by Fr. Richard L. Tinker
from The Word, November 1966
It would be somewhat unfair to rest the entire burden of religious education on the parents in our own archdiocese because, in all fairness, we have to admit that they are not as well prepared to carry out the responsibility as could be desired. The Orthodox Church is still in the mission-stage in this country, and we are still in the throes of reclaiming our people from the sects who took advantage, and are still taking advantage of the many internal problems the Church has had to face in America. But I think that our strongest asset is the inherent generosity of our people, and their willingness to cooperate, once they are asked to do so, and once they are shown how.
So many people, and especially parents, have admitted to me that they realize that their own religious training has been sketchy. They realize (and certainly I do) that this is not their fault. But still, realizing their inadequacy, they want to see that their own children do not suffer because of it. And so they ask, “What do you think I should do?”
I always start by telling them to see that their children develop good habits. Teaching and instructing all have their place in perfecting an Orthodox Christian. But grace can accomplish more than all our human efforts combined. And the source of grace is the Sacraments. See that your children take advantage of the Sacraments at every opportunity. There is really no excuse for children remaining away from the Sacraments to the extent that they do. Many parishes have established a Sunday during the month at which children are urged to communicate. Very well and good. But once a month, although it is a vast improvement over the once-a-year or four-times-a-year-concept, is still a minimal thing. A person should communicate — stronger — is commanded to communicate whenever the chalice is presented. And that, although it may shock some, is at every Liturgy. People are continually saying that they feel unworthy to approach, when what they should be saying is that they are lazy. Communion that frequently costs something. It means giving up certain sins which seem to “make life worthwhile.”
But children have not developed that deep-rooted attachment to serious sins as yet. That is why we call them innocent, and that is why Christ loved them so. And so, what is to prevent them from communicating frequently? If anyone is ready to receive Christ, it is our children. And yet, through custom, through a lack of urging on the part of parents, and through a lack of good example on the part of parents, they are permitted to go weeks or even months at a time without approaching the altar. That is a shame, and the situation continues because parents, who panic when a child does not touch food for a day, are unconcerned when they starve spiritually.
Of course, a parent who urges his children to frequent communion does so at his own risk. And it is a risky business. For, after continual urgings and compliance on the part of the child, the question is bound to be asked: “Dad, if it’s such a good idea, why don’t you go more often?” Be prepared for that one. And if your child is as bright as you’ve been telling the neighbors he is, the question is bound to be asked.
Children have to be given a sense of continuity in what is taught to them. They are quick to pick out inconsistencies, and although they are smart enough to know that, under the circumstances, they shouldn’t voice their conclusions out loud, nothing in this world will keep them from thinking them. They will quickly see through the dubious situation of having religion preached to them one hour a week, only to come and find that God is absent in their own homes.
And so it is with urging a child to have a prayer life. Suppose we are able to have them attend Sunday School, and train them to prayerful participation in the Liturgy. What happens when they come home? They enter a vacuum. Daddy is there. Mother is there. The dog, the television set and a refrigerator chock full of goodies is there. But God is waiting back in the church. As one little boy poignantly put it as his parents drove him away from church: “Goodbye God, see you next Sunday...”
There is no getting around it. It is difficult... and embarrassing... to start public prayers in the home when you haven’t done it before. Most men frankly do not have the stomach for it. Most women, who have always been accused by the menfolk as being religious fanatics anyway, are reticent at breaking the ice. But for the sake of your children, don’t you think you should? You really can’t expect from them what you don’t do yourself.
How do you start? Get a little icon from your church, and hang it on the wall someplace. Then, when it comes time to put the children to bed call your wife out of the kitchen for a moment, and gather the whole family in front of the little icon. Turn the television off. The effect of the silence will probably be shattering. When everybody is quiet, make the sign of the cross yourself, and bow your head. That’s all. No prayers, no words, nothing but thirty seconds of silence. The next night, you can repeat your actions. If you are besieged for explanations, you don’t have to give any, except to say: “Oh, it’s just a little something I thought we’d do all together.” Several days later, you might get up enough courage to say the “Our Father,” or a few words you make up on the spot. At least, this is a beginning. The rest is up to you.
Relics of St. Bartholomew - August 25
O wise Bartholomew, thy holy relics appeared like the dawn shining in the East and coming to the West. They shine with the gifts of the Daystar of life and dispel the darkness of diseases from those who approach them with faith and hope.