Skip to content Skip to footer

Good Fathers Give Bread


One of the greatest revelations I had in my journey to Orthodox Christianity was the powerful theological truth preserved in the timeless Christian tradition of calling our clergy “father.”

You may object by telling me that Jesus commanded “Call no man ‘father'” in Matthew 23:9. And on the surface that might seem to be the end of the discussion but you may want to sit down here!

If this were truly an absolute prohibition then I could not even call my dad “father.” Of course this isn’t what Christ meant at all. He was attempting to move the people away from their unthinking flattery of their teachers without these same teachers having any of the attributes of loving fathers in the community. The power of the word “father” had been reduced to a mere formality and that is always the way of the Evil One to empty powerful words of their meaning so that the truth remains obscured! Confusion breeds spiritual immaturity!

But the true power of spiritual fatherhood is always and only as we reflect the only true Father we humans have, and that is our loving Creator; our Father in heaven (hallowed be Your Name!).

In today’s Gospel Lesson we read our Lord’s instructions to His disciples in the power of loving fatherhood.

Look at Luke 11:9-13: The Lord said to his disciples, “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

God, the Father, is greater that our earthly fathers in loving us, wanting the best for us, and knowing that our greatest need is a close, active, and growing relationship with Him. So the Lord encourages His disciples not to take this relationship with the Father for granted and not to act as if this relationship isn’t freely offered to us time and time again by our heavenly Father. And He uses our own love for our children to show us this desire of our heavenly Father to give us what we so desperately need. He compares our natural desire to see our children fed with God, the Father’s, desire to give us the Holy Spirit. What man among us who thinks of himself as a loving father would withhold food from his children? If we know this about good fatherhood then surely this natural desire reflects the image of our Father, our Creator. Like us, God desires to provide us with the “food” our souls need to survive and thrive. And this “food” is the Spirit that cultivates a healthy spiritual life just as physical food cultivates a healthy physical life.

Today, what kind of relationship do you have with your Father? Are you trusting Him to give you what you need in your life? Do you know Him well enough to accept His “food” for the health of your soul? Perhaps it’s time to stop starving your spirit by regularly being with your Father at His house and developing a healthy “spiritual diet” of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to have as healthy a soul as you do your physical body.

P.S. Yesterday I presided over the funeral of a 43 year old father and husband. Watching the grief of his two small children, his widow, and his family drove home to me the power of passing through Grief with the wisdom of the Christian faith. On the next Faith Encouraged LIVE, we will discuss how Christians grieve WITH hope. “Like” the Faith Encouraged LIVE Facebook page to keep up on upcoming programs! And please follow us on Twitter #FrBarnabasPowell


  • Bryan
    Posted October 31, 2014 at 9:05 am

    Hi, Fr. Barnabas. I’ve enjoyed listening to your podcasts and reading your blogs for almost a year now. I started to read this post with great interest because the hangup about using the title, “Father,” despite of the specific prohibition of Jesus, is one that I can’t seem to get over. I was hoping you were going to answer this, but I didn’t understand the answer.
    You say, “The power of the word “father” had been reduced to a mere formality.” Well, it seems like it still is. For example, you’re called Father Barnabas by people for whom you are not a spiritual father, even people who aren’t Christian. “Father” is a title—a formality.
    I have yet to find a clear answer as to why we call priests by the specific word Christ warned us not to use. (I realize he wasn’t speaking English, so maybe there’s an answer in that.)

  • Post Author
    Fr. Barnabas Powell
    Posted October 31, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    Thanks for the note Bryan. I’m glad you find the work helpful. Thank God.

    As for your question, much of my response is in the article above but I’ll just point out some thoughts for you to consider.

    First, if the Lord’s statement in Matthew is meant as a blanket prohibition then many subsequent scriptures are problematic. Passages that refer to Abraham as our “father” and places where St. Paul refers to himself as a “father” to a particular congregation (see Jesus use the term for an earthly father in Matthew 10:35; Abraham is called “father” in Acts 7:2 and especially bin Romans 4; and in 1 Corinthians 4:15 St. Paul makes it clear he is the “father” of the Corinthian church.) So, to insist this is a blanket command that the term never be used is simply not possible.

    Second, in the context of the Matthew passage the Lord is confronting the dishonesty of calling the teachers of the people of His day “father” was not true. They weren’t fathers to the people. They had become mere hirelings, and to call them “father” wasn’t honest. This is the driving force behind the Lord’s words.

    Third, just as the Church has taught from the beginning there is only ONE Father. Therefore all other fatherhood is a reflection of the only true Father we humans have. But an icon is a powerful thing in helping us “see” the theology we are talking about. Reflecting the one Fatherhood of God in the way we love and serve the faithful allows the faithful to see an incarnation of true fatherhood in front of them, and this is how Orthodoxy has always done theology.

    Fourth, the history of the Christian faith has “father” as the name given to Christian clergy since the earliest days. From the martyrdom of Polycarp through much of the Apostolic Fathers, this term has been used since we Christians have known ourselves as Christians. An argument from history is fraught with challenges but it is instructive that those who insist it is inappropriate to use the term for Christian clergy have the weight of responsibility on them to cease the common practice of the faith since the beginning.

    Finally, you say that some call me “father” even though I am not their spiritual father, and you are correct. However, I do not insist on being called “father” Barnabas. People, out of respect or convention, may refer to me as such but they don’t have to. I am grateful for the reminder of the responsibility I bear as an Orthodox priest, so I welcome this convention, but I do not insist on it. But look closely at what referring to Christian clergy as “father” preserves. It preserves a vision of what the Church should be – a family rather than making the clergy the CEO or just the hired preacher. And this vision of the Church as Body and Family is the most ancient and scriptural vision of the Church since the days for the Apostles.

    Bryan, I appreciate this struggle you are having. It takes time to get past the strong formations we have in our earliest days. But I would ask you to look at the value of seeing our clergy as “fathers” instead of CEO’s or mere preachers, and what that reality could do for a struggling Church here in America. If our clergy felt the responsibility of fatherhood for the people perhaps that would be a needed remedy to the shallow faith of all too many.

    And please feel free to call me “Barnabas” if “father” is too uncomfortable for you. After all, as our Lord commanded in Matthew’s gospel we shouldn’t lie when we call someone “father.”

    Hope this helps.

  • Bryan
    Posted October 31, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    Thanks for the detailed explanation, Father Barnabas. That does help.

Leave a comment