Our Church has been filled with “elders”, who guide the faithful and lead them to salvation, as they claim.
Usually they are hieromonks, as well as secular archimandrites, who have read a lot about the real Elders and they regurgitate their words or they narrate their lives, creating illusions on the unsuspecting and they acquire for themselves a reputation for being a virtuous and divinely-illumined elder, even though they have none of the attributes of the holy Elders.
The result is that many brethren are being trapped in a dangerous cult of personality, and instead of opening their minds to progress on the spiritual path of a life according to Christ, they remain fixated on some typical things, external and meaningless, and they alleviate their conscience as if they are supposedly progressing, since they obey whatever their “elder” says. Unfortunately, there are many examples and we should not shut our eyes where we are required to have them wide open.
It is difficult for these self-proclaimed [Mladostarchestvo] “elders” to recognize their delusion and be humbled. Their ambition is to have spiritual children, disciplined, spineless and to work together with them for whatever project of theirs, whether it is for a monastery or a parish. People who usually follow them are not able to reveal their hypocrisy. They have limited information, they do not think a lot, and they are dragged along by their infallible “elder” by doing obedience to them while simultaneously maintaining all worldly and sinful habits. Often they invoke their “elder” when they converse with their brethren in their attempt to convince them that whatever may be their decisions on small or great issues of their personal life, and not only, are correct and no one can challenge them or judge them negatively, since they have the blessing of their “elder”. Obviously this is a sickened piety, which must be combatted against by spiritual fathers.
At some point we must realize that naïvety is one thing and humility and piety is another. We are in danger for sometimes empowering evil and naïve people and considering that the spiritual life is that which is suggested by our zeal for knowledge. Alas! Certainly, all fit within the Church. But we must not give the leading role to the weak and deluded.
The true Elders are few and hidden. They do not make noise and they flee from being a spectacle. They help people spiritually, in a simple manner, without tying them up and enforcing them. They try to instill a proper concern, to inquire by themselves more about the word of God and taste the sweetness of the spiritual life, renouncing the worldly mind and unnecessary cares which lead to indolence. These Elders should be an example for all clergy. It is not an easy matter. It implies cleanliness of life, simplicity, humility and purity in our intentions.
—Protopresbyter Fr. Dionysios Tatsis