With Mother’s Day coming up this Sunday in America I thought I would publish two letters written to a mother of a large family. These are in their original unedited form and conclude with a suggested prayer for mothers.
Your most important concern seems to be how to live a life in Christ while a housewife and mother and teacher to your children. I will write a little about the vocation of motherhood.
In his letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul says: “Woman shall be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.”
It is not the mere act and moment of giving birth that the Apostle is speaking of which is a path of salvation but the vocation of raising children. This is a work, service or obedience, so-to-speak, which God has allotted to women as a means or path of salvation. To be a mother is a great responsibility and must be fulfilled in an Orthodox Christian way according to the commandments of God.
In order to accomplish this you must first accept motherhood as an act of obedience to the will of God. You must renounce your will, desires and understanding–that is, in this case your own idea of what is good for you personally–and in humility comply to the will of God. You have been a co-worker with God in the creation of a new human being and now this new creation has been entrusted to you by the Lord to raise in a godly manner. The fruit of fulfilling an obedience is humility while in fulfilling an obedience one is often subject to many temptations to rebel. This is because, as I mentioned above, in submitting to the will of God one must cut off one’s own will, desires and understanding. So if you thus renounce yourself and attach yourself to the will of God and accept motherhood as His will, for the most part you shall be able to do this obedience joyfully, without grumbling and bear the fruit of humility. The work or service you do for your family can be considered as a sacrifice and act of mercy for others.; In the writings of Sts. Barsanuphius and John we read: “Do not lose heart in the sufferings which you bear for the sake of the community, for this too means ‘to lay down our lives for the brethren (1John 3:16}, and I hope the reward for this will be great. As the Lord placed Joseph in Egypt in time of famine to feed his brethren so He placed you in the position to serve the community.” (Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart, Faber and Faber, 3 Queen Square, London 1975, pp. 346-7) It is interesting to take note that which our Lord considers a sign of the greatest love on may possess, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13)–these saints liken to our work for those with whom we live together.
You should also consider and apply to your life the following words of the aforementioned Athonite monk which he spoke to me concerning work in a monastic community: “The elder emphasizes the Liturgy as the center of our life. This is in accord with the greatest commandments of the Gospel: the first is to love God and the second is to love our neighbor as ourselves. To live the liturgy is to live for others more than for ourselves; therefore it is the fulfillment of this commandment. Everyone has a different program in the monastery, we serve and work for the community. Our program should not be to seek things we want or to have time for ourselves, but to help others without any resistance when we are asked.” If you consider the work you do for your family as a sacrifice of yourself for others which is pleasing to God then it will be a means of attaining God’s grace manifesting itself in tenderness of heart and as an increase in love.
Hope then, through the raising of your children to increase in the grace of God. Do not expect it to be easy, do not expect to be free from struggles and do not expect to be free from falls. Do not expect to have a “spiritual life” according to what you think it should be, rather be obedient and humble, sacrifice yourself and struggle, this leads to holiness.
And fulfilling this you will not only save yourself but by your example you will be as a light to your children and also lead them upon the saving path of the life-giving gospel commandments. Especially struggle to be patient, pray for patience. At the time of struggle, do not fight against painful situations and suffering but rather accept them and pray for patience. Be patient every day in everything. If you can do this then you can bear the fruit of peace.
As a Mother Your Great Hope…
As a mother your great hope for your children should be that they will become saints. Probably the greatest joy among those in heaven will be the joy of the mother of a saint. In this world when anyone, whoever it may be, becomes successful at something and others rejoice with that person, the joy is really greatest for the mother of that individual. So then just think what an inexpressible joy it will be in the kingdom of heaven to see your children clothed with glory from God. Those children who came into being and grew in your womb, those children whom you cared for as helpless infants, who you instructed and guided in their youth and for whom you prayed so much in their times of trouble, even if they are not great saints, to see them clothed with glory from God in the heavenly kingdom, what a joy this will be! Only a mother can know this, no one else, for this is a special joy which God has reserved in His kingdom for mothers.
We were created in the image of God, so then we are good, we are beautiful, we are important to God, this is true for each and every one of us. God adorned man with many gifts and the greatest gift is theosis. Through the Incarnation of the Son of God, in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, this has become a living reality for us. But what is theosis? A hieromonk of Iveron Monastery said to me:
“According to Orthodoxy the Gospels say that the main purpose in life is theosis, that is, to arrive at union with God and everything else in life is a consequence. And that God came in the person of Jesus Christ so that man could become God, of course, by grace. And just like all the saints who reached union with God can be like Him too, so we, too, should try to become like the saints and become holy. To give an example for us in life we have first of all Christ Who was the first saint and then we have all the saints after Him, divine human beings. When you look at the saints you see what holy people are, the saints are proper human beings, true and authentic, spontaneous and genuine human beings: it is we who tend to be false. I think that we can overcome that falseness in the Church.”
This is ultimately what every Christian is called to, whether bishop, priest, monk, or layman. The way in which one lives out this calling is different and no matter who one’s spiritual father is, the calling is the same. It is the fulfillment of the vows given at Baptism. But how is this pursued by a mother of many children living in the world?
The Apostle John the Theologian writes: “as He is, so are we in this world.” We must live a life in Christ. We must act as He did in His earthly life. We must fulfill His Gospel commandments. Christ said, “He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me; and he that loveth me shall be loved by my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” But which in particular relates to a mother in the world who has children? Well, Christ told us to love one another and He said that He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. Moreover, He not only preached with words, but also taught by example. He washed the feet of His disciples and He also served them at the sea of Tiberias after His resurrection. Again Christ said, “No greater love does a man have than this that he lay down His life for his friends.” A mother is called to lay down her life for her children and this is a great act of love. It is not something done part time or only for a few years, but it is life-long. And because of this service, because of this sacrifice, we can say of her, “as He is, so (is she) in this world.” However, this must be done as an act of humble submission to the will of God and with much love. Then this will attract the grace of God. As the outcome of this struggle you can acquire virtues like patience, peace, humility and love. These are the same things a monastic hopes for, but his pathway to them is different. He who has these things has God, he who lives in this manner lives in God.
Another concern seems to be the difficulty of pursuing a deep prayer life in the role of a housewife and mother. For a deeper prayer life one needs to reach a certain state of freedom from the dominion of sin. Thus a Divine transformation takes place within and grace buds forth in the heart, as a more or less abiding state. This is what it means for prayer to be rooted within a person. So pray as much as you are able in role of a mother and a wife, but do not be dismayed over not having as much time as you want to develop a deeper prayer life. Prayer will become deeper as a long drawn out process of a crucifixion of the old man takes place. As the passions are lulled, prayer will blossom in the heart. Your asceticism is the perseverance in the commandments of God, in the role of a mother as mentioned above. Above all, be patient, every day, in everything.
Prayer for Mothers:
O Lord Jesus Christ our God Who didst come into this world not to be ministered unto but to minister and to give Thy life as a ransom for many. Help me, I beseech Thee in my ministry of caring for the children Thou hast given me. Enable me to be patient in tribulations, to instruct with a meek and gentle spirit, to reprimand with inner tranquility and a sober mind, and to serve in humility of heart with love. May I thus live in Thee alone, by Thee alone and for Thee alone showing forth Thy virtues and leading my family upon the path of Thy saving commandments. That we may glorify Thee together with Thine unoriginate Father and Thine all-holy Spirt both in this world and that which is to come. Amen.