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Archive for February, 2011

Who is an educated person?

While chatting with a good friend who is a teacher, I mentioned the idea that in order to teach children we have to know the goal or outcome we want. We should be very clear what it means to be educated because that is our goal for our children, isn’t it? “Who,” I asked her, “is an example of an educated man or woman? What makes them educated, and how did they get there?”

She is a great teacher and exemplary in many ways, but she had to admit that she never thought about education in that way. Which is the point … we all assume that we know what we mean by an educated person. But we might all be thinking of different things by the same word. That’s why educated people like to use definitions!

How would you define an educated person? Who are examples of such people?

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What is most valuable to us and to our children? Making the things of God most beautiful, and giving them first place in our life and in our children’s lives, will show our children what is most valuable and what we most value. Our home is not only our castle, but the evangelical witness of our values. Therefore, our icon corner should be more beautiful than our entertainment center. We should hold to the times of prayer more assiduously than getting to soccer practice on time. We should keep the feasts and fast more definitively than vacations and days off. Little by little the edifice of values is erected in the psyche of the family and children. Instead of filling them with stories about men who went from rags to riches, or praising people who succeeded in worldly pursuits, show them rather the people who overcame vice, stood up to untruth, and became holy as a result. Otherwise, what is the message?

With the best intentions we are trying to give our children wonderful experiences. We drive them to soccer, ice-hockey, karate, baseball, gymnastics, and ballet–even on Sunday mornings and Feast-days–but we have trouble getting them and ourselves to Church on time (or to Church at all)!

We can only squeeze so much juice out of the lemon of time. Time is even more valuable than money. How we spend the time of each day affects our whole family and ourselves. Make time for the most valuable things; set aside and guard the time for Church, for prayer, for study, and for time together as a family and community. Guard it as you would your most precious treasure. The day has so much meaning to it, and it too often passes in front of us like a blur.

St. Seraphim of Veritsa said that the persecution of our times will be a subtle turning away from ‘the way’: “… There will come a time when not the persecutions but the money and the goods of this world will take people far from God. And many more souls will be lost than in the time of persecutions …”*

Therefore, we need to pay attention and give first place to the things of God, the things that are of most value. Beware the whirl of unfruitful business.

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*(Life – Miracles – Prophecies of Saint Seraphim of Viritsa, trans. Fr. Nicholas Palis. Greece: Orthodox Kypseli Publications.)

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People send their children to our Orthodox Christian school for different reasons … very different reasons. They appreciate a safe environment, classes that are small, or classes that are able to meet their child’s unique needs. Their children might have had problems or were unhappy with their previous school experience. Maybe they were under-challenged. They like the Christian environment. One parent told us that he thinks it is good for his child to see men in black robes and beards, icons and be exposed to prayers … so many reasons, each one particular to a family. Though we realize that God calls people together in various ways, we want to make clear our goals and reasons for our Orthodox school. That won’t necessarily change the logic of the parents, but at least it will make clear what we are aiming at.

So why? We are doing something very normal as far as we are concerned. We believe in Christ, and we not only believe in Him but our senses and thinking have been changed as a result of knowing Him. Our curriculum is based on the Orthodox faith, on what we know and on how we as Orthodox Christians see the world, life, and ourselves. We proclaim in the Liturgy of St. Gregory, the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy: The Light of Christ Illumines All! Our understanding of history, geography, language arts, mathematics, science and etc. are affected and deepened by this Illuminating Light in a unique way. Someone said: “math is math.”  Is that true? Are subjects of study compact things without deeper meaning? Don’t they have lateral and vertical dimension and relate to other realms of knowledge? Whatever happened to the sense of what is behind or within or under the philosophical foundation or axioms that are the basis of what one studies?

There is no value-free, philosophy-free school or curriculum, as there is no house that doesn’t start with a foundation and build from there. That is why every political regime in modern history has fought to control the educational system. As parents, teachers, pastors and evangelists, we have a big stake in education from the ground up, not just higher education or “religious education.” Curriculum planners and teachers express their world view in what and how they teach. This is why Orthodox schools are vital.

Children need to be educated and need to understand the world from an Orthodox view, from teachers and parents that know Christ and see the world, life, and their own soul with the illumination of Christ. This is very important. The children need to be formed in this environment, but they need also to learn how to wrestle against the world view they will encounter after they leave our school or home.

This takes place while they are still within our influence. While you are riding to school, the children are looking around and drinking in what you aren’t seeing, and thinking about what you aren’t hearing. If you asked them who they should invite to their party, and they said please invite the poor, because they heard a sermon at school about the Lord, Who said that we should invite the poor to our party and not just our friends, what would you say? You might think: we can’t because they will rob us. From the earliest age we are forming our children and their relation to the poor, the sick, the aged. Please pay attention. At school we visit the elderly and the children are excited and also challenged. They set up for our weekly the soup kitchen. Maybe they can come and help serve when they are older.

St. Herman said that the Christian has to learn to fight through realms of demons to acquire the kingdom of heaven. School is one of the training grounds … learn the facts, what really happened, learn the faith, also learn to counter and refute wrong doctrine, and, most importantly, to stand in the faith and live it.

Our school is not meant to shelter children from the world but to prepare them to be in the world but not of the world. We prefer that our children understand the world in which they providentially live, not fear it. Let the world be affected by the presence of young adults who know themselves, who know their faith and their God.

Education is serious … not just for our economic future but for our eternal future, and for our present life. How we live in accordance with the Truth while we are still here in this world is our preparation for this blessed future and it also makes the journey to our eternal existence much richer.

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Raising Children in the Church

Love is first in raising children. It bears the best results, more than pressure, endless high expectations and criticism.

A bright young boy or girl — very talented, bi-lingual, musical — might feel empty despite all their abilities because of parental disappointments. They just are never good enough for their parents because their parents want them to be the best. They need to make it into the best schools, so they can get the best jobs. We are trying to prepare them for the “real” world.

They expect great things from their children and always praise them to teachers, friends and family with any noteworthy accomplishment. The problem is that the girl or boy feels unloved. Of course their parents love them, but they can’t seem to express it as a free gift unattached to performance because the child is for the parents a source of pride or shame or disappointment.

It is painful when we realize how stingy we are with unconditional love, when we realize what a healing balm love “without condition” is.

Parents, we should love our children with unconditional love as the foundation for raising them. We should love them for who they are and embrace even the most embarrassing, the most irritating and difficult aspects of their life. They need to know that we love them. Unconditional love is the water and sunshine that allows the flower of the soul to open wide and be influenced by us, the parents. We then have the way to help train, prune and cultivate positive things in our children’s  lives. With love we will see a decrease in yelling, irritation, threats …

Unconditional love is the kind of love God gives us and this is the love that we should also give our children. Let there be love, love and more love … then a little correction will go a long way.

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Children are full of life. I am sure you have noticed … They aren’t static, and raising children isn’t easy. It takes work, ongoing attention and patience. Parents sometime complain about the energy level of their children. They don’t feel in control. They notice that their children move like molecules with the seeming randomness of Brownian movement. They are not molecules. I encourage the parents by telling them that it is easier to train a wild pony than a dead horse. Enthusiasm and life is easier to deal with than lethargy and brokenness. We have to be creative and alert ourselves.  Disciplining children with an incessant “Don’t do that!” is not enough because, as parents, we are meant to be doing more than just controlling behavior; we are also helping them to develop love of beauty, and love for the Church, the Truth, the Lord and for the other. We are teaching them to control themselves and at times to push themselves. Expect them to test the limits, repeatedly fall, to forget, and to resist.  Don’t be surprised by this. We do it and we shouldn’t be so surprised by their fallen human nature. We are supposed to emulate and pray for the guilelessness of children; but children though they are guileless need training in obeying their parents, who should be leading them in the way of the commandments.

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