This month we consider the important task of parenting. As we consider the demanding responsibilities, rewards, and challenges of parenting today, it is worthwhile to reflect upon parental models that inspire confidence and faith. In this effort, we are aided by numerous examples of parents in the Holy Scriptures. These figures are distinguished certainly by their dedication to God, but even more so by their commitment to providing lifelong spiritual nurture and care to their children so that they may mature, discern, and follow the will of God for their own lives.
Consider for example the story of Esther and her uncle Mordecai, who raised Esther as his very own daughter. Having become queen in a foreign land through an unusual turn of events, Esther had a difficult time reconciling her role in relation to her Jewish identity. In the midst of a dramatic crisis, and in a state of confusion and considerable anxiety concerning the fate of her people, Mordecai's words of counsel to Esther to discern the will of God for her own life were penetrating: "Who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14)
This parental responsibility of providing spiritual nurture and care to one's children repeats itself as a theme in numerous other examples of parenting in the Holy Scriptures. Here, another fitting illustration is the story of Hannah, the mother of Samuel, which is recounted in the first two chapters of I Samuel (Septuagint I Kings). Hannah's lifelong nurturing of her son imbued him with a love for the Lord that was both pure and strong. Accordingly, in the midst of others who served false gods, Samuel served the Lord, even as a child (cf. I Samuel 2:12-18). Samuel found favor with the Lord and with others, eventually coming of age to live out the special and unique purpose that God had planned for him and his people.
From these two examples in the Old Testament we catch a glimpse of the profound effect of a parental figure upon a child. Similar other examples abound in number throughout the Holy Scriptures, such as Abraham and Isaac, Jesse and David, and Elizabeth and John the Baptist, to name a few. Each of these examples is rich in content, capable of serving as welcome passages for your own regular reading of the Bible as a family. The important element held in common by each of these examples, however, is their contemporary application to the challenges of modern parenting.
In our contemporary world, the need for sustained parental guidance continues to be pronounced. As parents and persons who are called to fulfill parental roles, the task of providing spiritual nurture to our children and loved ones is manifold. As with Mordecai, this task involves the offering of sound counsel that emphasizes being open to God's will. As with Hannah, it presumes that in order to discern God's will for our lives and the lives of our children, we need to be living our own lives in prayer. As Orthodox Christians, healthy and effective parenting also presumes that we live our lives in close connection with God. Finally, providing spiritual care to our children and loved ones necessitates our elevating the inherent dignity of the child. This involves our careful balance of setting limits that allow our children to grow in moral integrity, while also recognizing that God calls every child to grow independently as persons with a unique purpose in life.
As you gather as families, I encourage each of you to reflect upon these and other examples through regular reading of the Bible as a family. These examples inspire confidence in our own abilities as parents. They encourage us to be faithfully devoted to God and to be fully committed to providing spiritual care and nurture to our children and loved ones, even in the face of uncertainty, confusion, doubt, or anxiety. At the same time, these examples remind us that while contemporary parenting is replete with challenges, it is also replete with a myriad of rewards and blessings. It is my heartfelt prayer that the peace of Almighty God may be with you and may give you strength as you contemplate these challenges, rewards, and blessings in your own lives as parents and as persons called to be givers of care.
Archbishop of America