+Metropolitan Augustinos (Kantiotes) of Florina
“For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.” – 1 Corinthians 4:15
Beloved readers, the word ‘father’ is a holy word; implicit in it are many holy ideas. First, for Christians, it calls to mind the Heavenly Father, who alone is worthy of the title in an absolute sense. For this reason the Lord said, “And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.” Further, it calls to mind all of those who in this earthly life reflect the rays of the Heavenly Father’s love. Primarily, these are fathers according to nature.
Father! This word plucks at the most tender of man’s heartstrings. When a father has left this life and is wrapped in the glory of eternity, the simple remembrance of him proves deeply moving, bringing tears to the eyes. A father is someone to be revered; he is an instrument of Divine Providence for each and every person who has passed from non-being into being, who has seen the light of day, has come through him. None of us was born of a stone; we all have a father. Jesus alone is fatherless on earth, just as he is motherless in the heavens.
O, how much each of us owes to his father! A father – and here we speak of a good father – is not satisfied with the fact that he had a share in bringing a person into this world, but rather, from the moment he hears his child’s first cry he becomes his protector since if an infant is left on its own it cannot possibly survive. Like a plant, an infant needs particular care until its small, vulnerable body grows, until he matures to the point of being able to care for himself. The progenitor thus becomes a provider as well. He labours; he wears himself out; he makes sacrifices. If there is no work to be found in his area, he moves. He goes to the ends of the earth just to scrape together what is necessary for his child’s sustenance. Moreover, a father’s affection for his child is great. He will even do heroic things like give his own life to save his child from some life-threatening danger, or deprive himself of food to feed his starving child. He will spend entire nights at his child’s side when he is sick; he will sell all that he has so that his child can see the best doctors in the world. He would throw himself into fire; he would brave the waves; he would do battle with wild beasts…
O, how much children owe to their parents when they are good parents! To them – after God – they owe their very life! This is why the Decalogue, immediately after setting out our obligations toward God the Heavenly Father in the first four commandments, places the commandment which enjoins the honouring of parents. This is the lone commandment which contains an explicit promise to those who keep it – that God’s blessing will be with them throughout the whole of their lives. Children who honour their parents will be richly blessed: “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” Conversely, the Moasic Law condemns an Israelite who ill-treats his father or mother to the most extreme of punishments, that is, death by stoning. “And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.” Moreover, while the testimony of two or three witnesses is required as proof in the case of other offences and misdeeds, this is not required when an Israelite has been disrespectful to his parents. All that is needed is the testimony of the disrespected father. The father – and the father alone – is deemed worthy of trust in such an instance because for a parent to arrive at the point of accusing his own child and delivering him over to the most extreme of punishments means that the child truly disrespected him since the child’s lack of respect had to overcome the father’s natural affection. Making the matter worse, a disrespectful child, through his disrespectful behavior, has become a cause of turmoil within the moral order of the family and the broader community, which is founded upon the honoring of parents.
Children who honor and respect their parents receive blessings, then, while those who slander and wrong their parents are cursed. History, both ancient and modern, shows us by means of many examples that displays of disrespect towards one’s ancestors do not go unpunished in this life, but also that the respectful and loving behavior of children towards their parents is not without its blessings. Therefore, you children who are fortunate enough to still have your good parents with you in this life, hear the words of the Wisdom of Sirach: “For the blessing of the father establisheth the houses of children; but the curse of the mother rooteth out foundations,” and, “Honour thy father with thy whole heart, and forget not the sorrows of thy mother. Remember that thou wast begot of them, and how canst thou recompense them the things that they have done for thee.”
- The good life.
There are yet others, beyond those who have given us life according to the flesh, who warrant a respect similar to that which is due unto parents. We are speaking of those who labour and sacrifice, not for the sake of the outer man, but rather for the sake of the inner man. The inner man, the principal man, is the spirit, the soul. The outer man is visible; you can photograph a man every day, beginning with the day he is born and continuing until he reaches deep old age, and keep these photos in the family album as a record of that person’s bodily growth and development. Looking at those photos, you will wonder at how that tiny being who walks on all fours, became a perfect man…from imperfection to perfection!
- The life according to Christ.
So, parents bestow life, while teachers and professors bestow knowledge, the arts, and science, through which one secures a life of luxury, wealth, and glory. Beyond bodily existence, however, beyond knowledge and science, there is yet something else infinitely more lofty which gives life true meaning. This is holiness. Holiness is separation from everything profane; it is the cleansing of the soul from the filth of sin; it is the putting off of vice, which like rust blemishes the inner man. It is also the acquisition of the virtues through which man is raised up from the lowly to the spiritual and heavenly so that he approaches the Cherubim and Seraphim, appearing to be some sort of earthly angel. This is man at his peak, achieved through the imitation of the virtues of Christ who is the unrivalled, unapproachable, and eternal model of holiness.
Holiness is the most important thing in a person’s life. It stands above all other things. All other things, as much as they may impress the world, are but small and lowly in comparison with holiness. Moreover, whatever value they have is acquired only when they are watered by the life-giving power of holiness. In the service of holiness, science becomes a force for good; isolated from it and partnered with vice, it becomes malignant and destructive. It has rightly been observed that one speck of holiness is worth more than tons of human knowledge and worldly wisdom.
Parents bestow live, then, and teachers bestow the good live, but who bestows upon us the life in Christ, life within the sphere of holiness? Who are those instruments by means of which man is white-washed, purified, made radiant? O, how poor is our vocabulary when it comes to describing the life in Christ which the Holy Scriptures refers to as ‘new birth’, ‘rebirth’, and ‘a new creation’! It is the Holy Spirit who fashions holiness, but the instruments of the Holy Spirit are those whom the Apostle Paul describes in his letter to the Ephesians, saying that Christ gave, “some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” This blessed person is the priest, by whom infants are baptized; by whom marriages are preformed; by whom the sins of those who are repentant are remitted; by whom the Holy Gifts are sanctified; by whom the bread and wine are transformed at the Divine Liturgy; by whom our entrance and exit from this world are blessed. He is worthy of reverence on account of his loft service which excels even that offered by the angels. It is from this perspective that these might be called, ‘Father’.
In the Orthodox Church, we also call fathers those exceptional figures who shone in the spiritual sky like radiant stars; who shone through their holiness; who shone through their writings; and not a small number of who shone through their miracles and martyric ends.
The Fathers! They loved the Lord with the full flame of their love. Out of a desire to attain purity of heart, to achieve holiness in the highest degree, to be as close to God as possible, they fled to desolate places, they undertook strict ascetical practices, they fasted, they prayed, they studied the Scriptures. Then after many years of ascetical labour they left their hermitages and came to the cities. With what love they embraced humanity! With what boldness and daring they rebuked those who oppressed and wronged the people of God! With what wisdom and skill they fought against the heresiarchs, scattering heretical assemblies!
The Fathers! In times of famine and social unrest they were shown to be new Josephs since through their preaching they opened storehouse doors, thereby feeding the hungry, and sheltered widows and orphans. They sold whatever they had – sometimes even the Church’s silver and gold vessels – to ransom captives from the clutches of barbarians.
The Fathers! In times of persecution they did not abandon the people of God to save their own skin, but they remained with the people as defenders and protectors and often met martyric ends as a consequence.
The Fathers! In times of fearful heresy they sounded like trumpets. They made up the body of local and ecumenical councils; they condemned heretical mindsets; they formulated dogmas with crystalline clarity; they anathematized heretics; they secured the flock, safeguarding it from wolves.
The Fathers! In life, they are the Church’s benefactors, however they do not cease from benefitting it even after their repose. Then they benefit it by their holy relics which are not only proof that the corruption of time has been overcome, but are also sources of healing. Above all, however, they benefit it thorough their writings. Having embraced voluntary poverty, it is these which they have bequeathed to the Church as its inherence. O, the writing of the Fathers! Despite the fact that they were written ages ago, they – together with what they teach – ever remain relevant for they were inspired by the Holy Spirit. They never wax old. When someone picks these up and studies them, he feels as if he is next to some fresh-water spring from which he draws the water of life, drinks insatiably, is refreshed, and is made glad. Truly, these Fathers are an ever-flowing stream of wisdom!
Among those characteristics which serve to distinguish the Orthodox Church from other churches is the fact that it honors and venerates the Fathers in accordance with divine command: “Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us… Their seed shall remain forever, and their glory shall not be blotted out. Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth for evermore. The people will tell of their wisdom, and the congregation will show forth their praise,” and also, “Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will show thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee.” Proof that the Orthodox Church honours its Fathers may be found in the fact that, apart from the various feasts when great Fathers and Teachers are celebrated individually, it dedicates three Sundays of the year to the corporate memory of the Fathers, namely the 7th Sunday after Pascha when we celebrate the memory of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, the Sunday falling between the 13th -19th of July when we celebrate the memory of the Holy Fathers who assembled at the first six ecumenical councils, and the Sunday between the 11th – 17th of October when we celebrate the memory of the Holy Fathers who assembled at the Seventh Ecumenical Council to condemn Iconoclasm. By means of the outstanding hymns that we sing at these services, the Church honours their memory. Of these hymns, we submit the following God-inspired example: “The choir of the holy fathers hath gathered from the ends of the earth, hath taught the single essence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and hath carefully committed to the Church the mystery of theology. Praising them in faith, let us bless them saying: O divine legion, divinely eloquent swordsmen of the Lord’s command, most radiant stars of the noetic firmament, unassailable towers of the mystical Sion, sweet-scented blossoms of paradise, golden mouths of the Word, boast of Nicaea and adornments of the whole world: Pray ye in behalf of our souls!”
Beloved brethren! In the end times, the disrespect that people have often shown toward their parents according to the flesh, dishonouring them in various ways, has crept into their relationship with their spiritual fathers and the teachers of the Church. People today stand with jaws agape, staring into bookshop windows wherein are displayed writings of questionable value – some even highly dangerous. In our schools, texts written by pre-Christian writers which are full of myths and which propound the cosmology associated with the false gods of Olympus are taught in Ancient Greek classes. But the texts of the great Fathers and teachers of the Church which flow with the sweetness of divine wisdom, where are they? The Fathers have been exiled from the schools of our Orthodox kingdom. Hesiod, Herodotus, Lysias, Lucian, Theokritos, Arrian, along with other poets and literary figures of the idol-worshiping world, are to be held in higher esteem according to the view of the Department of Education. Sadly, the writings of the Holy Fathers, a treasure written for the most part in Greek, are kept hidden from our people.
- Living in a manner worthy of the Fathers.
Honoring the Fathers should not be limited simply to hymns and encomia, beloved brethren. Just as being the descendent of noble forefathers entails certain obligations, so being the spiritual descendant of the glorious Fathers of the Church places holy obligations on all faithful children of Orthodoxy. Just as those who have lived in hostile environments and amid many troubles did not lose heart, become disillusioned, or faint-hearted, but instead held aloft the standard of Orthodoxy throughout everything, bearing witness to Jesus in their generation, so are we called to do. Let us too hold aloft the standard of Orthodoxy; let us too bear witness to Jesus in our generation which is either doesn’t know, or distorts the holy truths of Orthodoxy. By the manner of our life, we ought to show that Christ not only lived and worked wonders in the era of the Fathers, but that he lives and continues to work wonders even today; that the miracle of faith is something continuous and uninterrupted in accordance with the Apostolic teaching which says, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” Orthodoxy is not what her critics, misunderstanding our deep reverence for the Fathers, say that she is; Orthodoxy is not something static, but rather an unbroken living stream, a holy fire which one generation receives from the previous, and then in turn passes on to the next, calling it to lay hold of the saving light. Orthodoxy is an unceasing lighting of the lamps, an uninterrupted and continuous torch race which began with the fires of Pentecost and continues down to our day, and will continue until the second coming of Christ. We are called to bear witness to all this, thus becoming imitators of the Holy Fathers.
May our lives shine as theirs did, then, for if we limit ourselves to hymns of praise and encomiums, boasting in the Patristic treasure, then we will resemble the unworthy sons of Israel who boasted in their glorious forefathers yet lived lives altogether different from them. ‘You who live impiously cannot possibly call Abraham your father,’ calls out the voice of the Forerunner like thunder. Sadly, this rebuke might just as easily be spoken of our generation, a generation of sin and hypocrisy, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.”
 This article is a translation of, “Οι Πατέρες” in Πνευματικά Σαλπίσματα Ορθοδόξου Ζωής και Ομολογίας. (Thessalonki: 2008), 83-93. Translated by Rev Dr John Palmer.
 Matthew 23:19.
 Exodus 20:12.
 Exodus 21:15.
 Wisdom of Sirach 3:9.
 Wisdom of Sirach 7:27.
 Ephesians 4:11-12.
 See Wisdom of Sirach 44:1-15.
 Deuteronomy 32:7.
 Doxastikon of the Praises at Matins for the Holy Fathers of the First Six Ecumenical Councils.
 Hebrews 13:8.
 Matthew 3:7-9.