St. John Chrysostom

Duties of Parents and Children to One Another

Children, obey your fathers and mothers in the Lord, for this is right.
Honor thy father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise),
that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth

(Ephesians 6:1–3).

In his letter to the Ephesians, the holy Apostle Paul has spoken of the authority of the husband, and of the wife, who is second in authority. He now goes on to the third rank — which is that of the children. For the husband has authority over the wife, and the husband and the wife over the children. Now then mark what he is saying:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord; for this is
the first commandment with a promise.

Here St Paul is not talking about Christ or high subjects, for he is still addressing tender understandings. And it is for this reason, moreover, that he makes his exhortation short, inasmuch as children cannot follow a long argument. For this reason also he does not talk at all about a kingdom (because it does not belong to the tender age of childhood to understand these subjects), but he says, what a child's soul most especially longs to hear, namely, that it shall "live long."

"Children," he says, "obey your parents in the Lord." This, he means to say, is what God commands you. But what then if they command foolish things? Generally a father, however foolish he may be himself, does not command foolish things. However, even in that case, the Apostle has guarded the matter by saying, "in the Lord"; that is, wherever you will not be offending against God. So that if the father be a heretic, we ought no longer to obey, because the command is not then "in the Lord."

Observe how admirable a foundation he has laid for the path of virtue, that is, honor and reverence towards parents. When he would lead us away from wicked practices, and is just about to enter upon virtuous ones, this is the first thing he enjoins, honor towards parents; inasmuch as they before all others are, after God, the authors of our being, so that it is reasonable they should be the first to reap the fruits of our right actions; and then all the rest of mankind.

For if a man have not this honor for
parents, he will never be gentle toward
those unconnected with him.

However, having given the necessary injunctions to children, he passes to the fathers, and says:

Verse 4. And ye fathers, provoke not your children
to wrath; but nurture them up in the chastening
and admonition of the Lord.

He does not say, "love them," because to this nature draws them even against their own will, and it is superfluous to lay down a law on such subjects. But what does he say? "Provoke not your children to wrath," as many do by disinheriting them, and disowning them, and treating them overbearingly, not as free, but as slaves. This is why he says, "Provoke not your children to wrath." Then, which is the chief thing of all, he shows how they will be led to obedience.

"Bring them up in the chastening and admonition of the Lord." You see that where there are spiritual ties, the natural ties will follow. Do you wish your son to be obedient? From the very first "Bring him up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord." Never deem it an unnecessary thing that he should be a diligent hearer of the divine Scriptures. For there the first thing he hears will be this: "Honor thy father and thy mother." Never say, This is the business of monastics. Am I making a monk of him? No. There is no need for him to become a monk. (But why be afraid of a thing replete with so many advantages?)

Make him a Christian. For it is most
necessary for people in the world to be
acquainted with the lessons derived
from the teachings of the Church,
but especially for children.

For theirs is an age full of folly; and to this folly are added the bad examples derived from the heathen tales, where they are made acquainted with those heroes so admired among them, slaves of their passions, and cowards in regard to death.

Is it not absurd to send children out to trades, and to school, and to do all you can for these objectives, and yet, not to "bring them up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord"? And for this reason truly we are the first to reap the fruits, because we bring up our children to be insolent and profligate, disobedient, and mere vulgar fellows. Let us not then do this; no, let us listen to St. Paul's admonition. "Let us bring them up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord." Let us give them a pattern. Let us make them from the earliest age apply themselves to the reading of the Scriptures. Alas, that so constantly as I repeat this, I am looked upon as trifling! Still, I shall not cease to do my duty.

Why do ye not imitate the men of old? Ye women, especially, emulate those admirable women. Has a child been born to anyone? Imitate Hannah's example (I Sam. 1:24); look at what she did. She took Samuel at once to the temple. Who amongst you would not rather that his son should become a Samuel than that he should be king of the whole world ten thousand times over? "And how," you will say, "is it possible he should become such a one?" Why is it not possible? It is because you do not choose it yourselves, nor commit him to the care of those who are able to make him such a one.

"And who," it will be said, "is such a one as this?" God. She put him into the hands of God. For not even Elias himself was one of those in any great degree qualified to form him. (How could he be, he who was not able to form even his own children?) No, it was the faith of the mother and her earnest zeal that did everything. He was her first child, and her only one, and she did not know whether she would ever have others besides. Yet she did not say, "I will wait till the child is grown up, that he may have a taste of the things of this life; I will allow him to have a good time while he is young."

No, all these thoughts the woman repudiated; she was absorbed in one object, how from the very beginning she might dedicate the spiritual image to God.

Well may we men blush at the wisdom
of this woman. She offered her son up
to God and there she left him.

And therefore was her married state more glorious, because she made spiritual objects her first care, in that she dedicated the first-fruits to God. Therefore was her womb fruitful, and she obtained other children besides. And therefore she saw him honorable even in the world. For if men when they are honored, render honor in return, will not God much more, He who does this, even without being honored?

How long are we to be mere lumps of flesh? How long are we to be stooping to the earth? Let everything be secondary with us to the provident care we take of our children, and to our "bringing them up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord." If from the very first he is taught to be a lover of true wisdom, then he has acquired wealth greater than all wealth and a more imposing name. You will effect nothing so great by teaching him an art, and giving him that outward learning by which he will gain riches, as if you teach him the art of despising riches. If you desire to make him rich, do this. For the rich man is not he who desires great riches, and is fenced in by great riches; but the man who has need of nothing.

Discipline your son in this, teach him this. This is the greatest of riches.

Do not seek how to give him reputation
and high character in outward learning,
but consider deeply how to teach him
to despise the glory that belongs
to this present life.

By this means will he become more distinguished and more truly glorious. This it is possible for the poor man and the rich man alike to accomplish. These are lessons which a man does not learn from a master, nor by art, but by means of the divine oracles. Seek not how he shall enjoy a long life here, but how he shall enjoy a boundless and endless life hereafter. Give him the great things, not the little things. Do not try to make him an orator, but train him to be a philosopher [lover of wisdom and so, lover of Jesus Christ Who is Divine Wisdom]. In the want of the one there will be no harm whatever; in the absence of the other, all the rhetoric in the world will be of no advantage. Proper dispositions are wanted, not talking; character, not cleverness; deeds, not words. Whet not his tongue, but cleanse his soul. I do not say this to prevent your teaching him these things, but to prevent your attending to them exclusively.

There is every need of much discipline of this sort to those that are to mix in the present world, because such an one has a stronger temptation to sin than the other. He will further be a more useful person even in the world itself. For all will respect him when they see him in the fire without being burnt, and not desirous of power. But power he will then obtain, when he least desires it, and will be a still higher object of respect than the king; for it is not possible for such a character to be hid.

Surround them not with outward defenses
of wealth and glory; for when these fall,
and they do fall, the plant stands naked
and defenseless, not only having
derived no profit from them
during the time past,
but even injury.

For those very shelters that prevented its being inured to the attacks of the winds will now have prepared it for perishing all at once. And so wealth is harmful rather, because it renders us undisciplined for the vicissitudes of life.

Let us therefore train our children to be such, that they shall be able to bear up against every trial, and not be surprised at what may come upon them. "Let us bring them up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord." And great will be the reward which will be thus laid up in store for us. For if men for making statues and painting portraits of kings enjoy so great honor, shall not we who adorn the image of the King of kings (for man is the image of God) receive ten thousand blessings, if we make a true likeness? For the likeness is in this, in the virtue of the soul, when we train our children to be good, to be meek, to be forgiving (because all these are attributes of God), to be beneficent, to be humane; when we train them to regard the present world as nothing. Let this then be our task, to mold and to direct both ourselves and them according to what is right. Otherwise with what sort of boldness shall we stand before the judgment-seat of Christ?

If a man who has unruly children is unfit to be a bishop (Titus 1, 6), much more is he unfit for the kingdom of Heaven. What do you say?

If we have an unruly wife or unruly children,
shall we have to give an account? Yes,
we shall, if we do not do our duty
in their regard; for our own
personal virtue si not
enough for salvation.

Let us therefore take great care of our wives and children, and of our servants, and of ourselves. And let us beseech God to help us in this work. If He sees us interested and solicitous about it, He will aid us; but if He shall see us paying no regard to it, He will not give us His hand. For He does not vouchsafe us His assistance when we sleep, but when we labor also ourselves. For a helper (as the name implies) is not a helper of one who is inactive, but of one who works also himself. But the good God is able of Himself to bring the work to perfection, that we may be all counted worthy to attain to the blessings promised to us, through the grace and compassion of His only-begotten Son, with Whom together with the Holy Spirit be unto the Father, glory, might, and honor, now and ever, and throughout all ages. Amen.

Adapted from St. John Chrysostom's Homily XXI,
Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers
(Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson
Publishers, Inc., 1994),
vol. 13, pp. 153–157.

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