A Sermon by St. Sebastian Dabovi?
SAN FRANCISCO, 1899
We desire to tell you of some thing, which is of the utmost importance. We find it necessary, unfortunately, to repeat in a measure what has been told you several times. We speak plainly, without a flourish of words, because we feel our responsibility before God – if we be misunderstood. We desire to remind you of our parish or church-school. To learn to read and write you send your children to school. You know that you must do it. But how many of you think of the serious obligation of rightly and thoroughly preparing your children for the life which they must live after only a few years? Some, indeed, give their attention to what they call a decent education for their children, for which and for whom they would not fall back of any one, but be as good and as nice as other people in town.
If you send your children to school to study grammar and arithmetic, (the future mainstay of the “home” are often compelled to leave their homes to learn even cooking and dancing), why will you not be just as eager to send them to school where they will study religion? If you are truly interested in the welfare of your children, why do you not watch as strictly, but once a week, how they attend to their lessons in the study of the Law of God, as you do in some home-work, which the children seemed to be forced to have prepared within the next twelve hours for their public school? You must obey God, above the public and all other masters, or lose your souls for the responsibility which rests upon you for the present and future welfare of your children.
Where there is intellect, there always will be knowledge. Still, you must educate the child. Teach the boy and girl geography and history; but if you do not train the child’s will, in order not only to please you, its parents, but to bend before the holy will of Him, who is the only just rewarder of good and evil, then you are a failure as a Christian. Where there is no discipline, there is no constancy. Where there is no law, there is no order, no peace, no everlasting happiness. If no tender sympathies re-echo in the heart of the young, away have been cast the time and labor in teaching – be it botany or music.
What a pity! we see young children at the age of ten, whose very brains seem to be rattling with numerical problems, while they have not the good manners to step out of the way of an old person, or even the common human feeling of a desire to aid in distress. I have seen even young men and young women stand gazing on one of their company, who was fainting from exhaustion, without the offer of the most simple service – to fetch a cup of cold water.
However regular athletic exercises are attended to, no matter how carefully the lessons in physiology are prepared, little indeed, will they profit your children, if they know not the steps, up which they must climb to seek the Highest. If you, fathers and mothers, are Christians, then we ministers of the Word may rest in the quiet hope that your children have been taught dutifully and rightly to praise the All-majestic Creator at morn, likewise in midday, confessing each themselves before God, and openly before all men, confessing God, while at night they humbly implore His mercy. But if your children do not invoke their Guardian-Angel, if they do not bless the most pure Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, and fall down in humble devotion, supplicating for the grace of our Heavenly Father, then you are not Christians.
It is a sad fact, which must be recorded in this earthly judgment seat of God, and the truth of this fact is as bitter for me, as it is for you. Nevertheless, we acknowledge and accept the truthful bitterness with the hope, that it will prove to be a healing remedy, which will bring peaceful and sweet results.
There are parents belonging to our congregation in San Francisco, who go to the matinee with their children, not giving a thought before hand to the character of the play; they teach the little ladies and gentlemen, i.e. the future men and women of a Christian land, to buy and select wearing apparel, which is pleasing to the eyes of the world, whether it be healthful and sensible, or not. Yes, they are “up to the times,” they visit the classes of the public schools; they receive and fix their signatures to monthly school reports. Ah! if they would but fix the character of the school itself. If their children are tardy for five minutes they may not go to school without a written excuse. Yet it is in the power of the citizens of this country to have laws enacted, which would protect their young from being crammed with “ologies” and “isms,” and insure their healthful growth and the teaching of good sense.
How is it with our church schools? All our children do not attend, and their friends and Christian neighbors do not take interest enough to invite them to go with their children. The parents do not visit our school, but once a year, and then – when we are not at work. What is our home-work for the children? Only a little of that which is the greatest. A very little, once or twice a week, of the commandments of God and the gospel of his Son, Jesus Christ. And no one to think about it; no one at home to see that the life-work of the family is done! During the short hour that we manage to collect a few unruly children, we must study and repeat, for even prayers are not learned in the home.
Beloved Christians! we need your co-operation. We may sow the seed, but – remember – the influence of your home is the sunshine which heats the ground. So then ask yourselves, is not the wind too chilly, and the sun too low to strike its rays direct? We may trim the plant, but it is your duty to keep watering it. Oh! if you would but water the precious plants of your gardens with prayerful tears! We invite you to visit our school, from time to time, during lesson hours. If we were asked, how many of us pray together with children, the conscientious would answer, a very, very few; only several in a congregation of three hundred souls. Generally, of an evening, the children are sent to bed; and sometimes some one calls out, say your prayers first. And from time to time there is a prayer, but more often there is only the “saying.” Must I explain that Christian children should be followed to their night’s rest; in most cases they should be “put” into bed.
It is the duty especially of parents to see that their children pray correctly, and also to pray with them in an audible voice themselves. Let this not be an act of routine. Do not for a moment think that it will become a daily routine. This reasonable discipline, when you kneel by the side of tender childhood and see the little ones pray, will lighten in your own heart – at the same time that it does in theirs – the fire of heavenly love. Moreover, your prayers must be the prayers of the Orthodox Church of Christ. Our Mother church has but one infallible model of prayer – given to her by our Lord Jesus Christ. It is an invocation, petitions, and a doxology; in other words, a call, a request, and a praise. If you will concentrate your minds upon the subject of each one of these divisions, then your prayer will not be a “saying,” but an “offering.” Again we ask you to give us your dutiful attention and assistance in the work of teaching our children. If not for the sake of your own comfort in old age and sickness, let us for the sake of their Almighty Father in Heaven, and our Judge, awaken in their hearts the love for that which is holy and truly beautiful. Amen.
— St Sebastian Dabovi was the first North American born Orthodox priest, serving in Canada and the United States. His relics were recently translated to his home parish in California, where many faithful attended in anticipation of his glorification as the most recently revealed saint of North America. This sermon was taken from Lectures and Sermons by a Priest of the Holy Orthodox Church, by Archimandrite Sebastian Dabovich, Cubery and Company, Publishers, San Francisco CA, 1899, pages: 148-152.