Hate Your Father?

Do you hate your father? Do you hate your mother? Christ says: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26).

Of course, any Christian with a modicum of understanding knows that such a verse is not to be taken literally. Christ does not mean that we should hate anyone. He certainly does mean that nothing, not even wife and children, should come between us and the Kingdom of God. In truth, we do not truly love our wives and children (and others) rightly if we love them in a manner that comes between us and the Kingdom. The verse is a parallel to Matt. 10:37: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”

But the above represents a short, and obvious lesson in reading the Scriptures. A similar verse:

Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven (Matt. 23:9).

Despite the long-running attempts of certain Protestants to distort this verse – it has nothing to do with how priests are addressed or calling our earthly fathers, “father.” Some (in English) feel secure from the strictures of this verse when they call their earthly fathers, “Dad, or Daddy, Papa, etc.” as if Christ somehow only meant to forbid a certain word.

The statement concerning our earthly fathers belongs to the same category of statement as the one in Luke 14. They are statements given to us in such an extreme form that their value lies in their ability to startle. The application of Matthew 23:9 to the title of priests distorts its meaning and perverts Christ’s intention. The only value remaining in such a twisted interpretation is its usefulness in insulting otherwise honorable persons.

But what do we make of Christ’s intentions? What is it about honoring father and mother, sister and brother that provokes such startling statements? In many respects, modern culture is unable to hear the force of these statements because family has lost its once hallowed position. Within the circle of Christ’s followers (and their culture), family was deeply important. Peter and Andrew are brothers, as are James and John. James the “Brother of the Lord,” is the son of Joseph the Beloved and becomes the leader of the early Jerusalem community. He is followed by Simeon, another “Brother of the Lord.” Research in the traditions surrounding the twelve reveal yet more family connections. Not surprisingly, the early Christian Church was rife with extended family as was all of ancient society.

Only in our modern period has family ceased to be the most dominant aspect of human culture. Today it is not unusual for people to relocate and live at some distance from parents, grandparents and other members of the extended family. Indeed, with the shrinking size of immediate families, the extended family is becoming quite insignificant.  Brothers and sisters (and aunts and uncles) are virtually extinct in modern China with its “one-child” policy.  The bonds of blood have thinned almost to the point of irrelevancy.

But in their time, almost nothing carried more power than blood ties. Thus Christ’s language of “hating” father and mother would have been shocking in the extreme.  His words take the Kingdom of God into the very deepest recesses of human loyalty and challenge the instincts of our flesh. Family, given to us by God and blessed, can become idolatrous. Its inherent natural powers all too easily allow family to become the center of life.

The Church’s Tradition is filled with stories of family ruptures over the call of Christ’s kingdom. Monastics leave father and mother, renouncing all family ties, and enter the strange world bloodless devotion. Husbands and wives are betrayed by their unbelieving spouses and endure martyrdom.

For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household (Matt. 10:35-36).

Christ’s last conversation to Peter comes to us all, “Do you love me more than these?”

With today’s families lying in ruins, Christ’s question can become hollow. It may even be an excuse to ignore God-given duties. It would be very apt today to ask, “Do you love family more than career?” We live in a time when economic policies of various sorts work directly against the stability of family – and extended family in particular. Those individuals who will not re-locate will not climb the economic ladder. Family and Mammon put our loyalties to the test. Mammon is winning.

The same Christ who revealed Himself as the proper subject of our loyalty, has also revealed Himself as the friend of family. Blood-ties are not necessarily contrary to the Kingdom. The opposite is true. Holiness often seems to run in families. Perhaps the most notable example is the family of St. Basil the Great. His grandmother, St. Macrina the Elder, was a powerful influence for holiness. His parents, Basil the Elder and Emmelia are honored as saints. He was one of nine children, five of whom are honored as saints in the calendar of the Church. There are other such examples.

In the modern period we have the testimony of St. Silouan of Mt. Athos, who described his own peasant father as “wiser than any spiritual father” that he knew on the holy mountain. In the lives of the saints there are far more examples of men and women rising in sanctity who were first nurtured in that direction by their parents. There are others, to be sure, such as St. Mary of Egypt and St. Moses the Black, whose backgrounds provide the material for great conversion stories.

At a time when family is in great decline, holiness wanes as well. The wounds and demons nurtured in our broken societies are the stuff of great spiritual warfare. The simple struggle for a life of “normalcy” may be a greater spiritual achievement in our time than the great feats of the desert fathers. This is known only to God.

Grant us grace, O God, to rightly honor those whom we call “father,” and grant them to rightly divide the word of Thy truth.


About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



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35 responses to “Hate Your Father?”

  1. John Shores Avatar
    John Shores

    It seems to me that it is simpler to love a god than to love your physical father or mother. People disappoint. Whatever we believe about god is entirely subjective. Hence, it is simpler to believe in a perfect god who loves me unconditionally than to fool myself into believing the same about my own physical father.

    From my perspective, it is a greater demonstration of character and wholeness if one can love his own physical father who he has seen than to love god who he has not seen.

  2. dinoship Avatar

    Fantastic post!

    there is a distinct difference and a certain element of magnanimousness and dignity if I love my own father, (or any other human person), not simply because I feel an attachment to them, but because the God I love first, loves those persons…
    This manifesting and proving the 1st commandment (of loving one’s God with all one’s being) through the fulfillment of the 2nd commandment (of loving one’s neighbor as one’s self), is a totally different thing to just the 2nd commandment on its own – which can sometimes resemble the ‘Tower of Babel’ mentality of working ‘lovingly’ together, but with God out of the equation…

  3. John Avatar

    Why do you feel a need to be called “Father” and to be honored? I don’t really like to be called “brother” because it is somewhat like a title. I prefer simply “John.” How can you be humble and desire a title and to be honored?

  4. PJ Avatar


    Christians have, from the start, called their leaders “elders” and “fathers.” These terms are thoroughly biblical.

    Notice how the Apostle John addresses the spiritually mature as fathers and the spiritually immature as children in this hymn:

    “I am writing to you, dear children,
    because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
    I am writing to you, fathers,
    because you know him who is from the beginning.
    I am writing to you, young men,
    because you have overcome the evil one.

    14 I write to you, dear children,
    because you know the Father.
    I write to you, fathers,
    because you know him who is from the beginning.
    I write to you, young men,
    because you are strong,
    and the word of God lives in you,
    and you have overcome the evil one.”

    And the Apostle Paul wrote of himself, “I became your father through the gospel.”

    We should not crave honor, but neither should we shun it. To do so is frankly a form of pride. We should also desire to honor our elders, be they biological or spiritual: “Father” is the traditional term of honor, as is evident from Scripture and the ancient non-canonical writings.

    Do not confuse American egalitarianism (“Just call me John”) with true Christian humility.

  5. PJ Avatar

    “From my perspective, it is a greater demonstration of character and wholeness if one can love his own physical father who he has seen than to love god who he has not seen.”

    You are rightly called “John,” for your namesake wrote, “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

  6. dinoship Avatar

    I fully agree. It can actually require great humility to obey the Church and become a respected ‘Father’, when your will is not to.

  7. PJ Avatar

    ” I don’t really like to be called “brother” because it is somewhat like a title”

    I don’t mean to be rude, but are you speaking earnestly? This sounds like a parody of a parody of radical Anabaptist rhetoric.

    The Church is not, was not, and never will be a democracy. Hierarchy isn’t a Constantinian perversion: it is the work and intention of Christ and His apostles.

  8. Rhonda Avatar

    John wrote:
    “Why do you feel a need to be called ‘Father’ and to be honored?…How can you be humble and desire a title and to be honored?”

    The great majority of priests do not become priests so that they may be called “Father” nor out of desire for honor or a title! The education to become a priest (bachelors degree & a masters of divinity from a seminry) are very expensive (often > $100,000). And for what? Monetarily the pay is poor & the fringe benefits virtually non-existent at best while the work is spiritually & physically demanding beyond most professions as they are on-cll 24/7. Just take a good look at any priest at the end of Great Lent & Holy Week & you will see what I mean! Most enter the priesthood out of the desire to help others as they follow their path of salvation. They sacrifice much in the process. Believe me, they more than merit the venerable title of “Father” 🙂

  9. Rhonda Avatar

    Well done, Fr. Stephen! I have an on-going discussion with a very well-meaning Protestant coworker on this very topic. Great timing as usual.

  10. Rhonda Avatar

    Easy there, PJ! As a former Protestant, I can attest that Protestants for the most part are not well-versed in Church history, the Church Fathers or Church Tradition, at least not with any depth or accuracy. Most really do mean well & desire truth in their faith but they have been fed for years much erroneous information. Until they understand these errors, they cannot be swayed from them. Words must be carefully chosen that will not inflame & bolster preconceived notions.

  11. PJ Avatar


    I didn’t mean to come off brusquely. My apologies. Anyway, John has been around these parts for a while. He knows none of us mean any harm, even if we get a bit blustery from time to time. ‘Specially me. I’m all bark and no bite. 😉

    That said, I am genuinely surprised by his statement. Christians have called one another “brother,” “sister,” “father,” and “mother” for two thousand years. Every one of these (save “mother”) appears in Scripture. Yet he suggests that these are below his pristine and (supposedly) primordial Christianity.

    As for the bit about hierarchy, it is important to note that Christian hierarchy is (ideally) a hierarchy of love and service. Thus the loftier one’s post, the greater one’s call to charity and self-emptying.

  12. fatherstephen Avatar

    Sorry to be a few hours in answering – it means you have to hear others first. 🙂

    First, I plead guilty to having about as much ego as the next guy. I admire your humility and desire not to be honored.

    Second, I will also say that the “Father” thing was not my idea. Orthodoxy has done this to its priests for 2000 years. I accept the givenness that goes with my life.

    Third, my children (4 of them now grown) call me “Papa.” It is right for them to do this because I am, in fact, their earthly father, and they are commanded to honor me and their mother. It’s for their good that they keep the commandment. Of course, I’ll admit that I’ve always been pleased with the sound of their voices when they say, “Papa,” because they love me. I have all sorts of little names that I call them in return. It’s what love sounds like. That the culture of the Christian Church has nurtured appropriate names and titles is simply a way of saying that it’s actually a culture. Restorationists have a culture too. But unless you admit it, then you can’t look at it and critique it. The Scripture commands Christians to honor their leaders and even to obey them. It is useful to them to recognize such leaders with some form of address. It’s the same reasoning behind the canons that require Orthodox priests to be visibly identifiable (traditionally that has meant cassock, etc., though in modern practice it is sometimes just a clerical collar).

    When a highway patrol officer pulls you over, do you call him “Sir,” or “Officer?” I sure do. On the other hand, as a gray-haired 58 year-old man, I find it somewhat demeaning to be addressed as “you guys” by a waiter or waitress that is younger than my children. Whatever happened to respect in this culture? I think we need more and not less. A bit less “democratizing” and a little more hierarchy would be a good thing. The cult of youth has nearly destroyed us. I don’t think you are teaching your people respect with protests of humility. We should act our age and not apologize for having a little authority.

    I was set aside and ordained by the Church. In accepting that, I agreed to live by the canons governing priests, including obedience to my bishop and others in authority over me. I am, indeed, a spiritual father in the life of the Orthodox Church. Certainly sinful and no better than others. But it is fitting that the office of priesthood be held in respect. For 2000 years the title that has gone with that has been “father” (in a lot of different languages). I accept that. If I fail to live up to the “orders” into which I was placed, then the same Church has promised to remove me, discipline me, or depose me and return me to the ranks of the laity where my sins will be judged less harshly.

    In my experience, wearing a beard and a cassock and walking around in modern American culture, I get about as many insults as I do respect. It’s no great bargain. 🙂 Try being yelled at and spit at by strangers – comes with the territory.

    Again, in my experience, none of us who are bold enough to stand in a pulpit (including yourself) and proclaim the gospel are immune to the temptations of the ego. I’m sure that being called “father” is not a temptation for a Church of Christ pastor. Perhaps preferring to not be called anything and telling me about it is a temptation. I don’t know.

    As a young priest, I think I was more than once impressed with myself. Everyone (like a new Doctor) is impressed in such ways. I’ve been doing this for 32 years now. As far as the “honor” goes – I’m over it. I’m a sinful old priest who has another 20-30 years left in this life after which I will have to give an account for what I’ve done with it. That accounting is more real to me now than the flattery of my earlier years. “Father” has been among the least temptations.

    It’s strange, if you live in a culture that has titles and such as a normal thing, it doesn’t interfere much with humility. It’s the false humility of democracy, where every man’s a pope, that seems more dangerous to me.

    So, that’s pretty much everything I think on the topic. 🙂

  13. PJ Avatar

    “Try being yelled at and spit at by strangers – comes with the territory.”

    Right. I’m good friends with a couple Catholic priests, and given that we live in a secular and liberal area, they tend to get far more stink-eyes and insults than smiles and compliments.

    “It’s strange, if you live in a culture that has titles and such as a normal thing, it doesn’t interfere much with humility. It’s the false humility of democracy, where every man’s a pope, that seems more dangerous to me.”

    This sounds like something out of Lewis or, better yet, Chesterton.

  14. Rhonda Avatar

    “…yelled & spit at…comes with the territory.” Sounds like my line of work in corrections 😉

  15. Todd Avatar


    I was surprised when I read, “Every one of these (save mother) appears in Scripture.”
    I have always understood the words of our Lord, in Mark 10:30, as referring to spiritual mothers. Maybe that’s just my own slant.

  16. PJ Avatar

    Interesting, Todd.

  17. Mike Avatar

    I wonder if we impose on “hate” an emotional feeling that was not necessarily the point of Jesus’ words. I think Jesus is speaking about detachment and priorities more than rejection. It is about living and experiencing life as larger than biological existence. Our ultimate identity is as children of God the Father. When this is the lens through which we see ourselves we are free to more truly and authentically love and honor our earthly father, mother, and siblings.

  18. fatherstephen Avatar

    The Greek is miseo, “hate,” or “detest.” It’s about as strong a word as I know in Greek for “hate.” I think the point is to intentionally shock. Thus, no, the verse is not to be taken literally and true love of God certainly corrects and heals our love for family. But Jesus frequently uses exaggeration and things that are contrary to reason in order to turn us upside down so we can see rightside up. Or so it would seem.

  19. John Avatar

    I think you are correct on the shock teaching. I have mentioned this style in our Bible classes more than once. I think this ‘hate’ text, the cut off your hand, gouge out your eye texts, and the body and blood texts are examples of the same. They are addressing the seriousness of Jesus’ point and not to be taken literally themselves. They are perhaps in the same general category as Peter’s Joel quote in Acts 2.19-20.

    My question is: why do you take the body and blood texts literally and not the other two?

  20. John Avatar


    The assumption of your question assumes that the writings in the gospels came first and then the practices of the Church. Not so. What did Christians do for 30 years before the gospels and epistles were written?

    We take It literally because the Faith informed the interpretation and not the interpretation the Faith.

    There is more to be said but I do not like typing on this tablet. I’m a keyboard kind of guy, not a touch screen fan. Others can say more but I wanted to point out an assumption that I think I see in your question.

  21. PJ Avatar

    “My question is: why do you take the body and blood texts literally and not the other two?”

    1. Context

    2. The universal witness of the church for fifteen centuries

    Of course, even “body” and “blood” are not taken “literally literally,” so to speak. The Eucharist is not a little bit of skin, like a scab. There is a reason why the priest calls the contents of the chalice a “spiritual drink.” And, as St. Thomas notes, “Christ’s body is not in this sacrament [the Eucharist] as in a place,” and “in no way is Christ’s body locally in this sacrament” (Summa Theologica 3:76:5). Indeed, there is a heresy for taking the Eucharist too “literally.” I believe it’s called Capharnitism.

    It is probably more correct to say that “body” and “blood” are taken mystically instead of either “literally” (like Capharnites) or, in the modern sense, “symbolically” (like Baptists).

  22. fatherstephen Avatar

    Good question. Glad we agree on the shock texts.

    My answer would be on two grounds, one “internal” and the other “external.” Internal to the text itself – to compare the body and blood texts with the “shock” texts – in John 6, you have a fairly length discourse in which the question of Christ’s body (flesh) and blood is cited 6 different times. This is not the character of the shock verses, it seems to me. The Matt. 10:37ff passage gives a more extended treatment of the family question – and seems in a way to be a “watered down” version of the shock verse in Luke 14. Indeed it sort of goes on to explain it, thus providing a sort of corrective to any mistaken literalistic treatment of Luke 14.

    We have no such verses to correct anything in John 6. The Scriptures persist in using such language – in the institution narratives in the synoptic gospels and in 1 Corinthians 11. There is nowhere a treatment of the language of body and blood or flesh and blood that minimize or back them away from a “literal” interpretation.

    I would not use the word “literal” here, because it’s misleading, by the way. I would say that the words have a “real” rather than a “figurative” meaning. In Orthodoxy we say, “This is truly His body and this is truly His blood.” We do not engage in philosophical definitions of how that is true (as in transubstantiation). We believe “truly” is sufficient.

    My “external” evidence is that no where in the life of the early Church of the first few centuries, is there any interpretation of the Eucharist as anything other than “truly” His body and blood. The consensus of the faithful clearly interpreted the Scripture in a “real” manner in those instances.

    It’s often a very serious question, “Is this literal or not?” And to what do we appeal for help? Here we can, of course, appeal to internal evidence – it would be the first most obvious place to look. But we also (it would seem reasonable!) would ask, how did the earliest Christians read it and how have the faithful read it over the centuries?

    A non-real or figurative interpretation on those verses does not arise until the controversy surrounding Berengar of Tours in the 11th century in the West. And then, the arguments are all philosophical. The East did not engage in this controversy. A Church teaching offering a non-real interpretation does come around until the 16th century among some early Protestants (more or less Berengar revisited).

  23. PJ Avatar

    To be fair, there were Berengarian heretics from the start. In the first decades of the 100s, St. Ignatius strongly condemns them:

    “They withhold themselves from Eucharist and prayer, because they confess not that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which flesh suffered for our sins, and which in His loving-kindness the Father raised up.”

    John, man is a material creature. From the start, Christians recognized that holiness pertains to the body, not just the soul. Our members are purified and prepared for resurrection through contact with the very blood and flesh of Christ. We are made truly the “Body of Christ” through this most divine sacrament. Christianity is not at all Platonic: it speaks of God in the flesh and, therefore, salvation in the flesh.

  24. dinoship Avatar

    Thanks PJ, you just said what I wanted to say myself about ‘material creatures’…!

  25. fatherstephen Avatar

    I learned something today. Thanks.

  26. PJ Avatar

    The von Balthasar book?

  27. fatherstephen Avatar

    No. The passage in St. Ignatius. Though I would treat it differently (having spent some time with it today).
    I would not compare the heterodox of Ignatius’ time to Berengar. He is likely referring to a gnostic group, which seems to have been his nemesis. He says, ”

    They have no regard for charity, none for the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, none for the man in prison, the hungry or the thirsty. They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness, raised from the dead.”

    These are likely Gnostics who despise the material world altogether and therefore do nothing for the poor, etc. Neither Berengar or later Protestants belong in such a grouping.

    They certainly cannot be compared to the scholastics like Berengar who simply entertained odd philosophical speculation about the Eucharist. The Gnostics simply denied much of Christian teaching and offered their own odd stuff. In the history of ideas, theirs does not make the Darwinian track. It took history a fair number of centuries before “Christians” would deny the reality of the Eucharist.

  28. Westy Goes East Avatar
    Westy Goes East

    Is St Ignatius talking about the Docetists? Or are they from a different time period?

  29. Rhonda Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    Thanks for the “literal” vs. “real” verbage usage. I shall keep this in mind when in future discussions with the heterodox!

  30. Mule Chewing Briars Avatar

    To me, the John 6 material –were– “shock verses”, shocking not because they were so obviously not to be take literally, but because they so obviously were.

  31. Alan Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    Your response from 9/18 @ 4:05 is pure gold. That response could be in itself a great blog post.

    Thank you so much for your words of wisdom and for having the courage to call things the way they are.

  32. Alan Avatar

    John, far be it from me to try to add anything to Fr. Stephen’s response, as if I could do that. Nonetheless, I’m going to venture out onto very thin ice and attempt to do just that. Late in John 6, we read that “after this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.” Even Christ’s own disciples said “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” If Christ was speaking only figuratively about His body and blood, what would be so hard about that teaching, and why would many turn away from following Him over this teaching?

    Secondly, If the Eucharist was only figurative and only a remembrance ceremony, then why the stern warning in 1 Cor 11?

  33. drewster2000 Avatar

    I would like to take a stab at addressing John’s original question: (And by the way John, thanks for being such a vehicle of Christ on this post. You just never know when/where/how God is going to use you, do you?)

    “Why do you feel a need to be called “Father” and to be honored? I don’t really like to be called “brother” because it is somewhat like a title. I prefer simply “John.” How can you be humble and desire a title and to be honored?”

    I understand where he’s coming from. Gosh, why can’t we all just love each other and drop the titles?

    The crux of the matter revolves around what we think that title bestows upon us. Is it an honor? An ego-booster? Fr. Stephen certainly gave a good response to that side of it.

    It is a responsibility and a cross to bear, much more than anything to cause pride – especially if it’s taken seriously. And this conversation easily includes other positions of authority as well, i.e. police officer, mayor, superintendent.

    One reason a man is called Father is that we as children of God need God “with skin on”. We need a touchable, tangible person that we can look to, ask advice of, obey, call upon, receive instruction from, and so on. We need this person so that we are able to practice being children of God.

    I didn’t say we necessarily even LIKE needing someone to be our father, just that that we do in fact need him all the same.

    The second reason that I know of is that God has given certain men gifts to fulfill those roles. As I grow older I become increasingly convinced that He uses this role and “gift” in their lives to effect their salvation.

    As always there are those that miss the whole point of their calling and bask in the glow of the title. But there are also those men who get married for the sex and ignore their husband and father duties. When they do begin to take their roles seriously, the shiny-ness wears off the fancy titles pretty fast.

  34. […] was at odds with his own family and that he said “hate your father”, a statement that needs careful reflection).  Second, I have to get in a word about the issue of gay marriage.  I can agree with […]

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