Call No Man Father

January 2019
Call no man father.JPG

Question: Where did the tradition of calling priests "Father" come from?

Father Paul:

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:

But you, do not to be called ‘Rabbi’, for one is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father, for One is your Father, who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers, for One is your Teacher, the Christ.”

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:

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness.”
— James 3:1
And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers”
— Eph. 4:11
Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?”
— Jn. 4:12
I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. 14 I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.”
— 1 Jn. 2:13-14

And St. Paul calls himself a father in the spiritual sense:

I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
— 1 Corinthians 4:14-15

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:

Again, “call no man your father.” This is said in order that they may know whom they ought to call Father in the highest sense. It is not said frivolously as if no one should ever be called father. Just as the human master is not the divine Master, so neither is the father the Father who is the cause of all, both of all masters and of all fathers.”


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.