Saint Clement of Alexandria begins his writing Christ the Educator with the words:
O you who are children! An indestructible cornerstone of knowledge, holy temple of the great God, has been hewn out especially for us as a foundation for the truth. This corner stone is noble persuasion, or the desire for eternal life…laid in the ground of our minds.
Who are the children addressed by Clement? He explains in Chapter 5, “We are the children. Scripture mentions us very often and in many different ways, and refers to us under different titles…” Children “are those who look upon God alone as their father, who are simple, little ones, [and] uncontaminated.”
Although each of us is considered a “child” in relationship to our heavenly Father, we also remain the sons and daughters of spiritual as well as biological or adoptive parents. As we attempt to best relate to our heavenly father, we are also given instruction, young and older alike, as to how we are to relate to our earthly parents.
First and foremost, children must have love for their parents. Elder Thaddeus of Vitcovinca goes so far as to suggest that if there were more love for our parents that the world itself would be a different and better place.
It is obvious that all doors open to those who have love. Even in the midst of wars where lives are lost all the time, the Lord miraculously preserves those who love their parents, both spiritual and biological. If we had this kind of love for our parents, the world would not be the way it is now. All we can do now is pray, and the Lord will help us and give us strength.
Saint Tikon of Zadonsk offers children twelve duties.
1. First, conscience itself convinces a man to honor his parents with love. The pagans taught and made it law to give parents first honor after God. The word of God also commands us to honor our parents, Honour thy father and mother. Then give all respect, Christian, to those that gave birth, that it may go well with you. Whom should you honor, if not your parents?
2. Second, because your parents are your great benefactors, you should render due gratitude. Remember the pains and labors they undertook for your upbringing, and be thankful to them for it. Know well that you can give nothing in return for the benefits you have received from them.
3. Third, show them every obedience. Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right (Eph. 6:1), and again, Children, obey your parents in all things: for this well pleasing unto the Lord (Col. 3:20).
To break a moment from St. Tikon’s instruction to children, Elder Thaddeus also suggests that through obedience,
The Lord opens the way for us. He reveals His will to us. His will is often revealed to us through our parents. If we obey our parents, everything will be well and we will be blessed, but if we oppose them, then things will not be good for us. Life will go on, but mostly backwards.
Why is this the case? Father Paisios of blessed memory explains to a pilgrim that obedience in children allows the Holy Spirit to take root:
When children begin to speak to adults with audacity, they drive God’s Grace away. And when God’s Grace departs, the demons get to work; children become rowdy and get into all kids of mischief. But take children who have reverence and respect, who listen to their parents, their teachers and their elders, and you will see that they are full of Grace and blessed by God. God’s Grace protects and shelters them. Where there is great reverence for God, and respect for one’s elders, divine Grace comes and fills the soul, making it all aglow and obvious by radiant light. But don’t expect the Grace of God to go to unruly children; only to those who have philotimo, who have respect and reverence. And it is not difficult to identify such children. One look at their eyes and you will see how bright they are! And the greater the respect they have for their parents and elders, the greater the Grace of God.
Returning to the St. Tikon instruction:
4. Fourth, do not undertake anything new without their advice and consent, but you ought to take counsel with them in everything and seek their consent, lest you offend them your disrespect and lest the matter that you have undertaken go without success.
5. Fifth, be ashamed to show disorderly conduct before them and avoid it. Say no indecent word and do no indecent deed, though Christian duty demands this of everywhere.
6. Sixth, resolutely avoid offending them with any crude word, but speak to them and reply with every courtesy, that they may know that you and respect them.
7. Seventh, if they punish you for something, and you know that you are genuinely at fault for it, acknowledge your fault with humility and endure the punishment with meekness. But if you know that you are innocent, and your conscience justifies you, then declare your innocence with every courtesy and humility.
8. Eighth, do not abandon them in any need and want, but help them and serve them, and especially in their old age.
9. Ninth, cover with silence any infirmity you may see in them, which occur even in good people. But even if you should see something scandalous, resolutely avoid judging them and revealing it to anyone else. Do no imitate Ham, the son of Noah, who saw his father’s nakedness and went out told it to his brothers. But follow his brothers, Shem and Japhet, who took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father (Gen. 9:23), and so on.
10. Tenth, if you should somehow offend them in your actions and you know it in your conscience, do not delay, but fall down before them that very hour and beg their forgiveness with humility, lest you fall under God’s judgment. For if you are obliged to ask forgiveness of every man whom you have offended and to make peace with him according to Christ’s words (cf. Mt. 5:23-24), how much more are we obliged to do so with our parents, to whom we owe love and honor more than to any other person.
11. Eleventh, even the pagans have established great punishments in their books for those children who do not honor their parents. Terrible punishments are also prescribed against such miserable children in the holy Law of God…It is a great ingratitude and a serious iniquity to be an evildoer to your benefactors and to return evil for good. Therefore, Christian, beware, lest you experience God’s avenging hand on you at that very moment.
12. Twelfth, know of a certainty that as you are to your parents, so will your children be to you, according to the words of Christ, And with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again (Mt. 7:2).
What are children to do if parents do not lead by example or even by word? Elder Epiphanios was one asked such a question, and it is with his words I conclude:
Elder, what should be do when we face reactions at our home in relation to the spiritual life, fasting; i.e., confession, divine Communion, going to Church, etc.? [His Response] Learn to put your foot down! I can’t understand why rascals, the Marxists, etc., pass on their line of thought in the homes, and furthermore, other matters which are many times contrary to God’s law while, you to avoid displeasing your families, do not lift up your voice for God’s sake! How do you expect your character to be strengthened?