Word Magazine October 1979 Page 19-20
THE CHURCH SCHOOL OR THE HOME?
Homily by Father James C. Meena
It’s time for some straight talk. I am going to paraphrase a statement of St. Paul’s because I think it’s about as straight from the shoulder as we can get. “My brothers and my sisters, take note of what I am adding in my own handwriting and in large letters. It is only self interest that makes other people want to force (conversion) on you. They want to escape the necessity of confronting the fullness of faith as it has been handed down to us by apostolic succession and they want you to accept their concept while they strive to escape from the fullness of Christ’s Orthodoxy. They only want you to be converted so that they can boast of your conversion.” (Galatians 6:11-12 paraphrased)
St. Paul evidently had the same kinds of problems nineteen hundred years ago as the Church is being confronted with today, but in those days it wasn’t people saying “Jesus Saves,” or “you must be born again” making you feel as though you are not a Christian, that you are unconverted, that you are worthless unless you accept the whole concept of Christianity as they have reshaped it. In those days it was a matter of circumcision but today it’s a matter of “fundamentalism.” Become a Baptist or Jehovah’s Witness or an Adventist, you’ll be a lot better off. You’ll go straight to heaven, that’s the promise they imply. But stay Orthodox with those lousy Priests and the outmoded Sacred Traditions that no longer apply, stay with the Orthodox Church that has lost its right to preach the Gospel because of someone’s idea that a few corrupt people in the Church have destroyed the Church (but corruption does not destroy the Church it destroys the corrupt) and you are lost.
So I paraphrase this message early in the Church School year because I want some of you, grandparents and aunts and uncles as well as parents to get as upset as I do when I see fewer Sunday School children sitting in our congregations each year. That is painful, because these children of ours do not understand Christianity in an Orthodox context and they don’t stand a ghost of a chance of learning about Orthodoxy unless you, the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles help us. No! Rather, unless you let us help you, because you see, you must no longer abdicate your responsibilities and your functions as parents.
Once I mentioned the fact that many of our little children don’t even know how to make the Sign of the Cross. After I made that statement, one of the Sunday School mothers came to me and asked, “Why do we bring them to Church School if they are not taught how to make the Sign of the Cross?” She had missed the point entirely. Church School shouldn’t have to teach our children how to bless themselves, how to say the “Our Father.” We shouldn’t have to teach them how to read the Bible or pray, or even introduce them to Jesus Christ because these are things that you, the parents, should have done long before you brought them to Church School in the first place. This is your function and your responsibility. It is the function and responsibility of the Church to support and amplify that which you are teaching your children, to make sure that your children are aided in learning the correct and sound doctrines of the Orthodox faith.
But our Church School is not responsible for teaching your children the basic, elementary practices of the Faith, such as how to say prayers before meals, how to say “hello” to the Priest. Do you realize that many of your children don’t even know how to greet a Priest or a Bishop? They don’t know what their relationship to the Priest or the Bishop is? Do you realize how many of your children don’t know how to say the “Our Father” before they come to Church School? They don’t know what it means to light a candle for the sake of someone who is sick or someone who has fallen asleep in the Lord and these are all things that they should learn at home. How to pray before they go to bed or how to pray when they get up in the morning. Who is the Virgin Mary? Who is St. George? Why were they given a special name when they were baptized? These things children ought to be learning and if they don’t learn them at home we can’t teach all these things to them here at the Church because that is not our function. It is yours.
Please wake up and realize this dear parents. Just as you take the time and the pains to help your children understand their school work, just as you take time to have your pre-school children learn the alphabet and learn how to count and build up their vocabulary, so also is it even more essential that you teach them that they are children of the most high God, that they are the little brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, that they are members of this Holy Family of God and that they have a special mission and function in life, which they will come to understand as they grow older, and that is to glorify God and to be loyal to the Word of God which is Jesus Christ. Otherwise, parents, we are not much better than the lower members of creation.
The animals give birth, they nurture their young, they feed them, they protect them until they are old enough to take care of themselves, then they push them out of the nest or the den so that they can fend for themselves. But you and I were created for something greater than that. We were given the powers of reason, the ability to think not just so we can build bridges and invent machines and create chemicals that change the balance of the human anatomy but so that we might glorify God with this ability to reason. Anybody can feed their kids, educate them, clothe them. What does that take? Money? And yet we have made the pursuit of money our God, have we not? And we have forgotten that Jesus admonishes us that “the love of money is the root of all evil.” We have forgotten that “God sent His only begotten Son so that the world through Him might be saved,” and therefore we leave ourselves, our brothers and sisters, our relatives, our friends, vulnerable to those who would circumcise them spiritually, who would make them conform to a lesser doctrine, to an incomplete doctrine, to a doctrine of exclusivity, a doctrine that says, “no one can be saved unless he believes as I believe.”
The other day I sent one of our brothers on a mission to just such a family, knowing that this brother is learned in the Scriptures and well grounded in the faith. I sent him to visit a family which I had come to understand is about to become members of a very fundamentalist and
exclusivistic religious group. This brother reported to me after he had dialogued, prayed and debated with them, discussing the Scriptures for hours and he said, “It’s too late.” But he made a point. When these dear people began to criticize the Church of their heritage, finding all sorts of faults with it, the man didn’t argue that the Church has given them every ministry that it has available to Her, he simply told them very candidly that the responsibilities that they would have imposed on the Church were their responsibilities in the first place. Raising their children to know Christ, to be faithful disciples of the Lord and to be children of the most high God was their responsibility. He said to them, “My Priest does not read the Bible to me, I read the Bible. My Priest does not teach the Scriptures to my children, I teach my children the Scriptures. I pray with my children, I teach them the basic fundamentals of the faith and I bring my children to Church so that they might grow in Christ and in the fellowship of the Kingdom of God.” And that brother is right on the mark!
The late Metropolitan Antony, speaking of seminarians said that our seminary system is like a purging fire. “It purifies. If you give us tin and we place it in that fire you are going to get back refined tin, but if you give us gold ore we will place it in that purging fire and we will give you back pure gold.” I say that to you parents when you bring your children into this fellowship. If you bring us empty tins then all we can do is put them through the purging fire and they will come back to you purged but will still be tin. But if you bring us children specked with the gold of basic knowledge and faith, we will return them to you as purified gold, purged in the fires of greater understanding of the Love of God reflected through us, the members of His Body.