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A Reflection for Father’s Day: Who Else Will Raise the Second Generation of Orthodox Christians?

By Fr. George Shalhoub

On June 18th, we will celebrate and honor every father again on Father’s Day.

In the Holy Orthodox Church, no man is defined without a woman, no woman is defined without a man, and no man or woman is defined without God. A mother is not more important than the father and neither is the father more important than the mother. The two cannot be separated. They are like railroad tracks; one cannot exist without the other. They become one flesh in marriage (Ephesians 5:31) and share the responsibility for their future.

I recall that even when my mother took me to church, my father was no less important. On many occasions, I tagged along with my father as he was one of the builders of St. George Cathedral in my hometown of Hama, Syria. It took ten years to build this church which was next to our old church, the Dormition of the Virgin Mary.

My dad and I would attend church service during the breaks from his construction job. He and the late Metropolitan Ignatius of thrice blessed memory, formed a great friendship and in the summer of 1962, His Beatitude requested that dad send me to the Balamand Monastery in preparation for the priesthood.

My father never hesitated. After I was kissed and touched by my mother’s tears, dad took me to the train station, at the tender age of twelve, and placed me on a train traveling from Syria to Lebanon with three other boys. It was his fulfillment of faith.

However, before we talk about dads, we need to talk about the embodiment of what makes a good man and what makes a good husband, one who will develop into a good parent.

I married at the young age of 21 and was very much a mess as a husband, a priest, and as a father. My children challenged me as a father by asking many questions. I learned that if I did not have an answer, I would let them know that I would find the answer for them. While I was able to fill many roles as a father, one of my greatest disappointments in my own marriage to my wife, Nouhad, was that I realized I couldn’t always fix every problem like I had assumed a father should do. However, my strengths were in other areas. 

I knew God had called me to be an authority, but as St. Paul states in Ephesians, I often misunderstood my authority. It was frightening to find myself as a husband, knowing that a husband must be Christ-like. But I learned later that authority is guided by Christ; that instead of being secretive you need to be open; instead of seeming to be perfect, you need to ask for help; and instead of projecting blame on others, you must accept responsibility for your actions. It is about being sacrificial, not rigid.

Fathers do not become all knowing dads by just having children. Fathers need to be actively involved with their children. According to Harris, Firstenburg, Jr. and Marmer, they define active involvement as:

  1. ENGAGEMENT (DIRECTLY INTERACTING)
  2. ACCESSIBILITY (BEING AVAILABLE)
  3. RESPONSIBILITY (PROVIDING RESOURCES)

Actively involved fathers have a close and affectionate relationship with their children. Furthermore, the greatest effect a father can have on his children and family is to love and respect their mother.

Being a father is a process. It is like fine wine in the making. A dad may one day become a grandfather, but his role is never diminished or made any less significant. As I look back, I always see my father involved, even though he spoke few words. As a child in the Middle East, there were not many extracurricular activities and our life revolved around the courtyard of the church and the bell tower.

Sadly, in our society, we are lacking a good example of fatherhood. Fathers are missing from the lives of families because there are so many broken relationships.  Families run the risk of becoming one dimensional, always focusing on the earthly expectations rather than the kingdom of heaven. We are conditioned to think of the role of fathers in limited capacities, often as financial providers or disciplinarians. This idea is being challenged in the current generation of young parents. People today understand that our society is in dire need of fathers being present physically, emotionally, and spiritually to endure all crises that come with raising a family. A recent study from the Washington Post showed that one in three American children live apart from their fathers. This means one in three fathers are being stripped of God’s given purpose for them: to be gentle, loving, sacrificial, respectful, and committed.

A father must learn to reconcile and forgive his children. The greatest lesson children can learn as they grow up is to reconcile and forgive others. A father must be spiritual, not only in words, but worthy to live out what God is calling us to be. Having a father of faith matters to a child and it will impact the life of his children and their religious views forever. If he is a fanatic, he will produce children who either become religious fanatics  or children who leave the Church. When we become dictators, we oppress the child. Instead, we need to be men of faith who worship God with great reverence and devotion. For as the Psalmist says: “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who delights greatly in His commandments” (112:1).  The prophet Hosea defines the characteristics of a man who desires to walk with God as being united with Him and being filled with righteousness, justice, mercy, compassion, and faithfulness.  These are the true characteristics of fatherhood. 

A Swiss study emphasized that the role of the father attending church has a magnificent, spiritual impact on his children later in their lives. If children are to look to their father for spiritual guidance, then the question stands: Does dad attend church or does he skip? The father needs to be with his children in church, and he needs to integrate them into the life of the Christian community. Faith, worship, and community involvement matter. Dr. Philip Mamalakis states, “When we talk about our church community, we are not just talking about being together with a bunch of people, we are talking about being together with all the people we cannot see, the saints, the angels, people in heaven and all around the earth, who are gathered together, worshipping our God! That’s community and because we were created for this type of real community, our souls thrive, our souls experience a real healing when we live as active members of a worshipping community.”

A sad reality is that many children of clergymen do not attend church. They do not follow in their father’s footsteps or even attend church, because they see the double standard of their fathers. They preach love in the Church, yet fail to love their own mother.

We read in the Bible, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”   (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

If we are to learn anything from the parable of The Prodigal Son, an Orthodox Christian father needs to learn to be in control of his temper. It is easy to feel jealousy, anger, disappointment and rejection. But, like the father in the parable, we need to be hospitable and welcome a child who went astray, without condemning or judging.

In a community, such as the Orthodox Church community, we must become a training ground and provide a good environment that is able to produce experienced fathers. As a young mother learns from other mothers, a young father must also learn from other fathers. Since we are an extended family, there is no such thing as an empty nest. The job of parenting and grand-parenting is unending. Otherwise, who else will raise the next generation? Only a faithful mother and father bears this responsibility.

We pray on this Father’s Day that the hearts of children will be reconciled with their dads. And we say to all fathers; May your guiding hands be placed on our hearts and shoulders to lead the way to a better tomorrow. “We love you Pop.”

Happy Father’s Day!


For forty-five years, Fr. George Shalhoub has been founder and pastor of the mission parish that became The Antiochian Orthodox Basilica of St. Mary, Livonia, MI.