The Phenomenon of “Gerondism” and “Gerondolatry” (Archimandrite Sophronios A. Gkoutzinis)

The concepts of “Gerondism” and “Gerontolatry” constitute the pathogenesis of the relationship between the Georonda / Spiritual Father and the confessing Christian…
By “Gerondism” we mean the tendency of the Elder / Spiritual Father to patronize the Christians who confess, intervening in all aspects of personal, family, professional and social life, and certainly in a selfish way. This is not the sacrificial unselfish concern for the spiritual souls that God has entrusted him, and that would naturally be extended to the whole range of life, since the spiritual life is nothing more than our everyday life. In ‘Gerondism,’ the interest is preformed and false, since the rest is a question of the spiritual father’s comfort and not the salvation of the faithful. Unfortunately “microclimates” exist in our Church where followers who can easily end up being slaves and servants, rather than be free in Christ, are recruited.

“Gerondism” constitutes the denial of spiritual paternity. The responsibility of the spiritual father is a cross. In “Gerondism,” however, the cross is transformed into a comfortable armchair, since it gives the cleric / spiritual father comfort, honor and glory. The spiritual father suffering from this syndrome essentially does not shepherd his Christians, but rather himself.

Psychologically, “Gerondism” can be understood as an agonizing effort of the spiritual father to be irreplaceable and indispensible for his spiritual children; to feel useful and acquire identity, personality and self-esteem through the spiritual connection. There are those rare cases where the spiritual father collapses when he loses a spiritual child for this or that reason and he seeks another spiritual father. There are certainly religious factors in the emergence of “Gerondism,” but on a personal level it arises from low self-esteem of the spiritual father and his narcissistic need to make copies of himself. “Gerondism” forms the annulment of spiritual paternity and renders impossible the believers’ freedom in Christ.

“Gerontolatry” moves in the opposite direction of “Gerondism.” The term itself indicates that we replace the worship of the Triune God with the worship of the Elder / spiritual father. This, of course, does not happen in such an obvious manner. It is displayed stealthily while in reality it is the greatest impiety—essentially atheism—it takes the form of a more sincere piety. In this case, we should not confuse the respect and love that we have towards our spiritual father with the excessive dependence by the spiritual father, leading to the personality cult phenomena of a totalitarian type. In essence, “Gerontolatry” constitutes the denial of Christ on the part of the confessing Christian, since the position of Christ has been occupied by the Elder. There are psychological and social causes that lead to such an attitude. Mental immaturity, one’s need to receive constant orders proceeding from a paternalistic education within the family, the inability to make decisions and initiatives, also the social need for safety, security and relating to some paragon, but also the search for a reference point in a changing world are some of them.
It is empirically observed that the narcissistic spiritual father who wants to confirm and prevail upon his spiritual children will attract (or charm) more personalities with an invalid character that wish to identify with him. It is noteworthy that the “microclimate” that develops around the Elder are observed jostling over who will be the closest, who will serve him more regularly, etc. This jostling sometimes leads many away from the Elder, but also away from the Church.

Surely as clerics we have occasionally accepted, if we haven’t all sought, the world’s flattery.

Archimandrite Sophronios A. Gkoutzinis.
Archimandrite Sophronios A. Gkoutzinis.

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And it is certainly us spiritual fathers ask our Christians to take into account the advice that we give them at times, especially in pastoral guidance. During the exercise of our responsibility and ministry of the mystery of confession, we should always have St. Silouan’s saying before our eyes: “The perfect do not say anything of themselves, but allow the Holy Spirit to speak through them.”

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