I’m a big fan of the monastic traditions and the people that have been ground into the history of those. One of the monastics that I was introduced to in my spiritual formation is Saint John Chrysostom who has some of the most poetic prayers and liturgies we pray and read today.
But reading into some of his sermons & homilies is somewhat amusing as a glimpse into the understandings of the past. Here is Saint John Chrysostom’s thoughts on raising & teaching children (aka. youth, remember there wasn’t really a teenager back then, you went from a child to an adult in many cases).
“But now your children will utter songs and dances of Satan, like cooks, and caterers, and musicians; no one knows any psalm but it seems a thing to be ashamed of even, a mockery and a joke. There is the treasury house of all these evils. For whatsoever soil the plant stands in, such is the fruit it bears; if in a sandy and salty soil, of like nature is its fruit; if in a sweet and rich one, it is again similar. So the matter of instruction is a sort of fountain. Teach him to sing those psalms which are so full of the love of wisdom. When in these you have led him on from childhood, by little and little you will lead him forward even to the higher things” (Hom. IX On Colossians)
So according to SJC, you need to be teaching the Psalms & Hymns of the church. Are you?
“Do you wish your son to be obedient? From the very first, “Bring him up in the chastening and admonition of the Lord.” Never deem it an unnecessary thing that he should be a diligent hearer of the divine Scriptures. For there the first thing he hears will be this: ‘Honor thy father and thy mother’. So then, this is for you. Never say, ‘This is the business of monks’. Am I making a monk of him? No, there is no need he should become a monk. Why be so afraid of a thing so replete with so much advantage? Make him a Christian. For it is of all things necessary for laymen to be acquainted with the lessons derived from this source, but especially for children. For theirs is an age full of folly and to this folly are added the bad examples derived from the heathen tales, where they are made acquainted with those heroes so admired amongst them…[A child] requires therefore the remedies against these things. How is it not absurd to send children out to trades and to school, and to do all you can for these objectives, and yet, not to “Bring them up in the chastening and admonition of the Lord?” And for this reason truly we are the first to reap the fruits, because we bring up our children to be insolent and profligate, disobedient and mere vulgar fellows. Let us not then do this; no, let us listen to this blessed Apostle’s admonitions “Let us bring them up in the chastening and admonition of the Lord”. Let us give them a pattern. Let us make them from the earliest age apply themselves to the reading of the Scriptures…..Study not to make him an orator, but train him up to be a [Christian] philosopher. In the want of the one there will be no harm whatever; in the absence of the other, all the rhetoric in the world will be of no advantage. Tempers are wanted, not talking; character, not cleverness; deeds not word. These gain a man the kingdom. These confer what are benefits indeed. Whet not his tongue but cleanse his soul. I do not say this to prevent you teaching him these things, but to prevent your attending to them exclusively. Do not imagine that the monk alone stands in need of these lessons from Scripture. Of all others, the children just about to enter into the world especially need them.” (Hom. XXI Ephesians)
So follow Saint John Chrysostom’s advice in teaching the children scriptures. They are folly little creatures by all accounts.
I wonder what SJC would be like as a children or youth worker…. I have this idea that he’d be someone the young folks would love to learn from him not because his teaching style is super, in fact I bet it is far from an ‘active learning’ style promoted today, but that he was passionate about the scriptures and following Christ. That, would make a really great children & youth worker.