Raising Christian Children – St. Silouan on His Father

candlesMost of us would be satisfied to raise children who remain faithful believers. It is not always an easy thing and every parent who has such a child should rejoice constantly. There is no method to raise a child to be a saint, for God alone gives the grace that results in the mystery of such wonderful lives. However that may be, I am often struck in reading the writings of St. Silouan by his stories about his father. It would seem that the most fundamental spiritual lessons are not ones he gained from an Elder, but from the simple peasant that was his father – but a simple peasant with the faith of a saint. A small example:

Let us not be distressed over the loss of worldly goods, such losses are a small matter. My own father taught me this early in life. When some misfortune happened at home, he would remain serene. When our house caught fire and the neighbors said, ‘Ivan Petrovich, your house is burnt down!’ he replied, ‘With God’s help I’ll build it up again.’ Once we were walking along the side of our field, and I said, ‘Look, they’re stealing our sheaves!’ ‘Aye, son,’ he answered me, ‘the Lord has given us corn and to spare, so if anyone steals it, it means he’s in want.’ Another day I said to him, ‘You give a lot away to charity, while some who are better off than we are give far less.’ To which he replied, ‘Aye, son, the Lord will provide.’ And the Lord did not confound his hope.

From St. Silouan of Mount Athos

There is no better way to teach a child Christianity than to actually live it – truly and from the heart. You cannot teach what you do not live.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



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21 responses to “Raising Christian Children – St. Silouan on His Father”

  1. Margaret Avatar

    Praise God! This encouragement is much needed! Thank you, Fr. Stephen Freeman.

  2. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    In Seminary, I took a class called “Discipleship in the Home.” The professor has written a book from his lecture notes titled the same. His basic point was simple. If we want to raise Christian children we must be their example first and foremost. I agreed then with his point and I agree with Saint Silouan. This post is a good reminder.

  3. Thomas B Avatar
    Thomas B

    “You cannot teach what you do not live.”
    That phrase there explains my failures with my children. The added complexity is that my children don’t live the simple life in a village and I’m not a peasant with the faith of a Saint. Boredom is such a wonderful opportunity for faith, introspection and communion!

    I recall the advice to “talk to God instead of your children”.
    Thank you Father.

  4. R. F. Reagan Avatar
    R. F. Reagan

    With both parents absorbed in their work there was little time to thank the Lord for all His blessings. But good fortune gave me God loving grandparents who radiated their humble love . To this day they remain uppermost in my mind of these cherished values.

  5. TLR Avatar

    My parents were a similar presence in my life. I remember seeing the wonder on their faces and the subtle tears in their eyes in Church. I remember hearing their prayers at seemingly random moments in time and their spontaneous hymn singing while doing dishes or walking. I can recall the choices they made to sacrifice for others and for myself. I was able to witness a living faith in imperfect people. As you said, they lived from their hearts. I know this is the greatest inheritance I could ask for.

  6. Kristin Avatar

    In previous posts and their comments we’ve discussed balancing our theology reading with good literature. In good stories we see life lived out and find friends to help us live our own lives.

    In parenting it is far easier to read books and blogs than to actually parent.

    A huge concern I have in becoming a catechumen lies in my inability to live well, to live as Christ, and I wonder how on earth my two remaining children at home will be able to stay in the church. The Orthodox life, the Christian life, is very hard! And I wonder if my children will ultimately embrace or reject it.

    I can do my pathetic best, but ultimately it is God who changes hearts. It is the Holy Spirit who draws us to Himself. Is this an Orthodox understanding? Or am I missing something?

    Thank you.

  7. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    In my own early life, my parents were not particularly devout. We did not pray – an occasional prayer at the meal. There was no discussion of the Bible or theological questions. There was, rather strangely, a kind of piety.

    My parents never disparaged the faith. They were deeply respectful towards God and religious matters. In a very “Anglo” manner, I think we would all have been embarrassed to have shown much piety in front of each other. That’s an interesting observation and something I think that I’ll write about at greater length in the future.

    Many years later, after a long journey, my parents entered the Orthodox Church at age 79 (they had become Episcopalians about 10-15 years before). Their priest commented after their deaths: “Your mother was a mystic and your father had the gift of tears.” It might have been true. I will say, for sure, that the hearts that were revealed in those last years were present there from the beginning.

    They were incredibly supportive of my own journey – at every turn.

  8. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    This article underscores the importance of how we live as the body of Christ in the world, as ‘our witness’ of Christ to those around us. We have been indoctrinated by this culture to think that it is persuasion and our self will that can manage (or manipulate) the hearts of others. Indeed the transformation of a heart is the work of grace on an open heart.

  9. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Fr Stephen, you have indeed touched on something in your comment that I am very interested to read more. My loved one would rather shield his faith (you used the word piety) from public engagement. He may yet believe, but would not engage in discourse that might trivialize or degrade it Please forgive me for these next words as what I’m trying to say is beyond my vocabulary. Presense has many layers. The energy of love penetrates through layers that we do not know.

  10. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’m sorry for such treatment. May God give you grace.

  11. Karen Avatar

    Dee, I love those “next words.” Very encouraging!

    Father, beautiful testimony about your parents. Thanks for sharing that.

  12. Dean Avatar

    My father loved us kids, but he did not have much patience with us. I felt his belt many times, and usually well deserved! What I tried to do as a father is ask our daughters’ forgiveness whenever I wronged them, by being unkind, saying something to them I shouldn’t have, et
    cetera. I tried to have a clean slate with them before bedtime. I believe this kept communication open between us in spite of my many failures. They are wonderful young ladies today, thank God ( probably mostly due to their mother!). Thank God for all His rich blessings to us.

  13. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I do not think being Orthodox is very hard – I know this is a popular portrayal – but I think it’s a distortion. Orthodoxy is complete – it doesn’t live in a small corner of our lives. However, it should not dwell in the whole of our lives like an oppression or mountain to be climbed.

    When we are received into the Church – we ARE Orthodox. We’re not still trying to become Orthodox. There are some who will speak that way, “You’re still not Orthodox,” but they are deeply mistaken and such talk is little more than shaming. They need to go back to catechism. Orthodoxy is, and should be, quite natural. Yes, we can fast in a very strict manner, if that is what best fits our life. But fasting is not the faith – it’s a practice and can always be modified to suit our needs. Confession is difficult for many at first, but becomes more natural in time – particularly with a helpful priest (I admit that not all are).

    Much more important than the things people usually think about as “difficult,” are some very simple things: Mercy, Kindness and Generosity. No matter how strictly someone fasts, or does the “hard” things, if they do not practice these things, their “hard” stuff is useless. Frankly, I would simply concentrate on being merciful, kind and generous and do the other things as you are able. Sometimes mercy, kindness and generosity are difficult – but they are not a difficulty exclusively associated with Orthodoxy. A kind and generous Baptist is way ahead of a mean monk.

  14. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Like many in my generation, I was raised on a plentiful use of the belt. I think it was pretty useless and did far more harm than good. I would not strike my dog in such a manner, let alone a child. It was a cultural blindness, I think, and I’m glad it’s fading. There are so much easier, healthier ways to discipline and train a child.

  15. Dean Avatar

    Yes, Fr. Stephen,
    And your response to Kristin was really well said. Especially being at a monastery one hears that a person is still not quite Orthodox. Kindness, mercy, generosity…. It is true, as with the Baptist and monk, that a sloppy drunk is easier to be around than a person who is mean spirited. Your moderated approach is much appreciated by me. Thank you Fr. Stephen.

  16. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I sometimes understand what someone means when they say, “Not quite Orthodox,” or things to that effect. It is Baptism and Chrismation that make us Orthodox. There are plenty of “cradle born” who do not have an “Orthodox phronema,” it doesn’t come automatically just because your first language is Greek or Russian, etc. And frequently, there are things that many identity as hallmarks of a true “phronema” that are nothing of the sort. I would point to the fair amount of incorrect or extreme blather found on some informational websites that put themselves forward as pure touchstones. Christ said, “By their fruit you shall know them.”

    This is why I point people towards kindness, gentleness, generosity, etc. – those things identified as the “fruit of the Spirit.” If the fruit is not there, then the guardians of purity have set themselves up as protectors of a dead tree.

  17. Agata Avatar

    Father, Chris and Dean,

    I am so so sorry to hear about such discipline. Even if I grew up in similar times as you, my parents have not used beating for discipline. It must be awful to experience it, I am heartbroken to even imagine it. How can the person who is supposed to love and protect us behave like that? They cannot possibly be convincing themselves that they are “doing good”…

    For me, this ties so well into Kristin’s comment about the fact that being Orthodox is hard (to which Father replied so beautifully). It’s not hard if we just think about the fact that is all about “being good”, instead of “being right”… That can translate into choosing good over choosing to “teach them” when dealing with our children (or any other family member). The rest of Orthodoxy is learning to be in the presence of Christ who is “the sum and fullness of all that is good”… (as the prayer says)

    “You cannot teach what you do not live.”
    Thomas, I think we can live simple lives even if we are not peasants in a village 100 years ago – Fr. Tom Hopko once said that fasting was hard for the Saints even though they had much less food than we do – I think that can be expanded to being good, I am sure they had challenges and temptations we cannot even imagine!
    We just need to choose to ALWAYS be good and loving towards our most immediate family, those closest to us and challenging us the most because of their proximity. The world’s peace starts at home, I read somewhere. When the home is not an oasis of peace and security, how can there be peace anywhere else? That I know you can do and it is already a monumental accomplishment in today’s world…

  18. Byron Avatar

    While not Orthodox, this blog post from a friend is a good note on perspective. So much of life is about accepting and giving thanks for gifts.


  19. Dino Avatar

    Personally, although I deeply disliked the use of the ruler beatings for discipline at school, I didn’t mind – we appreciated even– the use of the belt at home. However, that’s clearly down to the overall loving context within which the latter was used and the not so genuinely loving context of the former. Context made far more of a difference than anything else.

  20. Agata Avatar

    What a nice article to remind us about how to cherish our family… Thank you for sharing.

    I think maybe it’s because boys do need a little belt to feel like they paid for their misbehaving… 🙂

    But it did not sound like Chris felt love when he was disciplined…. May God heal his wounds and forgive his father.

    I only remember one “belt” incident from my childhood, and it was my mom who tried to administer it. She was mad at me for being lost for too long at a friends house. She was so nervous about using the belt, she stopped after a couple of blows and I cried more because she was sad and upset than for any other reason.

    Now that you mentioned it, I remember that in elementary school we were sometimes given a choice between a ruler beating on the hand and a bad grade…. I have no idea how that is educational or discipline?!

  21. Kristin Avatar

    Fr Stephen-

    Thank you for your reply. You have stopped me in my tracks and really made me think. Again.

    I will accept what you say about Orthodoxy not being difficult. Then what am I finding so very hard right now?

    I feel a bit like a refugee, leaving reformed churches for a promising new country, and I’ve landed in Orthodoxy. I feel a bit battered and what I’ve found so far is refreshing, and healing like a balm.

    I come with lots of baggage. Although I never liked the juridical view, and never fully embraced Calvin’s 5 points, they did become part of my life simply by continuous exposure. What I know of Orthodoxy thus far draws me forward, and seems so beautiful and healing. But leaving reformed understanding and austere rationalism behind is frankly quite frightening. There’s a lingering doubt: what if Orthodoxy isn’t true? I honestly feel I have nowhere else to go. I desperately need this to be true. I have moments of peace but also of panic.

    I am concluding that the difficulty is not Orthodoxy itself but the settling into a new culture, major paradigm shifts in my understanding, and an overwhelming and somewhat complicated set of fears that look like a bottomless abyss.

    All is not so dark…I am delighted with our parish. Our priest immediately struck me as one of the kindest people I will ever know, and his wife as well. Our children adore each other, too. And we will spend Friday evening with them. I have a couple days to gather my thoughts and then the opportunity to share them with my priest.

    Thank you for helping me. Blessings on your trip to Mt Athos!

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