Prof I. M. Andreev – On the Orthodox Christian Moral Upbringing.
Without me, ye can do nothing
First of all we consider it necessary to declare directly and distinctly our deep and steadfast conviction that only the canonically true Orthodox Church — possessing the full grace of the Holy Spirit with its holy Mysteries, holy dogmas, patristic literature, extensive teaching on Christian morality in moral theology — can give an unshakable foundation for building an integrated and effective pedagogical system for the moral upbringing of children.
In the hierarchy of values, the highest, top place undoubtedly is occupied by religion. The most perfect religion is Christianity. Christianity is unthinkable without the Church. The one, true, holy, catholic, and apostolic church is the Orthodox Church.
The divine founder of Christianity is the God-man Christ. He could never err, nor say an untruth. Each one of His words is Truth, completely and absolutely revealed Truth. The True Church is commissioned to guard over and preserve this truth from distortion and incorrect interpretation. The millenia of catholic religious experience of the saints, formulated in agreement with the teaching of the holy fathers and teachers of the Church is the highest and undisputed authority. The agreed opinion of the Orthodox Church, based on the millenia of catholic reason of the saints, cannot be mistaken.
Systems of ethics (i.e., teaching on morality) can be of three types: 1) so-called autonomous ethics (e.g., the self-defined law of Kant), 2) heterocentric ethics (e.g., founded on some other sciences such as biology, sociology, etc.), and finally, 3) theocentric ethics, i.e., founded on religion. Only the latter system can have a serious basis. Christian ethics, i.e., ethics built upon the most perfect religion of Christ, can be grounded irrefutably. Such Orthodox Christian moral teaching is the basis of all our further discussions and directions. Orthodox Christian teaching on the religious-moral upbringing of children represents an ideal integrated patristic pedagogical system which practically in life, of course, is not fully realizable. But the ideal must be unattainable. Only then will it be an unchanging ideal constantly showing the degree of deviation during the practical striving for its realization.
In the present article, we consciously avoided our own thinking and set forth the thoughts, drawn from patristic literature and high spiritual authorities of the 19th and 20th centuries, such as the Optina elders, bishops Theophan the Recluse and lgnatii Brianchaninov, the ever-memorable Fr. John of Kronstadt1, and also well-known theologians, professors of moral theology, missionaries, and preachers, such as, for example, the professor from the Kazan Academy V.I. Nesmelov, the professor from St. Petersburg Academy, protopresbyter Fr. I.L. Yanyshev, the professor from the Moscow Academy, M.M. Tareyev, the professor from the St. Petersburg Academy, A.A. Bronzov, professor archpriest I.I. Bazarov, and others. Our work in such a manner may be likened to collected honey in the beautiful orchards of Russian moral theology. We allowed ourselves only the systematic acquisition of material and adding to it an integrated and purposeful character, relying on the strictly scientifically established data of children's psychology, pedagogical psychology, experimental pedagogy, and children's psychiatry.
Why did we limit ourselves to the question of the moral upbringing of children only of pre-school age? Because we consider namely this period of the life of a person the most important and fundamental in the matter of child-raising. Pedagogical psychology teaches us that in the first three years of one's life, a baby gets a third of all the concept of life of an adult person. The well-known Austrian scientist, a great specialist in pedagogical psychology Charlotte Bueller in her investigation "Human Life as a Psychological Problem" (1933) maintains that in the first seven years, the canvas for all a person's life is established. In other words, in the course of one's life am adult only broadens and deepens what was formed in his soul in the first seven years. There is much truth in this assertion. The basic traits of personality and character of a person as well as the basis of his sense of the world are placed, actually, in the period of his life before the age of youth (approximately to age seven)2.
The first thing, the main thing, that is necessary to understand and accept for each person raising children is a basic position of Christian pedagogy: true morality is impossible without a religious basis. Beyond that, true morality is impossible without the help of the Church. Without the help of the holy Mysteries of the Church, it is impossible to give a sound, true moral upbringing to the child. Without the help of the Church, true moral adult life is also impossible.
Strictly speaking, the foundation of the religious-moral upbringing of a child is laid even before his birth. But how rarely do young people entering into marriage think of the tremendous personal responsibility for the life of the future newborn child. Matrimony is a great Mystery of the Church! Immediately before this Mystery the Church demands that two other Mysteries be accomplished by both marital parties: Repentance and Communion. Along with this, it is demanded that both marital parties had previously Baptism and Chrismation. The grace of all these Mysteries (Baptism, Chrismation, Repentance, Communion, and Matrimony) which nurtured the souls and bodies of the parents cannot but touch the soul and body of the conceived and expected future child. But the grace-bestowing Mysteries exist only in the bosom of the grace-bestowing, that is, the true, canonically correct Church, and if one of the parents does not belong to it, then it cannot but reflect detrimentally on the children also. Do those marrying think of this? The blessing for marriage by the parents of those being married is necessary as well for the future child. The degree of purity of the souls and bodies of those who have entered marriage possesses tremendous significance (heredity) and without fail is reflected on the future descendants. The spiritual and bodily condition of the woman has special significance for the basis of the religious-moral upbringing of the future child during the time of pregnancy before birth, and at the time of breast-feeding the newborn. This is especially because before birth, the fetus consists of a single whole, one organism with the mother, and at the time of breast-feeding, the baby receives maternal milk, the product of her living body-soul organism. The soul is mysteriously connected with the whole body, and the milk of the pregnant mother is part of not only her body but also her soul. In recent times, the overwhelming majority of newborn children are nurtured on artificial formula and not the milk of the mother. This also cannot but be said to be detrimental to the infant.
Recall that the word "upbringing" itself3 contains the meaning of feeding4. Feeding is necessary for both the body and the soul. There is nothing more pernicious for the beginning of religious-moral upbringing as the very widespread opinion, prejudice rather, that the newborn baby needs only care for his body. Christianity maintains that the mission of a person is not limited to earthly life alone but extends to eternity. Therefore the raising of a child must go in conformity with this dual mission of man. The teaching of Christ is the only way which leads a person on earth and to heaven. "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6).
The spiritual life of the newborn infant develops at first without his personal cooperation, thus it is possible to conclude that man is subject to a law of development. But this necessity does not prevent him from having a free nature; on the contrary, this only proves to us that man by the intention of his Creator is a necessarily free being, for the first beginning of spiritual development of the child is none other than the development of the capacity to be free. Furthermore, it is impossible to propose that the Creator, having placed a well-known goal for His creation (free striving for eternal blessedness), would not have given him the means to accomplish this goal. Indeed, observing the natural development of a person from the moment of his birth, we cannot but notice that everything in him is predisposed to the accomplishment of the above-indicated final goal of his being. The capability for the development of consciousness is itself a preparation toward this end. The clearly moral character of his awakening instincts represents an indubitable sign of his pre-eminence over everybody and everything on earth. The very body of his organism is created such that it is impossible not to see a holy earthly temple in which the Holy Spirit is appointed to dwell.
"Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple are ye" (I Cor. 3:16-17). How terrible do these words of the apostle Paul sound! From this the punishment "on he who tempts one of these little ones" is understandable: drowning in the sea with a boulder on his neck5.
Starting from unclear sensations of feeling, the consciousness of a child imperceptibly is transformed into reason, allowing him in later life to slowly and gradually arise to a feeling of loftiness and beauty, to a contemplation of the eternal and holy. The awakening mind of the child is originally pure, natural, syncretical, integral, unaffectedly joyful, and similar to a just-opening bud of an excellent flower. His conscience is angelically pure and youthfully innocent. However, self-consciousness is not yet clear. Having been born, the child enters the world. Into the sinful world. Here begins the murderous activity of this world on the young soul of the infant yet blameless, but conceived in sins. All that is best, holy, and pure at birth begins to be destroyed under the clash between him and the world. The reason for this is ancestral sin. This is why onlyso-called natural development of man, with all the means placed in him from God, does not attain its assignment. A person himself is unable, not only to attain the goal assigned to him by God, but even find the beginning of the way leading to this end. Without the help of the Savior and Deliver Himself, Christ, the salvation of the soul is impossible. Guidance to this salvation is entrusted to the Church of Christ. True moral upbringing of a child (i.e., feeding his soul and body) is possible only in the fold of this Church.
Upbringing precedes educational formation. If education can begin only with the development of the natural capabilities of a person, then upbringing begins with his very appearance into the world. Upbringing makes a foundation on which all the subsequent capabilities of a person are made. The education of a child without his prior upbringing is an attempt to build a house on sand. The upbringing of a child is that cornerstone on which we can begin to build the temple of his life. One has to raise a person in such a way which leads him on the path through earthly life to eternal, heavenly life.
The heart of a person is the source of his feelings and actions. If the Savior Himself said, “out of the heart proceed evil thoughts” (Matt. 15:19), then it is evident that without raising the heart of a person, one cannot get by. The heart is the root of the whole moral life of a person. Therefore, to give a good direction to the heart is the first and main task of upbringing. Completely imperceptibly, in the soul of the infant, originally holistic and syncretic, the process of differentiation of psychological faculties begins; the activity of the mind, feeling, and will begins. The awakening mind which is subsequently encouraged by the sinful nature of man, begins to strive on the one hand for emancipation, and on the other to tyrannically influence the will. The synchronistic harmony of mind, heart, and will begins to be destroyed. The sinful world begins to harm the soul of the infant. Then, while continuing to raise the heart, it is necessary to begin to act on the mind, i.e., the conscious faculties of the infant.
The divine teaching of Christ possesses such a miraculous property, that it exceptionally early begins to be accessible to infant minds, being at the same time inexhaustible to the deepest thinkers. If inanimate nature: sunlight, air, moisture, and earth give life to plants, then why cannot the Spirit of the Word of God give life to the soul of the infant? Christianity, according to the opinion of the holy Fathers of the Church, can be absorbed even more in childhood than adulthood. This is explained by everything in Christianity being exceptionally close to human nature, and in children this nature is purer and less damaged than in adults. Therefore, Christ also said, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3).
Christian upbringing especially begins to appear in the soul of the newborn infant under the holy Mysteries of Baptism and Chrismation, when the godparents in the baptized's stead give to God the sworn promise of faithfulness to the basic elements of Christian life: faith, hope, and love. The first moments of the life of the baptized infant are full of the grace-endowed action of the Holy Spirit imprinted by the sacramental seal of holy myrrh. Already after a short time, the unseen, received grace begins to be manifest in a new animate temple. The awakening conscience of the infant, enlightened by the grace of the "gifts of the Holy Spirit," is becoming capable to grow up and be perfected in the above-indicated basic Christian elements of life: faith, hope, and love. The baptized, innocent, newborn child in a care-free way delights in the existence he has received from God. He lives placidly in the present, not knowing yet the nature of time with its past and future. Some holy Fathers of the Church compared such a state with the state of eternal rest, without sorrow for the past, without sighing for the future. Other spiritual writers likened such a state to that of purest faith and complete trust, such as possible only for pure, innocent infancy with its incapability for any kind of doubt. However, here the experience of relating to the surrounding world starts teaching the baby to distinguish inanimate from animate objects who surround him with love. Then in the baby's soul appears a new growth of divine seed: the baby himself starts learning to love. The first objects of his love, of course, are the surrounding closely-related persons. The first year of life passes, and a new period of his development begins. Now he is on his feet; he already knows how to express his first feelings of trust and love. He still continues to be happy with the present, but this is not the bliss of the cradle. Then neither past nor future existed for him. Now he begins to distinguish them. It is especially important that he begin to understand and learn to expect the future. In connection with this in his consciousness, besides the capability for faith and love, a new capability appears — hope.
The second year of his life must proceed under the sign of a slow deepening and strengthening of the capability of perception of the basic elements of Christian life indicated above. The third year of life is often characterized especially sharply by distrust, joined with fear, in relation to foreign, unfamiliar, and new people. The child feels at peace only tightly snuggling up to parents or closely-related persons whom he loves and wholly entrusts all his soul. By age three the child has consciousness of his own personality, and for the first time he consciously says of himself, "I" (and not "he" when indicating himself). At the same time, calling himself "I," he still for some time accompanies this by a gesture indicating himself.
At this time it is especially important to pay special attention to the cultivating of obedience. The holy fathers emphasize that one has to "attain" and "win" obedience by true, rational love. True love cannot but be reciprocal. When the child, in answer to the tender caress of the mother for the first time thankfully, joyfully presses his cheek to the cheek or breast of the mother, this signifies that the basis for cultivating obedience is placed, that the latter begins to be "won" and "attained." Without obedience, upbringing is impossible. Obedience is in fairness called "the beginning of upbringing."
The most difficult part is that obedience must be free and not compelled, must be based on love and not fear before violence. At this tender age, fear is necessary, but of a certain kind: fear of God, fear to lose the love of the beloved, fear to upset the beloved. The loving mother, having managed to become beloved, must know how at the needed moment to leave her child so that he, deprived for a little while of the mother's caress, would reach for it more strongly. Without the help of the Holy Mysteries of the Church, "to attain" obedience is impossible. The child must be communed more often, and the mother herself needs to confess and commune more often. If the above-indicated basic elements of faith, love, and hope of the child develop normally, then and only then on their basis can the beginning of true obedience be conceived. To have in one's hands, without violence, the will of the baby — this is the main thing in upbringing. But one must know how to make use of this for moral upbringing. It is impossible to thrust moral rules on the child while he is still not in the condition to understand them.
How in general does the will develop in a person? For the movement of the will there must be incentives. Subsequently, for the government of the will of the child, it is necessary to master his incentives or implant them in him. The most natural and strongest incentives of the activity of a person flow out of the aforementioned three basic elements of Christian life: faith, love, and hope. In order to begin to cultivate the will of the child, parents or care-givers first of all must understand that this is impossible to realize without a completely sincere and loving heart with a full and clear personal conviction in the truth of one's intention. Without complete heart-felt trust in our instructions from the side of the children, it is impossible to count on success. Simultaneously with instructions we without fail must show a personal living example which can act not only on the will (by the law of imitation), but also on the development of moral consciousness. If you start to hammer some rules in the head of a child, not living them by example, then you will fruitlessly force both his mind and his heart, which the former is not yet in a state to understand the forms without content, and the latter cannot participate in that which does not touch him.
Personal example possesses a decisive significance in the matter of upbringing. How is it possible for the child to accept some instruction from you as a direction his activity if he sees in your personal life an overt contradiction of it? Only those giving one's own constant living example of doing good can govern the will of the child fully and completely. Undoubtedly during the cultivating of the will of the child, one has to resort to encouraging rewards as well as stimulating punishments. But here it is especially important to remember that these means must be applied with deep care and attentiveness, for excessive punishments as well as excessive rewards can bring great irrevocable harm to the young soul. A general recipe here cannot be given, for nowhere does the individuality of the child being raised play such a large role as under the appointment of this or that type and degree of incentive or threat. Often mistakes in this direction are a source of great suffering for the extent of the whole life of the child being raised. Misuse of rewards, as well as erratic and cruel punishments, in an identical degree easily can suppress for good the beginnings of trust and love for the irrational parents or care-givers in the soul of the child. Spoiling and pampering to all desires and caprices of the child lays the root of disobedience, self-will, egoism, laziness, hypocrisy, ingratitude, disrespect and then contempt for those raising them, irritability, anger, spite, and hatred of all strangers who are to try to counteract the unbridled self-will and self-centered foolishness of the child. Such children subsequently often lose faith, come to despondency and despair when they apprehend their unhappiness, and sometimes even begin to murmur blasphemy at God. The ever-memorable Fr. John of Kronstadt said about children's caprices, "Caprice is a bud of the heart's spoilage, rust of the heart, moth of love, seed of spite, loathsome to God."
The true Christian must kiss the Hand of the Lord who is chastising him with humility. Therefore Christian upbringing must get to where children accept punishment from the hands of parents or care-givers with the feeling of their own guilt and with the consciousness of the fairness of the anger and imposed punishments being levied, and (most important) with fear to lose the love of the beloved and loving relatives. This beneficial fear possesses tremendous religious-moral significance; on its basis later develops true "fear of God," with fear of sin and fear of losing the grace of the Holy Spirit, the acquisition of which, by the words of St. Seraphim, is the aim of the life of a Christian. The chief and most correct measure of which means of encouragement or punishment primarily to be employed in relation to this or that child is the understanding of the individual structure enfolding the moral consciousness of the one being brought up. For the child who has the feeling of faith developing especially strongly, threats only are enough; direct punishment may be unprofitable under conditions of sufficiently deep and strong development of faith, as threats are already punishment. If the foundations of the Christian virtue of hope (flowing out from a sufficient development of faith) are particularly developed, moderate rewards and punishments can be exceptionally effective. Where the child has a clear, deep, and strongly developed feeling of love, expressed in a direct sympathy, attentive keenness toward his neighbor's mood, and in tender grateful affection to them, one need not resort to either punishment or frequent encouragements or rewards, for love is itself the reward. In such cases those raising the children should only more often display their sincere active love toward all neighboring people surrounding the child.
However, where punishment is accompanied by even a hint of vengeance, an irritated heart, or nuance of spite, even fully justified from the side of the one raising the child, this cannot but undermine the seeds of childhood faith in sincerity and love for those who are punishing him. Even in youngest infant hearts, a special intuition is present distinguishing violence by right of strength from compulsion by the duty of love. The first hardens and the second humbles the rebellious elements of a developing soul. From such humility sincere heart-felt obedience will grow up later.
When the child begins to stand on his feet, then the first manifestations of self-sufficiency begin. Having felt his new powers and capabilities, he strives to take his first step from us. How important that the first step not result in a fall! Otherwise the child for a long time will not try to walk for himself. Who better than the birth mother can help him at this time? Who else can teach him better to combine the first independent steps with faith and hope at the help of love from without? Having stood her child a short distance away, the mother beckons him to herself, in an outstretched embrace, and the child, drawn by strength of love and trust, takes his first step. What a moving picture of faith helped by love! "Whoever since childhood is so accustomed to hurry instinctively-lovingly to the voice of the mother, in mature years quickly responds to the call of the Heavenly Father," rightly notes one of the spiritual authorities of the last century (archpriest I. Bazarov).
In the second year, the child begins to walk and talk. If his first steps signify an attempt for bodily independence, then the first conscious words are a striving for moral independence. From this moment a new, extremely important period of the child's life begins; he must learn to talk from those around him. The gift of the word is a miraculous and mysterious gift from God. The method of the development of this gift is the law of imitation inlaid by God in the soul of the child.
Make haste, parents and care-givers who surround the newly talking child, to fill his soul with pure, sensible words. If in the second half of the first year of his life, the child principally was becoming acquainted with space, time, colors, forms, sounds, movements, striking his outer feelings, then now all this begins to penetrate his soul. "There is no thought without word and no word without thought" (Max Mueller). Beginning to talk, the child begins also to think. He acquires a new, purely spiritual requirement: to clothe in the form of words all his soul's experience, and to understand words heard by the soul. The staggering novelty of this new experience incites in the child the demand to give an account to the developing consciousness in all his surroundings. With the small stock of word-concepts at his command, the child begins a period of searching questions. "What's that? What's that for?" Should you answer all these questions? He does not yet have the ability to house in his soul all of the even simple answers. He does not have sufficient attention to concentrate on the answers. And questions keep coming more and more. You should not refuse the questions. To stifle questions is harmful. How should the care-giver act? First of all one needs to understand that in this period only the forms of comprehension are developing in the child; they cannot accommodate the corresponding contents before they are built. Throwing at us his questions, he waits for the satisfaction of his curiosity, not so much by content as by form. Explanations, clarifications, interpretations, demonstrations — he does not understand them and does not need them. Loving, he trusts every word of the care-giver. He is ready ahead of time to accept each answer as dogma. Therefore, for each question, the care-giver must give the answer in a dogmatic tone, that is, an unfailingly confident tone, although the essence of the answer be indistinct, evasive, or even representing a direct denial to the question. Only do not deceive the child or discuss with him. The requirement for discussion will come later, when the child becomes capable of discussing and, through discussion, understanding, that is, when he begins distinctly although in an elementary way to think discursively. The child's intuition goes ahead of discursive logic. Premature discussion in the period of his intuitive-dogmatic thought will develop in him the inclination to arguing and undermine faith in the true word of the person whom he loves. Lies and deceit will poison the young soul by the poison of doubt and will extinguish the spark of feeling of eternal truth.
The main concern of the one raising the child in this period has to consist in that the children believe his word, which must never be corrupt in the mouths of Christian caregivers. If in general, "every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment" (Matt. 12:36), then an especially weighty responsibility for such words falls on the one raising a child. Ideally, each word of ours, both addressed directly to the child as well as said in his presence, must become for him a sacrosanct law. But this is possible only on the condition that the word be sacrosanct for us ourselves.
Play represents an exceptionally important manifestation of the development of the child. Up to age three, children rarely learn to play together with other children; usually in this period they play next to each other, that is, each to himself. After age three almost all the child's life, both external and internal, is concentrated in play. Playing by oneself, the child exercises his thought and imagination. Playing with other children, he brings out his feeling, will, and again imagination. However, excessive development of the imagination is fraught with very heavy consequences. Let us not forget that man's first sin was conceived in the imagination. Therefore, experienced spiritual authorities recommend to keep children in their games tied more often to reality. It is very important that the voice of love of the parents or care-givers be not sentimental but deeply and sincerely lyrical, and at the same time serious and sober, that threats be done with meekness and calm. Only in such a way is it possible to attain the child's love with reverent filial awe and fear of offending you by his disobedience.
Self-will is inherent to children from birth, but it requires being curbed without fail in its very root. One can and must break him only in this way: the combination of love and firmness. True rational love of the parents or care-givers in no case must allow itself compromises before the irrational self-will. Here the most energetic measures are recommended concerning the breaking of the wayward will and preservation of the holy element of faith in the love of the father, mother, or care-giver. A single like experience of firmness and unbending demand for obedience to the loving parent or care-giver is often sufficient in order to tear out from the inexperienced soul of the child the seed of a terrible sin with its root. Happy are those parents or care-givers when the child is torn away from the most interesting game by the call to fulfill their order. To accomplish this is extremely difficult, but highly necessary.
In games with others the same age, the child conceives the beginnings of social life. Here there are unavoidable clashes of passions and characters. The character of the child himself is worked out here. During play time, numerous comments and directives concerning particular actions will be least of all useful. One should not inhibit the free spontaneous behavior of the playing children. One should not forget about the variousmreactions of children to remarks when alone and remarks in the presence of others. One should not restrain each mistaken step of the child's socializing with other children, but attentively following the proceedings, one should at certain moments appeal to general ground rules of behavior, approving or rebuking not this or that act of one of the players, but those moral motives which conditioned the actions. Not offending and not insulting individual personalities, one should rebuke or approve types of behavior. Let each individual child himself inwardly relate to this or that of the indicated types. This will be more useful to him in regards to morals. In order to find the correct tone of direction to children in group play, one has to know how to love not only one's own children but all children in general, remembering the special love for children of the Savior Himself.
Useful to all raising children is to understand clearly the basic distinction between upbringing and education. Upbringing relates to education as the heart relates to all remaining capabilities of the soul. Although the tasks of upbringing and education are tightly entwined, nevertheless upbringing will always be more important in the matter of preparation for eternal life in heaven, whereas education is needed primarily in the matter of making one capable for temporal life on earth. If you teach a child sincerely to respect elders and be sincerely gracious and reserved with each of them, then the outer expression of these feelings also will be his truly excellent manners. But there is nothing more ruinous for the developing heart of the child as meeting a duplicitous person. An excellent example of such an experience lived through by a deceived child can be found in Chekhov's excellent story, "A Trifle From Life"6.
If parents or care-givers in this period of development of the child feel powerless in the battle against the indicated labors of moral upbringing, then they must quickly appeal to the help of the Church. One or two conversations of a priest with the child by himself (which is as though on the threshold of first confession) can bring much profit. But alas, often the parents themselves need the help and advice of a priest who must summon them to and teach them the fulfillment of reasonable parental duty, based on the "fear of God," which is "the beginning of all wisdom" (Wis. 1:7). In such critical moments of moral upbringing, parents or care-givers are obligated to begin to reveal the future lot which awaits the child in the near future on earth as well as ultimately beyond the bounds of earthly life. The element of hope placed by God Himself, like a seed, into the soul of the child, at this time can and must begin to bear its fruit. We recall how the exposure of his fate as a Christian by his mother made a deep impression on the great Gogol when he was still a young child. "Once you related to me, a child, so well, so touchingly, of those blessings which await people for a life of good works, and so strikingly, so terribly described, the eternal torments of sinners, that this shook and awakened in me all feeling. This conceived and produced in me subsequently the highest thoughts."
With the development of the child's understanding and speech the period of his learning begins. If his bodily development depended upon correct, timely, and sufficient food, then mental development demands the same correct, timely, and sufficient instruction. Remembering the dual calling of man — through temporal life on earth to eternal life in heaven — it is also necessary from the very start to subject the instruction of the child to the principle of this dual calling. Subsequently, learning must begin from that "one thing needful" which by the words of Savior Himself is "choosing the good part," and which if firmly rooted in the soul, will never be taken away from it. But when and how should Christian instruction of the baby begin? "Every soul by nature is Christian" (Tertullian). The Mysteries of Baptism, Chrismation, and Communion already put the seeds of faith, hope, and love in the infant's soul. Christianity from beginning to end is all filled with grace-bearing, incomprehensible, and efficacious Mysteries. Everything in the soul of the Christian infant is already prepared for development. As long as the child himself is still helpless to develop himself, the duty for assisting this development falls on the parents and care-givers. Woe to him who does not fulfill this duty appointed by God. By the faith of the godparents and parents, grace of rebirth comes down upon baptized child; by their piety and faith the still incognizant infant receives also special gifts of God's good will: spiritual moisture, spiritual warmth, and spiritual light for assisting the sprouting seeds of the three greatest basic elements of good works: faith, hope, and love. In other words, the embryonic beginning of teaching a child is the touch of grace brought down on him according to our faith. From this it is clear that the reverent sign of the cross, which the pious mother or care-giver touches him in bed at night and upon awakening, is the first lesson of faith for the infant. If the power of the sign of the cross, as we know, possesses its effect over inanimate nature, then all the more is it effective over the living soul of the baby. The sign of the cross and prayer of the mother over the cradle are a kind of Divine Service for him, and along with them the first direction in faith. If it is impossible to comprehend that instant from which the religious development and instruction of the child begins, then would it not be more useful to begin it as soon as possible? Does not the guardian angel translate the reverent prayers of the mother to the language of the infant's understanding? A notable experiment in this relationship was done with idiot children. Well-known to all of Russia, "Aunt Katie" (Gracheva), dedicated to the upbringing of profoundly retarded children all her life, witnessed that idiots incapable of elementary acts of caring for themselves and articulate speech, displayed "the spark of God," obvious glimmers of human consciousness when spoken to with compassionate love and sincere faith about God. In order that the language of Christian faith, hope, and love, the language of knowledge of God, godly respect, godly reverence, and honor of God become the native language of the soul of the infant, one should talk to him in this language from the very cradle. If the first babbling of the infant, his first "conversation" with the mother will be sanctified by the name of Christ on the lips of the mother, if the first movements of his little arms will be used for the signing of the cross, and if the first conscious speech will be like at least a short prayer, then a solid stone foundation of Christian religious instruction will undoubtedly be laid.
With the development of the baby's life concepts (that occurs simultaneously with the development of speech), broad perspectives for diverse admonitions to him of faith are opened before us.
Many parents are exceptionally afraid that the thoughts of death not appear to the child. But this is a grave error. The child, having begun to speak, is capable very early to get an understanding of death, and it is necessary to give to him this understanding, the sooner the better. However, of course, this important understanding must be strictly Christian, and it can be so only in connection with the understanding of the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body. When we begin to speak with the small child about death and merely mention the immortality of the soul and resurrection of the body, how joyfully he grasps at this thought! With what trepidation, often not understandable to even to adults, he looks at future life in heaven and begins to discuss the future lot of himself and others! The hope for a blessed state after death and resurrection is more accessible for him than for adults, thanks to the purity and spontaneity of his child-like faith and love. Namely, after these lofty experiences, increased growth of child-like inquisitiveness begins in relation to religious questions so characteristic of normal children at the brink of youth. At this time, directions become presently necessary for the child from the mouth of the pastor-priest. Parents cannot replace the latter. An especially exalted authority is required here. No one except a server of the Church, possessing ordained rank, can become such an authority. From infancy the child is accustomed to seeing the priest in the temple of God, infused with the holiness of the divine services. The outer appearance itself of the priest with his particular dress is often perceived by the child as an animate icon. With what involuntary reverent fear and trembling respect the child begins to listen to his new spiritual mentor whose authority he has from God for teaching. The new understanding and the new word — spiritual father — has a deeply meaningful sound in the child's consciousness. How important it is for the child from the first words of the priest to understand that now he is spoken to about the most important thing in life, of those subjects which will influence not only all his life on earth but also eternal life in heaven.
When should the child begin to study the Law of God from the priest? It is impossible to delineate an exact term. Much depends on the degree of individual development. But as a general rule, such study ought to begin on the boundary of early childhood and youth, immediately preceding first confession.
The first confession is the chief event in the life of the child, after Baptism, Chrismation, and first Communion. The first confession on the one hand is a test of all his spiritual religious-moral development from the period of early childhood, and on the other a gateway to a new period of youth, when usually family upbringing gets a rival in school upbringing.
The first confession is a test also for the parents (or care-givers), having prepared the young soul for perceiving a new holy Mystery, named a "second Baptism."
All family pre-school religious-moral upbringing and education represents a struggle for the purity of the soul of the child, having been born and required to live in a sinful world, which violates everything pure and uncorrupted. The victorious outcome of this struggle is made possible only for the pious Orthodox Christian family and with the help of the canonically correct holy Mysteries, and therefore, the undoubtedly grace-bestowing Orthodox Church. In order that the family not be disappointed in view of the power of sin and evil in its surrounding world, and in consciousness of infirmity in the matter of preservation of the soul of the young child in the course of seven years, an efficacious, saving beacon is placed before it: the Mystery of Repentance, of the first confession that is supposed to correct all mistakes and fill all the gaps of an imperfect human upbringing. First confession is a "second Baptism," a Baptism by the first repentant tears of the youth which must interflow with the same repentant tears of the parents. Happy are those parents who, despite the mass of life's obstacles, can themselves confess and commune the holy Mysteries simultaneously with the first confession and first conscious Communion of their child. (Sponsors must also prepare with fasting before the baptism of the infant. Does anyone do this in our time? I once saw such a "godmother" who could not recite the Creed by heart.)
For the tender heart of the youth, the first confession must serve as a decree that now his time has come for independent conviction with personal responsibility before God. Being now at the Judgment of the Church with his sins of youth, the Christian youth for the first time himself gives an account to God for himself.
First confession often forever decides the fate of all subsequent falls, repentances, spiritual restoration and renewal of the soul on life's way, in which "there is no man who has not sinned."
An Orthodox Christian religious-moral upbringing does not have the right to overlook first confession; otherwise it deprives itself of the very effective means for accomplishing its goal, for Christian upbringing is the beginning of the "path to salvation" which is impossible without the holy Mysteries of the Church.
The Mystery of holy Communion, the most important and most mysterious of all the holy Mysteries was feeding the infant even earlier, from the baptismal font until first confession by the faith of his parents and care-givers. Now the youth for the first time approaches the holy chalice consciously after the Mystery of Repentance. Preparation of the youth for worthy reception of first conscious Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ is the culminating point of an Orthodox Christian upbringing.
In order to be worthy of Communion of the body and blood of Christ, one has to know and understand the multifaceted words of the apostle, "he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself." The youth, stepping up for conscious Communion for the first time, must necessarily know and understand this. For a full preparation for first communion, it is necessary to expose before the communicant's consciousness the life of man from the beginning of his creation and fall into sin up to the expiatory passion of Christ. It is necessary for the youth who is communing to feel deeply the power of the Lord’s love for all people. Let him memorize and consciously read (according to the measure of his intellectual powers) the Creed and Prayer before Communion. Let him with all the vitality of children's imagination and mind consider all the sufferings of Christ as a matter brought to completion not only for everyone in general but also instead of him and for him, still a young sinner. Having shaken the soul of the youth, one should then calm him and make him joyful by the radiant joyful resurrection of Christ, by the joy of forgiveness of all who sincerely repent, and by the joy of the promise that "he that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him" (John 6:56).
Originally published in Russian in "The Orthodox Way", 1959 (pp.119-135).
1 All now canonized. – Tr.
2 The author here and elsewhere uses otrochestvo, rendered here and elsewhere as “youth,” as is commonly understood in the Church and not according to the modern cultural understanding. Otrochestvo in the understanding of the Church begins at the age when a child begins to be morally responsible for his actions, that is, able to understand the difference between right and wrong and choose between them. At such an age a child begins to go to confession. The medical understanding of this term is different, corresponding to the person's sexual maturity. – Tr.
3 Vospitaniye – Tr.
4 Having the same root as pitat' (to feed/nourish), pischa (food) – Tr.
5 See Mark 9:42, – Tr.