healing!

Like a cold virus, sin attacks the host. St. Paul wrote the believers in Rome (6:23) “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” God is not offended or diminished in any way by my sins. It is I myself who am harmed by the sins I commit. Sin pays a “wage” and that wage is death.

But since Jesus Christ is the “Great Physician,” He desires to make us well, to bind up our broken parts, to cleanse our wounds, to nurture us back to good health, and to set us on the path to recovery. And the means He has ordained for this healing ministry is the Holy Mystery of Confession.

Some people today make the claim that confession is unnecessary but St. James disagrees when he writes (James 5:16) “Confess your faults one to another that you may be healed.” And for centuries Christians did precisely that; confessed their sins publicly in the Church before receiving Holy Communion. But as our Church communities grew, it became necessary for confession to take place privately between the penitent and the priest.

Image from  Wikimedia

Image from Wikimedia

God is merciful and He desires our salvation as St. John famously wrote (1 John 1:9) “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And much hinges on that little word “if.” In order to confess our sins we must first admit that we have them. And everyone sins!

But beyond merely wiping the slate clean of our sins through confession, these regular check-ups with our spiritual physicians establishes a regimen of spiritual wellness. We receive wisdom from the Holy Spirit, light for our path, and the strength to keep walking. The weight of our sins is removed as we reconcile with God as He pulls us into His embrace to say “I love you, my child! Don’t give up! I walk beside you!”

We may have many who judge us in this life but God isn’t one of them! Jesus Himself says; (John 3:17) “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but so that the world might be saved through Him.” And as I kneel in front of my spiritual father when I confess I know that I am not receiving judgment but divine healing!

For the sake of our souls, we must run to Holy Confession frequently to be refreshed and made well and to be reminded of Christ’s love for us “who Himself bore our sins” (1 Peter 2:24) as we lay our sins, doubts, and worries at His feet!

About the Author

This is a guest post from Fr. Apostolos Hill at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix, AZ. Fr. Apostolos has been active in OCF in a variety of areas; hosting regional retreats, leading OCF Real Break trips to Greece, Guatemala, and Skid Row, and in the College Conference West.