Parents: What do you really want?

This month’s “Page From The Past” features extracts from the Twenty-first Homily on the Epistle to the Ephesians: On Marriage and Family written by John Chrysostom, Patriarch (Archbishop) of Constantinople from 398-404 AD. Despite having been written more than 1,500 years ago, John Chrysostom’s words on parenting are strikingly relevant even today. Some of these extracts were previously printed in the June 1988 issue of Methodist Message.


‘DO YOU WANT YOUR CHILD to be obedient? Then from the beginning bring him up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Do not think that it is not necessary for a child to listen to the Scriptures; don’t say, “Bible-reading is for monks; am I turning my child into a monk?” No! It is not necessary for him to be a monk. Make him into a Christian! Why are you afraid of something so good?

It is necessary for everyone to know the scriptural teachings, and this is especially true for children. Even at their age they are exposed to all sorts of folly and bad examples from popular entertainments. Our children need remedies for all these things.

We are so concerned with our children’s schooling; if only we were equally zealous in bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord! And then we wonder why we reap such bitter fruit when we have raised our children to be insolent, licentious, impious and vulgar.

Let us heed the blessed Paul’s admonition to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Let us give them a pattern to imitate; from their earliest years let us teach them to study the Bible.

Why do you refuse to imitate the holy men and women of old? Think of Hannah’s example; look at what she did. She brought Samuel, her only son, to the temple, when he was only an infant. Who among you would not rather have a son like Samuel than one who became king of the whole world ten thousand times over?

“But it is impossible,” you say, “for my son ever to become as great as he.” Why is it impossible? Because you do not really want it; you will not entrust him to the One who is able to make him great.

And who is that? God.

Hannah commended Samuel into the hands of God. The high priest Eli had no real ability to form him, since he even failed to form his own children. It was the mother’s faith and zeal that made everything possible. He was her first and only child. She did not know if she would ever have another, yet she never said, “I’ll wait until he grows up; he should have a taste of worldly pleasures, during his childhood at least.” No; she rejected all these thoughts, for she had only one object: how from the very beginnings she could dedicate her heart’s delight to God.

Be ashamed, you men, at the wisdom of this woman. She gave Samuel to God, and with God she left him, and thus her marriage was blessed more than ever, because her first concern was for spiritual things. She dedicated the first-fruits of her womb to God and obtained many more children in return. She saw Samuel honoured even in this life.

Let everything take second place to our care for our children, our bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. If from the beginning we teach them to love true wisdom, they will have greater wealth and glory than riches can provide. If a child learns a trade, or is highly educated for a lucrative profession, all this is nothing compared to the art of detachment from riches; if you want to make your child rich, teach him this. He is truly rich who does not desire great possessions or surround himself with wealth, but who requires nothing.

This is how to discipline and teach your child; this is the greatest of riches. Do not worry about giving him an influential reputation for worldly wisdom, but ponder deeply how you can teach him to think lightly of this life’s passing glories; thus he will become truly renowned and glorious. Whether you are poor or rich, you can do this; these lessons are not learned from a skillful professor but from divine revelation.

Do not ask how he can enjoy a long life here, but how he can enjoy an infinite and eternal life in the age to come. Give him the great things, not the little things. Do not strive to make him a clever orator, but teach him to love true wisdom. He will not suffer if he lacks clever words; but if he lacks wisdom, all the rhetoric in the world cannot help him.

A pattern of life is what is needed, not empty speeches; character, not cleverness; deeds, not words. These things will secure the Kingdom and bestow God’s blessing. Do not sharpen his tongue but purify his soul. I do not mean that worldly learning is worthless and to be ignored, but it should not be an exclusive preoccupation.

Tell me, which trees are best? Do we not prefer those that are inwardly strong and are not injured by rainstorms, or hail, or gusts of wind, or by any sort of harsh weather, but stand exposed to them all without fences or garden to protect them? He who truly loves wisdom is like this, and his riches we have already described. A fence does not provide internal strength, nor is a wall a natural support; they provide only artificial protection. What is a strong body? Is it not one that is healthy, whether hungry or surfeited, cold or warm? Or is it something that is dependent upon restaurants, tailors, merchants, and physicians for health?

Therefore wealth is a hindrance, because it leaves us unprepared for the hardships of life.

So, let us raise our children in such a way that they can face any trouble, and not be surprised when difficulties come; let us bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.’ – MM June 1988, p. 12, edited.


Compiled by Grace Toh