In my former position as youth coordinator of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Atlanta, there was one thing that I learned early on which motivated me for the duration of my tenure in the position, and still motivates me today. It sent chills up my spine. It was the indicator that we have to turn the tide, change the direction of how we are raising our children. It was that scary picture that made everyone gasp when you’d tell them. As told to us by our Archdiocese, two recent studies (one by the Pew forum and one by the Patriarch Athenagoras Institute) indicated that 60% OF OUR ORTHODOX CHILDREN ARE LEAVING THE CHURCH and never returning to the Orthodox Faith. Scary, right?
Every time I would mention this to someone, I would get the question, “so how do I prevent it?” There are certainly no magic pills that will ensure your child grows up with a strong, devout faith in Christ through His Orthodox Church. But that doesn’t mean we can abdicate our responsibility to GOYA or the priest, either, to ensure that our Orthodox Children become Orthodox adults. It is our job to raise them in the faith. In which case…
There are a few specific things that you can include in the raising of your children which would help them build a strong foundation of faith and a lasting relationship with God.
MOST IMPORTANT (take notes here): PRAY FOR YOUR CHILDREN! Every day, all the time. Open an ongoing dialogue with God about your child, what they are facing, what they are going through. Give your child back to God (after all, they do belong to Him!). Ask the Theotokos, or Saints Joachim and Anna to help you as a parent. Ask God that He help you to raise your children to His glory. Ask Him to fill their hearts with His love… You get the idea.
Speaking of prayer… You know the old saying: the family that prays together stays together! It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Praying at meals, and spending a few minutes in the morning and before bedtime saying the Lord’s Prayer, thanking God for the people in your life and the good things (and don’t forget to thank him for the challenges, too!), and asking for what your family needs are good places to start.
Also imperative, of course, is to take your children to Church. And when I say this, I don’t mean walk in the door before right before communion, walk up, receive communion, and walk out, as though it’s a drive thru. This is an unfortunate practice of some parents who are afraid to come for the entire service for fear the kids will misbehave. Go for the whole bit! Arrive at the Doxology! Leave after coffee hour! If you need help with how to manage and engage your kids (because engaging is part of your responsibility, otherwise what’s the point of coming to Church? They can color and play with dolls at home), see our article about tips for engaging kids in Church. It’s located here: Time to Go to Church: A Time to Fear and Dread?
Talk to your kids about God. Many parents think that this is not their place, that the Church should do the talking. But one priest in a parish of 200 or 500 or 1000 families can’t possibly talk to your children as much as you can. And the example that they need to learn from is yours. If they ask a question you don’t know the answer to, don’t worry. Find the answer together by using the resources the Church offers (like your priest or Church websites). Either way, just engage them in discussion about their experiences in Church, about what they prayed for today, about how God helped them today… Anything having to do with their faith and God.
Talking to your kids about God will raise their perception so that they are able to see God in all things.
Emphasize the right set of priorities and stick to your guns. There are so many extracurricular activities and distractions that take us away from the life of the Church. For instance, soccer leagues that travel on Sundays for games… Which is the priority, soccer or Church? Now, understand that my Dad was a semi-pro soccer player, coached soccer, and I played soccer growing up. I’m not hating on soccer.
But, when facing this choice, ask yourself this question: When my child is 35 and struggling with the challenges that life inevitably brings with it (like marital problems), which is going to help them- their relationship with God, or soccer?
We often forget to think long term or to see the big picture. We see the benefits of soccer as an extracurricular activity that looks good on a college transcript or might even provide a college scholarship. But we neglect to look BEYOND that and realize that the most important investment in our child is the long term investment we make in their journey through life to salvation.
Remember that your child will learn by modeling from your decision. Will they learn to prioritize their relationship with God or with soccer?
If we all, as Orthodox Christians, did these simple things: pray for our children, pray with our children, talk about God more, and go to Church more, then the world would be a very different place. We would see that 60% dwindle to nothing. May our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ give us all the wisdom and discernment to guide our children to a life in Him!