‘I Must Decrease’: Spiritual Direction and Power in the Orthodox Tradition
I was prompted to present on the topic of power and spiritual direction by some words of Fr. Alexander Schmemann. They struck me, and have remained etched in my mind ever since: “there is nothing more frightening than the thirst for power over souls. It is the thirst of the anti-christ.” Schmemann knew first-hand the kinds of distortions taking place under the name of Orthodoxy which this line evokes. Distortions, perhaps, should not be surprising. After all, if Lord Acton was right when he declared that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” then the potential risks inherent in the ministry of spiritual direction in the Orthodox Church become clear. But this paper is not about the frequent and tragic abuse of spiritual authority and power in the history of Orthodoxy. I want rather to focus on one of the chief ways in which the Orthodox tradition has attempted to promote and protect the Christian integrity of the ministry of the spiritual father (and the spiritual mother), namely through the tactics of the director’s self-abasement, humility, and love. These tactics, I submit, are an attempt at the subversion of models of power as they generally obtain in this world, after the example of, and for the sake of, Christ.
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Also Published In
- Power and Authority in the Eastern Christian Experience: Papers of the Sophia Institute Academic Conference, New York, December 2010