How do we honor our father and mother? Some equate honor with blind obedience. The biblical Greek word for "honor" however, is tima does not imply obedience or subservience. This is an important point. When I hear the confession of adolescents who are becoming increasingly aware of the imperfections and shortcomings of their parents, I notice that they want to honor their fathers and mothers but are confused by the messages within our society that declare that personal faults negate all authority. Other times they are crippled by anger and resentment towards their parent because of disagreements, arguments and in extreme cases, even abuse. This dilemma affects adult children as well.
How, then, we understand the meaning of "honor your father and mother"?
When we are young, we depend on our father and mother for nearly everything. They feed, clothe, house and protect us. They teach us how to respect God, ourselves and other people through using good words, sharing, and expressing kindness. They offer stern warnings and discipline especially when we are in danger.
As we grow older, our parents teach us the importance of responsibility and accountability. We are given chores to complete along with our homework from school. When we fall short, we have consequences like losing privileges or being grounded. This is where it gets tough for kids because the fallen state of rebelliousness rears its head in more powerful ways. It is difficult for parents to discern how much of this rebelliousness to allow as an expression of our growing and healthy independence. Some parents take their child's rebelliousness much too personally and then discipline in anger to restore their power and pride.
Either way, what's a kid to do? Children must remain obedient to their parents, even when mom and dad cross the line because it is an opportunity to learn and express humility. That's difficult even for adults, to act as if you are wrong even though you may be right. I tell kids that being humble before your parents teaches you how to be humble before God and other people. This is important because at some point we become adults and parents and who are we going to be responsible and accountable to? Ultimately to God.
For the adult children, we honor our parents by forgiving them. In other words, we cannot continue to blame our parents for how they raised us. No mother or father is going to be perfect in their parenting. It's a fact of life. Some adults spend their whole life in bitterness, anger and resentment because mom and dad did not praise enough, or disciplined too much (or too little), didn't get me into sports, music or a foreign language, or didn't bring me to church (or brought me too much).
Enough-already! We're adults now and we are responsible for ourselves. Grow up! The first step is to forgive them. The next step is to thank them for all the good things they did.
Another way we honor our mother and father is this: when someone sees how you act, what you say, how you treat others, how you serve society, can they say, "Wow, I'll bet George/Kosta/Maria/Anna mother and father are proud of him/her. Those parents did a good job raising him/her."? Can people look at you and say that? If they can, you have just honored your mother and father. Every time we do something good, just, pure, holy, we bring honor to our parents.
Another way to honor our parents, is to take care of them. As we all grow older, mom and dad are going to need more of our help. It starts with little chores, like when we were young such as mowing the lawn and cleaning the house. Then it may progress to calling and visiting often to make sure their ok. Eventually, when they cannot handle living on their own, you welcome them to live with you and your family.
Nursing homes and care centers are blessing and a curse. They are a blessing for people who have no family to take care of them and a curse for those who do but will not. If at possible, take care of your parents in your own home. Even though we could barely understand each other, some of my most memorable moments as a child were when yiayia (grandmother) lived with us. If we want our children to take care of us, do they see us honoring our parents by taking care of them?
Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews is the pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fr. Andrews is the past president of Minnesota Eastern Orthodox Christian Clergy Association (MEOCCA), and a volunteer chaplain with the St. Paul Police Department.