Chief Activities of the Body, Soul, and Spirit as regards Childrearing in the Church (a reading of the first part of St. Theophan the Recluse’s “Path to Salvation”)


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The following consists of a discussion prompt Ephraim wrote on 02/19/2010 (+Bucolus of Smyrna, Clean Friday) for a parish bookclub he tried to spearhead ten years ago. It did not take off due to technological constraints of the interested members. Please excuse the errors/typos.

Regarding child-rearing, Vladyka Theophan says we must direct the soul and body of the child to avoid captivity in (1) enjoyments of the flesh, (2) curiosity, and (3) the many pleasures that develop the self-will or self-centeredness. If one knows how to separate oneself from fleshliness, one will eventually master fleshly impulses and render them powerless. He then discusses the developing powers of the soul and the body, and specifically how to direct them.

We jump into this process somewhere between birth — amid the various arousals of bodily needs and the constant activity of living — and death. Whatever our journey has been through life, if we place bodily needs within proper bounds early and strengthen ourselves with the force of habit, there will be less disturbance later.

First, regarding the proper use of food, we must feed for strength and health, not for gluttony. From the start, the flesh must master bare materiality, so it is better to restrain it early, lest the appetite become a tyrant over the soul.

If successful in this, then it will be easier later to pierce through the immediate demands of living and quash any fleshly upstart. The first attempts at this work are the most precious, says Vladyka, for it is too easy to develop a love of pleasure and immoderation, the two forms of the sin of gluttony.

These inclinations are bound up with eating, so Vladyka offers the following age-dependent advice:

  1. Select healthful and suitable food.

  2. Subject the use of food to definite rules: a definite time, quantity, and means of eating.

  3. Do not depart from these rules at any time on down the road.

  4. Teach the child to wait for the assigned time for eating.

If successful, this will be a first attempt to teach him to deny him his own desires, and we can do the same with sleep, warmth, cold, and all comforts.

By forming good habits at the b eginning, we can also help a child develop control over his self-will and he will learn obedience. For a child to learn self-control will give him stability and prevent tendencies to hyperactivity, inattentiveness, slowness, lifelessness, and laziness. As self-control becomes the law of our child’s life, he will refrain from aggressiveness, anger, and unrestraint.

If we find ourselves given over to pursue constant sensuality, this is because we are still immersed to some degree in the flesh. By strengthening the child’s powers over his body to bring it in subjection, we do not inflate his self-will and destroy the spirit. By moderation and proper supervision, we direct the place and way that the child may play.

Without being manipulative or overprotecting, parents may imprint their will upon the child, but must gbuard against corrupting the child. For as soon as we leave the child to his own self-will, he will begin always to be unwilling to obey the smallest things. And if that is the result of only an instance, what if we totally neglect the body and its movements?

In sum, the best training of the body is forcing one to exert oneself according to orders. We see this necessary weapon in the spiritual warfare from the first order of the catachumenate prayer rule to ceaseless prayer of the hesychast.

As body and spirit are not separate (contrary to rationalist or scholastic dualism) so also are practice and theology in Orthodoxy not separate.  The Christian life, Vladyka says, is by nature remote from sensuality and every kind of pleasing of the flesh.

So we must train the body to endure every outward influence without bringing misfortune upon the soul. Through correct habits, we can become capable of the most difficult actions anytime, anyplace. So long as our soul is master of our body, we will always be able to follow through with total reliability.

In contrast, a life that is always turning its desire to dangerous things, or cultivating love for the sensual, or otherwise constantly “babying” the body is a chief evil which enslaves the soul. Instead, we should develop the love of life by teaching the body how to remain undisturbed by the passions and fears.

From the beginning, we should teach the child that his body keep the body will not only receive pleasant things in life, but also the hardships. By totally pampering the child, he learns to fear everything. In strengthening the child with moderate hardships, heis ready for anything and has learned the patience neded to complete any task he begins.

By applying Vladyka’s suggestions for child-rearing, we can protect the child from the evil poison of sensual enjoyment, self-will, love for the body and self-pity from entering his soul. As in true asceticism and Christian living in general, the well-taught child becomes in-dependent of his body, the true master of it, but neither a hater of his body nor a slave to it.

Parents, writes Vladyka, should not spare anything for this goal, nor allow the grandparents to spoil the child.

The body is the dwelling of the passions, lust and anger chief among them. It is the organ through which demons enter the soul or come near it. Thus, not leaving our life in the Church, the body itself is sanctified, and the greedy, animal life is restrained.

Within the needs of the body, the lower capabilities of the soul specifically are quick to express themselves. The child prefers one object over another and stares. These first exercises of the senses awaken the activity of the imagination and memory.

This awakening marks the point of transition between soul and body. If we sanctify these first beginnings with objects from the realm of faith, we set “the tone of life,” writes Vladyka. This powerful influence sets the temperament of the child’s body.

The scope of this influence begins with the imagination of the child and extends to the activities undertaken later. We do good, then, to surround the child with sacred images.

Placing sacred objects between the developing senses and the imagination, we influence the material preserved by the child’s memory, which in turn constitutes the content of the soul. The icons, the light of the lampada, enter the heart through the eyes, sacred hymns through the ears.

Following the feelings cultivated here, the first imaginings of the child will be sacred, despite the fact he has not “understood.” All distractions consequently are put far away from the heart. Later, “the beautiful” will attract him under sacred forms.

In so doing, we block out all vain, tempting breathing of the passions. Vladyka reminds us that images and objects, like smoke for one’s head, are easy to infuse.

To have senses is to experience, to test. The senses are the first arousers of curiosity. They go over into the imagination and memory and take their seat in them if allowed. It is here they become the tyrant of the soul.

It is impossible not to use the senses, says Vladyka: they are the only way to come to know what one must for the glory of God and one’s own good. The senses are at once investigative, and all investigation is at once curiosity.

Therefore, it is impossible to avoid curiosity, that irresisitable inclination to see and hear without purpose the whatwhere, and how of everything and anything. This is why Vladyka says we must preserve measure and order and direct toward what is needful only, and not provide “food for curiosity.”

In the very act of investigating, then, we do best to picture each thing in our mind afterwards in a fitting way, to preserve a progressive order, a systematic circumspection, rather than just jumping from thing-to-thing (i.e. shopping). In this way, we will not jump from one thing to another without need.

We will not encourage dream and distraction, those riddles of the overactive soul, muddled by loose fantasies as they are. We will become master of the senses and the imagination. We will be constant and undistracted, not overcome by curiosity.

But as is easily seen even in the mere act of the child sitting up and grasping a toy, evil based in the animal life lurks and rises in every child. He becomes angry, envious, takes, selfishly. “Mine!” Even the cows in the pasture over yonder become “mine!”

However, with the good sense of the parents in tow, we can lay down the following:

  1. Anticipate as much as possible the appearance of the passions.

  2. When one arises, hasten to quench it with well-thought-out and tested means.

In this way we do not allow the passion to take root, as no predisposition forms. We remain vigilant in watching for recurring ones. We use the means of Grace via Faith in turning to Our Lord and thus experience.

Now, Vladyka writes, if the bodily and lower order capabilities are kept in control, those of the soul will be splendidly prepared. This condition is, however, only a preparation. Therefore we must form an attitude with positive action taken upon all of our powers or faculties: mind, will, and heart.

As regards the mind, given the fact that thinking only happens in the exploratory activity of speech, the mind is formed with words. Thus, we must provide the child with sound concepts and judgements that accord with Christian principles about all that comes to her attention: right, wrong, good, bad.

This cultivation is easy within ordinary conversations and questions, but the child easily overhears the parents and assimilates ideas, forms of speech, and gestures. Parents should therefore call things by their proper names and directly explain and use stories whenever possible. Ask the child what she thinks and correct her mistakes.

Soon enough, sound principles are communicated for judging things that may last a lifetime. Worldly thinking and insatiable curiosity are supressed at the root. Worldly thinking does not satisfy, and so curiosity cannot be ignited. “Truth binds to the mind what satisfies,” Vladyka writes.

So we should avoid children’s books that convey corrupt concepts and preserve the little ones’ minds in whole through holy and divine healthiness. Do not, Vladyka exhorts, assume they are safe because they are small: truth is available to all!

The small Christian child, however, has shown in experience many times to be “wiser than the philosopher!” Vladyka draws upon the example from the time of the martyrs, during which children could typically be found discoursing on Christ the Savior, the folly of idol-worship, the future life, etc., given only simple conversations with their parents.

In addition to cultivating the attitudes of children through the mind we must also predispose the will of the child to soundness. We must direct the child to do nothing without permission, and so confine the will that otherwise may desire everything and anything.

Regard doing anything without asking as dangerous, so the child will even seem to fear his own will. And do this while training the child to do good, first ordering the child, then merely guiding him. Only in this way will he develop the conviction that one should not obey oneself in all things, but only God.

Parents, then, set and provide others who are good examples — those not concerned with pleasures and awards, but with the salvation of the soul. Almsgiving, compassion, mercifulness, yielding to others, patience, Vladyka writes, opportunities to teach the child to do good abound!

Subsequently, the heart will follow. The child will be disposed to sound, true feelings, and will enjoy the truly enjoyable. He will have no sympathy for poisoning disguised as pleasure. He will be capable of tasting and feeling satisfaction, as he will guard the heart from sensuality, unfailingly keeping a church-centered life, remaining in its midst for the sake of quietness and warmth.

Let the first objects of fine art for the child be the building of the church, its singing, its icons, not theater and shows. He will not fall asunder to what is bright and attractive in worldly vanity, but will be able to discern between the two.

The spirit, Vladyka adds, is more easily cultivated than the soul, as it appears earlier family life. The following sequence, therefore, must be understood in order properly to temper the spirit:

  1. Subject the child to the Fear of God (cultivates proper mental attitude)

  2. This fear births the conscience (cultivates the proper attitude of will)

  3. The proper attitude of will clears the conscience for prayer (cultivates/guards the heart and moral tenor for the fullness of joy in a life in the way of Our Lord.

Once the consience comes to awareness, it is important for parents to know that the child will equate their will with the law of God. So we must be careful not to command the child in ways that are not manipulative, which may breed transgression and necessitate repentance.

Use other ways to direct the child such that he will come to you on his own saying, “I did something wrong.” This way we build a foundation for a future religious character of life that is constant, as we will rise up immediately after a fall, and quickly repent and be cleansed and renewed by our own tears.

This may all seem ordinary, but Vladyka only aims to indicate the chief direction of a Christian upbringing. Once the child is so ordered, he urges us to let him grow in it, and his spirit will develop in a way that is increasingly pious. If we can follow all of the child’s awakening powers, we should not waver in directing them to this single end.

As the child grows to be a young man or woman, the time they should be dedicating to studying will vary. Nevertheless we should keep it unchanged from the previous regiment, letting the instruction always distinguishing between the main points and the secondary ones, with the study of Faith remaining chief on the list of topics.

Give the greatest time to great works of piety, as concrete cases of conflict are more important than learning information. Reward faith and good behavior, not just learning success, holding God-pleasing work higher than learning itself, which taken alone can make one cold and immoral.

Regarding the spirit of instruction, instruct the youth’s attitude towards the objects of study in a way that is thoroughly penetrated by Orthodox Christian principles with no doubt whatsoever. That is the measuring stick of Truth in all areas of learning, says Vladyka, that there is no doubt. Otherwise we encourage self-directed free-thinking without matters of faith in a world where evil is precisely considered good.

Although we do not aim to promote the notion that faith and learning are seperate. On the contrary, we have a single spirit, and the sphere of Truth is one. If the youth learns about faith and lives in the spirit of faith, he or she will undergo imbued learning, which will only preserve and allow maturity in the principles we placed into his or her childhood.

The chief goal of upbringing: that when the youth comes to awareness, he or she will say, “I am an Orthodox Christian, obliged by God the Savior to live His decree.” This will mean the youth has taken on the essential duty, and our educating him in the ways Vladyka indicates will preserve all of this independently and warm the spirit of piety within which the child previously walked with the guidance of others.

Specifically we have achieved in the youth conscious acceptance of the yoke of Christ.Vladyka writes:

Just as centers had to be provided for the light, drawing it to the suns and planets, so also this (spiritual) light must be gathered together around the central point of our life–our consciousness (66).

In other words, if successful we develop independence of mind in the youth in their own finding of Truth because we have educated the entire human. But in our spiritually directed focus of educating, we must also be rational, says Vladyka. We must, however, turn reason to Holy Faith, the only path of salvation. All other routes lead to perdition.

But we must turn to a conscious rather than a blind faith, as there is no honor in blindness. If so, the youth acts as he should, and as a result, fully places upon himself the good yolk of Christ. His personal faith is firm and unshakable. He will not be scandalized by a bad example nor attracted by empty thoughts. He is already acting in a definite way, conscious of the obligation of thinking in this manner.

In essence, the youth is choosing to preserve with all possible care the perfection and purity of the life he received when younger. That is it, there are no special rules needed. It is just like anyone who has repented and abandoned sin in resoluteness so as to live in a Christian way.

This exhortation is a delicate one, though. Accordingly, Vladyka gives warnings for all youth depending on (1) the nature of their particular age, and (2) the great temptations which occur throughout youth.

Obviously much attention is required for what Vladyka rightly calls “the turbulent period of youth,” or adolescence, when the “river of life” is as if rudely interrupted by the life of body and spirit boiling at full throttle. Here only one’s present feelings seem true while all past feelings seem like a dream or a pack of prejudices.

This sentiment is exactly why Vladyka says we must have already layed a strong foundation. It must be able to withstand the shockwaves of this time, rendering all new impulses secondary, weaker and conciliatory to the earlier ones, which should have already been tested and chosen by the heart and made firm by a chief vow.

Vladyka raises the question here of the youth who has never heard of the Orthodox Christian life, and expounds that this is a life in fire unless some love has been shown to him previously. Otherwise there is no reference point from which to direct advice.

The youth lives in a world of his own, writes Vladyka. It is a world of cacophony and a convolution of natural demands. The youth therefore must already have been trained to put his movements in order by the higher demands of his obligation.

The youth is thrown into adolescence, Vladyka writes, like water in a waterfall. Some emerge as if in a strong ship, shining with virtue and nobility. Others drown in the darkness of impiety and a corrupt life. There are, of course, mixtures of the two, where one is floating by means of a branch, in which there is a confused, infirm spirit.

These results must be made clear to the child before youth begins, like a calm channel made through a whirlpool. The child best fear youth like fire so that he will flee all cases where it is easily let loose in all of its untamability.

Whatever the case, danger is immanent in the impulses awakening during adolescence. Specifically, Vladyka warns of two tendencies to remain watchful of:  (1) the thirst for impressions, and (2) the inclination to enter into contact with others.Vladyka takes them each in turn.

The impressions of adolescence occur like an uninterrupted stream, always new and various. The youth does not want to sit at home or stay in one place or concentrate on only one activity.

He only wants to enjoy himself, or be “in his element.” He tests himself, endlessly searching for an effect, something new, novel, sharp, picturesque, in books and magazines, the internet, etc. He has the inclination for only browsing or light reading.

He has many daydreams, fantasies, and seeks freedom instead of definite limits. He becomes his own hero, “invincible.” This all distorts his soul from every angle and he will be wearied.

All that is good is now covered by a veil of forgetfulness for the sake of these deceptive impressions. The question arises here, writes Vladyka, of why is the soul bored?

It has been robbed by the enemy! During all of these distractions, the good seed has been exchanged for a bad seed. The youth will be happier if he is not allowed to arrange his own conduct until adulthood.

This is why we should arrange the adolescent’s conduct as best and in any way we can. Instill in him a love of labor, for instance, and an avoidance of amusements. Inspire him to take up serious occupations that require guidance so that he will avoid daydreaming. Carefully select his books and methods of reading to avoid empty browsing.

Also, the adolescent’s companions should be limited to the pious or seekers while all close contact with others should be avoided, taking the general style or example of the Saints (obviously this cannot be a direct imitation). The adolescent will be drawn toward dangerous companionship, its circles and cliques, while unaware of their general foul nature; he will fear persecution if he rejects this “coolness.”

The height of danger for the youth, though, is contact with the other sex. This threat is where he strays off the straight path and loses himself.

At this period, what is “beautiful” in his soul begins to take a form; with the appearance of the opposite sex at this time, it is as if he can find nothing more beautiful — he is as it were “wounded.” Vladyka warns us to avoid the path to this wound altogether!

This path has three turns.

(1) First he is vaguely sad and then the pain of lonliness is awakened. He begins to pity himself and out of this arises pride in outward appearance.

(2) He gains the conviction to be pleasing to others which sets in motion his pride in outwardness. He begins to accomodate various others with little or no real direction. His eyes are rampant.

(3) He becomes obssessed as undergoes a total loss of self for the girl.

We can avoid this with strict discipline in everything. We can squash the desire to be especiall pleasing to others, to have the finest clothes, to (always) make the popular or cool scene. When the youth is already engaged in bodily and spiritual labor, such as we find in prayer and increased studies, it will be easier to avoid girls during this time.

The youth will in this way rather be directed toward an outlook that exacts to the heavens, with rational knowledge constituted by one’s own understanding. Otherwise the youth will fall for the typical adolescent sentiment that it is a priveledge to doubt everything, to hold everything to be a relative matter of opinion and taste.

We should recall here that doubt cuts off the attitude from Faith and the Church because here the youth alone throws himself into fabricated theories. This type of thing can be a disaster if actually required in schools as it is.

Total skepticism leads to a ruinous, “worldly,” outlook, as one is always outside of oneself, whether enmeshed in facts or fantasies. Orthodox Christians appear now to be muddle-headed mystics, hypocrites, etc. A product of modernity, the child of a “worldview” is contrary to a “child of God.”

The question is introduced here of whether one who has fallen will ever attain what is possessed by one who has not fallen in this time. We then begin a discussion of preserving the Grace of Baptism.

Vladyka says that given the foregoing discussion, it is easy to understand why so few preserve the Grace of Baptism. There are five reasons for this latter result.

  1. With going away from the Church and its Grace-giving means, one wilts.

  2. Failure to pay heed to one’s bodily nature–the seat of the passions of the soul.

  3. The development of the powers of the soul indiscriminately, not directed towards a single aim. At best he becomes curious, self-willed, and thirsty for pleasures.

  4. Complete forgetfulness of the spirit — prayer, fear of God, conscience are forsaken for an exclusively outward order, leaving the inner order in a chaos one is seldomly aware of. In learning, primary things have been lost to those that are secondary.

  5. Entering into youth without first valuing good principles and receiving Christian determination.

All of these reasons may single-handedly crush the life of Grace. Usually they all happen together, totally obstructing the spiritual life.

This results from an ignorance of a consistant order for upbringing or carelessness with regard for it. Or what happens is the salvation of the soul is usurped by the development of purely natural powers, adaptation to an official position, or a making of oneself suitable for life in the world.

Chief deviations from a proper upbringing include putting aside the means of Grace, preparation being made primarly for happiness in the temporal life wherein all trace of eternal life is drowned out. It is especially difficult given that success in the temporal life is spoken of at home, commented on in class, and is the chief subject in simple conversations.

Also, the prevalence of outwardness and superficiality in everything, for example even idle talk, even in the priestly ministries is a common detractor.

The final truth and aim of his life becomes a secondary matter when the Grace of Baptism is not preserved. How then do we correct a bad order of things?

First, Vladyka says, we understand and well-assimilate principles we have discussed of the true Christian upbringing, acting on them first at home. Secondly, we rebuild school education with true, new principles: Christian principles under the abundant influence of the Holy Church.

The whole order of the Church saves the material order for one of the following spiritual directions:

The temporal————->the eternal

The outward—————>the inward

          Children of the Church–—>members of the Kingdom of Heaven

Finally, by selecting the most God-chosen, holy people, we can educate the educators under the Truth, in the practice and theory of all holy works, with the education of children being the most holy. The fruit of a good upbringing, then, will be the preservation of Holy Baptism, its Grace.

This preservation of Grace will constitute an abundant reward of all our labors of upbringing. With it come several advantages.

One advantage is that in an orientation permeated by Grace, wholeness of all things is given to perception. Man exists as a container of the exalted power of God to be poured from The Source of all good things.

One who repents can heal completely, but one who has not fallen it would seem, Vladyka writes, has a wholeness and boldness resulting of that which the repenter cannot attain. The question may be posed here of whether or not, also, a convert who attains to the status of purification could also attain such a robust quality. It would seem not.

However, we are concerned primarily here with salvation, for which only repentance is necessary.

Another advantage of the preservation of Grace, Vladyka says, is that one gains a natural liveliness, a lightness, whereby one does good spontaneously. Here also Vladyka gives the two poles of the repentor, who must undergo constant warfare with sustained effort and training versus the unfallen, whose simplicity of heart may give them the assurance of salvation.

Additionally, one who preserves Grace finds in his life there is formed an evenness and uninterruptedness; walking in good is like breathing. The repentant, on the other hand, is not quite as accurate as a new clock.

One who has never fallen is always “young” in quality. There is an air of innocence, of childlikeness in Christ. One is here as if ignorant of evil and oppressive agitations of the heart. He finds an extraordinary joy, acts in sincere kindness, and has a quietness of manner.

In short, the child we are called here to raise, if successful, possesses the fruits of the spirit written of in Galatians 5:22, namely that of love, joy, peace, long-suffering, goodness, mercifulness, faith, meekness, self-restraint. Also, as in Collossians 3:12, he is clothed in the bowels of mercy, goodness, humility, wisdom, etc.

He preserves an unhypocritical joyfulness of manner, a spiritual joy. He may attain clairvoyance and wisdom such that he sees everything within himself and around himself and is able to make good use of himself and his deeds. His attitude of heart is at once prescriptive and circumspect.

He is not afraid of falling, as he feels safe in God.

All of these qualities make him worthy of respect and love, and he involuntarily attracts people to himself like a magnet to iron filings. Consider here the net of the apostles suddenly filling with fish. Their very existence amounts to a great Grace of God.

All in all, the chief form of moral perfection, Vladyka writes, is an unshakability in virtue. This quality is possessed by the inviolate, or if not, by those who after a time of slight corruption return to their original state.

Vladyka does point out, however, that saints are usually those who have preserved their moral purity from Baptism, as such sacrifice is most pleasing to God. This is true for the following reasons.

God is pleased most by what is offered first — the first fruits, first born, and first years.

Secondly, pure sacrifice is the main requirement of all sacrifice. Such is an immaculate youth.

Finally, because this is accomplished by overcoming countless obstacles from within and without, by renouncing pleasures, toward which in youth there is a great inclination, Vladyka asks, is it really so remarkable that so few are saved among those who led a bad youth?

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