There was once a Sunday school teacher who was approached by a parent, and the parent said to the Sunday school teacher, “I have a big problem with your school, because I’ve been bringing my child here for quite a few years now, and my child doesn’t even know the Lord’s Prayer.” The Sunday school teacher turned around and said, “Well, do you say it with him at home?” The parent, of course, said, “No.” The parent expected all this to come from the Sunday school. The Sunday school teacher said, “You expect us to teach your children the Orthodox faith, such basic things as the Lord’s Prayer in the half an hour or 45 minutes that we have during the week, when really it is your place as a parent to be first teaching these things to your children before they even step foot in a school.”
It’s really true. This story didn’t happen a long time ago. It actually happened in our school here at St. Demetrios, but it shows us how we as parents today think about education and how we think of the Church and the programs of the Church. We have somehow, in the last 50-100 years, changed the emphasis from the parents being the first teachers, the most important people in their children’s lives, to the school teachers being the most important.
To reword it a bit, we have changed and moved the onus from parents teaching their children the most important things about life, faith and morality, and we have put that responsibility onto either the schools, the teachers, or the programs. This is just a simple way of society taking the responsibility away from modern day parents, and we look for somebody else to blame. But if we think about it, it is completely illogical to expect, with the little time that our children have in school, our children to learn the things that parents should have been teaching them from their youth.
When you look at the amount of time children spend with their parents at home, with their grandparents, and with their relatives, and the amount of time that they spend in school, in Greek school or Sunday school, which is even much less time, we see that the parents have the advantage. The parents have the children mostly at home. In the early Church, and we’ve said this before, there was this understanding that the parents were the first teachers, the first examples, because there was no such thing as Sunday school. There was no such thing as a theological teaching for children, an organized program in the early Church.
Why did this not exist? Not because the children weren’t important. Not because the youth were not considered the future, as we say today. But because the early Church expected the parents to be exactly what their name means—parents—to parent their children, to teach their children, to pass on to them the most important things in life, especially their faith. And yet, in our day and age, we find that our children are going to school, learning about God, going to Sunday school, going to Greek school, they are reading, and many times they know more than their parents.
This is perhaps a failure of the Church, because we don’t have enough programs targeting our elder population, teaching our parents what they need to know. Really, it is the parents that are the examples for their children. It is the parents who are the first catechists. They are in the role of the priest at home. Children only get so much when they come here which is very little time during the week. Yet at home, they want to ask their parents, whom trust and look up to, about God, about the faith, about right and wrong.
If we as parents cannot answer those questions for our children, then we have to start asking ourselves: a) why can we not answer these things? b) shouldn’t we know for ourselves? This is one of the reasons why I will be traveling to Ottawa to a clergy retreat that we have every two years for all the priests of Canada. I will be giving a presentation on “recatechism”—a program that we have here at St. Demetrios—which is an adult religious education program. His Eminence has asked me to do this, because he recognizes that, in the Church of Canada at least, we don’t have enough programs that offer religious and theological education to our adults.
We always gear everything toward our children. For so many years we have heard that youth are our future, let’s do it all for the children, we have to have programs for the children, for the children, for the children. This is a wonderful thing. The problem is that we’re putting the cart before the horse. We try to focus so many programs toward our children that we forget about the parents and the grandparents and the great grandparents. We forget that, even if we target the children and give them so much information, when they go home and it is not reinforced in the home, the information will not actually stay with them, it won’t become ingrained in them, and they will not believe in it.
So, today, we come back to the feast day of All Saints and celebrate all the saints about whom we don’t know. Saints are just certain people that we recognize as being holy, as living their lives like Christ as good examples. But there many people who lived saintly lives that we don’t know about. Being a saint is just a way of following, to the best of our ability, the teachings of the Gospel, the teachings of Christ. Really, that is what the Church is called to do—to become saints. Not so that we can do miracles or so that we can have our name in a book somewhere or so that somebody can paint an icon of us someday. But we are called to be saints, why? —so that we can be good examples for our children.
His Eminence was here two weeks ago, and he spoke about this same thing—about being examples to our children, about the grave responsibility we have as Orthodox Christians. I’m saying these things today, because we know that now all the programs of the Church have ended—Sunday school has ended, Greek school ended yesterday, most of the programs are stopping for the summer—and many of us will go out and go on vacations with our families, we’ll go to church a little less, unfortunately, and we’ll all come back together in September when the ecclesiastical year starts and all the programs start again, and the church will fill again.
I just want to remind everyone that, during these summer months, even though the church programs stop, the home program should never stop, the home teaching should never cease. If there is nothing going on at church and nothing going on at home, then really what we’re teaching our children is that we can take a break from God, we can take a break from spirituality, and we can take a break from our faith. During the summer, it’s just one of those things. It’s a hobby just like everything else, and we’ll come back to it in September.
We cannot do that. We have to understand that we are the first line of defense. We are the first teachers. The church is there to support us. The church is not there to teach our children for us. The Greek school is not there to teach the language for us. The Sunday schools are not there to teach the faith for us. All these programs are there to help us as parents to teach our children ourselves, to take responsibility for their spiritual upbringing and our own spiritual upbringing.