Can parents be brought to faith and how to talk to them about God?
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Q: A “child” who asks this question may be 18 or 45 years old, may live with his parents and feel an acute religious conflict, or may live separately and at a distance feel that he and his parents do not have unity in faith. In any case, for many, this topic is very painful. Does it often arise in your pastoral and psychological practice?

A: Quite often. Not only children, but also parents, and husbands, and wives try to bring their loved ones to the Church after them. And this is natural. Because the family is a single whole and, of course, everyone wants to have a unity of traditions, rituals, ceremonies, rules, everyday culture, spiritual unity in the family.

But it is just as natural that the family will resist when someone begins to go to church and tries to lead others too.

You have to understand that in every family there is a system of values, which, as a spiritual heritage, is passed on to descendants from one generation to another. By this heritage, people identify themselves: we are a family. And everywhere this system of values will be very different. For example: we consider ourselves Orthodox, but we do not go to church services. Or: yes, we make Easter bread, but it is not customary for us to fast. And for a person who grew up in a family, it is important to feel that they belong to this family, and therefore, belong to this system of values.

And suddenly one of the family members becomes a church member, fervently believes and tries to convert everyone to Orthodoxy. Of course, by doing this, they pull the rug out from under their family’s feet. With their new way of life, they seem to demonstrate that all the values and traditions that you have built up are nothing compared to the wealth that they acquired in the Church. A person who has just come to faith acts, as a rule, with neophyte ardour, trying to observe everything exactly as the rules instruct them to do, without regard to the fact that it may be unpleasant, uncomfortable, even offensive to someone, and loved ones can suffer because of this. In our time, we already have such a saying: when one saint appears in a family, all the rest become martyrs.

It is especially unpleasant for older family members when a child is trying to remake everyone (even if this child is 18, 30, or 40 years old). Therefore, it is not surprising that the family is trying to resist such pressure. After all, in the family circle, we still remain free individuals. And our spiritual movements don not necessarily match.

At the same time, we must not forget that love for our family is measured by our loyalty. Isn't it important for us to feel belonging to our family? Of course! Therefore, we must be loyal to all the rules of our family. Because if we stop observing them and begin to live by some other rules, we will come into conflict with our relatives. It is painful, it is unpleasant, and sometimes it can lead a family into a difficult crisis.

A child cannot educate and remake his parents. This is disrespectful and certainly violates the fifth commandment.

Q: But we're not just talking about some traditions, but about the fact that the person has found God. And a new, wonderful world really opened up for him. Is it bad to wish that your parents had a glance at this world too? Yes, they say that you cannot save someone who does not want to be saved. But maybe the task of a child who has come to faith is at least to try to awaken this desire in the parents?

A: In such a formulation of the question (and I know it from my own experience) there is disrespect for parents. Because mom or dad are perceived as objects to be educated... Communists and Komsomol members said the same when they tried to lead their believing parents off the spiritual path. They had the same eagerness to remake, to wean from the Orthodox tradition and to instill in the communist tradition. Today everything is repeated, only the other way round. This is the same fanaticism inherent in neophytism.

And my answer here as a shepherd, as a psychologist, as a person who himself once stepped on this rake: a child should not remake, educate his parents. This is disrespectful, inappropriate, and certainly violates the fifth commandment.

The author of the letter has already written what a child can do for loved ones: to testify about Christ by his own example and fervently pray to God for them. Everything else is in the hands of the Lord. And of course, we should not forget that, in addition to our prayer for our parents, there is something more important: God's endless love for every person, including those who are not yet striving for Him.

Parents are very attentive to their children. They listen very carefully to our conversations, they learn a lot from us.

They just don't do it as clear as we would like. Therefore, all neophyte impulses, of course, must somehow be brought into reasonable boundaries.

Q: It is not so easy, and it’s almost impossible to avoid mistakes in the relationship with one’s parents...

A: It is possible, if you have an experienced shepherd. An experienced priest will give good practical advice and help curb the neophyte ardour. Although before my eyes, due to unrestrained, immoderate neophytism, many families fell apart, even though people were guided by experienced confessors. But out of their fervor they did not want to listen to anything, they did not want to back down. And they simply pressed on their loved ones with such force that the family eventually collapsed.

I myself was the first believer in the family and went through all crises - both marital and parental - and I know the subject of our conversation firsthand. Of course, it is impossible to completely hide your neophytism, and you will inevitably make mistakes. But a spiritual father or mentor (of course, if you listen to him) can prevent some of the mistakes. I had such a shepherd. And he always reminded me that family is more important and that family values ​​must not be compromised.

Q: Family is more important than what?

A: Than rituals, than fasting, than services. You want to go to the all-night vigil, to the liturgy, and the family wants to go somewhere for the weekend. Go with your family. Take care of the family, cherish the family, treasure it - this is what my spiritual father told me. And I perfectly understood why he said that. And yes, I compromised.

It will take years for the family to get used to it and accept your attitude to faith. And gradually the family's way of life will change, and it will be natural for everyone that you go to the service every Saturday and Sunday, that you observe fasting and so on. Everyone understands how important this is for you and respects your choice. And you respect theirs.

All family members should treat each other with understanding: parents should respect that their child goes to church, prays at home, fasts, talks with the confessor, and the child - that the topic of faith is not close to the parents. The key to such understanding is love and mutual respect.

Q: When you talk about pressure on parents, do you mean direct calls to go to church, to change their life? Or, in general, any mention of this topic will be perceived as pressure, and it is better for the child to keep away from it, not to share with mom and dad his feelings, for example, about the past service, about the upcoming Communion?

A: If the family does not have the strict prohibition to speak out on the topic of faith, if it respects the interests of family members, then, of course, it is even necessary to share your experiences! After all, communication and emotional support are the most important components of our family life. We come home in the evening and say: “I was in church today, they sang so well, it was so beautiful!” We share feelings, experiences, knowledge; and this is one of the most important channels of our communication. But we do not impose our opinion on others, that is, we communicate, and communication implies equality.

I remember when I came to the Church, I had a lot of discussions with different people at the university, with friends, with my parents. Of course, we never argued with my mother, we just talked about these topics. But with my father we had the most tense disputes. We brought forward all the arguments known to us from our education, starting from Adam. And it's okay if there is an open dialogue in the family.

A family where there is communication, emotional mutual support and understanding, such a family is alive. But as soon as someone starts dictating values or something else, it gets into a crisis. And it starts to defend itself.

Q: A young girl sent a letter to Foma's mail: her parents are quite loyal to the fact that she goes to church, but reading the morning and evening rules, her prayers before meals embarrass and sometimes even annoy them. It seems to them that going to church is good, but attending all the services of Holy Week is too much, fanaticism. In this regard, how to build the relationship correctly? How, on the one hand, not to embarrass the parents, and on the other, not to compromise your own wish for spiritual life?

A: The question this girl asked, and it is important to understand, not about religion, but exclusively about the family relationship. About respect in the family for the individual and freedom of each person. Therefore, in such cases, it is worth discussing with a confessor, and perhaps with a psychologist, precisely the crisis moments in the relationship with the parents.

After all, if we respect each other, we recognize that the other can live as they see fit. And if a person lives with their values, rituals (I repeat: and does not impose them on others), if they pray and fast, what's wrong with that? This does not distort family love in any way. And a different lifestyle of one of the family members will never be a problem. But if the family has a claim to unity and synchronicity in everything, then serious misunderstandings, resentments, conflicts may arise.

Therefore, my answer to the girl: what you do, normally should not negatively affect your family. Because a person can pray in their room, pray before meals as they see fit. Yes, perhaps the parents will find it ostentatious, provocative (after all, neophytism is always very demonstrative, provocative). But if there is love and mutual respect, any parent will tolerate it.

Can parents be brought to faith and how to talk to them about God?

Q: Many parents often have a negative attitude towards their child's confessor. And no matter how the child tries to smooth out the situation, the parents are simply jealous, because he has a new authority that helps him to live righteously. How to avoid giving parents a reason to be jealous?

A: Hard to say. This is the art of family life. Indeed, art. It is impossible to prescribe any recipes, they do not exist, they are born in the specific situation. But if the relationship is based on love and respect, then you can always negotiate and find some kind of compromise.

But it also happens that, taking advantage of the conflict associated with the presence of a spiritual father, children start to unconsciously settle scores with their parents, and then their coming to faith simply coincides with a family crisis, which has different roots. Therefore, the question about the spiritual father is also not of a religious nature. If there is a latent conflict inside the family, then religion will only be an excuse to get into it: “Now I am a believer, I will show them! I will prove that I am independent, that I will not live like them, I will show them what morality is, because their actions are immoral.” If such a motive unconsciously exists in a young man, then this, of course, has nothing to do with either Christianity or religion.

Q: The peculiarity of our time is that often parents come to church after their children. And if this really happened, how can the child build further communication? Is it worth it to offer your help in some issues, to support them emotionally? Or let the parents go their own way?

A: From which position we are now speaking? Educator? But this is a disrespectful attitude towards parents. You don't need to educate your parents, you just need to respect them. Mom went to church, and thank God! But her son or daughter should not assess her, put further pressure on her, they should simply respect her decisions, her actions, her way of life. It's enough. And what to do exactly, love will tell. There are no special techniques, and there shouldn't be any.

If you truly love and respect your parents, you will not force them or put any psychological pressure on them. Where there is respect, there is no violence or manipulation

Q: Did you have any stories in your practice when parents, through the prayers of their children, were baptized and came to faith at the end of their lives?

A: Of course, I did. But I would not like to talk about them, because for me, as a priest, such stories are rather ambiguous, difficult, and I certainly would not want to talk about them as an example.

Let me explain why. One of the most wonderful baptisms I have ever performed is the baptism of a young man who is still alive. A wonderful doctor, a clever guy who loved his family, his wife, he was baptized with faith, with joy, with love, with an understanding of every step he took. He did not want to miss anything, asked to be led through full catechesis, to prepare as much as possible for this sacrament. He invited his wife, mother-in-law, everyone to the ceremony. That was a real celebration!

But when a person is already weak and dying, and baptized while lying in bed... Yes, this must be done if it is their will. But the question is, where was this person before, when they were healthy? Why only now are they thinking about such an important issue?

Q: But this is so joyful that, at least at the end of their life, a person believed!

A: You see, if a person consciously lived in unbelief, then this is their choice, which we, as Christians, are obliged to respect. We cannot accept such a position, it is fatal for us. But we recognize the right of choice for this person. Now, if a person was not consciously an atheist, simply because they were too lazy to change something or did not care, this is a different story, and this, of course, is a sadder case.

But it happens that a person doubts and hesitates even on their deathbed. And then, already in a delirium, in a semi-conscious state, they wake up for some seconds, and the children, taking this opportunity, convince them that they urgently need to be baptized, like this: “we will call the priest now, he will baptize you, give you communion, and then you can calmly die...” And in this state, the person will nod their head, and that's it, like “do what you want.” But this is not baptism! Unfortunately, I myself have performed such ordinances, and my heart is still restless about this. Because it is not a free choice, but a giving in of a sick person to the psychological pressure of healthy people.

It happens, of course, when a sick person is consciously baptized. I have had such cases when a person who is almost literally in a coma suddenly has enough strength to say clearly and distinctly: “I want to be baptized.” It is impossible to judge how clear this consciousness is, but at least they repeat the words of the prayer, they bring repentance. Then yes, then I am ready to confirm that it was a freewill baptism. But the question still remains: where were you, when you were healthy, when you could consciously and reasonably defend your point of view? It means you had other interests.

I understand that it’s good for the relatives: “my mom was baptized before her death, and now I will add her name in the commemoration book, and together with everyone I will honor Saturday of Remembrance, give notes, light a candle for her.” Yes, in a conventional sense, it is peace for a daughter or son. But in this way of thinking, there is nothing about the personality of your parent, about his or her “I”, about his or her relationship with God. It is only about yourself.

Can parents be brought to faith and how to talk to them about God?

Q: Wait, but isn’t it really happiness for a child that at least on the deathbed his parent is baptized! After all, he is no longer dying an atheist...

A: Yes, it is a great joy for a son or daughter. And for the one who appeared before the Lord, is this the same joy? If a person in illness before death really sincerely repents and sincerely comes to Christ, then everyone rejoices, both on earth and in Heaven. But if a person is baptized in illness and takes communion because, for example, they terribly want to be healed or hope that they will die sooner and stop suffering, or succumb to the pressure of their loved ones, then what kind of joy is this?

When a person before death wants to be baptized or to confess and take communion, I, as a priest, can never refuse this. But one should not rejoice and cite this as an example; one should not consider it the norm of Christian life.

Again and again, it is very important to love and respect your parents. And if you really respect them, then you will not coerce them and exert psychological pressure on them. Where there is respect, there is no violence or manipulation.

You said that a child is happy if mom or dad were baptized before death. This is all true. Sometimes someone in church comes up to me and says: “I would like to pray for your parents.” And I answer that my dad was unbaptized and died without repentance. And once at such a moment I caught myself thinking that I was ashamed of it and embarrassed. And sometimes it flashes in my head: oh, I must not miss this chance with my mother, she must be baptized at all costs.

See how much narcissism is there? To baptize my mother only, when some compassionate parishioner will ask me about her, to answer with a “calm” soul: “yes, she was baptized, this is her holy name.” I, of course, worry about my mother and with all my heart I want her to accept Holy Baptism, I pray about it. But it's scary when you notice that sometimes you want it just for your own sake. Not for her sake. It shouldn’t be this way.