By Yaroslav Sebastian Tegza
Former Ukrainian Priest of the Greek Catholic Church Khust, Ukraine
The Hierarchical Counterfeit of True Spiritual Fatherhood
The sacrament of the priesthood was put into place by church leaders in a special position and led them to achieve a separate and elevated rank. It practically serves as the basis for the separation of clergy and laity. This separation directly is made visible in the formal address of titles for religious leaders. They are no longer “brothers among brothers”, but rather “fathers”. This is connected with their special position.
The Loss of Moral Spiritual Fatherhood
Contemporary Catholicism, it seems, strives to overcome this shameful separation and return to the Biblical principles. But this is done in such a way that it never touches the church hierarchy. All of this effort reminds us of efforts to unite what cannot be united. Vatican Council II teaches:
“Though priests of the New Testament, in virtue of the sacrament of Orders, exercise the most outstanding and necessary office of father and teacher among and for the People of God, they are nevertheless, together with all Christ’s faithful, disciples of the Lord, made sharers in his Kingdom by the grace of God’s call. For priests are brothers among brothers with all those who have been reborn at the baptismal font. They are all members of one and the same Body of Christ, the building up of which is required of everyone.”[i]
Even with the exalted tone of this given instruction, it lacks conviction. In theory, it sounds good. Yet, it is utterly detached from the practical reality of today’s Catholicism. It is a counterfeit of understanding, because in reality, sacramentalism in no manner can ever enable morality. Just the opposite, sacramentalism eliminates morality. Specifically, sacramentalism is to blame for the tragic destruction of morality and authentic spiritual fatherhood.
In church history, this destruction took place very early on. Already in the third century after Christ, clear indicators of hierarchical betrayal of true spiritual fatherhood emerged. By the way, to this very fact testifies the Orthodox historian Nikolay Afanasyev. He writes:
“Against (the Spirit and grace) human desire rose up under the guise of the law in desiring to exalt itself in the Church, and, in the end, succeeding in raising itself above all else.”[ii]
In addressing the arising of “Catholicism” in the church, Afanasyev makes quite an interesting observation: “Hippolytus of Rome alleged that Pope[iii] Callistus saw no point in removing [wayward] bishops even if they had committed the sin that leads unto death.”[iv] In this way, the position is separated from morality. Leaders consider themselves fathers on the power of their position, even if they are openly scoundrels. All of this led to a harsh clericalism and perverted ministers into untouchable golden calves. As a result, we see the clear forgery of the spiritual understandings and affirmation in exchange for lies and hypocrisy in church life.
True Fatherhood Is from God
In his epistle to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul states that church leadership is not merely a function, but also a specific gift from God. He lists “administration” among the spiritual gifts and affirms that namely God ordains leaders (for example, see 1 Corinthians 12:28). Moreover, Paul is speaking about elders in the churches. Specifically, the gift of spiritual administration is based not on formal ordination, but rather on the sovereign will of God and His calling. God Himself ordains to ministry whoever He desires and apportions the corresponding gift needed for this ministry.
The sacrament of the priesthood and teaching about the grace of physical ordination in no way can protect the church from human manipulation. Neither will it ensure God’s will to be the main authority in the church. The only thing that can truly provide the church with God’s primal authority is the Word of God and nothing else.
The church bears the identity of Christ foremost when it obeys Christ’s words. Physical ordination by itself and apart from Christ will degenerate into “a form made of human hands”.
Related to this subject, it is quite fitting to cite one of the Church Fathers, Gregory of Nyssa, who addresses baptism. Although Gregory himself adhered to the sacramental view of the Christian life, he demonstrates a sound Biblical attitude to the sacraments. Here are his words:
“If the bath [of baptism] served the body, yet the soul did not remove from itself passionate impurities – just the opposite that life after the imparting of the mystery/sacrament remains the same with life before the imparting of the sacrament/mystery, then although it is brave to say this, nonetheless I will say and not recant, that for such people, the water remains water because the one who is born strongly rejects the gift of the Holy Spirit, when not only abusive irritability, the passion of covetousness,
“If, however, the bath [baptism] has only washed the body, and the life after initiation is identical with that life before, then despite the boldness of my assertion, I will say without shrinking that the baptismal water is merely water, and the gift of the Spirit in nowhere in action. This is true not only when anger and hatred deforms and dishonors the image of God in us, but also when covetousness, passion, greed, evil thoughts, pride, envy, jealousy, injustice, lusts of the flesh and adultery continue to operate in us.
If this sort of sinful life characterizes a man’s life as much after baptism as before, then I cannot see that he has undergone any change in accordance with God’s nature, and he is really of the same corrupt nature as before. Such a man then, who does not change and yet prattles about birth and resurrection … is deceiving himself. He is not what he has not become!… What they said about him before his baptism, they say the same about him now; they are called by the same names: greedy people lusting after someone else’s possessions and rejoicing in others’ adversity. And so, whoever remains the same as he was, but yet claims to have changed for the better because he underwent baptism, let him heed the word of Paul: ‘For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself’ (Galatians 6:3) for in order to become ‘something’, you actually have to have been begotten. ‘But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name…’ (John 1:12)
Now the physically born child shares his parents’ nature. If you have been born of God and have become his child, then let your way of life testify to the presence of God within you. Make it clear who your Father is! For the very attributes by which we recognize God are the very marks by which a child of His must reveal his relationship with God.”[v]
We can confidently apply the words of the witness Gregory as well to ordination, only with a slight alteration in words:
“Despite the boldness of my assertion, I will say without shrinking that those who are disqualified for ordination to the ministry is merely placing human hands on someone, because the gift of the Holy Spirit is nowhere in action in the candidate for ordination. If passion, greed, evil thoughts, pride, envy, jealousy, injustice, lusts of the flesh and adultery characterizes this man’s life as much after baptism as before, then I cannot see that he has undergone any change in accordance with God’s nature … What they said about him before his ordination, they say the same about him now; they are called by the same names: greedy people lusting after someone else’s possessions and rejoicing in others’ adversity. And so, whoever remains the same as he was, but yet claims to have changed for the better because he underwent ordination, let him heed the word of Paul: ‘For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself’ (Galatians 6:3) for in order to become ‘something’, you actually have to have been begotten. Whoever has been ordained a father, let him demonstrate in dedd that he imitates the One Father from Whom proceeds true fatherhood. By the very traits that we know God, let those very traits be reflected in someone claiming to be a spiritual father in order to show his close relationship with God.
If you have become a spiritual father, then let your way of life testify to the presence of God within you. Make it clear who your Father is! For the very attributes by which we recognize God are the very marks by which a spiritual father must reveal his relationship with God.”
Man’s ordination apart from God’s truth is merely superstition and speculation.
Someone once astutely observed, “No one can become a true pastor without the sovereign ordination of God’s invisible Hand.”
The apostle Paul wrote Timothy, “Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.”[vi]
The critical and deciding factor in this matter obviously is prophecy, which is God’s direct testimony of His spiritual gifting of Timothy and calling to ministry. This is not the only text related to this theme. Paul states in chapter one that, “This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare.”[vii]
We see a similar practice which Luke briefly describes in the Book of Acts:
“Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.”[viii]
Apparently, this is how Timothy was called to the ministry. The critical factor here is prophecy, which serves as God’s direct testimony of Timothy’s spiritual gifting and call to the ministry.
Physical ordination is merely a human affirmation that God’s gifts and call to ministry are present in the candidate’s life. It is not some channel which purports to bee a mystical way to transmit a special grace torn apart from the morality of the candidate.
If God Himself never gave the person spiritual gifting nor called him by his sovereign call to the ministry of His Kingdom, then even if the Roman Catholic Pope himself were to ordain that person, it would serve no purpose. Apart from God’s truth, human ordination is empty ritual and, as mentioned before, mere superstition and speculation.
One needs to recognize that during the time of the apostles, the call to ministry frequently took place in a special supernatural manner through the words of prophets who existed at that time in the churches. In our time when this specific prophetic ministry is now absent, the call to ministry is not affirmed via direct prophetic revelation.
Yet God also calls men to the ministry today, albeit not in such a dramatic fashion. He reveals His calling through His providence. He truly calls men to ministry by arousing within us a striving to minister, a desire to fulfill needs by giving us wisdom and the ability to perform the necessary work as well as giving recognition from other people and encouragement from other ministers.
Spiritual Fatherhood Is Consistent with the Gospel
“But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.”[ix]
“For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s. But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel.”[x]
These Scriptures reveal that the apostle Paul linked the concept of fatherhood primarily to the gospel of Jesus Christ and also his deep spiritual concern for people’s souls. He speaks of factual, not legal, fatherhood. Paul describes authentic, not nominal, fatherhood. He alludes not to a professional class but to fatherhood in the true, spiritual sense.
Fatherhood is defined by the Gospel, not by sacraments. Heartfelt concern and sincere ministry, not clerical status or a special title, constitute Biblical fatherhood.
In general, the Scriptures never connect spiritual fatherhood with its educational function, the administration of sacraments, or some hierarchical authority. From the very beginning, the Gospel opposed such tendencies. All these unbiblical and ideas foreign to the Scriptures that arose within Christianity over time were imported from Jewish and pagan sources. True spiritual fatherhood consists of authentic fatherly relationship, not hierarchical authority.
It is also important to realize that spiritual fatherhood is not exclusively connected with spiritual rebirth, as in the case of the Corinthians. However, it directly reveals itself in deep spiritual kinship, love, care, and discipleship.
Timothy was not called to ministry as a direct result of the apostle Paul’s preaching. Yet, Timothy was truly Paul’s spiritual son by devoting himself to the life, teaching, and example of the apostle. We can confidently conclude that the basis of spiritual fatherhood consists of a moral basis and has a deep personal focus.
With this concept in mind, we need to remember that we speak about fatherhood “in Christ”, quoting the words of Paul. This means that sharing the Gospel cannot be separated from sharing your own life with people. A man who lives out the role of and is called a spiritual father only deserves that privilege to the extent his own life and ministry conform to the life and character of the One Who is the One Father. This is the essence of spiritual fatherhood in the evangelical sense of the word.
[i] Pope Paul VI, “Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests Presbyterorum Ordinis”, December 7, 1965, on http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19651207_presbyterorum-ordinis_en.html accessed on February 10, 2019. Author’s emphasis.
[ii] Nikolay Afanasyev, High Priest of the Church of the Holy Spirit, Church of the Holy Spirit (Center of Orthodox Books, 2005), 354. See also https://www.rulit.me/books/cerkov-duha-svyatogo-read-227878-112.html accessed on February 10, 2019.
[iii] Translator’s note: the title “Pope” applied to Callistus, then bishop of Rome, has a different context than what is meant by the word in today’s Roman Catholic Church. Tertullian made the first reference to the bishop of Rome as “Pope” in the third century A.D. However, Tertullian’s reason for applying the term “Pope” to Callistus was a derogatory rebuke in reference to Callistus seeking to exert dictatorial power in the church. (In deed, Tertullian was not the first early church father to rebuke a bishop of Rome for presuming to have more power than he deserved. Cyprian and Irenaeus also rebuked other Roman bishops.) See https://www.aomin.org/aoblog/2008/02/24/tertullian-and-pontifex-maximus/ accessed on February 10, 2019.
[iv] Afanasyev, 354.
[v] See http://orthodoxmeditations.blogspot.com/2012/01/st-gregory-of-nyssa-on-baptism-make-it.html for bulk of text, which is taken from Gregory of Nyssa’s Great Cathechism.
[vi] 1 Timothy 4:14. New King James Version.
[vii] 1 Timothy 1:18. New King James Version.
[viii] Acts 13:1-3. New King James Version.
[ix] 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8
[x] Philippians 2:21-2.