Fr. Andrew (Konanos): How Not to Turn the Children Away From God

Think about how free Christ was, how freely He dealt with His disciples. When some of his followers left him, he said to his disciples, “Would you all like to leave me, too? Would you like to go away with them?” The Apostle Peter replied, “Lord, who can we go to? You have the words of eternal life.” This is to say that Christ kept them near Himself by His love and not by force. He told them to leave but they appeared to be attached to Him. “If you want to leave Me, you are free to do so…” And yet they answered, “We freely choose to hug you and never leave you. We want to be with you!”

Who can say to his child today, “If you want, my child, you can go away”, and hear back, “How can I go far away from you? You are my joy. You fill my life with meaning!”

Imagine a parent saying to his or her child, “If you want, don’t come back early tonight,” but he or she responds, “What are you talking about? Do you think I will leave my cozy nest, my mom and dad, and the lovely family atmosphere?”

It’s very important. The pressure we put on our children turns them away from us and from God. If I deform the image of God in a child, I will cause great harm to his or her soul. The same harm can be done to any person when I talk about God in the wrong way.

One child once confided in me, “Father, I have some awful memories of my primary school. I remember a teacher kicking us out of church for talking. He kicked us out, gave us a slap and then brought us back in. It is forbidden to slap kids inside the church but it is okay outside. Then he continued to pray.”

Children learned the following interlinked sequence: Divine Liturgy – church – prayer – slap on the back of the head – punishment – vengeance. It was an uncomfortable experience, although it was supposed to remind them of love and kindness. You will say, “Okay, but I want the church to be a quiet place.” Sure, but I don’t think we should ever hit a person who talks, especially a primary school child. That guy is in high school now, and he still remembers everything. During our next meeting, he told me one more thing, “One day, the teacher called me into the teacher’s room, told me I was a good student, and ordered me not to be friends with a certain boy because it wouldn’t do me any good.” Well, if I had a child, I would keep an eye on who he mixes with. That is not the right approach, though. It doesn’t have to be like, “He’s a bad guy, avoid him.” Remember: the bad kids are better! The Lord loves bad kids. Bad people are loved by God, He doesn’t bully them, so they are likely to change someday. This God’s cuddle is the only way for the bad person to change for the better because God does not harass him. Say, you are God’s mouth, a person who speaks about God. When you scold someone, he protests, and your words torment him. How are you going to bring anyone closer to God in this way? You are going to do just the opposite!

Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds

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