My Spiritual Father- A Love Story

I always get nervous before confession.


I know that I shouldn’t.  I know how important it is.  And I know that I always feel so much better after going.


But I also know that I’m going to cry, pretty much every time.  


There’s something about having to be very aware of my shortcomings, combined with then having to admit them out loud to someone else, that is a little… intense.


For years I would avoid going, and when I did there were (kinda important) things I would simply glaze over.  It’s tough to confess ones sins out loud, but the struggle really starts within.  


It’s hard to be completely open and honest, particularly about your flaws and weaknesses.  I don’t want to admit to myself that I am making mistakes, particularly that I keep making the same mistakes.    


But I (clearly) can’t be trusted to keep myself from making the same mistakes.  And I can’t be the only person holding myself accountable.  It’s just not working.


Avoiding confession, and pretending like I’ve got it all under control, left me stuck in the same position: the same mistakes, the same cycle of guilt.  


And that can’t possibly be healthy.  


Enter my spiritual father.


I think everyone has a slightly different understanding of what a spiritual father is, or how to relate to one.  Every relationship is going to be different, everyone seeks and utilizes their spiritual father differently, and there is beauty in that.  To me, when I tell someone about my spiritual father (Fr. George Gartelos of Tulsa, Oklahoma) I’m telling them about the person who helps me grow in my life in Christ.  


Having a spiritual father means there is another person in my life to hold me accountable.  And he does so to a higher standard than most others use for me.  Unlike my friends, who expect me to be friendly and nice and all that, Fr. George is holding me to the standards of the Church.   


Fr. George expects me to be a saint, something we’re all called to as Orthodox Christians.


The priest I picked as my spiritual father (or maybe he picked me) is someone I have known for as long as I can remember.  He’s a close family friend who is responsible for the spiritual well-being of not just me, but also all three of my sisters.  


(If you know any of us you know that is a HUGE undertaking.)


And he is the person I think of every time I make a decision, because I know that at some point I am going to have to confess to him, and he is going to hold me accountable for that decision.  Yet it’s never in a judgment or harsh way; instead, it’s always in a way that is kind, understanding, and supportive.  


That has made confession less daunting, and allowed me to be more open.  It has also made me more conscious of the choices I make in my daily life.    


Knowing that I’m not managing my spiritual health alone takes some of the weight off.  It reminds me that I don’t have to do this alone.


I’m not entirely sure what my relationship with Fr. George is supposed to look like.  Sometimes I think it is supposed to be more serious or stern than it is.  But I do know that it is one of the most special relationships in my life.  It has been one of my greatest blessings to have someone who knows and loves all of me, mistakes and all, and is always trying to keep me on the right spiritual track.  


And I need that.


I think we all need that.  


As we established a few weeks ago I don’t always ask for help when I need it.  So when I do finally talk myself into asking, it’s good to know that there is someone I can go to and trust, who knows my history and my personality.  There is someone who wants my salvation and can help me take the steps I need to get there.


Someone who’s walking beside me as I take those steps.


My spiritual father is the person I call when I need advice.  He’s the person I confess to.  He’s the person I cry to (more frequently than I care to admit).  He’s also the person that I turn to when I need help staying on the right path.   


He has helped me understand why I make the decisions I do, and how they affect my life.  He is a mentor and a therapist and a friend, but most importantly he always has my spiritual well-being at heart.  And that makes him more special than (most) other people in my life.  


I still get nervous before confession.  But when I get to confess to my spiritual father, it helps to remember that he’s there to work with me and that we both have the same goal in mind: my salvation.  


So if you’re reading Fr. George, all I have left to say is this:

Thank you.


Charissa is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM.  Charissa grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah and studied political science at the University of Utah.  She enjoys sunshine, the mountains and snowcones.  Charissa currently lives in New York City.


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For more on a spiritual father, check out this episode of Be the Bee: