A HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF THE VENERABLE EUPHROSYNE AND PAPHNUTIUS, HER FATHER
(Sept. 25/Oct. 8)
About the Life of the Saints and the Christian Upbringing of Children
Brothers and sisters!
The Holy Orthodox Church commemorates as the chief saints of this day Euphrosyne and Paphnutius, a daughter and father who lived in fifth century Alexandria of Egypt. Euphrosyne’s parents, both of whom were highborn, raised her in accordance with strict Christian piety, but her mother died when the girl was twelve years old. Paphnutius continued to rear Euphrosyne as before and especially saw to it that his daughter became intimately acquainted with the sacred Scriptures. As a result of this upbringing, the maiden came to be well-known among the nobility not only for her beauty, but for her chaste, prudent, and devout character.
When Euphrosyne reached the proper age, many noble, wealthy parents began entertaining hopes that she would marry into their family. Eventually Paphnutius agreed to a union with the son of a particularly distinguished nobleman, and consequently took his daughter to the eminent superior of a local monastery to obtain a blessing for the marriage. The abbot blessed Euphrosyne, but then, instead of talking with her about Christian family life, he spoke in praise of virginity. He also told Paphnutius and Euphrosyne to remain for three days at the monastery’s guest house.
During her stay at the monastery, Euphrosyne marveled at the reading and chanting in the community’s church and the monks’ angelic way of life, and she was filled with divine zeal to imitate the monks’ conduct. She decided to embrace monasticism and waited for a convenient opportunity to effect this. Euphrosyne was eighteen years old at the time.
Knowing that her father would find her if she entered a convent, when her chance came the maiden pretended to be a eunuch and entered a men’s monastery. Her father was extremely distraught by her disappearance, but his efforts to find her came to naught. For thirty-eight years Euphrosyne led a strict life in the monastery and in time won profound respect as a venerable elder, but no one ever discovered her secret.
During the whole period of Euphrosyne’s life in the monastery, her father continued to grieve for her. Once, when quite elderly, he happened to visit the monastery to pray, and his daughter, who was sick and dying, revealed her identity to him. Paphnutius fell to the ground in shock as if dead. Subsequently, he sold his possessions, gave the proceeds to the poor and the monastery, and became a monk there. By this time his daughter had reposed, and he was given her cell. Paphnutius led a holy life for the remainder of his days and reposed upon the straw mat that had served as Euphrosyne’s bed.
Brothers and sisters, the Life of Saints Euphrosyne and Paphnutius is one of the most beautiful stories that has come down to us from antiquity and shows the wonderful results of a truly Christian upbringing. Whoever wishes to read the full account will find it in the September volume of The Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints by the holy hierarch Demetrius of Rostov. Most certainly, it repays careful study.
In times past, there were many children who were raised as was Saint Euphrosyne, and so there were many saints, as well as many more children who grew up to be, if not saints, then true sons and daughters of the Church. What, then, are the reasons that in our day so many children – even of families that attend divine services regularly – end up living in a manner alien to the Orthodox way of life?
The answers to this are varied and numerous. Obviously, the ever-increasing attractions of a purely secular life, with its manifold distractions and divertments, is a very important one. But is not at least part of the problem the way that a majority of Orthodox parents today approach the whole matter of the Christian upbringing of children?
One very real pitfall some parents fall into is excessive strictness. They scold and yell at their children out of anger, giving vent to their own passions, in a manner entirely out of proportion to the problem they are facing. They also make quite unrealistic demands. Such parents forget the Apostle’s exhortation: Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath. Better if they would overlook minor transgressions and save their corrections for major ones, lest they eventually exasperate their sons and daughters, who will sooner or later reject both them and the divine truths they are attempting to impart, unless they change their approach.
In our time, however, it is much more common for parents to fail to use their God-given authority over their children with sufficient vigor. Parents must love their offspring, but in a rational manner. Whatever their own shortcomings, they must be careful not to display them to their children, and remember that their children are their charges, not their friends. Their demands on their children should be as minimal as possible, but they must be mindful of the fact that children are inherently immature, and so if the demands they do make are sensible, then they must be absolute. They must not give way when the children object, lest they themselves undermine their own parental authority by misplaced condescension. In the end, a child must learn obedience and respect for his parents.
The foundation of such obedience and respect is the fear of God. Solomon’s words, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, are truth eternal. They are confirmed by many related passages in the Scriptures, such as this one from Ecclesasticus: He that feareth the Lord honoureth his father, and serveth them who gave him birth as his masters. Providence has wisely ordained that in man two natural feelings are closely linked together: the fear of God and submission to one’s parents. When children love God, it is normal for them to love and obey their parents. When the sweet spirit of submission and devotion to the Lord has taken root in a child, it is impossible for him not to love and try to please his parents. The devout, Godfearing child thinks thus: “How can I offend my parents? If I do so, I will offend God. What sort of Christian am I, if I do not respect my father or my mother?” From this you can see why Saint Paul commands parents to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The nurture and admonition of the Lord instills the fear of God in a child’s heart, and the fear of God strengthens a child’s obedience to his parents and his love for them. This disposition remains in place even when the child becomes an adult, although its expression naturally changes.
The main reason, however, that children today are so likely to go astray is simply that parents fail to give sufficient attention to their religious upbringing and education, even if they do bring them to church. Parents are obsessed with the physical health of their children, their entertainment, their success in school and in sports, and so forth, but not so concerned about the well-being of their soul. They say to their children, “Go to church and learn the law of God there,” and with this it more or less ends. They do not understand that the home, not the church, is the primary arena where the battle for a child’s soul is fought. The church is indispensable, but without reinforcement of what the child sees and hears there, it almost never suffices. A child soon understands what is most important to a parent, and if it is the things of this world, then he is only too happy to follow the parent’s lead. Thus, what is most needed here is consistent, devout parental example combined with intense parental teaching, both parents participating. Otherwise, the child will almost certainly become like all the others, with a heart and soul cold to faith and God. He will not pray on his own, he will not read soul-saving books, and he will not keep the fasts and feasts of the Church when he grows up. Instead of being filled with the fear of God and love for the temple and the life in Christ, his heart and mind will be oriented to a single goal: worldly advantage, however he chooses to define this. He will seek not to please God, but to please himself.
Our Lord Jesus Christ said, Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Therefore, parents, make it your first concern to instill faith and piety in your children by all the means available to you, and if they choose to follow what you have shown and taught them, then rest assured that they shall have everything else they need in life. Amen.
 Eph. 6:3
 Ps. 6:7
 Ecclus. 3:4
 Eph. 6:4
 Matt. 6:33