Word Magazine January 1980 Page 13, 14/22
ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM
By Kathleen Haverlack
Sometimes we parents wonder if we are actually being parents to our children by being Christian examples for them, maintaining a Christian family, and raising our children to be Christian members of God’s family — the Church. Today, we turn to educators, psychologists, sociologists, pastors, friends, and our parents as our primary source of information, guidance, and support. Of course these sources are valid in many respects; particularly by giving us more insight and information about life in general. But maybe we should be turning to the Source — Christ and the Church. Some of the Church Fathers, all of whom used the Bible and the life of the Church as their primary source and frame of reference, spoke of the Christian family and grew up in Christian homes; i.e. Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa. After studying the Bible, we should then read the Fathers and the lives of Saints who were recognized as being good parents, i.e. St. Sophia, St. Olga, Righteous Joseph.
ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM AND PARENTS
One such Father, St. John Chrysostom wrote “An Address on Vainglory and the Right Way for Parents to Bring Up Their Children.” In seventy-four out of ninety paragraphs, he deals with the latter topic of the Address. He gives pastoral, psychological, and educational advice to parents while keeping the life of the whole Church and the Bible in the foreground. He discusses the necessity for parents to be good Christian examples for their children, ways for conducting Christian education in the home, the important virtues that parents should strive to instill into their children, and how parents can effectively raise their children to live their entire life in Christ. By pointing out these areas of the Address and putting them into practical terms and usage, parents can gain further insight into the meaning of our parental role, and feel assured and secure in what we are trying to do.
We parents are raising our children, first of all, to please God and to love Him. . . then our family will naturally receive His blessings (90), — “what God has prepared for those who love Him” (I Cor. 2:9). We must realize that we are not raising our children to please ourselves, or their grandparents, or for our society, but for God alone since He is our Maker and our Father Whom we love because He loved us first. We parents are “raising a philosopher, an athlete, a citizen for heaven” (39), “an athlete for Christ” (19). Chrysostom also makes the analogy that we are “fashion(ing) these wondrous statues (children) for God.” God dwells in our child, and we must raise our child fitfully for God (28). As a sculptor does, we must “remove . . . the superfluous and add what is lacking” by increasing the child’s good qualities and eradicating his faults (22). Therefore every morning and evening, we should pray to God and ask Him to help us to raise our children to love Him and to follow His ways and commandments.
We, above all, must teach our children wisdom to fear God so that they will know and love Him (85) for “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7). This fear of God is not a harsh demand or cruel tremble, but it is an awesome awareness of God’s presence within us and our desire to be His loving child. This fear of God cannot be actually taught, but we parents can express it for our child within our lives by praying together, going to church, loving each other, making God the center of our lives. Children can easily “sense” this, and will naturally follow our example as they grow up.
THE FAMILY TOGETHER
Praying together as a family is so important. When our child sees us pray, he will begin his own prayer life and will be strengthened by our example. We should teach him to use “the seal of faith,” the sign of the cross, with every word and action (22). In this sense, he will learn that his whole life is a life of prayer. Chrysostom says for us to teach him to pray with fervor and contrition, and to keep vigils as long as he is able (80). Overdoing it will not help our child, but will only frustrate him. We should be only helping him and not testing his endurance. Along this same line, we should not overly burden him with fasting. Following the Church’s teaching of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays (Didache) seems quite adequate (79). We also should teach him how to praise God in hymns (34). Whenever our families are together at meals, we should take the time to say or sing the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer after the meal, or the feast day hymns. Together, then, the family is naturally learning about God through their prayer.
We parents must make sure that we are good Christian examples for our child. Our behavior will affect our child’s behavior (36). We must then be constant in our prayer and continue in our own education to be Christians. We also must be aware of the people with whom our child comes in contact — our own friends, family, teachers — to make sure that they are helping us to raise our child and are not hindering our endeavors (37, 38). They, too, must be Christian examples.
THE AIM OF OUR TEACHING: SOME PARTICULARS
Chrysostom gives us specific aims for our teaching. The family unit is very important because it sets the pace for the entire societal structure. “Our concern is with the origin and rhythmical education of the world” (54). The cliché “the whole world will be a better place” is a possibility if families take care of their members. The children will eventually start their own families based on the Christian family model that we gave them. Idealistically, if we set the right pace, then future families will live in harmony and be the children of God as He intended us to be when He created the world.
Aside from our family going to church, prayer and praising God, and fasting together, a good beginning for educating our child is with his name. We should name our children after saints, martyrs, apostles, etc. instead of only after our family members (47, 50). Our child will have a righteous man or woman of God as a frame of reference for attaining Christian perfection. As in the early Church, the child’s namesday will become just as important, if not more so, as his birthday. We can plan an “extra” party for him each year. Our child’s first icon can be of his saint. As he grows up, the saint may become his “hero” instead of Superman, Dr. Welby, or Miss Jane on Romper Room as we tell him about his saint’s life. We can also plan a Halloween party for the church school where the children dress up as their saints and tell riddles in order for the others to guess who they are.
Chrysostom warns us about observing pagan customs (48). We can easily parallel this warning to the Christmas and Easter celebrations. We must be certain to stress and teach the Christian understanding and meaning of these feasts. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny surround our child on television, in school, and at the stores. We have to deal with these as our child grows up. An emphasis on St. Nicholas will help to alleviate the Santa Claus figure. Planning a St. Nicholas party at home or for the church school can be fun and exciting for all. On Christmas Day our family can bake a birthday cake for Jesus, and assemble the nativity scene and decorate it with pine cones and branches. The Easter Bunny is a harder phenomenon to alleviate. Instead of having an egg hunt, the children can dye eggs at home and exchange them with their church school friends as a parallel to Mary Magdalene. Many of us grew up with ethnic customs attached to feast days; i.e. holy supper on Christmas Eve, Easter food baskets, crosses made out of palms on Palm Sunday, etc. These may be helpful and enjoyable for our families’ celebrations, but we must make sure that these do not replace the true meaning and celebration of the feast for our family.
We must teach our child to strive for Christian virtues and to beautify his soul (62). Chrysostom, throughout the Address, lists the important virtues. Not only should we strive to instill them into our child, but we must also strive towards these ourselves (70). All of these virtues can be found throughout the Bible, i.e. Psalms, Proverbs, the Gospels, the Epistles, etc. It is a good idea for us to take note of these passages as we do our own Bible study. Some of our familial religious studies may center on some of these specific passages. Lent is a good time for our families to discuss which of the long list we would like to concentrate on specifically. If we give our child good precepts to follow, then later, if conflicts arise, he will have a solid framework for reference (20). But one thing for certain, we must teach him to love God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love his neighbor as he loves himself. If we can instill these two commandments of Christ into his life, then we have succeeded and everything else will eventually fall into place as we continue to work in raising our child.
SOME IDEAS FOR OUR HOMES
Chrysostom outlines a home educational program. He focuses it around Biblical stories. He seems inclined to begin with the Genesis stories and proceed towards the New Testamental stories. We parents should tell stories that are relevant to our child’s experience. As we tell the story, we should make comments and help to elicit responses from our child (39). We parents will gain a reward of joy and satisfaction as we see our child “light up” when he hears the story that we taught him during the church services (41). When we finish telling the story, he should then explain what it means to him (40). Therefore, we must continue with our own education in order to be effective teachers. We should ask our pastor and church school teachers for guidance and suggestions in subject materials, projects, books to read, etc.
One story has many lessons (44). We should then discuss these points over a series of sessions. Focusing on the Church’s feast days and fasts will also take several lessons. One week we can concentrate on the Biblical accounts, the next on preparing our icon corner and house for the feast, and the next couple of weeks on specific points about the feast or fast. We must be able to adapt all of our endeavors to the level of our child’s understanding as he grows up (46). There are several easy reading books available for us to understand the growing process of our child. The local library will have such books. Chrysostom realizes that a deep discussion of Hell, Sodom, divine punishment, etc., must be used when our child is older (52).
Chrysostom also helps us parents to understand the use of discipline and how to use it effectively. We should not shun our disciplinary role. Our child needs direction from us (16). Discipline and rules are for building and guiding him (27). We must be like ruling kings and queens over our child’s soul (23). If we really do care about his life, then we would see the need for discipline and start it while he is young (19, 25). We parents must “assume all this royal discipline” (34). It is “royal” because God granted us to be parents and we raise our child for Him.
Whenever we make rules, we should make sure that our child follows them (24); otherwise, they become useless and meaningless to us and our child (26). If he breaks a rule, punish him at the moment, forget about the incident, and then continue normally by being gentle and kind to him (30), by showing our love and affection for him in doing things together as a family, and by holding and kissing him (78). It is important for us parents to forget past unpleasant experiences, and continue with our original goal: to bring up our child in Christ. God punished Adam and Eve, but He continued to love them and helped them to return to Him. We parents should rule our child as God rules the world in being stern with wrongdoers and being gracious, kind, and rewarding with right doers (67). We should not overuse the rod method because it will be ineffective and our child will grow to despise us (30).
In this past International Year of the Child, Chrysostom’s Address is an asset towards educating our child. We Orthodox parents really do have an awesome responsibility. God blessed us with children, and now we must try to bless God by guiding them to love Him and to live their life in Christ.
Kathy recently completed her studies at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary.