Category Archives: Theosis

On Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing: Principle #1: Always Parent with the End in Mind

Note: This series of blog posts will focus on principles important to Orthodox Christians who are raising children. The series will feature a closer look at Dr. Philip Mamalakis’ book, “Parenting Toward the Kingdom: Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing.” Each week we will take a closer look at one section of the book, which is divided into 6 basic principles of child rearing. Find an overview blog post about the book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/02/08/gleanings-from-a-book-parenting-toward-the-kingdom-by-dr-philip-mamalakis/. We thank Dr. Mamalakis and Ancient Faith Publishing for giving us permission to share his wisdom with you in this way. Purchase your own copy of his book here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/parenting-toward-the-kingdom/.
Principle #1: Always parent with the end in mind.

Dr. Mamalakis encourages us to “Think Long Term” and to consider “How Children Learn” in the first two chapters of “Parenting Toward the Kingdom,” which address the first principle of parenting: “Always parent with the end in mind.” Parenting with the end in mind requires that we think beyond the moment and our short-term goals (ie: for peace and quiet at the dinner table) to what our long-term goals for our children may be (ie: for them to learn to work out their disagreements in a godly manner) and act towards that end. To be able to do so, we need to think first of what type of adults we wish our children to be when they are grown. Dr. Mamalakis suggests that, as Orthodox Christian parents, we think far beyond earthly “success” as a goal for our children, and look instead to what will make our children successful followers of Christ. He cites examples from the scriptures and from Church tradition that can help us to know the values and virtues that should be our goal for our children. He urges that we parent patiently and consistently, always keeping our end goal in mind. He offers a list of short-term goals that can easily tempt us away from our long-term goals. He shares this list so that we can be aware of these potentially-hazardous short-term goals and how they can harm our long-term desires for our children. He reminds us that we will struggle to succeed in this; but that our children need to see us struggle. The important thing is that we respond in an adult-like manner, and that our responses move all of us toward our mutual goal of godliness.

Parenting with the end in mind also requires that we give consideration to the way that children learn. Rather than learning about how they should live and conduct themselves best through lecture, our children are best able to learn this through their daily interactions with us. Struggling to acquire the values and virtues of the Kingdom of God will help our children to better learn and thus acquire them. In that sense, struggle is good. Our children need to experience everyday struggles with life, while being guided by parents who are struggling as well but firm in our convictions to lead our children to the Kingdom of Heaven. Dr. Mamalakis suggests that our three most important parenting tools are our life example, our relationship with our children, and how we speak to them. He states that the thing that teachers our children the most is our own behavior. He gently reminds us that God is at work through matter, both in icons and in His living icons (everyone around us). Dr. Mamalakis advises us to remember that our children are icons of Christ, and that we must treat them as such, and thus teach them to treat others in the same way. He reminds us that because children are always learning, we must always be intentional in how we live our life, how we relate to our children, and in what we say to them.

Chapter 1, “Think Long Term” can be read in its entirety (along with the acknowledgements and introduction to the book) at http://store.ancientfaith.com/parenting-toward-the-kingdom/, if you would like to sample it for yourself!

Here are a few gleanings from the chapters related to Principle #1:

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“The best place to begin a conversation on parenting is at the end. We need to know what we’re working toward so we can talk about how to accomplish our goals. Parenting is a long-term commitment and a long-term process.” (p. 17 ; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Sometimes our short-term goals can distract us from our long-term goals. Parents are tempted to intervene to stop misbehaviors in the short term in a way that undermines our long-term goals. That is like giving your child the answer to his math homework. In the short term, he finishes his work more quickly and without struggle, but in the long term, he doesn’t learn math. Getting a child to stop misbehaving can solve the short-term problem of misbehavior, but it does not necessarily teach him, long-term, how to control his own behavior. Sometimes we need to give up our short-term desires to work toward our long-term goals.”  (pp. 18-19; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“God’s desire is for us to raise children who know Him, who live in His love, and who walk in His ways. God wants our children to know who He is and grow up near Him, to become saints. That is success.”  (p. 20; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Successful children are those who internalize the values and virtues of the kingdom of God, so that when they go away to college or get married they live according to these values—not because we are watching or because we say so, but because they believe these things deeply in their hearts.” (p. 23; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Parenting requires patience—not the patience that puts up with inappropriate behavior, but the patience that intervenes effectively, repeatedly, as long as our child struggles. This allows our children the opportunity to struggle to grow, to learn, to love, and to acquire the values and virtues they will need as adults. Patience means we respond consistently and appropriately every time they struggle, because we have our long-term goals in mind.”(p. 25; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“If we love our children, we walk with them through the struggles; we don’t remove the struggles.” (p. 28; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Parenting itself is a struggle we cannot escape… Children need human parents who struggle to learn with them. If you’ve taken a moment to consider your long-term goals for your children, or God’s long-term goals for them, you’ve already taken the first step toward helping your children. We should expect children to act like children. The best we can do as parents is to act like adults in the way we respond, and choose the response that moves us toward our long-term goals.”(p. 28; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Children are shaped in and through each interaction we have with them, from the moment of conception to the moment we depart this life. God gives us each interaction with our children as a means of communicating His truths.

“More specifically, children learn most by how we respond when they misbehave. Children learn that we love them no matter what when we respond respectfully and effectively when they fight, talk back, disobey, or stand on tables…”(p. 31; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“The three most important tools we have as parents are:

>> The way we live our own lives,

>> the way we relate to our children, and

>> what we say to them.” (p. 32; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Children will learn what is true by how they see us behave more than by what they hear us say.” (p. 34; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“The truth is that God loves us deeply and cherishes each and every one of us, no matter how we behave. Each of our children is uniquely loved and adored by God—so much so that He gave His only Son for each one. Our children are incredibly valuable and special to God, not because they are perfect and no matter what they say or how they act. God simply loves them…
“Children will internalize this truth about themselves and God if we treat them with love and respect—all the time, but particularly when they misbehave. Children can only learn unconditional love when they experience their parents’ love and respect when they misbehave.” (p. 35; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Parenting is about raising children who understand themselves and others as icons of Christ. This is true self-esteem.” (p. 36; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“If we want to teach our children respect, they need to feel respected by us, even when they talk back. If we want them to learn how to listen, they need to feel heard, even when they don’t listen to us. If we want them to know the nature of God’s love for them, they need to experience God’s love from us, particularly when they are unloving toward us. Children really do learn what they live—most deeply when they struggle and misbehave.” (pp. 37-38; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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On Pursuing the Virtues: an Introduction

Author’s note: During Great Lent Orthodox Christians focus more intently on becoming more godly and less self-centered. Because of this, Great Lent seems the best possible time to feature a series of articles on pursuing virtue. We will spend the next few weeks learning about virtues in order to better pursue them. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!

In this series of blogs, we will focus on how we parents can work to acquire the virtues. We will focus on the seven capital virtues mentioned in the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians: humility, liberality, chastity, mildness, temperance, happiness, and diligence. As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to become more like God, or to grow in theosis, we must not only repent and actively turn away from the sins in our life, but we must also labor actively towards attaining the virtues. Each blog post will focus on one virtue and ways to work towards attaining that virtue.

We are purposefully choosing to focus these blog posts on ourselves, the parents, rather than on our children. This is an intentional choice. We parents are the models, the ones who should be best living a godly life in our family. Throughout the ages, the saints have spoken about this very thing:

“The spirit of faith and piety in the parents should be regarded as the most powerful means for the preservation, upbringing, and strengthening of the life of Grace in children.”~ St. Theophan the Recluse
“What saves and makes for good children is the life of the parents in the home. The parents need to devote themselves to the love of God. They need to become saints in the relation to their children. And the joy that will come to them, the Holiness that will visit them, will shower grace on their children.” ~ St. Porphyrios

Because we parents are responsible to lead godly lives before our children, and because godly lives are filled with virtue instead of sins, we will focus these blog posts on ways to actively seek the virtues. When we actively pursue the virtues we are not just running  away from evil: we are struggling towards something, towards virtues. Carole Buleza, director of the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education recently explained it like this: “We are made in God’s image and likeness. The image is like God’s stamp on us as a human person. It cannot be changed. The likeness, on the other hand, can change and grow. It is the potential to grow evermore godlike… Acquiring virtues [is] a way to grow evermore Godlike. The virtues are specific, [as are] the rungs on St. John Climacus’ ladder. We can choose one, and with prayer, proceed to discipline ourselves so as to acquire it. When our lives are not focused on a major struggle with evil, we need to struggle in the positive direction by seeking to attain the virtues. The saints tell us that suffering (or struggle) is a necessary component of theosis.”

So, fellow parents, let us learn together about the capital virtues. By the grace of God, let us focus in on at least one of them and struggle towards it with all of our heart. Let us lead our family by example, struggling against sin not just by fleeing/fighting our passions, but also by actively struggling towards virtues. By the grace and mercy of God, may we grow evermore like Him. And as we do so, may our children watch, learn, and follow.

This prayer of St. Ephrem will be a great aid to us in this struggle:

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, meekness of mind, patience and love to Thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother, for blessed art thou unto ages of ages.  Amen.

Here are some links that will help us as we begin to think about obtaining the virtues in our life:
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The Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians  is available here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/a-pocket-prayer-book-for-orthodox-christians-vinyl-cover/ and is an excellent companion for any Orthodox Christian! It fits in a pocket or purse and contains prayers, thought-provoking information such as the capital virtues which we are working to attain, the entire Divine Liturgy, preparation for confession, and more. Some of the prayers in the book (but not the section on virtues, unfortunately) are also available online here: http://www.antiochian.org/orthodox-prayers

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“All the virtues are aspects of the one great virtue, the virtue of love. When a Christian acquires love, he has all the virtues. It is love that expels the prime cause of all the evils and all the passions from the psyche of man. This cause, according to the holy Fathers, is selfishness. All the evils within us spring from selfishness, which is a diseased love for one’s own self. This is the reason why our Church has asceticism. Without asceticism, there is no spiritual life, no struggle, and no progress. We obey, fast, keep vigil, labour with prostrations, and stand upright, all so that we may be cleansed of our passions.” Read this and more in this excellent article on theosis: http://www.greekorthodoxchurch.org/theosis_qualifications.html

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“Let us cleanse ourselves, brethren, with the queen of the virtues: for behold, she is come, bringing us a wealth of blessings. She quells the uprising of the passions, and reconciled sinners to the Master. Therefore let us welcome her with gladness, and cry aloud to Christ our God: O risen from the dead, who alone art free from sin, guard us uncondemned as we give thee glory.” (one of the Four Sichera at the Praises, Matins, Meatfare Sunday, as found here: http://www.orthodoxchurchquotes.com/2015/02/16/four-stichera-at-the-praises-matins-meatfare-sunday-i-think-upon-that-day-and-hour-when-we-shall-all-stand-naked/)

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“The goal of the Christian life is not to resist temptation but to acquire virtue. We are called to seek the Kingdom of God, not just to avoid hell.”  (Mamalakis, “Parenting Towards the Kingdom”, page 168)

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“Christians, have we understood the great responsibility that we have taken on before God through baptism? Have we come to know that we must conduct ourselves as children of God, that we must align our will with the will of God, that we must remain free from sin, that we must love God with all our hearts and always patiently await union with Him? Have we thought about the fact that our heart should be so filled with love that it should overflow to our neighbor? Do we have the feeling that we must become holy and perfect, children of God and heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven? We must struggle for this, so that we may not be shown unworthy and rejected. Let none of us lose our boldness, nor neglect our duties, nor be afraid of the difficulties of spiritual struggle. For we have God as a helper, who strengthens us in the difficult path of virtue.”
+ St. Nektarius of Aegina, The Path to Happiness, 2 http://www.orthodoxchurchquotes.com/2014/09/15/st-nektarios-christians-have-we-understood-the-great-responsibility-that-we-have-taken/

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“Every Christian has the power to heal infirmities—not of others, but his own, and not of the body, but of the soul—that is, sins and sinful habits—and to cast out devils, rejecting evil thoughts sown by them, and extinguishing the excitement of passions enflamed by them…

“…But your job is to work upon yourself: for this you are chosen; the rest is in the hands of God. He who humbles himself shall be exalted.”
+ St. Theophan the Recluse, Thoughts for Each Day of the Year: According to the Daily Church Readings from the Word of God http://www.orthodoxchurchquotes.com/2014/09/02/st-theophan-the-recluse-every-christian-is-chosen/

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This book is an excellent resource for helping parents to nurture the virtues in their children:

http://store.ancientfaith.com/walking-in-wonder-nurturing-christian-virtues-in-your-children/ Read a few excerpts here: http://www.antiochian.org/node/16620

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“A troubled mind and chaotic thoughts are the fruit of a disordered life, and these darken the soul. When passions are driven from the soul with the help of the virtues, and the curtain of passions is drawn back from the eyes of the mind, then the intellect can perceive the glory of the other world. The soul grows by means of the virtues; the mind is confirmed in the truth and becomes unshakable, girded for encountering and slaying every passion. Freedom from passions is brought about by crucifying both the intellect and the flesh. This makes a man capable of contemplating God. The intellect is crucified when unclean thoughts are driven out of it, and the body when passions are uprooted. A body given over to pleasure cannot be the abode of the knowledge of God. True knowledge i.e. the revelation of the mysteries – is attained by means of the virtues, and this is – the knowledge that saves.” – Saint Justin (Popovich) of Cheliye Monastery in Serbia

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“Sailors need to know when to use ballast or throw down the anchor, lest the ship sink and they drown. In like manner, the virtues enable us to respond correctly to those moments of life that are the moral equivalents to such conditions at sea. However, an ability to discern these moments and respond appropriately entails more than formal techniques of decision-making; just as successful sailing requires that one knows more than just the techniques of good navigation. As the latter requires a knowledge of and familiarity with the sea that cannot be taught in books but can only be learned from sea-faring itself, so the moral life requires that we also be virtuous. The virtues are not just the moral equivalent of techniques of good sailing; rather they are the way as well as the end of goodness and happiness.” from http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/art/awakening-the-moral-imagination-teaching-virtues-through-fairy-tales.html (written by an Orthodox author)