Call No Man Father
Question: Where did the tradition of calling priests "Father" come from?
In the following answer to the question above, we will learn that the challenge of calling priests “Father” comes centuries later after using the term in this context was common. It is not until the Protestant Reformation that referring to priests as “Father” becomes an issue. It is based on the scripture passage from Matthew that is referred to below.
The Orthodox understanding of this passage follows the usage of the Bible and the early Church in that we are not to call anyone “father” in such a way that it usurps the role of our Father in heaven. It does not forbid us from calling men father who have received a share in patrimony from God whether it be our natural fathers or our spiritual fathers.
Protestant interpretation of scripture challenges addressing those ordained into the ranks of the Holy Priesthood or the Monastic Order, “Father”. They base their argument on the following words of Christ in Matthew 23:8-10:
If the meaning of this passage is as obvious as the Reformers claim how did it go unnoticed for nearly 1500 years. Perhaps the first Christians and their descendants before the Reformation had a different understanding of these verses. It also follows logically that if we interpret this prohibition of the term “father” in the improper way, we cannot call anyone, “teacher” or “Rabbi”. So why would it be acceptable to call refer to someone as teacher and not father? The answer here is that the Reformers, in order to distance themselves from the Romans Catholic Church found any possible way through scripture to dismiss the Catholic Priesthood.
There is a wealth of scriptural evidence that the terms father and teacher were applied throughout the New Testament:
And St. Paul calls himself a father in the spiritual sense:
How Did the Early Christians Understand this Verse?
Yes, the Early Christians understood the Lord’s words and accepted them in the context of those who were sinfully pride of the title or titles they had received. It is only through humility that any title should be acceptable. Imagine not being able to refer to one’s natural parents as father or mother.
St. John Chrysostom teaches:
In this passage, the early Church clearly understood that Jesus was condemning the commandeering of the fatherhood of God, not the proper participation in and acknowledgement of that fatherhood by grace.
So, let’s continue to honor the 2,000 year tradition of our Holy Church and refer to those who serve our Lord in the Holy Priesthood, father.