Our Children and the Church

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

OUR CHILDREN AND THE CHURCH
by His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos

Young Samuel in the Temple

The Holy Prophet Samuel was a great Prophet, who never distressed or annoyed God (to speak in human terms); God rested upon him. He also played an important role in the life of Israel.

Samuel was the son of God's good pleasure and his life was connected with the great events in the history of the people of Israel. He anointed Saul as King of the Israelites, and later, when Saul lost God's grace, he anointed David as King. Following him from his childhood until his death, one observes the afflictions he suffered, but also the lamentation of his people, when they lost this great Prophet.

As soon as Samuel was weaned, when he was around three years old, he was offered and dedicated to God by his devout mother, Hannah. Holy Scripture tells us that "Elkanah went to Ramab to his house. And the child did minister unto the Lord before Eli the priest" (1 Samuel 2:11). His mother dedicated him to God, leaving him in the Temple before the Lord and Eli the priest. Holy Scripture goes on to describe Samuel's presence in the Temple: "Samuel ministered before the Lord, being a child, girded with a linen ephod" (I Samuel 2:18). He stayed in the Temple wearing a kind of priestly vestment made of linen, which covered his shoulders, chest and back. With it he wore a little coat, which his parents brought him each year when they came up to the Temple to offer sacrifice to God. Samuel lived apart from his family, residing in the Temple. From an early age he had the great privilege of experiencing life beyond the family. Transcending the biological family and belonging to another, spiritual family develops and expresses unselfish love.

As time went by, Samuel became more and more devout and dear to God and other people. Holy Scripture says, "And the child Samuel grew on, and was in favor both with the Lord, and also with men" (1 Samuel 2:26)...

The Temple and its Importance

The Greek word naos, which signifies both temple and church building, comes from a verb meaning "to dwell," and denotes the place in which the God dwells. The Christian church building evolved from the Tabernacle of Witness and from the Temple, which Solomon built at God's command and with His blessing. As we know, every religion has its temples, the special places where worshippers fulfill their religious duties and pray to God...the sacred building or temple becomes "a place where His glory appears."

It is repeatedly made clear in the New Testament that Christians, who are members of the Church and members of the Body of Christ, are temples of the All-Holy Spirit. "You are the temple of the living God" (2 Corinthians 6:16), says the Apostle Paul. This has two meanings. The first is that every Christian who is a member of Christ is a temple of the All-Holy Spirit. This does not apply to every Christian, but to those who share in God's "illuminating and deifying energy." Saint Basil the Great underlines this important truth. He says that someone is a temple of the All-Holy Spirit when his nous, which is the principle part of the soul, is not troubled by cares and unexpected passions. When someone's nous has unceasing prayer and remembrance of God, he is a temple of the All-Holy Spirit. Saint Nicholas Cabasilas stresses that "nothing visible can truly be God's temple and His altar except human nature." The second meaning is that all those who make up the Church, the Body of Christ, taken together as a whole, are called the temple of the All-Holy Spirit. Since these Christians, who are God's real temple, assemble in a special place to worship God, that place is also called a temple and a church...

Worship and Children

It is said of Samuel that he did not simply stay in the Temple but "performed the services before the Lord" from his early childhood. This ought to be interpreted as meaning that he took part and helped in the services, as is clear from the clothes that we wore. He also prayed in the Temple. This shows his complete participation in the worship of God.

God was worshipped in the Temple. As in ancient times, so also in the life of the Church, children are not excluded from the worship of the people of God. Through holy Baptism, children too are members of the Church. Not only did children always take part in gatherings for worship, but they also took part in prayers of repentance. We have many examples of this.

The Prophet Joel announces to his contemporaries a great divine visitation on account of the sins of the people. At the same time, however, he exhorts them to repent, in the hope that this terrible trial may perhaps be averted. In particular, he urges them all, including infants still at the breast, to offer penitent prayer...

The participation of infants in this prayer of repentance has a twofold significance. Firstly, it shows that no sin is simply a personal event, but has cosmic dimensions. Thus the whole community ought to pray to God. Secondly, the prayer of infants, who pray in their own way, may be heard by God. Additionally, and equally important, it has another profound purpose: children learn what their real family is and who its members are. They also acquire experiences of worship of God, and these childhood experiences will play an important role in their later development. We see in the Psalms of David that God prefers praise "from the mouths of babies and nursing infants" (Ps. 8:2) and accepts their prayers.

The New Testament preserves an account of the participation of a child in worship, specifically in worship at night, combined with teaching...Patristic theology states that all human beings have a "noetic faculty," as all are created in the image of God. Children too have a "noetic faculty," including infants. "In fact, because their noetic faculty has not yet been polluted, it is purer than our own." Their rational faculty, however, is not yet developed, so they do not pray with our own received forms and images. Babies also pray to God, but in their own fashion. As time passes, and as all their mental powers develop, they understand things differently, but usually their nous is darkened and obscured by the darkness of their surroundings. It is possible for the presence of children in worship to be more intense than our own presence. They may pray better than adults.

Bringing Up Children in the Church

Everything we have said so far, prompted by Samuel's presence in the Temple, gives us the opportunity to look at the elements that contribute to the good upbringing of Children in the Church. This is a burning issue for parents. We shall emphasize certain points that are indispensable for bringing up children well in the Church.

Children's ecclesiastical training begins before they are conceived, with the ecclesiastical training of their parents, at the time of their conception, during pregnancy, and after they are born. Upbringing in the Church is very different from any other sort of humanistic and even religious training. I make the distinction between ecclesiastical upbringing and religious upbringing because the Church is something different from all the religions that exist today. Parents pray for the child that will come. They pray when it has been conceived. In particular, the mother, who carries it in her womb, prays and takes Holy Communion, and subsequently nurtures the child with prayer. A contemporary spiritual father says something very significant: in order for someone to learn to pray, he must have the blood of parents who pray. Once the child is born, the parents do everything laid down in the Church's Typikon: naming, offering in church on the fortieth day after the birth, Baptism, Holy Communion and taking part in the gatherings of the faithful for worship...

Children ought from the earliest age to love the church, the place where God dwells and where the glory of God is manifested. The Russian ascetic, Saint Theophan the Recluse, who wrote many books on asceticism, said that he owed much to the services and vigils that he attended in church as a child, but also to the games that he played outside the church.

In church the child will live the Church's life of worship. Worship will play a major role in his later development. It will leave him with lasting impressions, which will not easily be lost...The presence of children in worship is not merely a matter of form, but essential. According to Tradition, the Thrice-Holy Hymn, "Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and Immortal have mercy upon us," was the inspiration of a child who, during a litany in Constantinople for deliverance from an earthquake, heard this hymn sung by the Angels. He told Saint Proclos, and thus it became customary to sing it in church during the Divine Liturgy.

Children should attend church with their parents and their whole family. In this way they feel that they belong to a worshipping community, which is their wider family. It is very important for them to pray with their parents, not at separate Liturgies...There is, of course, a problem when babies and young children cause a disturbance in church during the service. It ought, however, to be emphasized, that we who are older should be more patient. We should be more aware of the fact that infants too are members of the Church and make their presence felt in worship by crying. This ought not to annoy us. We too as children caused a problem by being restless, and others were patient with us. All the same, mothers should use their discretion.

Apart from the place of worship and the services, at which they will take Holy Communion and in which, depending on their age, they will take part personally, another essential element in bringing up children in the Church is acquaintance and contact with holy people. When we refer to holy people and saints, we mean those who are associated with Christ, who are dwelling-places of the All-Holy Spirit, living icons of Christ and tabernacles of God's glory. Holiness does not have a moral meaning, but a spiritual one. It is participation in the life of Christ and sharing in the Uncreated Energies of God. The saints participate in Pentecost. It is a matter of great significance to meet someone holy during our life.

Ecclesiastical Life and the Home

In parallel with all this, good ecclesiastical upbringing requires that the routine at home, where the child is growing up, is inspired as faithfully as possible by the Church's Typikon. This, to be sure, is problem with wider implications. Everyday life should be linked with the life of the Holy Eucharist. When we attend the Divine Liturgy, we should acquire the liturgical ethos, which is sacrificial, an ethos of self-offering. We must learn to live in our interpersonal relationships, in the course of everyday life, as we live during the Holy Eucharist, because severing daily life form Eucharistic life creates many problems.

The same should happen as regards bringing up children in the Church. A Russian theologian writes on this issue: "We loved the church like our mother, like our country, like God. We were inspired by it. For us it was a place of sanctification and a source of enthusiasm. We had nothing more beautiful or better...The Church's Typikon regulated life in our home as regards fasts, feasts, services and prayers. For us it was self evident and inviolable, like a natural law, that we would keep the fasts, especially the strict rules of Great Lent."

A profound impression is made on children by shared evening prayer, when the whole family says Compline (Apodeipnon) service together and all the members, depending on their age, say part of the service. Let no one claim that this is impossible, because I know many families that pray together. If this form of shared prayer is difficult, the pious mother can pray with the children. Let them say Paraklesis. A priest could be invited to perform the Blessing of Oil (Holy Unction) in the home. He could read Paraklesis or bless the house...At the very least, they can pray before and after meals. In this way the children will understand that God sends the food, and we ought to thank Him. They will also realize that we must have God's blessing for all the actions in our life. (Source: Orthodox Heritage)

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MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU

The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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Glory Be To GOD For All Things!

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George