Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Spiritual Education

While looking around a museum bookstore, I once saw a mother with her young daughter, who may have been about four years old. The mother was talking to the attendant behind the counter when the child pointed to a statue on a shelf. “May I see Anubis please?,” the girl asked. “You know who he is?,” the surprised attendant answered. The girl declared, “He’s my favorite!” I guess the attendant didn’t expect the child to recognize Anubis, the jackal-headed Egyptian god of the dead. I didn’t expect it either.

I don’t know anything about the girl or her family, but I’m compelled to wonder how much the little one knew about the Orthodox Christian faith. Is it possible that she could recognize an image of Anibus, but wouldn’t be able to identify an icon of St. Nicholas, the Archangel Michael, John the Baptist, the Virgin Mary, or even Jesus Christ Himself? Could she know the myth of Anubis embalming Osiris, but not know the story of Christ raising Lazarus from the dead, or the triumphant account of Christ’s own crucifixion and resurrection? Such a thing is indeed possible, especially in America.

Take a look at the instructions God gave to the Israelites through Moses about teaching their children:

Here, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord: And you shall love the Lord your God with all your mind, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words, all that I command you on this day, shall be in your heart and in your soul. You shall teach them to your children, and you shall speak about them when you sit in the house, when you walk along the path, when you lie down, and when you get up. You shall fasten them as a sign upon your hand, and it shall be immoveable from before your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your houses and your gates.

And in the future time, when your son asks you, “What are the testimonies, ordinances, and judgments the Lord our God has commanded us?,” say this to him: "We were slaves of Pharaoh in the land of Egypt, and the Lord rescued us with a mighty hand and with a high arm. He brought us here to give us this land, which He had promised to give our ancestors. The Lord charged us to observe all these ordinances and to fear the Lord our God so that it may be well with us and we may live as we do today.” (Deut. 6.1-9, 20-25)

These instructions reflect the way we should teach our children within the Church. With all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength we are called to love God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and to love those around us in His name. Let us wear the Holy Cross around our necks so that it hangs near our hearts and make the Sign of the Cross to remember what God has done and who He has made us to be. In our homes, let’s constantly tell the story of how we became a people, the Church, and discuss the teachings of the Faith for our benefit and the benefit of our children. If we do not nurture them as Christians, we abandon them to the pagans and their secular culture. Let’s keep retelling the stories preserved in Holy Tradition so that we remember who God is, who we are, and how we should live. May we also hang Holy Icons in our homes so that the divine Truth revealed in them remains always before our eyes.

When I think about the girl in the museum, the education of children comes to mind, but the story relates to adults as well. Many young adults (and older adults for that matter) have no significant knowledge of the Holy Scripture, the lives of the Saints through the ages, or of the Orthodox Christian way of life. What should we do about the ignorance pervading our culture? (As a young unmarried man without children, I’m particularly interested in this part.) We can teach those around us by telling our spiritual Story, explaining our way of life and the reasons we live it, and by endowing both the message and messenger with credibility by living the Faith we proclaim in love. We have been called to be light in the world of darkness. May the divine radiance of the Holy Spirit shine brightly through us.

Copyright © 2006 by Dana S. Kees. Photo by Dana S. Kees. (My paraphrase of the biblical text is based upon Sir Lancelot Charles Lee Brenton’s translation of the Septuagint, 1851.)