The words of St. Paul to his disciple, Timothy, were very strange, when he told him, “ I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also” (2Tim.1:5).
Is faith inherited? The very genuine faith in the heart of Timothy, the son, was the very same faith as that living in the heart of his mother Eunice and in his grandmother Lois. The faith that a family passes on to its children is a sacred inheritance.
Faith cannot be transferred from one generation to another mechanically, but the effect of transmitting it and of Christian training in the home cannot be denied.
This is the most important function of the Christian family: transmitting faith. We could leave our children a fortune— that is fine— but the danger lies in our failure to pass on to our children the faith we inherited from our holy fathers. “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mat. 16: 26).
That is why St. Paul confirmed the role of the parents in the salvation of their children: “Nevertheless she (the mother) will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love and holiness, with self-control.” (1 Tim. 2: 15). So the working out of the mother’s salvation is conditional upon the way she brings up her children. That is why St. Monica wept bitterly when her son Augustine went off the rails, feeling her great responsibility towards God for her son. Thus, she deserved St. Ambrose’s encouragement, “Be confident, my daughter, the son of all these tears shall never be ruined!”
Now what are the channels through which our children receive the faith?
1. A Life of Worship
This is the main channel through which our children receive the faith. Standing to pray in front of an icon depicting the Lord Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary holding the Lord makes an indelible impression on the child’s mind. Such an early experience contributes, with baptism, to the new birth of the child from the womb of the Church.
The child who feels that the church at home is an extension of the church to which he or she goes more than once a week will himself become a small church and his future home will, in turn, be a church too. We notice how a child turns his home into a church if he attends mass with the family regularly. He or she imitates the hymn singing, the deacon, and the priest as he moves around with the censer or sprinkles the congregation with water. How lovely it is when a child becomes a Song-Leader in church and when a young man becomes a Reader in the house of God because then the imprints of the altar in his life will never be erased! As the saints have said: “Anyone who is far from the altar is deprived of the bread of God!”
How lovely it is when the tape recorder at home plays hymns, the liturgy, and sermons, and when the video shows uplifting spiritual films.
2. A Christian Education
This is the second channel through which the faith is transmitted since “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17). Here we should always remember the role of the grandparents when they tell their grandchildren stories from the Bible, starting with creation, the flood, the tower of Babel, and Moses and going on to the birth of Jesus in the flesh, His crucifixion, His resurrection, His ascension to heaven, and the establishment of His church. Grandparents usually have more free time than fathers and mothers, but the Bible stories and the work of the Word are two very important elements in the education and upbringing of children. Many parents have gotten to know the Bible better when they started telling their children some of its stories. The Bible is a glorious blessing to every age-group because it is the best school and the best law.
Parents should also be concerned about the regular attendance of their children at Sunday school, at church services, and at Communion. All these build up a store of faith and education for the succeeding generations.
Christ said: If your brother sins, go and tell him about it!
Christ said: Love your enemies!
Christ said: It is more blessed to give than to receive!
3. Family Peace.
“There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.” (Is. 48: 22). This is true; the husband and wife who are far from the Lord and who are engrossed in their egos and their pleasures cannot live in peace. In contrast, the husband and wife who are close to the Lord, who believe that He is with them in all their problems and guides their family wisely, live in real peace. That peace, the fruit of their faith, is noticed and appreciated by their children. It is a vital channel through which the family can know the Spirit of Christ, His mind, and His forbearance. I can never forget that once when I was visiting a godly and blessed Christian family, a relative come over in tears, all worked up, and complained of her husband in a loud voice. This disturbed the quiet and peaceful atmosphere of the family. A little girl leapt into her mother’s arms and cried out: “Mum, let this lady leave.” Naturally, she was not used to loud disputes, but only to the quiet love.
4. Dealing with Difficulties
There is not doubt that the Christian family which has real faith can easily pass it on to its children through the way it handles different situations. It is a loving family that has a genuine and sincere love for everyone, so the children notice and absorb this spirit. It is a wise family which handles its problems quietly and avoids getting involved in quarrels and disputes that are not of the Spirit of God. It is a serving family since it serves everybody cheerfully and in the joy of giving. It also adheres to the principles of the Lord Jesus Christ of Whom Isaiah prophesied, “He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets: (Mt. 12: 19). Such a family models itself on the commandments, love and mind of the Lord.
What ruins children more than to see their parents’ disputes, whether inside or outside the family? How great is the responsibility the parents must bear for bringing up their children well!
5. The Family Library
It is perfectly acceptable for the family library to include daily newspapers, magazines and general publications suitable for children and young people, but it is also important that parents organize a small library suitable for their children according to their ages. Nowadays, many constructive Christian publications are available, whether Bible stories, or the lives of the saints, or explanations of the liturgical services, or other suitable books for young people. “Reading edifies the wandering mind,” said one of the saints. That is why we should concentrate on the role of books in children’s lives, especially since TV and other audio-visual media have weakened people’s ability to read as most people just sit passively in front of the box, absorbing whatever they see. Some programs are good, but most of them have harmful effects.
The family library should also include the Bible and books that help young people interpret it. These can stimulate people’s minds and fill them with spiritual ideas, giving the evil ideas no opportunity to get a grip of them.
6. Educational Trips
These can include visiting monasteries, the Coptic museum, or exchanging visits with churches in or outside your area. All these trips allow children and young people to learn about the path to eternal life as they meet and talk with monks who have given up the world, with priests who can give them insights into the mind of Christ and the works of the Spirit, or with brothers and sisters who are following the same path they are. This is how a young person can grow spiritually in a relationship with God, psychologically at ease in a social group, intellectually as he grows in knowledge, and physically as he trains and plays sports.
These are some of the channels that a family can use to pass on the faith to its children, to swell the number of those who are to dwell in the eternal kingdom and are saved from condemnation on the last day.
May the Lord bless the lives of all to the glory of His Holy Name!