Raising Orthodox Christians: Teaching Our Children To Pray

RAISING ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS:
TEACHING OUR CHILDREN TO PRAY


I used to have this image of what I thought my children would look like during prayer. They’d be knelt down with their hands neatly folded, eyes closed with a tranquil look upon their faces as they conversed with our Heavenly Father. Something resembling a Precious Moment figurine or like the pictures I’d seen in children’s prayer books.

Reality, however, painted a somewhat different picture. One where they’re knelt down picking at the carpet, the eye closest to me squeezed shut with the other one wide open, as one child pinches the other causing him to scream and cry. I never imagined I’d have to bribe them into praying with us; if you say prayers with us like good boys, we’ll read an extra story tonight, etc. I also never realized that once I had children I would never hear all the words of the Divine Liturgy again. I would be too busy hushing them during the Gospel reading or fishing “quiet” toys out of my backpack during the petitions or pointing out every object inside the church to buy myself an extra 10 minutes of silence. And those are on the good days when I’m not stuck outside or in the narthex. Sometimes my most prayerful moments are when I’m praying for them to stay quiet.

I know that even though they’re not “participating” in the services, their little souls are partaking in the Divine Grace that permeates each and every service. I also understand that their attending church and partaking in the mysteries is pivotal in their upbringing but I still had the overwhelming feeling that I was somehow missing the boat. While I don’t wish these days away, knowing full well my boys will be grown and gone before I know it, I do wish I knew a way to get through it a little less, well, frenzied.

What am I doing wrong? I ask myself as they sprawl out on the floor during Compline or after reminding them half a dozen times to venerate the icon before leaving the house. I couldn’t figure out what exactly I was doing wrong. I was making a serious effort to do all of the things I’d heard parents were supposed to do: Making sure they stood and prayed with us; Reading them the Gospel lessons; Coloring icon pages and reading the story of each saint; Continuously explaining to them the importance of our faith and traditions.

As I searched my mind to figure it out, I remembered that in the back of the book Wounded By Love by Elder Porphyrios, there was a fantastic section on the upbringing of children. I opened the book to that section and that is when I read this,

“Pray and then speak. That’s what to do with your children. If you are constantly lecturing them, you’ll become tiresome and when they grow up they’ll feel a kind of oppression. Prefer prayer and speak to them through prayer. Speak to God and God will speak to their hearts. That is, you shouldn’t give guidance to your children with a voice that they hear with their ears. You may do this too, but above all you should speak to God about your children. Say, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, give Your light to my children. I entrust them to You. You gave them to me, but I am weak and unable to guide them, so, please, illuminate them.’ And God will speak to them and they will say to themselves, ‘Oh dear, I shouldn’t have upset Mummy by doing that!’ And with the grace of God this will come from their heart.” He also said, “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.”

You know the saying “the truth hurts”? Well, I’m sure in some cases it does but in this case it never felt so good. Did you ever have one of those moments when you read something you’re sure was written especially for you? This was one of those moments. It’s funny how you could read something over and over again but totally miss the point. I read through the entire section, taking notes. Then I began to read every other book on Orthodox parenting I owned and did the same.

St. John Chrysostom said, “The example of the parents is everything in Christian parenting.” So basically I’d “discovered” that first and foremost I need to become more prayerful and a much better example. But how exactly do I do that?

LET GO AND LET GOD

In order for parents to give their children Christian training, they themselves must first of all be pious and God-fearing; they themselves must love to pray. If the mother does not have faith and piety, if she does not find-because she does not seek-joy and consolation in prayer, she will not succeed in teaching her children to be pious.

-Bishop Irenaius-On the Upbringing of Children

This is something I need to keep in mind at all times. It’s so easy for me to forget how closely children observe their parents. If I expect them to treat all people and situations around them in a manner befitting an Orthodox Christian, than I first must do this.

In order for our children to become pious Orthodox Christians, it is our responsibility to teach them to pray. Here are things that have been helping me with this task and I hope you’ll be encouraged as well.

Be Consistent. Create a schedule. This doesn’t mean at 8:00 a.m. on the dot we need to wake them if they’re still sleeping. It simply means that as soon as they awaken, change their clothes and wash up, we need to say our morning prayers and then sit down for breakfast. If possible, choose a time when the whole family can pray together.

Lead by Example. Children do as they see, which means they need to see us praying. Not just reading the services but sincerely praying to God from our hearts. Let them see you giving thanks to God and praying for others. Let them see and hear you praying in times of fear or trouble. What a blessing it is to have our children turn to God first in the midst of trouble!

Make them feel involved. During prayer times let them hold a candle or an icon. If they’re old enough to cense the icons, let them. Explain to them at what point they should make the sign of the cross or a prostration; allow them to sing the alleluia’s or Lord have mercy’s. Another simple, yet powerful thing to do is teach them the Jesus Prayer; even the smallest of children can utter the sweet name of Jesus!

Send them off with prayer. Before they leave for school or in the car if you drive them, say a prayer with them asking Christ, the Panagia, their Guardian Angel and/or patron saint to guide and protect them. Pray for their teacher and classmates. Give them the opportunity to pray for their activities of the day, any special tests or other concerns they may have. This will make them comfortable and get them into the habit of including God in all aspects of their life as well as learning to pray, and ultimately love, all the people around them. Read the Akathist to the Theotokos, Nurturer of Children. This service takes 15 minutes and contains the most powerful prayers I have ever read for a mother and child.

Make a prayer box or journal. If your children are older and able to write well, you can start a prayer journal. I have always kept a journal for each of my boys with all of their firsts and other memorable moments. Ace loves to snuggle up and read from “his book”. I started to notice that in many of my entries I was praying for things and he noticed as well because he began to ask, “Did Christouli do what you asked for?” It created the perfect situation for me to explain to him how God answers all of our prayers, though sometimes differently than we expected, but always to the benefit of our souls. A prayer journal is also a nice way to list the people or situations you need to pray for. For smaller children, I’ve found keeping a little “prayer box” works just as well. I include photos of people if I have one or just their name. I like to include visuals if possible, for example, a tiny, plastic green soldier for our armed forces or a tiny plastic baby for a child who might be ill.

And so I begin my journey to try and instruct my beloved children, not through force or egotism but through love and example. As I continue, I hope to gain a clearer understanding of the importance of my job as an Orthodox mother.

Though I have a very, very long way to go, I am already beginning to see the fruits, not of my labor but of my attempt to follow the wise instruction of our holy saints and elders, who have left us with the answers on exactly how to raise true Orthodox Christians.


The above article is from the Spring 2009 issue of The Handmaiden, The Truth about Heaven and Hell.

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Comments

  1. Hi Sylvia…thanks for the fantastic post and always for your encouraging words. Since you mentioned it, have you ever felt that through the Akathyst to Panagia: the Nurturer of Children, that we are askingPANAGIA to parent our kids and godchildren?After praying this, my heart is at rest knowing that the great responsibility of parenting is lifted from our shoulders…we have her help, what more do we need!~filakia~

  2. Thank you! I needed to read this… :)

  3. Glad you both enjoyed the article.Elenie- I *definitely* feel that by praying that service that I am asking her to parent my children, and godchildren since I too include them. I try to read the full akathist every morning but when time doesn’t permit I still read the prayers at the end of the service. Even by just reading those I feel like God and Panagia are protecting them.

  4. Lovely. I passed this on to two of my friends who are Orthodox Mothers! Thank you.

  5. I really enjoyed your article. thanks

  6. I need to re-read this every Saturday night! Thank you for reminding me!

  7. You've offered us some great ideas here, thanks. I was wondering about "teaching" adults how to pray and wanted to ask you if there are certain practical things you do as a praying Orthodox Christian (in private). For example, if/why you wear a headscarf while you pray, if/when you light candles/ incenses,if/why Orthodox Christians eat antidoron and drink holy water each day etc. In short, if you have any interesting, practical advice (and reasons) for why certain ways in which we pray (as adults) are beneficial. Just curios.

  8. Thank you, Sylvia!

  9. Thank you for posting this. I think we all had these grandiose ideas of how our children were going to be perfect in church, during prayer time at home, etc. One thing we do (which if you would have told me we were going to do this during our home prayers before we had children I would have said you were crazy)… every night, during our evening prayers (which we say in the kitchen, not in our formal prayer corner), we have the boys begin prayers sitting at the table, eating a snack (usually yogurt with honey). I feel that they are quiet, not botherine each other, and that they are hearing the prayers and, more important, seeing us pray. We sometimes let Big P join either mommy or papa for our private prayers just so he sees us doing our prayer rule (he follows along, doing prostrations, etc.). I also love the Akathist to the Theotokos. Thanks again!!!ps. my mom will tell you that I was the WORST in church of her three children. I would complain (when is it over), lie down, etc.

  10. Well done, Sylvia! Great article! I really enjoyed it.

  11. Great article! I love the section of how to do it. So helpful!

  12. I echo all the thank yous for this article…And of course I am right there with ya'. My oldest is 2 1/2. I frequently wonder how my friend manages to keep their 2 1/2 and 4 year undisruptive during Liturgy and how they managed to teach them so many prayers. But, perhaps this post can be the beginning of my own "tricks up my sleeve."Thanks.

  13. Great post, thank you for sharing! It's always nice to know I'm not the ONLY mom struggling in this arena! We have really tried "showing by example" and having our DD there with us during our prayers….but sometimes it is so difficult (she is 2.5). Practically speaking, do you have your children with you while you say YOUR prayers…or do you set different time aside for them to say their own (shorter) prayers? I am just curious, as we are working this out with DD at this time and trying to find the best way. Also love the Akathist of which you speak…I just heard that Fr. Apostolos Hill has recorded it on cd as well, have you heard it?

  14. What a lovely quote from Elder Porphyrios. I'm going to sit with that for awhile. Thanks for sharing.(from a Catholic mom who had similar grandiose ideals before having children (-:)

  15. I really enjoyed your article in The Handmaiden. I read it to Father the other day before bed. Prayer is such an important aspect in our Orthodox faith.

  16. Is there a book or something that can help me figure out what we should be doing at home to teach the kids about the Church? I'm a new convert (chrismated 4/18/09) and my husband is a catechumen. We have no idea what we are doing.

  17. Hello. Are there any books (Christian and secular) that you all recommend for raising children? We have a two year old and a six month old. Thank you!

  18. Loved reading this, Sylvia mou. You are such a light!

  19. Hi there! I know this is an old post but I needed to read it again as I’m frustrated with my now older children whom I envisioned would grow into loving prayer time ….
    What other books on Orthodox Parenting to you have? I have On the Upbringing of Children and of course, the Akathist mentioned. I surely would love more though!

  20. We have a 7-year-old son and are doing everything we can to give him the foundation he needs to succeed in his faith in this world. I found a great new resource by Dr. Tony Evans called “Raising Kingdom Kids.” He says, “It’s far easier to SHAPE A CHILD than to REPAIR AN ADULT. Raising kids who recognize and retain their identity as children of the King launches healthy adults who have the capacity to stand strong in their faith.” There are free downloadable samples on his website. I think you might enjoy it. I highly recommend it!

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