Dear Parents… Part One: Christian Education

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Dear Parents,

I’m writing this to you because we, your servants, love your kids. This is not written to attack you or accuse you of anything “bad”. Again, I’m writing it because I, and other servants, love your kids. Because we love them, we also have some concerns. This blog got very long, so I will be dividing it into multiple parts. I am not saying any of this in an accusatory way – I am responding to real issues and things that are really said. I am not making up the issues. The Church cares about your children, as do you as parents, of course, and so it is important here and there to hear about those concerns, in the same way that many are more than happy to express their concerns to servants and clergy. This is not an exhaustive list of issues, but really just a sampling of categories in which there are issues going on in which I hope to engage you. Your comments and feedback are more than welcome.

God is our first parent. He created us, just like you created your children. He gave you that ability to create, and He gave it to you as a gift. In fact, He really wanted you to have kids, and that’s why He commanded you to ‘be fruitful and multiply’. He set up a system of community and discipleship. He set things up that the first parents would learn from Him (and all since then), and that the kids would learn from their parents:

Train up a child in the way he should go,
and when he is old he will not depart from it.

– Proverbs 22:6

The question is: are you training your children in the way they should go?

I’m going to raise some issues that are seen by servants all over the place, and as I said, I’m not accusing you of anything. I’m asking you to reflect a little with us. You may be doing everything perfectly, and you may be doing things with good intention. It’s also possible that you may not see things how others are seeing them, or realising that there may be something worth improving. I am not writing this as a series as advice to parents, but rather, I’m writing about challenges when house and Church collide, and what the expectations are from each side. Again, I invite you to interact with me here through the comments, because I’m presenting only one side of the coin, and I’m aware of that. 😃 I’m a little apprehensive that I may be stoned.

Christian Education
Some parents think their duties are to teach their kids etiquette, social habits, how to study and things of that nature. They are right – those are their duties. Some, however, think that religious education is a task meant for the Church. They believe that the Church somehow instills in their kids all the religious education that they need – through the priest or the Sunday School or both. This is not the case and it should not be.

Sunday School didn’t exist in our Church until mid-last century. We actually sort of borrowed it from the Protestants and gave it an Orthodox feel. If we would have stolen it perfectly, it would have looked like it looked when they first started it in the Protestant Church:

The Sunday schools were organized by people who found that working-class children required some form of discipline. Sunday and evening schools were established to teach reading, writing, arithmetic and catechsim to the ‘deserving’ poor: enrollment was decided upon by visits with parents, nominations from subscribers, and individual student applications. Students were expected to attend school four to five hours per week, and was the only schooling that most working class children ever received.
http://digital.library.mcgill.ca/sunday/hist1.htm

Sunday School was not meant initially even by the Protestants to teach the faith solely. It was a social service that grew and took on a new shape. I won’t discuss the merits or deficiencies of Sunday School in this blog, but suffice it to say that the idea of Sunday School was never to remove the role of religious education from the clergy or from the parents.

Sometimes kids come to the classroom and they clearly have almost never read their Bible at home. The child does not know any Bible stories, or does not know the name of any characters in the Bible.

I used to tease my sister in Sunday School when I was in high school. Whenever our teacher would say, “Okay, open your Bibles to Philippians”, for example, I would immediately address my sister and say, “That’s New Testament!” as though she would have no idea and that that would truly hilarious. I, for my part, laughed hysterically every time. Today, however, that’s not a joke. Today it’s a very real thing. Our kids:

– Don’t know whether Revelations is Old or New Testament
– They don’t know who Paul of Tarsus is
– They don’t know what the big deal is about Abraham
– They don’t know what the New Testament and they definitely don’t know the Old
– They usually can’t list almost any (if any) miracles or parables of our Lord
– They don’t know the lives of any saints
– They often can’t name the four gospels, let alone the prophets

How does such a situation arise? It means that at home, there is not a sense of urgency about teaching children their Bible. Perhaps I do not understand why this is from the parents’ perspective, but I can definitely say that it is a problem.

A parent may respond: I am working to put food on the table. Well and good. Is that sufficient though? In doing this, are you teaching your child, that the most important thing is their God, or are you teaching them that religion comes when you have leftover time from other things? If you are doing the latter, then it means that you believe that God created man for the world, and not the world for man. It is also saying that someone else who also needs to put food and drink on the table, is responsible for taking care of making sure that your child learns about God. Is that a right expectation – that others raise your child in this and not yourself? Others should have time for your children, but not yourself? What is the message here?

When the devil tempted the Lord to be more concerned about His food than He was, the Lord replied, “Man shall not live by bread alone?” Is this the approach that you have towards raising your children and teaching them the heavenly food?

Another parent may respond: What use is it for my kid to know these stories when all around him are people doing drugs and other bad things that I want to protect my kid from? Is my child going to answer with a parable or a story about Abraham?

Well, yes, actually. 😃 Maybe not specifically about Abraham, but yes, knowing these stories and knowing the foundations of their religion will give them strength in the time of struggle. Knowing why we believe what we believe, will give them conviction of some sort when being pressured. Knowing the story of Abraham or Joseph or Saint Macarius might help your child take strength in examples of other people who were ridiculed or set apart because of their belief in the truth. Abraham was estranged from family. Joseph was estranged from family and falsely imprisoned for sticking to his guns. Saint Macarius was accused of fathering a child that wasn’t his. They all had glorious endings. How will they know this if you do not teach them?

When a person comes to you child and says, “Heck, Jesus didn’t even say He was God!” Do you recognise that this is not the first time that accusation was made? Does your child know who Athanasius is and that he encountered the same accusation and fought hard to answer? Having knowledge equips one for battle, it doesn’t handicap the warrior. If your child is struggling with sin does he know of saints who struggled with the same thing? If your child is going through pressures, does he know about the martyrs who were pressured, or do you not make these stories alive and real to them?

On the flip-side, when they have no knowledge, when someone pressures them to do wrong – they are more likely to say ‘yes’ to the temptation because they do not know better. If someone ridicules their faith or their Bible, they are more likely to be hurt or influenced by that, because they do not know anything about their faith or their Bible.

The priest will teach doctrine, exhort, and instruct from the pulpit. This is true. Sunday Schools (hopefully), can complement those teachings, sure. Parents, though, must take responsibility. These are your kids, you are solely responsible for them.

Why not make things a family thing? Parents, you ought to be reading your Bibles. Why not read the Bible with your children? You ought to know stories of models of faith from before us, why not share them with your kids? If you have this knowledge, you have no reason not to hand them down to your children. If you lack this knowledge, then start acquiring it and seeking it with your family.

Bringing your children together around you will be a source of life to you and your house. Not only will you spiritually be more attuned, but you will be spending more quality time with your family working toward the thing that is supposed to be the aim of your relationships: salvation. The time you spend together reading may have higher purpose to it. If your kids are fighting either with you or one another, having them come together to read the Bible will likely force some kind of reconciliation! This is a good thing. A son seeing his dad care about faith is more likely to have him care about his faith. A daughter seeing her mother have knowledge of the Bible will make her more likely to assume a role of acquiring knowledge.

Abouna Lazarus in Egypt, a former atheist and presently a hermit, was taught scripture by a very young girl. It was a young Coptic Orthodox girl who came and spoke to him about the Old Testament and the New, and played a huge role in his journey toward Christ. Such a small thing did such a big thing and now that big thing is affecting thousands or more people around the world.

Reflect, are you taking responsible for Christian education in your home or not?

This is what the Lord said about handing down the faith to your children:

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

(Dt 6:4–9)

  1. I always knew that when I have kids, I would raise them up more diligently in the faith than my parents did for me. However, after reading this, I realize that i have an even bigger responsibility to do so. Disclaimer: I’m a 19 year old college freshman.

  2. Thank you Abouna!!! You put a lot of things into perspective and I appreciate that! I got chills reading the part about Fr. Lazarus . I admit, I don’t spend as much time as I should teaching my kids about the bible. Thank you for putting this out there, it’s a seed that will help us grow in Christ together.

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      Jackie! Long time no see. 🙂

      I remember him saying that he was actually nervous to read the Bible with her because he was worried she’d ask him questions, and instead expounded to him!

      My best to the famjam. 🙂

      Pray for me.

  3. The way it begins reminds me of St. John’s 1st epistle “I’m writing to you father’s… I write to you young men…” 😊

  4. Thank you for posting thoughtfully and honestly about a practical issue that affects all of us. Fr. Peter Farrington has taught me: we cannot impart what we have not experienced.