The Orthodox Family


by Saint Philaret of New York - Reposed in the Lord on November (8/21), 1985


The basic task of Orthodox Christianity is to teach people to live according to God’s will so that, through it, they will be brought to eternal blessedness. Some people vainly wish to reduce Christianity to a mere narrowly-individualized sphere of religious experiences. Christianity, however, is life; it is a new seal on all the vital relationships of people. And no impartial person would doubt or contradict the fact of its influence on life. It is sufficient to point out that, even though life and the behavior of people on earth have now strayed from Christian ideals, nevertheless their concepts and views were formulated on the Christian model. The work of many of the best artists and scientists bears a clearly Christian imprint. Further, such consoling phenomena as the disappearance of slavery, the appearance of a whole series of institutions of charity and enlightenment, and much else, are undoubtedly obligated to Christianity for their beginnings. But perhaps the transforming and elevating influence of Christianity has been experienced most of all by the first cell of the order of social life — the family.


"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

- Mark 10:7-9


The great responsibility for an Orthodox Christian person is to choose a friend for life. God’s word says of the Christian marriage “be two in one flesh,” that is, in marriage, two people form one organism, one common life. An Orthodox Christian wife thinks first of all about her husband, and then about herself. Likewise, the husband cares first for the wife, then for himself. The Lord tempered such a Christian marital union by His Divine words, “What God unites, let man not separate.” It is noteworthy that in such a Christian marriage, the love of the partners has the very same selfless, self-denying character by which purely Christian love is distinguished. With good reason, Apostle Paul compares the marital union with the union of Christ and the Church, and he says, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.” In Christian marriage, the unification of loving personalities becomes so all-comprehensive and full, the mutual dedication of the spouses so deep and absolute, that they resemble each other in everything, and sometimes (in old age) they even come to resemble each other externally. And their life passes in full accord, in full dedication to the will of Christ the Saviour and His Holy Church.

But it has become such a burden in our own days to see the precipitous, unthinkingly careless and completely un-Christian disposition of contemporary youth to this most serious question. One must now repeatedly observe how marriages are concluded not out of a serious, deep, examined feeling of love, but through infatuation — a feeling which is not deep, and is very low in moral relationship. Often, the content of such an infatuated state is, alas, essentially only animal passions, only an "agitation of young blood* (and sometimes not so young, but old and dirty). Together with this, in the pre-wedding time of such marriages, one constantly observes deceit and self-embellishing of the body and soul— a hypocritical desire not to be, but to seem to be, better and more beautiful. Life, however, can only be built on truth; it cannot survive on falsehood. From this, there ensues the disenchantment of spouses with each other and the aberration of divorces.

Christian Marriage is a single life lived by two in union. With the years, marital life only strengthens, becomes deeper and more spiritual. Of course, passionate love, connected with each person’s natural sexual inclination and purely physical attraction, also enters into Christian marital love. In a truly Christian marriage, however, such passionate love enters into the attachment only incidentally, and never has the same significance and strength as in non-Christian marital unions. In the lives of the saints, we see a multitude of examples in which Christian spouses, through mutual agreement, renounced sexual life, either from the very beginning of the marriage, or even after forty years. It is noteworthy that in such a marriage, when the ascetic spouses live "as brother and sister”, their mutual love is distinguished by a special strength of devotion, all-embracing fidelity and mutual respect. Thus does Christianity consecrate, elevate and transform a marriage union.

In a Christian family, not only the relationship of husband and wife is considered, but also that of children and parents. Christianity again places an imprint on this inter-relationship.

In such a good family there must, without fail, be a single-family life. "Our” must always take precedence over the personal "my” in such a relationship. It is not in vain that all members of a family bear one common surname, for they must live a common, cordial life. The head of the family is the husband. The well-being of the family is formed on him and on his toils. The family is his first duty. Of those who do not look after their own family, the Apostle Paul says bluntly and quite clearly:


“If anyone does not care for his own, and especially for his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever”

- 1st Timothy 5:8


It often happens that, in directing their children to one or another path, parents act so strongly against the will of a child’s inclinations and heart’s desire as to be generally unjust. The Apostle Paul speaks against this, saying: “Parents, do not anger your children, so that they do not despair, but raise them in the Lord's teaching and instruction” (Col. 3:21; Eph. 4:4). To demand of children what exceeds their strength only plunges them into despondency. There is an even greater injustice: For a child, the father is the highest authority, and woe if his authority betrays that feeling of trust, a feeling which is far stronger than in an adult. This is followed by a situation which is simply inescapable for the child. It is even worse, however, when the parents spoil their children too much, are too condescending towards them, and often leave them without supervision. The child can receive a great moral ruin from this; as we have seen, God’s word orders parents to raise and instruct children in the Lord’s law...

The matter of raising children falls primarily on the mother. This is natural, since no one is so close to the soul and heart of the child as his mother. It is not without reason that a child runs directly to his mother, crying “Mama”, when he is hurt. There is a great task before the mother: To raise a son or daughter as a believing Christian, good, responsive, work-loving, useful to the Church and to society, and to raise the child thus by word and example and love and strictness. This is the sanctuary of her service to the Lord; her work is no less important than the husband’s work for the family. Shame and dishonor to those mothers who shirk from the raising of their children and give them over to be cared for by hired persons, forgetting that it is so easy to ruin or soil the child’s soul. Moreover, can anyone really replace a child’s mother?

But children must understand their responsibilities no less than the parents. Everyone knows the fifth commandment of God’s law, about honoring the parents. The Apostle Paul enjoins children to “submit to your parents in the Lord for justice requires this”. And, of course, this requirement is brought forth precisely by justice. For children are obligated in all things to their parents who take care of them, loving, toiling, denying themselves in much, raising their children by their own love, often helping them even when they have already become adults and independent people.


"Honor thy father and mother,' which is the first commandment with promise: 'that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.”

- Ephesians 6:2-3


How often, though, is the fifth commandment violated among us! Even those children who are convinced that they sincerely and deeply love their parents often do not heed them, which means that they do not honor them. Love is always united with obedience. And the older children become, the more self-willed they become, alas, affronting their parents, reproaching them to their faces for their “backwardness”, and not considering their authority in anything. Is this respect for parents?...

Thus in its basic sense, the fifth commandment speaks of honoring parents. Nevertheless, it also speaks in consideration of all those who occupy similar positions for a Christian: teachers, educators, etc. — and especially, the representatives of lawful authority who preserve the order of society. The Apostle Paul directed us to pray: “For rulers and all those in authority”, and in many places in his epistles, he taught to submit to the authorities. More important, of course, for the Christian, is the honoring of Church authorities — the pastors of the Church, especially the bishops, and also the pastor who is his spiritual father and answers before God for his soul. The Apostle Paul says, “Submit yourselves (to your spiritual instructors), for they watch over your souls and must give account... ” And the Lord Himself said to His apostles, and in their persons to the pastors of the Church, “Whoever listens to you listens to Me, but whoever does not listen to you, does not listen to Me”

From On the Law of God, by Metropolitan Philaret, pp. 57-60; translated from the Russian by Deacon Lev Puhalo and Vasili Novakshonoff. A St. Tikhon of Zadonsk Publication, republished by The St. John of Kronstadt Press