As Saint Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia says: “It’s great to walk, to work, to move and to have your health. But first you should have your spiritual health. Your spiritual health is fundamental, then comes bodily health. Almost all sicknesses come from the lack of trust in God and this creates stress”
What’s important for Man is to walk on the path of spiritual health since the very beginning. As the Saint says:
“A large part of the responsibility for a person’s spiritual state lies with the family. A child’s upbringing commences at the moment of its conception”
In this post we present Saint Porphyrios’ valuable teachings on the upbringing of children.
The sanctity of the parents is the best way of bringing up children in the Lord.
“We must see God in the faces of our children and give God’s love to our children. The children should learn to pray. And in order for children to pray they must have in them the blood of praying parents. This is where some people make the mistake of saying, ‘Since the parents are devout and pray, meditate on Holy Scripture and bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, it is natural that they will become good children.’ But nevertheless we see the very opposite result on account of coercion.
It is not sufficient for the parents to be devout. They mustn’t oppress the children to make them good by force. We may repel our children from Christ when we pursue the things of our religion with egotism. Children cannot endure coercion. Don’t compel them to come with you to church. You can say, ‘Whoever wants can come with me now or come later.’ Leave God to speak to their souls. The reason why the children of some devout parents become rebellious when they grow up and reject the Church and everything connected with it and go off to seek satisfaction elsewhere is because of this pressure which they feel from their ‘good’ parents. The so-called ‘devout’ parents, who were anxious to make good Christians of their children with their human love, pressurized their children and produced the opposite result. The children are pressurized when they are young, and when they reach the age of sixteen, seventeen or eighteen years old, they end up the opposite of what was intended. By way of reaction they start to mix with bad company and to use bad language.
When children grow up in an atmosphere of freedom and at the same time are surrounded by the good example of grown-ups, they are a joy to see. The secret is to be good and saintly and to inspire and radiate. The life of the children seems to be affected by the radiation of their parents. If the parents insist, ‘Come on now, go and make confession, go and receive Communion’, and so on, nothing is achieved. But what does your child see in you? How do you live and what do you radiate? Does Christ radiate in you? That is what is transmitted to your child. This is where the secret lies. And if this is done when the child is young, it will not be necessary for it to undergo ‘great travail’ when it grows up. Solomon the Wise uses a beautiful image about exactly this subject, underlining the importance of a good start and good foundations: He who seeks her [Wisdom] early shall have no great travail; for he shall find her sitting at his doors. The person who ‘seeks her early’ is the person who occupies himself with Wisdom from an early age. Wisdom is Christ.
When the parents are saintly and transmit this to the child and give the child an upbringing ‘in the Lord’, then the child, whatever the bad influences around it, will not be affected because by the door of its heart will be Wisdom — Christ Himself. The child will not undergo great travail to acquire Wisdom. It seems very difficult to become good, but in reality it is very easy when from an early age you start with good experiences. As you grow up effort is not required; you have goodness within you and you experience it. You don’t weary yourself; it is yours, a possession which you preserve, if you are careful, throughout your life.”
With prayer and sanctity you can also help children at school
“What is true for parents is also true for teachers. With prayer and sanctity you can also help children at school. The grace of God can overshadow them and make them good. Don’t attempt with human methods to correct bad situations. No good will come of this. Only with prayer will you produce results. Invoke the grace of God on all the children — for divine grace to enter their souls and transform them. That is what it means to be a Christian.
You teachers transmit your anxiety to the children, without realizing it, and this affects them. With faith anxiety dissolves. What is it that we say? ‘We commit our whole life to Christ our God.’
Respond to the love of the children with discernment. And once they love you, you will be able to lead them to Christ. You will become the means. Let your love be genuine. Don’t love them in a human way, as parents usually do. This does not help them. Love in prayer, love in Christ. This is truly beneficial. Pray for each child you see, and God will send His grace and will unite the child to Him. Before you enter the classroom, especially difficult classes, repeat the prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ…’. And as you enter, embrace all the children with your gaze, pray and then start your lesson, offering your whole self. By making this offering in Christ, you will be filled with joy. And in this way both you and the children will be sanctified. You will live in the love of Christ and of His Church, because you will become good during your work.
If a pupil causes a problem, make a general observation first, such as:
‘Children, we’re all here for a lesson, for a serious business. I’m here to help you. You are working hard to succeed in life, and I, who love you all very much, am also working hard. So please be quiet so that we can achieve our aim.’
And while you’re saying this don’t look at the pupil who’s misbehaving. If he continues, address yourself to him, not with anger, but with seriousness and resolution. You need to be watchful and to keep control of the class to be able to influence their souls. The children are not at fault if they cause problems. It is the grown-ups who are to blame.
Don’t speak much about Christ and God to the children, but pray to God for the children.
Words enter the ears, but prayer enters the heart. Listen to a secret. The first day you enter a class, don’t have a lesson. Speak to the children warmly and clearly and behave with love towards them. To begin with don’t speak to them at all about God or about the soul. This comes later. But on the day when you decide to speak to them about God, prepare yourself well and say:
‘There is a subject about which many people have great doubts. It is the subject ‘God’. What’s your opinion about this?’
And then you will have a discussion. On another day you will broach the subject of the ‘soul’. Is there such a thing as the “soul”?’
Then you can talk about evil from a philosophical point of view. Tell them that we have two selves, a good and a bad. We must cultivate the good self. It is the good self that desires progress, kindness and love. We need to wake up this good self in order to become right-minded people in society. Remember that hymn: ‘Oh soul, my soul, arise, why are you sleeping?’ Don’t tell them it like this, but with other words, for example: ‘Be bright and awake for good things — for education, for love. Only love makes all things beautiful and fills our life and gives it meaning. Our wicked self desires laziness and indifference. But that takes all flavour from life and takes away all meaning and beauty.’
All these things, however, require preparation. Love demands sacrifices and very often sacrifice of time. Make sure you have mastery of your subject and are ready to give to the children. Be prepared and say everything with love and above all with joy. Show them all your love and know what you want and what you are saying. But how to behave towards children is an art. I heard a lovely story about this. Listen.
There was a teacher who was being tormented by the behaviour of one of the boys and wanted to expel him from the school. In the meantime, however, a new teacher arrived and took over the class. The new teacher was told in advance about the problem pupil. He also heard that the boy in question was mad about bicycles. So, on the second day, when he entered the classroom he said:
‘Children, I’ve got a problem. I live far from the school and I want to get a bicycle so that I don’t tire my feet out every day walking here, but I don’t know how to ride one. Could any one of you teach me how to ride a bike?’
The mischievous boy jumped up at once and said, ‘I’ll teach you, Sir.’
‘Do you know how to ride a bike?
From that moment on they became best friends, to the point that the old teacher got upset when he saw them. He felt a sense of inadequacy that he had been unable to evoke respect from the boy.
There are often orphan children at a school. It’s a hard thing to be an orphan. A child who’s deprived of its parents, especially at an early age, becomes unhappy in life. But if it acquires spiritual parents in Christ and our Holy Lady, it becomes a saint. Treat orphan children with love and understanding, but above all bring them into contact with Christ and the Church.”
Teach the children to seek God’s help
“The medicine and great secret for children’s progress is humility. Trust in God gives perfect security. God is everything. No one can say that I am everything. That cultivates egotism. God desires us to lead children to humility. Without humility neither we nor children will achieve anything. You need to be careful when you encourage children. You shouldn’t say to a child, ‘You’ll succeed, you’re great, you’re young, you’re fearless, you’re perfect!’ This is not good for the child. You can tell the child to pray, and say, ‘The talents you have, have been given to you by God, Pray and God will give you strength to cultivate them and in that way you will succeed. God will give you His grace.’ That is the best way. Children should learn to seek God’s help in everything.
Praise is harmful to children. What does Scripture say? Oh my people, those who call you blessed lead you astray, and pervert the path of your feet. The person who praises us leads us astray and perverts the paths of our life. How wise God’s words are! Praise does not prepare children for any difficulties in life and they grow up badly adjusted; they lose their way and in the end they become failures. Now the world has gone haywire. Little children are constantly being praised. We are told not to scold children, not to go against their will and not to impose on them. The child learns to expect this, however, and is unable to deal maturely with even the slightest difficulty. As soon as it encounters opposition, it is defeated and drained of all strength.
Prime responsibility for the failure of children in life lies with their parents and thereafter with their teachers. They praise them constantly. They fill them with egotistical words. They do not lead them to the spirit of God and they alienate them from the Church. When the children grow up a little and go to school with this egotism they abandon and disdain religion and they lose their respect for God, for their parents and for everyone. They become stubborn, hard and unfeeling, with no respect for religion or for God. We have produced a generation of egotists and not of Christians.”
Children are not edified by constant praise
“Children are not edified by constant praise. They become self-centred and vain. All their lives they will want everyone to be praising them constantly, even if they are being told lies. Unfortunately, nowadays all people have learned to tell lies and the conceited accept those lies as their daily sustenance. ‘Say it, even if it’s not true, even if it’s ironical,’ they say. God does not want this. God wants truth. Unfortunately, not all people understand this and they do the very opposite.
When you praise children constantly and indiscriminately, they fall prey to the temptations of the evil one. He sets the mill of egotism in motion, and accustomed as they are to praise from their parents and teachers, they make progress at school perhaps, but what is the gain? In life they will be egotists and not Christians. Egotists can never be Christians. Egotists desire to be praised constantly by everyone, for everyone to love them and for everyone to speak well of them, and this is something that our God, our Church and our Christ do not want.
An egotist is mixed-up and is led by the devil and the evil spirit. And so, growing up in the spirit of egotism, his first task is to deny God and to be a badly adjusted egotist in society.
You must tell the truth for a person to learn it. Otherwise you sustain him in his ignorance. When you tell someone the truth, he finds his bearings, he takes care, he listens to other people and he restrains himself. And so to a child also you must tell the truth and scold it so that it knows that what it is doing is not good. What does Solomon say? He that spares the rod hates his son, but he that loves him chastens him diligently. I don’t mean, of course, for you to beat the child with a stick. Then we overstep the bounds and produce the opposite result. By praising our children from an early age we lead them to egotism. And you can hoodwink an egotist, provided you tell him how good he is and inflate his ego. And so he tells you, ‘This person who praises me is good.’ These things are not right. Because such a person grows up with egotism, confusions arise within him, he suffers and he doesn’t know what he is doing. The cause of psychological instability and disorder is egotism. This is something that psychiatrists themselves, if they explore the matter, will discover, namely, that the egotist is sick.
We should never praise and flatter our fellow men, but rather lead them to humility and love of God. Nor should we seek to be loved by flattering others. Let us learn to love and not seek to be loved. Let us love everyone and make sacrifices, as great as we are able, for all our brothers and sisters in Christ, without expecting praise and love from them in return. They will do for us whatever God inspires them to. If they are Christians, they will give glory to God that we helped them or spoke a good word to them.
This is also the way you should guide the children at school. This is the truth. Otherwise they grow up maladjusted. They don’t know what they are doing and where they are going, and we are the cause of it, on account of the way we have brought them up. We have not led them to truth, to humility and to the love of God. We have turned them into egotists and look at the result!
There are also, however, children who come from humble parents who spoke to them from an early age about God and about holy humility. These children do not create problems to their fellow men. They do not get angry when you point out their error, but try to correct it and pray that God may help them not to become egotists.
When I went to the Holy Mountain I lived with exceedingly saintly elders. They never said to me,’Well done.’ They always counselled me how to love God and how to be always humble, to invoke God to fortify my soul and to love Him greatly. I didn’t know what ‘well done was, nor did I ever desire it. On the contrary, I was distressed if my elders didn’t scold me. I said to myself, ‘Heavens above, I haven’t found myself good elders!’ I wanted them to correct me, to censure me and behave strictly towards me. If a Christian were to hear what I’m saying now, what would he say? He would be taken aback and reject it. But nevertheless that is what is right, humble and sincere.
My parents never said ‘well done’ to me either. For that reason, whatever I did, I did selflessly. Now that I hear people singing my praises, I feel very bad. There’s something that kicks in protest when other people say to me,’well done’, The fact that I learned humility did me no harm. And why do I not want to be applauded now? Because I know that praise makes a person empty and expels the grace of God. The grace of God comes only with holy humility. A humble man is a perfect man. Is that not a fine thing? Is that not true?
If you tell this to anyone they will immediately say, ‘What a piece of nonsense! If you don’t praise your child he won’t be able to do his schoolwork or anything.,.’ But that happens because that’s what we’re like, and we have made our children the same. In other words, we have strayed from the truth. Egotism evicted man from Paradise; it is a great evil. Adam and Eve were simple and humble; that’s why they lived in Paradise. They didn’t have egotism. They did, however, have the ‘primal nature’, as we call it in theological language. When we say ‘primal nature’ we mean the gifts of grace that God bestowed on man in the beginning when He created him, namely, life, immortality, consciousness, freedom of will, love, humility, etc. Through flattery, however, the devil managed to delude them. They became filled with egotism. The natural state of man as created by God, however, is humility. Egotism, on the contrary, is something unnatural, an illness and contrary to nature.
When we, with our laudations, create this ‘superego’ in the child, we inflate its egotism and we do it great harm. We make the child more susceptible to demonic influence. And so, as we bring it up, we steadily distance it from the values of life. Don’t you believe that this is the reason why children go astray and people rebel? It is the egotism that their parents have implanted in them from an early age. The devil is the great egotist, the great Lucifer. In other words, we live with Lucifer inside us, with the devil. We don’t live with humility. Humility is from God; it is something essential for the human soul. It is something organic. And if it is missing, it is as if the heart were missing from the human organism. The heart gives life to the body and humility gives life to the soul. With egotism a person is given over to the part of the evil spirit, that is, he develops with the evil spirit and not with the good spirit.
This is what the devil has succeeded in achieving. He has turned the earth into a labyrinth so that we are unable to come to an understanding with one another. What has happened to us without our realizing it? Do you see how we have been led astray? We have turned our world and our age into one large psychiatric hospital! And we don’t understand what’s gone wrong. We all ask, ‘What’s become of us, where are we going, why have our children taken off, why have they left their homes, why have they resigned from life, why have they given up their studies? Inside me Why is all this happening?’ The devil has succeeded in concealing himself and in making people use other names. Doctors and psychologists often say when someone is tormented, ‘Ah, this person has a neurosis or is suffering from anxiety.’ They don’t accept that the devil is inciting and arousing egotism in the person. But yet the devil exists and is the spirit of evil. If we say he doesn’t exist, it is as if we are rejecting the Gospel that speaks of him. He is our enemy, our adversary in life, the contrary of Christ, which is why he is called the Anti-Christ. Christ came to earth to release us from the devil and to grant us salvation.
The conclusion is that we need to teach our children to live humbly and simply and not continually to seek praise and applause. We need to teach them that there is humility and that this is the healthy state of life.
The mind-set of our contemporary society does harm to children. It is based on another psychology and another theory of education that is addressed to the children of atheists. This frame of mind leads to complete disregard for the consequences of one’s actions. And you see the results in our children and young people. Young people nowadays say, ‘You need to understand us!’ But we mustn’t go to them. On the contrary, we need to pray for them, to say what is right, to live by what is right, and proclaim what is right, and not conform ourselves to their way of thinking. We mustn’t compromise the magnificence of our faith. We cannot, in order to help them, adopt their own frame of mind. We need to remain the people that we are and proclaim the truth and the light.
The children will learn from the Holy Fathers. The teaching of the Fathers will instruct our children about confession, about the passions, about evils and about how the saints conquered their evil selves. And we will pray that God will enter into them.”
Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: T.M.