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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.

__________

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

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.

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.

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.

The Question is:

Should I stay or should I go? Deciding when to stay in Church with our children or when to take them out can be a difficult question. Is my child too loud? When is loud too loud? They might be irritating me but maybe they should stay to get the benefit of the service. But maybe they are being a source of irritation to others, or they might be disturbing the clergy.

Some children “make noise” because they are actually singing in Church–making a joyful noise unto the Lord. Some make noise because they are playing with friends and totally oblivious to the Church service. Some parents are anxious over any noise; they are embarrassed and worry what others might think. Other parents do not realize how disruptive their children are, even though they are shouting or yelling during the Gospel reading, Sermon, or Anaphora and everyone is wondering–why aren’t the parents doing something?

Cell Groups of Conversation

A priest has a distinct perspective in the Divine Services–facing the altar standing before God and then turning toward the faithful. Any pastor can tell you that when he turns to give the blessing “Peace be unto all!’ or some other blessing from the Lord, there might be four “cell groups of conversations” going on simultaneously: Some servants of the Church might be discussing a valid need; someone who just arrived might be greeting everyone around, someone else is chatting and smiling over some point. All could be for “good” reasons, but it still adds up to a lot of distracted people. It begs the question: how will the children learn to attend? What will they find in the Divine Services if the adults are bored or distracted? I rather hope that the noise of the children bounces off of the absolute attentiveness of the adults. This would be the best starting point for educating the youth.

Being oriented and showing the way

Time in Church shouldn’t be spent just managing behavior. It should be a journey of initiation into worship, and for parents that means spending the time and sacrificing so that our children will learn how to enter into worship. Parents come to Church to pray, but when you come with your children you come to lead them to Christ and to teach them to pray. If we keep this in mind we won’t readily fall into the problem of expecting quiet time and find we are busy taking care of our children.

There are certain special times in the Divine Services in which we should be especially attentive and prayerful. Some of those times are easy to recognize. Whenever the deacon or priest shouts, “Let us attend,” we should attend, right?  But there are other times we need to know about which also require our prayerfulness and attention. Our own education is a key.

If we say, in so many words, “Shut up!” or “Stop making so much noise!” then that is one approach. If we know the Divine Services and what the actions and events in the service mean, then our corrections to our children are a call to attend to the presence of God or the work of the people or clergy. It is different to say to our children (if they are old enough to understand), “John, Father Deacon is proclaiming the Gospel to the people. Did you hear: Let us attend! We should listen.” Or: “Father is praying–the clergy and acolytes are praying for the Holy Spirit to come—let’s pray too so we will be a part of this.” Or: “Listen Katherine, Father is giving us the sermon. Let’s listen so we can do what he suggests.”

There are many good books that explain the Liturgy and Divine Services. Nikolai Gogol wrote a book called Meditations on the Divine Liturgy. Also, in our bookstore is a wonderful book that expresses the mystery and piety towards the Divine Services called Experiences during the Divine Liturgy, by Protopresbyter Stephanos K. Anagnostopoulos. There is also the book A Manual of Divine Services, by Archpriest Sokoloff, that describes the various services and their details. Attendance and attention with study and prayer will open up vistas and worlds of beauty to us and to our children.

The building blocks of the Divine Services

Adults who participate in the services by chanting, serving in the altar or as sacristans have an easier time paying attention. How can we help the children be more engaged? Why not have them stand at the beginning of the Liturgy when the priest proclaims “Blessed is the Kingdom,” during the Gospel reading, when the priest blesses, and when the Holy Gifts are brought out for communion? Have them say with you the Our Father and the Creed. Find other building blocks that bring them into the service, and little by little they will know the service by heart.

I remember a moment when one of the priests forgot a prayer while in the altar and to our joy and surprise one of the acolytes reminded him. He had been listening after all!

Let us be prepared with something else to do

When we do have to leave the Church Nave, where can we go and what can we do?  We should prepare ourselves and work together to build up a strategy for such occurrences. We have external speakers in a number of places around the building so you can still hear the services. There is a speaker in the narthex, the fellowship hall/main room, and the kitchen. So whichever place you land, there will be the possibility to still hear what is going on. The narthex allows you to also peak in. In warmer weather you can be in our modest outdoor playground or in the main room. One parent said that she has to make a re-entry plan so that once she leaves with her child she sets a time limit and way to return.

The nuclear family and the Church Family

The nuclear family should not be seen as an isolated unit in the Church. We are all part of the Church family and community. You can help! We should talk together and work together to care for the children of our Church. Most of all don’t judge parents or children. Be assured that they feel it. Develop a relationship with the parents and with their permission with the children so that your help is based on a previously built relationship. What a relief to know that help is on the way.

Should I come and for how long

Determining which services to attend with the children and how long to stay is a spiritual matter better determined in consultation with your spiritual father and between husband and wife. You have to know your own children, develop spiritual strength and interest at home and Church and see what is possible. Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos said that children have full noetic power and are able to discern the spiritual nature of worship. They are full members of the Church. But we shouldn’t try them beyond their strength or bore them beyond their capacity. Let them taste, touch, enjoy the full laden feast and struggle a bit also. But don’t ruin their experience by too many disappointments and admonitions.

Conclusion

There is a whole world that we don’t see. It’s happening in the back of the Church Nave but also in the narthex, downstairs, on the porch, in the playground or Church kitchen. It’s a small world populated by mothers, fathers, children and sometimes an attentive god parent or friend. An important work is in process–raising the next generation of children for God. Discernment, patience, and struggle are at play. Let us pray for the heroes of God who are laying down their life, giving up their comfort, and sacrificing their time of quiet to participate in the art and finesse of initiating our youth into Church life. May these efforts be blessed and may all those who help through their participation and prayers be blessed!

Some rules for Children in the Church

  • Children shouldn’t run around or wander at will in Church. They can move, but their movements should be contained or worshipful. We can take them around to venerate the icons or light candles as we pray for friends and relatives, for the needs of others, or for the reposed.
  • Children shouldn’t be eating snacks in the Church nave. Bring them to the narthex or downstairs if they need to eat, both out of a sense of respect for those worshiping God and for the sake of not tempting other children who are fasting.
  • The balcony is for the storage of Liturgical items–books, vestments, and supplies. The balcony is also dangerous for small children. Children do not need to be wandering upstairs or playing on the steps.
  • It is fine for the children to go out for a while, but children should not be out unattended. The Church is holy but all the people who come and go aren’t, and in this regard we should consider it a public place like an airport.
  • Children under seven shouldn’t be holding a lit candle unattended.

Don’t Tell the Pastor

After hearing different reasons why people don’t talk to their pastors  I thought it would be interesting to talk about it. I understand from personal experience why it is hard at times, but it is worth going a little deeper into the subject since there is a definite benefit to having an active dialogue with the pastor.

Don’t tell the pastor because:

  • He’s already too busy with everyone else and I thought he already has a full plate.
  • I didn’t ask him because I already knew what he would say.
  • I didn’t talk to you about something because you told me not to do it and I did it so I went to another pastor to talk with him.
  • I knew someone was having a serious problem but I didn’t tell you because I thought they wouldn’t want you to know.
  • I tell my wife my problems not my pastor. It’s too personal.
  • I’m afraid to reveal myself to anyone.

Here are some thoughts:

  • A pastor is there to talk with you. We don’t think that we shouldn’t call our dentist because he has too many patients. Let him work out his own schedule. You call as a prayer to the Lord for help.
  • When we seek guidance, pray for God’s will and expect it. Of course all of us can fall into cookie cutter answers and political/ideological camps, but we should remember that the Holy Spirit blows where it will, so be prepared for a surprise.
  • Not following advice is not a reason to avoid relationship with your pastor. How about admitting and revealing your thinking and actions and reviewing your situation with your pastor?
  • What a blessing to be married and have someone to share your life with, but sometimes sharing problems becomes a heavy burden. We share everything with our spouse sometimes, and avoid talking to our pastor. Maybe we can give our spouse a break and lay the burden on our pastor instead, who won’t be dragged down by a bad mood or problem as much as your spouse.
  • We are totally revealed to the Lord. People can often tell what we feel or that we are troubled. We are the ones often in the dark until we have that chat we are afraid of. But afterward … what a relief!