Respect Your Elders

On the day of the Holy Prophet Elisha

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I. One day, Prophet Elisha, whose feast we celebrate today, entered the city of Bethel, where the populace were drowning in wickedness. Their wickedness had gotten so bad that the fathers did not teach their children piety. The venerable elder was met by crowd of children who laughed at his external imperfections, and at the fact that he had no hair on his head. The children called after him, “Get out, baldy!” The prophet Elisha looked at them sadly and saw that there was nothing good or kind in their hearts. He judged their actions, and God confirmed His prophet’s judgment. Two she-bears came out of the forest and tore the children apart. Forty-two children perished.

II. God’s wrath, which at Elisha’s word destroyed the children who mocked the holy elder-prophet, gives us, brothers, cause to talk to you today about why we must show honor and respect to our elders and people in general who are older than us.

This basis for respect toward our elders is as follows.

a) Deep old age is quite often the reward for piety and obedience to God’s will (cf. Gen. 15:15; Is. 65:20; Zech. 8:4). If only for the fact that God’s blessing rests upon elders, expressed by their longevity, they deserve our deep respect. Rudeness, disrespect, and pitilessness toward elders is placed on the level of such moral ignorance as is found only with barbaric peoples and insolent and godless mockers (cf. Deut. 28:50; Is. 47:6; Jer. 5:12); Wisdom 2:10).

b) Elders deserve our deep respect also because God gave them a long life so that they would fulfill some important goal in service to God, Church, and fatherland. Thus, the prophet Elias once sought death for himself, but God pointed out to him a new service for the good of the people of Israel (1 Kings 19:4). Those who perform good deeds aimed at the glory of God should be especially honored.

c) The long life of God-fearing people deserves respect not only because it is extremely beneficial for their children and descendants (Wisdom 2:10), but also because their living examples of strict piety reach far and are passed down to distant descendants (grandchildren and great-grandchildren). The righteous Job, after becoming even more righteous by enduring terrible trials, lived a long life. And how long? Twice the number of his previous years, so that he saw his children to the fourth generation—his great-grandchildren (Job 42:16). Altogether, the righteous Job lived 210 years, and according to the seventy interpreters, even more. Moreover, the fewer the strong believers in subsequent generations or in a particular region, the more Heavenly Providence supports on earth such pillars of faith and piety, who, for this reason alone, deserve deep reverence."

d) Then there is the direct command to respect elders, no matter who they are. The Lord, through Moses, commands Israel on how to treat one’s elders: You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God (Lev. 19:32). This means that, no matter who the elder is or what they are like, you should be polite and respectful to him.

e) Finally, sound reason tells us that since the younger generations owe all their spiritual and material benefits in life to the elder generations, for this reason alone, the younger should respect and be grateful to their elders. St. Paul says, Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.... Be not highminded, but fear (Rom. 11:18, 20). “You are the leaves, you are the young shoots on the branch; the branch is on the limb, the limb is on the trunk, and the trunk is on the root of the great tree of society and the Church,” says hierarch Nikanor, Archbishop of Kherson, addressing the younger generation with these words of the Apostle.

“Do not boast, weak leaf! Do not be conceited, young shoot! You are still living entirely on someone else’s life; you are still absorbing someone else’s vital juices. Review all your good deeds that you have managed to accomplish from the day of your birth until now. Nothing, or some insignificant chance event, and even that was more likely directed towards your peers rather than for the benefit of the older generation. Look at it the other way around: this older generation has fed, protected, clothed, and educated you with their labor for this. Do not boast on the branches, light leaf, in the impulses of fanciful self-conceit, thinking you will be better than us, or that you are already better than us. Live as long as we have, and then cast the stone of judgment at us. And remember, your children will throw the same, or even heavier stone at you. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you; let it toil there in the earth, in darkness, in decay; and you, blown by the breezes of youthful fantasy and not yet dashed hopes, are striving towards the sun... You will not fly far. If destined for the life of the whole tree, you will become part of the branch or even the trunk, like us. But if you tear yourself away from the root, you will rot, and that’s all... Do not be arrogant, but have fear”. (See Homilies, Speeches, and Discourses by Nikanor, Archbishop of Kherson and Odessa, V:107–111).

III. There are many elders whom young people, whether out of duty as leaders or out of Christian love, must admonish or restrain from uncommendable actions. However, even in these cases, young people should act as gently and respectfully as possible towards these elders. Apostle Paul writes to the young bishop Timothy: Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity (1 Tim. 5:1–2). If even those young people who have authority over their elders are required to treat them with filial respect, how much more respectful should others be towards them?

Archpriest Gregory Dyachenko
Translation by


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