So much of our current society has given way to the modern notions of tolerance and values, instead of instilling and nurturing concrete virtues in our children, a moral road map to guide them through life’s mysterious and sometimes dangerous adventure that will ultimately lead to their becoming the beloved creatures that God intended.
Dr. Vigen Guroian, in Tending the Heart of Virtue ~ How Classic Stories Awaken a Child’s Moral Imagination, Oxford University Press, 1998, shares his knowledge “in order to be of some assistance to parents or teachers who desire to learn, as we did, what books and stories to read with children in the midst of a busy life in which time is limited and making the right choices is important.” His goal was to fill a void he found in instructional material for parents to introduce and discuss the moral fabric of some of the best loved children’s literature, particularly stories and fairy tales.
Guroian asserts that while fairy tales are not a substitute for life lessons, they do have the ability to shape our moral imagination without dogmatic lessons or settling for values-clarification education. Fairy tales remind adults and teach children that virtue and vice are opposites. In Tending the Heart of Virtue, Guroian walks us through the moral lessons and Biblical references that can be found in some of the most popular children’s stories. He also compares and contrasts modern interpretations to the classic tales from which they are derived. Reading and sharing these insights with children will help grow morally responsible and virtuous adults, and isn’t that our goal?
by Fr. Joseph Shaheen
from The Word Magazine, January 1980
“As I behold the sea of life surging high with the tempest of temptations, I set my course toward Thy tranquil haven and cry aloud to Thee: lead thou my life forth from corruption, O Most Merciful One.” (Heirmos — Ode 6)
These words from the Canon of the Dead, in the Orthodox Funeral Service, describe very well the exceptional dilemma faced by the youth of today.
Ah, for the peaceful, pastoral, uncluttered, unrushed, unsophisticated, uncomplicated days of the past. The day when father and son walked together at the plow and prayed their labor would produce a bountiful crop, when mother and daughter sat and ground the grain to make the bread needed to sustain life. All the labours of man that were performed, were to the fulfillment of God’s command “be fruitful and multiply.”
It was simple, no hang-ups, no frustrations . . . work just to survive. No Vogue, no Glamour, no Better Homes and Gardens, no Redbook, no Cosmopolitan. Just survival. There was no concern with what shall we wear? What shall we eat? The concern was, shall we eat? Mankind was
concerned with just existing. Everyone had a role, a responsibility, like the meshed wheel. All the links were necessary or the wheel would not function.
Somewhere along the way, from that day until now, many changes have taken place. Who thinks about the labour required to provide a loaf of bread? Who concerns himself with the needs of others? How many people have been so rudely awakened as of late when it was discovered that maybe our big beautiful cars could be the dinosaurs of a future generation?
...but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: through... kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love.... (2 Cor 6:4,6)
In a recent Smart Parenting essay on the spiritual and practical aspects of love (Morelli, 2011), I start out simply with St. John's most profound yet un-complex understanding of God: "God is love." (1 Jn 4:16). This love is shown in the relation of the persons of the Holy Trinity amongst themselves, God's creation and continuing care for His people, and the self-emptying (kenotic) love Christ has for us by His incarnation, passion, death and resurrection for our salvation. I then go on to point out that we must understand the meaning and application of Divine Love in our families and to the world. We have to emulate in our own lives this same love and model this to our children and others by our behaviors, which should be:
a set of actions that are aimed at the good and welfare of the other. Love means having truly beneficent care for the welfare of others in thought word and deed.
In a follow-up essay, (Morelli, 2011b) I point out that if love is understood in this way, we would be given one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, peace. And in turn, children disposed to peace in working through their relationships with others.
“What do you mean, Ian goes to church?” other parents and teachers would ask me about my son, who has autism spectrum disorder. “How can he stay still for that long?” Ian would leap out of his chair in class and sway back and forth. At home, nothing could keep his attention – not movies, TV, or even baking his favorite cookies. In his day program, he needed constant one-to-one supervision in order to do his work. So what is it about the Orthodox Church that allows Ian to follow the deacon’s frequent reminders in the Liturgy “to attend”?
First of all, there is the music. Ian taps his foot and sways to music of all kinds, but the words contained in the rhythm and repetition of chanting keep his attention and stay in his memory. This is no accident, because the Orthodox Church has relied on the senses to teach its doctrine since the very beginning. Besides hearing the Word, we can see and learn about the characters and events in the Bible that are displayed everywhere in the church. Ian enjoys looking at the murals and icons in church that, along with the burning candles, calm him and help him to focus. He also tracks the colors of the priest’s garments and the processions around the altar. Smelling incense and flowers in the church is another sensory pathway to Ian’s memory. Before praying for his family, he sniffs the roses and candles.
Why are the repetition of words, and the chants and the movements so important to someone like Ian with symptoms of autism? Ian knows that he can count on the same order of liturgy every Sunday. This consistency gives a meaningful pattern and framework to the torrent of overwhelming sensations. Unchanging is not only a historical characteristic of the liturgy, it is also an important psychological strength. In these times of overnight change, we all need a place and time to come for support and consistency.
Little children start learning to read by being read to aloud. Most often they learn to read from their parents and brothers and sisters. I believe that I developed a love for reading listening to my mother read small booklets she had brought with her from Greece to Denver, where we were living. Every afternoon or so, I recall laying around on my back, relaxing, and listening intensely to my mom read out loud from a worn-out book that did not even have any colorful pictures. But all of the stories talked about Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. My mother’s deep faith in Christ was revealed to me by listening to her read about the miracles and the parables during our Lord’s short time on earth. Once in a while she also read a story about a princess or two. Again, there were no photos, just the illustration on the book cover.
I finally became a mother myself and wanted to read to my daughter Elena. I don’t think it had anything to do with my beloved mother, but rather with the strange obsession to be part of the middle class in Boston where I had started my own family. I simply wanted to introduce my child to every aspect of the world. I had been greatly influenced by the Montessori system, which holds that the brain of the child is like a sponge that quickly and easily soaks up all kinds of information.
I stood alone in front of the audience while they stared at me in silence. Memories of playing the lead in my second-grade Christmas play rushed back, with all the dread of performing before an audience for the first time.
What was I doing here, a middle-aged man, dressed as a Babylonian king? How did I get here and how did this happen so quickly? The memories and questions flashed by, but then I heard my own voice bellow out to the audience, “I am King Nebuchadnezzar, Ruler of all Babylon. I am here to tell you the most amazing story about three young men and how the True God who rules over all saved them from a fiery death!” With those opening lines Saint George Cathedral Church School in Pittsburgh started a new, educational adventure.
Almost every teacher regularly confronts the challenge to engage his or her students in learning. At times that challenge seems to be overwhelming. However, supportive teamwork, some creativity, and openness to new approaches make it easier to develop eager students who look forward to Church School on Sunday morning.
It was a warm Sunday evening in early September 2006 when the Church School staff met at the Cloherty’s home for the first meeting of the new school year. Our host and Church School Director, Joanne Cloherty, and Father John Abdalah suggested as one of the topics for discussion that we try dramatics to supplement the students’ knowledge of the Bible and of the Saints, Patriarchs, Prophets and others found within it. We decided that I would write and perform one-man plays as a way of making these holy people from the Bible come alive for the children.
From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more. (Lk 12:48).
What makes for a happy child? According to some recent behavioral research, (Holder, Coleman & Wallace, 2008)[i] it is a child who is also ‘spiritual.’ The authors define spiritual in a different way than most Orthodox Christians would comprehend. This article will attempt to outline the core of Orthodox spirituality and see if this understanding can be integrated with these researchers’ findings.
We know that the Body of Christ which is His Church is the most sublime gift given to us by God. This includes, of course, the Divinity emptying itself. The Father sending, that is to say, giving us His Only Begotten Son, to assume human flesh and, as St. Paul has told us, He, “…Christ is the head of the church, his [B]ody, and is [H]imself its Savior.” From the Anaphora prayer of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom we pray (and learn): “[Christ] gave Himself up for the life of the world, ….Take eat: this is my Body which is broken for you….Drink ye all of this: this is my Blood … which is shed for you ….Having in remembrance, therefore this saving commandment and all those things which have come to pass for us: the Cross, the Grave, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into heaven, the Session at the right hand, and the second and glorious Advent…”
Parents and Pastors as head of their church family
The Domestic Church
As Martin, my strawberry-blonde, two-and-a-half year-old bundle of energy, continued lining up little cars the length of the carpet, I watched intently, hoping that the kind lady who interviewed us would return to tell me that we had nothing to worry about: Martin would be just fine. I knew, though, that this interview would not likely end so well. Still, I could not have been less prepared for the news: “Your son is developmentally 12 to 18 months old.” I couldn’t breathe. I think I nodded, and I know someone gave me some tissues, but I do not remember anything that was said to me after that.
In that moment, 17 years ago, everything we thought our lives would be, changed. Today, Martin is a happy young man. At age 19 and a half, he is developmentally 10 to 12 years old. Yet he attends a job training school, from which he works as a janitor two hours a day at a police station. He has friends he sees at school, and he loves going to church. Sunday morning Liturgy is his favorite. Since he knows the service intimately, he chants along and gives himself over to the work of worship with joy. He is quite a blessing to us, and it is now difficult for me to think of my beautiful son apart from his autism. He is exactly as our Lord God intended him to be.
Martin is not unique, however. In our parishes, in our communities, in our dioceses, in our archdiocese, in our patriarchate, and in the world at large, children like Martin and their families suffer from the effects of their disabilities with few resources to help them. This year the Antiochian Women, with the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Phillip, have launched a new project, “Children with Special Needs.” Our son’s story may give you some idea of how such a project can help these special children.