I’m not an expert. I’m probably a failure. I’m a failure at most things. But being a parent is just about the most difficult vocation that we can have. And being an Orthodox parent, with a whole range of additional concerns and aspirations just makes it even worse. Not only do we want our children to be happy and safe, and to make the most of whatever abilities they have, but we want them to enter into a relationship with God, and experience his loving, saving presence throughout their lives.
I will probably post a few blogs about this topic. But in this first one, I want to say that I believe that the most important preparation and foundation for being an Orthodox parent is to be committed to experiencing the Orthodox Christian life ourselves in a increasing manner. This is the greatest and most important gift that we can give to our children. We will not be able to become a witness to the reality of life in Christ if we have made little progress our self, or worse, if we have not understood what Orthodox Christianity really stands for.
The Christian life is not about pleasing an angry God by trying to do things that he commands. Neither is the Christian life about making bargains with God, promising to do religious activities if he gives us what we want. Nor is the Christian life about trying to earn enough points to get to Heaven when we die. It is not even about sharing the religious habits, language, morality and customs we learned as a child, as if they were the same as truly experiencing the spiritual life. If this is what we imagine Orthodox Christianity to represent then we have not understood it at all, and if we have not understood ourselves then how can we share it with the precious ones that God places in our care.
What is the substance of the Orthodox Christian faith and life? It is that God has created each one of us to enter into a union with Him by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, so that our human lives are transfigured by His presence with us and in us. Heaven is not some place that we might hope to visit in the future, but it is an experience that God invites us to participate in now, in this life and always. The purpose of all of the teaching and liturgy and spirituality of the Orthodox Church is only intended to help each of us experience this union with God for ourselves. God desires this for us and for our children.
We do not attend the Liturgy to fulfill some religious requirement, but because the Word of God Himself will descend upon the altar, and the Holy Spirit will fill the Temple of the Lord. We are offered a renewal and deepening of our union with God for our salvation and transformation if we receive the gift of God with faith. We do not pray the Agpeya to meet some obligation that our spiritual father has imposed upon us, but because as we turn to God in prayer we find ourselves in His loving presence, and as we make the words of the prayers our own we find an experience of divine life and love. We do not fast, and read the Scriptures with any value unless we do so in seeking after union with God.
Indeed, the Lord Jesus commands us to seek first the Kingdom of God. This is not yet another religious demand intended to make us feel worse about ourselves. It is, on the contrary, a divine invitation. To enter into the Kingdom of God is to receive that abundant life which Christ promises. If we are to be Orthodox Parents then this must be our experience of the Christian life in an increasing measure. The welfare of our children absolutely depends on this. We commit ourselves wholeheartedly to participating in union with God by the indwelling Holy Spirit because our vocation as Orthodox Parents is a spiritual ministry and vocation, and we cannot enter into it, or be sustained in it, unless we are always receiving the grace of God for this most responsible ministry.
The foundation of Orthodox Parenthood is therefore a proper understanding of the Christian life ourselves and a determined and self-sacrificing intention to be united with God as He desires. This is salvation. This is the Christian Life. How can we share it with those in our care if we do not live it out day by day and moment by moment?
What should we do to enter into this experience of participating in the divine life by grace? We must pray. Not just on odd occasions or when we have a problem. But we must understand that when our Lord Jesus tells us to pray always, he is not making things hard for us, but showing us how we become truly Christian. When St Paul tells us to pray without ceasing, he is not making up impossible rules for us, but is showing us how to receive the abundant life that God offers, and that the incarnation of the Word of God achieved for us.
Pray without ceasing. If we are Orthodox Parents, then our children need us to pray for them without ceasing. They need us to be men and women who pray without ceasing. They need us to be men and women, father and mothers, who are seeking to grow as close to God as possible, for their sake if not our own. They need us to experience ourselves what we hope that they will experience in their own lives. If we have not yet entered into a continuing, developing, increasing experience of God, and if we are not bearing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives in peace, joy, patience, faith and long-suffering, then this the greatest gift we could ever offer our children and we need to seek it for ourselves to be able to share it with them.
To concentrate on becoming a truly spiritual man or woman, filled with the Holy Spirit, resisting sin, sacrificing self, living humbly and simply. This is the basis of being an Orthodox Parent. Whatever else we do, if we are not spiritual, will fail to provide for our children what we wish most for them. We cannot determine how our children will grow and develop, whatever our best intentions. But we can seek to be transformed ourselves if we seek God with all our heart, and this is the greatest gift, the best foundation, that we can offer those in our care.