Christians are not born in the greenhouse

Article by Archpriest Pavel Velikanov

Father Paul, can we see the specifics of time that today's children in their teenage may leave the church?

I think it definitely can be. I assume that this intensity of the church life, which is observed the last 20-30 years in Russia in relation to children, has never been before in our country and in our Church. Nowhere in written sources we can find evidences that the children were led to the Church every Sunday, that they took part at the Holy Mysteries, participated in various forms of activities in the parish out of the Church, such as Sunday schools, clubs, lessons and so on.

It would seem that as a result of all this, the child has just to be firmly rooted in the Church!

That's it! But in practice we see that the one can`t be especially connected with the other. For some reason, the number of the adolescent children is significantly less in the temple than the number of other age groups.

I think one reason is the following. As parents, we often want our children learned by a mechanical way that personal religious experience that we had gained as a result of certain life searching, errors, falls, findings on the way to the Church and which is for us infinitely valuable. And our children are in the churchyard from infancy, they have no painful search for meaning in life, because this meaning has already been given them “a priori!  We watch our children, beating the bows in the Church, confessing, communicating, praying, and in this we see a kind of identity to what we ourselves have experienced. But they simply imitate us in what that it may not have been born in them, may not have been ripened yet.

Therefore, the child must move over to keep a little distance from what he has adopted “a priori”. Why? To return to the Christian ferment which was laid in him, but it is a completely new level of understanding and experience. As a teenager cannot gain autonomy, independence and self-sufficiency, if he doesn`t break the "umbilical cord" linking him with his parents, from whom he is absolutely dependent and  so it is here - the child should be to push off something. Therefore, it seems to me that a certain distancing of boys and girls, ranging from 12-15 years, from the Church is understandable. And I would not be afraid to say that sometimes it is even desirable - especially when a young person "has stopped" on his spiritual path, when everything in his religious life occurs "by custom", and not according to the dictates of the heart. And if it happens to someone, it is not necessary to panic.

Do you mean the withdrawal as a reinterpretation of faith?

I'm talking about the distance from the Church not as a decisive rejection of the life by   Christian commandments and to lapse into various kinds of mortal sins and a destructive lifestyle. No way! I mean that the child must identify for himself the measure and the shape of his relationship with the Church. And most importantly, this relationship would remained by him. In addition, an adolescent child is attracted by what is unknown for him, inexperienced and if he has grown up in a church environment, the surrounding world will become for him such a special interest and will be attractive.  There are not so many people who have immunity to life in the world from their childhood, to its delight sand charms. In most cases, the child doesn`t have such immunity. Therefore, in my opinion, there is nothing wrong that the meaning of the Church for him in this period will be less than the importance of youth environment, music, new friends, some fun, pastime, hobbies and so on. The main thing is that this   significance would be kept.

Locksmith thanks to God

Many parents try to protect the child from temptations, they do all from his childhood  that the mundane life was not interesting to him, that it disgusted him…

The experience that I have accumulated in respect of the children of the priests, my friends, allows meto say the following: a conscious effort to protect the child from social life, from secular values, creating for him such a greenhouse, in which he would   mature, would become strong, sturdy, stable to the raging waves of the sinful, passionate world, doesn`t help and often leads to the opposite results. More often the tougher some "worldly" things were cut off, the greater the tendency to these things, thirst - I would even say, some abnormal thirst - the man began to feel then. And he could not assuage it, though, it would seem, hecould stop long ago - it broke him  through and it carried him!

And vice versa. In those families of the priests, where parents first of all were engaged in the comprehensive development of their children with great responsibility- tried to give them a good education and develop their musical skills, and artistic and athletic skills, their intelligent abilities; where the children did not feel defective in comparison with their classmates, and in some ways- even more advanced - because everything was done with the utmost responsibility before God! – the teenagers in these families didn`t draw away from the Church subsequently, and opened it for themselves again, and then  they become priests and even monks and nuns. The period of youthful rebellion was passing with minimal losses.

Why is it so? Does the high cultural level act as an inoculation?

Yes, it's a kind of the inoculation. For example, it is very difficult to meet the well-developed hearing of the child, graduated from music school, with a cheap pop - for him it will be organically unacceptable, because it is simply banal and vulgar. He is imbued with other values, he has a developed taste. And such a manner, I think, can be extended to the entire field of culture: what does the child read, what does he listen to, what movies, plays, musicals does he see? The main thing the parents should develop in their child is the taste for veritable, beautiful things and some internal immunity to vulgar, unworthy things though they may seem promoted and attractive. Of course, it is important to create the right cultural context of life, filled with authentic values ​​and correct meaning:  the so popular today "omnivorous wish is categorically unacceptable. Then the right cultural values ​​will become determinate landmarks, such reference points, as they are both for a believer and for a secular man.

In other words, the correct values ​​are laid not only strictly by the orthodox literature, Orthodox performances, the orthodox movie, aren`t they?

It`s quite true. I would even say, the task is to instill in children real values not with the church cover, and, above all, the values outside of the Church, so that they could, being in the world, feel  themselves confident and always know what they can rely on.

Parents must create conditions for the child, which are the most harmonious with his spiritual experience, psychological characteristics and help him to develop these abilities as much as possible. And wisdom is that the direction of this development should be, in the end, turned to God. We need toexplain to thechild that, in fact, any of his activities, in fact, should be a prayer to God, and any activity inside or outside of the Church fence is some form of his spiritual service, his doing and his measure of responsibility before God.

Could you give an example?

At one time a plumber worked in my house. He was a man who was not so deep connected with the Church. But he made me seriously think over and that`s why. Firstly, he was extremely responsible for every detail! Where the other would work for one day and get his salary, the man thoroughly thought through what the consequences would be over a certain period of operation, what better coupling assembly would be to install and so on. And secondly, he took for his work about a half times less than any  unprofessional plumber in our city. He travelled constantly on different exhibitions, has been aware of all modern technical gadgets, took part at some refresher courses. That is, the man lived entirely his business! And, you know, when faced with such a profound professional integrity, I realized that he was, in fact, a deeply religious man, because the motivation of his actions was not worldly, but ideal. From the point of view of worldly gains he could do the same things easier, faster,could take more money and begin quickly with the other object. And for him his job is a form of serving for the neighbor.

And I think the children who do their work so - even if they have chosen a simple profession – are happiness and blessings for their parents.

No crisis – no development

You have touched a very interesting theme: how a person comes to God. Is it so that   faith is for parenta choice, and for children - a transmitted tradition? No search, no choice, no suffering? But is it obligatory to go through the complex searches and tests to acquire faith?

I think, the spiritual crises are absolutely inevitable in the life of any believer, because where there is no crisis, there is no overcoming. Where there is no overcoming, there is no reinforcement, no development. I haven`t  met in my life such a deep believing person who could honestly say that he never doubted, never went through a crisis of faith,  if he even grew up in an absolutely healthy, godly Christian family.

Another thing is that these crises are completely different within the Church and outside the Church. The crises of internal life of the Church are more serious and acute than the crises when a person is in the space of obvious sin, unrighteousness and abnormality, and eyes from it the Church. It is more simply to get out of the sinful world into the Church than as a Christian to experience a crisis of faith. And then faith is either minimized, reduced to some external manifestations, which provide normal human existence in this coordinate system, or significantly deepens and acquires another quality often leading to a conflict with the real life of the Church, in which the person lives.

If faith is the result of our own choice, of the crisis and rethinking social values, what role does the transmission of own private religious experience by parents to the children  play?

The fact is that, as one priest says, all children are by nature pagans. In the truest sense! What is Paganism? This is the religion that is most understandable, useful and enforceable from the viewpoint of a man in his present fallen, sinful state, in which all of us are. And in general, it is closer to the paradigm of the Old Testament law, and retribution.

For example, children are told: "You must pray, because if you do not pray, God will punish you"; "Do not sin, because God will punish you, do good deeds, fasting, work, and you will see - the Lord will comfort, gladden you." Here is a "legal” construction of certain contractual relations between the man and God - it is perfectly normal for a child, clear and enforceable: it is necessary to receive communion, that will be good; communion - that's right. And the child goes with delight, carries out everything that he must do and really experiences joy. Grace acts on the child's heart quite differently than on adults, burdened with sins and passions...

This children's religious experience is of course with nothing comparable. It isnot to replace by the translation of the religious experience of the adults on the children. The perception of the adults is radically different from the one of a child: the latter is particularly positive. The joy to be with God is normal and natural for him. And for an adult it is almost aerobatics, because we have something to repent, we have something to regret, we have something to ask God for forgiveness. And the most horrible is, when I see how parents begin to translate this pattern of their religious experiences on their children .It is deeply wrong to force them to repent those sins which are beyond their conception, and to do from a small misdemeanor a global drama. Well, a child has lied and who hasn`t lied? Have you never lied in your life? And the child, who is being brought up in such a way will instantly learn how to play the "role": to pretend a penitent, a confessor, impregnated with a world grief – but as soon as he goes outbeyond the threshold of the temple, such a "breastplate of righteousness for parents” is quickly thrown down  and he becomes a regular, normal child. And it is not the worst variant; it is much more dangerous when a child is impregnated by such artificial experiences which are inappropriate for his age and consciousness and, therefore, he begins to feel himself "exclusive", "not of this world", to distance arrogantly from his friends to the delight of his parents who themselves have come to the Church lately and to the misfortune for his mental health.

For example, the law can be passed as a family tradition. And can the private relation to Christ be passed?

The discovery of Christianity by a child as the religion of Christ is a quite another matter. But to know Christ as Savior and Redeemer, he has to understand from what he, in fact, is to save and what is to redeem. But a child simply can`t understand this till a certain age! So I do not see a great danger that the children live quite a long time in a space of a largely formal compliance of the external Christian prescriptions  in such a  paradigm of the Old Testament, where there is a clear law, punishment and reward, but with a clear perspective of development in the direction of Christian values.

Will the terrible punishing God and the law not cause a protest in adolescence, when one explores the boundaries of his freedom?

I`ll rather agree with you. But if we are talking about little children, a different approach would mean the erosion of criteria. Literate, good, experienced psychologists recommend to build their relationships with their children so that they clearly understood, where the space of freedom is, where they are conditionally limited and where they are absolutely limited, where there is a "forbidden zone". And if a child hasn`t this, then he will think, in the end, that everything is allowed, unless the parents do not see.

The understanding  the correct behavior not as an attempt to avoid punishment and earn dividends in the kingdom of heaven, but just only as the normal pattern of behavior, the only possible expression of gratitude to Christ for what He has done for us - must at some time mature in the child. And I think, the time of youth crises is the point of the maturity of this understanding, as if sprouting through the Old Testament paradigm of religious childishness into something adult.

Somewhere I`ve read about this case: on Good Friday two girls from the Sunday school, who went to the temple and were fully integrated into the life of the church, suddenly stood up in front of the cross, looked at the crucified Jesus on it, and one girl with a genuine horror in the eyes said to another, "Wait, was he killed for us?" These children suddenly realized that the gospel was not a myth, not some instructive history, which had happened for a long time and hadn`t any attitude to you but that this was associated with you personally. All they heard about Christ before, perhaps, operated as a foundation, but the soul was not reached.

Children actually have their own logic. And by every child (and adult too - it is not about age) the personal meeting with Christ occurs very differently. And the moment, when the soil plowed with all the parental efforts sprouts a personal relationship of the child and God, and in what form it will be - in the form of gratitude, in the form of overcoming some acute crisis, acute pain, grief - does not depend on us! It is the work of God and the child.

What is required from us in this case?

We are required - not to prevent, to prepare conditions, to bring the child up, on the one hand, in piety, but on the other hand, in a healthy, open atmosphere. And all the rest the Lord himself will govern. Here we do not have to act either as intermediaries or as translators - this is His work.

Rigor must be proportional to the age

Father Paul, and how do your own children relate to the Church?

My eldest daughter lives in another city, apart from us, and she is just in a difficult adolescence, but she doesn`t lose the connection with the Church - she goes to the divine services and participates in the sacraments. Of course she goes not with the frequency and intensity as I would have liked, but she does it. She observes fasting to such an extent that is now acceptable for her. I can`t say that I am absolutely calm for her, but I understand that she is now actively searching for herself. And I don`t see those forms of research that would cause my strong opposition or protest.

The other children are all very different. One of my sons may be happy to stand during the entire service in the temple, and motionless, and with joy, not particularly distracting and doing all that is necessary - for example he helps in the altar. And another son stands a little, and then he begins to suffer, not knowing where to stop, what to do, he will go from one corner to another, he`ll talk with someone and so on. Different personalities, different characters! But on the wholethe temple is for them the place where they run happily to. And pass the service is something painful. Even when a child is sick, he may cry, get upset if you did not take him to the temple. I think, it is, among other things, due to the fact that we have a very full program for children in the parish: the cartoon studio, and the lessons of calligraphy, and Sunday school and music lessons where they learn the songs to sing in the children's liturgy (service where the children serve in altar, read and sing on the chance - Ed.), and the practical lessons of the so-called natural sciences, when they study the properties of different materials or make greeting cards with a mechanical or electric "filling".

But they say that if only parties, some hobbies connect the children with the temple, so they, when growing, will leave this all…

Perhaps there is a certain truth. But in any case I think it is more important, how the   children perceive the space of the Church. If it is the space of attention and love for you, not the area of ​​the law and punishment, it is not so important, what is happening there. Children feel that they organize for them some activities not to send a report to the Patriarchate, but because they are simply loved.

And to what extent do children need the church discipline, obligation of prayers, obligation of visiting the temple and of fasting?

Children are definitely to discipline. Children must live in some well defined, designated space, because it helps to structure the child life. Another matter isa measure of the severity of this discipline. I think it should be inversely proportional to the age of the child. The younger the child is, the greater the degree of discipline should be. This is not about to force the child, but it should be in the family such a mood: when everybody goes to the temple,we don`t have the other variants. We do not even ask the question: Well, do we go to the temple or do we not go? When the child asks the question: why do we go to the temple on Sunday? - we can explain to him why it is so.

And if the child says, "I can`t go on Sunday to the Church?"

You can, for example, say: "Wait a minute, where are you going? Will you sleep? Please, get a sleep, and we'll go to the temple and go back happy and satisfied. "I think the ideal situation is that atthe Archpriest Vladimir Vorobyev has described, when the visit to the temple was to earn in Soviet times in religious families! And here in our parish, I see that by some miracle such a model of participation of the children in the liturgy and the richness of parish life, activities outside the Church has lined up that the children run to the Church. For them it is a holiday, not a problem, not a headache or "lost personal time." I do not know what will happen farther when the kids grow up. Let's see!

There is such a point of view: when the child grows up and begins to separate himself from his parents, a meaningful adult must be next to him – a godfather, who will be for him the authority. What would you say to that?

You know, my personal opinion is that: I still have little faith in the institution of godparents, because it is a great problem to become the authority for the child. And to become the authority by force is a triple problem. Not every parent is the authority for his child, and how can a stranger, an external person who does not live in the family,does not communicate constantly with the children – get his trust? In theory I can admit this, but I think it is rather an exception than general practice. Real education can be only when you are involved in family life of your godson:  when you can at least once a week come to the family and to communicate with him, take him for a walk somewhere (it is not necessarily to the Church). And the role of the man, who has appeared once in half a year in the house, is questionable.

Another thing is that in the changed circumstances things can turn to 180 degrees. In adolescence it is quite possible that the child will long to the godfather, he will want to make friends with him, to enlist his support. I would not completely set aside the possibility of participation of the godfathers in the life of their wards in such times of crisis. But it would be very good that at least in every tenth family there would be a godfather who could catch the falling flag of the parents` authority and bear it. I, unfortunately, am not so.

Oxygen of the eternit

And had you a crisis of faith as a teenager?

I was just baptized at this age of 17 years - I must say, I was baptized without learning catechism, without any explanation, but simply due to the fact that I was a very ill kid. But at the same time I had some internal agreement to be christened. And after a while I decided to come to the temple: since I was baptized, orthodox, I had to know what  to do further? Thus began my church life.

But I had already at this age experience of life outside the Church: I understood what would remain if they removed the Church from the life. And the children brought up in the faith have not such an understanding. And they often need to see the difference!

The worst impression that may be left in the soul of the child from the visit of the temple   is a tough, aggressive, hostile attitude of the part of the temple`s people, of the confessor, and so on. And when the child in a teenage age leaves for the world and findsthere a real courage, involvement in some business "with burning eyes," the true sacrifice, love, a real mutual aid, which he did not know in the Church`s environment (and these qualities can even be artificially isolated, it can be seen through the "rose-colored glasses" of the youthful romanticism) - this is the worst thing that can be! Because then it appears by him inside a clear aversion to the Church, the idea that everything is false there. As once Vladimir Vysotsky sang: "No! There is also in the Church not so, all is not so as it should be! "And it is hardly to believe that such a man would return ...

And if the child "broke forth into freedom”, he sees that in the world there is all cool but cold and empty, and at the same time he compares it with his previous experience and understands that it is warmer and more humane in the Church, and people do not say so, do not do such baseness to each other, and that it can`t be found  rage, hatred, malice as they are in the world, his head turns gradually back toward the Church  after the acquaintance with the world and he thinks: "Yes, but it is better to be with the Church!”

The Church should be filled, as once the Metropolitan Filaret (Vakhromeev) said, with "oxygen of eternity", but it should be a space of great cordial kindness and warmth. If there is no heat in the Church, I do not know what it is. Anything but this is not the Church as the living Body of Christ.

So, anyway, a call to parents, to church officials, parishioners is still the same: to observe first of all themselves?

Yes, but who can say about himself: "I am a good parent, I always correspond to what I say?" We must have the courage to explain to our children that we are imperfect too, we are also in the state of struggle, we are also on the way. The only quality of the parents which children should never doubt, is their parental love, that mom and dad accept them, without any connection with their belonging to the Church. Psychologists always say, first of all, the child must understand that his parents accept him so what he is - and it's the most important thing! They can disagree with something in his life, to argue. But the child must be sure that mom and dad love him, regardless of that fact whether his behavior is good or bad. Love has not any own requirements and conditions. And due to this its strength manifests.

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