The obedience shown to a spiritual father is eternal life, heavenly ladder, fast ascension, plentiful wreaths, angelic accomplishment, struggle for peace, journey t the sky. Obedience accomplished all the orders, improves everything, does and creates everything and slowly enriches the soul in an invisible and unknown way, placing it in the treasury, raising it towards God to stand before Him crowned and mysteriously beautified. (Saint Gregory of Sinai)Elder Ephrem of Katounakia is nowadays one f the most esteemed Athonite elders. Being around 80 years old, he was the disciple of the well known abba Joseph the Hesychast. If the others disciples of abba Joseph became abbots of Athonite monasteries, elder Ephrem preferred the hesychia, remaining in seclusion in Katounakia where he lives with three disciples. We translate below some of his advice about obedience given to the monks from Simonopetras.
Obedience towards the spiritual father brings every good. Obedience will bring the grace. The slightest disobedience drives away the grace. In a way the spiritual father holds the place of God. Any thing the spiritual father says is like being said by God. Consider your spiritual father as the image of God. All the passions are gradually healed by obedience. Nothing brings salvation neither the priesthood, nor the ascesis, only the obedience towards the spiritual father.
Obedience makes miracles : obedience brings all charisms. For obedience Christ gives the prayer. The prayer doesn’t save our souls, only the obedience towards the spiritual father.
A demonized man came to serve two elders with obedience and he was healed due to his obedience. He told me how he saw the demon before him and when he said the Jesus prayer once the demon got troubled. When he said it twice the demon began to shake. When he said it the third time the demon disappeared. Do you have obedience? You have the grace of God, you are in heaven. Know that the devil is not afraid of us, he doesn’t even pay attention to us. He runs away when he sees the grace of God we get due to the obedience towards a spiritual father.
Who is obedient is somehow not afraid of God. You do not have obedience? Do whatever you like: prayer, fast, ascesis, etc – these do not bring your salvation. Only the obedience brings salvation. Whoever is obedient resembles Christ, Who made Himself obedient till death and not any death, but death on the Cross.
The spiritual father may fall. That one who has obedience never falls. The spiritual father will give account before God for him but that one who has obedience won’t do that.
Christ speaks through the spiritual father. Is it possible for someone to fall as long as he resembles Christ in obedience. Even if the order of the spiritual father is wrong, God, for obedience will turn it into spiritual benefit. Thus regard your spiritual father as if you saw Christ. Do not upset him. Did you sadden your spiritual father? You sadden God. I have my own experience of disobedience and of compelling my elder Nicephorus. I compelled him saying: If we don’t do this I leave…`Elder Nicephorus was forced to accept. When I returned to our cell the elder said: `Why did you force me doing this thing, my child? After I die, you can do whatever you like.`
He showed me with these frightening, reproaching words that I estranged myself from God. I lost my prayer for a long time. Not only have I lost the gift of prayer but I have also been punished by God.
Do you know what canon you receive if you force your spiritual father to do something? It’s terrible.
Who is obedient is like a white sheet of paper. He has nothing written on it to be taken by the devil.
Not even the whole world or the whole Holy Mountain values as much as the spiritual father, with fear of God.
Do you have obedience towards your spiritual father? You have obedience towards the Lord and Theotokos. And Christ who had absolute obedience towards the heavenly Father receives you, hears you, makes you be like Him.For this reason that one who has obedience will have a double reward in the eternal glory.
If youtr spiritual father sends you to the moon and you go, you are obedient. Do you please your spiritual father? You please God.
When I went to elder Joseph, your spiritual father was a novice. Elder Joseph tried him all the time, but your spiritual father did not know anything else but forgive and be it blessed. Many times elder Joseph called them when I passed by: Vavouli make some coffee for us! And your spiritual father, Ephrem answered: Be it blessed! and ran to do that. When I was away elder Joseph said quietly: `May you be always blessed!` and prayed for him. Your spiritual father received much grace because of his obedience towards elder Joseph.
That demonized man who was totally obedient to the two elders and who was healed due to his obedience told me how the demons whispered to him: `Leave your elders and go down on the cliffs from the shore! These elders eat, sleep and pray too little.To get rid of us you need a lot of prayer and fast. And of course they said the truth but it was a trick of the devils to make him be disobedient. Forced by another power they said: If we had succeeded to make you leave your elders and descend on the cliffs from the shore we would have thrown you into despair and pushed you into the sea to suicide yourself. He defetead the demons due to his obedience and he was healed. Only the devil knows what means the spiritual father, what means the obedience towards him.
Once following my own will and planting trees, I saw them withering, all of them. Those I planted with the blessing of elder Nicephorus gave fruit although elder Nicephorus was not a monk with ceaseless prayer.
You should not permit anyone to judge your spiritual father. Stand against him, oppose him when you hear that he says something against your spiritual father. This is right and this is what you have to do. A story resembling that one with the monk who said: `I have an elder`and made the devils disappear by this it happened too to the father of elder Amphilochius. He brought his father to the Holy Mountain, made him a monk and took care of him. The son made his father a monk! When his father was on his deathbed elder Amphilochius went inside his room and seeing him troubled asked him:
`Father, why are you so troubled?`
`The devils came and frightening me told me that they would take my soul. And elder Amphilochius said: `Do not be afraid because they cannot do anything to you since you are obedient to someone. If they come back to you tell them: `What do you want from me? I have an elder I obey.`
The demons came back the next day with a lot of noise, with swords, with axes, with hayforks, frightening him that they were going to take him. When he told them he had an elder the demons vanished. Only the demon knows what power has the elder and his words. Did he say anything? Go. Go to the moon and do not fear! Anything the spiritual father wants must be done. You should not care of anything else than to be obedient. If you have obedience you go to heaven, if you didn’t you go to hell.
You didn’t come to take the Holy Eucharist ten times a day, to say the Jesus prayer, to keep vigils or fasts. Nothing has value without obedience. If you had obedience you go to heaven, if you didn’t, you go to hell!
Adam was disobedient and he went to hell! We, the monks, say only a few words: OBEDIENCE TOWARDS THE SPIRITUAL FATHER = LIFE, DISOBEDIENCE = DEATH. If you were obedient you did everything. I don’t mean that the others are uselss, but are not that important. I remember that once when elder Joseph was alive I judged him about something. I went to pray in the evening and I could not make my prayers: Lord Jesus…Lord Jesus…I could not say more. I did something wrong, I said to myself. I thought about the previous day, where I went, what I said. I found it: I judged my spiritual father. The next day was Sunday and I had to serve in the Holy Altar. What was I supposed to do then? Pray. `God, forgive me because I judged my spiritual father. I sinned, forgive me.` But nothing happened. `But Peter, my Lord, denied You thrice and You forgave him. I did not deny You, I just judged my spiritual father. Now I regret and ask for forgiveness. Nothing! I take the rosary once again but the prayer cannot be said. I burst into tears and I cried a lot. You forgave pious Maria the Egyptian when she repented and You forgave many other sinners. Isn’t there any mercy, any forgiveness for me?`
Three hours passed in that way. I finally felt a peace a sweetness, a joy inside myself. Then the prayer started by itself: `Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.` So it is not the same if you judge a stranger or your spiritual father. Woe to you! You judged Christ!
Elder Josephn was the only man I loved and feared. The spiritual father can tell you a vain or twisted word. But you should keep on being completely obedient. I tasted the fruit of complete obedience at elder Joseph. You will ask me what is that. I was not afraid of God, I was not even afraid of Him. What does the spiritual father say? Be it blessed, be obedient without distinction.
The mouth of the spiritual father is the mouth of Christ. Do what your spiritual father tells you without analyzing, without commenting or protesting. Be humble. Did your spiritual father say it? Be it blessed. Do not worry about anything as long as you have obedience. You will save your soul, you will go to heaven.
A deacon said to his spiritual father: `Father, I want to go and bathe in the sea for my heatlh.` `Don’t go, child, because of this or that reason.` `But I’ll go.` And he went. He bathed and while doing that a shark killed him. Later the sea took his ripped body on the shore. Where did his soul go?`
Obedience brings enlightenment, tears and prayer. If you don’t have obedience, even if you have these, you will lose them. As much love and respect you have for your spiritual father, as much you received. The grace surrounds the obedient monk as a flame and the devil cannot catch him. If this flame is missing the devil will devour us.
Theology (the speech about God) is the result of prayer and the prayer is the result of obedience. When you have obedience, you will find prayer and theology (speech about God). But when you do not have any obedience, you do not find anything. The main thing, the root is obedience. Weere you obedient? You will find prayer. Maybe you find it now or tomorrow.
Question: And if the spiritual father gives a wrong order?
Answer: Nothign wrong happens to you, because you have obedience.
The more devotion, self sacrifice, love and faith you have in your soul, the less inner struggle you have. But when you have something against your spiritual elder, know that you are not united with him, you don’t love him and don’t trust him. The more trust you have in your spiritual father, the less worries you have. When you are not united with your spiritual father you feel a resistance, you have a thron inside.
The more devotion and obedience you have towards your spiritual father, the more zeal you will have.
The greatest zeal is at the beginning of the monachal life. You are devoted to the spiritual father. When you are united with your spiritual father this is the best zeal. When you see the face of your spiritual father as the face of Christ everything goes well. When you see mistakes at your spiritual father, you are in misery.
Someone told me once: Pious Father, I want to go to my spiritual confessor to confess for this and that. What do you say?` Make 1000 prostrations.` Be it blessed.` And he didn’t say anything to his confessor. This is the union, the attachment for the starets.
Oh, blessed obedience! What can I say, fathers? When I was under obedience I had a different gift, a different prayer! I was like floating in the air. Now I am starets. You may say that I did not seek that, that God gave it to me. But I remember the time when I was a disciple. The best condition for the monk is that of disciple, of obeyant. The power of obedience is shown in the following story. It was Tuesday and at evening I got some thoughts against my spiritual father, elder Joseph because he made us sign a letter. He was right to do that as it proved afterwards. On Saturday I went to the holy service with the elder. When he saw me he said to me: Father, you have something against me, there is something that separates you of me, you have something inside. Do not separate yourself of your spiritual father, do not tear yourself apart! I had forgotten that I had judged him, I had forgotten my thoughts. `Father, I don’t remember to have any thought to separate myself from your holiness.`
`But you have something against me. When I saw you, I knew. My soul knew that you have thoughts against me.` `Father, I don’t remember anything!` `Try to remember!`
After I finished the Holy Liturgy I left. Walking to my cell and meditating at the thoughts I had had on those days I remembered that judgment against him relating to that letter. I went back and apologized with tears in my eyes.
Thus the monk must be blindly obedient, without making any distinction. I remember that another time I went to my cell to pray. I was in a state of grace. All of a sudden elder Procopius who was disciple like me knocked at the dor and called me to work. Because I know that the grace may come and delight you for five minutes, an hour or two, I thought that being in that state of grace it was good to take advantage of it and after it was over I would have gone to work. Fathers, I have just thought about that and I lost the grace. Wasn’t that disobedience? It was, even if father Procopius was not my spiritual father. And I said to myself: I was disobedient and lost the prayer.` That’s why I say: `Be obedient and you will find prayer. Do not seek prayer, it comes from obedience.
The first thing I saw at elder Joseph was that God saves you by means of the prayers of your spiritual father. What we can say is that as united you are with your spiritual father, as much grace you receive. Like the iron in the fire, it becomes fire.The more you take it away from fire, the colder it gets.
The prayer comes from obedience, not obedience from prayer. Be obedient now and the grace will continue to come.
Elder Joseph said : `That one who is obedient will be well only for that obedience. It doesn’t matter who is the spiritual father. How did Judas benefit that he had Christ? In no way. How did Adam benefit that he had God as Father and that he was in heaven? In no way. He did not benefit from heaven because he was disobedient. How was the great Acachius impeded from holiness by the fact that his spiritual father was whimsy and mad and beat him daily? In no way.
Question: God gave us intellect. This is white, this is black. If your spiritual father tells you that white is black and viceversa do you refrain yourself from judging him?
Answer: This is obedience, my father, this is obedience. Be sure that is black and not white as you see it…You see that thing white and your spiritual father sees it black. He sees it right, he sees it correctly! This is obedience! Try to see that it is not as you say, white, do not believe not even what you see with your own eyes.
When you are united with your spiritual father, the grace overfills you. I remember those years: the grace came abundantly. My spiritual father told me once: `You won’t receive anything till next Saturday. That was death for me indeed. We were amazed how the word of our spiritual father became reality, how it was sealed by God.
Once some Christians brought us a sack of potatoes at the dock. One of my disciples, a novice (now he is not here anymore) told me that he was tired and he didn’t want to go to bring it so I went myself. Downwards it was parked a truck. I waved towards it. There were two professors inside it who told me: `Father, don’t you know where lives elder Ephrem?` `That’s me`, I answered. One of them said then: You, the monks, are happy indeed, because you lived a true Christian life.`
When I went back to the cell I related that happenstance to my disciple and he answered without shame: `Yes, when they come here you send them away and when you go out you invite them to come.` `What to do, my child, that’s how I felt then to answer, I said. Now let’s pray for an hour in the cell. After an hour he came to me and asked: `How many prayers have you made?` `This much`, I answered. `Only that much? I made many more and I can still make some.` He told me those words without shame. I went back to my cell upset. I almost cried for his behaviour. The disciple went t sleep. But how to sleep when the devils came to attack him? So he came to my cell frightened and told me what had happened to him. I answered: This happens to you because you upset your spiritual father.` I read a prayer to him, everything passed and he slept well.
When you make a fool out of yourself for the sake of obedience and do as I tell you and you as about everything, God begins to give you grace.
Elder Procopius left once, being disobedient to elder Nicephorus. When he reached a certain state of rejection he felt the lack of grace. He felt as if another Procopius asked him `why did you leave?` `Because of this and that` I answered. Why did you leave your obedience and your spiritual father? Go back to your chore. And Peocopius went back to that.
It doesn’t matter who is the spiritual father. The bow you make to your spiritual elder is a great thing. Having obedience towards elder Nicephorus in those years I saw miracles.
Elder Joseph said: Neither the priesthood, nor the Holy Eucharist or the Jesus prayer, or the fasting or the vigils can save without obedience. Everything is done from our own will is taken by devils.
Because by obeying the will of someone else, he accomplishes not only the denial of his soul but also the renouncement at the whole world.
That one who contradicts his spiritual father, makes the devils rejoice. And of the one who humbles himself till death the angels rejoice. Because one like this makes the work of God (John VI, 28) resembling the Son of God, Who fulfilled the obedience towards His Father till death and death on the cross (Philip II, 4-11)