Interview with Fr. Sergius Rybko: You Must Never Go Against Your Conscience

— Father Sergius, if a marriage blessed by a spiritual father ends up in divorce, is it God’s providence or a pastor’s mistake?

— It may be the spiritual father’s mistake. I know a case when a renowned spiritual counselor blessed a woman to marry a man she almost didn’t know. However, her spiritual father insisted and literally pushed her into that marriage. She was new to the Church and did not have the courage to oppose him. Their marriage fell apart very quickly, and she was left in a difficult situation.

Sometimes the blessing given by our spiritual father reveals God’s will, and we have to work hard to make God’s will happen and to fulfill that blessing. In fact, during the Sacrament of Matrimony a priest blesses the newly-weds to lead a happy family life. There isn’t anything mechanical in the spiritual life and in the Church. People have to take care of their love, respect, faithfulness, and mutual agreement. It depends on them. The Lord gives us a lot of things: we should do our best to keep up with it. So it’s up to the couple to decide whether it was their spiritual father’s mistake or their own carelessness.

— Father Sergius, what should a person do if he does not trust his spiritual father in certain issues? Many people think that they should ask another priest for advice or solve that problem on their own. Perhaps, they should ask their spiritual father first and then listen to what he has to say?

— I think you’re right. How do you know what your spiritual father replies if you don’t ask him? If you asked him and heard an answer that does not seem to make sense, you can stop asking. If you aren’t sure but you suspect that your spiritual father will have that opinion, you should ask him, listen to him, and then decide what to do. Let us remember the words of St Ignatius (Bryanchaninov) who said that people nowadays are unable to live in full and unconditional submission and obedience; they can live with advice where the person who gives advice is not accountable for it, and the person who hears advice is not obliged to follow it.

So if you see that the spiritual father’s advice does not suit you for some reason, at least you can take a break. As a rule, we rely on our own understanding too much, while we must remember that the devil is always trying to smear our spiritual father by leading us to ascribe nonexistent actions and intentions to him in our thoughts.

— What should I do if the advice of my spiritual father contradicts my conscience?

— You must never go against your conscience. The Venerable Abba Dorotheus used to say that “conscience is God’s voice in a human heart.” This is why Apostle Paul warns, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:8). Conscience is a result of our living in accordance with the Gospel, and it would be unreasonable to abandon the understanding that we already have thanks to God’s mercy.

Regardless of that person’s position in the ranks of the Church and his experience as a spiritual father, if his words contradict the voice of our conscience, we must inform him about our doubts and hesitations during a confession. In fact, we can mistake fake thoughts for the voice of our conscience. We have to look into it. If the priest continues to insist on his words while your conscience opposes them, you should not obey him, perhaps, but I’d ask another person for help in a situation like that. It is for this kind of situations that St Theophan the Recluse recommends to have not only a spiritual father but also a different advisor to consult with.

— Can one disobey the spiritual father’s blessing if circumstances change and there is no way to ask again?

— Such situations weren’t rare even in ancient times. Of course, if the spiritual father is within reach, and the circumstances change unexpectedly in such a way that following his blessing is no longer appropriate, we should go to him and explain everything: otherwise it would show our desire to do as we please instead of obeying our spiritual father’s blessing. He might change his blessing. This is what our communication with our spiritual father is for. However, sometimes the elder is in one place and his disciple is in a different place. Situations like these call for discernment and diligence to understand God’s will in new circumstances based on the old blessing.

If asking your spiritual leader is impossible, you should ask someone else who is near and whom you trust.

Naturally, a beginner should obey his or her spiritual father in all things. You need to have serious grounds and be experienced enough to know when to disobey. For instance, if my spiritual father blesses me to do something and I see that he might have said something wrong, it does not mean I have the right to disregard his words. I follow his blessing and it turns out that it does not bring the fruit that it was meant to. It is only then that I have the right to disobey.

I’d like to emphasize that first you should obey in all things. Gradually, as you learn to judge things properly and become more experienced, you will recognize the cases where obedience may harm you. Those who don’t have the gift of discernment yet, should be aware of this fact, find a wise person, and ask him what to do.

On the other hand, Father John (Krestyankin) writes in his letters that a spiritual father offers you several options to choose from, and it’s up to you to choose one of these options. When you make your own choice, the spiritual father either blesses it or not. We will be judged during the Last Judgment together with our spiritual fathers. If they were fully responsible for everything that happens, they would be the only ones to be judged. No, we will be likewise judged for what we do: spiritual fathers give advice but it is up to us to follow it or not.

— Father Sergius, why is it that relationships between a spiritual child and a spiritual father leave much to be desired sometimes?

— The devil wouldn’t be himself if he didn’t try to destroy all good things that exist in this world. St Symeon the New Theologian says that the devil’s main goal is to separate the spiritual child from the spiritual father, making him an easier target because of his lack of wisdom.

The devil is the father of lies (cf. John 8:44) so he uses whatever slander he can in order to show the drawbacks of the spiritual father in a distorted way. A spiritual father is not a saint: saints are in the Heaven. All people who live on this earth are just human beings with their weaknesses and shortcomings. St John Climacus suggested that whenever we see human weaknesses in our spiritual father, we should recall his virtues. Spiritual fathers were expected to have flaws even in those times.

The devil uses the spiritual father’s weaknesses to incite a revolt in the heart of the spiritual child. What does it mean? It means that the devil does not like this kind of interactions. Therefore we can assume that God is pleased by them. If God wants the spiritual father and the spiritual child to be together, their relationship will be useful despite the fact that the spiritual father isn’t holy and may even be wrong in some cases. We should overcome these temptations by telling our spiritual fathers about these kinds of

thoughts. Our first-line defense against sinful thoughts is confession and seeking advice of our spiritual fathers.

— What can be the reason for tensions between a spiritual father and his disciple if they used to be of the same mind for many years?

— It may happen when God’s will with regard to their communication changes. Most often it is caused by the spiritual child who does not follow the advice of his spiritual father. Sometimes people set out by doing everything they can, and later fall into neglect. The spiritual father feels uneasy in the presence of his disciple and the spiritual child feels uneasy around his teacher. Breaking up is a sensible option in such a situation.

However, the most frequent reason for discord is a devil’s temptation. When the devil sees how useful communication with the spiritual father is for the disciple, he makes the latter believe that he can no longer communicate with his spiritual father, that the spiritual father wants to drive him away, and that he does not love him. Sometimes spiritual children are haunted by bad thoughts against their spiritual father, and sometimes they are unhappy with themselves: see, I don’t deserve my spiritual father; I’m disobedient; leaving the spiritual father appears to be the best option. However, you should not leave your spiritual father unless he orders you to do so. You should struggle with these thoughts, or better yet, you should go to your spiritual father and tell him about it. I think these thoughts will disappear very quickly as soon as you talk with your spiritual father.

— How do I pray to make sure that my relationships with my spiritual father remain harmonious and strong?

— First of all, you should ask God to guide your relationship. The Lord led you to this spiritual father and blessed your communication. It is up to you to do your best and not to disrupt this communication with your foolishness, disobedience, arrogance, and pride. This is your task. On the other hand, you should be constantly praying to the Lord to help you see if you do something wrong against your spiritual father and offend him, and correct your mistakes.

Obedience is at the core of your relationship with your spiritual father. You must do your best to obey your spiritual counselor always and in all things. If you disagree with anything he says or does, it is okay to ask him about it. However, you shouldn’t mix asking questions with contradicting, talking back, being unruly, and hurting your spiritual father’s feelings. Apostle Paul exhorts us, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” (Heb. 13:17). God must play the key part in your relationships, for they are for God’s sake. Your efforts are of course essential.

Source: http://www.duhovnik.ru/main/somnenie?id=177



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