Nourishing Children In Christ
By Olga Roshak
Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of God.” (Matt. 19:14) We as parents, have this awesome responsibility in directing our children to God.
How can we do so?
First of all, St. Seraphim’s words come to mind. “Save yourself and thousands will be saved around you.” The best place to begin is with oneself. We must be examples for our children. As St. Paul says, “...in speech, love, faith, and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.” Instead of always preaching to our children, our very life must be the expression of our Faith. Our love for our children must be sustained and sanctified by our love for Christ, and this love, the very Source of Life, must extend to all those around us.
Second, we can form daily habits to enrich our family lives and bring us closer not only to one another, but to our God.
Establishing Daily Habits
The first of these daily habits, which can supplement our morning prayers, is to begin each day, upon rising from bed, by making the sign of the cross and saying, “This is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Lighting the vigil lamp (which stands in front of the icon in the dining area) before meals is another daily ritual which most children love. If they are not old enough to light the lamp themselves, they can take turns blowing out the match and extinguishing the lamp’s flame after the meal. A prayer before every meal ought to be the norm. This prayer can be the Lord’s Prayer or the hymn of the feast day celebrated during that week. An appropriate closing prayer, such as “We give thanks to Thee, 0 Christ Our God…,” the kontakion of the weekly feast, or at least making the sign of the cross should be encouraged regularly. Since children are naturally musical, these prayers can be sung when possible to enhance the experience of praising God.
Bedtime is always a wonderful time to share Bible stories and lives of the saints with our children. Personalize the saints’ lives to include each child’s patron saint. Have a patronal icon for each member of the family and be present with the entire family when it is blessed by the priest. This helps the child to know his saint as a friend, one who is always interceding before the Lord on his behalf.
Night is often a scary time for children. We can explain to them that they are never alone. Not only is God with them, but so is their patron saint as well as their guardian angel, watching over each of them and protecting them. Thus, when a child is afraid, we can encourage him to call upon God, his patron saint and his guardian angel to help him not be afraid.
Bible stories can be paraphrased in simple language and told enthusiastically to your youngsters. If possible, try to follow the church calendar of daily readings for your selection of a Bible story on a given night. With younger children, the focus can simply be on the Sunday Gospel and Epistle reading. As a means of introduction, as well as reinforcement, the reading can be discussed daily on the week prior to that Sunday reading.
Teaching with Enthusiasm
Our enthusiasm is a must in kindling the spiritual fire in our children during these home instructions, thus making our regular attendance at divine services a natural expression of our desire to know God and to be with Him. How can we claim to love Him if we do not make an effort to know Him?
Father John of Kronstadt said, “If you teach children - your own or other people’s children - let this work become a service to God; teach with zeal, study beforehand in order to make your teaching clear, intelligible, as complete as possible, fruitful. We have to educate people not only to be learned and useful members of society, but also - and this is more important and necessary - kindly Godfearing Christians. Pray God, that from the sum of all acquired knowledge a harmonious whole may develop in the children’s souls - that sound Christian system of knowledge, rules, and practice, which represents the true Christian education. But if our pupils steal hours from the divine services in order to prepare lessons which deal, strictly speaking, with secular subjects; if. while in church, they worry about their homework so that the divine service cannot nourish their minds and hearts; if they are bored in church; then the pedagogic work will suffer, because the best education is undeniably that provided by the Church with its marvelous, heavenly services, which penetrate right into one’s inner being.”
We should mention the importance of using the language which our family can understand. It is equally important to be sure that we are worshipping in the same understandable language when we come together as the Church to partake of His Body and His Blood. St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians (Chapter 142, strongly urges us to see how imperative it is for us to speak in an understandable tongue; otherwise we “will be speaking into the air”.
Another remembrance of our Lord is simply to sign ourselves with the cross before beginning any task. Before a car trip, say aloud, “Lord, grant us a safe journey”, and make the sign of the cross. When we do this, we remind ourselves and our children of our constant witness that we cannot be Christians unless we live with the cross as the very content of our lives in this world. “If any man would come after Me, let him take up his cross and follow Me.” (Mark 8:34) We should make that sign of the cross with precision and care, rather than haphazardly. Remember that children learn by imitation.
The Festal Cycle
The Feast Days offer wonderful opportunities to make our faith alive in our homes. First, we could have separate icons of the Feasts. These can be ordered in laminated or paper form from several Orthodox bookstores - St. Vladimir’s Seminary, 575 Scarsdale Rd., Crestwood, N.Y. 10707, 914/961.2203; St. Tikhon’s Seminary Bookstore, South Canaan, Pa. 18459, 570/937-4411.
They are inexpensive and lend themselves easily to a decoupage project which can involve the entire family. These icons can be decorated with flowers; on Pentecost, for example, flowers and greens may be placed around the icons of the home, showing that God’s divine breath comes to renew all creation as a “life-creating Spirit”.
For Transfiguration, fruits and vegetables can be brought to church to be blessed as signs of the final transfiguration of all things in Christ. This shows the ultimate fruitfulness of all creation in the Kingdom of God where all things will be transformed by the glory of the Lord.
On the Feast of Dormition, flowers can be picked and brought to church to be blessed. The gathering of these physical things can be done by the family. After church, the family can bring them to a shut-in or hospitalized person as an expression of Christian sharing.
Likewise, for the Elevation of the Cross, a hand cross can be decorated with flowers and the hymn, “Before Thy Cross”, can be sung daily, with prostrations until the leave-taking of that feast.
For Epiphany, the child can fill a jar with water to take to church and add to the font. After the Great Blessing of Water, the child can refill his jar, bring it home and drink it. This blessed water is the liturgical testimony that the calling and destiny of creation is to be “filled with all the fulness of God”. (Eph. 3:19) When a family member becomes ill, this water can be given to drink; in this way we are asking God to heal us. Also a prosphora from a Divine Liturgy can be kept (after it has dried out) and pieces can be soaked in the holy water and eaten.
Observing the fasts of the Church is another way that we can lead our family to spiritual perfection. The fasts, however, should never be an end in themselves. Parents, with the guidance of their priest, should use their discretion as to how the children fast. We must take special care not to underestimate their ability and desire to fast!
As one can see, all of these simple practices involve prayer. It is prayer that is essential to Christian life. Our Lord Himself prayed and taught men to pray. We cannot be followers of Christ unless we pray to God. Personal prayer with our children should be kept simple. The Trisagion prayers and the daily remembrances of friends and relatives offer a good beginning. When we are able to visit the sick and the shut-ins with our children, we can pray with them and, when possible, bring them church bread as a sign of our having remembered them during the worship service.
The suggestions given here may be useful to parents in creating a more natural and spontaneous presence of the Church in your homes. Be sure, however, to use these tools carefully, by gradually adding them to your daily life.
1. What ways can you think of to enhance your family’s spiritual life as suggested in this article?
2. What special conditions or abilities of your family members should be considered in doing so?