Godparents and Grandparents Are Part of the Team
I’ve enjoyed watching my son play basketball for his high school team over this past season. They have a good team at Shepherd Hill, and at the beginning of the season they had high hopes for how well they would do. The team has some very good players, yet one thing they’ve learned over the season is that no matter how many good individual players they have, if they don’t play well as a team, they won’t achieve their goal of winning districts. In fact, the best teams they’ve played this season have played precisely as TEAMS! It’s not a one-man show, but a team sport.
And even in individual sports, when it seems it’s all about one athlete, in reality this isn’t true. I remember watching my niece and nephew play tennis and become Division 1 tennis players. But even in such an individual sport as tennis, they could never have reached their level of play by themselves. First, there were the parents who initially taught them the sport and guided and supported them in their athletic journey. Then of course, there are the coaches, who taught and pushed the athlete throughout his/her life. Then there are the friends who have encouraged him, the fans who cheered on the athlete, and how many others.
The athlete is a great example of someone who needs a team around them to help them achieve their goals.
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What a beautiful analogy for the Christian life, especially today on this Grandparents and Godparents Sunday. Yes, at times it may seem like we struggle alone in our Christian journeys, but in reality the saying of the Church Fathers that “no one can be saved by themselves” rings true. Our journey towards God and into His heavenly Kingdom is a journey in community, a struggle where we encourage, nourish, comfort, strengthen and help one another draw closer to God. Our parents often are the ones who plant the seeds of belief and give birth to a living faith within us. There are many others throughout our lives, however, act as our spiritual coaches, teaching us to prepare for our spiritual battle and guiding us to overcome the many obstacles and failures that confront us. Still others serve as our trainers, caring for our injuries and bringing us back to health, while others act as our companions and co-athletes, pushing us on to new heights.
No one is an island. The authentic Christian life is a journey in community!
Today, on Godparents and Grandparents Sunday, we pause to give thanks to some very special people in this community and family of faith. Of course, parents should play the primary role in the spiritual upbringing of a child. It is in the home that children discover and develop their identity, cultivate their virtues, create their visions, and prepare to face the world outside. It is in the home that our children are first educated and taught about God. It is in the home that we say our first prayers, and discover the importance, or unimportance, of God. It is our family that creates a foundation that often stays with us until the end of our lives.
And yet, from the day of our baptism, the Church understands the necessity for parents to have help in teaching a child and leading him/her on the straight and narrow path towards the kingdom of heaven.
The Book of Proverbs wisely teaches, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from the path.” (Prov 22:6) In our secular society, parents need all the help they can get in overcoming the countless temptations and snares awaiting our children. If we want to raise our children according to the Orthodox Christian traditions, we face a daunting task to combat the many un-Christian influences found in television, pop-music, and the internet, not to say anything about the many anti-Christian role models too many celebrities and sports heroes offer.
St. Theofan the Recluse, a beloved Russian saint, once noted, “Of all holy works, the education of children is the most holy.” And we know that whenever we struggle for something sacred, the devil does not remain inactive.
Here lies the grave responsibility of Godparents - to accept and fulfill this sacred and sobering call to help parents raise and train their children in a Christ-centered, loving manner. In fact, the Church sees this relationship of Godparents and Godchildren as such a holy union, that from the day of one’s baptism, Godparents are no longer considered simply good friends of the family, but they actually become an intimate part of the baptized child’s immediate family.
Since the battle we face appears so daunting, we call upon not only Godparents, but also grandparents, together with uncles, aunts, and friends, to assist our parents who are struggling to raise our children with a Christ-centered foundation. Grandparents have a lifelong treasury of experiences which have taught them wisdom. Everyone needs to learn from the wisdom and learning of the elders.
As godparents, and grandparents, and others who want to aid Christian parents, here are a few suggestions on how you can assist parents in raising their children in a godly fashion in the midst of our secular world:
1. Become a strong support for the parents by taking an active interest in the overall life of the child, including his/her spiritual development. As a godparent, these parents chose you to be a spiritual influence in the life of their child. Fulfill your role, not solely by giving material gifts on birthdays and Christmas, but moreso fulfill your role by setting a good Christian example with your life. Be a constant reminder to the child of his/her Christian identity and Christian responsibility.
2. Pray through the ups and downs of life with your godchild and grandchild. Let the godchild and grandchild know that you are praying for them every day. Teach them also how to pray! Pray with them. One of the greatest gifts you can give a child is to buy them a simple Orthodox Prayer Book, and then teach them how to use it! Our Bookstore sells some great prayer books for children! Buy one today and give it to your godchild and grandchild today!
3. Of course you will celebrate your godchild/grandchild’s birthday, reminding them that their life is a gift from God. Along with birthdays, however, celebrate your godchild and grandchild’s nameday in a special manner. Buy them an icon of their patron saint. Find the life of the saint and share it with them. Do something special, and spiritual, with them on this personal feastday.
4. On other holidays, like Christmas and Easter, emphasize the spiritual aspects of the feasts, creating memorable Christ-centered traditions. Don’t simply follow the commercial temptations of these holidays. Be creative as you try to be a constant reminder of that which is holy.
5. As a godparent, this child received his/her first Holy Communion in your arms. Remind the child how you were there for his/her first Holy Communion, and invite them to come to Church with you, and receive Holy Communion together once again. If you live close by, make this a regular tradition. If your godchild lives farther away, go out of your way to do this as often as possible! And grandparents can follow the same advice!
6. Call your godchild or grandchild every Sunday and ask them what they learned in Sunday School. Even ask them if they remember the Gospel lesson, and discuss what lessons they learned from it. Don’t be embarrassed, or afraid, to discuss spiritual issues with the child. If you won’t do it, who will?
7. Encourage your godchild/grandchild to serve God through volunteering in community service projects. A great way to bond with the child is to make a special visit together to an old age home or hospital. As the child grows, challenge them to participate in a cross-cultural mission trip. As they think about colleges and their future, encourage them to consider a vocation in serving God – plant a seed for one to possibly become a priest, or even a missionary.
8. Finally, keep frequent contact with the children. Send them love notes often. Drop them emails, and make phone calls, Let this child know that no matter how much distance separates you, your love will always be close by. The greatest gift a child can have is the love of those close to him/her.
Remember, “Of all holy works, the education of children is the most holy.” And we need a team of people to help raise holy children. Let all of us godparents and grandparents, as well as every Christian adult, heed these words, and fulfill our sacred responsibility in working together to help one another journey into the kingdom of heaven.
A mentor who originates from the One above
Whose body and spirit encompass true agape love.
A witness to your entry into the holy church
Who stands for you at baptism and throughout your time on earth.
A person who helps teach you right from wrong
And prevents you from being pressured from the throng.
Your conscience to help you discern true knowledge from the Lord
And to give you substance and peace to protect you from discord.
A godparent always has your back
And his prayers help keep you on the proper track.
Oh to have such a person in your life
Is the greatest of blessings to keep you from strife.
On this special day we raise up those mentors who ensure
That our lives are spent in God's splendor with a spirit most pure.
(Nicholas A Veronis)
Persons of great wisdom from a life of many years
Who have experienced turmoil and peace and overcome youth's fears.
The ones who take the time to listen to your story
And recognize the best in you and hold you up to glory.
Not hesitant to counsel you when you have gone astray
Or embrace and comfort you when your actions lead them to pray.
They understand your vices and protect you from that shame
When life presents adversity and temptations that are insane.
They share with you their true feelings and express their ultimate delight
When you use your talents and time to do good for all to reunite.
They are loyal to a faith which has lasted for 2000 years
Knowing it will bring you joy in life and avoid immortal tears.
Oh what a blessing to have such people in your church
They encourage true salvation and a future heavenly perch.
(Nicholas A. Veronis)