As I have grown older in recent years, so much so apparently that my older brother is mistaken for my younger brother, I have had a recurring dream that gives me a great deal of comfort coupled with melancholy. It is a dream of very ordinary things, of happy days spent together with our family in those now distance years when all of our children where all of our children were still living under our roof. And the dream takes many forms, sometimes wrapped in the festive joy of the holiday season with gifts tucked beneath the branches of the tree or a blusterous summer days spent splashing in the sprinkler under the hickory trees in our spacious backyard in Nebraska and of rumbling down the road in my old ‘67 Plymouth convertible to get ice cream and to play at the park at sunset and in this life affirming dream of mine, there stands a central figure around whom these happy memories were built and that is my wife Denise. I may have never told her and if so not nearly enough how marvelously she fulfilled and continues to fulfill her role as mother to our children. Like the axle of a wheel securing the spokes that spin rapidly around her Denise has anchored our household to the elegant and often weary sum ministrations of motherhood that she accomplished with quiet grace.
Today is the day that we have set aside for the last one hundred years in America to honor our own wives and mothers. Today, is the day when conscious’ made guilty through neglect and ingratitude are momentarily assuaged to the offering to cards and kisses, flowers and dinners but beyond whatever sentiments we feel towards our wives and mothers lies the expressed theology of the Orthodox Church that forms and reinforces our view of motherhood. God’s eternal plan of salvation for the cosmos began with an announcement made by the archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she was to conceive the Divine Son in her womb and that this this timeless Son would take away the sins of the world. Salvation began with motherhood and so strident is our Orthodox theology in support of this central truth that we affirm the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos or the God bearer, as the mother of us all.
Hence Jesus speaks to St. John from the cross, “behold your mother.” The Orthodox faith also affirms that the first Pentecost occurred upon and within the Virgin Mary as the Holy Spirit overshadowed her to conceive the uncontainable “the Logos tou Theou, (Ο λογος του θεου) the Word of God in her womb. The very first place to be sanctified in the universe by the incarnate presence of the living God was the womb of the Virgin Mary. It is for this reason that the Orthodox Church has always and ever affirmed that the womb is a sacred place not to be violated. That to assault the life their engendered is to assault the great fabric of humanity itself.
A young mother is thrust into the mystery of motherhood as she feels new life quicken within her and as that mystical union of life begins. Her food, becomes the child’s food. Her rest becomes the child’s rest, if she is lucky, becomes the child’s rest and as that day of deliverance approaches, she begins readying her home for the day when a son or daughter is brought newly into the world and in fulfilment of our priestly ministry this process is bathed in prayer by the parish priest who must offer the prayers of the church to begin already creating that holy atmosphere of faith for the young life growing moment by moment within the mother’s womb.,
In our tradition, the mother and child remain somewhat sequestered for the first forty days of the baby’s life but do you know why? It is not because of any stain or impurity as some have wrongly suggested. Rather it is because just as Moses was forty days on Mt Sinai having received the Divine Commandments as recorded in Exodus 34 and just as his face glowed with a fiery brilliance of God from that encounter, so too the young mother has participated in the creative energies of God to such a lofty degree that her countenance radiates the reflection of God’s presence in this holy time set aside for mother and child for prayer and for contemplation.
Prophet Solomon wrote to this son about the inestimable treasure of a godly wife and mother when, in his 31st [chapter of] Proverbs, he says this:
Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies.
The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.
She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.
She seeks wool, and flax, and works willingly with her hands.
She is like the merchants’ ships; she brings food from afar.
She rises also while it is yet night, and gives meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.
She considers a field, and buys it: with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She girds her loins with strength, and strengthens her arms.
She perceives that her merchandise is good: her candle goes not out by night.
She lays her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.
She stretches out her hand to the poor; yes, she reaches forth her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.
She makes herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.
Her husband is known in the gates, and when he sits among the elders of the land.
She makes fine linen, and sells it; and delivers girdles unto the merchant.
Strength and honor are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.
She looks well to the ways of her household, and eats not the bread of idleness.
Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.
Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.
Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.
But there are many today who have suggested that being a mother is somehow a less important contribution to the family and to society than other more seemingly lucrative occupations that being only as some would say, “A mother isn’t enough.”
Our sin racked world’s blind devotion to the worship of that ancient demonic principality whose name is mammon, has further blinded it to the absolute essentiality of motherhood. And any land or nation or global economy that fails to truly value and meaningfully support the role and contributions of mothers is mercifully on its last legs.
A newly minted NBA coworker of mine once told me one morning how gratifying it was for him- and stay with me here this is complicated- how gratifying it was for him to pour his own cereal into a bowl and to pour his own milk into that bowl for breakfast.
At first, I thought he was joking but he was quite seriously trumpeting his accomplishment to me on the same morning that I had and I will never forget this, made; two over easy eggs on a bed of grits with sausage patties, toast and coffee in the thirty minutes before I hit the door for work in the morning. That what may be for a young college graduate a cause for rejoicing is for a mother simply another day as one day stretches into the next and each one filled with a host of thankless tasks.
But where many may overlook the sacred role of mothers to their young, the church knows from long experience that they provide the fertile seedbed into which the seed of faith is planted in the home.
St. Paul wrote to his young son Timothy to not neglect the training he received from his own sainted mother and grandmother and he wrote,
“I thank God whom I serve my forefathers with pour conscience that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day greatly desiring to see thee and being mindful of thy tears that I may be filled with joy when I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee which first dwelt in thy grandmother Lois and thy mother Eunice and I am persuaded in Thee also that wherefore I put in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God which is in Thee by the putting on of my hands for God has not given us the spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
The annals of church history record the contributions of a powerful host of women whose daily assault against the gates of hell on behalf of their children produced a generation of saints. Names like Zipporah, Asenath, Sarah, Rachel, Diana, Anna, Elizabeth, Mary, Sophia and Emilia—the list is a long one and it is being added to year by year from their times down to the present day by the unheralded ministry of mothers in the church.
I believe that the work of man’s life is nowhere better validated by the type of children he leaves behind. And the prophet David wrote about the necessity of leaving a spiritual legacy for our children in the 78th Psalm. He writes,
“Give ear O my people to my law, incline your ears to the words of my mouth and I will open my mouth in a parable, I will utter dark sayings of old which we have heard and known and our fathers have told us, we will not hide them from our children. Showing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord and his strength and his wonderful works that he has done for he established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel which he commanded to our fathers that they should make them known to their children that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born who should arise and declare them m to their children that they might set their hope in God and not forget the works of God but keep his commandments.”
My dreams and waking remembrances, I recall the many times that I heard the sweet and lilting voice of my wife patiently teaching our children the songs of the church and other children’s melodies of faith. I remember her teaching them their Sunday school lessons, their school lessons at home for she undertook her elementary education at home as well. With the patience that I could not fathom or comprehend let alone emulate and to this day whenever people have nice things to say about our children, my immediate reply is well they have an outstanding mother and I mean that with every fiber of my being.
But beyond the clichéd expressions of sentiment associated with Mother’s Day. How can we? How must we? As men, gentlemen, support and defend the vital role of motherhood today. It is one thing to decry the moral collapse around us day to day but quite another to be willing to stand in the gap. It is said that charity begins at home and more specifically Holy Scripture reminds us in the voice of St. Paul from 1 Timothy 5:8;
“But if anyone does not provide for his relatives and especially for his household he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
In loving and caring for our mothers, we are affirming life itself since it is through the agency of motherhood that life is brought into being and nurtured and that every Orthodox wedding service we men are commanded,
“Husbands love your wives just as Christ loves the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by washing with water through the Word to present her to himself as a radiant church without any stain or wrinkle or any other blemish but holy and blameless. In this same way husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies, he who loves his wife, loves himself, after all no one has ever hated his own flesh but feeds and cares for his body just as Christ does the church for we are members of his body.” (Ephesians 5:25-30a)
Our world has become before our very eyes a brutal place where children go to bed hungry in this country as in others, every night. Families languish for want of resources and opportunities while bleary eyed children with empty bellies struggle to focus on their school work in dangerous neighborhoods rife with crime and violence.
These sad scenes play out every moment in America and in the very heart of this maelstrom, one always finds mothers, working themselves well beyond the point of exhaustion to nurture their little ones. I was raised by an old fashioned father to believe that there is an essential difference between being a male of the species which is genetically determined and being a man which must be earned.
And as men, we have responsibilities to our wives and mothers that we cannot shirk in our pursuit of the brass ring of commercial success and acclaim and so this morning, men, we must recommit ourselves to doing our part in our homes and for our mothers as we do, we can always do more. To our mothers of our parish and to my own dear wife and the breathtaking wonder that she is to me, I ask for God’s strength, and for every blessing to sustain the life-giving ministry and the mystery that is motherhood into which you have been anointed to serve. And may she, who is the mother of our Lord, the Theotokos, and the mother of us all, intercede for our mothers today and for us all before the throne of her Divine Son, our God and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Happy Mother’s day!