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Epistle: Acts 11:19-26, 29-30; Gospel: John 4: 5-42
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Christ is Risen!
Dear Ones,
Today I want to share some thoughts with you about spiritual guidance, spiritual direction, spiritual eldership, spiritual fatherhood, all of the above rolled into one. My goal is to introduce to you some important considerations that come from the Scriptural texts that are appointed for this morning, and use them as a catalyst to stir our brains not yet fully functional due to deprivation of caffeine. However, I trust that our spirits are fully at the ready to receive whatever the Lord has in store for us.
Today in the Gospel we learn about St. Photini, the Samaritan woman. She comes to the well at the sixth hour to draw water. Who remembers, what time of day is the sixth hour? Right. Noon. The sixth hour. Numbers have meaning, so remember this one, because we will encounter it later. Her name, “Photini” means “the one who radiates light.” The Slavs have translated her name to “Sveta” or “Svetlana,” but it means the same thing. From the Latin it became Luz or Lucy. But she wasn’t always a radiant beacon of light, was she. The Gospel tells us that she was leading a life that was very far from what we might call a God-pleasing one. How did she get that way? We aren’t told. We could speculate, but speculation is rarely helpful. What we know is that she was living with a sixth man, not her husband, who followed after five husbands. Again, the number six. The number “6” is significant because it symbolizes the incomplete human being, or the fallen human being; the human being not deified, the human being without God. The fullness of this number “6” is expressed when you have three of them, “666,” which most of you know is the number of the “Beast.” In Chapter 13 of The Book of Revelation, it reads: "Let those with wisdom calculate the meaning of the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666" (Revelation 13:18). In any event, Photini was not the Beast or Antichrist of Revelation, but just a very fallen woman. But what was needed to bring her from the darkness of her life to the light of her name? Guidance from the Lord.
When the Lord Jesus first struck up a conversation with the Samaritan woman she was open to it. In other words, her heart was not so seared by sin as to be impermeable to the grace of the Holy Spirit. But she was not so naive or gullible as to accept just anything that Jesus had to say to her. She needed to test Him just a bit. So what does she do? She asks Him a series of questions:
1. Why are you asking something from me? (A drink of water.)
2. Where did you get what you are offering to me? (Living Water)
3. Are you greater than our father Jacob?
We all know that the firm yet loving guidance that came from the Lord led Svetlana and her children to faith and salvation. But we, today, do not have the great blessing of having the Lord Jesus available in the flesh to guide us firmly, yet lovingly to the heavenly Kingdom. So, we require spiritual guidance from someone else. Or, do we? Can’t we just guide ourselves? Read books? I’m afraid that that would be just like saying “Can’t I baptize myself?” or “Can’t I make my own Holy Communion?” It’s an absurd thought, isn’t it? Yet sometimes we feel like we can be our own spiritual directors. Tito Colliander in his soul-profiting classic book “Way of the Ascetics” writes: The holy Fathers say with one voice: The first thing to keep in mind is never in any respect to rely on yourself... The decision not to rely on self is for most people a severe obstacle at the very outset. It must be overcome, otherwise we have no prospect of going further. And if self-direction weren’t bad enough, what’s even worse is when husbands think they can act like the spiritual directors for their wives, or vice versa. Yeah, that works really well – NOT.
The fact is we NEED spiritual guidance, but not all spiritual guidance is of equal value. Some spiritual “guides” are, in fact, not spiritual guides at all. They can be the false guides and teachers warned about by Christ and throughout the New Testament. Parish priests can often fall pray to their own pride or even delusion and think themselves to be elders or some other kind of God-appointed authority over their flock. Hieroschemamonk Ambrose (Fr. Alexey Young), himself a disciple of Fr Seraphim Rose, has justly criticized the practice whereby lay parishioners are given monastic-style obediences by parish priests who appropriate to themselves an authority over them that is proper only to true, Spirit-bearing elders (“Cults Within and “Without” (Orthodox America, March-April, 1996).
The caution shown by St Photini, is a good example for all of us too when it comes to those who seem eager to offer us spiritual advice and direction. What did she ask of the Lord?
1. Why are you asking something from me? In other words, “What are your motives? Is it my salvation you seek, or is this some kind of ego-fed power trip, or an exercise in your own vainglory?”
2. Where did you get what you are offering to me? If you are so eager for me to follow your direction, who is directing you? What is your spiritual pedigree? To whom do you offer obedience? You can’t give what you don’t have!
3. Are you greater than our father Jacob? Jacob is an Old Testament patriarch, a saint, called by the Jews “the pillar of truth” and the “companion of the glory of God,” and the one who saw the vision of the Ladder leading from earth to heaven ( Genesis 28:10-19). She asks, in other words, are you going to be the one who helps me to advance toward the Kingdom of Heaven? Are you the one who will guide me to deification? In the case of the Lord, the answers are easy. But in the case of others, the answers may not be.
Bottom line – for most of us, we can find good father confessors and spiritual directors right in our own parish priests. Others may seek a blessing and get direction from others. My father confessor is a wise and experienced parish priest. Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) has written: “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 (meaning a contrived deity) 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” (The Spiritual Father in Orthodox Christianity).
Finally, in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, St Luke writes the following:
“But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.” He later talks about Barnabas, his preaching, and how it brought the people to the Lord. He didn't attract people to himself, but to the Lord! It’s the same with spiritual guidance and direction. The true spiritual father leads souls to Christ and salvation. He never insists on his own way or demands obedience. Amen.


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