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A Six Weeks “Back to the Basics”

Short Course in Orthodoxy
An Initiative of
Kogarah Fellowship

The Fathers of the Church
True Guides on the Path of Perfection

Revd Dr Doru Costache
Senior lecturer in Patristic studies
SAGOTC/SCD
15 November 2010
But Who Are the Fathers?

—  We end our services by evoking them:
—  “Through the intercessions of our Holy Fathers,
Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us and
save us!”

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But Who Are the Fathers?

—  Many clergymen and preachers ‘season’ their
sermons or debates by evoking the Church Fathers,
whether they know anything about the Fathers or
not

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Identifying the Fathers

—  Johannes Quasten, Patrology, vol. 1

—  “Today only those are to be regarded as ‘Fathers of
the Church’ who combine these four necessary
qualifications: orthodoxy of doctrine, holiness of
life, ecclesiastical approval, and antiquity.”

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Identifying the Fathers
—  Panagiotes Chrestou, Greek Orthodox Patrology
—  “The Church has never excluded the appearance of
renowned teachers in her bosom, who are outstanding
bearers of the divine grace of the divine spirit, and she has
never restricted this appearance to any particular period of
her history. Orthodox ecclesiastical consciousness, which
attributes the title of father in every epoch to elect vessels
of grace that lived in previous epochs, has already pushed
the patristic period to the end of the Byzantine era and is
pushing forward beyond it more and more. This does not
exclude the habit of regarding the fathers of the first
Christian centuries, when the foundation of the Christian
institutions were first laid and the dogmatic teaching was
specified to a large extent, as occupying a privileged
position.”
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Identifying the Fathers

—  John Chryssavgis, The Way of the Fathers

—  “while there was indeed a remarkable working of
the Holy Spirit in the early years of Christianity, this
immanence should be regarded as the beginning of
a Tradition, not the end.”

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A Series of Unfortunate
Misunderstandings

—  The Fathers as belonging to the past è disinterest
of many people ç lack of interest in history,
tradition and wisdom in modern times

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A Series of Unfortunate
Misunderstandings

—  The Fathers as contributors to the development of
theology (= reflection on faith) è disinterest of
many people ç lack of interest in theology in
modern times

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A Series of Unfortunate
Misunderstandings

—  The Fathers as infallible authorities è disinterest of
many people ç the modern myth of free thinking
è refusal of guidance

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Is That So?

Misunderstandings Corrections

Mainly doctrinal Far broader contributions
contributions
Belonging to the past Still relevant; some are
alive
Infallible authorities Guides for those seeking
perfection

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What is a Father?
—  A deified person and God-bearer, partaking of the
divine life and mediating divine participation to others
—  Our blessed and holy father Symeon [the Pious] […]
endured such great trials and temptations as to be the
equal of many of the more famous martyrs.
Accordingly, God glorified him so that he became free
from passions and a saint, and received within himself
the wholeness, so to speak, of the Paraclete. Then, just
as a father freely gives his son a share [of his estate],
so he bestowed on me his unworthy servant, freely,
without effort on my part, the Holy Spirit.
St Symeon the New Theologian,
Catechetical Discourses 6.7
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What is a Father?
—  A deified person and God-bearer, partaking of the
divine life and mediating divine participation to others

—  We who are unworthy have been more than abundantly
refreshed by the water we received from God through
our [spiritual] father [Symeon the Pious]. We have been
filled without satiety to the glory of His holy Name. As
far as in us lies, we […] have glorified and continue to
glorify God who has glorified our holy father. Through
our father God has glorified us, lowly and unworthy
though we are. St Symeon the New Theologian,
Catechetical Discourses 6.7

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What is a Father?
—  The living tradition of the Church,
embodiment of the ecclesial mindset

—  …what is small is not small, if it produces
something big, so the slightest disturbance of
the tradition of the Church that has held sway
from the beginning is no small matter, that
tradition made known to us by our
forefathers, whose conduct we should look to
and whose faith we should imitate.
St John Damascene, Treatises on the Holy Icons 1.2

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What is a Father?
—  Witness and confessor of the
apostolic teaching and life

—  …faith procures this for us, as the elders, the
disciples of the apostles, have handed down to
us: firstly, it exhorts us to remember that we
have received baptism for the remission of sins,
in the name of God the Father, and in the name
of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was
incarnate and died and rose again, and in the
Holy Spirit of God; and that this baptism is the
seal of eternal life and rebirth unto God…
St Irenaeus of Lyon,
Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching 3
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The Need for Guidance
—  Two facts:
—  Even when we are willing to take the road less traveled of
perfection, we ignore the rules of traveling
—  There are spiritually experienced people who can take us by hand
and lead the way

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The Need for Guidance
—  Hebrews 13:7
—  Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you
the word of God; consider the outcome of their life,
and imitate their faith.

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The Need for Guidance
—  Abba Anthony 37
—  I know about monks who, after many efforts, have
fallen and gone mad, as they trusted their own
discipline and payed no attention to the following
commandment: “ask your father and he will guide
you” [Deuteronomy 32:7].

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The Need for Guidance
—  Abba Anthony 38
—  As much as possible, the monk should ask the
elders how many steps to make, how many drops of
water to drink in his cell – not to be wrong even in
what concerns these [small] things

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Asking for Guidance
—  St Symeon the New Theologian, Catechetical Discourses 20.2
—  …constantly call on God, that He may show you a man
who is able to direct you well, one whom you ought to
obey as if he were God Himself, whose instruction you
must carry out without hesitation, even if what he
enjoins on you appears to you to be repugnant and
harmful. If your heart is moved by grace to even greater
confidence in the spiritual father whom you already
have, do what he tells you and be saved. It is better for
you to be called a disciple of a disciple rather than to
live by your own devices and gather the worthless fruits
of your own will.

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The Need for Guidance
—  …the novice naturally needs a guide, for until the
advent of the grace of the Holy Spirit the soul is
involved in fierce struggle against her foes, and is
unable to disentangle herself if the enemy offers
her his delights. Only the man with experience of
the grace of the Holy Spirit can understand this. He
who has savoured the Holy Spirit recognises the
taste of grace.
St Silouan the Athonite, Diary (On prayer)

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Issues
Lack of experienced and
honest guides, deeply
committed to the interests
of the Church and without
selfish agendas

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Issues
Lack of genuine interest in
wisdom and guidance in
many contemporaries (the
self-made Christian)

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What To Do

Cultivate the awareness of
one’s subjectivity and
limitations

Acknowledge the
possibility that other
people can be more
experienced and far wiser

Honestly pursue personal
betterment and appreciate
the need for guidance

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What To Do

When you cannot find a
genuine guide, read the
works of the Fathers and
you will get the necessary
guidance (an advice from
St Silouan the Athonite)

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