What does it mean for us, as parents, to provide proper instruction to our children so that they may live a spiritually rich life? Should we make sure our children attend Sunday school or monthly youth group meetings? Well, that is a good start, but we need to do more. We need to help our children become spiritually rich by role modeling and engaging them in conversation about how to make the effort to become closer to God and feel His love. Every day our children are bombarded with temptations (sin) that pull them farther and farther away from the love of God. The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-10) (as stated by Jesus Christ) are instructions on Godly living that provide us with the guidelines needed to help us combat sinful temptations and open our hearts to the Lord’s Grace. Although there are eight Beatitudes we will only focus on one of them today.
Blessed Are Those Who Mourn
There are many temptations or distractions that pull us away from God. In the Beatitude “Blessed are Those Who Mourn, for They Shall Be Comforted” Jesus is instructing us to retain our dignity (FitzGerald and FitzGerald, 2005). In other words, retain what God the Father had originally set out for us before the Fall of Adam and Eve. How do we return to that pure state where we feel the love of God? We mourn.
How can we mourn? What does our Lord want us to do? According to Orthodox Christian authors Coniaris (2003), FitzGerald and FitzGerald (2005), and Forest (2008) there are several meanings woven into this beautiful Beatitude and from them are three prominent themes: Metanoia or Repentance, Joyous Sadness, and Mourning the Sins of Others. Each theme represents important characteristics that we should possess as we move towards God.
Repentance or “Metanoia”
“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the first!” - I Timothy 1-15
We are asked to repent our sins by engaging in the Sacrament of Holy Confession with our spiritual father or parish priest. We are asked to be like the Samaritan woman at the well, who Christ identified as living a very sinful life. The woman at the well, realizing she was standing before the Son of God repented with deep humility. She “opened her heart to God “(Luke 7:44-47) and experienced His mercy. When we genuinely repent we acknowledge our sins, experience a feeling of humility and acceptance of our mistakes. We have a change of heart. When this acknowledgment takes place we can reconnect with God. We have a sense of harmony with our Beloved Father. As parents it is important that we encourage our children to become comfortable with the parish priest, and in turn, find solace speaking to him in Confession. Sunday school teachers can assist parents by instructing children on Confession and then setting aside a block of time following the Divine Liturgy for youngsters to participate in the Sacrament. Through example our children will engage in this Sacrament, experience a sense of comfort sharing their stories and in turn find peace through encouragement and prayer.
Another important aspect of finding peace through prayers and confession relates to experiences in the lives of our teenagers and young adults. It is not unusual to encounter young people who feel ashamed or unworthy due to past mistakes. Here is an opportunity to reach out to them, console them, and guide them to learn about the lives of Orthodox Christian Saints. They need to know that although they have made mistakes they can have a ‘change of heart” (metanoia) and be redeemed. An excellent example of redemption is in the life of Saint Silouan the Athonite. As a young man, St. Silouan lived a sinful raucous life only to realize his errors and eventually become a humble saint. Through the help of God and our Savior Jesus Christ, he transformed from a rebellious youth to an individual filled with love and humility. Children need to know that many of our Orthodox Christian Saints made terribly wrong decisions and through repentance, love and support were able to become the ultimate role models: in the image of God.
Joyous Sadness or “Charmolipi”
“Haste thee, O God, to deliver me? Make haste to help me, O Lord”
It is normal that at some point in life we will experience loss and grief. How we experience loss and grief will be determined by our faith, emotional strength, and our desire and ability to reach out to others for help. Elder Ephraim writes that “mere human mourning” is a destructive sorrow that can lead to despair and cause psychological and physical illnesses. In other words when our sorrow overtakes us and draws us away from family, friends and church, we are in a state of “mere human mourning.” Instead of remaining alone in our grief, we need to reach out to our spiritual father and/or someone we trust who understands and cares for us. We should seek out someone with spiritual strength because it is important to avoid dwelling on an experience that will drag us down into the pit of despair. As parents we need to help our children understand loss. We need to explain that loss and grief are natural aspects of life and how our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ overcame death by death. We need to take time to listen and observe our children. Are they behaving differently? Are they acting out or becoming very quiet? As parents, don’t be afraid to reach out to professionals who possess experience working with children on the subject of bereavement and loss. People are often embarrassed to ask for help. It is not unusual, however, to seek out the assistance of your priest and/or a professional counselor that possesses the characteristics mindful of our Lord’s instructions to live a Godly Life.
We Must Mourn The Sins Of Others
“Blessed are they who mourn over the sins of others”
St. John Chrysostom
In a world where the internet presents every awful detail of every celebrity’s life; how can we help our children develop the ability to discern and know when to mourn or “weep” as Jesus did over the people of Jerusalem? Our Lord Jesus knew that the people of Jerusalem (and society in general) were in peril of being lost from God’s grace forever. He mourned for mankind, even though He was about to face humiliation, agony and death. Our Lord demonstrated and role modeled the ultimate example of compassion. Do we possess this level of compassion? Do we mourn the sins of others? How can we instruct our children to develop and experience forgiveness, mercy, grace and kindness? This is our challenge. As parents we need to live by example for the sake of our children. We need to try to be mindful of what we say about others who have made grave errors and in turn have hurt us. Teaching our children that we are all made in the image of God means we must have grieve for and forgive all humans. If we can behave as our Lord did, with compassion, then we can soften our own hearts, become closer to God and hopefully help our children develop that Christ-like manner. In his book Divine Energy: The Orthodox Path to Christian Victory, Jon Braun (1995) states: “God’s forgiveness, His remitting of our sins, is not limited to this life only. All His forgiveness – with its cleansing, pardoning, and healing – have as their goal life everlasting” (p.95).Through prayers of repentance, appropriate guidance from a spiritual father, and healthy conversations about the ills of society we will enable ourselves and our children to move closer to God.
“The Lord absorbs me completely”
As parents we need to help our children understand the beauty of God’s Love. When we appropriately grieve, mourn our sins and those of others we will experience His comfort. Remember, there is no end to God’s Love, it is limitless!
Angelike (Angie) Giallourakis, Ph.D. is a Resource Specialist for the GOA Center for Family Care. She and her family attend St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Rocky River, Ohio. She feels blessed to be part of such a wonderful community and loving Christians.