By Elder Paisius the Athonite
Part I - The children.
When your children are still little, you must help them understand the nature of goodness. And that is the most profound meaning of life.
The best parent is the one who has been spiritually rejuvenated himself and helps the spiritual renaissance of his children, in order to provide life in paradise for their souls.
The elder often pointed out that one must have absolute trust in God’s Providence and not plan for children, because children are given by God. And He alone knows how many children to give, - He alone and no one else. Some people, of course, in view of life’s hardships decide to have only one child, and so they take preventive measures. However, that is a great sin, because such Christians show that they believe they can settle their affairs better than God can.
Being proud, they underestimate God’s Providence. But God sees both the spiritual state and the economic situation of such Christians, and much more besides, which we do not see and do not know. And if a family is poor and barely has sufficient means to raise one child, then the One Who knows all can take care of strengthening the family’s economic situation.
To those who try to acquire children either through artificial insemination or through adoption, the elder explained that God had deprived them of children for their own good. And they should not try to obtain what they desire by human means, for subsequently they will learn that in not giving them children God had shown concern for their own welfare. We must always remember that only those affairs work out which are in accord with God’s will and not with our stubborness or our human pretensions.
To many people God has not given children on purpose, so that they would come to love the children of the entire world as their own. God deprived them of a lesser family in order to grant them the right - which He grants only to few - to belong to the great family of Christ.
The elder also reminded them of the righteous Joachim and Anna, who remained childless to a ripe old age, which at that time was considered to be undesirable, and they were consequently insulted by other people. God, however, knew that from them would be born the Holy Theotokos, Who, in turn, would give birth to the Saviour of mankind, our Lord Jesus Christ!
The elder often said that some parents set a goal of having many children and God, of course, allows them - because He respects the will with which He Himself had endowed man. But afterwards the parents of many children encounter numerous problems: overrating their strength they give life, for example, to eight, but as a result they are unable to cope with the multitude of concerns entailed in raising such a number of children.
The elder said that God Himself determines the number of children in a family: if He sees that the parents would be unable to raise another child, He immediately ceases giving them children. But those who strived to acquire children forcefully, the elder advised to leave the matter to God, for only He knew when the time was ripe. Some parents, though being spiritually unsettled, “pressure” God to give them a child when they feel like it. In His love God grants the child; however, they soon see that this child, growing up, becomes unsettled because he has inherited the passions of his parents, and the latter embark upon new and graver concerns, having acquired a child who - through no fault of his own - has inherited their passions, from which they did not think of ridding themselves before asking God so intensely for a child.
Thus, the elder believed that parents should place themselves completely in God’s hands and not impede His will. Let the parents allow God to act in accordance with His will, and for that His grace and His blessing will dwell within their hearts and will envelop their family.
And God gave a great blessing to the first-created people - to be co-creators. Our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and so on - all the way from Adam and Eve - have been allowed by the Lord to be creators: they give us our bodies. From the moment that a child becomes conceived, the parents give him a body and God gives him a soul. As soon as a child is born, as soon as he is baptized, God gives him a guardian angel, and the child is protected by God, his guardian angel and his parents. As the children grow up, the parents become freed of responsibility to some degree. And when God takes the parents, the guardian angel naturally continues to protect the person, just as God does.
However, we see that many parents supposedly do not know this (or forget that there is God the protector, or that the guardian angel stands nearby) and they continuously worry so much about their children that they even become sick! But we, Orthodox Christians, by worrying we impede the action of divine Providence. Therefore, let the parents do everything they can for their children, but when they reach the limit, let them become humble and give their children over to God’s care, for then God will be obliged to help their children.
And children nowadays do not understand even the simplest things; it does not matter that they did not understand when they were small, when their parents protected them by restraining them in a crib. But now, when they have grown up, they still do not understand that even now there should be some restraint, a certain limit on freedom. They do not understand this restraint, but it must be understood in order for them to become real adults, intelligent and mature; this restraint is needed for their own good: a gardener ties up a sapling not in order to destroy it, covers it with a net not in order to prevent it from growing, but to protect the sapling from being eaten by goats.
But what do some children do? They run like a heifer freed from restraint and think that they have really become free. And what is the result? The heifer either becomes strangled by his own rope, or falls into a chasm, or is eaten by wolves….
This is how arrogant children act nowadays: they seek this so-called freedom, but in the end this freedom leads them…. this same freedom which the West has, leads our children - where? Where have they gone to? How many times young men came to my cell…. miserable, destroyed by narcotics and wine. They ask for my help, the poor ones. And I have been able to help one or two - but my heart is torn apart for all of them….They seek help, but how can one help them all?
They destroy themselves, they destroy their parents! Therefore, you should understand the need for restraining these children… such a restraint is God’s blessing. Be grateful to the parents who restrain you. And if, say, they put more pressure on you than is necessary, it is done only out of love. Out of love for you.