Summer comes along and the thought of spending time outdoors with our families and friends brings a warm feeling to our hearts. It’s no surprise that in June, then, the beginning of the “official summer season” we take time to honor our fathers since grilling and outdoor activities have come to symbolize men in general but fathers more specifically. For weeks leading up to Fathers’ Day, advertising seems to center around dad, mom and kids around the grill enjoying quality family time. My memories of spending time with my father enjoying the outdoors still bring a smile to my face. But is that all there is to honoring fathers on Fathers’ Day? Sadly, for many families, it is.
We cannot speak about fathers without also speaking of our Heavenly Father, Who loves us so much that “He gave His only begotten Son.” (John 3:16) His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, then established His Church as “His Body” (Ephesians 1:23) to be the Ark of our salvation. We were baptized into His Body becoming one with the Lord who gave us “the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12) Our real, albeit mystical, union with God is what leads us to understand, or at least appreciate, the connection between family, church and heaven. When one is united to our Heavenly Father, one cannot help but discuss every aspect of life from the perspective of union with Him, whether fathers and their families are grilling in the back yard or receiving the Eucharist in Church on Sunday.
Let us, for a moment, examine the following words by St. Paul referring to the character of our spiritual fathers, the clergy: “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence.” (1 Timothy 3:2-5)
When St. Paul outlined the requirements for a bishop (or priest), he was expressing this truth; that leading the Church was not a separate function of men, but a function of fathers and husbands leading their families to God. (Although today our bishops are ordained from within the celibate clergy, this was not always the case.) How then is it that our fathers, physical and spiritual, lead us to God? Let us begin with the first statement of St. Paul, by replacing the word “bishop” with “father.”
A father then must be blameless – St. John Chrysostom said, “Every virtue is implied in this word. [The father’s] life should be unspotted so that all should look up to him and make his life the model of their own.” Rather than asking whether or not our fathers are unspotted, since nobody is without sin, maybe we should ask, “Are they striving to be blameless?” The true role model for families is a life of repentance and confession when we don’t always live up to the standards God has for us. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) In Christ our fathers are constantly becoming blameless.
A father then must be the husband of one wife – In an era of “no fault divorce” and “common-law marriage” this requirement may seem antiquated or out of touch. It goes without saying that divorce has become too prevalent in our society and Church, but “From the beginning it was not so.” (Matthew 19:8) Divorce, while being unavoidable at times, and then only for certain reasons, cannot and should not become the norm in our Churches. We must strive for marital chastity and a father must be dedicated to healing and building a marriage and family whenever possible. In fact it reveals greater character to repair a marriage than to flee from it, which serves a greater model to our children and families.
A father then must be temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach – How our fathers relate to others reveals the condition of their hearts. “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.” (Matthew 7:17) Our actions reveal our nature. In fact the fruit of our behavior indeed teaches our children and others. We are all able to teach. The real issue is whatwe are teaching in our actions. If we desire our children to be temperate, sober-minded and of good behavior, fathers must model this in their own lives and their children will follow.
These are the character traits that fathers must possess. St. Paul then includes what fathers “must not” possess in their character.
A father must not be given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, not quarrelsome, not covetous – I have never met anyone who desires a drunk, violent, greedy, feisty, selfish father. And yet, I have met many people who are all or some of these. What happens between what we desire and what we receive? As St. Paul reminds us that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) We each are engaged in a battle to subdue our passions. Some are more successful than others, but all fall short. If all continue to fall short, is there any hope for fathers and families?
A father must rule his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence – What makes a father great isn’t whether or not he has always succeeded in keeping St. Paul’s commandments. What makes a father great is his willingness to lead his family (and therefore the Church) toward God with all reverence.
The only true model of a father is The Father, Who even though His children and His Bride (the Church) disobeyed Him and continue to disobey Him, has never faltered in His dedication to leading us toward Heaven. Since that first moment in the Garden, God has been working to restore us to Himself. Our Father in Heaven is blameless, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence…of course God is perfect…
If we, as fathers, strive to live these traits in our lives, then we shall be perfect, just as our Father in Heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48) And that is something worth honoring this Fathers’ Day.
Fr Athanasios C. Haros is pastor of Transfiguration of Our Savior Greek Orthodox Church in Florence, South Carolina, where he also maintains a blog and podcast entitled, “Be Transfigured.” Fr Athanasios graduated from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2008 and is married to Presvytera Vassi (Makris) also a graduate of Holy Cross (1995). Together they have one son.