The following is an excerpt from The Diary of a Russian Priest, by Father Alexander Elchaninov.
Why are childhood impressions so important? Why is it essential to fill a child’s mind and soul with light and goodness, starting from the very earliest stages of its life? In childhood we find a natural gift for faith, simplicity, gentleness, a capacity for tenderness, compassion, imagination, an absence of cruelty and hardness. Now this is precisely the kind of soil that yields a harvest thirtyfold, sixtyfold, or an hundredfold. When, later in life, the soul has become hard and dry, a man can be cleansed anew and saved by the continuing presence of his childhood experience. That is why it is so important to keep children close to the Church–it will provide them with nourishment for their entire lifetime.
Contact with children teaches us sincerity, simplicity, the ability to live in the present hour, the present action–an essential element in Orthodoxy.
Children are, in a sense, reborn daily: hence their spontaneity, the lack of complexity in their souls, the simplicity of their judgements and actions.
Moreover, their intuitive distinctions between good and evil are direct and straightforward, their souls are free of the bonds of sin, they are not continually judging and analysing.
All this we possess as a birthright which we wantonly scatter on our way, so that afterwards we must painfully gather up the fragments of our lost fortune.
Father Alexander Elchaninov, one of the most gifted priests of the Russian emigration, died from a tragic illness in 1934, at the age of fifty-three. In his early years he was involved in the cultural and religious movements which transformed the country’s literature and art during the period 1900-1910. He was ordained comparatively late in life, after passing through the harrowing experience of the 1917 revolution. While deeply rooted in the spiritual and ascetic tradition of the Orthodox Church, Father Alexander remained close to the intellectual movement of his day.