Monday, July 11, 2011

Upbringing of Children

In another letter, Fr. Ambrose wrote about the upbringing of children: "You write that you have noticed a dryness, insensitivity and other inadequacies in your son. But there are not many children who have real and true feelings; they usually come forth at a riper age, when a person begins to understand and to experience life. Besides, an abundance of inner feelings inadvertently becomes a reason for secret self-exaltation and judging others; while a dearth of feelings and dryness involuntarily humbles one when one begins to understand this. Therefore, do not be overly concerned that you notice this inadequacy in your son; in time, inescapable trials in life will inevitably awaken necessary feelings in him. But just try as much as you can to impart to him a healthy understanding that is in accordance with the teachings of the Orthodox Church.

"You write that up till now you have studied with him yourself and have gone over the sacred history of the Old Testament; and you ask, how and what should you teach, and whom should you choose to teach him? Having gone through the Old Testament with him, you yourself should finish this with him, that is, you should proceed to the New Testament. Then you should begin the catechism. You are afraid that the dryness of the catechism will not make him any warmer. The catechism does not make anyone warmer—it is sufficient that children should have a correct understanding of the dogmas and other subjects of the Orthodox Church. If you wish that the Orthodox teaching would also influence your son's heart, then read the Orthodox Confession and the School of Piety with him. Then let the teacher of religion instruct him in the catechism as is acceptable in learning institutions….

You should put more care into finding him a confessor. So as not to upset your own confessor, you should explain to him beforehand that you are seeking what is necessary and profitable for your son. Ask him in addition for permission to arrange this, for in your understanding a holy atmosphere is needed for a child during confession, although for one who has an understanding of confession this does not have any special significance. Before confession you yourself must work with your son to prepare him for this Mystery as well as you are able. Have him read the commandments before confession and explain them to him. Concerning the correction of his shortcomings in general, you can talk to him in a half-joking tone: 'You are a young prince after all, don't muddy your face with a fall.' You write that you are deeply convinced that there is no other source of goodness on earth nor of blessedness in Heaven than the Church of Christ, and that anything outside of this is worthless; and you wish to transmit this conviction to your children, so that it would become, as it were, the treasure of their life. But it seems to you that you are not endowed with a teaching vocation, and cannot speak with the strength of conviction required for this great subject. As a loving mother, you yourself must witness to these subjects to your children as best you can. No one can take your place in this, because to another you would first have to explain your own understanding and desires. Besides, no one else can know your children's souls, emotional structures and needs. Furthermore, a mother's words will have a greater effect on them than those of an outsider. An outsider's words affect the mind, while a mother's words affect the heart. If it seems to you that your son knows a great deal, understands a great deal, but feels little, then I repeat: do not be distressed over this. But pray to God about it, that He would arrange what is profitable for him as He knows best. You write that he has an excellent memory—use this as well. Besides your instructions, tell him soul-profiting stories, asking him at times to repeat them to you as he heard and understood them. Everything he hears from you will be preserved in his memory and mind, and then, with God's help, when he experiences life these things will pass from mind to feeling."

- Elder Ambrose of Optina