Christian Education and Parenting
The ultimate goal of Sunday school is to make disciples of Christ. The mission of the Sunday school can be said to witness the loving presence of Christ to the children and parents while working on our own repentance and salvation.
The approach to Christian teaching - our actions, words, behavior, and writings should be in a manner that emphasizes to the children that there is only One True God and through the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, we have been blessed with the full revelation of the Truth. Our job as teachers is to pass on this understanding to our children. As teachers in the Orthodox Church, we must appreciate and believe that Christ’s teachings have been handed down to us by the Church and entrusted to us so that we can learn and pass on to the next generation.
We can say that the task of Christian education is
- The teacher is helping the child to know God. To acquire the sense of the reality of God is the goal of our whole life.
- We all together are with God. We are gathered under God. We are one Body. As years go by, the child should have experienced being part of the church, of belonging to a body, of establishing personal relations within the Church.
- Christian education involves the recognition of constant change in the child, change in his perception of love, of unity, of obedience, of joy and sorrow. Growth means change. The teacher assists in cultivating authentic individual growth of mind and spirit.
- The sense of the holy mystery of God, the standing in awe of God, or fear of God is an essential part of our faith. The teacher's task in developing the children’s sense of awe is to help them recognize God’s action within the realm of their experience of life, of their knowledge of natural events and of their reasoning capacity but beyond the limits of human rationality.
- All of man’s nature, all of his gifts, all of his feelings, all of his relationships, and his actions, all of his interests are part of his Christian life. Christian wholeness is shown by the teacher in his/her own attitude to what takes place in the class and outside of class. Christian faith involves the whole person and all of life.
The Church School: The belief in the validity of the child's perception of religious reality is basic in our church tradition of sacraments received by young children. At each stage of growth, a child has his own capacity for experiencing a relationship with God and this capacity can be nurtured and strengthened when we share with the child our own experience of life with God. Such a sharing, transcending intellectual rationalization, is the essence of the life of the Church and should be the essence of school teaching. Whatever comes within the experience of children - birth, death, prayer, sin, forgiveness, love, God’s actions and presence in life- should be part of what we talk about to children at the level of maturity that they have reached.” (Adapted from the book : Our Church and Our Children by Sophie Koulomzin)
Christian education in the family: Instruction given in church schools and attendance of church services are very important but dependent on the cooperation and attitude of the family. The function of the family in sending the children to church school and bringing them to church is only supplementary, however, to the basic process of Christian education that goes on day after day within the home. The family being the home church makes the task of the parents a kind of lay priesthood. Within a Christian family our Christian faith must be incarnated, it must be brought to life in the daily, hourly experience of living. Children attend church school for an hour a week, they attend church services for another couple of hours, but the family life goes on all the time, every day of the year and is embodied in every detail of living- in personal relationships, in providing, preparing and partaking of food, in health and in sickness. It is the environment within which the life of the child unfolds. So, it is important to get a better understanding of what is the Christian growth that takes place in the family. In the life of a child, family as the home church becomes the first seminary.
Love in family life: The essential nature of a family is that it is based on love, is an embodiment of love between several human beings. Family love is based on the love of husband and wife and the love between parents and children. Family love does not have to be consciously verbalized. Every human being belongs to some kind of family. The Christian concept of a family and of family love has a special character. It is similar to the Trinitarian concept of God: a human being cannot exist completely by himself/herself. He/she becomes fully human within a relationship of love with other human beings. Lack of love is always a violation of the true nature of the family.
Husband and Wife relationship: In the husband wife relationship, each one of the partner give up his or her selfness. In order to be happy, both of them have to be happy; if one is unhappy, both are. No decision can be an isolated one. The hurts of the other mate mean as much as your own hurts. Whatever you do, the other one is involved. In a very real sense in marriage, two become one. The difficulty of the relationship is that loving is not the same as liking. There are circumstances in which a husband and a wife simply get on each other’s nerves. How does one then deal in love with traits one dislikes? Monks often say that the ascetic effort of married life is greater than that of a monk in a monastic community. In a family, there is no way of isolating oneself. You have come to terms with the other members of the family as you are. A Christian family (the home church) comes into being only when the coming to terms is a true incarnation of Christian faith, hope and love. Chapter 13 of the first epistle to the Corinthians remains forever the most helpful and practical manual of love in human relationships.( Love suffers long and is kind…….bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails 4-8 ) The effort to apply this kind of love, the constant effort to deal in this spirit with the thousands of aggravating difficulties in our daily relations goes on throughout the long years of every Christian marriage. Anger rooted in love is a necessary element in a husband-wife relationship. We can say that husband and wife are each other’s conscience. Anger flares up quickly and then comes reconciliation, forgiveness and compassion for the one who is hurt. We can see married couples who have realized a union of love in their marriage, being able to accept each other's differences.
Parental Love: As family life progresses, it gains a new dimension and a new perspective. If marriage involves giving up one's singleness, each spouse becoming part of the other one, then with the arrival of children; parents find themselves giving up more and more of themselves and sometimes feel lost in the whirlpool of family preoccupations and duties. In this process, each member of the family has to find his or her own personality, a stronger and richer one. The self of each member has to be sacrificed and a willing effort to recognize the self of others to understand their personalities, their points of view and their gifts has to be made. Parents need enlightenment and guidance in understanding the meaning of their relationship with their children. The basis of this relationship is responsible love, which includes authority and respect and understanding for the child’s personality. From a Christian point of view parental love has all the emotional richness of love, but it must not be possessive. At its best it is completely unselfish, its model given to us by the love of Mary the Theotokos for her Son. Parental love should not be felt by the parent as a gift given to the child, for which he/she can expect gratitude. A mother’s love for her child fills her own life, enriches it. Children have to grow away from their parents. The sacrificial or Christian meaning of parental love is precisely the acceptance of the children’s growth into independence. The image of Abraham and Isaac still has a lot of meaning for every parent today in the sense that a parent is willing to offer the life of the child to God, not to end his life but so that his life may be lived under God rather than under the parent.
Children's love of parents and siblings: The difficulty involved in the changing love of children for parents is that it is part of a process of growing away from the parents. The total dependence of early childhood, the complete reliance and confidence in parental omnipotence is very important and satisfying for parents. But a child’s normal development takes him through stages of growth, of independence and rebellion. Under the best of circumstances, relationships of friendship and mutual respect eventually are established; and gradually these change into compassionate understanding and grateful love of adult children for elderly parents. Affection and love between brothers and sisters are often taken for granted. It is normal for a growing child to experience anger at others, just as it is normal for an infant to scream when it is hungry. The purpose of education, especially Christian education is to help a person grow up and mature, to help him adopt a creative, constructive and good way of dealing with negative traits like possessiveness, jealousy and violence. In handling children's quarrels and fights a parent should first of all recognize them as symptoms. Repressing symptoms does not help, though a measure of self-control must be taught. Symptoms are a wholesome thing if they help us to recognize and deal with the cause. The process of growing up and maturing can be encouraged and helped properly in a secure and loving family. Children's anger and their quarrels can draw the parents’ attention to some conditions that cause them and these should be dealt with by the parents. Guidance and encouragement should be done through actions and attitudes rather than with words. The basic aim of Christian education within the family is to convey to children the concept of what is good and what it means to feel good.
The Larger family: We must recognize the importance of the larger family group in a Christian home. Though for the younger children, their family and their home is their world; parents must make an effort to maintain family relationships with grandparents, aunts, uncles and aunts. Affectionate relationships within the larger family are a very wholesome transitional experience from the small family ties into membership in society as a whole.
The family worldview: One of the most important aspects of family life is a common understanding of life, of the purpose of life, of the hierarchy of life values - in other words, of all that makes up one’s world view. Basically, a common vision of life is built on a common concept of happiness and in a Christian family it means a Christian concept of happiness. We become unhappy when we accept evil as an authentic part of our real self. Everyday life and especially family life is a means of reaching for the real person, establishing relations with the real person and refusing to accept that which is unreal, temporary and evil as part of the essential nature of the person we love. Every day of our life is given to us for finding at least a particle of that goodness and joy which are the essence of eternal life. As a method of overcoming evil, Bishop Sergius of Prague suggests training oneself in the perception of goodness in people and goodness in life. The Christian understanding of happiness as a blessed state like that described in the Beatitudes, needs to be taught by and exemplified by the parents. Fundamentally blessedness is a state of love and of loving communication, a sense of trust and the freedom to grow and fulfill one's God given creative gifts. The most urgent task in the Christian education of the parents is not the emphasizing of their duties in observing church rules, in making their children attend church school but in unfolding to them the meaning of the basic realities of life. Parents must be motivated by an insight into the meaning of life.
Family Discipline: Discipline, the cross of authority is another aspect of love that must be borne by the parents. In the family, discipline means first of all and most of all, an authentic recognition of the whole order and structure of discipline and obedience within which the family lives. This includes both the wife’s obedience to her husband and the husband’s consideration of and respect for his wife. It also includes the hierarchy of obedience. There may be disagreements when the wife or the husband feels that the values involved are higher than the harmony of their relationships. Whenever obedience is to be breached, it has to be done for the sake of a higher obedience. Children are quick to recognize the validity of the obedience and discipline which parents accept for themselves eg. attending church, showing kindness. Obedience to law as a principle of action, not as a formal ritual, not as lip service, is one of the foundations of the Christian home. The obedience of children grows within this framework. Training in obedience begins with every young child who has to be protected against hazards that he/she does not understand. As children grow older, the insight into the hierarchy of obedience becomes more and more important. Christian parents can help their children realize that the motivation behind all disciplines and all obedience is ‘Thy will be done’. It is important at this point to understand the difference between the clear recognition of discipline and obedience to rules and the imposition by parents of their tastes, emotions, moods and feelings. To sum up, we can say that the major requirements of family discipline are 1) a general structure of obedience and discipline within which the entire family including the parents lives 2) clear cut simple rules of obedience established by the parents and fortified by the parents acceptance of the burden of this continuous and constant responsibility 3) a loving insight into the child’s motivation, an understanding of his point of view, his tastes and his personality 4) a very clear understanding of what can be expected from and imposed by discipline and what is outside its province and should not be imposed by authority.
Worship in the home: Prayer is a relationship with God, it is like standing before God and can only come from a person’s own sincere effort, helped by the grace of God. The family is the place where the child can naturally be involved in learning to pray like learning to speak. From participation in the prayers of others, from the habit acquired in daily routine, prayer can become a real experience, a childish experience at first, but growing into an authentic adult experience later. The best way for parents to introduce their children to the experience of prayer is to share with them their own experience of prayer. The usual first verbal prayer of young children is the ‘God bless…..’ to which ‘thank you God’ prayers can be added as the child grows older. The first learned prayer in most orthodox families is probably ‘In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen!’ Prayer time, however short, must be a time of unhurried, relaxed communication between parent and child. The most important thing the parents can do is to teach their children, the unhurried habit of prayer, the habit of standing before God. Besides morning and evening prayers, there are a number of other occasions for worship at home (mealtime prayers, when someone goes away on a trip). In general, making the sign of the cross is a good short silent way of prayer. It is vital for a Christian family to find a form of daily acknowledgement of the presence of God in our life.
Celebration of feasts: Home traditions tied in with liturgical feasts and fasts are vital for Christian education. The festive character of church feasts, which makes them a real celebration for children, is maintained when it is reflected in their experience of celebration at home. Only the home can provide the children with the actual experience of having fun, of rejoicing because it is a feast day. Liturgically the feast takes place in Church, verbal explanation of its meaning can be given in the church school but to make it a feast for children, it must be celebrated at home. The family’s responsibility in Christian education - A Christian family cannot shirk its responsibility for conveying to the children a certain amount of information and knowledge about their faith. This applies first of all to the younger children, who should be exposed at home to basic ideas about God, about Jesus Christ’s life on earth, about prayer and church worship, about feasts and great saints. Many parents need help in this task. More important as the children grow older, is the parents stimulating the desire of the children to learn more? Parents cannot know everything but they can show their interest, their curiosity, their desire to find out more.
In summary, in order to be truly Christian a family has to accept life, its values and its challenges, in the spirit of Christian faith, and this does not always coincide with the nominal piety of the parents. A Christian family constantly must endeavor to establish relationships of love within the family and with those outside the family, on the basis of the kind of love described in 1 Corinthians Chapter 13. A Christian family must live within a framework of discipline recognized by all its members and within a hierarchy of Christian values. In a Christian family the daily routine of life must be penetrated by the light of the recognition of God’s presence - in family worship and in church traditions and celebrations. In a Christian home, the growth of the children’s minds, talents and gifts must be stimulated and cherished in the spirit of the Christian understanding of the great value of human personality.
These notes were prepared using the book Our Church and our Children by Sophie Koulomzin