I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve heard parents discussing the difficult task of raising children right in a world gone wrong. How do we raise children with strong morals and values, when the world is drowning in immorality? How do we teach them to set themselves apart from that which is wrong?
One of the most important things we, as parents, can do for our children is offer them positive role models. And as most of us will agree, that can be a very daunting task nowadays. Now that school is back is session, this is especially important because our children are being exposed to things they aren’t normally exposed to in their Orthodox homes.
I recently spoke with a group of teen and tween-aged girls on the subject of role models. I asked them to answer a prompt without thinking too much about the answer, to simply give the first answer that popped into their mind. The prompt was: Name three famous sisters. A few of them giggled and looked around at each other but no one would answer.
So I fished some more, “C’mon, you know who I'm talking about. We usually see them in pictures together.”
Then one brave soul blurted out, “The Kardashians?”
It wasn’t the answer I was hoping for but it was the one I expected. The answer I was looking for were Saints Faith, Hope and Agapi; three young sisters who gave up their lives for our Lord Jesus Christ. The majority of them were familiar with the girls mother, St. Sophia, but none of them had ever heard of her three daughters.
Try it on your children. Ask them how many cartoon characters they can name. Then ask how many saints can they name. Two? Eight? A dozen if you’re lucky. And we can blame no one but ourselves for this. We expect our children to stay in the church and understand our traditions and always do the right thing, and, and, and, but how can we expect all of this if we’re not teaching them?
Why aren’t we passing these treasures on to our children? Why are we filling their heads with imaginary kingdoms but not filling their hearts with zeal for a real-life kingdom?
It's so easy to overlook teaching them about the importance of saints in our lives. We forget to remind them to look up to them and ask for their intercessions. They're only children, we say. And yes, they are children. But then again, so were Faith, Hope and Agapi. The eldest sister was only 12; the youngest was 9.
When their mother, St. Sophia called them together before they were to appear before the emperor, she tried to strengthen their spirits by saying, “My beloved daughters, the greatest joys of my earthly life…Our trials may be great—eventually leading to our deaths. The path we are about to take ends in defeat and death for those who do not know Christ. For those of us who know Him, it ends in victory and eternal life…Remember, my darlings, physical pain lasts momentarily; the Kingdom of God lasts forever.” And do you know how those precious souls responded? Instead of hiding in fear, like I surely would have, they in turn tried to strengthen and soothe her spirit. “Don’t be afraid, dearest Mother, we will remember your words and pray that our Lord will keep all of us strong so that we may enter His kingdom together.”
And then they prayed together. How many of us pray with our children on a daily basis? How can we expect them to follow Christ as He instructed (Matthew 16:24) if they are not armed with prayer?
Sometimes we rationalize these things in our minds. But SHE was a saint, I am not! How can I have that kind of strength? But saints are not born, they’re created. She was not born a saint, she was born a typical human being like all of us. The only difference is she choseto follow Christ. One of the many benefits of being Orthodox is the rich spiritual inheritance we’ve been given; the lives of the saints. We have all the answers we need on how to live a holy life in a sinful world. We can all do what she did. We just have to want it bad enough.
We spend so much time making sure our children “fit in” (and fit in to what exactly?), when we should be spending that time teaching them how to stand out. Each and every one of our children should be a light. They should carry the light of Christ inside of them for all to see.
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16
Teach your children to love, not fight. To give rather than take. To show compassion and humility instead of passing judgment on others. If we, as Orthodox Christians don’t do this, who will? Opportunities to teach these things present themselves every day! We need to be teaching them these things in both our words and actions.
Now that we have begun a new school and ecclesiastical year, let’s start anew. Here are a few simple suggestions:
Begin and end each day by reading prayers together as a family.
Teach your children of spiritual warfare. St. Kosmas Aitolos said, “Life is spiritual warfare, and if you’re not fighting you’re losing.”
Teach them how to use a prayer rope and pray the Jesus Prayer.
Teach them to live a God-pleasing life just as their patron saints and the Theotokos did. Remind them they are soldiers for Christ. Arm them every single day.
My children look forward to being “armed for battle” every morning. I make the sign of the cross with holy oil on their foreheads; their armor. I give them each a piece of antidoro (take an extra piece on Sunday and cut into small pieces for the rest of the week) and a sip of holy water; their strength. And we double check to make sure they have their weapons; their cross and prayer rope. Then we leave for school and I have the peace of mind knowing that God and His holy Mother and all the saints are surrounding my children with their protection.
“A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.’”
~ St. Anthony the Great
As time goes on, society is leading us further and further away from God. Which means our responsibility as Orthodox Christian parents has become even greater. It is our children who will carry Christ’s light into the future. Are they ready? Have we prepared them?
Sylvia Leontaritis is the author of the children’s book, A Pocketful of Seeds. Her work has appeared in The Handmaiden journal, the Orthodox Christian Radio Network and Ancient Faith Radio. She is a member of the Orthodox Speakers Bureau. She lives on a small farm with her husband Niko and their three sons, Angelo, Panteleimon and Nektarios. Their family attends services at the two monasteries nearby their home. Visit her on her blog, Adventures of an Orthodox Mom, at www.orthodoxmom.com.