Orthodox America

  Honor thy Father and thy Mother

Based on a talk given during the 1996 Saint Herman Youth Conference in Washington D.C.

Honor thy father and thy mother" is a familiar commandment from God. It is an integral and unique part of what is called The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). To properly understand its importance and special positioning in the list of Ten, it is necessary to briefly review the Ten Commandments.

      The Ten Commandments are not the only commandments of God, but are a kind of summary of God's Laws. They might be seen as chapter headings for all of the other laws of God. They are sort of an Old Testament Symbol of Faith, much as our New Testament Creed serves to summarize all of the teachings of Christianity. The Ten Commandments set the limits of our behavior. God knows what brings life and death. The Ten Commandments establish the outer limits of behavior beyond which is death. On the positive side of the Ten Commandments are all the things we are permitted by God to do. These bring life.

      The positioning of each of the Ten Commandments is important in understanding the order God has established in His laws. The first four commandments deal specifically with our relationship with God. Our acknowledgement, worship and honor of God and His Creativity are covered in these four commandments. The Fifth Commandment, "Honor thy father and thy mother," is specially positioned in place five. I will return to that commandment momentarily. The next five commandments treat our relationship with each other, our fellow human beings, setting the limits of acceptable behavior.

      Returning to the Fifth Commandment, "Honor thy father and thy mother," it can be seen that it is a linking commandment between our relationships with God and our relationships with all other people. "Honor thy father and thy mother" is the closest commandment to God that does not directly relate to Him. The highest human relationship, that next to God alone, is our relationship of honor toward our parents.

      We can now see that there are three divisions in the Ten Commandments: God and our relationships to Him; father and mother and our relationships to them; the rest of the community of God's people and our relationships toward them.

       The Fifth Commandment, being closest to God, is the testing ground for our relationship to Him and a proving ground for our relationship to everyone else in the Kingdom of God. How we relate to our parents greatly impacts on how we honor GOd and our fellow human beings.

       In the case of this Fifth Commandment HONOR is defined as LOVE and RESPECT. Further, it implies not rebelling against, nor challenging the authority of our parents. Surely, if we rebel against and challenge the authority of our parents, we will also rebel against God and His Authority. In like manner, if our relationship with our parents is poor, then we surely will have difficulty in our relationships to other people: students to teachers, husbands to wives, employees to employers, friends to friends, the young to the elderly. It seems crucial, then, to our spiritual and social survival, that we properly order our relationships with our parents.

       I work at an alternative school with young people -- many of whom are criminalized. A preponderance of these young people have extremely poor relationships with their parents. These relationship problems spill over into poor relationships in school and with the general civic community. Many of these youths view their parents as "buffoons," the police as "pigs," teachers as "powerless," elders as "worthless," and anyone in authority as "stinkers." Virtually none of the most challenged of these young people has any relationship whatsoever with God.

I also serve as a criminologist at a college. In this field of study we have seen an incredible rise in violent crime among teenagers. There has been an increase in illicit drug use and promiscuity among our teenage population. I see these behaviors as directly related to a negative view of authority and all people in authority.

      There is an interesting passage in the Old Testament, II Kings 2:23-24: 

      And he [Elishal went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up the road, some youths came from the city and mocked him, and said to him, "Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead[" So he turned around and looked at them, and pronounced a curse on them in the name of the Lord. And two female bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths. 

      If Elisha were responsible for the juvenile justice system here in the United States, I think we would see very few young people getting into trouble with authority figures.

      There is also a disturbing Scripture in the New Testament that requires close scrutiny: Il Timothy 3:1-5: 

      But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of God, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away

      I particularly draw attention to "disobedient to parents ... unloving ... lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God." All around us we see treachery today that is directly related to disobedience to parents. Young people are "kicking" off the protective cover of the parents in order to satisfy insatiable, fleshly desires. We see an entertainment industry that has exploited dishonor and blasphemy and every filthy and brutal behavior known to humanity. Should not this flag a warning to us of the seriousness of this day and time?

      Considering the great dishonor referred to above, it is appropriate to conclude that honor brings good things. It might also be generalized that honor and respect of parents is the root of good order in the entire universe. It clearly lays the foundation of our relationship to God and to all other people.

      A question for each of us is in order. To what extent have I contributed to the disorder in contemporary society by my dishonor of my parents? This should lead us to make a good confession acknowledging our dishonor of our parents and of God. When we honor our parents that same honor passes on to God. Let us turn to the Mystery of Confession and begin a new life of HONOR.

Priest Seraphim Stephens


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