“Children are not our future – they are our present!”

Homily in Celebration of our Children and Youth (All Saints Day, 2013)

“Children are not our future – they are our present!”

These words of our beloved Metropolitan Constantine of blessed memory are not a call to put our children and youth on some kind of throne, but to expect and allow them to join us in serving the God who rightly belongs on that throne. Our children and youth are full members of the Body of Christ – we have to treat them like it; not by catering to their whims (although we should certainly take their needs and concerns seriously), but by having them roll up their sleeves right next to us and get to work.

Our youth (and especially our teenagers) hate being told “you’ll get to do that when you are older”. It can be so condescending. They resent having to wait to be taken seriously. Teenagers: Orthodoxy takes you seriously right now. Orthodoxy takes you seriously right now because God takes you seriously right now. You are one of us. You are one with us.

Why do we baptize infants? So that we can coddle them? Why do we have pre-teen boys and girls begin formal repentance and confession? To provide an excuse for apathy and a lack of commitment? No, it is so that they can grow up with all the benefits and responsibilities that a life in Christ has to offer. That is to say, we bring them into the full sacramental life of the Church so that they can enjoy the fruits of a life lived in virtue, a life lived joyously, and a life lived increasingly free from the control of our passions and the impious whims of others. I life that will allow them to work for their own salvation and for the salvation of the world. This is the calling of all Christians. It is the true calling of all who live and breath, no matter their age.

What does this mean? How can we encourage this kind of life in Christ among our children and youth? There is a temptation to create new programs and modify all the things we do so as to make our parish life more child and youth friendly. I am a big supporter of things like Church school, All Saints Camp, and Heritage Days. We really do need to take the specific needs of our young people seriously. But having said that, I think that the noted theologian Fr. Michael Pomezansky had it right: the best program for growing children into saints is the very same one that God gave everyone to grow into saints. So while I am going to offer three sets of advice to our youth on how hey can be taken seriously as Orthodox Christians (and thus enjoy all the benefits of a life in Christ), this advice won’t be much different from the advice I would give to anyone else. This is because I respect our youth, I love them, and I genuinely want them to succeed.

So what is that advice?

1. Regular participation in worship.

It is vital that parents bring their children to church on a regular basis from the very beginning. Our life in Christ is not primarily a life lived in the intellect – it is lived in the heart. The Holy Spirit will use the services of the church to develop that heart from the very beginning. We require attendance in school and various extra-curricular activities – why? So that our children will develop virtues like dependability and hard-work and so that they will develop skills that we hope will help them as they grow older. These things are important, but what we do here together in church is so much more important. The skills learned in school and other activities may well pay off in the future, but who really knows? Much of the payoff depends on things that are outside anyone’s control. But the life in Christ allows men and women to be good, joyous, and respectable no matter what happens around them. I cannot understand why anyone would risk this guaranteed benefit for an less probable one that would bring less payoff even if achieved. But this is what we do when we put anything else before our communal worship on Sundays and feast days. The balance sure must be tilted in favor of worship. Children who instinctively value worship, God, and their relationship with Him, because it has worked its way into their hearts and become central to who they – central to their very identity (as homo adorans) – will continue to value it even when all the world tells them it is all a waste of time.

SJC: We spare neither labors nor means in order to teach our children secular sciences, so that they can serve well the earthly authorities. Only the knowledge of the holy Faith, the service of the Heavenly King are a matter of indifference to us. We allow them to attend spectacles but we care little whether they go to Church and stand within it reverently. We demand an account from them of what they learned in their secular institutes—why do we not demand an account from them of what they heard in the Lord’s house?

2. Embrace the ascetic practices (prayer rule, fasting, tithing).

We coddle our children and youth more than we should. Prayer, fasting, sacrificial giving – these are the day-to-day mechanisms of our salvation. They are the disciplines that allow us to become strong and live what the ancient Greeks called “the good life”. We do not deny children the vitamins, calories, and exercise they need to grow healthy bodies – in fact to do so would be an obvious sign of abuse. Why should we deny them the spiritual vitamins, calories, and exercise they need to grow healthy hearts?

Of course, all things must be done in proportion to their needs and abilities – you don’t feed babies an adult diet. But how early do we wean them from the breast and bottle and work mushed food into their diet? How long before they are eating the same food we do, albeit in smaller portions? And how long before their growing bodies have them eating us out of hearth and home?! We should follow a similar progression when it comes to their spiritual diet. Simple prayers, rudimentary fasting, and the weekly buying of candles should grow along with the body into an adult prayer rule, real fasting, and the regular tithing of allowances and money earned. This is not wasted effort any more than the increase of vitamins, calories, and exercise are wasted. Can you imagine anyone who needs the self discipline more than our teenage men and women? Not only are they subjected to stresses that are unimaginable to us, the the chemicals in their bodies are generating emotions that are much bigger than ours. They need the same powerful tools we use to deal with temptation because they have powerful temptations to overcome. We don’t give hungry children stones, we shouldn’t ignore their spiritual needs, either.

SJC: Children who are submissive and faithful to God in their obedience to His law will have found an abundant source of happiness, even in this temporal life. A poor man with Christian morals inspires respect and love from others. Meanwhile, with an evil and depraved heart, all your riches will not save you from the displeasure and aversion of everyone around you.

What is a strong body? Is it not one that is healthy, whether hungry or surfeited, cold or warm? Or is it something that is dependent upon restaurants, tailors, merchants, and physicians for health? The truly rich man, the true lover of wisdom, needs none of these things, and that is why the blessed Apostle admonishes us to bring our children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

3. Model good behavior.

The last advice I will give is that we require our children to model virtuous behavior – and that we model it ourselves. Children have no more useful examples than their families and friends, and their friends have no better example than our children. I began with a quote from our late Metropolitan, let me finish with a quote from our current one; “We may be the only Christ that other people see.” All of us, children, youth, and adults, are full members of the Church. The Church is the body of Christ, the way that He has chosen to work within the world. We must walk as He walked, heal as he healed, and be perfect as He is perfect. If we love our children and our youth, we must be Christ to them – and they must be Christ to us as well. In this way the raising of godly children becomes a blessing to their parents and the entire world.

SJC: The youth to whom you give a good upbringing will not only enjoy general respect, he will also become dearer to you yourselves! Your attachment to him will not be a mere natural attraction—it will be the fruit of his virtue. For this, during your old age, you will in turn receive from him the services of his filial love. He will be your support. For just as those who do not revere the Lord also have contempt for their own parents, those who revere God, the Father of all men, will have every respect for those who gave them life.


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