No Greater Blessing
(Holy and Righteous Parents: Examples from History)
Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko
There is no greater blessing that a person can have than to be raised by righteous parents. And there is no greater sorrow and source of sadness and harm than to be raised by the wicked and ungodly.
When we consider the greatest of Christians, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, we are struck by the fact that the holiest people were the children of the holiest parents. Jesus was born of the most perfect human being who ever lived and will live, the blessed Virgin Mary. He was raised by her, with the righteous Joseph; was subject to His parents from childhood, and grew in wisdom and stature before God and man in obedience to them within the gracious atmosphere of their holy family.
Mary herself was the child of the righteous Joachim and Anna. She was born as the answer to prayer, according to the promise of God, and was consecrated to the Lord from before her birth.
John the Baptist, the prophet and forerunner of Christ whom Jesus called "the greatest born of woman," was also conceived by God's gracious will to his aged parents, the priest Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth who were among the holy remnant of the righteous poor prepared to receive Christ at His coming.
The Three Hierarchs: Although there were saints who were persecuted and even killed by their parents, as for example, Saint Barbara, most of the greatest and most influential saints in the history of the Church were the children of holy parents. A powerful example of this in church history is that of the Three Hierarchs: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom.
Saint Basil's mother and grandmother were widows. They built a chapel on their estate and dedicated their lives to the service of God and the care of their children. Saint Basil wrote in this way about his mother at the time of her death:
"Now for my sins I have lost my mother, the only comfort I had in life. Do not smile if, old as I am, I lament my orphan-hood. Forgive me if I cannot endure separation from a soul with whom I can see nothing in the future which lies before me to compare."
Saint Basil's mother Emmelia, with his grandmother and his brother Gregory of Nyssa and his sister Macrina are all canonized saints of the Church.
Saint Gregory the Theologian's mother Nonna is also a canonized saint with his father Gregory, and with his brother the "distinguished physician" Caesarius and his sister Gorgonia. Nonna was the cause of the conversion of her husband to Christ from a pagan sect, who later himself became a bishop of the Church. About his parents, particularly his mother, Saint Gregory wrote:
"...she was consecrated to God...possessed of piety as her most precious possession, not only for herself, but also for her children...she (and her husband) were lovers of their children and lovers of Christ...their one joy was to see their children names and acknowledged by Christ."
Saint John Chrysostom's mother Anthusa is also a canonized saint of the Church. Her son lived with her until he was well over thirty at which time he began his service in the Church first as presbyter in Antioch and later as bishop in Constantinople. The pagan rhetorician Libanus was so impressed with the mother of his famous student John, that he uttered the often-quoted phrase about her: "Heavens, what women these Christians have!"
Saint Augustine: One of the most blessed men of the Western Church, and its most influential theologian, was Saint Augustine. His mother too is a canonized saint (as, incidentally, is the mother of Saint Gregory Palamas.) When, after a profligate and wandering life of almost forty years, Augustine finally met Saint Ambrose, also the son of a holy mother, and was baptized, he wrote to his mother Monica:
"I believe without a doubt and affirm that it is because of you and your prayers that God gave me that mind to prefer nothing to the discovery of the Truth; and to desire and think and love nothing else...to you I owe all which to me is Life."
And when Monica died, he recorded these as her last words:
"My son, I have no further pleasure in this life...there was one reason, and one only, why I wished to remain a little longer in this life, and that was to see you a catholic Christian before I died. God has granted me my wish...All that I ask of you is that, wherever you may be, you should remember me at the altar of the Lord."
Thankful to God: I recently participated in a spiritual renewal conference where a leading theologian of the Greek Orthodox Church was introduced to speak by the pastor of his parents. The priest introduced the speaker by praising his parents. When we look into the lives of many of our church leaders today, priests, bishops and lay persons, we discover that the great majority are children of righteous and godly parents and grandparents. We are thankful to God for this, His most wonderful blessing.