[Part 2 of a 10 part series of book notes
taken from On the Upbringing of Children by Bishop IRENAIUS]
Laying the Foundations
“The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7). On this basis, the first virtue parents must cultivate in their children’s souls as early as possible is, I think, the fear of God — that is to say, faith in and devotion to Him.” (p 13)
- It is especially mothers that must teach the children piety from infancy since they have a primary role in the child’s survival even while the child is in the womb. The bond of mother and child is like altogether unique and thus the influence of godliness here is powerful.
- Being taught godliness in one’s youth can serve to protect him or her from the onslaught of temptations from the world, the flesh and devil that surround one later in life.
“Even if the child is later conquered by sinful passions or deceived by evil examples and steps onto a bad road, he will still more easily repent and more quickly return to the path of good than oen who was not taught the Christian principles in his childhood…the sweet memories of childhood have awakened many from the lethargy of sin and brought them again close to God. Understand therefore, what a great blessing it is for a children to have devout mothers! In their most tender years they teach them to have faith in God and piety.” (pp 13-14)
“As soon as children begin to comprehend, the parents should teach them the Symbol of Faith, how to pray and chant, and the order of the Divine Services…Mothers, teach your young children to cross themselves. If they cannot make the sign of the Cross by themselves, sign them yourselves with your own hands…it should be a very pleasant thing for a Christian mother to teach her small child to utter the most sweet name of Jesus while his voice is yet weak and his tongue stammering.” (p 14)
– St John Chrysostom
Ways to begin to laying the foundations:
- Speak with heartfelt words to children as often as possible about their good and compassionate Heavenly Father who loves them and gives us every good thing.
- Teach about the first people in Paradise, and how happy they were when obedient to God. Heaven will be incomparably blessed for those who obey God and their parents.
- Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God and because of this sin, they and all people after them became unhappy.
- Therefore, the Savior had to come down to earth so that men could enter Heaven, which God had closed because of the sin of the first parents.
- Teach about the Nativity of Christ, the life of Jesus of Nazareth including the Cross, the tomb, the Resurrection and the Ascension.
- Then tell the child about the Mother of God – Her entrance into the Temple at age three and Her life. Furthermore, that She also loves mankind because of her Son and she prays for us and is able to fulfill the requests of those who pray to Her.
- Talk to the child about the holy angels, especially his or her guardian angel.
- Take advantage of the feast days to teach the child about great truths of the holy faith.
- Use holy icons and the crosses that we wear to teach our children about Christ and his Saints.
- Everyday take the child to the icon corner and cross yourself and the child. This will gradually teach the child to make the sign of the Cross and pray by him or herself.
- Finally and most importantly, she must not fail to bring her child to church and the Spotless Mysteries every Sunday.
“Doing all this, the good mother will teach her child the basic truths of Christianity, which even the smallest child is able to assimilate, even before he starts going to school. Children show greater receptivity than adults to all that relates to the Divine; it is sufficient that they grow up under the influence of pious mothers.” (p 16)
- Pray often with your children: in the morning, evening and at meals. Every child should know the “Our Father”, the “Theotokos Virgin rejoice” and other short prayers.
“It is a very grievous thing that common family prayer has almost completely disappeared in our age. Indeed, it is exactly for this reason that we see so many unhappy families and so many failures in child-rearing–men have ceased to pray. … The Psalmist tells us how pleased God is with the prayers of children: ‘Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings has the Thou perfected praise’ (Psalm 8:3).” (pp 17-18)
- Parents must first of all be pious and God-fearing themselves before they can give their children Christian training.
- Parents themselves must have faith and love to pray before they can teach their children.
- Teach children by example (including how and when to pray).
- Catechists and teachers labor in vain if Christian foundations are not first laid at home.
“Therefore, parents, raise your children for God and Heaven! Then you will also have joy from them here on earth.” (p18)
About the book…
“It was not that long ago that pious parents raised their children to become Saints, to serve God in this world and the next. Perhaps only two generations ago, parents were still raising Saints in Orthodox countries. But the success of anti-Christianity in our time has been so complete that concern for one’s own salvation is considered, at best, a harmless eccentricity, while concern for one’s children’s salvation is sometimes even considered dangerous by forward-looking educators…To parents struggling in this cold modern climate, we off a small book of timeless guidance on how to teach virtues to children. The homilies in this book were originally published in Russia in 1901. The times have changed considerably since then, but human nature has not. We still have the age-old struggle with the passions, the world, and the fallen spirits. We must still strive to train out own and our children’s souls to the high ideals of holiness given us by Christ. May God grant that this book may assist parents in their difficult and delicate task of raising children fit for His Kingdom.“
– St. Xenia Skete (October 13/26, 1991)