Q: I’ve noticed, Elder, that sometimes babies smile at the time of Divine Liturgy.
A: They don’t do that only at the Divine Liturgy. Babies are in constant contact with God, because they’ve got nothing to worry about. What did Christ say about little children? ‘Their angels in heaven continually gaze upon the face of my Father who is in heaven’. They’re in touch with God and with their guardian angel, who’s with them all the time. They smile in their sleep sometimes, and at other times cry, because they see all sorts of things. Sometimes they see their guardian angels and play with them- the angels stroke them, tease them, shake their fists and they laugh. On other occasions they see some kind of temptation and cry.
Q: Why does temptation come to babies?
A: It helps them to feel the need to seek their mothers. If there wasn’t this fear, they wouldn’t need to seek the comfort of being cuddled by their mothers. God allows everything so that it’ll turn out well.
Q: Do they remember what they see as babies when they grow up?
A: No, they forget. If a little child remembered the number of times it had seen its guardian angel, it might fall into pride. That’s why, when it grows up, it forgets. God’s wise in His doings.
Q: Do they see these things after baptism?
A: Of course after baptism.
Q: Elder, is it all right for an unbaptized child to reverence relics?
A: Why not? And they can be blessed with the holy relics. I saw a child today, it was like a little angel. I asked, ‘Where are your wings?’ It didn’t know what to say! At my hermitage, when spring comes and the trees are in blossom, I put sweets on the holm-oaks next to the gate in the fence and I tell the little boys who come: ‘Go on, boys, cut the sweets from the bushes, because if it rains they’ll melt and spoil’. A few of the more intelligent ones know that I’ve put them there and laugh. Others really believe that they’ve grown there and some others have to think about it. Little children need a bit of sunshine.
Q: Did you put lots of sweets, Elder?
A: Well, of course. What could I do? I don’t give good sweets to grown-ups; I just give them Turkish delight. When people bring me nice sweets, I keep them for the kids at the School [the Athoniada]. ‘See, last night I planted sweets and chocolates and today they’ve come up! See that? The weather was good, the soil was well-turned because you’d dug it over well and they came up just like that. See what a flower garden I’ll make for you. We’ll never need to buy sweets and chocolates for kids. Why shouldn’t we have our own produce?’ (Elder Païsios had planted sweets and chocolates in the freshly dug earth and put lilac blossoms on top to make it seem that they were flowering).
Q: Elder, some pilgrims saw the chocolates you planted in the garden because the paper stood out against the soil. They didn’t know what to make of it. ‘Some kid must have put them there’, they said.
A: Why didn’t you tell them that a big kid put them there?
Q: Elder, why does God give people a guardian angel, when He can protect us Himself?
A: That’s God looking after us especially carefully. The guardian angel is God’s providence. And we’re indebted to Him for that. The angels particularly protect little children. And you wouldn’t believe how! There were two children once, playing in the street. One of them aimed at the other to hit him on the head with a stone. The other one didn’t notice. At the last moment, apparently, his angel drew his attention to something else, he leapt up and got out of the way. And then there was this mother who went out into the fields with her baby. She breast-fed it, put it down in its cradle and went off to work. After a bit, she went to check and what did she see? The child was holding a snake and looking at it! When she’d suckled the child, some of the milk had stayed on its lips, the snake had gone to lick it off and the baby had grabbed hold of it. God looks after children.
Q: Elder, in that case, why do so many children suffer from illnesses?
A: God knows what’s best for each of us and provides as necessary. He doesn’t give people anything that’s not going to benefit them. He sees that it’s better for us to have some sort of defect, a disability instead of protecting us from them.
From “Discourses 4, Family Life”, published by
the Holy Monastery of Saint John the Theologian