My mother is so much more creative than I am. A few years ago, when our oldest, Andrew, was around a year old, she made him a beautiful book. This book was an introduction to his family–their names, a picture of them, and a picture of them with my son. He loved looking at pictures of his grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles, mom and dad.
He loved seeing his family.
When we became Orthodox Christians eleven years ago, I was a little uncertain about how to handle the saints. I mean, they seemed so foreign to my Protestant upbringing. Who were these people whose icons filled the walls of our church? Why should I care about them? What did they have to do with my life?
And then I realized that they were my family.
In the Orthodox Church, we realize that no Christian can live a life of faith alone. We are part of a community–and not just a local community (although that is extremely important). Our community, our family, is all over the world, and throughout time.
Just as I inherited my great-grandmother’s feisty temperament, learned from my grandfather’s love of the land, and try to emulate my mother’s gift of teaching, so also am I connected to my spiritual family. These saints who have gone before me provide me with examples of the faith. They pray for me as I go through trials. They cheer me on in my journey toward salvation.
Once I realized how important this community of the saints truly is, I needed to figure out how to introduce my children to this family.
Teaching Your Children About the Saints
In my experience, children tend to be fascinated by the saints. Babies and toddlers love to kiss icons, young children enjoy picture books depicting their lives, and older children and teens find inspiration in their faith. Here are a few things that I, as a mother and Church school teacher, have found helpful:
1. Take Children to Church
When you are at church, point out the icons of the saints on the walls and the iconostasis. Explain that the icons of Christ and the Theotokos are always at the front, as well as those of St. John the Baptist and the patron saint of the church.
Help them pick out icons depicting feasts that they know. See if they can find an icon of the saint they are named after.
Point out the hymn for the saint who is being remembered that day. If your church prints a description of that saint’s life in the bulletin, take it home and read it together at dinner. Sing, chant, or read the hymn for the saint again.
2. Listen to the Saint of the Day Feature
Ancient Faith Radio has a great featured podcast called the Saint of the Day. This very brief (usually 2-5 minute) feature reads the life of the saint of the day. I have learned so much by listening to it daily! Your family could listen together at a set time each day–perhaps Morning or Evening Prayers or at dinner. Try to ask questions and have a discussion afterward.
3. Read Children’s Books
There are so many great picture books about the lives of the saints. Consider purchasing a few to add to your family’s library. Or, perhaps other families at your church could start a book exchange program. A few of our favorite books are:
4. Celebrate Name Days
Make a big deal about your child’s name day. (In the Orthodox Church, each child is given the name of a saint with whom they have a special connection throughout their life.) I’ve written more extensively about ideas for celebrating a name day here. Help your child learn more about their saint and develop this relationship.
5. Fill the House with Icons
Each Orthodox home is to be a “Little Church.” One simple yet profound way to do this is to have many icons around the home and in the icon corner. Let your children see and venerate the icons, tell them the stories of those saints, ask for their prayers. If our homes are filled with pictures of our earthly families, shouldn’t they also be filled with images of our spiritual family?
Other helpful resources:
-I love listening to Elissa Bjeletich’s “Raising Saints” podcast on Ancient Faith radio. She gives many practical tips for raising Orthodox children, shares helpful ways for teaching the faith and traditions of the Church, and offers encouragement to parents.
-Sylvia at Adventures of an Orthodox Mom has many posts about various saints
As we strive to raise our children in the faith, let us introduce them to the saints who have gone before. Then, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us press on toward the prize–Christ Jesus.
How do you teach your children about the saints?
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