St. Silouan on Bishops

St. Silouan the Athonite 1886-1938

What shall I say of a bishop? To bishops is given great grace of the Holy Spirit. They are placed highest of all men. Like eagles they soar aloft and there contemplate infinite expanse, and by their understanding of things divine they feed Christ’s flock.

The Holy Spirit, we are told, set up bishops in the Church to feed the Lord’s flock (cf. Acts 20:28). Were men to remember this, they would love their pastors even with a great love, and their souls would rejoice at the sight of a pastor. He who bears within him the grace of the Holy Spirit will know what I mean.

A certain gentle and good man was out walking with his wife and their three children. A bishop, riding in a carriage drove by, and when the peasant began reverently to bow to the bishop he saw him, in the act of blessing, enveloped in a fire of grace. But one of you may ask, ‘If the Holy Spirit established bishops, and governs them, how is it peace does not reign among us, and why do we not prosper?’ The answer is, because we have wrong ideas about authority as established by God, and so we turn disobedient. But  were we to submit ourselves to the will of God, we would soon flourish, since the Lord loveth the humble obedient soul, and Himself is her guide; but as for the disobedient soul — in His patience and mercy He waits for her to mend her ways. In His omniscience the Lord instructs the soul by His grace, like a kind teacher and father. But even a father can make mistakes, whereas the Lord is always faithful and true; and a teacher is not versed in all things, whereas the Lord is all-knowing.

The trouble is that we do not consult our elders, who have been set over us to guide us. And pastors do not turn to God when they would know how to act. Had Adam sought the counsel of the Lord when Eve gave him to eat of the fruit, the Lord would have enlightened him and he would not have sinned. And for myself, I can say that all my sins and errors came about in the hour of temptation and necessity I did not call upon the Lord; but now I have learned to entreat God’s mercy, and the Lord preserves me because of the prayers of my spiritual father.

Thus it is with bishops and prelates — although they possess the gift of the Holy Spirit they do not have a proper understanding of all things, and so in the hour of need they should seek enlightenment from the Lord; but they act according to their own understanding, thereby offending against God’s compassion and sowing confusion. St. Seraphim said that when he gave advice according to his own personal ideas mistakes would occur; and mistakes can often be small but they can also be big. Therefore we must all learn to find out the will of God; and if we do not try to learn, this path will never be known to us.

The Lord said, ‘Call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me’. The Lord through the Holy Spirit enlightens man; but without the Holy Spirit, not a single man can discern aright. Until the coming of the Holy Spirit even the Apostles were neither strong nor wise, so that the Lord said to them, ‘How long shall I suffer you?’ (Mat. 17:17)

The Lord gave His Holy Church pastors, and they officiate in the image of Christ, and to them is given power to forgive sins through the Holy Spirit.

But perhaps you are thnking, ‘How can this bishop or that spiritual father or priest, possess the Holy Spirit when he is so fond of his food, and has other failings?’ But I say to you, ‘It is possible if he does not harbor evil thoughts; so that though there be some iniquity in him, it does not prevent grace from dwelling in his soul, in the same way as tree in foliage may have some withered branches but they do no harm and the tree bears fruit; or there may be tares in a field full of wheat but they do not stop the wheat from growing.’ (St. Silouan the Athonite by Archimandrite Sophrony. Chap. XIII Concerning Shepherds of Souls)