Life and guidance of the Holy Fathers
Pt. 4, Ch.1. Spiritual Life in the Family
Children and the spiritual life
— Geronta, if a mother gives holy water to her child and he spits it out, what should she do?
— She should pray for her child. Maybe the way in which she gives the holy water to her child causes a reaction. For the child to be on the path of God the parents must also live right spiritually. Some parents who are religious strive to help their children to become good, not because they are concerned for the salvation of their souls, but because they what to have good children. In other words, they are more worried about what people will say about their child instead of whether they might go to hell. So how can God help? The aim is not for children to go to church through compulsion, but to love the church; not to do good through compulsion, but to feel the need to do good. The holy lives of parents instruct the souls of their children and they naturally follow. In this way they grow up piously, with health of both soul and body and without spiritual injuries. If parents force their children out of fear of God, He helps and the child is benefited. If, however, they do it out of egoism, then God does not help. Children are often troubled because of their parent’s pride.
— You should tell them: “You are the mother; see how much your child can handle.” They shouldn’t give them a rule.
— Geronta, what if the little children get tired when their parents bring them here for vigils?
— During Orthros they should let them out a little to relax, and during Divine Liturgy bring them back into the church.
Without forcing their children mothers must teach them to pray. Villagers in Cappadocia intensely lived the ascetic tradition. They would take their children to hermitages, do prostrations and pray with tears, and in this way, the children learned how to pray. Chetes would sometimes go by night to rob them; and when passing the chapels they would hear crying and stop in surprise. “OK, what’s going on?” they would say. “During the day they are all smiles and at night they cry?” They couldn’t understand what was going on.
Miracles happen through the prayers of small children. Whatever they ask of God He gives them because they are guileless and He hears their pure prayer. I remember one time our parents had gone out into the field and had left me in the house with my two younger siblings. The sky suddenly darkened and a torrential rainstorm began. “What will our parents do now?,” we said. “How will they get back home?” The two little ones began crying. “Come here,” I told them, “we will ask Christ to stop the rain.” The three of us knelt down before the family’s icons and prayed. In just a few minutes the rain stopped.
Parents must use discernment to help their children draw near to Christ from their early years, and from their childhood to live the joy on high—spiritual joy. When they start school they should learn, little by little, to read spiritual books to help themselves live spiritually. In this way they will become little angels, and their prayers will have greater boldness before God. Such children are spiritual heads of the home. The lives of saints especially help small children in their spiritual lives. As a small boy I found a little book of the lives of saints which they had back in those days. I went out into the forest to read and pray. I was flying with joy. From the age of ten to sixteen, when the Greek-Italian war began, I lived the spiritual life without restraint. Childhood joys are pure; they leave an imprint on a person that greatly affects him when he grows up. If children live spiritually they will live joyfully in this life, and in the next they will rejoice eternally with Christ.
Temptations on feast days
— Geronta, why do temptations often occur on feast days?
— Don’t you know? On feast days, Christ, the Panagia, and the Saints are joyful. They treat people, giving blessings and spiritual gifts. If parents give gifts when their children celebrate their namedays and kings release prisoners when a prince is born, why shouldn’t the Saints care for us on special occasions, too? Certainly the joy they give greatly endures and our souls are greatly helped. Knowing this the devil creates temptations in order to deprive people of the Divine gifts: they neither rejoice nor benefit from the feast. Sometimes you even see when a family is preparing to commune on a feast day, that the devil will send them a temptation to fight and then not only do they not commune, but they don’t even go to church! That’s how the little demon does it, so as to be deprived of all Divine help.
The same thing can be seen in our own monastic life. Many times the little demon—tempter that he is, because he knows from experience that we will be spiritually helped on some feast—will, beginning on the eve of the feast, create an atmosphere of temptation. For example, he might get us to quarrel with another brother, and then afterwards torment us in order to overpower us both spiritually and bodily. In this way he doesn’t allow us to benefit from the feast, with its joyous atmosphere of doxology. But the Good God helps us when He sees that we had not given occasion, but that this happened only by the envy of the evil one. And God helps us even more when we humbly reproach ourselves, blaming neither our brother nor even the devil, who hates everything good. For his work is this: to create scandals and spread evil—while man, as the image of God, should spread peace and goodness.
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