Anger and a Father’s Wisdom

makovskiy_konstantin_peasant_diner_in_fieldIt is interesting that in reading the life of St. Silouan of Mt. Athos the figure that stands out most in his life is that of his (unlearned) peasant father. His father was clearly a man of great faith. St. Silouan thought his father to be wiser than many so-called spiritual fathers. The following story is an interesting account of how a father dealt with anger in correcting his son.

This excerpt is from the Elder Sophrony’s St. Silouan the Athonite.

Young, strong, handsome, and by this time prosperous, too, Simeon [later to become the monk Silouan] revelled in life. He was popular in the village, being good-natured, peaceable and jolly, and the village girls looked on him as a man they would like to marry. He himself was attracted to one of them and, before the question of marriage had been put, what so often happens befell late one summer evening.

Next morning, as they were working together, his father said to him quietly,

‘Where were you last night, son? My heart was troubled for you?’

The mild words sank into Simeon’s soul, and in later life when he recalled his father the Staretz [elder] would say,

‘I have never reached my father’s stature. He was absolutely illiterate – he even used to make mistakes in the Lord’s Prayer which he had learned by listening in church; but he was a man who was gentle and wise.’

They were a large family – father, mother, five sons and two daughters – all living in affection together. The elder boys worked with their father. One Friday they were out harvesting and it was Simeon’s turn to cook the midday meal. Forgetting that it was Friday, he prepared a dish of pork for their lunch, and they all ate of it. Six months later, on a feast-day in winter, Simeon’s father turned to him with a gentle smile and said,

‘Son, do you remember how you gave us pork to eat that day in the fields? It was a Friday. I ate it but, you know, it tasted like carrion.’

‘Whyever didn’t you tell me at the time?’

‘I didn’t want to upset you, son.’

Recalling such incidents from his life at home, the Staretz would add,

‘That is the sort of staretz I would like to have. He never got angry, was always even-tempered and humble. Just think – he waited six months for the right moment to correct me without upsetting me!’

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8 Responses to “Anger and a Father’s Wisdom”

  1. fatherstephen Says:

    Photo: Painting – Konstantin Makovsky’s Peasant Dinner in a Field

  2. Sibyl Says:

    God is indignant and angry at sin and injustice every day (Psalm 7:11) yet He has compassion and pity for the one caught in its bramble.

    He calls us, even helps us to repentance. He offers such a welcome when we will abandon our destructive sins, deceptions and follies.

    Yet, how much angrier God is with those who would blind us and infect us with evil. Malachi 2:3 provides a shocking image of God’s wrath.

    Only God Himself can balance Justice and Mercy. Only God is equipped to judge righteously. He forbids us to usurp His role and jurisdiction as judge, defender and avenger of wrong and evil. Humans may be earthly judges and can only exercise good judgment and justice when we employ His Word, Commandments and wisdom aided by the Holy Spirit and a regenerate mind in doing so. When agenda, prejudice, favoritism, respect of persons and bribery intrude and avert justice, a whole society becomes sick and disoriented. Courts rule against life, abortionists are ranked as heroes and supporters of abortion are awarded noble prizes and the words of prior recipients like Mother Theresa are forgotten.

    “…the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child – a direct killing of the innocent child – murder by the mother herself.” – Mother Theresa

  3. fatherstephen Says:

    Sibyl,
    Indeed, only God can judge. For which we can be most grateful. I will add a short note in response to your citation of God’s anger and indignation, for I think it is an important understanding from within the Fathers. I have written a number of articles on the topic. This quote is from Met. Hilarion Alfeyev’s book The Spiritual World of St. Isaac of Syria – it is a quote that is in conformity with the Orthodox understanding of the Fathers and the sort of descriptions in Scripture which you cite:

    …Isaac claims, one should not interpret literally those Old Testament texts, where wrath, anger, hatred, and other similar terms are applied to the Creator. When such anthropomorphic terms occur in Scripture, they are being used in a figurative sense, for God never does anything out of wrath, anger, or hatred: anything of that sort is far removed from his nature. We should not read everything literally, as it is written, but rather perceive within the Old Testament narratives the hidden providence and eternal knowledge of God. ‘Fear God out of love for him, and not for the reputation of austerity that has been attributed to Him.’

    Those who destroy the unborn (as well as a host of other sins we might mention) do not know God nor believe in Him. it is unlikely that they will change out of fear of a God in whom they do not believe. There is the constant and abiding need to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ – that having received mercy from the good God – they may learn to show mercy in return and to cease from the wickedness of destroying human life.

    I do not expect justice from our courts, though I believe that justice is the standard to which the courts must be held by a free society. My hope is in Christ. I expect very little from the State (I will confess to being fairly cynical about the State and its concern for the good). But I am hopeful in Christ (though we have no promise in Scripture that the circumstances of this world will be greatly improved before His return). Mother Theresa, whom I hold in great reverence, never slowed down to concentrate her efforts on changing the government. She went about gathering up the poorest of the poor and doing for them all she could. By God’s great mercy what she could do was beyond anything most would imagine. But I believe this was so because she applied herself with all her heart to doing good.

    I once heard a Jesuit priest who had served in India criticize Mother Theresa rather bitterly because she did not use her “political capital” to change the social conditions in India. He favored political action as of greater worth. I think he was deeply wrong and in delusion. The answer to injustice, ultimately, is just human beings (an unjust human being will only pervert a just law). Thus just laws cannot be the answer unless they are applied by just people. Mother Theresa became a just human being (by God’s grace) and taught and demonstrated a way of life so that others could be just as well. That is a long, slow work. I believe it is nothing other than truly living the life of God given to us in the Church. We must speak the truth, as she did, but, even more importantly, we must become the truth by our union with Christ, in thought, word and deed.

    Thank you for your comments – may God bless you richly in His service.

  4. easton Says:

    father, there are many different circumstances in choosing abortion. i am against abortion but know several people who chose to do it. they were both VERY young and scared. scared of what society and their families would feel and do. they did believe in god! they were lost. they did not have the guidance or maturity to think it through. this was many many years ago. i know they now regret it and have asked for forgiveness!

  5. fatherstephen Says:

    Easton,
    Oddly, my thoughts were not on those who make such choices (wrong as they are) but on those who perform them. Many young women are indeed under terrible pressure without support and make wrong choices. There are many places helping make a difference today by providing support and healthy choices for women – which Christians should support with all their strength. There is nothing than cannot be forgiven.

  6. Karen Says:

    Thank you, Father, for reprising this story from St. Silouan’s biography. I was similarly impressed by it when I read it the first time and it is good to be reminded now (especially as I try to be a good mom to my kids). I contrast this example with that of a boyhood encounter Dr. Brad Nassiff describes in one of his AFR podcasts about ordering pizza with sausage on a fast day for a special lunch date at Pizza Hut with his Priest. His Priest made his irritation and disapproval with this childish negligence painfully clear to the young Brad, and what had started out as joyful anticipation of a special meal with his Priest (I do not know whether Dr. Nassiff’s mom had been widowed yet by this time or not, but suspect such might have been the case) ended in crushing his young heart. That heartbreak is still evident in the burden he carries today for fellow members of the Church.

    Thank God for the loving piety and compassionate forbearance exhibited by St. Silouan’s father. He helped to give us a great contemporary Saint. Since Mother Teresa was mentioned also above, I will also say I was similarly struck with its great significance when I read in her biography that she came from what she described as a deeply loving home (obviously pious as well). It touches me very deeply to witness the way God in His grace greatly multiplied the fruit of the loving obedience of her humble parents as well.

  7. Karen Says:

    Further to my thought above and your comments about the Jesuit’s misguided criticism of Mother Teresa, I observe that the story of St. Silouan with his father (and Dr. Nassiff’s experience) are a reminder of on what level the great spiritual battles are won or lost! As I witness current events in the Church and also some of spirit and character of the debate it engenders, my mind always is drawn back to the sober reality that my responsibility is my own heart and, in proportion to my influence, those people most directly impacted by the character of my words and life choices.

  8. fatherstephen Says:

    Karen,
    It is interesting that many of the saints come from pious, saintly homes. Fr. Thomas Hopko notes that “saints tend to occur in clumps.” Family can be a place of great difficulty, but it also can be a place of great holiness.

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