“Children in the Orthodox Faith”
By Rev. Protopresbyter Nicholas V. Gamvas, D.Min., Ph.D.
First and foremost children are the greatest blessing in life for any married couple and indeed are a gift from God. So the greatest gift parents can pass onto their children is to lay the foundations for them to know and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. To do this, parents need to live and follow our faith, after all Orthodoxy is a way of life.
From the outset, there is prayer for the mother giving birth and for the new born child’s spiritual life and wellbeing. And it is good to get the child involved, by having an Orthodox environment at home with an icon in the child’s room, the icon of the Theotokos is always one loved by children, seeing the Mother holding her baby Jesus. Another icon could be the icon of the saint or event depicting the child’s intended name.
Forty days after birth, the parents then take their child to Church, where the Priest will bless the child with prayer and the child’s first entrance into the Church. Once the child is old enough (usually in the 1st year), the child is Baptised, which formally makes the child a member of Holy Orthodox Church. At the Baptism, the Priest will finish by anointing the child with the Sacrament of Chrismation, which is the Seal of the Holy Spirit. Chrismation gives the child certain unique gifts of the Holy Spirit, which the child will have forever.
To Baptise the child, parents need to select a Godparent. The Godparent plays an important role in the child’s life as well, being responsible for the spiritual upbringing of the child. Therefore it is important to choose a Godparent who is ‘close’ to the Church. Indeed to be a Godparent in the Orthodox Church, one needs to be a baptised Orthodox Christian in the first place.
From the moment a child breathes, the child is with its mother and from thereon in the child’s formative years, the parents are the teachers and ‘role models’. So it is important for all parents to live the faith in front of their children so that they can set the example for them to follow.
Parents should also begin teaching the faith to their children from an early age and a good way to start is with the Birth of the baby Jesus – the Christmas Story. And so from the very beginning, the child understands the ‘true meaning’ of Christmas and that Christmas is not just about getting toys. Then there is the Bible and there are good children’s versions of the Bible. Children love the stories of some of the heroes, such as Samson, David and Goliath. These make great bedtime story books and by reading these stories to the children, they not only learn about Holy Scriptures, but they also learn to love books and reading.
Once children are about 5 years old, they can join a Sunday School, where they will learn about their faith and the Church with other little children.
Because our Greek Orthodox Church has a strong Greek cultural context, it is wise to expose our children to the culture and the language. Alternatively, the child can enrol in an afternoon Greek School. In both these scenarios, the child will get to meet other young Greek Orthodox children. Other Youth programs such as GOYA, JOY, Hellenic Dancers, and Jr. Choir are available at our Church too.
Finally, parents need to have faith and strong Christian practices themselves. Parents are obliged to always pray for their children and with their children. Parent must worship with their children both at home and by attending church services. Parents and their children will always benefit if they provide their children with regular opportunities to choose for themselves to exercise their love of God and fellow man, that is, to imitate Christ.