15. Stern elders for our spiritual journeys
In a world where the populace seeks solace behind mere soothing words of emptiness, or indulge in materialism and the pursuit of wealth, the Truth of our Lord has unfortunately been watered down by some who claim to preach His Word. In a time when wolves lead the sheep to their spiritual deaths, all the more we need to spur ourselves and find the stern backbones behind us to keep us moving only towards God.
It is no wonder then, that God places holy elders among us who may not necessarily utter sweet words to us, but rather, whip us into spiritual shape and prepare us for the tribulations we need to endure in our journeys towards God. These elders have difficult tasks, for many would not listen to them, and may slight them, or leave them altogether. And yet these holy saints among us would brave on, guided by their unwavering faith in God and what God commands.
Archimandrite Gabriel, the father superior of the Pskov Caves monastery, was such an elder. Many of the young monks were terrified of him, and some even went so far as to leave the monastery and wrote a poison pen letter to the Patriarch. That was insolence and utter disobedience, and spoke much of the lack of spirituality of those young monks.
The Metropolitan gathered a council to determine if they should replace Fr Gabriel, and assembled the monks of the monastery. After an awkward silence, Fr Nathaniel, the treasurer, stood up to read a letter he wrote to the Patriarch, to keep Fr Gabriel as their abbot. The hierarch from Moscow convening then was surprised. So he asked if anyone else would like to affirm this letter from Fr Nathaniel to keep their abbot. Archimandrite Seraphim stood up and signed. And soon, all the spiritual fathers signed, along with other monks. Only a few did not sign.
One of those who departed, eventually became an abbot of a monastery himself. He would later confess in a speech before his own monks who were also unruly, that they would have benefited if they had Fr Gabriel as their abbot. By then, Fr Gabriel was already elevated as Bishop. Bishop Gabriel was never concerned of public opinion. His rudder was the Church and the Gospel.
It is easy for us to slip into laziness and ill-discipline, like spoilt children with insatiable desires. Good parenting requires discipline, so that we as budding plants can grow into sturdy, straight, skyward trees to in turn shelter and serve others.
St John the Baptist was an early role model of a stern elder, with little adornment on him, and urging people to repent and pave the way for their meeting of our Lord and Christ (St Matthew 3:1-11).
In our Divine Liturgy, we are to approach our worship with “great fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Our daily walk as Christians is not divorced from our liturgical worship. We cannot be disciplined Christians only in the Church, but take on a different cloak when we are outside. We are admonished by the Apostle to work out our salvation with great fear and trembling. It is not a lighthearted or trivial matter. When we are weak, how good it would be if there are stern elders around us whom we can be chided with love, to inspire us to grow like straight skyward trees?
Let us pray:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.