The Priesthood of All Believers: Giving Advice in the Church
Abayea writes (in a discussion with the Orthodox Without My Spouse group) about a common dilemma new Orthodox face: what are the roles of our spiritual father, godparents, and others in regards to giving practical advice on the spiritual life?
"I told [my priest] that when I ask personal questions or sometimes just general ones of a spiritual nature I am advised [by the laymen I'm asking] to ask [my priest]. He said... that there is nothing in Orthodoxy that prohibits ordinary Orthodox folks from giving each other counsel. He said that part of the reason we have sponsors is because pious, learned lay persons can and should give guidance to other lay persons. He did say its understandable when a person who unsure and demures out of fear of giving wrong advice, but that isn't the rule."
"From an Orthodox Christian point of view, freedom of choice is very important. We are required to know and to choose intelligently and reasonably. The division between laity and clergy in the Orthodox Church is not a sharp one....There is no special esoteric or arcane knowledge which the clergy or monastics -- even spiritual fathers and elders -- can acquire that the people cannot...."
"Our spiritual fathers and elders are supposed to help educate us, give us spiritual comfort, consolation and guidance. What authority they do have to "impose" a decision is this: the parish priest, bishop or other Church authority cannot allow anything contrary to the canons of the Ecumenical Councils to occur in the parishes....In other words, there can be neither blind obedience, nor chaos and un-Orthodox activity in the parishes or dioceses...."
However, what remains the responsibility of the clergy (and the monastic elders) is discerning how the canons, traditions and spiritual disciplines should be applied to the lives of their spiritual children.
No matter how good an apologist I might be, I can't tell you how strict to make your fast, whether you should attend Matins with your newborn, exactly how much to tithe, or what length to make your prayer rule, etc. This is particularly true in the blogosphere and other Internet forums where incarnational contact is so minimal.
We can express opinions, explain general principles, and help others wrestle with these questions so that they may more knowledgably enter into the obediences they will freely accept....but we really should avoid giving direct personal spiritual direction unless otherwise blessed to do so.