From the St. Nicholas monthly bulletin…
On the Christian Life
Our Children Belong in the Church
Question: Father, I know that I have not been to church very often lately, but isn’t it enough to just say my prayers at home?
Answer: Actually, it is not enough. Attendance at church and participation in the Divine Services on the Lord’s Day is a duty, and not optional. When we absent ourselves from church, we are stealing from God. He gives us absolutely everything, our life, our homes, our abilities, our careers, our children, our minds, our health – absolutely everything. He gives us the time of our life, and our freedom. In return, He requires of us our service, our worship, our gratitude.
When we do not go to church, we weaken our attachment to the Body of Christ, which is the Church. We are not Christians individually, but we are all part of a living community. We deprive ourselves of the grace of the Holy Spirit which is in the prayers of our common worship, and in the Sacraments of Confession and Communion. We deprive ourselves of the opportunity to work for God as a community, as a body.
Q: But I am a good person, at least I try to be. Isn’t that all that our Lord asks of us?
A: No it is not. He put us on this earth for a purpose, for our salvation, to prepare to be citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. He asks us to be conformed to Himself: Be ye holy, for I am holy (1 Peter 1:16). We have a task – to be His messengers, His eyes, His ears, His hands, His feet, His mouth, to do His work on this earth, not only within the walls of the church, but every hour of every day of our lives. How can we be prepared for, or mindful of these things, if we are not taught, if we receive no instructions, if we do not discuss problems with the family of our Faith, namely our parish?
Q: But my younger children are so fidgety, and my older ones have sports or lessons on Sunday mornings, so I cannot bring them until the season is over.
A: Our children belong in church. There is no better place for them to be. If we do not bring them to church regularly, they will never become accustomed to the services, and will fidget and be bored. When the little ones come to Communion, rather than receive calmly, they will be frightened of this stranger with the spoon in his hand trying to give them who knows what unpalatable medicine. By coming to church every Sunday they will become accustomed to receiving Communion calmly, and come to know that the church is the House of the Lord, and that it is their home too.
If we bring our children regularly they will meet and know other Orthodox Christians, and they will know that they are not alone in the world. They will not grow up thinking that church is something odd that parents do rarely.
Children learn by example. If we put sports, or ballet, or Russian lessons ahead of church, they will know that we do not value the Church – it is merely secondary and unimportant to us. We will then become agents of the destruction of our children’s souls, and be answerable to God for this.
Q: But Sunday is our family time. We are so busy during the rest of the week.
A: Yes it should indeed be family time. But what better way to spend time as a family than praying together and preparing and receiving the Sacraments together? We should come to church as a family, pray as a family, and break bread with our fellow parishioners as a family. We will then become more to each other, not strangers, but rather we will be brothers. By this shall men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another (John 13:35).
Q: But we are so busy all the time...
A: Then perhaps we should reconsider our priorities. A career is a good thing, but it should not be all-consuming. Outside activities are good and pleasant, but they should not be the be-all and end-all. We desire that our children do well in life, that they be well-adjusted, well-educated and find good careers, but everything should be in measure. Perhaps not all the things we do have a lasting benefit, and could be dispensed with? It is not necessary that we should live beyond our means and so incur burdens on our time and quality of life and that harm our souls. Perhaps that cruise can wait for another year? Perhaps we do not need our son to be a soccer star? Perhaps our daughter will never be a prima ballerina? Perhaps there are other times to do secular activities? Perhaps we do not have faith that God will provide for our children without these unnecessary things?
Once upon a time, not so long ago, it was unthinkable that anyone would dare schedule children’s activities on a Sunday (not just the morning, but also the afternoon). This was family time. I remember when I was a child, whatever I did for relaxation or wherever I visited on Sunday after church, I was expected to be home in time for supper to eat with my grandparents, uncle and aunt and cousins. The fact that people are now overscheduled and have extracurricular activities on Sundays is a measure of how much we have ceased to be a God-fearing people. This is not a matter of indifference; it is a question of highest moral urgency.
St Cosmas of Aitolia (who preached and evangelized northern Greece and Albania in the 1700’s) reproved the people who had drifted away from respecting the Lord’s Day, and said that any gain earned on the Lord’s Day was cursed. I know that times are hard nowadays, but if we have the choice, we should avoid jobs that employ us on Sundays.
Q: What about this fall? I have to sign up my children for activities for the school year.
A: Perhaps you can cut back? If, however, these activities prevent your children from regular attendance in church, know that you are harming their souls and yours. Occasionally, an event might be inescapable and excusable, but if it becomes a general rule, it is wrong.
No activity is more important than our duty to God. There is enough time in our week for everything: Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work (Exodus 20:9, 10).
Fr George Lardas