The Desert Fathers: Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Desert

The Desert Fathers: Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Desert
The Monastery of St. Paul of Thebes, Red Sea Desert, Egypt (1990)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM - Lessons on Education: Part II

We will continue with Part II of our reading of St. John Chrysostom's 39 instructions on educating the child with Part II. St. John wrote this wonderful treatise as a guide for parents on how to raise up a Christian child whose education would be not only secular, but also spiritual and moral and would thus be a complete person. 



11. Therefore I beg you to take care for the good upbringing of your children. First of all think of the salvation of their souls. God has placed you as the heads and teachers over your families. It is your duty to watch, and to watch continually after the behavior of your wife and children. Listen to St. Paul. If your wives, says he, want to learn anything, let them learn it from their husbands. Educate your children in the teaching and instructions of the Lord (I Corinthians 14:35, Ephesians 6:4). Imitate Job, who continually looked after his children and offered sacrifices for mercy towards any secret misdeeds they might have committed (Job 1:5). Imitate Abraham, who concerned himself less with the acquisition of riches than with the keeping of God's law by every member of his house, and about whom the Lord witnessed: "For I know that he will order his sons, and his house after him, and they will keep the ways of the Lord, to do justice and judgment" (Genesis 18:19). David, when he was near death, wanted to leave Solomon the surest inheritance; he called him to himself in order to repeat the following wise instructions: "that the Lord may confirm his word which he spoke, saying, if they children shall take heed to their way to walk before me in truth with all their heart, I promise thee, saying, there shall not fail thee a man on the throne of Israel" (III Kings 2:4). These are the examples that we should follow during our lives and with our final breath!

12. If good fathers would strive to give their children a good upbringing, then we would need neither laws, judges, courts, nor punishments. Executioners exist because we have no morality.


13. We spare neither labors nor means in order to teach our children secular sciences, so that they can serve well the earthly authorities. Only the knowledge of the holy Faith, the service of the Heavenly King are a matter of indifference to us. We allow them to attend spectacles, but we care little whether they go to Church and stand within it reverently. We demand an account from them of what they learned in their secular institutes -- why do we not demand an account from them of what they heard in the Lord's house?

14. Having made the necessary exhortation to children, the Apostle addresses himself also to the fathers, saying: "You fathers . . . bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). Do you want your child to be obedient? Then from the beginning bring him up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Do not think that it is not necessary for a child to listen to the Scriptures; the first thing he will hear from them will be, "Honor thy father and mother" (Exodus 20:12), and immediately you will begin to reap your reward. Do not say, "Bible-reading is for monks; am I turning my child into a monk?" No! It is not necessary for him to be a monk. Make him into a Christian! Why are you afraid of something so good? It is necessary for everyone to know Scriptural techings, and this is especially true for children. Not knowing divine truths, they do know something of the pagan stories, learning from them about wondrous lives, about heroes in their sight, who served the passions and were afraid of death. Such an example is Achilles, inconsolably dying for his mistress; another who gives himself over to drunkenness, and on and on! Therefore your children need remedies for these things, in the retribution and teachings of the Lord.

15. We are so concerned with our children's schooling; if only we were equally zealous in bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord! And then we wonder why we reap such bitter fruit when we have raised our children to be insolent, licentious, impious, and vulgar. May this never happen; instead, let us heed the blessed Paul's admonition to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Let us give them a pattern to imitate; from their earliest years let us teach them to study the Bible. "He repeats this over and over again," you say, "we are sick of listening to it." Never will I stop doing my duty!


16. Why do you refuse to imitate the holy men and women of old? Tell me! Especially you mothers; think of Hannah's example; look at what she did. She brought Samuel, her only son, to the temple, when he was only an infant! Who among you would not rather have a son like Samuel than one who became king of the whole world ten thousand times over? "But it is impossible," you say, "for my son ever to become as great as he." Why is it impossible? Because you DO NOT really want it; you will not entrust him to the One who is able to make him great. And who is that? God. Hannah commended Samuel into the hands of God. The high priest Eli had no real ability to form him, since he even failed to form his own children. It was the mother's faith and zeal that made everything possible. He was her first and only child. She did not know if she would ever have another, yet she never said, "I will wait until he grows up; he should have a taste of worldly pleasures, during his childhood at least." No; she rejected all these thoughts, for she had only one object: how from the very beginning she could dedicate her heart's delight to God. Be ashamed, you men, at the wisdom of this woman. She gave Samuel to God, and with God she left him, and thus her marriage was blessed more than ever, because her first concern was for spiritual things. She dedicated the first-fruits of her womb to God and obtained many more children in return. She saw Samuel honored even in this life. If men return honor for honor, will not God do much more? He gives so much even to those who do not honor Him at all! How long are we to be mere lumps of flesh? How long will we cling to the ground? Let everything take second place to our care for our children, our bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. If from the beginning we teach them to love true wisdom, they will have greater wealth and glory than riches can provide. If a child learns a trade, or id highly educated for a lucrative profession, all this is nothing compared to the art of detachment from riches; if you want to make your child rich, teach him this. He is truly rich who does not desire great possessions, or surround himself with wealth, but who requires nothing.

This is how to discipline and teach your child; this is the greatest of riches. Do not worry about giving him an influential reputation for worldly wisdom, but ponder deeply how you can teach him to think lightly of this life's passing glories; thus he will become truly renowned and glorious. Whether you are poor or rich, you can do this; these lessons are not learned from a skillful professor, but from divine revelation. Do not ask how he can enjoy a long life here, but how he can enjoy an infinite and eternal life in the age to come. Give him the great things, not the little things. Do not strive to make him a clever orator, but teach him to love true wisdom. He will not suffer if he lacks clever words; but if he lacks wisdom, all the rhetoric in the world cannot help him. A pattern of life is what is needed, not empty speeches; character, not cleverness; deeds, not words. These things will secure the Kingdom and bestow God's blessings. Do not sharpen his tongue, but purify his soul. I do not mean that worldly learning is worthless and to be ignored, but it should not be an exclusive preoccupation.

18. Do not think that only monks need to learn the Bible; children about to go out into the world stand in greater need of Scriptural knowledge. A man who never travels by sea does not need to know how to equip a ship, or where to find a pilot or a crew, but a sailor has to know all these things. The same applies to the monk and the man of this world. The monk lives an untroubled life in a calm harbor, removed from every storm, while the worldly man is always sailing the ocean, battling innumerable tempests. Although he himself (the worldly man) may not have any need (of instruction), it may be necessary to him in case he must stop the mouths of others.

19. Whoever enjoys great respect in the present life needs such an education even more. If anyone should serve in the king's palace -- there, are many Hellenic philosophers, people who are haughty over their temporary glory. There, everyone is puffed up and arrogant; and if anyone is not, he strives to become so. How would it be if your son should enter this company as the best possible doctor with his medical instruments, able to tame the arrogance of each one, approaching each one and discoursing, treating the sick body, applying the plaster of Scripture, disseminating wisdom-loving evidence?

20. With whom shall a monk speak? With the walls of his cell, or his blanket? With the desert or the bushes? With the hills or the trees?! Thus he does not need the same teaching, in spite of the fact that he is striving to perfect himself in it -- not in order to teach others, but to teach himself. What about those people who live in this (worldly) life? They are in total need of this teaching; for the worldly man is presented with more causes of temptation than the monk. And if you please, know, that with such an education a man will be the most pleasant of men. All will begin to respect him when they see that he is not irascible and seeking after power. Know this, educate your children in the discipline and knowledge of the Lord. And if some one be poor? Let him remain poor. It will never be the worse for him if he does not serve among the courtiers; to the contrary, he could become the object of wonder. For if the Hellenists -- who are a dime a dozen, philosophers (meaning Greek philosophers), or rather, philosophers only in name, dressed up in mantles with flowing hair, are able to put many to shame; cannot the true lover of wisdom do much more? If a false appearance alone, the mere shadow of philosophy can so exalt a man, what can be said of the love for true and enlightened wisdom? Will not everyone begin to respect such a man? Will they not entrust to him without reservation their houses, wives and children? END

from St. Theophan the Recluse, "The Path to Salvation," (Platina, California: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1998), pp. 329 - 335.