If you are Christian and you send your children to public school in the United States, you are sending your lambs to be devoured by wolves with an insatiable hunger. Unless you give your children armor to defend themselves, they will not emerge unscathed.
Without armor, during their years in school, your children will be bullied into accepting views contrary to Christian belief. Once they enter college or university, they will be exposed to more intense bullying, and those without the defense of a fully formed Christian conscience will fall.
Ill-formed and defenseless Christians will leave college with an understanding of faith far different from what they had when they entered if they retain anything of the faith at all. Most likely, they will enter the ranks of the many who no longer have a moral authority above themselves.
Unfortunately, the parents of many of today’s young, and many of their own parents before them, entered public school with a poorly formed Christian conscience. The same is true of those who in recent years have attended Catholic schools, once places where you could be certain that your children would receive authentic instruction in the faith.
In The Path to Salvation, Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894), a Russian Orthodox saint, offers a remedy for the intrusion of “worldly thinking” into Christian thinking.
A new edition of The Path to Salvation was recently published by St. Paisius Monastery with the subtitle, A Concise Outline of Christian Ascesis. The subtitle for the previous edition was A Manual of Spiritual Transformation. Each is an excellent description of the book since A Path to Salvation is both a manual for Christian transformation and a concise outline of spiritual training for every stage of the Christian life.
With his advice for parents in The Path to Salvation Theophan offers guidance for giving children a foundation in Christian values and developing a conscience that will give them the best possible defense against the secular indoctrination they will encounter throughout their lives.
Parents who homeschool their children will find much here that validates their decision to educate their children themselves, along with practical advice that will help them to do an even better job of guiding and protecting their children.
Others will find a way here to transform their lives and the lives of their children. Some, however, will be greatly challenged by Theophan’s advice. And those least willing to follow the Christian path to salvation may even be outraged.
Depending on the child, children who are allowed to develop by their own will, Theophan writes, become hyperactive, inattentive, lazy, disobedient, unrestrained, angry, and aggressive. To combat this, parents must imprint their will on that of the child. Theophan is speaking, of course, of parents who have been formed well themselves as Christians, and so in imprinting their will, such parents imprint God’s will.
Children, therefore, must be kept under strict discipline so that they learn how to control the passions. As a result, parents must do the hard work of forming the child’s mind, will, and heart.
In forming the mind, Theophan writes, parents must save their children from worldly thinking. This starts with preventing their reading “books with corrupt concepts.” Today, of course, this means that parents must be willing to prevent access to a legion of corrupting influences, including those found in television shows, movies, video games, and what is available online.
Forming the will of a child requires parents to allow the child “to do nothing without permission” and at the same time to learn how to do good deeds.
The heart of a child is formed through a “church-centered life.” In such a life, children learn to love and take pleasure in sacred things. Theophan writes:
“Sympathy for everything sacred, pleasure in remaining in its midst for the sake of quietness and warmth, separation from what is bright and attractive in worldly vanity—all this cannot better be imprinted in the heart (than by a church-centered life).”
This, of course, means parents must be very careful about where they attend church.
Through a church-centered life, a child learns to know and love God’s will and develops a conscience informed by God’s will. Theophan writes: “The fear of God gives birth to prayer and makes the conscience clear.”
Parents, Theophan says, must pay the closest attention to guiding their child’s conscience so that the child is directed to a “single end”—unity with God, in Jesus Christ, in this life and in the next.
In writing about how to form a Christian child, Theophan guides parents in how to ensure that the Christian life begins and remains in their children.
Theophan’s writings on children, however, are only a part of The Path to Salvation. He also writes about youth, education, and how we awaken from sin and turn to God when we fall. He prescribes as well spiritual exercises for developing the whole Christian person, one who is filled with “the fire of active zeal for the pleasing of God.”
St. Theophan the Recluse’s The Path to Salvation is a book any serious Christian considering adding to their library.