This saying is sure, “Spiritual Fathers do not grow on trees.” Even if, back in the day, Spiritual Fathers were supposedly hanging around on every Russian street corner they are not as easy to find as they once were. What are we to do if we cannot find a spiritual father?
He may turn, in the first place, to books. Writing in 15th-century Russia, St. Nil Sorsky laments the extreme scarcity of qualified spiritual directors; yet how much more frequent they must have been in his day than in ours! Search diligently, he urges, for a sure and trustworthy guide. “However, if such a teacher cannot be found, then the Holy Fathers order us to turn to the Scriptures and listen to Our Lord Himself speaking.” Since the testimony of Scripture should not be isolated from the continuing witness of the Spirit in the life of the Church, the inquirer will also read the works of the Fathers, and above all the Philokalia. But there is an evident danger here. The starets adapts his guidance to the inward state of each; books offer the same advice to everyone. How is the beginner to discern whether or not a particular text is applicable to his own situation? Even if he cannot find a spiritual father in the full sense, he should at least try to find someone more experienced than himself, able to guide him in his reading. – Bishop Kallistos Ware.
We need Spiritual Fathers. On the one hand, we have grown accustomed to making all of our own decisions without guidance. But the opposite is also be true. We are everywhere asking advice of everyone, reading every book and watching every episode of the self-help talk show circuit. What we need are Spiritual Fathers who have walked, are walking and will continue to walk the long road of dispassion, perfection and enlightenment. We must ask the Lord to send us Spiritual Fathers. And when they come we must listen to them. We must turn to the ones the Lord has seen fit to give us in our pastors and parish priests. AND we need to start reading the saints. Take heed: although we have grown accustomed to reading scripture and other good books alone and relying on ourselves for discernment, our reading must not be done alone. It has to take place within the Church. I do not recall who said it but it is profoundly true, “He who has himself as a guide has a fool and a liar.”
“Many people imagine that they cannot find a spiritual father, because they expect him to be of a particular type: they want a St. Seraphim, and so they close their eyes to the guides whom God is actually sending to them. Often their supposed problems are not so very complicated, and in reality they already know in their own heart what the answer is. But they do not like the answer, because it involves patient and sustained effort on their part: and so they look for a deus ex machina who, by a single miraculous word, will suddenly make everything easy. Such people need to be helped to an understanding of the true nature of spiritual direction.” – Bishop Kallistos Ware.
What do you think is the true nature of spiritual direction?