The following excerpt is from the book Saint Silouan the Athonite by Elder Sophrony. I have especially treasured the passage that I am about to present. This is the kind of Orthodox father I have wanted to be and tried to be. I failed, of course, but this still is my ideal, even though I am no longer raising my sons. Now, my main task seems to be praying for them, that they will overcome any faults in themselves which they have inherited from me. I wanted to be an Orthodox father, and I still try to be. This was my ideal from the beginning, when I first read this passage at the age of 27 or 28. Speaking of the youth of Saint Silouan of Mount Athos, the passage begins…
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!’
Timing… timing, love and gentleness, these are what I have tried to live my life by. What of firmness? Well, it is one thing to be firm with others, another to be firm with oneself. I have tried to be the latter, and to exercise firmness with my sons only with great discretion.
Love covers all offenses.
And one more thought, a reminiscence, my Dad…
I was 17 years old, had just gotten my driver's license, and had not yet really learned how to handle a car in all situations. I was working the 2nd shift at the country post office where my Dad was the superintendant. It was after midnight, and a drizzly sort of night, and I was going home. Filled with the sense of power I had, driving my Dad's new station wagon, I took a curve at too high a speed, rolled the car into a ditch, breaking the windshield and all the windows, lost my glasses and bumped my head really bad, but the car bounced back onto its wheels and was driveable. I drove the 18 miles to my house, my Mom was up waiting for me, but Dad was already in bed, snoring. She opened the door and asked, ‘Norm, are you alright?’ and then looked at the car, roof smashed down and all the edges lined with grass poking out of sod fragments. She hurried me in, and then went and woke up my Dad. I went with her.
‘What happened, Norm?’ he asked. I made up a story of how there must've been oil on the road when I took that curve and rolled his new car into the ditch. He slowly got up and got dressed, ‘Where did it happen?’ he asked, then, ‘Let's go and see if we can find the windshield and get the license sticker off of it, so it can't be traced.’ We went down and found the sticker and tore it off the shattered windshield, and drove home. We both went back to bed. I feared for my life in the morning.
What did Dad do? Nothing. He just started driving his jalopy to work, tried to salvage parts off the new car (he worked on cars), and rescheduled me to work in the Dead Letter department during his working hours, since we now had only one car in the family. He never blamed me or punished me or even mentioned what happened again. He took the loss, and acted as if he never had that new car.