So I've been asked to talk to a group of ECF students and their parents after Liturgy tomorrow on the subject of the Mystery of Chrismation and how the sacramental mystery of Chrismation connects with how we raise our children. Public speaking is something very daunting to this introvert so I decided to share my thoughts with you all here as I prepare.
The subject matter however, that of Chrismation, isn't daunting for me at all; I love it! I wept five times as I witnessed my own children receive their own private little Pentecost, after having been immersed into the tomb of baptismal water with Jesus and having emerged, resurrected to their new, spotless life in Christ. Their little beings were now absolutely at the peak of their perfection, as closely resembling the purity and perfection of the Christ Child as they ever would or could. Just as we do not preserve our food after it has been in a basket on the counter for a week, but rather when it is at the peak of freshness, we ask God to preserve the senses of our little ones immediately after baptism. It only makes sense to have those precious little senses sealed and anointed then, before they become tainted by the world. So we ask the Holy Spirit to descend upon their little hearts, minds, eyes, ears, nose, hands, and feet by the anointing with Holy Chrism, and we consecrate these senses to the service of Christ and ask Him to bless and keep them. Just as the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost and gave vibrancy and strength to His Church, He gives vibrancy and strength to the little one, and to his family, as the Spirit is called upon to work through him.
You'll remember that at Pentecost, the Spirit came down upon the Apostles, who had previously been a bit dormant and paralyzed by fear of persecution after the crucifixion. In the holy icons written of the event it is noted that we see, front and center, the Theotokos. This is important. While the Apostles clearly represent the priesthood, the Theotokos represents motherhood. There are two ways in which the teachings of the Church are upheld and propagated: by the priests and by holy mothers and fathers in the flesh who see to it that their children are brought up in the faith.
Because we do not, as other Churches do, wait until they become aware, the responsibility to foster these gifts and preserve these seals falls to us as their parents. How can we best do this? Let's explore it.
Acts 2:38-39: Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
Above all else, remember that just as a passenger on a turbulent flight is instructed to don his own oxygen mask before assisting his child, we parents must practice our faith as vividly as possible when our children are watching us They will do as we do, think as we think and love as we love. It only follows naturally that they will express their faith as we do, patterning themselves after us.
During the Chrismation service, the priest annoints each of these areas with holy chrism, blessed oil, conferring, "the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit..."
Forehead: Encourage them to come to know God by His Word, through the teachings of His Church, and through prayer. You can not love what you do not know...teach them how to know God.
When I taught the high school ECF class I wrote apologetics lessons for them each week so that they could explore WHY we believe what we believe. I taught them to utilize both SCRIPTURE and the CATECHISM for absolutely each and every question they had about the faith. Everything you need to know can be found there. Give them copies of each and teach them to use them liberally.
Teach them to pray. Set up an icon corner in your home so that they can know that God is a vital member of your household, no...MASTER of your household. Point out to them the various icons of the feasts and events in the life of Christ and show them how they are to be utilized as teaching tools. We can look to them, with their unique symbolism, to provide us with the teachings of the Church, without using written words. Pray with them there in the morning, in the evening before bed, at every mealtime, in times of distress, in times of joy.
Eyes: Luke 11:34: "The eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness."
It goes without saying that parents need to guard what their children see, but you may be surprised how they process some of the sights we take for granted. I was once in charge of our parish Halloween party, (back when we actually had ECF, or a Halloween party, or actually had children in the parish, but I digress). I was setting up, carrying my baby son in my arms who was about 4 months old at the time, when a student in his costume came up to speak with me. He had on a scary, somewhat gory mask and when I saw my little one turn away from him and bury his little head deep into my shoulder with fright, I was ashamed that I had allowed him to see it. I didn't realize he would be so startled by it. I know now that it's impossible to "unsee" something and that memories of sights once seen stay in the mind and can become a torment or even lead to temptation. We need to keep those sights away from our children and provide them with sights that lead them to appreciate the goodness and beauty the world, of the landscape, of the forms and structures found in nature, as God has created it. We should teach them to see God in everything and everyone. Provide them with holy images, to icons, for instruction and inspiration.
Have you ever noticed that, when you first enter a particular room or home, there is a pronounced odor that tends to disappear after having spent some time there? You become "nose-blind" as the television commercial says, if you linger in that atmosphere too long. This is what happens when we linger in sinful or an otherwise "less than pure" atmosphere for too long. We tend to become numb to it and hardly notice what should be quite noticeable. The nose filters out impurities in the atmosphere around us so that we breathe in pure and clean air. Likewise, we need to discern which elements of our spiritual atmosphere can be allowed to pass into our being to nourish our souls, and which elements must be filtered out as contaminants. We must provide such a filter for our children and teach them how to filter for themselves once they become of age.
This applies to books, movies, magazines, television programming, computer games, conversations, friends, classes, activities, trends and fashions...everything.
Mouth: The mouth has two functions; it is used for both speaking and eating.
Concerning speech: Pray aloud with them and teach them their prayers. Sing at Divine Liturgy!
Form good speech habits, encourage vocal prayer, praise God and each other;
Forbid profanity, disparagement of others, crude talk. Consecrate your speech to God and His work, and teach the children to do the same.
Concerning Nourishment: Teach them to feast and to fast properly, learning to fast with the Church. Use certain foods to mark feasts and commemorations, (i.e. Holy Supper, Pascha Basket, Kutjia for memorials, make up your own commemorative dishes and recipes! This is one of my favorite things to do. See ByziMom.com for ideas!
Ears: Begin to pray aloud with them from before they are born! I used to love to sing along to the melodies of the Divine Liturgy while I was expecting my little ones, knowing that they could hear me singing and were becoming acquainted with the sounds of worship right from the start. Teach them to listen for the voice of Christ when others speak to them. When consecrating your children's ears to God it is obvious to consider what they do hear, but you must also be aware of how important it is that they appreciate the absence of sound. Teach them to be still; learn to listen for the voice of God within them, speaking to their heart! When my youngest were only babies, I heard the voice within the stillness of my own heart to become an oblate at Holy Annunciation Monastery and there I learned about contemplative prayer and how important stillness can be. Each day I was required to offer at least 30 minutes of contemplative prayer to God...but how, with five little ones? Well, I instituted the three o'clock nap time rule! While the little ones still needed sleep, the older ones hadn't had naps in years and would resent the thought that they needed one. So, I told them that this was the time for mommy to speak with God and that they needed to help me by sitting quietly in their beds for a bit while the babies slept and I prayed. They could read, they could play quietly, they could (and often did) pray too! Some of my best memories are of my toddlers seeing me saying Vespers while on my living room couch and cuddling up beside me, offering to "do the Lord, have mercies" for me. They will totally believe in everything you do.
Breast: Bless their little hearts! Teach them to love! Encourage gifts of service to others;
Send cards and handmade gifts to loved ones, spiritual fathers and religious too!
Collect pennies for the poor and use them to buy Thanksgiving items for the food drive, clothing drive. Let them help you deliver meals to those who are grieving a loss, or welcoming a newborn.
Let them know that in the Gospel of the Sheep and Goats we are the answers to the final Final Exam...the very final, Final Exam...we must learn to love well so we can be among the sheep!
Hands: The love they cultivate in their hearts should lead them to work and pray for others!
Teach them to work; clean, cook, etc. cheerfully….a good work ethic is so very pleasing to God who loves a "cheerful giver".
Handiwork makes a great gift to others and to God. Create things in imitation of the Father and give them to others as He gives to us!
And remember that children learn by doing, and associate stories with memories of crafting and creating...try the Jesse Tree at advent! Crafts associated with a particular saint or holy day observance will cement those memories in their minds as they work.
Feet: Their feet are blessed so that they can not only profess to be Christians, but can also "walk the walk". We must provide them with the proper example and encouragement here as well.
Help them to choose an honorable path and bring the light of Christ to others.
Also, GO to Liturgy and teach the children that they should participate in everything as soon as possible. Encourage them to stand, to sing (even if they do so very loudly and off key!...God loves to hear little voices and so do most parishioners!), to participate in processions, pilgrimages, missions, Make an excellent sign of the cross as a witness to everyone that they are believers, do prostrations when it is appropriate, serve at the altar when the boys become old enough and care for the grounds of the church and cemetery. Also let the girls care for the body of the Church by washing and mending linens, cleaning, baking altar bread, preparing for coffee hour and gatherings, singing in the choir, etc...all as soon as they are able.
The next generation of believers MUST be welcomed and encouraged to participate. Remember that the Holy Spirit has sealed all these gifts that God has given to our little ones in their perfection. It’s up to us provide the right conditions and encouragement so that they can have the courage to open them up and share them with the world!