Raising Christians


I enjoyed the wonderful responses I got to my recent article, How Hard Is It?, in which I looked at our need to teach the faith to the next generation.

In offering further reflection, it seems to me that nothing can be more fearful, frustrating, or rewarding as teaching the faith to our children. It is probably the great test of our faith. Stanley Hauerwas, whom I was privileged to study under at Duke, once said that the most devastating thing about our children is that they are likely to turn out to be just like us.

I thought his comment was correct then and still do. What I believe is frightening about the truth of his statement is that they are likely to turn out just like us, but in doing so, they will reveal us to ourselves. That is not always a welcome prospect.  

We are rarely what we think we are. We are rarely as good a Christian as we imagine ourselves to be, or as great a sinner. And our children are likely to be like us.

I recently saw the Evangelical movie, The End of the Spear, that demonstrated with a remarkably true story, one generation learning from the previous the great virtues of forgiveness and love of enemy. That lesson was taught because it was lived.

I was asked once where I learned my pastoral skills (such as they are). After reflecting for a while I had to admit that they came from my father. He was not a pastor, but an auto-mechanic. But how I saw him treat his customers is how a priest should treat his congregation. I never remember him telling me a single story in which he had “got the better” of another man. He was honest and worked hard and there was nothing he wouldn’t do for his customers. To him, they were like a pastor’s flock and his ministry was the care of their cars.

Am I as good and careful of my flock as my father was of the cars in his shop? Sometimes I doubt it. But I know he would never want me to tell him how I pulled one over on someone, or got the better of someone because I was less than honest.

It may seem a strange place to learn the lessons of the priesthood – but in truth whether you’re a mechanic or a salesman, you’re still teaching your children everything they need to know to become the men and women God would have them be.

I had the privilege of Chrismating my parents into the Orthodox faith when they were 80 years of age. They are at a stage in life that they will not be learning great amounts of Church history or the finer and more esoteric points of Church doctrine. But had my father been less of a man – less of a Christian man where it counts – I doubt seriously that I would have been in a position to Chrismate him or offer him anything of value. He gave me something of eternal value though he would not have thought of it that way. I hope that Hauerwas is right, and that I’ve turned out to be like my father. I could do a lot worse.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





One response to “Raising Christians”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar

    The photo at the top is of my parents, Jim and Nancy, at their Chrismation in September of 2003. They remain faithful parishioners under the care of a good priest (someone other than me). My children, who were Chrismated in 1998, now claim they they themselves are “third generation Orthodox.” I guess that works.

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